Five things we learned from Qanda's climate debate | RenewEconomy

Five things we learned from Qanda’s climate debate

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Any old excuse will do; there’s trillions worth of fossils that haven’t been dug up yet; it’s time to think about risk management; Palmer and Minchin just love solar; and they want to save the developing world.

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Any old excuse will do 

Not so much “I can change your mind about climate” as “I will think of anything I can to reject the idea we should be doing something about it.” The documentary and the Qanda program that followed on ABC TV last night took us through the fall gamut of reasons not to act: the climate is not changing, the measuring stations are not reliable, the climate is changing but it always has, we don’t know how much humans are contributing, we can’t predict the future, the climate is changing and it’s our fault but there’s nothing we can do about it, we can afford to wait 20-30 years before acting, and finally, we should only do R&D but not deploy any technologies “until they are ready.”

The rich rewards of delay

Is there a common theme in these stances? Of course, and the last few give it away, it is all about delay, and how vested interests can profit from it. Or, as Minchin put it, not destroying the economy. “Long may it continue,” Minchin wrote about the climate debate in today’s Age newspaper. As the International Energy Agency concluded in its World Energy Outlook last year, there is about $1 trillion at stake a year for the fossil fuel industry, so each year that the decarbonisation of the energy industry is delayed is money in the pocket of the coal and oil extractors. Which is one reason why their defacto spokesman Bjorn Lomborg, having abandoned the “climate change is crap” approach, now suggests spending $100 billion a year on R&D and to wait 20-30 years until the “right technology” has been found. If $100 billion can protect $1 trillion, then that’s an easy bet.

Palmer gets crash course in risk management

The implications of the IEA warning that to best avoid the worst impact of climate change would require decisive action by 2017,  quickly dawned on Clive Palmer, who said that would mean that the massive mines he is planning for the Galilee Basin would be forced to close a year after opening in 2016. Well, it might not happen as quickly as that, but it is quite clear that the issue of climate risk is looming ever larger for the financiers of individual projects, or even in listed entities. A large part of the valuations of many of the biggest companies on the ASX, the FTSE and other major indices are heavily dependent on the fossil fuel resources that are not yet exploited. Never has the issue of stranded assets been so compelling.

Palmer and Minchin love solar

Well, that’s what they said. Both Palmer and Nick Minchin said they would support solar over coal if it ever become cheaper. Here’s the good news: it already is. As McKinsey & Co point out in this story, solar is already, or is about to be, cheaper than fossil fuels in four out of five key global consumer markets – off-grid, remote grid, residential and commercial, and peaking power. By the end of the decade, say McKinsey and the governments of India and China and the US, and just about everyone else, utility based solar will also be cheaper than fossil fuel alternatives. Here’s another predicted cost curve from the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US. It’s their predictions for 2015.


Palmer’s concerns for the Third World are well placed

Palmer expressed deep concern about the needs of the 2 billion people that do not have access to energy. But coal is not the answer, because if it was that cheap, then they would already have it. It is becoming increasingly clear that there is little chance that the hub and spoke, centralized energy systems based around fossil fuels will be replicated in these developing countries, because as HSBC, McKinsey, the IEA and just about everyone else who has looked at the issue in the last 12 months conclude, it is cheaper to deliver clean energy such as solar to many of these countries, and there is less need for expensive infrastructure. This Bloomberg article gives a clue. It’s a relief that technology – its deployment, not solely its R&D – will effectively take many of these fateful decisions out of the hands of politicians, too many of whom, like Qanda, clearly think that it remains a 50-50 debate.


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  1. Pabster 8 years ago

    I suspect Minchin and Palmer only like solar as long as it is more expensive and some way off. When someone in the audience said that the US, Chinese and Indian governments had said solar would be cheaper by the end of the decade (as had been reported here on reneweconomy)Minchin just sat arms crossed shaking his head.

    I think it’s likely that when solar is cheaper (in the very near future) Palmer and Minchin will switch back to point 1 – delay, delay, delay.

    • Pabster 8 years ago

      but I’m happy to be proven wrong!

      • WinstonSmith 8 years ago

        Well pabster.
        In many places, the solar investment for self-generation is cheaper than grid based power so its already happening.

