Coalition turns to ‘clown prince’ of climate to endorse Direct Action

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Tony Abbott had to borrow the lines about an ETS delivering an invisible substance to no-one. Even the “axe the tax” slogan was first used by a Canadian political party that has since recanted. Now the Coalition is relying on the endorsement of a discredited climate skeptic to justify Direct Action .

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You’d have to admit that the level of debate around climate change policy in this country is very disappointing. But not for the reasons you might think; it turns out we can’t even invent our own slogans.

On Tuesday in a piece I wrote for the Guardian Australia, and republished on RenewEconomy, I reported on the striking resemblance of Tony Abbott’s dismissal of carbon trading schemes with that of a piece published in the Daily Telegraph three years earlier.

“The carbon market is based on lack of delivery of an invisible substance to no-one,” presaged Jeremy Warner, assistant editor of the Daily Telegraph, in 2010.

“It’s a market, a so-called market, in the non-delivery of an invisible substance to no-one,” Abbott said on Monday.

Yeah, well, I guess that’s called research. But the “axe the tax” line which has proved so devastatingly popular – well, at least until Monday when Kevin Rudd did it for him – that was a good’un, and an original, wasn’t it?

Well, no. The Canadians were using the “axe the tax” line all the way back in 2008, and about the very same issue – pricing carbon in a climate change policy.

In that year, the state of British Columbia introduced a carbon tax on petrol. It was calculated at 2.4-cents-a-litre, which was based on a $10-per-tonne tax on greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’ll axe the tax,” shrilled Carole James, then the leader of the Opposition New Democrat Party, a (shhhhh) left leaning social democratic political party.

“We’ll axe the tax,” shrilled Abbott, most days since the Clean Energy Future package was unveiled in 2011.

But then Abbott forgot his lines. In 2009, Abbott had said that he was an enthusiastic supporter of a carbon trading scheme, until Nick Minchin thrust him into power and instructed him never to have such thoughts again.

But while Abbott was devolving, the NDP was evolving. “Let’s put a cap-and-trade system in place to make sure we capture those issues and that we address greenhouse gases and that consumers aren’t the first to pay,” James said at around the same time that Abbott had said the same thing.

The NDP eventually greed to support the tax they wanted to axe, and now are even pushing for the tax to be broadened, to include venting emissions from oil and gas operations. The BC tax, already expanded to all fossil fuel use, reduced use of fossil fuel and emissions. Funds raised from the tax are at $3.7-billion. It is revenue neutral.

In Australia, though, the conservatives won’t have a bar of it.

Greg Hunt, Abbott’s climate change spokesman, delivered the fruit of his party’s four-year search for a credible policy on Tuesday evening at the Grattan Institute, in front of a large group of informed listeners and delivered ….. an endorsement from a widely discredited former climate skeptic.

The Coalition has been looking for “experts” to endorse their Direct Action policy for years. It is now parading Bjorn Lomborg, the author of the Skeptical Environmentalist, and who has since re-invented himself as someone who now accepts the science but downplays the need to act urgently. Or much at all.

One of his principal theories is that clean technologies should be kept in the R&D lab for another few decades “until they are ready”, ignoring that wind and solar are already competing, and defeating in many cases, fossil fuels on cost.

This is what the web-site Sourcewatch says about Lomborg:

His books have been ‘hugely influential’ in providing cover to politicians, climate-change deniers, and corporations that don’t want any part of controls on greenhouse emissions. Lomborg is not a climate scientist or economist and has published little or no peer-reviewed research on environmental or climate policy. His extensive and extensively documented errors and misrepresentations, which are aimed at a lay audience, ‘follow a general pattern of minimizing the need to cut carbon emissions’.”

So, this is the man that the Coalition parades for a ringing endorsement of its policy. Hunt has been quoting research from a team put together by Lomborg that claims that a carbon price is amongst the least effective options to tackle climate change.

And what does Lomborg and his team propose as the most effective response to climate change? Marine cloud whitening. In fact, three of the top six “solutions” involve geoengineering, described by most scientists as a risky and dangerous solution, particularly when obvious options such as reducing CO2 are available. The other two “solutions” are carbon storage, adaptation, and research into smart technologies.

Is this the policy that the Coalition is now pursuing?

Freddie Sharpe, the head of Climate Friendly, a carbon offset firm, in 2011 described Lomborg as the “clown prince” of climate change policy. Despite being an excellent speaker, and amusing, Sharpe accused Lomborg of doing climate change science “a gross disservice” and dangerously trivialising the urgency of our collective need to act.

“Through clever use of the debating team method of reductio ad absurdum, he collapses the science to single sound-bite data points. In doing so, he ignores the reality that the science is actually based on wide ranges of possible outcomes and on carefully weighted probability distributions.”

And what of “marine cloud whitening” and other “geoengineering” devices that the Coalition’s new pin-up boy recommends?

Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist who works at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology, described Lomborg’s vision as “a dystopic world out of a science fiction story… Geoengineering is not an alternative to carbon emissions reductions … If emissions keep going up and up, and you use geoengineering as a way to deal with it, it’s pretty clear the endgame of that process is pretty ugly.”

Author Howard Friel said: “(Lomborg) argues that there are “smarter solutions to climate change” than a focus on reducing CO2. This is hardly smart: it’s insanity.”

Just the man, then, to put a stamp of approval on Direct Action.

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4 Comments
  1. MrMauricio 6 years ago

    Thought “Lord” Monkton was their clown prince!!! Whats happened to that particular fruit cake????

  2. jeff nestor 6 years ago

    Hi Giles. Your article and links yesterday was excellent and showed how irresponsible and disingenuous the Conservatives policy really is .About as dumb as a box of hammers. Liberal policy is just a mirror of the Murdoch/Fairfax claptrap that the county has been bashed over the head with for years.Sort of sick to the back teeth with it really.

    They should show a bit of respect for people’s intelligence: As for the likes of Lomborg, like Carter and many others, I feel he is just a paid tool for the fossil fuel lobby and has/have no shame in putting their wallets before the welfare of people and the planet.Pretty sad little people really. It would do no harm if they all watched Dr Jennifer Francis’ latest climate analysis/data video. Would like to hear their rebuttal arguments.

    I could do with a good laugh!

  3. Chris Fraser 6 years ago

    The whole debate has a good amount of plurality, and wouldn’t be the same without clowns. I don’t think Bjorn quite has an answer for acidifying oceans, though. And I think many readers would appreciate the occasional diversions into basket case R & D projects Bjorn wants to get into one day. I would rather the financing of these cases come from his sponsors than governments.

  4. chris 6 years ago

    Abbott and Pell would make interesting “bedfellows” with Lomborg – until they learn of his “threatening” homosexual status. Would love to see this raised in public with Tony and watch his reaction!

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