Category Archives: Politics

A man exploiting the moment, or a man for all seasons? Tony Abbott’s legacy will be defined by climate change

A_man_for_all

On September 7 2013, the Australian voting public put into high office a man known for his scepticism of climate change, for surrounding himself with a coterie of fellow sceptics and for turning his back on partisan efforts to introduce a price on carbon. 

It is scarcely acknowledged today, but as late as June 2009 Tony Abbott argued for a price on carbon. In Sky News interview, Abbott stated: 

“If you want to put a price on carbon why not just do it with a simple tax. Why not ask motorists to pay more? Why not ask electricity consumers to pay more? 

And then at the end of the year, you can take your invoices to the tax office and get a rebate on the carbon tax you paid. 

It would be burdensome, all taxes are burdensome, but it would certainly change the price on carbon, raise the price of carbon without increasing in any way the overall tax burden.” 

Abbott’s repudiation of his own position and that of perceived wisdom is one of the most stunning turnarounds in Australia political history. The question, though it may never be answered, is what prompted Abbott’s about face? There are clues given to us but the man himself. 

Following the defeat of Howard Government in 2007 Abbott found solace in writing what should be regarded as his manifesto for the government he leads, Battlelines. 

Of it’s almost 200 pages, Abbott dedicates a scant four of them to climate change. And yet those four pages tell us all we need to know about Abbott the man and his view on the issue.

Abbott cites notable climate sceptic Ian Plimer as an authority, regurgitating many of the same arguments made by Plimer that have been widely dismissed by the scientific community. He also cites the equally discredited economist Bjorn Lomberg, of “sceptical environmentalist” fame. Lomberg acknowledges global warming but cherry picks facts without reservation to downplay it’s seriousness. It is an argument Abbott uncritically adopts in Battlelines, and without doubt guides his actions on climate change.

A clue to Abbott’s radical shift can be found in his concluding sentences on the issue, where he notes:

“Australians will continue to tell pollsters that they want action for a cleaner environment, but they are unlikely to support policy changes that they think might make daily life harder or much more expensive” (Battlelines, page 173).

Perhaps climate change is real. Perhaps not. Perhaps technology solutions and nuclear energy is the answer. Or not.

Regardless, it seems Abbott has cynically read the mood of parts of the electorate and played to them. Abbott is now in a position to impose the views expressed in his Battlelines manifesto upon the country.

There is much irony in that Abbott, the man who grudgingly acknowledges the science (in public at least), who will dismantle the carbon price and who has closed institutions such as the Climate Commission is defined by the politics global warming.

Without doubt Abbott, his government and his legacy will be measured against his policy approach to climate change, the very issue he denies is a genuine risk to Australia or the world. 

A man for our time, or a man for all seasons?

In the play A man for all seasons, playwright Robert Bolt muses on questions of identity and personal conscience in politics.

Based upon the life and death of Thomas More, Bolt suggests via the narrative of the play a person of conscience will stand by their principles regardless of external pressures and the temptations of short term gain.

By abiding by their principles, such individuals forfeit the temptations of power and its abuse. They remain true to themselves, a person “for all seasons”,

In the plays most famous scene, More argues against those who would put aside laws for the sake of expediency. He argues with his son-in-law, who urges the illegal arrest of a man who would eventually go on to betray him:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

It is well known tony Abbott has yearned for the Prime Ministership all his life. 

When the opportunity was presented to him, Abbott recognised the thicket of laws he needed to cut down to achieve his ambitions. He read discontent is some parts of the electorate, and played to their fears.

At this moment of writing, fire-storms are wiping out communities across New South Wales. There is no respite at this point, conditions such as these may last for weeks.

It is early spring, Australia’s extended fire season is upon us. The ill winds of climate change are upon us. 

Against this background Prime Minster Tony Abbott moves steadily, without pause or consideration to cut down laws. 

Who is Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a man cynically exploiting the moment or a man for all seasons?

The Climate Culture War enters a new phase in Australia

Abbott_Signs

It is telling that one of the very the first acts of the incoming Abbott government was the dismantling of Climate Commission and the sacking of Tim Flannery.

Moves are also under way to wind up the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and repeal the “carbon tax”. The freshly minted Environment Minister, Greg Hunt has dismissed the CEFC as as a speculative hedge fund:

Mr Hunt labels the corporation a green hedge fund, “borrowed in taxpayers’ name for investing in speculative ventures”

Without doubt this little piece of Orwellian cant is meant to associate investment in renewable energy with risky financial speculation.