        For grid based solar generation, its still a few years off but expect to be proven wrong sooner rather than later…

    • Alastair L 8 years ago

      I suspect you are right. Minchin contradicted himself numerous times in that naive “docoumentary” Anna Rose made. ‘Yes it’s getting warmer’ he said ‘there’s no doubt about that’ then later in the doco and on qanda he said mean temperatures have ‘plateauxed’ in last two decades — dog whistle code for ‘stabilised, nothing to worry about’.

      Minchin comes from the ‘make child-like arguments as long as you can to delay going to bed’ school of thought. He either can’t see the gaul of his own inconsistencies or is profoundly (and sadly) ideologically so captured by greed and resentment towards the messengers (scientists and activists) that the light bulb inside will never go on.

  2. keith williams 8 years ago


    Even stranger is intimidation of scientists telling the truth. What a load of nonsense that if people get tired of bad news they shouldn’t be told the truth.

    I assume that this is just more of the delay team’s efforts. Imagine how much harder it would have been to get smoking stopped if you were not allowed to say it causes cancer.

    It is an interesting tactic to silence people who think the public should be informed if they are making the world uninhabitable. Not sure how you deal with being accused of unhelpful scare tactics.

    Nature in its editorial earlier this year was clear that scientists need to speak up. Thoughts about how to handle this?

  3. Bonzo 8 years ago

    All good Giles, but the saddest part of last night’s “debate” was the one panelist who could have shed real light on the issues from a legitimate fact base, ie. CSIRO (“Australia’s most trusted brand”, etc.), chose instead to pontificate around policy and pathways. First of all that’s not the job of the CSIRO, but more importantly until the scientists can articulate the facts they so skillfully gather and their meaning in the public domain vested interests and spin will always fill the void. PS. Matthew Wright was right about deployment, but got no air – another lost opportunity.

    • Alastair L 8 years ago

      Yes Head of CSIRO is to used to making politically neutral keynotes full of (limp) aspirational language I suspect. She was useless in combating the misinformation being provided by Palmer, Minchin and the behaviourialist saying ‘don’t tell them how bad it will get if we do nothing, that’s alarmist’.

      I’m sure she is great in her field to get to be head of CSIRO but communication is not her strong suit — and to have her of all scientists advocating scientists need to get better at communication seem to me more of a personal reflection than to be speaking for the excellent communicators of climate science that we know are doing the job but not getting air time like John Cook and his sceptical science website.

      Kind of proved Matthew Wrights comments about locking up a room of nerds for 10 years etc… she wasn’t even aware the solarPV already has parity in some areas (off grid) and will have uniform parity across all applications with coal and gas by the end of the decade. Weak sauce indeed. She should have been advocating for the importance of deployment but just rattled on about some theoretical possibility scientists will do this or that. Scientists are not responsible for the engineering, regulatory frameworks or market capitalisation parts of a 100% renewable energy rollout so to think they are the whole answer was very odd to hear.

    • Gillian 8 years ago

      Yes, I agree. When asked why pollies don’t listen to CSIRO, she mewed ‘we must do better at communicating’. That just added insult to injury.

      She should have turned to Minchin and pulled him into line for every time he used the word ‘alarmist’. She should have pointed out that EVERY national science academy on the planet says the planet is warming, humans are contributing and the consequences will be catastrophic, if unchecked.

      She should have pointed out that CSIRO scientists are not alarmist while she rubbed his nose in some of the evidence.

      CSIRO scientists deserve better than her mealy mouthed waffle.

    • Steve Phillips 8 years ago

      I agree – Megan Clark was hopeless! She needs some communication lessons. I felt very disappointed listening to her flim flam while climate science was taking a pasting from skeptical politicians and mining magnates.

