Category Archives: Conservatives

Scepticism damaging the conservative political brand: Aussie media becoming alert to the paranoid style of climate sceptics

One of the better sites focussed on the economic and business aspects of climate change is Climate Spectator. Apart from some great coverage on business, climate change policy and the energy industry, they also publish thought provoking opinion pieces.

Thus I’d like to point readers to a great piece by Tristan Edis titled The Mad Monk and Monckton’s mates. To my mind it is indicative of mainstream media (MSM) now understand the fact that Monckton and many climate sceptics are – to put it ever so politely – barking mad.

Edis notes in somewhat amazed fashion Monckton’s connection to the political fringe: 

“So why was a person who made their name questioning global warming invited to launch such a party?  Because Monckton dreams up many of the stories that feed these people’s sense of paranoia and victim hood. Monckton’s beef is not so much with the science of global warming; it’s with the liberal-left agenda more generally. In a January article in WND Weekly, he labels Obama a communist that will bankrupt America within a matter of a few years, claims he has faked his birthplace and confidently predicts will be jailed in five years time. He rails against Obama for allowing “unfettered immigration”, “baby-butchering”, gay marriage, and being “soft on Islam” (whatever that means – presumably nothing to do with executing Osama Bin Laden).”

For many of us, this isn’t new. More importantly, Edis notes by associating itself with Monckton, the conservative Liberal National Party (LNP) have hurt their brand:

“A number of individuals and groups that are influential within the Liberal Party and its membership have embraced and championed Monckton’s views on climate change.  These include the Institute of Public Affairs, Andrew Bolt, Hugh Morgan, and Gina Rinehart.  Cory Bernardi, who was one of the key backers of the coup against Malcolm Turnbull that installed Tony Abbott, expresses views and is involved in organisations which are closely linked to Monckton and websites like WND Weekly.

The Liberal Party needs to guard themselves against being infiltrated by this kind of extremist nonsense. Abbott was persuaded to meet Monckton back in 2010 just a day after releasing their climate change policy. This was a mistake…”

Let me reiterate that point: climate change scepticism is damaging the conservative “brand”. It may have had a political utility at one point, but no longer. Let’s not forget the cash thrown at conservative politicians by the fossil fuel industry – one wonders if that influenced their views on the science:

Fossil fuel lobby: Campaign donations anyone?

Conservative politician/s: Oh, that’s lovely innit! Thanks, but is there a catch?

During the last American election the Republicans ran on a platform that included the explicit denial of climate change. Readers may recall the events of November 2012 and how that strategy worked out… hint it didn’t go well for the Republicans.

Still, I can appreciate why those in the MSM may have baulked on reporting the actual world view climate change deniers – who are neither sceptical or dispassionate on climate change, but fringe dwelling conspiracy theorists.

Firstly, News Limited owns 70% of the news print market in Australia and has been championing the views of extremists like Monckton for years. Not many journalists, in an industry in considerable turmoil and declining job security, are going to take on editors such as Chris Mitchell at The Australian – or the Sun King himself, Murdoch – who push the sceptic agenda.

Secondly, if my experience is anything to go by, once you start pointing out the obvious connection to conspiracy culture and start criticising said beliefs it brings out an army of angry, embittered trolls. Your inbox and article/website comes under sustained assault.

Fun? Well suffice to say over the years I’ve developed a very thick skin.

Thirdly, much of the activities of these climate sceptics and conspiracy theorists happen on the fringe: you have to know where to look in the very dark corners of the internet. Sites such as World Net Daily (heck even Jo Nova’s blog) aren’t exactly choice online destinations for mainstream Australia.

But crucially it takes time to become attuned to what sceptics are saying – as in what they are really saying.  

When deniers like Monckton reference “Agenda 21” the phrase and its connotations will go over the heads of the MSM and average punter. But to those attuned to the world views of conspiracy culture, the phrase “Agenda 21” is a reference to the “sceptics” belief in a coming New World Order, black helicopters, death camps for pensioners and micro-chips embedded into the skulls of every living person on the planet.

At this point it is safe to say Monckton’s down under tour is a damp squib, fizzing out like firecracker under a torrent of indifference. In previous years he enjoyed far more attention, getting gigs on the ABC, Channel 7, televised debates at the National Press Club, radio chats with disgraced shock-jock Alan Jones and huge support from conservative columnists and News Limited. All of which seems to have evaporated.

If you want a picture of Monckton 2013 Australian tour, imagine a doddery, elderly crank standing in an empty lecture theatre muttering aloud “Good lord, where did all my good friends go?”

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How we lost 20 years on climate change action (reprint)

A terrific article from The Conversation which sums up my own thoughts by Maria Taylor, Australian National University

Scientists have warned about the “greenhouse effect” for years. Now it is no longer a scientific nightmare; it has arrived.

Lines from Al Gore’s famous movie? No.

The Sydney Morning Herald published these words in mid-1988. The article detailed record-breaking heat and drought in North America and elsewhere, linking these weather effects with predictions for global warming and climate change (then called the greenhouse effect).

A review of the Fairfax mainstream and business press of the late 1980s and early 1990s found hundreds of articles focused on the risks posed by the greenhouse effect on topics as diverse as biodiversity and holidaying in the Maldives.

These articles all readily ascribed the cause of the greenhouse effect to industrial societies burning fossil fuels.

The science hasn’t changed, but the public story changed dramatically

I recently completed a study of climate change communication in Australia 1987-2001. I reviewed an extensive public record of news reports, government documents, early popular science books and interviews regarding the greenhouse effect.

