There might come a time when Australian politicians will need to make some hard decisions about measures to combat global warming but this is hardly one of them. Both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull know it and showed it yesterday with their statements on an emissions trading scheme. Both securely headed for the middle of the spectrum of possibilities where electoral safety lies. Both want to wait and see if the world reaches a global agreement before promising to create too much of the hardship of dramatic change.
Perhaps Kevin Rudd has put himself more squarely in the centre than Malcolm Turnbull. The Government has gone for minimal targets reducing carbon emissions that can be undone without too great a cost should next year's efforts at an international agreement fail completely. The opinion polls suggest that some action is considered by voters to be preferable to the Liberal position of postponing any action until there has been more study.
Where a politician interested in being re-elected does not want to be (and there are few politicians not so interested) is at the poles of possible action. Being a climate change denier is as sure a way of losing votes as being a zealot who advocates doing what he or she thinks is right irrespective of the short term consequences on the voters.
The inhabitants of those poles are like the air force commander in Beyond the Fringe.
"Perkins, I'm asking you to lay down your life. We need a futile gesture at this stage – it'll raise the whole tone of the war. Get up in a crate, Perkins... pop over to Bremen... take a shufti... don't come back. Goodbye, Perkins. God, I wish I was going, too."
"Goodbye, sir. Or is it... 'au revoir'?"