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How Tony Abbott killed the Australian climate sceptic movement and schooled them in realpolitik

In June of 2012 I wrote a post on the politics of climate change in Australia and what to expect in 2013 and 2014. At the time I thought it overly optimistic, if not risky given that most predictions turn out to be spectacularly wrong.

Titled The coming disappointment: how the deniers are about to get a harsh lesson in realpolitik I suggested:

  • Tony Abbott and the LNP would win the 2013 Federal election
  • Abbott would look to “axe-the-tax” (price on carbon) in name only, introducing a face-saving sleight-of-hand in but still maintain a price on carbon
  • The climate sceptic movement would be bitterly disappointed, as the realisation began to dawn on them that Abbott played the populist hand against the carbon tax in order to undermine the Gillard government’s legitimacy
  • For the climate sceptics (deniers) it would be an object lesson in realpolitik.

I should have also added it would signal the death knell of the sceptic movement as a cultural and political force in Australia. Abbott may shut down the Climate Commission as a symbolic act, but it will be no more than that – a sop for the more rabid elements of the Murdoch Press.

Now that Abbott is assured the Prime Ministership both he and the LNP are distancing themselves from climate change scepticism.

Abbott has just recently indicated that once he becomes Prime Minister he will work with China and the United States to formulate a global agreement and (believe it or not) raise their emission reduction targets:

The coalition will consider ramping up the national target for reduced emissions as part of its Direct Action policy, The Australian Financial Review reports.

According to the newspaper, Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt told an audience in Canberra last night Australia would “easily meet” the already set target of reducing emissions by five per cent by 2020.

Mr Hunt conceded his confidence was rooted in a future coalition government’s willingness to consider raising the emissions reduction target as early as 2015.

Mr Hunt’s concession comes as opposition leader Tony Abbott unveiled plans to play a lead role in convincing China and the United States to sign up for a global climate change deal if he wins government.

Mr Hunt said under a coalition government Australia would still be part of a UN climate change process but would also pursue action with key members of Group of 20 nations.

“Where a real global agreement will come is when China and United States reach a point of common position and when that’s backed up with India and the EU,” Mr Hunt told ABC TV on Thursday.

Mr Hunt said Australia would chair the G20 summit in Brisbane next year and it was in a unique position “to bring together the G4 as the basis for a global agreement”.

“I think (Tony’s) a fantastic negotiator,” he said

Yes that’s right – a global governance regime and working with the UN. The very things the likes of Christopher Monckton, Jo Nova, David Evans, Andrew Bolt and James Delingpole fear. Does this make Abbott an agent of the New World Order?

Hunt also recently appeared on the Andrew Bolt show arguing the case for global action:

GREG HUNT: If we act with China, the United States, India and the EU, that can be a positive. But acting alone, and at the moment, the Government is acting alone in a way where we have a higher tax than anybody else in the world is ultimately not effective, particularly when you are simply sending the emissions and the jobs to China, to India and to Indonesia. 

ANDREW BOLT: Can you explain to me why, and I always ask the question of you whenever I see you as you know… 

GREG HUNT: You do. 

ANDREW BOLT: And I always try to ask that of the Government when they don’t come into the studio anyway. But why is that I don’t get an answer anyway on that? I mean it’s quite a, scientists have got the figure, and they put it out there, this is the difference you will make and you guys never tell us, yes or no. 

GREG HUNT: The answer is we will make a difference of 155 million tonnes… 

ANDREW BOLT: No in temperature. 

GREG HUNT: Acting alone the difference is minimal but… 

ANDREW BOLT: Everyone watching us now has just seen me asking you the question a couple of times and everyone watching this now has seen you dodge it and they will say he’s not answering it. 

That’s what really strikes me, why do politicians never answer the very basic question. For all this pain what is the gain in temperature? 

GREG HUNT: There are different views on the impact. 

ANDREW BOLT: And what’s your view? 

GREG HUNT: My view is that alone it is minimal. With others you can have some sort of impact but above all else, we’ve got an environmental policy which is about clean air and clean land, things that you can support irrespective of where you stand on the science.

The LNP’s pivot back to the centre: ditching the crazies

Mainstream politicians don’t win elections pandering to extremists and conspiracy theorists. The Republicans failed to learn that lesson in 2012.

However Abbott & Co. is doing what the GOP and Mitt Romney failed to do in the final stages of the 2012 US election: swing back to political centre to capture moderate and undecided voters. Abbott learnt the lesson the GOP failed to learn – ditch the crazies.

The carbon tax protests of several years ago demonstrated to most Australians the sceptic movement is a collection of intellectual fringe dwellers and conspiracy theorists. Only 6% of the Australian public identify themselves as climate sceptics. It is a demographic the Coalition and LNP and Abbott would do well to ditch – and so they are.