I found there has not been a one-way road from lesser to better public knowledge of climate change science and available response in Australia in the last two decades. In fact the opposite has been the case and this is directly linked to the public narrative and framing.

The evidence shows that scientific findings – as documented by the IPCC starting in 1990 – remained basically consistent in their description of cause, risk and the need to respond throughout the 1990s.

However, communication from Australian policy makers and the media changed dramatically during the same period –– from expressing good understanding and a will to take action, to a confused and conflicted debate with clear correlations to the national response.

Almost no-one remembers the high point of good understanding that occurred in October 1990. That was when the Federal Government under Bob Hawke established an interim emission reduction target for the nation to lower greenhouse gas emissions 20% below 1990 levels by 2005.

Detailed state and national response plans were established. They canvassed every strategy known today, from efficiency measures and renewable energy to a carbon tax and emissions trading scheme.

But these plans were destined to wither under national competition policy that deregulated the national energy sector to focus on sales and profits rather than “demand management”.

When our values changed, so did the climate change story

The record shows a pivotal change occurred in social values and beliefs that set the public agenda from the mid-1990s on. Politicians and the press gallery, rather than scientists, more and more determined the daily narrative of what was “real”.

Guiding these values were:

  • the narrowed economic options of Australia’s destiny as a resource quarry
  • beliefs in the potential for a greenhouse gas techno-fix (such as clean coal)
  • beliefs in the fundamental divide between the monetary economy and the natural environment, with the latter framed as a cost.

Underlying are beliefs that humans are exceptional and outside the ecological laws governing other species. Such beliefs are widely held in western Christianity and therefore easy to target with coded language.

In the 1990s we added a panoply of beliefs about markets and their ultimate efficiency (so we could not make industry more efficient), embedded in neo-liberal, economic rationalist teachings.

Disciplinary beliefs also played a role. A notable group has been geologists, many of whom were taught that only on-ground measurement and evidence – not future modelling – is valid. This helped explain the enduring sceptic fervour that has confused the public.

Also influential was the impact of scientists communicating degrees of “scientific uncertainty” in the public arena. This is a concept that lay audiences frequently interpret as “don’t know”, and which greatly aided those who don’t want action.

The frames of climate change: from risk management, to too risky

Climate change up to the early 1990s was framed by politicians of both major parties as risk management for everyone. They focussed on Australia being an ethical global citizen responsible to future generations. Responses were framed as “win-win” for the environment and for new jobs. This reflected international response at the time.

After 1991, Paul Keating – and later John Howard – were preoccupied with the economy. Climate change action went on the back burner in the bureaucracy, eventually completing the transition to “can’t do” under Howard.

The reframed narrative became that Australia is exceptional: if climate change science is real, Australia should commit to minimal response because our economy relies on cheap energy and coal exports and we are not about to change.

Politicians became adept during this period at framing these messages with warm emotional values of nation and family –– evoking “us” against the “them” of greenies, Europeans, and the United Nations. These were portrayed as elites and outsiders trying to rob us of our jobs and businesses.

Understanding the coded language of the changed narrative, how it was done, is a lot about how people take up information, and that is another story that emerged from my study.

While the science findings have stayed consistent since at least 1990, politicians and the media re-framed their communication, and that radically changed public knowledge about climate change and the will to respond. Thanks to this change, Australia has lost 20 years of potential action on emission reduction.

Maria Taylor does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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At war with reality: key figures in Liberal Party remain unswayed by evidence

An interesting article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald today examining the views of prominent Liberal National Party politicians on climate change.  Despite the evidence many have held onto their sceptical views:

THE most prominent political climate sceptics see no reason to change their minds, despite the welter of studies over the past fortnight showing forecasts of global warming were correct or underestimates.  

Many of the climate sceptics, influential in elevating Tony Abbott to Coalition leader, say they see nothing to convince them that human activity is causing the climate to change.  

The Global Carbon Project has released forecasts that the planet could warm by between 4 degrees and 6 degrees by the end of the century and Nature Climate Change on Monday published a study finding that warming is consistent with 1990 scientific forecasts.

As I (and many others) have stated this has nothing to do with evidence. The denial of climate change is driven by the ideology, world views and values:

South Australian senator Cory Bernardi, formerly Mr Abbott’s parliamentary secretary, said: ”I do not think human activity causes climate change and I haven’t seen anything that changes my view. I remain very sceptical about the alarmists’ claims.” 

Queensland senator Barnaby Joyce said the whole debate about whether humans were causing the climate to change was ”indulgent and irrelevant”. 

”It is an indulgent and irrelevant debate because, even if climate change turns out to exist one day, we will have absolutely no impact on it whatsoever … we really should have bigger fish to fry than this one,” Senator Joyce said.

Individuals can be very good at maintaining cognitive dissonance, filtering out information they don’t agree with and latching onto “facts’ that support their world view.

West Australian Dennis Jensen back bencher provides a textbook example of this:

West Australian back bencher Dennis Jensen, who had read the recent scientific literature, said he interpreted the findings in different ways and believed climate scepticism within the Coalition was increasing. 

”The scientific papers saying it is as bad as we thought, or worse, are talking about concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere – and concentrations are indeed increasing – but global temperatures have not gone up in a decade,” he said. 

”It’s the impact of the increased concentrations of CO2 that is in dispute and I agree with [US professor] Richard Lindzen that it is more likely to be 0.4 degrees than 4 to 6 degrees … the doomsday prophesies do not stand up to reason.”

Richard Lindzen is one of the few genuinely qualified sceptics. At best he is a marginal figure in science. His entire claim to fame rests upon his status as one of the token sceptics within the community of atmospheric scientists.

