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COAG: Can democracy weed out climate deniers?

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s statement that “Those people who say coal and other fossil fuels have no future are delusional and they fly in the face of all economic forecasts” confirms that four Australian states were right to go it alone, after his government failed to deliver a clean energy target at the COAG meeting.

Energy ministers at COAG meeting. Source. Josh Frydenberg tweet.

Energy ministers at COAG meeting. Source. Josh Frydenberg tweet.

The prime minister and most economists now accept that the use of fossil fuels have to be rapidly limited if many devastating climate change impacts are to be prevented.

His statement illustrates how far the climate deniers in his government have compromised him in the interests of retaining power.

Turnbull would have been wise to avoid the word delusional, for it reminds us that denial represents more than a right wing view of a party – be it Australian Coalition or US Republican.

It denies scientific evidence to the extent of being delusional. In general, deniers fervently support individual freedom in contrast to collective action; their freedom often extends to the exploitation of the natural world and causes great harm to human health.

The denier’s personal views are threatened by the implications of necessary collective action by all governments to address climate change.

President Trump illustrates the problem at its most florid.

His most effective action to date has been the partial demolition of EPA regulations which Obama designed to control emissions but this desire to thwart action extends to many other areas including ceasing payment to the Green Climate Fund to help developing nations.

Delusion is an irrational belief which remains firm even when overwhelming proof is presented to dispute it. Florid denial behaviour strongly reminds me of the condition “delusional parasitosis”.

Here the sufferer points to a patch of skin and says “Look the insects are emerging”. If one looks and says “Yes that’s awful” the consultation continues.

If one says reassuringly “There is nothing there” the patient will depart and return with supposed evidence, or visit a succession of doctors till one is found who agrees.

The condition is incurable.

The climate denier dismisses the collective scientific evidence and typically returns with the one scientific paper that does not fit the pattern, or like Trump and the G7 they simply walk out or refuse discussion.

The belief of climate change deniers is usually unshakable. Many delude themselves that there is a conspiracy.

Trump used the words “hoax” and “Chinese hoax” adding paranoia to his armory. This is another clinical feature of delusional thought disorder.

US Senator James Inhofe, who was Chair of the Senate Environment Committee and a climate change denier, referred to climate change as the Third Reich’s Big Lie.

He compared the US Environmental Protection Authority to The Gestapo.

The Chair of the Coalitions Environment Committee, perhaps a reincarnation of Inhofe, celebrated the Trump decision and suggested that we too withdraw from Paris!

Both cases illustrate that the fervour of deniers often drives them into influential positions where they can do most damage.

Deniers exist across the community and in every profession including the medial profession much to my chagrin.

Doctors can be deniers despite medical opinion supported by facts that climate change is the greatest health threat this century.

DEA Climate Change Health Fact Sheet

Recently when giving a talk on the health impacts of climate change to trainee doctors, a senior hospital doctor marched into the room, listened to one sentence, recognised the topic and a loud voice said ‘Communist rubbish “ and marched out.

How can Australian governments proceed to address climate change?

States which can deliver collective outcomes like the ACT, SA, Queensland and Victoria must act as indeed their counterparts in the US are doing, for even if the Federal government manages to approve a form of clean energy target, there will be a mission to undermine it as there has been with other climate change policies and government institutions.

Denial comes disguised as fervent coal advocacy, coal is cheap- denying the huge health costs, windmills despoiling the landscape and 3000 deaths from unaffordable power.

Clearly the four States have accepted these realities and will support the findings of the Finkel Report as a step forward, even though some may feel it has some deficiencies.

Solutions for a return to rational thinking by climate deniers are impossible; there is no benefit in arguing or explaining.

Needy decisions are threatened from within democracy in both US and Australia and must be resolved by democracy.

Otherwise our freedoms will be assailed by a chaotic world. The electorate needs to have sufficient electoral recognition of the need to replace deniers.

Readers are invited to analyse the role and position of the most influential denier and former leader in our government who is sufficiently politically expedient to acknowledge climate change yet works insidiously to undermine action.

Dr David Shearman AM FRACP is Hon. Secretary of Doctors for the Environment Australia www.dea.org.au and Emeritus Professor of Medicine University of Adelaide  

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  • Mark Diesendorf

    I think we must make a distinction between climate science deniers and renewable energy (RE) deniers. We could define a RE denier as someone who ignores or blindly rejects the large body of evidence, both from empirical observation and computer simulations, that RE could provide the majority of electricity use, and possibly all energy use, in most regions, if not the whole world. Some RE deniers claim to accept climate science, however most are nuclear power proponents who seem to feel threatened by the rapid growth of RE. The pro-nuclear RE deniers claim to be environmentalists, but I can only identify a handful in the whole world who are, or have been, involved actively in ‘environmental’ issues apart from campaigning for nuclear power as part of the solution to the climate crisis.