As Michelle Grattan noted in The Conversation, a select few high-profile public servants have been the victim of their association with Labor’s carbon price:

“One of the strikes against [Martin] Parkinson was that he headed the then Climate Change department and was at the centre of Labor’s work on a carbon price. This was particularly in the mind of some in the Abbott office.”

Grattan also expressed a fear many in the science community must be feeling:

“The CSIRO comes under the Industry department. The scientists working in the climate area might be getting a little nervous.”

Indeed, however it is not just climate scientists who are nervous.

Cheering on the planet’s destruction: the sceptic response

Of course the denial movement has been in an orgiastic state of schadenfreude in response to these cuts.

The Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt demands Tim Flannery refund his salary for his “dud predictions”; conspiracy theorist Jo Nova calls it a “win for Australia”; American blogger Anthony Watts gloats in several posts, dismissing Flannery as a “high paid fool”.

There are of course many more examples of such thinly veiled pleasure in the misfortune of others.

Sitting above this scrum of sceptic bloggers and News Corp hacks, presiding over events like a bad caricature of Ann Ryan’s John Galt, is Rupert Murdoch:

RM_Tweet

Abbott, the LNP, Murdoch and the sceptics have turned back time. They desire nothing more than to wipe from Australia’s political and cultural memory the years 2007-2013.

It is as if the last five years didn’t happen: no first woman prime minister; no Labor in power; no price on carbon; no pesky scientists to remind us of the dangers of climate change.

Down the memory hole they go.

A great first day indeed.

Climate change as lighting rod for conservative anxieties in a changing world

The culture war fought over climate science has raged for more than three decades.

During this period the forces of obstruction had the upper hand in Australia, especially during the Howard years. But their ascendancy was broken in Australia in 2007 with Rudd’s election.

For a few brief years it seemed Australia might take substantive action on climate change: the signing of the Kyoto protocol;  the introduction of the carbon price; greater public acceptance of the science and the desire to act.

Thus 2007 represented a wrong in the eyes of the LNP and conservatives that had to be righted. In response we have witnessed five years of rage and fury. 

And while some may think these events are about climate change, they aren’t.

It is about the soul of the nation: it is what Australia could or should be.

Murdoch, Abbott and the gaggle of sceptics looked out at the world and the shift in our culture and feared what they saw. They are of course differences among all these individuals and the groups they represent. But what united and drove them was hatred of the scientific consensus on climate change.

Climate change has become a lighting rod for conservative anxieties and fears about a rapidly changing world. 

What do individuals do when they feel their “culture” is under attack? 

They mount a counter-offensive. 

This is what the 2013 Abbott victory represents, a cultural coup d’etat. 

Conservatives fear the evolution of Australia’s culture: one that embraces sustainability and equality; one that rejects the values of the past; one that places the market second to the needs of society; one that embraces a post-materialist world view. 

Expunging the heresy of climate science: why we should be concerned for science in Australia

Abbott is keen to project an orderly transition to power, but his targets demonstrate a quiet rage and considered preciseness.

As Flannery noted in his press conference following his sacking:

“As global action on climate change deepens, propaganda aimed at misinforming  the public about climate change, and so blunting any action, increases.”

This should send a chill down the collective spine of scientific community. It remains to be seen how this will play out, but the signs are ominous.

When the Canadian conservatives under Stephan Harper’ got into power they began a war on science and withdrew from the Kyoto treaty. A war on science was also a feature of George W. Bush’s Presidency, notably recorded by Chris Mooney in “The Republican War on Science”.

We may see similar events play out under the Abbott government: the heavy hand of Liberal Party apparatchiks in muting or censoring reports; the defunding of climate research programs; obstruction at climate conferences; more sackings; and pressure on the science community to remain silent on climate change.

Of course it will all be done in the name of savings, efficiency and small government. It will be done in the name of a “mandate”.

But the targets make it obvious.

Welcome to a renewed phase of the climate culture wars. 

John Howard’s faith vs climate science: former PM to headline talk at climate denial think tank

The first order of business for the incoming Abbott government has been to systematically dismantle Australia’s response to the challenge of climate change.

Whether that be “axing the tax”, cutting agencies such as the Climate Commission or dismantling the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Abbott & Co. are gleefully wrecking revenge on the very notion of climate change.

Not only were these actions anticipated, but they represent a return to the “glory years” of the Howard government.

Disdain for science and obstruction are once again the first order of business. Without doubt Abbott is clearly following the lead of his mentor – John Howard.

Thus it comes as no surprise to learn John Howard will be delivering the Global Warming Policy Foundations annual lecture in November titled “One religion is enough”.

Note the title: climate sceptics disparage the science as a “faith” in the exact same way creationists dismiss evolution as a “religion”. It betrays an almost medieval ambivalence to science and the challenge it presents to its authority.