Outside of his notoriety he has produced little research of value – and what research he has produced has been flawed and ignored by the rest of scientific community.

Despite the fact 97% of climate scientists accept climate change is real, Jensen clings to the marginal views of outliers such as Lindzen because they buttress is own world view.

In this regard the Liberals resemble the Republicans in the United States and the Tea Party movement who’ve decided to go to war with reality.

Don’t like the facts? Then reject them and dismiss the experts.

Supporting there fantasy world views are the think tanks and conservative media who help create a parallel reality in which the climate isn’t changing  and Obama was born in Kenya.

When facts and evidence contravene ideology figures such as Bernardi, Joyce and Jensen remain steadfastly attached to fantasy.

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It’s a mad, mad and hotter world: the top 6 climate stories of 2012

As the year comes to a close its time to reflect upon the previous year’s climate related news. I mean who doesn’t love a good end of year “The best of” list?

So what made headlines? What events mattered? And crucially what shaped the public’s understanding of climate change?

In order to address the above questions I’ve selected what I believe are the top six “breakthrough” climate stories of the year. These are the issues that had a strong influence on the public’s understanding of climate change.

I’m confident we’ve witnessed an important shift in the climate debate as (a) evidence of rapid global warming has manifested with a vengeance and (b) the majority of the public now accept the reality of global warming.

But what caused this shift? Ultimately the climate stepped in to adjudicate the debate.

In a year of record temperatures and super-storms, the physics of climate change demonstrated its reality.

And while the debate between sceptics and warmists will grind on for several more years it was the evidence presented in the form of drowned cities, withered crops and searing temperatures that shaped public perception.

1. It’s global warming stupid: Hurricane Sandy and the North American summer. And the drought. And the derecho storm. And killer tornadoes. And wildfires.

Perhaps it was the thousands of temperature records smashed, the devastating drought that gripped large sections of the United States, the rare derecho storm that lead to millions losing power or the hundreds of tornadoes that that ripped through the country that taught millions of Americans the climate was changing. Let’s not forget the wildfires either.

By the end of 2012 the belief the climate was not changing became untenable. An overwhelming majority of the American public now accept the reality of climate change (up to 70% according to Business Week).

And then there was Sandy. Who can forget the images of a devastated New York and East Coast?

Not only did Sandy influence the US Presidential election in painting Mitt Romney and the Republicans as the party in dangerous denial – they had a good chuckle about climate change at their convention – it also tangibly and tragically demonstrated what to expect from a climate spinning out of control.

2. Red alert: Greenland melt accelerates

There are troubling things happening up north, not least of all the record breaking seasonal melt for Greenland in August of this year. And while some claimed this news was insufficiently reported in the mainstream press (of which there is some truth) bloggers, tweeters and social media activists did the job for them.

While the fourth estate slept, denizens of what I’d like to call the fifth estate (social media content creators) stepped in to spread the word.

3. Going, going, gone: Arctic sea-ice reaches lowest minimum

If you want to know what the Arctic’s death spiral looks like merely cast your eyes over the above graph. George Monbiot said it best: “Stupidity, greed, passivity? Just as comparisons evaporate, so do these words. The ice, that solid platform on which, we now discover, so much rested, melts into air. Our pretensions to peace, prosperity and progress are likely to follow…”

And how did humanity react to this worrying trend? Giving fossil fuel companies license to rush in and explore for more oil.

4. Apocalypse averted: the Carbon Tax debate fizzles out

The end product of the merchants of hate (source News)

In the coming decades, future generations will puzzle over how the Australian political system almost imploded over the fight to introduce a price on carbon.

The Murdoch press ran an orchestrated campaign against the tax while right-wing radio shock jocks worked up the angry masses into even greater levels of well.. anger. The Federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, ran a two year fear campaign against the tax claiming “We will be rooned, roooooned!”

Australian political debate reached a new low with nasty catch phrases such as “Juliar” (in reference to Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard) entering the popular lexicon and radio presenter Alan Jones claiming climate science was “witchcraft”.

The forces arrayed against the tax included private think tanks, News Ltd, the Liberal National Party, large segments of the resources sector and eccentric billionaires such as Gina Rinehart.

And yet the government managed to get the legislation through both houses of Parliament. In retrospect it is amazing the minority Gillard government didn’t collapse and still manage to introduce a price on carbon – something that had eluded previous governments for almost 20 years.

So did the world end? Did Australia become an improvised, backwards economic wasteland? Are we Aussies now all living in caves, desperately missing hot showers and street lighting?

Rest assured – the world didn’t end, the sun is still shining and industrial civilisation didn’t collapse as the sceptics warned us.

5. It’s worse than you think: PWC, World Bank reports and news of the permafrost melting

Imagine you’ve just been told by your doctor you have cancer: you’ve got maybe five years. But with treatment you could extend your life well beyond that.

You’d be alarmed and no doubt take positive steps to address the issue: you’d undergo medical treatment, change your diet, exercise and consider changing you life.

Who want’s to die prematurely? Or maybe you’d still be in denial.

Either way, you’re presented with this information and the opportunity to act.

But a month after being told the above, you return to see your doctor only to be told he was wrong. A new round of tests conclusively proves you’ve got a year – maybe two.

“So sorry…” states your doctor “…but the cancer is far more aggressive. Fortunately we’ve caught it early due to some new technology and diagnostic methods. But we need to start treatment right away.”

This is the situation humanity faces.

In the past six months a series of reports and a rash of new scientific evidence has been presented that makes for alarming reading:

It not just the IPCC or those radical socialists otherwise known as “climate scientists” saying the climate is changing more rapidly than anticipated. Some of the most conservative institutions and corporations have joined the chorus for urgent action by signalling their alarm.

