The paranoid style of the IPA part 2: examining the claims of John Roskam’s letter

The idea of climate change has "been fashionable"


The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) Execute Director, John Roskam, forwarded this letter (dated 12 April) with the following materials to a number of Australian politicians:        

  • Climate Change: The Facts (CCTF), a 140 page book containing a series of essays
  •  Order form for the above
  •  A copy of an article written by Herald Sun journalist Terry McCrann titled “Climate Policy failure” dated 11 November 2009 

In his letter, Roskam makes several claims about the science of climate change, the potential harm an emissions trading scheme (ETS) could cause to the Australian economy and that “Climategate” had exposed the “fraud” committed by the scientific community.  But first some background on Roskam, and his deep ties to the Liberal Party (conservative) in Australia and his past activities.    

Roskam: conservative ideologue?      

Firstly some background on Roskam.    

According to both his profile on the IPA website and Sourcewatch, Roskam has very deep ties to the Liberals. He also has ties to the mining industry, having acted in a PR role:        

John Roskam has been the Executive Director of the free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs since 2004. Before joining the IPA he taught political theory at the University of Melbourne. He was previously the Executive Director of The Menzies Research Centre in Canberra, has been a senior adviser and chief of staff to federal and state education minister, and was the manager of government and corporate affairs for a global mining company. (IPA website)   

He also a regular columnist in the Australian Financial Review (AFR), a business daily published by Fairfax media. I believe we can sum up Roskam’s views on climate change as a product of his neo-liberal worldview.          

His main concern appears to be the financial and economic impact of any policies to mitigate climate change on industry. He is also an advocate of the “small government” school of thinking.     In a article of his, titled “Where have all the conservatives gone?”, Roskam states his main fears related to any government policy or legislation that “cuts into growth”:  

The consequences of Australian political conservatives’ having gone missing are profound. Increasing regulation that hands decision-making powers from individuals to government means that company directors can’t run their businesses, farmers can’t manage their land, and consumers can’t make choices. The gains of two decades of economic reform are being undone by regulation. The community simply cannot afford to have political conservatives missing from the public debate.      

Government initiatives such as the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) are seen as a hindrance to economic growth. Because of this, climate science must be wrong for Roskam.      

It is also clear that Roskam belongs to the Australia’s carbon lobby: the cluster of mining and energy think-tanks, PR hacks and lobbyists promoting the interests of those industries.  

His career is in PR, mining, lobbying and journalism.       

Assessing the claims of Roskam’s letter      

In his letter Roskam makes some very bold, yet easily refuted, claims about the science of climate change.I will address the most important of these claims by citing the exact text of the letter. Readers are advised to read his covering letter in full, however the thrust of his argument could be summed up thus:        

  • here is no scientific consensus
  • therefore the costs of mitigating climate change are both destructive to the economy and unnecessary. 

Let us address his individual claims.    

Claim 1: “no reputable authority” accepts the science        

On pages 1-2 Roskam makes the following claim:      

“The claims that humans are the cause of harmful and potentially catastrophic global warming has been fashionable for some time. No reputable authority claims the science of the matter is settled.”           

Of the many claims that Roskam will make in his letter, this is perhaps the most boldfaced “lie”[1]. In stating that ‘no reputable authority” accepts the science, Roskam not only waves away the consensus of the IPCC (who they mistrust), but nearly every scientific body and organisation on the planet which has issues statement supporting the science.

Wikipedia provides a very good summary of the bodies supporting the science:     

Since 2001, 32 national science academies have come together to issue joint declarations confirming anthropogenic global warming, and urging the nations of the world to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.       

The world’s largest association of scientists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, issued an official statement in support of the science in  2006:      

“The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society. Accumulating data from across the globe reveal a wide array of effects: rapidly melting glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, increases in extreme weather, rising sea level, shifts in species ranges, and more. The pace of change and the evidence of harm have increased markedly over the last five years. The time to control greenhouse gas emissions is now. The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, a critical  greenhouse gas, is higher than it has been for at least 650,000 years.

The average temperature of the Earth is heading for levels not experienced for millions of years. Scientific predictions of  the impacts of increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and deforestation match observed changes.”        

One can’t image a more clearer statement on the issue. That Roskam dismisses the world’s scientific community (on a science issue!) as not being reputable is incredible.        One wonders if Roskam actually believes the sentence he wrote, he that was simply a throw away line not given any real thought.          