There is an underlying similarity in the opposition to the science expressed by Australian conservative politicians such as Howard, Abbott and public figures such as Sydney’s Cardinal George Pell (a close confident of both).

All of them profess a deeply reactionary view of morality, the family, marriage and antipathy to science informed by their religiosity.

All of them disdain environmentalism, and regard it as a form of paganism or competing religion to the “one true faith”.

As Pell noted in an 2008 interview with the sceptic think tank, the Science and Public Policy Institute:

“It is true that some of the more hysterical and extreme claims about global warming appear symptomatic of a pagan emptiness, of a Western fear when confronted by the immense and basically uncontrollable forces of nature. 

Years ago I was struck by the fears that middle-class kids without religion had about nuclear war. It was almost an obsession with a few of them. It’s almost as though people without religion, who don’t belong to any of the great religious traditions, have got to be frightened of something. 

Perhaps they’re looking for a cause that is almost a substitute for religion. I often point out that some of those who are now warning us against global warming were warning us back in the 1970s about an imminent new ice age, because according to some criteria an ice age is a bit overdue. Remember the fuss about the millennium bug and our computer systems in the lead-up to the year 2000…”

Pell’s response is reminiscent of that Catholic Church when confronted by Galileo’s evidence for a heliocentric solar system.

Howard was a “late convert” to the science in 2007 as the election that spelt his demise loomed.

However, since being thrown out he has thrown his clout behind the deniers now freed from the constraints of office.

In 2011 Howard helped launched Ian Plimer’s “How to get expelled”, a nasty and error-riddled little tome designed to mislead school students:

Mr Howard attacked the one-sided teaching of climate change in schools.

“People ought to be worried about what their children are being taught at school,” he said.

“It’s a matter of real concern”.

As Michelle Gratton notes in The Conversation, one of Abbott’s most senior advisers is Maurice Newman, a noted climate sceptic and who recently dismissed climate change as a myth:

Newman chairs Abbott’s Business Advisory Group and this week wrote in the Financial Review of climate change “myths”.

“The new Coalition government is faced with enormous structural issues that have been camouflaged by effective propaganda and supported by well-organised elements in the public service, the media, the universities, trade unions and the climate establishment,” Newman wrote.

“With a huge vested interest in the status quo, they will be vocal opponents of change. The CSIRO, for example, has 27 scientists dedicated to climate change. It and the Weather Bureau have become global warming advocates. They continue to propagate the myth of anthropological climate change and are likely to be background critics of the Coalition’s Direct Action policies.”

The CSIRO comes under the Industry department. The scientists working in the climate area might be getting a little nervous.

A war on science has begun.

Or should we say, has resumed?

The boys are back in town: Abbott’s dumps science and women, gives industry portfilio to Greenhouse Mafia

Firstly the good news.

Despite some initial speculation (and concern), Denis Jensen did not land the role of science minister. Placing a climate sceptic in charge of policy would have been a disastrous for science in Australia. Not to mention somewhat embarrassing.

Newly incumbent Prime Minister Tony Abbott neatly side-stepped the potential embarrassment of having a sceptic heading up the science portfolio by doing away with the science portfolio:

The country’s top science bodies have expressed concern over Tony Abbott’s  new ministry, which has omitted a dedicated science minister for the first time  in more than 80 years.

Not since 1931, and for six weeks during World War II, has an Australian  government been without a minister with science in their portfolio title. Under  the incoming Abbott government the minister for industry, Ian MacFarlane, will  be responsible for some areas of science including the main scientific  organisation, the CSIRO.

The Australian Academy of Science’s Les Field was disappointed Mr Abbott had  not appointed a science minister and hoped one would be announced in the coming  days.

”A scientifically literate society is a society which is equipped to hold  informed debate and make intelligent decisions about big issues that affect us  all,” said Professor Field,  the academy’s secretary for science policy.

See, problem solved!

Silly, silly scientists. What importance could science be to Australian society in the early 21st century?

Some commentators have noted that Macfarlane is a better choice than Jensen.

Really? Those of us with long memories and some insight into climate politics in Australia have grave concerns.

MacFarlane was once described as a member of Australia’s “Greenhouse Mafia” – part of a select group of men (surprise!) who worked behind the scenes in the Howard Government to block attempts to put a price on carbon or ratify the Kyoto agreement.

As Clive Hamilton noted in 2007:

“As industry minister in the Howard Government since November 2001, Macfarlane has been the greenhouse troglodyte of the Government. Even after the Prime Minister and the environment minister had accepted (at least in public) that climate change is real and potentially damaging, he continued to deny that there is a problem. MacFarlane has worked hand-in-glove with the fossil fuel lobby to sideline climate change. When the issue is unavoidable, he engages in policy window dressing in order to fool the Australian public into believing that the Government takes its responsibilities seriously…”

OK, now I can see how science fits into the industry portfolio.