    • JIm

      I’m reminded that a long time ago John Howard said, “We are all environmentalists now”, but the trend ever since has been polarisation. On the other hand, opinion polls show massive support for renewables.

      • Adam Lucas

        Howard’s declaration is about as convincing as Turncoat’s claim that those of us who know fossil fuels are on their way out are ‘delusional’, or Richard Nixon’s comment that ‘We’re all Keynesians now”, or Galbraith’s that ‘We’re all Marxists now”. And yes, Mark, you’re absolutely right to point out this distinction – the pro-nuclear zealots at Brave New Climate and some of those working for the Breakthrough Institute being clear examples of RE deniers. However, I would add that there are a lot of our own colleagues who claim to be progressives or on the Left who are convinced, like Ted Trainer, Vaclav Smil and Ozzie Zoehner, that ‘renewable energy is not the answer’, or at least that they can never compete with fossil fuels or replace them in any feasible timeframe. Some of my own closest friends still spout this line as though such a prospect is impossible and are extremely resistant to changing their views about it.

        • neroden

          Best thing to do with your addlepated friends is to go completely offgrid yourself and then gently tweak them about it repeatedly.

    • Kevan Daly

      Yes, you’re right to make the distinction between climate science sceptics/believers and RE sceptics/believers because it’s possible to find credible examples of all 4 combinations.

    • des_reputable

      I know a climate denier who is avid pro-renewables, but anti-nuclear, anti-coal, anti-rainbow politics too…..

  • John McKeon

    > “Readers are invited to analyse the role and position of the most influential denier and former leader in our government who is sufficiently politically expedient to acknowledge climate change yet works insidiously to undermine action.”

    But first of all, his identity: Does he wear budgy smugglers and munch onions?

    • Ron Horgan

      John, onion breath, brilliant.

  • John McKeon

    Florid deniers of climate science (and the urgency of the climate message) overestimate their own numbers. Reasonable members of the general public who realise something is up and collective action is needed underestimate their own numbers.

    A specific reference eludes me but I learnt that in Denial101x, an excellent on line course about climate science denial.

    • MaxG

      At least you are exploring the opposition 🙂
      The fundamental problem though sits far deeper than some deniers, whether we distinguish between the types or not. In today’s world most are in for their own advantage (greed, power, position, profit, etc.) unless we realise that growth, greed and consumerism is the root cause, not much will change — no matter how much renewable something you throw at it.

      • John McKeon

        🙂 A carbon neutral energy system might help humanity frame a healthier approach to living. 7 billion and counting is putting a lot of stress on our living space – we must pay more attention to it. I interpret your comment as allusion to matters of self awareness, community, ethics and the spiritual – and agree. 🙂

  • D. John Hunwick

    As usual David Shearman has pointed clearly to a form of action we can take – identify politicians who must not be re-elected and work to ensure that they no longer contribute so disruptively to high-level discussions

  • Hettie

    Sounds like a plan. Identify if your local federal member is climate science denier, and if so campaign strenuously against her/him. There are so many levels on which this delusion can be ridiculed, so many ways that voter self-interest can be mobilised against the troglidytes.
    The cost of power, the health costs of coal, the environmental damage and costs to farmers of fracking, the risks to water supplies…. the health of your children and then the kicker, the risk of climate catastrophe.
    See you later, Barnaby, Bill, Matt, Eric, Peter, Greg, Scott, Mathias,Tony, Malcolm R, Pauline, Malcolm T, Ian, Josh… the list goes on. I know I’ve left lots out. Doesn’t really matter. It would take only 3 of them to go for a change in Government, and we can be fairly certain that far more will lose their seats when the next election comes around.

  • Robin_Harrison

    For a politician, any politician, to use the term delusional is a bit rich when the notion that democracy is what’s described on the packet is a total delusion. The voice of the people? Nonsense.
    Democracy divides society almost exactly in half on purely ideological grounds, effectively neutering the voice of the people. Whilst half the population squabbles with the other half ‘business as usual’ carries on regardless. Democracy is a scam.
    Have you noticed? Ideology trumps logic and reason all day, every day.

  • MaxG

    Democracy in the true sense of the word has long lost its cause; we are a plutocracy, ruled by puppets supported by corporations. You’ll find the proof in privatisation of public assets, you’ll find it in consumer protection (rather the lack thereof); as discussed in this forum: the total disregard for the climate science and the lack of any meaningful energy policy.