According to Godwin’s Law, Joyce immediately lost his argument by invoking Nazism, referring to “environmental goose-steppers” and coining a new term: “eco-totalitarianism”. He also made that classic climate-sceptic mistake of raising Y2K as an example of a doomsayer prediction that never came to pass, adding this time “population explosions, food shortages, fuel running out [and] communism taking over the world.” The population, food shortage and peak oil time bombs are still ticking, of course, as Joyce well knows in the case of food! But the others are arguments for strong action, not for an ostrich-like head-in-the-sand attitude. The reason Y2K didn’t cause chaos and totalitarian communism (and Nazism for that matter) didn’t spread far further and destroy far more lives than they did is because people actually stood up and did something about them!
But let’s leave those arguments aside for the time being and consider what these comments, from a man who considers himself a future leader and the great white hope of his party, mean for the future of the National Party.
There is certainly a long-term tendency in the bush towards climate scepticism, born, perhaps, in the old city greenie / bush farmer tensions of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Farmers who, quite reasonably, didn’t appreciate being told what they could and could not do developed a mistrust of environmentalists which still exists, with a stranglehold on the National Party itself. But that mistrust has long been waning in the broader rural constituency, as has the converse position amongst many environmentalists. For many years there has been an ongoing rapprochement, led by people such as Christine Milne, who grew up as a sixth-generation dairy farmer, has a positive vision for greener rural communities and who worked closely between the two ‘constituencies’ in her campaign against the Wesley Vale pulp mill and then her years in the Tasmanian Parliament.
Closely connected with the waning of anti-green feeling in the bush is the waning of climate scepticism. Christine’s Senate office is regularly in touch with farmers and rural communities across Australia who are concerned and expressing support for her work. Many farmers are now linking the drought with climate change, are deeply concerned about their future, and are beginning to do what they can. The issue of changing tillage practice to store carbon in soils is becoming quite hot. Ideas such a green tractor powered by farm waste are spreading. Support for renewable energy feed-in tariffs, to help farmers diversify their profit streams, insulate themselves against drought and reduce emissions at the same time, gain strong support across regional Australia as well as the city.
Given all this, it seems odd that Barnaby Joyce, who is supposedly looking to the future of his party, is leg-roping it to the past.
Surely the positive, future-focussed position would be to campaign hard for help to get the bush being part of the climate change solution and to secure all the benefits that will go with that – diversified income streams, more jobs, revitalised regional communities and the knowledge that what you are doing is giving your kids a better chance in the future.
That would be right, and it would be smart politics. Instead, Joyce is making a big mistake, jeopardising regional Australia’s future, leading the charge into the past and risking a serious voter bleed. This strikes me as yet another nail in the coffin of the National Party.