Australian Prime Minister John Howard is beginning to sound green. He has put forward a program to spend A$10 billion to conserve water in the face of a multi-year, no-end-in-sight drought, and now has announced a plan to phase out the traditional, highly inefficient incandescent light bulb with florescents (see Syndey Morning Herald and the BBC for stories).
Why is this noteworthy? Because Australia, along with the US, is one of the biggest sinners in the greenhouse gas emissions game, and is also one of the few advanced economies to have refused to sign the Kyoto accords. Howard has also made a great show of standing should-to-shoulder with George Bush on Iraq (well, he’s a little too short to do that literally) despite considerable domestic opposition. It is also significant that Howard has made Malcolm Turnbull, the third most powerful man in the Liberal party, his environmental minister. Turnbull is too polished, wealthy, and sometimes chippy for many people’s taste, but he is nevertheless smart, tenacious, and effective.
And before you laugh about light bulbs, if you happened to see the Al Gore movie, it recommended converting to to florescent bulbs as one of the practical steps that everyone could take to do their part to help. And the SMH reports that lightbulbs account for 12% of home and 25% of commercial greenhouse gas emissions. Since florescent bulbs use only 20% of the power of an incandescent bulb to produce the same amount of light, the savings are meaningful. So this measure is worthwhile (and as someone who has only changed one bulb in the household over, I must confess that having it forced on me would no doubt be more effective than waiting for me to get around to it).
But Howard, who has a finely tuned political ear (he is Australia’s longest-serving PM), so far appears to be engaging largely in symbolism. To make a real difference, he’d have to take on tougher matters, like Australia’s reliance on coal-fired electrical plants.
But even acknowledging that human activities are contributing to climate change and being willing to implement corrective measures puts Howard and his government streets ahead of the US. Even if it’s driven by anxiety over the Liberal Party’s prospects, it’s a welcome step.