Which means either one of two things: the need to act is increasingly urgent or that every scientific, political, media, business and professional association is part of the conspiracy.

6. No sympathy for the devil: Peter Gleick disembowels the Heartland Institute

I believe scientist Peter Gleick did humanity a favor, even if his methods were controversial.

Gleick obtained key strategy and planning documents from The Heartland Institute – the US libertarian think tank – by pretending to be one of its board members. He simply called up reception and asked for documents to be sent to an email account.

Was it worth it?

In retrospect, yes.

The documents revealed how Heartland and other think tanks manufacture doubt.

Once the story went viral and was picked up my mainstream media the reputation of Heartland suffered enormously – it lost millions in funding and was forced to cancel their annual conference for sceptics.

Gleick revealed the dark underbelly of the climate sceptic movement: the anonymous funding and the deliberate campaign to deceive.

Sceptics were furious of course – “How dare he, that criminal!” they fumed. Anthony Watts and others threatened to sue Gleick or bring in the authorities- but as suspected, nothing eventuated. Such actions would have brought a level of accountability bodies such as The Heartland Institute seek to avoid.

And that’s just what Gleick did: bring greater transparency and accountability to the climate debate.

The denial movement has been milking Climategate for years. To this day deniers continue to salaciously drool over the half dozen meaningless emails hacked form the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.

But the public twigged to the hypocrisy: the Gleick episode demonstrated the public has no sympathy for the devil.

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Tony Abbott “Why not have a carbon tax”? The 2009 video in which Abbott argues for a price on carbon

Today in Australian politics we saw some extraordinary events centering around events that took place nearly 20 years ago.

Three years is a long time in politics: recall but three years ago Tony Abbott argued for a carbon tax:

He pushes the old “no temperature rise in ten years” myth, but listen carefully.

Quote: “If you want to put a price on carbon, why not do it with a simple tax?”

 

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The Bolt report named one of the worst shows of 2012: and we’re surprised?

The Sydney Morning Herald listing some of the worst shows of 2012, and to the surprise no one, The Bolt Report is one of them. Poor Channel 10 – they really should have known better. How could a show built around Bolt be anything but a dull and plodding.

But like a zombie, the Bolt Report refuses to die:

VIEWING figures for The Bolt Report were slightly up in 2012, which suggests either that the partisan commentator is making converts or that those who love to loathe him simply can’t resist screaming at their television sets every Sunday morning. Either way, it was hard to fault his perseverance as the newspaper columnist proved himself the scourge of dead horses everywhere, returning to favoured topics week after week. But Bolt hasn’t managed to find a decent sparring partner, and a fair degree of his initial ”I’ve got my own TV show! Me!” enthusiasm has dissipated. The show has become a forced march.

Climate sceptic Bolt will no doubt convince himself the lack of viewers is a conspiracy among left-wing scientists somehow manipulating the numbers.

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Of sea ice & Andrew Bolt: freedom of speech under attack?

Pity Andrew Bolt who seems to be under some form of “investigation’ by the dark forces of censorship.

In a November 20 blog post titled Record ice around Antarctica Blot hints that he – and indeed the very notion of freedom of speech – is under attack:  

I am in a dispute with a free-speech regulator which fancies putting out a statement declaring this freezing essentially patchy, small and recent and proposes to find fault in me not quoting warmists who make irrelevant arguments…

All very sinister by the sounds of it. One wonders if Andrew was dragged out of the Herald Sun’s South Bank tower in the middle of the night, and like Galileo shown the instruments of torture. What has our fearless commentator now said that has sent the forces of darkness against him?

Bolt has been pushing the old denier canard that the growth of sea ice in Antarctica somehow disproves climate change. Bolt references an article from that august scientific publication from the UK The Daily Mail. Titled Now there’s more ice at South Pole than ever (So much for global warming thawing Antarctica!):

Ice around the South Pole has expanded to cover a record area, scientists revealed yesterday – a month after saying that the North Pole had lost an unprecedented amount of its ice.

Researchers say – rather confusingly – that both occurrences are down to the ‘complex and surprising’ effects of global warming.

The record Antarctic sea ice cover was revealed in satellite images from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado….

At the end of the southern winter in September, ice covered 7.51million square miles of sea – more than at any time since records began in 1979. For the last 30 years the amount of Antarctic sea ice has been increasing by 1 per cent each decade.

One assumes a complaint was made to Australian Press Council (APC) about of one of Andrew’s many lies misrepresentations concerning climate change.

And no, it wasn’t me – but I’ve often thought about it. Still I have little doubt what conclusions such an investigation would find: Andrew got his facts wrong. Again.

But let’s be clear about one thing: freedom of speech is not under attack.

Andrew Bolt is a privileged member of the media elite; he commands a large audience, gets paid handsomely and seeks to influence the political debate within Australia. Bolt is not an outlier – despite posing as a gadfly or intellectual rebel. He is simply one of the more prominent members of News Limited’s stable of conservative journalists.

Unlike Mr Bolt, most ordinary individuals lack the backing of a global media giant that generates billions in revenue and armies of lawyers to represent you in court when you get basic facts wrong.

Regulators such as the APC and ACMA help provide a level playing field. Checks and balances are essential to limit abuses of power. The APC and ACMA are merely part of a system of checks and balances.

Let’s be honest these aren’t vast, monolithic agents of totalitarian repression. They’re rather toothless really: they’re primary role is help foster standards.

Standards such as getting the facts right.

