Doomed Planet

Howard on green politics

John Howard on “Blue Collars and Green Sleeves – Latham’s Implosion”: 

The Opposition leader, Mark Latham, had been sending strong signals all year that for the election he would do something big on old-growth forests. Complete with leather jacket, and accompanied by Greens Leader Bob Brown, he had stood on an old tree stump in a Tasmanian forwat. They had both gazed into the distance. As far as the eye could see there was a steady flow of Green preferences to the Labor Party.

Saving old-growth forests was still the iconic green issue. It was a classic case of elite urban opinion being ingratiated at the expense, potentially, of other people’s jobs in faraway parts of the country. In any event, they could get other jobs in new-growth industries like tourism, so everyone came out on top, according to this view. The difficulties involved in retraining a 50-year-old timber worker for something entirely different rarely occurred to tertiary-educated city dwellers.

More than any other policy areas, the environment was susceptible to the politics of symbolism. Feel-good politics were at a premium here. Saving whales and preserving endangered species, whilst meritorious in themselves, returned a doubly handsome dividend in the realm of the warm inner glow. When it came to the aspirations of environmentalists, old-growth forests were of the same genre. The big difference was that there was a cost on the other side. Saving whales did not involve Australian jobs. Saving old-growth forests might well do so. The Labor Party was to learn that to its electoral expense at the election of 2004.

Source: John Howard, Lazarus Rising (HarperCollins)

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