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How an extreme form of climate science denial has found a home in Australia’s Senate

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Australians went off to vote in a general election last week, but five days later and the country still doesn’t have a result.

As things stand, there appears to be every chance that neither of the two main party groupings — Labor on the left and the coalition of Liberals and Nationals on the right — will win enough seats to form a government in their own right.

But one result in the country’s upper house has sparked a wave of discontent, reflection and rage — the election of the right wing anti-Muslim, anti-Halal, anti-vaccination firebrand Pauline Hanson.

Hanson, who leads her own One Nation party, has won election to Australia’s Senate and, as counting continues, she could bring more candidates with her.

But as well as pushing xenophobia and division, the Queensland politician will also take a most extreme brand of climate science denial with her into the Senate.

As I wrote on The Guardian, Hanson’s party has been taking cues on climate science from one of the country’s mostenthusiastic and relentless pushers of climate science denial, former coal miner Malcolm Roberts.

Roberts is the volunteer project leader of the Galileo Movement, a Queensland-based project launched in 2011 to fight laws to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions.

Roberts is also standing as a Senate candidate for One Nation and still has an outside chance of being elected, although Hanson is more enthusiastic about his chances than some analysts. The “wacky world view” of Roberts has since been reported by the Courier-Mail and the Sydney Morning Herald.

one nation

Conspiracy climate

If you hang around the climate change issue for long enough, then at some point you’ll likely come across the extreme end of science denial and the conspiracy theories that Roberts represents.

It goes a bit like this.  Humans are not causing climate change. Government-paid climate scientists and their agencies are corrupt.  The United Nations is in league with international bankers to defraud the world.  It’s all about control.

That sort of stuff.

The Galileo Movement was founded in 2011 by Queensland retirees Case Smith and John Smeed.

A year earlier, the pair had organised a speaking tour for British climate science denialist Lord Christopher Monckton — a tour that attracted sponsorship from mining billionaire Gina Rinehart.

Roberts became the project manager. The group pulled together an “advisory council” that includes the likes of Fred Singer, Monckton, Pat Michaels and Richard Lindzen.

The advisory group once included influential political blogger Andrew Bolt, until the News Ltd writer claimed Roberts had been spreading anti-Jewish conspiracy theories — a charge the Galileo Movement denied.

The climate policies of Hanson’s One Nation party have been quite literally cut and pasted from the Galileo Movement.

Those policies include calls for investigations into the “corruption of climate science” and the teaching of climate “scepticism” in schools.

After gaining enough votes to secure her own seat, Hanson told The Saturday Paper: “This whole climate change is not based on empirical evidence and we are being hoodwinked. Climate change is not due to humans.”

Elsewhere, One Nation also reflects Roberts’ paranoia over United Nation’s policies to support environmentally sustainable development — known as Agenda 21. In the eyes of One Nation, Agenda 21 morphs into a sinister control program leaving “no person outside of its reach.”

Conservative denial

But what should be remembered is that many of the conspiracy theories pushed by Roberts and One Nation are happily repeated by figures in mainstream Australian conservative parties.

Maurice Newman, the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s top business advisor, also thinks the world’s climate scientists are all wrong while the UN is trying to instil a “new world order”. He also thinks there’s an ice age coming.

Coalition MP George Christensen, just re-elected, ridiculed climate science in a 2014 speech to the Heartland Institute’s conference for climate science denialists.

In 2012, the Queensland state branch of the Liberal Party voted to “remove environmental propaganda material, in particular post-normal science about ‘climate change’, from the curriculum and as adjunct material at exam time”.

The motion, passed by party members, was proposed by a local member who had claimed to have disproven the greenhouse theory with a kitchen experiment using rolls of cling film and two fish boxes.

In September 2015, the ABC reported how one branch of the Liberal Party in Tasmania declared climate change was a “furphy” — Aussie slang for a rumour that turns out to be false.

Only a few months ago, root and branch members of the New South Wales Liberal Party called for national debates on climate change to see if the science was “settled”.

Liberal Senator-elect Cory Bernardi is another staunch climate science contrarian and another former Heartland Institute speaker.

Also re-elected is Liberal MP Craig Kelly, who last year invited climate science denialists from think-tank the Institute for Public Affairs to a briefing to try and “balance” the views of genuine climate experts.

