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Australia, ‘hostage to climate change madness’? To say so is madness indeed

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A penguin looks at the MV Akademik Shokalskiy carrying the Australasian Antarctic Expedition. Photograph: Laurence Topham for the Guardian

When the Russian scientific vessel MV Akademik Shokalskiy got stuck in ice earlier this week while hosting a mission to retrace the steps of Sir Douglas Mawson and to conduct research on climate science, the blogosphere and talk-back radio were quick to gloat. What would the scientists say now, the deniers demanded to know, as if the presence of sea ice was enough to disprove the entire theory of climate change.

When expedition leader Chris Turney was informed of the comments in an ABC radio interview on Tuesday morning, he was dumbstruck and mildly amused. There were all sorts of explanations for the proliferation of ice at this location, such as the calving of the large B09B iceberg and its spectacular collision with the extended tongue of the Mertz Glacier. But none that would ever satisfy such people, Turney suggested.

Disconcertingly, these claims are no longer the province of bloggers, right wing media and talk-back radio. They now have currency in the highest corridors of power in Australia. Indeed, they are forming the basis of critical decisions being made on economic and infrastructure development in this country.

Earlier this week Maurice Newman, the head of Tony Abbott‘s hand-picked business advisory council, declared the science of anthropogenic climate change to be the world’s greatest ever popular delusion, and accused the UN climate body of fudging data. Australia, he wrote in a column published in The Australian, had “become hostage to climate change madness.”

He didn’t stop there. He railed against “Himalyagate” and “Amazongate”, accused state governments of a “cover up” over Australia’s renewable energy policies, and even complained about a $60,000 grant given to help community groups pursue renewable energy installations. Many of his comments were repeated and given more prominence in a separateinterview with the paper’s environment editor.

This is not the first time that Newman has courted controversy. In September, he attacked the “myth of climate change” in an opinion piece for the Australian Financial Review. In November, he used a speech to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) to attack climate change, renewable energy and labour costs.

What was interesting about that speech was the reaction from the business community. Chanticleer, the venerable (and conservative) back-page column of the AFR, noted that business people were taken aback by the tone, the aggression and the lack of subtlety of the speech. Even Peter Switzer, a conservative small business columnist who appears on Murdoch’s Sky News and in The Australian, wondered if Newman was disconnected from reality.

Some have downplayed Newman’s influence, suggesting that the business council would meet only a few times a year. But Chanticleer said Newman is no outlier – he is meeting Abbott at least once a week, and the CEDA speech was drafted in close consultation with the PM and his office: “It would seem the best way to view Newman’s speech is as an exposition of what Abbott might have said had he been freed of the political constraints that go with being in government.”

In other words, this is Abbott by proxy. He still thinks climate change is crap, he’s just using a ventriloquist.

Like Abbott’s dismissal of carbon trading schemes as the “non-delivery of an invisible substance to no-one”, a lot of Newman’s complaints about Himalayagate and Amazongate, his railing against the UNFCCC and the IPCC, and his fear of “serfdom” to green technologies are sourced from the most extreme right wing and anti-science blogs.

Most of his assertions are demonstrably wrong – such as his claims on the impact of renewables on electricity prices for German industry, which has benefited from a dramatic fall in wholesale electricity prices caused by the rapid expansion of renewable energy. Germany’s new grand coalition has actually strengthened its commitment to the energy transition by creating new “corridors” that will see it with up to 60% renewable energy by 2035.

But this is not just dog-whistling to climate skeptics, this is part of policy formulation. Abbott is already dismantling climate change policies and institutions and seeking to replace it with Direct Action, a program that is dismissed in both the scientific and investment worlds.

More recently, Abbott has been echoing the scare campaigns of the two Newmans (Maurice and Queensland premier Campbell) about the impact of the renewable energy target on electricity prices. “We’ve got to accept … that in the changed circumstances of today, the renewable energy target is causing pretty significant price pressures in the system,” the Guardian quoted Abbott as saying last month.

Official data suggests that renewable energy target contributes 2% at best to electricity bills. Indeed, in the recent draft decision by the Queensland Competition Authority, the total cost of the RET is dwarfed by just the yearly increase in the wholesale price component from rising gas prices caused by the developing liquefied natural gas export boom.

