The Australian Labor Party’s stunning defeat may offer a cold, hard warning for Democrats counting on climate change to sweep them to victory in 2020.
Running on a climate-change platform, the left-wing party lost a supposedly “unlosable” election on Saturday to the conservative Liberal/National Party Coalition, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who once praised fossil fuels while holding up a chunk of coal on the floor of Parliament.
“Every time Labor and [activists] reminded Australia that Morrison brought a lump of coal to Parliament, they were helping Morrison,” said Australian climate skeptic Joanne Nova in a post on her JoNova blog headlined, “How to lose the unloseable election: be anti-coal.”
Said Matt McDonald, associate professor at the University of Queensland, on ABC.net: “Voters feared climate policy more than climate change.”
The election results were unexpected, but they also represented the latest in a string of defeats around the world for parties pushing the 2015 Paris climate accord, green energy, fuel taxes and carbon pricing.
It’s a global electoral trend that could spell trouble for the U.S. left in 2020.
Since gaining the House in November, Democrats have moved climate change to the top of their agenda, holding dozens of committee and subcommittee hearings on climate-related topics and passing a resolution to block President Trump from exiting the Paris agreement.
Eleven Democratic Party presidential hopefuls have endorsed Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, a wildly ambitious resolution calling for a national mobilization on climate at a cost estimated at as high as $93 trillion.
“To the extent that Democrats try to make it the issue, to the extent that’s what they really push and run on, I think they’re going to lose,” said H. Sterling Burnett, senior fellow at the free-market Heartland Institute and expert on international climate policies. “Because it’s a losing issue.”
Democrats were quiet Monday on the Australia results, which saw Mr. Morrison’s coalition win 78 seats, a four-seat gain that allowed the conservative party to retain its majority despite widespread polling indicating an easy victory for Labor.
A Labor win was seen as so inevitable that some bookies paid out bets before the election results were announced, handing over $1.3 million to bettors who picked the wrong team, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
The upset prompted comparisons to the 2016 U.S. presidential election in which Democrat Hillary Clinton lost to the underdog Mr. Trump, who called climate change a “hoax,” vowed to bring back the coal industry and promised to ditch the Paris accord.
His populist message has since manifested itself in other Western democracies where climate-change advocacy is increasingly viewed by middle-class voters as a byproduct of elitism.
“It’s one country after another,” said Mr. Burnett. “Trump was the base of a wave that’s just cresting now. And it may not be cresting yet, because I’m not convinced this is over.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saw his climate policies repudiated last year with the election of skeptic Doug Ford as premier of Ontario. In Alberta, voters threw out in April the New Democratic Party and ushered in the United Conservative Party, which vowed to end the carbon tax and other climate policies.
In the Netherlands, the three-year-old Forum for Democracy, a “Euroskeptic” political group that went in March from holding no seats to becoming the largest single party in the Dutch Senate. Their leader, Thierry Baudet, has been dubbed the “Dutch Donald Trump” and has campaigned against “climate-change hysteria.”
The most dramatic scenes occurred in France, where French President Macron backed off plans for a climate tax on fuel to meet the obligations of the Paris agreement after weeks of “yellow vest” protests.
Climate Depot’s Marc Morano called the Australian outcome “a warning shot to Democrats hell-bent on promoting climate fears and the Green New Deal.”
“Voters have a limited appetite for that kind of green drivel and pollsters have an even harder time figuring out these surprise trends that produce shock election results,” he said. “France and Canada have suffered similar voter climate surprises. In the 2020 race, it may be President Trump who will be holding the climate trump card.”
Australian environmentalists vowed to regroup, taking heart over polls showing that most voters wanted to see action on global warming and blaming the loss in part on the “myth” that climate-change policies would kill jobs.
“To those in the community who care deeply about climate action, especially those children who have attended school strikes over the last year, it is worth remembering that progress is being made even if sometimes it doesn’t seem like it,” said Australian Conservation Foundation executive director Kelly O’Shanassy in a statement.
Despite the international indicators, few would expect Democrats in the U.S. to back off on climate. advocacy. For one, the party’s largest individual funder, San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer, has made it his mission to propel global warming to the political forefront.
“I wouldn’t say this is going to hurt them with their core constituency,” said Caleb Rossiter, who heads the pro-fossil fuels CO2 Coalition. “I’ll tell you one thing, we don’t bother to make appointments with Democrats right now because there’s not one who can listen without getting in trouble with the party and the activists.”
He cited Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s comment that the world would end in 12 years without extraordinary steps to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.
“They believe the world is coming to an end,” Mr. Rossiter said. “As AOC says, if you believe the world is ending, you’ll do anything to stop it. That’s how she justifies it.”