Macfarlane’s mates get a free pass on polluting the planet, while science is muted and subservient to the needs of the fossil fuel industry.

Binders full of women, I mean women knocking at Cabinet’s door

In addition to this incumbent Prime Minister announced a ministry lineup which comprises of 95% men.

Memo to Australia: Afghanistan has more women in senior government positions than Australia.

Abbott sensed it may cause a perception issues stating:

“Nevertheless, there are some very good and talented women knocking on the door of the Cabinet and there are lots of good and talented women knocking on the door of the ministry.,”

Phew! Glad Mr. Abbott cleared up the impression he had a problem with women. 

Yep, the boys are well and truly back in town.

 

The Ides of March come more than once a year down under

Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

And so it is done.

We have removed another Prime Minister from office. I was also part of the chorus calling for her resignation.

Did I feel my reasons were justified?

Perhaps.

Pragmatism tells me a hard choice had to be made.

Pragmatism tells me it was needed to avoid a forthcoming decade or more of conservative rule.

Without doubt we would have seen the stripping away of environmental and social protections under an Abbott led government with a super-majority.

Pragmatism told me something had to be done to avoid – or blunt the scale of – the victory of politicians beholden to mining billionaires.

Pragmatism called for the sacrifice of the individual for the sake of many.

But my conscience knows something very wrong took place, that all of us – every adult Australian – was complicit.

Every politician, every journalist, every pundit and every voter: we all have blood on our hands.

The Ides of March come more than once a year down under.

We have revealed our dark hearts: a nation of assassins.

The sacrifices one must make (part 2): should Gillard resign for the good of the nation? Yes.

My post on whether or not Julia Gillard should stand aside  as Prime Minister got a little attention. But it was not an easy thing to suggest, especially given the vitriol and hatred the Prime Minister has experienced. I do not wish to “let the bastards win”. No one does.

But what matters now is the future of nation, the skeletal climate change policy framework we have only just begun to implement and a genuine contest of ideas.

There are times when personal careers have to be sacrificed.

This is such a time.

The editors of The Age have come to similar conclusions, arguing for “the good of the nation” Julia Gillard must stand aside:

It is time for Julia Gillard to stand aside as leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, as Prime Minister of Australia, so that vigorous, policy-driven democratic debate can flourish once again. Ms Gillard should do so in the interests of the Labor Party, in the interests of the nation and, most importantly, in the interests of democracy. The Age’s overriding concern is that, under Ms Gillard’s leadership, the Labor Party’s message about its future policies and vision for Australia is not getting through to the electorate. Our fear is that if there is no change in Labor leadership before the September 14 election, voters will be denied a proper contest of ideas and policies – and that would be a travesty for the democratic process.

And that:

The opposition under Tony Abbott has contentious policies on the carbon tax, the mining tax and schools funding; these are just the start of it. Yet Labor under Ms Gillard has been unable to step up to the contest. Mr Abbott is being allowed to run almost entirely unchallenged with his preposterous claim that a Coalition government would ”stop the boats”, in part by turning back the pathetic trail of rickety vessels laden with asylum seekers. This is a potentially dangerous and deeply dispiriting approach. Labor’s inability to unscramble this sloganeering is damning.

Time is running out. Labor needs to refresh its public face and present a compelling, united and inspiring voice. It is capable of doing so. Now it must find the will. There may only be one chance to minimise the damage that appears inevitable in September. To do nothing would implicitly weaken the democratic choice. If it is to be done, it is best done now. But it must be an unequivocal and energising change for the better.

There was nothing prescient in what I wrote, nor do I think the MSM pays much attention to bloggers such as myself. Farifax’s Sydney Morning Herald said the same thing a few weeks back.

It is simply that I am not alone in reading the situation or the risks should Labor continue to be led by Julia Gillard. Commentators across all sections of the media and on both sides can see the writing on the wall.

Is it fair? No.

Did Gillard deserve to be treated with respect? Yes.

Was she handed an extraordinarily difficult situation? Yes.

Was overt sexism a feature of the attacks on her? Yes.

Was the malice of the shock jocks and News Limited a factor? Yes.

As a nation, we need to reflect on just how toxic the level of debate has become these past few years. I lay much of the blame on News Limited and the Coalition. But the blame also rests with the Labor Party, Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan.

The nexus for all this strife began when the “kitchen sink” cabinet that included Swan and Gillard convinced Rudd not to take us to a double dissolution election on the carbon price. At that time the public and mood of the nation was with them.

