For a few years I found, in Kevin Rudd, a politician worth investing some hope and admiration... I’m back to my familiar ground of cynicism.

"I've been known to abuse staff, so you be careful mister water housing man!" .

For a thrilling few years I found, in Kevin Rudd, a politician worth investing some degree of hope and admiration. I held onto this believe well beyond the used by date, even when things were smelling a bit off. This week, after his back down on climate change, my faith in Rudd has curdled and I’m back to my familiar political ground of cynicism and weary resignation.

Cutting Australia’s carbon emissions by 5% was never going to address climate change but, unless you believe you know better than the mainstream science, it was a starting point. It was a critical signal to the business community and a starter’s gun for all Australians to face a new reality and do what they are good at: get on with it.

Rudd famously called global warming “the great economic and moral challenge of our time.” His criticism of the Howard’s governments inaction on the issue helped him get elected in 2007. Now, after watering down the deal so much that even the greens were against it, and two unsuccessful attempts to get it through senate, he has delayed further action until after the Kyoto agreement expires in 2012.

Rudd could have argued the case for an ETS much harder and triggered a double dissolution election on the issue but he chose not to. Anyway you spin it it’s not a good look.

The federal opposition leader, Tony Abbot, has labelled Rudd a coward for his back down but should he be licking his chops so greedily? If Rudd has one saving grace when it comes to climate change it is that he compares favourably to Tony Abbott.

Kevin 'The Head' Rudd borrows Tony Abbott's body for quick slash – now that's recycling.

Abbott styles himself as a straight shooter but is very slippery when it comes to climate change. He has called the science bullshit to a receptive audience of farmers but talks a very different story to the press. The climate debate tore the Liberal party in two very recently and its members remain divided on the issue. And yet Abbott wants us to believe he has a better solution for a problem he’s not sure he believes exists.

Abbott’s shifting stance on the ETS is also revealing. Setting a market price on carbon is in keeping with Liberal Party ideology and Abbott supported the ETS right up until he sniffed a political gain in opposing it. Opinion polls show that while people are still concerned about climate change they are more worried about immediate problems like money in their pockets. Abbott rode that self-serving sentiment to glory with his Great Big Tax fear campaign.

Sceptics are quick to suggest that Rudd’s back down and the inability to reach agreement at Copenhagen is somehow a slight on the legitimacy of the climate change science. This is bullshit. The Copenhagen discussions weren’t about science, they were about policy. The lack of policy that resulted is a indication that completely restructuring the global economy is a pretty big task. And that – post GFC - people aren’t yet ready for the reality that it’s going to shake things up and cost money.

In other words the political will is ahead of the public will. Why is this so?

Perhaps its the cynic in me coming out but I believe that governments in opposition are playing on economic fears and encouraging uncertainty about the science on climate change for political gain. If this is true than Rudd may rightly be accused of doing more talking more than delivering but Abbott is doing something much worse. He’s using political ambition to thwart overdue action on the “great moral and economic challenge of our time.” Which is kind of evil.

By Kirk Owers