Political correctness: Tony Abbott’s weapon of choice

The former PM is trying to dumb down the debates over same-sex marriage and climate, but the electorate may be ahead of him.

Tony Abbott addressing the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London. PHOTO ABC/GWPF

Tony Abbott addressing the Global Warming Policy Foundation in London. PHOTO ABC/GWPF

If you don’t like political correctness, advised Tony Abbott two months ago, vote against legalising same-sex marriage “because voting no will help to stop political correctness in its tracks.”

It was the former PM doing what he does best, artfully setting out an agenda for a negative, divisive campaign. Abbott’s mentor and fellow “no” campaigner John Howard is renowned for his political skills, but when it comes to campaign slogans he’s no match for his protégé.

Abbott’s most cunning trick was to drag political correctness into this already crowded debate. We regular heterosexual guys and gals, he’s saying with a sly nudge, are being railroaded by trendy progressives into allowing people who are not like us to desecrate the sanctity of marriage.

Fast forward to last week. During one of his frequent visits to Mother England Abbott delivered the 2017 Global Warming Policy Foundation lecture to a cosy gathering of fellow climate-deniers.

The GWPF website was down when I tried to access it last week, but Abbott was thoughtful enough to release the text of his address for everyone to see. It makes fascinating, disturbing reading.

The man who as prime minister said he supported climate measures now says he no longer believes human-induced climate change is a settled issue, and those who say it is are acting in “the spirit of the Inquisition, the thought-police down the ages”.

The man who as prime minister had access to the best scientific advice in Australia declared that “more than 100 years of photography at Manly Beach in my electorate does not suggest that sea levels have risen” and that those say they have are “alarmists”.

And for good measure, here’s his final word: “It’s climate change policy that’s doing harm; climate change itself is probably doing good; or at least, more good than harm.”

It’s clear that as prime minister Abbott avoided chats with his chief scientist or any government climate scientist. Despite his strong preconceptions, just half an hour with a professional discussing those sentiments would surely have lifted the fog and revealed how utterly wrong they are.

He’s telling us that the word of a former prime minister with no tertiary science education, who cites no authorities to support his argument, trumps that of thousands of scientists who have spent their lives learning about how climate works.

I’ve observed climate science in action for 30 years. I’ve listened for countless hours to people who do it and got to know many of them personally. I value their personal integrity and collective wisdom, and I’ve learned to trust their word. It follows that I don’t trust Tony Abbott’s.

I have to pause here. Getting hot under the collar about Abbott’s climate ruminations is to risk being branded one of those “thought-police”, those guardians of political correctness, or PC.

A long time ago when I was young, PC was a joke from the far left of politics, usually directed at some party hack who waved the rule-book. It was the left satirising itself.

The joke spread to nursery rhymes and fairy tales, where traditional heroes and villains of a certain gender, type, class, race or nationality were re-drawn in a form that would offend no-one. The inevitable result was a sanitised version stripped of everything that was interesting.

The joke did not go unnoticed on the right side of politics, where US President Ronald Reagan made good use of it. In the 1990s a new breed of conservatives, many of them re-invented ex-Marxists, turned PC into a powerful campaign tool. It’s never looked back.

Both in office and since, John Howard has used the PC line to insinuate that people speaking out on refugee policies, or on racist, sexist or homophobic language, are browbeating us ordinary folk and dictating how we should behave.

Political correctness is a supreme propaganda tool. You may be prime minister or a top-gun CEO or a mining magnate or just a wealthy bigot, or all of the above, but through the magic of PC you can be instantly transformed into a champion of the downtrodden.

Free of both thought and responsibility, it is politics for the lazy, demanding only that its users know how to talk nonsense with conviction. Donald Trump put it best in his 2016 race: “I’m not politically correct, because to be politically correct just takes too much time… too much effort.”

Stumped for campaign ideas? No problem – just bang on about political correctness. You can attack anyone else’s policy on a complex issue – immigration or education or law and order, or anything – simply by branding it as PC. Works every time.

The full power of the political correctness line was unleashed in Britain and the US in 2016, taking Britain out of the European Union and putting Donald Trump into the White House.

That’s what happens when politics is dumbed down and political correctness given elbow-room. We would be foolish if, after all this warning, we allowed the same process to take its course here.

Now Tony Abbott is repeating the trick. Getting us to vote down same-sex marriage and abandon carbon mitigation, he says, would be to save us all from political correctness.

I believe that on these two issues at least, most voters are informed enough not to be sucked in, and that the passage of time will see his views become quaint historical relics. Let’s hope so.

Posted in Australian politics, changes to climate, climate politics, climate system, contrarians | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What price will we pay for a job?

Politicians are exploiting economic insecurity to put public resources into highly-questionable ventures.

Frances Roberts, Hobart co-convenor of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, addresses a “Stop Adani” rally on Hobart’s Parliament Lawns last Saturday. PHOTO Martyn Summers

Frances Roberts, Hobart co-convenor of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, addresses a “Stop Adani” rally at Hobart’s Franklin Square last Saturday. PHOTO Martyn Summers

No-one should underestimate the fear that accompanies the threat of being sacked, the dismay that comes with being unemployed, or the lengths to which people will go to support a promise of a job.