Claim 2: global warming as a means to “make money” and as part of a “anti-capitalist ideology” 

Within the same paragraph Roskam states the following:       

Some people have espoused global warming as a means to make money, while others have adopted it to fill a void in the anti-capitalist ideology left by the collapse of communism. 

Roskam links the two favorite bug-bears of the denial movement; the “follow the money” argument, and the belief that the Greens/socialists are trying to destroy capitalism.       

I find it curious that an advocate of neo-liberal orthodoxy takes umbrage with an companies or individuals making money. If one accepts the science, as I do, one can easily see the opportunities for companies and industries to develop new products, services and forms of energy.      

Yes, coal and oil as sources of energy need to be phased out.

But this is not the end of industrial civilisation as we now it. New industries will replace them, that’s all. This is innovation, and exactly how the market should work: “creative destruction”.

This is not about protecting capitalism, it’s about protecting they multi-billion dollar duopoly of oil and mining interests in Australia.        

Instead, Roskam is part of the carbon lobby’s rearguard, fighting to protect the very lucrative interests of energy companies. The irony is that the actions of climate change ‘sceptics’ such as Roskam stifle innovation, the very life blood of a dynamic capitalism.   



But when you’ve worked in mining and are funded by mining and oil interests, it’s very easy to mistake digging “stuff” out of the ground” for actual innovation.

The last charge is simply a paranoid fantasy. Yes, there are elements of the environmental movement openly hostile to “capitalism”. However, that has nothing to do with the science.      

One can be against smoking because of the health risks associated and suggest we regulate it’s consumption without being “anti-capitalist”.        

Claim 3: Global warming is a “belief”         

Roskam plays climate science is a “belief” card:       

“The numerous errors, cover-ups, and mistakes of those who believe in human induced catastrophic global warming have caused the public to question what it was told about climate change. The scientific fraud revealed by ‘Climategate’ has further shaken the confidence of the public in the so-called ‘scientific consensus’ of global warming’.         

Note the use of the phrase “those who believe…”     

That would be the thousands of scientists around the globe whose work informed the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (in addition to the numerous scientific bodes we listed above). Deniers love to state that “global warming” is a religion. Indeed, the various hate email and posts I get repeatedly stress that point: “It’s YOUR religion!” they scream again, and again at me.    

I don’t “believe” in climate change: I accept the scientigfic consensus.

It’s also curious that this is the exact same charge creationists throw out evoutionary biologists: they claim “evolution is a religion” and has no basis in fact:       

Evolution is basically a religious philosophy. We in creation ministries are explaining to people that both creation and evolution are religious views of life upon which people build their particular models of philosophy, science or history. The issue, therefore, is not science versus religion, but religion versus religion (the science of one religion versus the science of another religion).     The problem is that most scientists do not realize that it is the belief (or religion) of evolution that is the basis for the scientific models (the interpretations, or stories) used to attempt an explanation of the present. Evolutionists are not prepared to change their actual belief that all life can be explained by natural processes and that no God is involved (or even needed). Evolution is the religion to which they are committed. Christians need to wake up to this. Evolution is a religion; it is not a science!      

How does this argument differ from that of the denial movement?     

Substitute he words “evolution” with “climate change” and you have the IPA’s argument.       

Those who don’t agree are individuals like Roskam who are untrained in the discipline and have a mining/PR background.       

Seriously – who are you going to trust?    

The scientists or the words of a PR hack (Roskam)?       

 Claim 4: Climategare reveals scientific “fraud”      

No, it did not Mr. Roskam.        


Roskam’s letter is a collection of disingenuous misrepresentations of facts and a distorted view of the science.

One is amazed at some of the bold faced “lies” stated in the covering letter[2]. But then again, the entire argument of the denial movement is built a carefully constructed misinformation campaign.     

That the fact’s Rokam so freely throws around can be checked and refuted so easily demonstrate his deep, ideological, hostitility to any science that conflicts to his worldview.       

[1] In the sense that is conveys a false belief, it may not be a deliberately falsehood but Roskam’s postion is easily refuted by the facts.       [2] Ibid

One thought on “The paranoid style of the IPA part 2: examining the claims of John Roskam’s letter

  1. Ian Pulsford says:

    IPA featured on Media Watch this week in regards to tobacco company spin. They are less a think tank and more a spin-doctors for hire tank.

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