But as Turney says, Newman(s) and his (their) ilk won’t let facts get in the way of ideology. Note how (Maurice) Newman concludes his editorial:

From the UN down, the climate change delusion is a gigantic money tree. It is a tyranny that, despite its pretensions, favours the rich and politically powerful at the expense of the poor and powerless. But the madness of the crowds is waning and, as (author Charles) Mackay writes of the perpetrators: ‘Punishment is sure to overtake them sooner or later’. We can only hope it comes before most of us descend into serfdom.

Madness indeed.

Article originally published at The Guardian.

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  • renewableguy

    The industrial people have seized control for now. But reality gets a stronger chance to become evident in the face of such bold denial. We have a lot of great work ahead of us making a new beginning. The old ways will fail eventually.

  • Chris Fraser

    A good discussion on selective information absorption. Perhaps both sides are sometimes guilty. But we’d have to be troglodytes not to have been aware of the hottest year on record in all the mainstream media. Yes, i’m sure records are meant to be broken. How does it gel with a contrarian that every subsequent decade breaks the records of the previous one. Let alone the notion that every subsequent year breaks the records of the previous one !

  • Robert Johnston

    The sad thing about the way Abbott and Hunt have decided to implement Direct Action is that so far they haven’t. They are going about steadily dismantling existing policies without sufficient detail for anyone to understand how Direct Action will work. Basically they are telling industry to “trust us” that Direct Action will replace effectively initiatives in place – meanwhile industry does not trust them so is preparing to wind up operations. A sad reality of poorly planned policy implementation – no matter whether the policy is good or otherwise.

  • jeff nestor

    These fossil fools should Google: Siberian Times Anna Liesowska.17th Dec.2013 and view the astonishing photos accompanying the article.I think it’s what is called a canary in the coal mine
    Sadly,Abbott,Hunt and Newman have their heads so far up their own butts they would only see $$$ signs.

    • Miles Harding

      The gold they has spied is in their own fillings! :o)

  • JohnRD

    People like Neuman and Abbott seem to be selectively supporting fossil industries while ignoring the clean energy industries and the people they employ. The big lie is that we have to choose between destroying the economy or destroying the planet.

  • Farmer Dave

    This is unbelievable arrogance from Newman and Abbott. Neither are scientists, yet both have decided that they know better than 97% of the world’s climate scientists and all of the world’s peak scientific academies. Because neither have provided a technical, scientific, basis to their climate change denial, then their positions on climate change are not based on reason or logic, but ideology, and therefore, emotion.

    Just think for a moment about the implications: the leader of our country, the person who makes decisions on our behalf, makes important decisions about our future not on the best available objective evidence, not on the basis of advice from those best qualified to provide it, but on emotion. Is such a person fit to be the leader of a nation?

    • Farmer Dave

      As well as complaining about people such as Mr Newman and Mr Abbott, I think we should describe what we think real and effective federal government leadership on climate change would look like. As a starter, here is my list:
      (1) admit climate change is a real and present danger, and that a response which truly accepts the science must involve leaving most of the world’s reserves of fossil fuels in the ground, with significant reductions starting now.
      (2) accept that Australia, as one of the largest per-capita emitters and one of the richest countries, needs to accept a larger responsibility for emission reductions than almost all other countries.
      (3) prepare a carbon budget for Australia to 2050 consistent with (1) and (2).
      (4) allocate part of that budget for emergency services and for Australia’s remote and island communities (e.g. Tasmania) and move to ration the remainder to ensure that the allocation is preserved.
      (5) declare a moratorium on the building of new roads and airports and the issuing of any new permits and approvals for the exploration and production of fossil fuels.
      (6) move to make Australia’s electricity production 100% renewable as soon as possible.
      (7) place an escalating levy on Australia’s fossil fuel exports, with a portion of the proceeds to be spent in the purchasing countries on emissions reduction actions and the remainder on electrified public transport in Australia.
      (8) etc etc. The truth is, there is a large amount we can do; this list just scratches the surface.

    • Concerned

      The 97% bit is nonsense.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Apparently so.