What Andrew Bolt and many of the other hyper-sensitive climate change sceptics frequently overlook is that criticism and having you claims critically examined by a neutral third-party is not censorship.

It rather simple really: when you fail to play by the rules of evidence, you’re going to get caught out.

And if you’re wrong – as Andrew is so very often on climate change – then it is only reasonable to expect repercussions. If you’re wrong, you are going to be called on it. Indeed, this debate and validation of claims are an essential part this whole “freedom of speech” thing Andrew wishes to make himself the poster boy for.

Freedom of speech is not just shouting at the world your own point of view, which is what Andrew seems to believe. There is the freedom for others to answer back and challenge claims.

Andrew Bolt is free to lie, misrepresent and distort the facts about climate change.

But no amount of chest-pounding and hyperbole is going to change the fact that he is consistently wrong about the science of climate change.

However in a rather grandiose fashion, Bolt conflates criticism of his many factual errors with an attack on free speech, liberty and democracy.

He simply can’t admit error; therefore he turns these episodes into little mini-dramas in which he is the victim of a vast conspiracy of leftists, warmists, socialists and nasty environmentalists.

How else can he explain to both himself and the diminishing ranks of climate sceptics these “attacks”?

Surely HE can’t be wrong… surely it’s the fault of those scheming “warmists” making “irrelevant arguments”.

And the sea ice?

Yes it is true the sea ice has been growing 1 per cent each decade. But Bolt and the denial cheer squad exclude some key facts.

Overall, Antarctica is losing ice: sea ice may be increasing due to the complex interplay of winds, a declining Ozone hole and natural variation.

But Bolt and the deniers overlook – deliberately – the fact that land ice is declining.

As this National Geographic article points out, Antarctica is warming but at a slower pace than the Arctic:

Q. While Arctic sea ice is decreasing, the Antarctic is now slightly increasing. Why is there so much variation between Arctic and Antarctic ice?

Well we have a continent on the South Pole. On the North Pole we have nothing but ocean. In the Arctic you see full-fledged warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, plus increased ice transport [out of the region, which removes cold air and water]. So all of these effects contribute to reduce the sea ice cover in the Arctic.

In the Antarctic, you have to think of it as its own climate system. It’s a big continent isolated from the rest of the world. It has ocean all around it. It has wind regimes that blow clockwise around it and isolate it. It acts differently from the Arctic, which is completely connected to the rest of the North Hemisphere.

Q. Considering we regularly hear about the planet’s stressed climate system, is this good news?

Really, it’s consistent with our understanding of a warming world. Some of the regional details are not something we can easily predict. But the general trends of decay of the sea ice cover and decay of the Greenland ice sheets and ice caps is in line with what we expect.

The Antarctic has not been warming up as fast as the models thought. It’s warming up, but slower. So it’s all consistent with a warming planet.

What I suspect happened is this: Bolt, like most deniers, cherry picked some facts about Antarctica’s sea ice growing, alluding that climate change wasn’t real. Bolt has been called on this, and deeply resents the fact he has been made accountable.

The “irrelevant arguments” by warmists Andrew is desperate to dismiss are no doubt facts that challenge his world view.

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War is over: victory over the deniers

Time for bold claims: the war is over.

The International Herald Tribune picks up on what may be an emerging trend: the decline of climate scepticism:

In a blog entry this summer, famed international correspondent Christiane Amanpour opined that the climate change denial club “is actually now shrinking faster than the polar ice caps.” 

Opinion surveys suggest she’s right. Two factors that may contribute to the changing attitude about the changing climate — and the melting away of many skeptics — are the extreme weather events that have affected the United States recently and the legions of climate activists who make it their business to convince and motivate an increasingly receptive public.

The post referenced above is titled The climate debate is over:

In the fierce and sometimes ugly fight over global climate change, we finally have an answer coming from the earth itself: the weather is telling us climate change is here and we are causing it. Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku is among the scientist who say the world is giving us signs that climate change is already happening (to see how he explains it, watch the video above).

This summer, there have been relentless droughts, wildfires, melting glaciers and unprecedented storms – all happening at the same time. And around the world people are demanding something be done about it. Even in the United States, ground zero for climate change denial, six in ten Americans say they believe it is indeed happening. But political leaders are missing in action – cowed by a vociferous climate change denial club, which is actually now shrinking faster than the polar ice caps.

In the video physicist Michio Kaku admits he was a sceptic until he looked at the evidence.

War is over…

Personally, I believe the climate change denial movement will splutter and rage on for a few more years as the most prominent voices and their well funded supporters continue to rage against reality.

But already one gets the sense the voices of Andrew Bolt, Jo Nova, David Evans, Anthony Watts, Marc Morano et.al are becoming increasingly marginal. Ironically they are becoming even more shrill in their claims of conspiracy theories and “It’s not happening”.

News Corporation and the think tanks will continue their desperate rearguard action against the public’s acceptance of the science: history’s judgement will be no doubt be unkind.

The deniers will achieve a few more Pyrrhic Victories: maybe they’ll find a flaw or two in the next IPCC report (AR5), publish a few hundred more op-ed pieces in major dailies and delay a carbon tax in the US for an electoral cycle or two.

Sure – public acceptance of the science will swing this and that for a few more years, but the trend is towards majority acceptance of the science. At some point public tolerance for the deniers will shift from a bemused indifference to disgust and exasperation.

Will that greater public acceptance of the science translate into voter demand for action?

The denial machine will attempt to arrest that as well – after all, that is their raison d’etre. They’re skilled at halting progress so they’ll continue to block, obstruct and show the seeds of disinformation.

