What we're seeing now: The Abbott & Cuccinelli show

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Left photo: Australia Prime Minister Tony Abbott (second from left) is briefed on a fire's progress in February, 2013. Right photo: Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli (left) at a campaign event. Abbott photo courtesy the prime minister's office; Cuccinelli photo courtesy the Cuccinelli campaign

Oct. 30, 2013

One candidate is boosted by climate denial, while one may get buried by it.

By Peter Dykstra
The Daily Climate

Editor's note: This is part of an ongoing series of analyses by Daily Climate staff connecting the dots among the headlines we see every day. 

Tony Abbott is a one-time boxer, seminarian, Rhodes scholar and journalist. And as the leader of Australia's Liberal Party, he became the new Prime Minister two months ago. (Note to American readers: In the Land Down Under, the "Liberal" Party is the politically conservative one.)

As Virginia elects a new governor, they may see a denier as ferocious as Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott go down in flames.

So it is fitting that Mr. Abbott, who once famously said of calls for climate action, "the argument is absolute crap," is turning Australia's climate policy upside down.

Abbott has more recently tempered his words, ceding that the "absolute crap" line was a useful bit of hyperbole, and even conceding that climate change is real. 

While more tempered, he's also enthusiastically fulfilled campaign promises to dismantle a climate change regime installed by his rivals in the Labor Party. He sacked a national climate commission and is working to shut down the nation's new carbon tax. When Christina Figueres, the U.N.'s top climate official, linked Australia's worsening bushfires to climate change, the Prime Minister suggested she was "talking out her hat." 

Climate pressures

What's happening in Australia is vastly different than what's happened in the United States.

What's happening in Australia is vastly different than what's happened in the United States. Sure, we've had climate skeptics, contrarians, and deniers in positions of power or in control of parties. Or news networks. But here in the United States, climate change has never taken center stage in national politics. During last year's Presidential campaign, it scarcely escaped the lips of either Obama or Romney, and the campaign press corps did little to end the silence.

Abbott's Liberal Party won decisively in September, but the here-and-now reality of climate pressures in Australia will likely keep the issue in the forefront. That's something that's only happening in one state race in the United States. As Virginia elects a new governor, they may see a denier as ferocious as Abbott go down in flames.

Ken Cuccinelli is seeking a promotion from Virginia's Attorney General to its Governor. Let's just say he's a man of strong convictions. As A.G., Cuccinelli has embarked on often-quixotic campaigns against gay marriage, voting rights, and an array of federal agencies, notably the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Hard-core legacy

He's built a legacy of both hard-core supporters and hard-core adversaries. Last month, an NBC News poll gave Cuccinelli's GOP boss, departing Gov. Bob McDonnell, a 51percent approval rating. The less-diplomatic Cuccinelli could manage only 31 percent while embracing largely the same policies as the man he hopes to succeed. 

Cuccinelli also took off after climate scientist Michael Mann, based on Mann's affiliation with Virginia's most prominent state university from 1999 to 2005. Denounced as an assault on academic freedom and as "McCarthyism," Cuccinelli's multiple attempts to investigate alleged fraud by Mann while at the University of Virginia were turned back by Virginia's Supreme Court last year. Unlike the 2012 Presidential elections, the incident brought climate change to the forefront of the election debate.

Mincing no words

Cucinelli's stridency has handed support to a man who might not otherwise earn it.

To be sure, Cuccinelli didn't stop short of alienating college professors and environmentalists, few of whose votes were probably ever his to begin with. In the midst of the government shutdown in early October, Cuccinelli brought Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to campaign for him in Virginia. 

Kind words from one of the primary architects of the shutdown didn't go over well in a state that's home to 330,000 federal workers. Mincing no words, even the conservative Weekly Standard threw the Republican under the bus for his "Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad" campaign. (Note to Australian readers: Our "Republican" is your "Liberal.") Polls show Cuccinelli trailing his rival, Terry McAuliffe, by between 10 and 20 points.

Cucinelli's stridency has handed support to a man who might not otherwise earn it. Democrat McAuliffe is neither a tree-hugger nor a champion of science. McAuliffe is best known as a Democratic Party official and a financial rainmaker. Prior to that, his Washington lobbying firm represented the lead industry, Phillip Morris, and the oft-fined waste disposal giant Browning Ferris, as first reported by Politico this summer.

So here we are: In Virginia, environmentalists and one of the world's most prominent climate scientists are campaigning for the one-time lead 'n' tobacco lobbyist. Barring a dramatic reversal, Ken Cuccinelli looks to be a Denier, denied. Half a world away, Tony Abbott's denial has risen to the top. In Australia, he's on first. Naturally.

Peter Dykstra is Publisher of The Daily Climate and Environmental Health News. He can be contacted or followed on Twitter at @pdykstra.

The Daily Climate is an independent, foundation-funded news service that covers climate change. Find us on Twitter @TheDailyClimate or email editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer [at] DailyClimate.org

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