        Following that accounting the Berkeley – Muller paper was released. Remember that one? It was the multi-year study of the temperature record carried out by Richard Muller and a few other skeptics and funded by the coal industry.

        When they released their paper finding that not only has the planet been warming, it’s probably been warming a bit faster than other papers had claimed, well, some of the 3% moved over to join the 97%.

        98%, 99% is probably now more accurate.

        • Concerned

          Rest my case,delusional.

          • Concerned

            You are kidding me, surely?

  • Penelope Milstein

    Without a Science Minister to correct him, Mr Newman has free rein to spout his nonsense. History will not look kindly upon the Abbott governments decisions regarding Australia’s response to climate change. It is an embarrassment at best.

  • Marg1

    The views that Newman articulated are not in line with the government’s supposed policy of accepting the scientific validity of climate change, and the need for public policy action. He is also out of line with Mr Abbott himself, who said in a radio interview in 2011 that “climate change is real” and “humanity is making a contribution”..Mr Abbott needs to be honest with the Australian people by telling us whether he really does believe in ACC and if he does he needs to remove these deniers (such as Maurice Newman) from the positions of power that he has put them in, because they shouldn’t be talking for the government. If he doesn’t believe in it then he should stop all the ambiguous talk once and for all and make it clear what he stands for. He can’t have it both ways.

    • Doug Evans

      There is no evidence, despite the platitudes and slogans Abbott has learned to recite when required, that this government accepts human induced global warming. There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to the contrary. Giles Parkinson is right, with Abbott and Newman meeting weekly, Newman certainly has the approval of this government at the highest level for his outrageous fantasizing. The real reason behind it is surely the government’s desire to do the bidding of the most conservative, short sighted and self interested industry sectors – longspeak for energy and mining – to dismantle or at least water down the mandatory RET. This is seen as unreasonable restriction on profit growth in these sectors.

      However there was no real evidence either that the previous Labor Rudd-Gillard governments who regularly trumpeted that they accepted the SCIENCE of climate change also accepted the policy related CONSEQUENCES of this and were prepared to ACT. Again there was plenty of circumstantial evidence to the contrary. The Clean Energy Futures legislation – entirely a product of the dynamic of this particular hung parliament – would never have seen the light of day had Labor had the majority it craved. Shorten has already clearly signaled that the current Labor opposition has no stomach for action. It will doubtless try to walk away (albeit very quietly) from whatever climate-related commitments the industry lobbyists choose to moan about when the electoral merry-go-round again places them in power.

      There will clearly be no action unless and until there is genuine mass protest against this madness. This will not occur until Australians are sufficiently afraid of what is occurring. That will not occur until it is too late to avoid passing the tipping points that will drive the globe into a new and extremely hostile climate-weather regime. We are, to quote the Talking Heads, on a road to no-where, although I doubt they had this in mind.

  • steven

    the term climate change may be distracting , environmental change driven by human activities, although the colder periods are forecast in some predictions using past rapid climate oscillations , environmental change things like boats tranceversing water ways that previously had no wave actions ,causing ,as with the experience , a sea grass bed to be destroyed & replaced by a desert of sand & fowled water stirred by the actions of pleasure boats, the seas grass being a food sauce & hatchery for fishlings , climate change seems to be being used as something of a smoke screen for the environmental destruction such as coal seem gas extraction & forest being replaced with mono cultures, dead zones in the seas , an the ever accumulation rubbish in those same seas as well as overfishing & use of environmentally destructive fishing methods, down to the food we consume being purluted with additivies to make it patalable & the same degartaton of workers by inderstery as went on in the 17 th & 18 & early 19th century disguised as globalization when in fact its just psychopath greed or envy ,that drives all theses unhuman activities

  • howardpatr

    Newman is just continuing to demonstrate his gross ignorance of science.

    Abbott is just demonstrating the same ignorance of science as well as revealing how his childhood religious education, (indoctrination), and his later decision to become an apprentice monk has left him a GOD FEARING CREATIONIST.

    Not much hope of Prime Minister Abbott (GFC) changing his mind that the sciences behind anthropogenic climate change is crap.

  • Ursula Theinert

    Looks like we have got our own version of Monckton right here in Australia. And the real tragedy is that he is Abbott’s right hand man!