WHENEVER HE FLIES out of Melbourne, Steve Stefanopoulos gets a view of wilting grass. The reservoirs supplying the city’s water are low. It relies on a desalination plant to meet its needs. This worries Mr Stefanopoulos, the mayor of an affluent eastern suburb. In a federal election on May 18th, he wants someone “to stand up and do something about the environment”.
The vast majority of voters in his constituency, Higgins, agree. It has always been held by the ruling Liberal Party, which is right-of-centre. But lots of youngsters have moved in, and frustration at the government’s failure to cut emissions of greenhouse gases is running high. The Liberals have spent a fortune boosting their candidate and plonking placards outside posh houses. Yet they might lose the seat to the Greens.
Few rich countries are as severely affected by climate change as Australia. Storms and cyclones strike the tropical north with increasing ferocity, and droughts are hitting harder and for longer. Since the last federal vote, warming waters have killed much of the Great Barrier Reef.
This summer seemed particularly apocalyptic. A million native fish washed up dead in the Darling river, part of Australia’s longest river system, which is drying out. Flooding in northern Queensland killed several people and half a million cattle. Fires...