  4. Alexander Simon 8 years ago

    In the Mansions of oil,coal and NLG “SOLAR”promoters are regardet as termites and have to be eradicated.The anti carbon tax lobby once again prove:the bigger the pigs the louder the squeal! Mr.Palmer forgot to mention all the job losses in the mining industry because on automation.But why worry about clobal warming?It is PCs and IT that pose the biggest threat to mankind today

  5. J 8 years ago

    QandA almost rose above the inane equivocation of its panel members to address the key issue at the heart of the debate. That is probability and risk. As a fiscal conservative I find it infuriating that the emotive extreme left and the sociopathic extreme right don’t focus on the risk mismanagement core of the debate. Matthew Wright almost got there with his arguments but failed to drive home that this is all about risk – something that every business person and home owner understands implicitly.

    We insure our homes and businesses for extremely unlikely events and pay through the nose for it. So here we have an ongoing event that science tells us has a high probability of being fact while having real and expensive consequences, and Nick Minchin, the pro-business conservative doesn’t understand the need for insurance to mitigate that problem?

    He shouldn’t be allowed to sit on the board of any company after his performance last night.

    • Alastair L 8 years ago

      I think Matthew Wright go very close he said $36B a year is the same amount of money we spend on house insurance and asked Minchin directly “your house is more at risk from climate change than fire, do you insure your house?”

      Minchin turned puppy-dog (in the Joe Hockey ‘you got me’ kind of way) and just laughed it off?!

      A perfect moment for Tony Jones to say “No but this is a serious point, Nick… do you accept the risk is statistically worse for climate change to damage your property (is he harbourside?) and do you insure against fire?” If so why do you advocate doing nothing about climate change until the wealthiest and most beholden to denialism people in the country say it’s okay to do something about it”?

      • Alastair L 8 years ago

        I’d also suggest that Matthew Wright is keen to emphasis that the technological solutions to this problem are already established and being used elsewhere in the world.

        The roadblock is entirely political. Many people want answers not just dire prognostications (although that’s no reason not to tell people the dire prognostications like loosing the entire GBR from acidification by 2200 for one small example). So in the absence of Government planning and fact finding, Beyond Zero Emissions has presented one set of conditions under which Australia’s industrial CO2 emissions can be reduced to zero in ten years. And it won’t break the bank and it will create many more jobs than coal and gas are providing.

        • J 8 years ago

          I attended the Zero Carbon launch in Sydney. Again it had the understated goal of not wanting to provide a solution, but to demonstrate what is possible. A little apologetic in a way… but Matthew is young.
          Don’t get me wrong, Matthew is a talent, but the average Aussie doesn’t want to talk solutions. They get their electrons from the wall and as long as they come fast and cheap there are no questions asked.
          We need to turn the whole debate away from solutions and centre it on the economic risk alone. This is the only common denominator that can transcend ideology.

          • Alastair L 8 years ago

            If we reduce everything to the lowest common denominator available in the Australian populous, we effectively dumb any discussion down to a point which Nick Minchin and Clive Plamer would be very satisfied with indeed.

            It’s fools gold to assume over-simplify the facts around climate change, economic risk, human behaviour or environmental risk is any panacea to the denial industry well funded by the fossil fuels industry. AGW denialism is a white, English speaking, largely male phenomena based on ideological preconceptions about the world and individual entitlements.

            If Minchin, Abbott and various puppet masters got on board like the English Conservatives did back when Thatcher was PM much of the heat in this ‘debate’ in Australia would sink out of trace. As long as they hold Rio Tinto shareholders as their No1 constituency, I don’t see that happening.

            A bunch of people have presented the four permutations around 2 true false propositions (1) climate change: T/F (2) take action to reduce industrial CO2. They explore the implications of a. it’s true take action; b. it’s true take no action; c. it’s false take action & d. it’s false take no action. Only reasonable conclusion can be that, irrespective of whether or not climate change science is accurate (and 98% of climate scientists say it is and 1% is fence sitting), we take immediate action.

            Despite these logic-based clear thinking exercises being widely presented the denialist base seems to be growing. It’s not logic nor understanding the science that is driving that trend, it’s human psychology and political influence.

            The take home I got from Minchin’s (inconsistent) whining and those who he presented as credible deniers was ‘look it doesn’t matter whose right or wrong in the end, your going to have to show me respect because I have political power and it’s growing’. His attempt to find common ground that Anna had shifted her position towards the ‘middle’ seemed to be met only with embarrassment from Anna Rose but the main strategy of their rhetorical exercises in non-sense.