But they blinked, they thought they could ditch a policy which helped deliver them office in 2007. Since then Labor has been paying the price for the failure of the first iteration of the ETS under Rudd.

They thought we lived in a time of “politics as usual”.

Politics has been reshaped by climate change: it is time to acknowledge that reality.

This is the new normal on so many fronts.

If you want to proportion blame then start with this decision. 

Julia’s finest hour, and the speech that will be her enduring legacy:

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News Ltd kicking more sand in the public’s face: just why are Murdoch’s papers recycling the old “CFCs not CO2” zombie climate myth?

The state of the climate debate in Australia under News Ltd

The state of the climate debate in Australia under News Ltd

Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited, which controls 70% of the Australian print media, are without doubt doing the Australian public a great disservice with their constant stream of climate disinformation.

It is not enough for News Limited to shape the narrative as “believers versus sceptics”, thus creating a sense of false balance. They take it a step further by willfully distorting the public’s perception about the causes of climate change while simultaneously undermining their trust in the scientific community.

Recent evidence of this can be seen across News Limited publications and websites these past two days.

Nearly every organ of Murdoch’s Australian media empire has been actively pushing the discredited theory that CFCs are to blame for warming (not CO2). Here is the audit trail:

  • The story first appeared in The Australian by Graham Lloyd on Monday 3 June (see here)
  • It then made it onto Andrew Bolt’s blog on 7:27pm the same day (see here)
  • A reference was made on Piers Ackerman’s blog on 4 June at 12:45 am (see at the end of the article)
  • Reference to it was published in the Cut and Paste section of The Australian today.

Note how the same message is weaved into different articles across multiple platforms?

Clearly the intent is to hit the broadest number of readers across all demographics: from the tabloid pages of the Herald Sun to the faux-paper-of-note pretensions of The Australian aimed at a more “elite” audience. Note they all appear within a day of each other.

Note also that in last night’s Q&A program, Senator Cory Bernardi referenced this News Limited generated fiction.

Cause and effect clearly demonstrated on national television.

Based on the uniformity of the message, tone and content it is clear the voice of the independent journalist is irrelevant at News Limited.

What matters is the message and broadcasting it on all frequencies to a mass audience. The resurrection of the “CFCs not CO2” myth is but a single example of propagating misinformation over a broad spectrum (News Limited papers and web platforms).

And the message is simple.

Climate change isn’t happening, don’t trust the scientists.

I’m not going to address the science, but simply direct readers to the refutation at Climate Science Watch. I also note Crikey have picked up on the errors contained in Graham Lloyd’s article as well (pay wall sorry).

However, upon reflection something has been missing in both my comments and Crikey’s analysis.

And it is not about focussing on the minutia of the debate, which this whole episode is merely another tedious example.

It’s time to consider the bigger picture.

The desperate last phases of the climate debate: throwing sand in our faces

When somebody is losing a fight, and they feel the tide of victory flowing against them they’ll resort to increasingly desperate tactics.

Consider the final moment of many films where the hero and villain square off to fight. Shots, punches and kicks are exchanged as the fortunes of both protagonists ebb and flow.

But there comes a moment when both protagonists and the audience recognise the villain is in the throes of their final and inevitable defeat.

What does the villain do?

They grab a handful of sand or dirt and throw it into the face of their opponent.

It’s a sign of desperation, a feint intended to stem defeat by distracting and irritating their opponent. Sometimes it works, but generally it signals they have nothing left to fight with but dirty tricks. The message to the audience is clear: “They are deceitful, even in their last moments”.

It’s a trope used countless times. In fact, my daughter’s favourite film The Lion King contains it. In the final confrontation between Scar, who has usurped the throne and Simba (the rightful heir to the title of Lion King) the villain scatters burning ash in latter’s eyes in a final act of defiance.

Which is exactly what News Limited is doing, they are throwing sand in the face of the public and scientists in desperation.

Welcome to this new phase in the climate debate.

In raising long discredited “zombie” climate myths News Limited is reaching for sand to throw in all our eyes.

One can see why this would be the case. Public acceptance of the science is overwhelming; most accept humanity has changed the planet. Did we forget to mention 97% of climate scientists accept the science?

Everyone but the climate sceptics recognise their increasing irrelevance and what is clearly the death throes of their movement.

But they have one more trick to play, one last desperate gamble…

They’re clutching for a handful of sand to cast into the faces of their opponents.

Lose the debate and lose the kingdom: for Murdoch the climate debate is about one thing, can you guess?

For the owner of News Limited and his army of minions the trajectory of public opinion must be troubling. So they are throwing everything at it.