But that’s all the denial movement has to look forward too: small scale, tactical victories in a war that is over. The funding for their activities will soon begin to dry up: they will retreat to the fringes of internet culture with flat Earth fanatics, UFO enthusiasts and other intellectual fringe dwellers.

How the war was “won”

However we must be honest: the victory was not achieved by activists or science communicators. Too late it was realized it was never about the science, but values and world view; ideology was the crucial driver of those rejecting the science.

We – the journalists, activists, bloggers, politicians, scientists fighting to bring climate to the forefront of public perception – fought the good fight. We did all we could have been asked to do: but the denial machine was more organised, better funded and prepared to engage in suspect and unethical behavior. Ruthlessness tipped the battle in their favor for close to three decades.

But at some point physics and chemistry was going to resolve the debate: brute reality was always the final arbiter.

And so 2012 will be regarded as the year the debate “shifted” against the sceptic movement – the extreme weather events of this year and Sandy ensured that.

But something like Hurricane Sandy was inevitable. Whether a storm of Sandy’s kind arrived this year or next, something of Sandy’s scale was always coming – and with it the profound  social and political implications of such a storm.

[Note: upon reflection, I think Tamino is very correct: activists and bloggers fought a valuable holding action, doing their best to hold off the onslaught against science.]

War is over – if you wan’t it

And so – with mock solemnity and virtual trumpets – I declare the end of hostilities in what is merely the opening phases of a longer conflict over containing climate change.

Let’s call it the “First Climate War”, a virtual battle over public perception fought in the opinion pages of newspapers, on blogs and social media and in back rooms across the globe. It was fought in the streets of Copenhagen and influenced the Australian election of 2007.

Participants included global media corporations, NGOs, sovereign nations, transnational bodies such as the UN, the fossil fuel industry, think tanks, scientists, eccentric billionaires, bloggers and politicians.

The First Climate War was a messy and brutal conflict more impenetrable and confusing than the Thirty Years War – and much like the Thirty Years War it was a conflict that drew in major powers, religious fanatics and obscure principalities, off of whom were sucked into its vortex by a mixture of principles and power politics.

But this initial phase of the conflict is coming to a close.

War is over…

Can we can go “home”; can we go back to how things were?

Can we dismantle our blogs; discontinue our Twitter accounts?

Can we can lay down our (metaphorical) arms, and begin to count the cost?

Those of you have been personally involved in this “debate” knows how it can feel: like brutal, bloody trench warfare.

But Like all wars, the cessation of hostilities is merely the prelude to reconstruction and new debates, the emergence of strange new alliances and emergencies.

As the World Bank notes in their recent report:

“A 4°C warmer world can, and must be, avoided – we need to hold warming below 2°C,” said World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today. Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest.”

And that:

As global warming approaches and exceeds 2°C, there is a risk of triggering nonlinear tipping elements. Examples include the disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet leading to more rapid sea-level rise, or large-scale Amazon dieback drastically affecting ecosystems, rivers, agriculture, energy production, and livelihoods. This would further add to 21st-century global warming and impact entire continents.

The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen.

The fall out from Sandy: what hope for the politics of climate response? (Reprint)

Again The Conversation provides some of the best commentary and thinking on the climate change debate.

Nick Rowley from the University of Sydney reflects upon the impact Hurricane Sandy may have on the politics of global warming. More importantly he muses on what progress can be made to fashion a global consensus for action (reprinted below).

Within the article is a remarkable statistic: investment in renewable emery has jumped 800% in the last few years.

This figure comes from a report by Pew Environment Group and is worth reading. It is worth noting who is making the investment, and critically who is not:

The Americas region is a distant third in the race for clean energy investment, attracting $65.8 billion overall in 2010. Investments in the United States rebounded 51 percent over 2009 levels to reach $34 billion, but the United States continued to slide down the top 10 list, falling from second to third. Given uncertainties surrounding key policies and incentives, the United States’ competitive position in the clean energy sector is at risk.

I’ve been musing for some time that he price of listening to the climate sceptics – at least for the US – is the loss competitive advantage.

We can see this in how America is surrounding its lead on technology and innovation (not to mention its moral leadership) due to the reflexive denial of conservative politicians cultivated and feed by the sceptics movement and right-wing media.

One only has to look at the “war on renewable energy” waged by the conservative Republican Party and News Corporation. In dismissing non-carbon sources of energy, the United States is literally surrounding its technological advantage to the Asia-Pacific nations.

“Stick with coal!” scream the sceptics.

And while many advocate for a “Drill baby, drill” energy policy the rest of the world is leaving the US behind.

The above statistics prove the folly in such short-sightedness.

There can be little doubt that in the future we will utilise clean energy technologies from China, India and South Korea – and so will the Americans.

The phrase “Made in the USA” will come to carry the same overtones we now associate with the old Soviet and East European industries: shoddy, polluting and the epitome of inefficient technological obsolescence.

This is not the first time the Americans have surrounded a technological or economic advantage: one merely needs to look at the decline and near collapse of the American automobile industry (although it should be noted it has experienced a small turn around by switching production to more fuel-efficient vehicles to match their competitors).

The same dynamics are playing out again.

Where foresight and leadership are required you can trust the doubting voices to stifle innovation and genuine discussion on policy responses. Because ultimately that is what the climate sceptic movement promotes: paralysis.

It encourages the individual and nation to stand still and forgo innovation. Failing to even acknowledge the problem of climate change means forgoing a leadership role in the realms of politics and techologicaly.

Thus it seems America’s decline is marching lockstep with rising temperatures and increased extreme weather events

When a nation’s political elite are locked into denial or silence on an issue as fundemental as climate change it can only have negative effects in both the short and long term.