          • Bill 8 years ago

            @Alastair L

            You are right, of course, about the logic. The trouble is that people use two modes of argument. The first is logical, the second is emotional. The problem with using logic in an emotional argument is that it doesn’t work. In the same way that using emotional arguments against a rational opponent is not going to work either.
            You nailed it when you said that “Minchin comes from the ‘make child-like arguments as long as you can to delay going to bed’ school of thought.” By saying that you are really pointing out that he is using emotional argument. Logic has no place in this. Nick ‘doesn’t like’ climate change and no amount of logic will change his view. The same way that, if little Johnny decides he doesn’t like his broccoli, then no amount of logic (it’s good for you/full of vitamins/blah blah) is going to make him eat it.

            An interesting part of the show that never made it to air (which makes me wonder who decided what stayed and what went):

          • Alastair L 8 years ago


            I’m not saying that we can only present logical rational discussion. I think we should be taking prisoners, as I read today on Grist there’s a bunch of centre-left types who turn up with butter-knives to gunfights. I don’t think there is one simple answer to such a protracted social problem, fuelled as it is by wealth inequity and those who benefit from that huge inequity doing everything they can to hold onto it.

            One point is that people like Minchin, while they’re happy to tell all manner of fibs and contradict there own positions in the same doco, they do want to save face when the inevitable shift away from coal happens to renewables. Solar in particular of all renewable enjoys very very broad support in the community and Minchin is apparently going to keep sticking to his guns on climate change but advocate solar energy in a column in the SMH tomorrow.

            Which begs the question of why, if he doesn’t believe in CC nor passive smoking risks I’m certain he sees no health or environmental risk from burning coal (despite a recent Yale study that estimated health and environmental costs in USA over $1 trillion a year).

            So that’s why I say emphasise the risks of do-nothing/foot-dragging, eg. direct costs to people in terms etreme weather events, of insurance premium rises, loss of residential properties, damage to rural land and infrastructure, loss of iconic environments like GBR and Kakadu. While simultaneously emphasising the benefits of a shift to baseload solar, wind, solarPV not just in slowing down climate change and extreme weather events but reducing our energy bills over time as the tech gets better and better (the cost and learning curves are remarkable once volume multiplies efficiencies and innovation). Fossil Fuels are going up in cost, as is nuclear as are the plants to process and generate from these sources. At the same time renewable are falling fast, and the power they produce is essentially free once they’ve paid the investment and installation off.

            I think a lot of pressure should be put on the national broadcaster to stop giving equal billing to deniers as climate science as if there is some kind of scientific parity or even moral equivalence. It’s a disgrace that the IPA, one of the chief organisers of denialist actions in this country has been invited onto the ABC some 20 or 30 times in the last year (can’t find reference sorry) and I don’t recall seeing a Greenpeace or Beyond Zero or Environment Victoria representative ever on qanda or a sit down on lateline or 7.30. How much money buys access at the ABC?

  6. Rob Nicholls 8 years ago

    One of the other points that was emphasised by the program last night was the over-play of social values in shaping peoples positions. My interpretation of this is that we develop views of convenience based on what we are prepared to find out not would we should be actively seeking out from reliable and informed sources. Decision bias will skew an individual from developing a fully informed opinion and the bias will be compounded by the process of information gathering i.e source and depth / reliability of the content. Reliable, credible and untainted information is key to avoiding the views of convenience trap

  7. Ricardo 8 years ago

    Thank you for this piece Giles.
    It seems that the first class action suit against someone/ a corporation in the financial services industry just got a little bit closer. Once this happens, successful or not, that will be the tipping point where financial industry participants realise that ignoring climate risk is stupid and can get them arrested.
    Roll on that day.

  8. Ralph 8 years ago

    The doco was terribly contrived to achieve “balance”, especially the final moment of reconciliation on the beach at Heron Island (and, soon after, Minchin was saying global temperature has plateaued or is falling).

    The next in the “balanced” series could line up people who think the Earth is stationary and at the centre of the universe against bearded scientists who think the Earth orbits the sun, with a final moment when each admits the other is partly right.