Misinformation and zombie climate myths are their sand. But why? That is a question worth asking.

Murdoch is desperate to continue setting the political and social agenda within Australia and the English-speaking world. News Corporation is the agency of his will; they are his legions of flying monkeys.

Here is something we may not have considered in speculating over News Limited’s role in the climate debate.

Why is it that Fox News, The Australian, The Wall Street Journal and all other organs of the Murdoch empire are unanimous in their contempt for the science? Consider this…

The climate debate, from Murdoch’s perspective, is as much about forestalling action as it is about Rupert Murdoch.

It is about Murdoch’s king making and opinion making abilities. It’s about his power. It is about how much he has, and how effectively he can wield it.

It is about how media power shapes the conversations we have in political debates, around the proverbial water cooler and over the BBQ on a Sunday afternoon.

How much does it say about the power of Murdoch and News Limited (which fervently believes it can shape the tone of all political conversation within our nation) that it can no longer control the debate or public perception on climate?

What does it mean when public opinion slips from the control of the opinion makers?

Lose the ability to shape the debate, and you lose the kingdom.

All empires are fictions and all power is perceived.

This is especially the case today with the internet reshaping the media, rendering the traditional gatekeepers less relevant than they once were.

A king-maker who has built his empire on public perception, mass entertainment and sports broadcasting understands this intuitively.

From the Tampa Affair, the denial of the Stolen Generations and the climate debate, Murdoch has sought to shape our nation and values for decades.

Does it come as a surprise that public respect for the media in Australia is at all-time low? This is not a coincidence, nor some chance correlation.

News Limited’s reporting on climate change is at odds with people’s everyday experiences of a changing planet. Should you believe Andrew Bolt or the evidence of your home burning to the ground over Australia’s “Angry Summer”?

Remember how the Carbon Tax was going to be the ruin of us all?

The disconnect between what News Limited wants the public to believe, and what the public experiences is growing further apart. A crisis of credibility is engulfing News Limited, and they’ve failed to recognise it.

And their response to this growing disconnect?

The recycling of this old zombie climate myth (CFCs not CO2), a desperate attempt to throw sand in our faces. The whole CFC meme of the past few days is merely to distract the public with an irrelevant fact, while also enraging activists and scientists with its stupidity.

It is as if Murdoch has thrown sand in our eyes and is screaming in our faces: “See, see! I still set the agenda!”

How much time and energy will we expand on countering the “CFC not CO2” zombie myth one more time?

Stop focussing on the sand in your eyes, irritating as that may be.

Look at who is throwing the sand.

Advice to the scientific community: well, not that “you” asked

At the heart of scientific practice is error reduction: detecting, and correcting errors. Both your own and that of your peers. It is a valid means to ensure research results support theories; that theories reflect the actual state of the world.

However, in the climate debate a focus on error reduction – for example correcting people or journalists on the “CFCs not CO2” issue – is counter productive.

We will forever be chasing down errors, and attempting to correct people’s misconceptions. It is a rabbit hole we have spent too much time dwelling  in – chasing down a misconception here and another piece of disinformation there.

We are Red Queens, forever running as fast as we can in a vain attempt to merely stay in the same place.

Yes, we can catch one error and force a correction printed in the pages of The Australian. We can get the Australian Press Council to issue a statement against the likes of Andrew Bolt. But in that time, ten thousand errors have flown from the pages and blogs of News Limited.

We catch an error and declare it victory. Time to consider the bigger picture.

Think of the climate debate like this…

Until recently we thought the universe was the solar system with the Earth at its centre. Then we thought the universe was no more than our home galaxy, The Milky Way.

Our perception was stunted, limited to the local.

Then Hubble took his famous images of red shifted objects…

… and the Universe exploded into view, revealing its immensity and majesty. Our view of the universe and ourselves was profoundly changed.

We need to think about the climate debate in this manner: broader, deeper and more sophisticated.

No more error correction please: turn your big brains to more profound questions.

Back to Murdoch, the King Lear of the Anthropocene.

The King Lear of our time: Murdoch

To return to the film The Lion King (no really!) you may be surprised to learn it is loosely based upon Hamlet. Shakespeare’s tale is a cautionary one about those who usurp thrones and marriage beds, and the tragic consequences of those actions.

But I’m reminded of another of Shakespeare’s plays when I consider Murdoch and his need to control the climate debate in our politics and in our private conversations.

King Lear, the dying king who divides his kingdom among his ambitious children. It is a decision that begins a chain reaction of events ending in ruin.

Murdoch is that monarch whose time is coming to an end; he is the king who divides the state among his children. Like Lear, it is his selfish, ego driven decisions that precipitates the ruin of all.