Conservative commentator (and George W. Bush speechwriter) David Frum recently wrote the harm extremist views can have on the electoral prospects of a political party. Reflecting on the reasons for the GOP’s defeat in the last US Presidential election he noted the toxic role the “conservative entertainment complex” played :

“The alternative information system built by conservative elites imprisons them as much as it does the movement’s rank and file. Exactly at the moment when realism and restraint are most needed, those qualities are spurned by a political movement that has furnished its collective mind with pseudo-facts and pretend information.” (Why Romney Lost, 2012)

The climate sceptic movement is just that: an alternative system of knowledge. If you recall, every GOP presidential candidate stated they were a climate sceptic: not one of them became the President of the United States.

Abbott and Greg Hunt are smart enough to start freeing themselves from the grip of the sceptic movement: which is why the climate sceptic movement is dead.

Where’s the love Tony? Sceptics feel the cold shoulder

This reality is only just dawning on Australia’s more vocal sceptics. Evidence of this can be seen in a recent post by Jo Nova in which she lashes out at Abbott and the LNP.

Titled Australian conservatives going Labor lite – pandering to the “green vote” or just confused? she states:

Tony Abbott has a plan to try to convince China and the US to sign up for the “global climate change deal.” As if the world’s number one and two economies, with a population of 1.6 billion combined, will be waiting for instructions. And as if the global climate needed “a deal”. Hey but we do have 22 million people. squeak. squeak.

To make matters worse, Greg Hunt — the opposition spokesman for the environment — said a Coalition Government might not wipe out the emissions reductions target but… wait, they might lift the target instead. Thus taking something useless, expensive and ineffective against a problem-that-doesn’t-exist and making it moreso [sic].

It’s a mistake every which way. The Liberal Party could play them at their own green game and beat them, just by applying common sense. Instead its appeasing the politically correct namecallers [sic] (who wouldn’t vote for them anyway), and the price they pay is to look weak, irrational and lacking in conviction.

Jo can’t understand why Abbott and Hunt accept climate change as real:

If the Liberal Party were serious about protecting the environment, they would promise to drop funding for pointless fantasies and token do-gooder projects and get the science right first. A government that was serious about the environment would use some saved funds to set up an entirely new climate science research unit — one that aimed at predicting the climate (inasmuch as it is possible). Better climate models would help farmers, town planners, tourism operators, emergency services, dams and water catchments. It’s not just green, its a productivity thing too. Better than a wind-farm…

The new unit could compete with the BOM and CSIRO and may the best scientists win.

A real green policymaker would audit our temperature records independently. How can we be serious about managing Australia’s climate if our records have biased and inexplicable adjustments, that are described as “neutral”? Why would anyone who cares about the environment be prepared to accept shoddy data, bugs, and mysterious black box methods that no one can test?

Put aside her fantasy of creating yet another scientific institution – at great expense to the taxpayer – the necessary competition between scientists has already happened: it’s called the peer-review system. Over 95% of climate scientists agree humanity is changing the atmosphere of the planet.

Abbott and the LNP have accepted that scientific consensus: which is why the climate sceptic movement is dead.

Abbott’s coming political challenge: Australia’s business community want’s a price on carbon

A recent article in the Australian Financial Review stated both power and multinational firms are signalling their strong desire to see a price on carbon is maintained:

Power companies are demanding the federal opposition rethink its “direct action’’ plan for reducing carbon emissions, warning that its company baseline approach could be more difficult to operate than Labor’s trading scheme.

The Energy Supply Association of Australia said falling demand for power meant the Coalition must review its energy and climate change policy if it gains power at the September 14 federal election.

The warning comes amid growing support by multinational companies and major business groups for a market-based scheme, such as an emissions trading scheme, linked to the currently low prices set in European and other international markets.

ESSA, which represents big power companies such as Origin, TRUenergy and International Power, has long supported an emissions trading scheme.

“What we are seeing is the conditions in the market moving so quickly that there is a need to rethink the rules with a view to resetting or rethinking Direct Action,” ESAA chief executive Matthew Warren told The Australian Financial Review on Tuesday.

But the Coalition is refusing to budge. The opposition’s spokesman on ­climate action, Greg Hunt, said on Tuesday that it was committed to dumping the carbon tax.

“We remain completely committed to the policy as it removes a costly tax on business,” he said.

After the 2013 election the LNP will face enormous pressure from business to shift its position.

The hard sell will be trying to convince the voting public retaining a price on carbon is not a price on carbon. But a price on carbon is here to stay.

Would not the public see that as a cynical ploy, thus hurting freshly minted Prime Minister Abbott’s approval ratings? More than likely.

But the LNP will have a sizable majority in the lower house and the potential to ride out initial voter backlash.

Cynical? Perhaps.

But that is how the game is played.

Realpolitik triumphs: which is why the climate sceptic movement is dead.

Ironically it is Tony Abbott driving some of the final nails into the coffin of the climate sceptic movement –  the same man who famously called climate change “crap” and ran a tawdry scare campaign against the carbon “tax”.

There are times when politics creates situations of exquisite irony.

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