In recent hours, it has emerged that Bernardi is to launch a new group to unite conservative elements across Australia — a group that the Sydney Morning Herald reports could turn into a new political party.

This could be especially galling to Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, who only a couple of months ago spoke at a fundraiserfor another of Bernardi’s groups, the Conservative Leadership Foundation (CLF).

The CLF was a key force behind online campaigns in 2011 to fight the introduction of laws to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions. The campaign came with a misleading leaflet claiming carbon dioxide was a harmless trace gas that was not driving climate change.

Turnbull himself was once considered a progressive conservative voice on climate change. But some believe he was forced to pull back in order to win support from the more conservative elements of the coalition, in return for winning the party leadership and becoming Prime Minister.

So as the Australian political turmoil continues, it appears there will be plenty more climate science denial to come from the country’s conservative wings.

Either that, or the genuine progressives among Australian conservatives need to push for some real leadership on climate change.  

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  • trackdaze

    There is only one thing left to do. Turnbull and one other have to defect to the left & leave I’m scared of windmills its all a conspiracy loonies to fight among themselves 😉

  • DevMac

    It’s scary that these people are able to garner anything more than chicken scratch support, but then I’m ignoring the ol’ inescapable bell curve.

    Democracy in action folks. What’s a better option though? Can we earn a greater vote weighting the longer we stay in school and study? Is there a way to prove that one can following a logical progression of ideas and thus earn greater vote weighting? What biases would such a system then have to counter?

    “my knowledge has the same value as your ignorance” or something like that…

    • Peter Campbell

      Trouble is that the most vocal climate change deniers are well-educated (or at least highly credentialed) but wilfully ignorant.

  • Mark Roest

    Re Roberts et al., ‘It’s all about control’ — yes it is, but they are doing the oldest propaganda trick in the world by labeling others with the truth about themselves, to distract people enough that the public does not see that the wanna-be emperors have no clothes. They are right-wingers because they want to be a dominant social class and control others. They call themselves conservative because they want to conserve the worst of the Victorian social order, where they would be the rich and others would be in abject poverty — the hidden goal of neocons and neoliberals alike. As someone who lived where Jim Crow ruled, as a child, I see the pattern clearly. The fossil fuel business model was developed in the Victorian era.

  • Alen T

    You paint quite a depressing image. However, as a counter I would suggest that in part the election result reflects a move away from the conservative far-right side. In this case I am primarily referring to results in the lower house, where some notable hard-right candidates and a first term government was rejected by voters. It is worth noting and remembering this.

    And honestly, I hope I am right in my assessment, as the alternative- the image of Australian you hint at in your article – suggests a dark and scary future ahead for Oz.

  • john

    CLF i guess that is short for Conservative Loony Falsehoods 🙂
    On a more serious note there is a very strong undercurrent of disapproval for any movement away from the golden 1950’s within sections of conservative organisations.
    This surfaces as distrust for any government regulations any understanding of allowing those who were not born well off to rise to prominence.
    A lack of social conscience is evident in the general theme running through all of their thought bubbles.
    The disapproval of science in its ability to point out man’s blunders is one aspect where they clash vehemently with any findings that may point toward modifying business of usual.
    Of course the meme that there is this hidden Agenda 21 has become a gold standard in the more paranoid outpouring of this group.
    One may cast your eyes over the outpourings of other groups that came to power and the disastrous results in the world from the 1930’s through to the 1950’s era.

  • Farmer Dave

    I think one of the Galileo Movement founders was Case Smit (not Smith). The Case I know of used to own an occupational hygiene consulting business in Geelong. Occupational hygiene is a science based profession, and so we may have yet another example of ideology over-riding rational thought.

    Readers of The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding will recall Paul’s prediction of a “messy” future, and I think we are seeing increasing messiness world-wide. In this situation, it is very important that people correctly diagnose the source of the messiness, and hence we need to continue to call out and push back on climate change denialism wherever it occurs. Thank you, Graham, for doing that in this article.

  • Geoff

    Steven Hawkings just recently advised that runaway climate change is the biggest threat to humanity. Obviously he’s got it all wrong.