King Murdoch – the Lear of the early twenty-first century – would rather let our planet burn then admit he no longer sets the agenda on the climate debate, nor countenance being wrong.

Rub the sand from your eyes, ask why it has been thrown.

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[A few errors in first draft got through, fixed]

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The Billionaire’s Tea Party: Video of the week

AGETV

Click on image to get to documentary

Some interesting weekend viewing from The Age TV, a terrific documentary by Australian film maker Taki Oldham:

Something is stirring in America. After Barack Obama and a Democratic congress swept to power promising a new era of hope and change, out of nowhere a citizens protest movement called the Tea Party emerged threatening to derail their agenda. Was this uprising the epitome of grassroots democracy? Or was it, as some said, an example of astroturfing – the creation of fake grassroots groups designed to put corporate messages in the mouths of seemingly independent citizens? Fascinated by this concept of astroturfing, and curious to find out if these accusations were true, Australian filmmaker Taki Oldham hopped on a plane to investigate. The Billionaires’ Tea Party is a journey through a unique moment in American history and a thoroughly researched piece of investigative journalism.

Compelling evidence that right-wing billionaire’s funded and nurtured the Tea Party into existence. It is a weird mix of concerned citizens, birthers and gun-totting militia.

Worth the 45 minutes for those fascinated by American politics and the climate debate.

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 half drowned world: will disasters like Hurricane Sandy further mobilise public opinion in favour of climate change action?

Like so many others I’ve been watching with concern Hurricane Sandy that is crashing into the Eastern seaboard of the United States.

The questions have already begun: is this climate change? Recall this is the second year in a row hurricane New York and the East Coast has faced a hurricane.

The Guardian notes this has potential to one of the worst storms to hit the US. This follows the brutal summer heat waves, wild fires and loss of crops that have devastated large parts of that country.

As a direct consequence of these events acceptance of climate change among the American public has been shifting towards an overwhelming majority (Bloomberg):

In a poll taken July 12-16, 70 percent of respondents said they think the climate is changing, compared with 65 percent in a similar poll in March. Those saying it’s not taking place fell to 15 percent from 22 percent, according to data set to be released this week by the UT Energy Poll.

Following a winter of record snowfall in 2010, the public’s acceptance of climate change fell to a low of 52 percent, according to the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change, which was published by the Brookings Institution in Washington. After this year’s mild winter, support jumped to 65 percent, the same as that found by the UT Energy Poll in March.

The public’s views on climate change can be rather fickle depending on the vagaries of the seasons and day-to-day weather events. However it is possible to see a storm of this magnitude and potential devastation will likewise further shift (or solidify) public opinion just as the heat waves and droughts have.

But Sandy is different as this piece from The Nation notes:

The presidential candidates decided not to speak about climate change, but climate change has decided to speak to them. And what is a thousand-mile-wide storm pushing 11 feet of water toward our country’s biggest population center saying just days before the election? It is this: we are all from New Orleans now. Climate change—through the measurable rise of sea levels and a documented increase in the intensity of Atlantic storms—has made 100 million Americans virtually as vulnerable to catastrophe as the victims of Hurricane Katrina were seven years ago.

It is not merely another data point in the collective memory of the general public – it is another extreme weather event clustered with so many others.

Time scales are shortening between events so that even the most obtuse and skeptical are noting. Rare events no longer seem as rare, but a common occurrence  Climate change is bursting from the confirms of IPCC reports and computer models into the public’s consciousness.

We, the human species, are a pattern seeking animal. Now we see the pattern in a storm that stretches the length of the continental shelf of the Eastern United States.

Even the most the more skeptical and disengaged minds are registering changes taking place on a planetary scale: something wicked this way comes.

The Great Awakening versus the Climate Beast: when will the voting public begin their demand for action on climate?

Among many in the activist community there is a belief – and I call it just that – the general public will undergo something akin to a “Great Awakening”.

In response to increased extreme weather events such as Hurricane Sandy it is believed the public will begin clamoring for action on climate change.

Put crudely, if you’re home is flooded or your crops are withering under harsh drought conditions, the lived experience will a far greater teacher than the 30 plus years of science communication.

The argument goes like this:

1/ There will be an increased awareness among the general public due to extreme weather events

2/ As a consequence there will increasing demand for solutions by those in democratic countries

3/ Politicians and political parties will adopt policies that provide solutions (i.e. renewable energy, carbon trading schemes).

Or:

Impact + demand = climate change solutions

Whether or not we will see the implementation of the “right” solutions remains to be seen.

But it is possible to detect a change in both the public’s perception and the tone of the discussion this year in response to the increasing incidence of extreme weather events across the globe.