  9. Alastair L 8 years ago

    Great response to qanda Giles. Thank you. I found the preceding “doco” (more like a ramble through the denialist mindset without adequate deconstruction to my mind) infuriating and I think Anna Rose was naive in providing the denialist industry with oxygen. The upside was that Matthew Wright got 30 seconds on qanda to say the things many regulars to you sight know is already happening.

    Wright should have had Rebecca Huntley’s seat on the panel. Her contribution was as unhelpful the rest of the panel. I guess it takes multiple degrees and post-graduate honours to come along and shoot the messenger like she did, very disappointing.

  10. Gayle 8 years ago

    I don’t totally dismiss it – it was an experiment. I think Nick Minchin came out of it badly – I think the comments made in the documentary about people’s emotional response to acceptance that climate change is real – that is alarm or denial – came uncomfortably close to Minchin’s emotional state – I think he actually does believe in climate change but feels impotent in the face of it and seeks to hide his fear in an entrenched position – including “clutching at straws, or should I say strawmen, like the crazy science-deniers. Someone of his age and background is ALL about control and to face a situation where things have slipped from our grasp – is terrifying and mentally unacceptable. Minchin would rather change his underwear in public than change a professed stance.
    I thought a further indication of his panic grasp on denial was his about face when back in “real” time on the panel as opposed to his letting his guard down in the doco, sitting on the beach with the young climate activist – a pity. For if he really HAD changed his mind the experiment would have been much more edifying and useful.

    • Alastair L 8 years ago

      Good points. Minchin did blow a gasket at one point that made it into the doco. He sat back with crossed arms during much of the qanda debacle which was pretty telling.

  11. Richard Simpson 8 years ago

    Thank goodness for Saint Mathew.

  12. Jim Wright 8 years ago

    I was unable to watch the programs the other night, so I recorded them. Are they worth watching (reasons, please) or should I just hit the delete key ?

  13. Norm Sanders 8 years ago

    What we are seeing, people, is the end of the Age Of Enlightenment where all sides of a proposition were examined and discussed. There can be no advancement of knowledge when one side simply says “NO!”

  14. Paul Wittwer 8 years ago

    Jim Wright, I thought it was worth watching for Anna Rose who I had not heard of before. She behaved calmly and with dignity when Minchin’s cognitive dissonance blew a fuse and the way she took the wind out of the sails of an aggressive, verbalising Marc Marano was a delight.
    I think she has the makings of an ecowarrior, a Naomi Oreskes, Naomi Klein or Paul Gilding or better. She’s still very young.
    Qanda itself was weak as. Don’t waste your time.

    • Jim Wright 8 years ago

      Many thanks. I’ll take a deep breath and give it a try!

    • JIm James 8 years ago

      I agree. Quote from Paul Wittwer “I thought it was worth watching for Anna Rose who I had not heard of before”.
      It was also noticeable that most of Anna’s friends were young and of Minchin’s friends at that lunch were very senior.
      I hope the earth does not have to wait for Minchin’s generation to move on.
      SP – I am 61.

      • Jim Wright 8 years ago

        That’s OK. I have every respect for the views of my junior colleagues. For what it is worth, I managed to keep my IT contracting business going till I was over 70 and am now trying to calculate the absolute maximum sustainable population of the Australian landmass at varying levels of amenity and lifestyle. What I have noted so far is that there is an enormous interrelationship between this topic and climate change issues. James Lovelock got a bit of a serve for his recent remarks, but there is no doubt that the origial Gaia hypothesis was a good call. It really annoys me when radical climate-change activists and deniars both muddy the waters by cherrypicking the data and processes to support their own prejudices and I am pleased to see comparatively reasoned discussions in this and other sites.

      • Ralph 8 years ago

        Minchin’s and Rose’s friends differed more than by age. Hers were people you could respect; his were propagandists and ratbags.

  15. Richard Simpson 8 years ago

    Ralph, please,decorum.Everyone has the right to say what they think.
    If you
    You do yourself a diservice.

  16. Richard Simpson 8 years ago

    ie” that is if you disagree, debate the points in a civil way”

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