The silence on the issue in the American presidential election is the true victory of the deniers – but such self-imposed silence on a issue of strategic importance will cost the US dearly.

This is not to blame the individual American, many of whom are blameless – indeed when polled the vast majority accept the science and wish to see policies and regulations addressing energy and climate change.

The ruined foreshore of New Jersy, the wrecked and burnt homes and flooded subways of New York are the price of failed leadership.

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After the deluge

By Nick Rowley, University of Sydney

I am writing with Hurricane Sandy having brought devastation to New York and the East coast of the United States.

Much has been written on the politics of climate change. But until a few days ago, a severe weather event affecting the Presidential poll in the world’s largest economy and second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, would have been regarded as creative fantasy or another average Hollywood script.

And yet that is the situation now. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina led to losses of $US125 billion: the costliest event ever recorded in the US. It was also the deadliest single storm event, claiming 1,322 lives. Sandy doesn’t come close to those statistics, yet she has halted an election campaign, shut down a major global city and stopped trading on the New York Stock Exchange for two days.

In the autumn of 2005 when working at Downing Street on climate and sustainability, I spent four days north of New York with a group of scientists and business leaders concerned with the global climate problem. It was no hurricane, but while I was there the rain didn’t stop. At the conference I met a senior executive working with Munich Re, one of the two largest re-insurance companies. An actuary by training, he wasn’t the type of person swayed by emotion or any environmentalist requests to save the world.

Insurance companies have noticed the increasing frequency of devastating weather events, and now adjust pricing accordingly. rsgray16/Flickr

Re-insurers rigorously analyse the frequency and loss trends of different perils from an insurance perspective. They calculate and assess the risk, and advise on premiums accordingly. He had little interest in the political battles with sceptics and those denying basic climate science. He said he wasn’t qualified to understand the policy responses required. Having assessed the data it was clear to him that as the atmosphere warms, the relationships between ocean currents, ice caps, and atmospheric pressure become more turbulent. The weather turns more unpredictable.

In looking out of the window at the torrential rain all I saw were damp autumn leaves. But for him, the constant rain demonstrated the probability of future events that Munich were most fearful of: a pattern of severe storms tracking up the east coast to New York, New Jersey and Washington DC. Not the big “doomsday” scenario, but what Al Gore describes as an unstable series of climatic events that become “the new normal”.

Sandy is not some bolt out of the blue. It is the kind of event that insurers have been across for a while. And as the science, impacts and costs of global climate change become more clear and the risks more real, the next meeting of the world’s climate negotiators will take place in Doha at the end of the month.

Before the meeting Christiana Figueras, the diplomat charged with leading the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was in Australia last week. With a carbon price in place and potentially powerful institutions such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in the process of being established, Australia is a place of great interest.

Figueras is a seasoned United Nations professional: highly intelligent, committed, knows the system backwards, and feisty. I sat next to her at a private lunch convened by the Clean Energy Council. She enthusiastically described the growth in the regulation of carbon with more than 30 emissions trading schemes now in operation. This is indeed positive, but sadly few, if any, can yet demonstrate a price that will come close to de-linking economic growth from emissions growth

Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Chatham House, London/Flickr

If only the politics of carbon pricing worked as well as the economic principles. And with the failure of Copenhagen to fulfil even the most modest expectations built up following the rise in public, business and political consciousness, there is currently no appetite to take the lead internationally on climate change.

Figueras sees this lack of momentum and argues it must be accelerated through three mutually re-enforcing dynamics:

  •  government and business working in tandem
  • an understanding that a burden-sharing approach must be replaced with an international race to lead in low emissions energy and infrastructure
  • an end to the logjam that pits the rapidly developing economies against those that have achieved their high carbon development already.

On these criteria there is cause for optimism. The first is latent. There are notable exceptions, but business responses to climate change have waned and remain more about the need for conspicuous concern rather than achieving measurable reductions.

The second is very much underway. According to Bloomberg, in 2004 only $US34 billion was invested in clean energy globally. In 2011 the figure was $280 billion. That is a more than 800% increase. Last year was the first when new investment in clean energy overtook investment in coal and gas.

On the third, new alliances have been formed between India, China, and Brazil. For them low carbon has the potential to be a massive potential source of competitive advantage over coming decades.

Figueras is impressive. I disagreed with little that she said. She recognises that progress cannot come from the top down, or just the bottom up, but through the actions of multiple State and other players working together.

Yet she believes heads of state must be kept away from the negotiations. Certainly, the Copenhagen experience cannot be repeated: leaders turning up to make speeches and rehearse positions. But for the international agreement that this problem demands to ever be reached, heads of state must be involved. Decisions that have implications for global economic, energy, transport, and trade policy will not be taken by negotiators, no matter how deft and able, working for environment ministers.

Heads of state won’t be in Doha. The timing and the place is wrong. But for the international response to move from flirtation with the problem to putting in place the rules that might temper the scenarios that my friend at Munich Re continues to work on, they simply must be around the table.

Nick Rowley does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Merchants of hate: the right wing populism of Alan Jones versus “decent Australia”

I’ve not commented on the so called Jones Affair yet, but I’ve been watching developments out of curiosity. For those unfamiliar with the issue, Jones is a Sydney based right-wing radio shock-jock whose now notorious comments about the Prime Minister’s father have generated intense controversy.

And while the Jones affair has sparked enormous debate it is merely symptomatic a broader issue: for too long our media has been infected, shaped and effectively ruled by the merchants of hate.

The merchants of hate: who are they?

