Australia: Where climate change can bring down a prime minister

It's often said of climate change that it won't be a major priority for governments until politicians are afraid of being voted out of office over it. Well that (sort of) just happened in Australia, where the ruling Labor Party unceremoniously dumped Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today. It's been a precipitous fall for Rudd, who began this year as one of the most popular leaders in his country's history, but now hold the dubious honor of being the only postwar Australian prime minister voted out after less than one term. 

There were a number of missteps along the way, but Rudd, who described climate change as "the greatest moral challenge of our generation," abandoned his trademark carbon-trading scheme and backed down on a new mining tax. Rudd was never particularly popular within his own party, and when his public popularity began to slip, it was only a matter of time before he got the ax. 

New Prime Minister Julia Gillard -- the first woman to ever hold the job -- has already promised to pursue both carbon trading and the mining tax. Australia, heavily reliant on coal and one of the world's highest emitters per capita, still has a long way to go. But it has to be encouraging to environmentalists that the country's voters seem to be holding leaders accountable for their green talk. 



Burma bans chanting and marching

What do you call a political rally where citizens-turned-automatons stand silent and unmoving without signs, literature, or adornment of any kind?  No real political rally at all -- or, permissible dissent in Burma.

The iron-fisted Burmese junta -- led by military general Than Shwe -- has repeatedly framed this year's upcoming elections as fair and democratic, dismissing the critics who claim it is merely a design to cement five decades of uninterrupted military rule. But the despotic regime's recent ban on essentially any public, recognizable political expression -- on marching, chanting, making speeches, brandishing flags, distributing publications, or making disturbances near any offices, factories, markets, schools, hospitals, and religious meetings (read: anywhere on solid ground) -- likely won't win over any disbelievers.

Today the ruling junta published a 14-point directive in state-run newspapers to explain what constitutes a recognized party and exactly what that party can -- or much more thoroughly, can not -- do. To attain party status, a group must be registered by the (state-run) Election Commission and then amass a minimum of 1,000 members in the three following months. To hold a rally, the party must be approved and then must obtain permission to hold the rally from that same committee. It is worth noting first that the majority of the 38 currently registered groups (a mere sixth of the number registered in the most recent election … back in 1990) support the ruling party; second, that campaigning comes with its own laundry list of restrictions; and third, that any participants in a political rally must adhere to the aforementioned restrictions or face a crackdown from local authorities. The end result? Any political body espousing real opposition is unlikely to materialize, and any political rally is whittled down to what most closely resembles a silent rave -- minus the headphones and the fun. 

The other conditions of the elections only make prospects grimmer: No election date has been specified, over 2,000 "political prisoners" are barred from the voting booths, and what is arguably the only party capable of posing a real challenge to the junta, the National League for Democracy, is effectively defunct.  The party's leader and rightful winner of the last Burmese elections, Aung San Suu Kyi, is most likely skeptical as she awaits the arrival of this elusive election -- all from the decrepit lake house where she remains under a 20-year-long house arrest.