    • Beaumont Miles

      And of course you simply believe him… without doing any of your own research… because… you know… he’s a famous scientist… and there’s no way that he (or his controllers) would have any motive other than revealing the truth, right…? Meanwhile here’s a 128 year old sea level gauge in Sydney…
      http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/tide-turns-on-sealevel-alarmists/news-story/4271c4edb3fe144d6a30a2d31c399b3d

      • Geoff

        Sorry but I don’t accept or click on ANYTHING that is owned by murdoch. get some real figures and come back to me.

        • Barri Mundee

          Just another of the trolls who pop up on this site to bait us.

          • Beaumont Miles

            Ah… you just don’t want to look at what’s happened (or hasn’t) in regards to all those alarmist predictions do you! Ah… ignorance is… ignorance! Hey… guess what – it’s been 10 years since Al Gore said we’d all be flooded over… do you want to read about what he said 10 years ago… or… keep living in ‘denial’…?????
            http://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/al-gore-runs-global-warming-racket/

      • Barri Mundee

        Yeah those great scientists at The Australian they know it all. And its cherry picking in any case as sea level rises vary around the planet.

      • MaxG

        I don’t have to read this sea level report; the level sunk into the muddy ground. Foget sea level rise… a furphy, right!

  • Mark Roest

    Let’s celebrate the most effective organizing against the right wing that I’ve ever heard of: https://www.getup.org.au/campaigns/federal-election/report-back-video/2016-election-our-people-powered-revolution?t=GZQLbhzQo
    They helped make this possible: “some notable hard-right candidates and a first term government was rejected by voters”
    Congratulations! Keep up the good work! Make it grow!

  • Beaumont Miles

    Mmm… Let’s check this 128 year old Sea Level Gauge in Sydney to see if the seas have been rising. No… def no rise in levels…!
    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/tide-turns-on-sealevel-alarmists/news-story/4271c4edb3fe144d6a30a2d31c399b3d

    • Barri Mundee

      Oh fuck off and stop repeating vacuous denier irrelevancies!

      • Beaumont Miles

        You just don’t like looking at the facts do you…! Why are you so determined to believe all the fear based lies…? Is it because they’re a reflection of you own deep inner fears…? Funny…. you call a 128 year old sea gauge that measures any rises in sea level… irrelevant! Ah… you’ve made my day – once again you’ve confirmed to me the level of intelligence of the average Aussie Sheeple.

        • neroden

          Flagged. Mods, please clean up the garbage.

        • disqus_3PLIicDhUu

          It’s a socialist conspiracy!!
          Rah Rah Rah.
          If it is, the worst that will happen is cleaning up a dangerous, disgusting, polluting and wastefull old method of creating electrical energy.
          Welcome to the 21st century.

    • Fryin Berry

      Stop foaming at the mouth, and get some real education. Try here: http://courses.mq.edu.au/undergraduate/degree/bachelor-of-science/major-in-climate-science

  • Beaumont Miles

    You have to laugh don’t you. Tim Flannery got an ‘Australian of The Year’ award for all his alarmist climate predictions… none of which have ever come true…! Oh well… I guess fear sells, where as hard fact doesn’t : (

  • Carl Raymond S

    I suspect these people have been elected despite their climate science denialism rather than because of it. People support Hansonism in the hope it will somehow prevent the construction of a Mosque in their suburb – I doubt they know what carbon dioxide is, let alone have concerns about its increasing atmospheric concentration.
    I feel a better way to discourage the Mosque is to embrace science – discourage belief through divine revelation generally and form a world view based on what is actually there.

  • MaxG

    And we keep wondering how this political nonsense is possible… what I have been saying all along (blah, blah) this is what my fellow Aussies voted for.
    Another indicator of ‘DNGAF’ about the world is the one seat the Greens have secured. 1 in 150, this should tell you something.

  • Don McMillan

    This climate change debate is unnecessarily divisive and wastes a lot of peoples focus on what is important. The reality is that we must respect and protect this planet [environment]. Sometime I feel we treat it this planet as those it is disposable
    item.

    I believe if we focus on the following goal:

    “Minimizing pollution and minimal disruption to nature”

    This should gain universal acceptance enabling society to focus on what is important.