What the merchants of hate have wrought (Source: News)

Every day in both print and radio we are constantly assaulted by men – and they’re mostly older, white conservative males (with some few token exceptions) – espousing a toxic brew of climate scepticism, disdain for the environment, free market fundamentalism and a loathing for women, refugees and anyone who does not fit into a narrowly defined category of what is acceptable to their world view.

One only have to look at the writings of Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt, the daily content of The Australian, Daily Telegraph and the messaging from the Liberal-National Party as evidence for the above.

It is the diffusion of right-wing popularism from the United States into Australian political culture, and the blending of conspiracy culture and hate. But what was once restricted to the fringes of society has been made popular via the Internet and – let us be frank – Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Noted economist John Quiggin also recently made this point on his blog:

For practical purposes, any comment, wherever it is made, is addressed to the world as a whole. More significantly, political debate has been globalised. In particular, the “cranks and crazies” who dominate the US Republican Party, along with the right-wing of the Tory party in the UK, inform the thinking of much of the Australian right-wing commentariat.

This is line with some of my thoughts: right-wing popularism (as I’m attempting to describe it in relation to climate change scepticism) has burst into the mainstream. In turn, it has had a toxic and destructive effect on the political process and public debate.

I believe a strong case can be made that climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts have been compromised by the intensity of the more extremist elements of the conservative movement opposing both the science and any attempts to address the challenge.

Which brings us back to Alan Jones.

Alan Jones: merchant of hate and unreality

For years Jones has suffered very little in the way of repercussions for the vitriol he directs against his perceived enemies. But now it seems Jones has gone to far.

His comments that Prime Ministers Julia Gillard’s father, recently deceased, died of shame has prompted a feeling of disgust across the country.

To date over 110,000 people have signed a petition to get Jones off the air. Major sponsors have dropped their association with his breakfast show (if you’re interested in signing see here).

Jones behaviour has prompted – to quote Sydney Morning Herald journalist Peter Fitzsimmons – “decent Australia” to stand up and call him on his behaviour:

What has in fact happened in the last week has been the rise of decent Australia  saying enough is enough. And yes, sponsors like Gerry Harvey have publicly  worried that by withdrawing from the Jones program they are taking part in a  lynch mob, but they misunderstand. What you are actually doing, Mr Harvey, is  refusing to sponsor any further “lynch-mob radio”.

The public outrage in relation to the Jones affair as given me a sense of optimism: perhaps we have reached a tipping point, when ordinary citizens have said “enough!”

Nor is it just Jones comments about the passing away of the Prime Minister’s father people are reflecting upon.

It is Alan Jones and his world view that is now under the microscope, as Jones subscribes to the usual cluster of right-wing popularist nonsense:

As one of the most prominent climate sceptics in the Australian media he frequently distorts the public’s understanding of the science. It is worth noting that earlier this year the Australian media watch dog found he’d made “unsubstantiated comments” about the science.

But merely being wrong about the science was not enough to stop Jones.

He had to prompt the disgust of the nation.

And even then, like any school-yard bully pulled up for their behaviour he is claiming the mantle of victim.

Countering the merchants of hate

Perhaps in the public’s justifiable outrage we are seeing the stirring of a new counter-movement against the merchants of hate – one that calls for a return to civility and reasoned debate.

It is vital that we do so with urgency.

Those of us attuned to reality appreciate we are confronted by a broad range of challenges: environmental collapse, resource depletion, an ageing population and less certain economic times to mention but a few.

It is not the end of the world, but some nasty shocks are on the horizon if we don’t start seriously planning a response.

And yet we cannot meet these challenges creatively or with a sense of common purpose when the merchants of hate preach division and call out scientists and environmentalists – indeed anyone perceived to be in opposition to their paranoid world view – as the enemy within.

The likes of Alan Jones are not dissenting voices; he is not the representative or champion of unpopular causes as he and his defenders are so very quick to claim.

The language of hate peddled by Jones, Bolt and News Corporation is merely a tool to silence critics of the status quo. Told that we cannot consume blindly or pollute the world’s atmosphere without consequences, and their response is blind fury and denial.

And yet in opposition to their fury what is an appropriate response?

Censorship in a free society is untenable, and destructive; it is not an option in a genuinely democratic country like Australia. Nor do I advocate it.

What then?

Limits to hate: victory over the merchants of unreality?

We can reclaim the media and public debate by standing up to the likes of Jones; we can bring back accountability.

Which is what 110,000 Australians did in signing that petition to get Jones off the air. It is a genuine grass-roots initiative taken up by tens of thousands. Which is why sponsors are fleeing from Jones in horror at being associated with his tainted brand.

Decency, humility and respect for the rights of others never went away or into decline: the values of our society are not in free fall.

But you would not know that tuning into Alan Jones or picking up The Herald Sun.

By capturing the media and using it as a platform for their distorted reality, the shrill and panicked voices of right-wing popularism attempted to drown out any sense of common purpose in a tirade of hate filled invective.

They wanted to divide the world into us and them and for the public to follow their conspiratorial lead. They treated climate science as a subversive heresy and have been attempting to stamp it out.

Indeed there can be little doubt in coming decades Jones and the climate sceptics will be mocked for their beliefs; that climate scientists perpetrated a gigantic hoax for funding; that environmentalists wanted to de-industrialize the West; or that the Rothschild family is behind it all.

We have listened to Jones and his fellow travellers for years; we have tolerated their hate filled world view far longer than was necessary. They have had their opportunity to put their case forward, in a manner befitting their temperament.

But there are not merely limits to growth; there are limits to the level of hate a pluralistic society will tolerate.

Perhaps those limits are now finally being reached.

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