Thus one could argue that such an awakening is emerging with the debate shifting from the reality of science to that of advocacy for solutions.

At this point, fighting climate sceptics is merely a mopping up operation: perhaps blogs such as this are on the clean up crew, clearing away the remaining detritus of climate sceptic arguments that still infect the media and political debate.

But is such an awakening of the general public – in a fashion many hope it will be – really on the horizon?

Many activists and environmentalists work on the assumption that once the public accepts the science this will flow through to policy action, the implementation of mitigation efforts and large-scale adoption of renewable energy.

But I believe it is just that – an assumption.

Perhaps nothing more than earnest (but understandable) hope: if “we” have failed, then perhaps there can be no greater teacher than something like Hurricane Sandy.

And yet despite the devastating weather across much of the US this past 12 months, ask yourself how much is climate change impacting the current US Presidential Election?

Not as much as one would expect, despite some of Obama’s vague statements on the issue.

We’ve spent nearly four decades vainly waiting for the public to come to terms with climate change and demand action from elected governments.

And the result?

Silence, indifference or at best a grudging acknowledgement that it is a problem for others in future years. Deeply encoded in this ambivalence is a mixture of self-interest (both personal and national), denial, a lack of information and appreciation of the issue and the failure of the media and politicians to lead and inform.

I firmly believe this conundrum will not be magically solved in response to increased disaster.

Increased disaster may raise deeply held existential fears: fears for one’s personal safety and well-being and that of loved ones; fear for the future of ones tribe (aka nation-state); fear of annihilation.

What political, economic and social impacts can we envision when that collective shiver of recognition and understanding pulses through the population of the world’s mega cities, shanty towns and affluent enclaves?

Do we expect people to willingly open their arms to such knowledge and receive it with calmly and react with a stoic fortitude? Ask yourself what your own reaction was, or those close to you?

Many of us who have stared directly into the maw of the climate beast have come away depressed and terror-stricken, overwhelmed by the knowledge of what is coming.

And when that beast comes for all – and now that it is here – when it closes is jaws?

What then – what then?

The half drowned world: of failed mini-states and keen intelligence’s

Disaster can bring forth the full spectrum of what is admirable in our species: the capacity for empathy, love, generosity of spirit and positive action.

And yet it can also give birth to the very opposite: fear, naked self interest, hatred and shortsightedness.

One only has to reflect upon the impact of Hurricane Katrina and fate of New Orleans in subsequent years. The city’s has been rebuilding both painfully and slowly, while many residents have failed to return.

Sadly, I fear this is closer to what many parts of the world will experience over the coming decades.

If you want a picture of the future, it will be of half deserted and flooded coastal cities in the poorer and less resilient parts of the globe.

The nations and regions with more resources and greater resilience will be the ones building seas walls (like the Dutch are doing now), shifting populations and agricultural production and investing in alternative energy sources – like or not, that will include nuclear.

Some will argue that we should begin deliberately engineering the climate to correct our mistakes – the first stirrings of this debate have begun.

In larger polities such as the United States, Russia and China the less affluent and resilient regions will become something akin to failed mini-states within larger national entities. Internal displacement, and the redirection of resources from these failed and climate ravaged regions will see their abandonment and decline.

These will be the sacrifice zones of climate change.

While many drown, starve or die in conflicts over resources, others will run mitigation and adaptation initiatives through a cost benefit analysis.

Should we build that sea wall for that community?

Should we surrender our economic or military advantage over competitor nations or neighboring states?

Should we transfer that technology to this or that developing nation?

And what of the climate refugees – should we open our borders to them?

Do we have a duty to assist them?

If you think the climate change debate is intractable and vicious now, just watch the tone of the debate over the coming years.

It is possible – perhaps likely –  the response to climate change across the globe will devolve to the national and sub-national level, as nation states make hard-headed calculations about how they can absorb the costs of climate change.

Central to their concerns will be how to preserve their military, economic and social dominance – and maintain control of vital resources – at the regional and global level.

One need only look at the United States recent proposal to abandon attempts to limit average temperature rises beyond the 2c degree “safe limit”.

It is hard to believe that in the early twenty first century, as we busy ourselves with our affairs, keen intelligence’s are making assessments about what is worth preserving and what may have to be abandoned to the rising seas and temperatures.

The costs may be terrible and the loss of life horrific but, based on their “clear-headed” and “pragmatic” analysis, some will argue it is better to lose an island nation or two or even several of one’s own crop growing regions than surrender global, regional or economic hegemony.

Many of us will oppose the injustice of such inhuman logic.

But there will be those who will cheer on such brutality in the name of pragmatism and national sovereignty.

What then – what then.

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