There is no other explanation for governments behaving as if there is innate virtue in filling coastal waters with fish pens, felling forests or making huge holes in the ground.

Or allowing huge numbers of machines designed specifically to deprive people of their money to be installed in pubs and clubs across the country.

The selling of this latter idea as a benefit to society – a decades-long process which the Tasmanian historian James Boyce has described in his book, Losing Streak, in Talking Point and last month on national radio – would be utterly unbelievable if it had not actually happened.

Boyce reminds us that Tasmania’s installation of poker machines in the 1990s came after the Commonwealth Grants Commission found that this state had Australia’s worst rate of gambling addiction and its lowest level of revenue from gambling taxation.

Despite strong public opposition to poker machines in the 1990s, successive Liberal and Labor governments introduced them in stages and then abolished all bet limits. Bipartisan support was driven by a steady stream of tax revenue, but the public justification was local jobs.

Boyce points out that governments have turned a blind eye to the fact that the main beneficiaries of Tasmania’s pokie industry are not local clubs and smaller family pubs able to offer stable local employment but big, highly-profitable, mainly interstate hotel chains.

We can find similar stories about the privileges handed out to the forestry giant Gunns Limited before it came crashing down in 2012. Or about the relaxed attitude to what seem to be flagrant violations of marine environmental standards by the salmon farming business Tassal.

In all these cases there is disquiet in the community about undesirable social or environmental consequences. The salve for that disquiet is invariably jobs: in pubs and clubs, in forests, log transport and milling, and in salmon farms and factories.

Some of the promised jobs come to pass but most don’t, which is no surprise because it’s well known that spruikers of development proposals exaggerate. But it is interesting how quickly governments and voters alike can stop being sceptical as soon as jobs are raised in the conversation.

Now we have a stand-out national example of a large corporation and its political supporters making promises of many thousands of jobs in regional centres which, like Tasmania, have a recent history of chronic unemployment.

Last week the ABC’s Four Corners looked at past activities of the mining and energy giant Adani, the Indian group seeking to mine coal in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. The program raised financial, environmental and health issues and extensive evidence of fraud, bribery and money-laundering.

A recent judicial inquiry showed that Adani “just about broke every law of the country”, said Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a leading Indian economist and intellectual. “Here is a business conglomerate who will not stop at anything to maximise its profits.”

The company’s power in its home state, Gujarat, was on full display after Four Corners reporter Stephen Long visited an Adani port facility to investigate the background of judicial findings against Adani for environmental misdemeanours there.

After being ordered off by Adani security, the film crew endured five hours of questioning at their hotel by police officers, who used a threat of arrest to force them out of town.

By contrast, Adani has lavished hospitality on federal and state MPs visiting India. That includes trade minister Steve Ciobo, who last month changed rules to allow the government’s Export Finance and Insurance Corporation to fund foreign-owned domestic mining projects.

EFIC’s charter has always been to help Australian companies enter foreign markets, but now its funds can be accessed by Indian-owned Adani. Major financial institutions have turned their backs on Adani’s Carmichael venture; if that fails EFIC’s own future could be under threat.

Another vocal supporter of the company is Queensland’s Labor premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, recently hosted in India by Adani’s owner, Gautam Adani. Questioned by Long, she said she knew nothing about multiple allegations of Adani money laundering and tax avoidance.

She added: “I do know about Adani and that means thousands of jobs for regional Queenslanders… You should go up there and talk to those people who have lost their jobs… They’re hurting, regional Queensland is hurting and we will do everything we can to get people back into work.”

Jobs promised – invariably more than what eventuates – say little about a business’s potential value and nothing at all about its viability. Adani admits its estimate of 10,000 jobs was grossly exaggerated, yet in this and many other cases such figures are driving seriously risky political decisions.

We expect companies to exercise due diligence with shareholders’ funds. Whether the business in question is coal, poker machines, trees or salmon, we should expect no less from governments.

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Posted in Australian politics, Australian Youth Climate Coalition, business interests, business, investment, employment, carbon, carbon emissions and targets, Climate Action Hobart, climate politics, coal-fired, coastal management, community action, divestment, economic activity, energy, environmental degradation, forests and forestry, fossil fuels, growth, investment, land use, mining, public opinion, social and personal issues, social mindsets, Tasmanian politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

James Delingpole’s game is everyone’s loss

James Delingpole and friends aren’t interested in science, but that doesn’t stop them attacking it.

James Delingpole as he likes to be seen.

James Delingpole as he likes to be seen. PHOTO Breitbart News

It all started with some good news a fortnight ago, that a UK-based study had found the Paris “aspirational” climate goal of a 1.5C warming limit might after all be achievable.

A paper in Nature Geoscience, by an international team led by Richard Millar of Oxford and Exeter Universities, concludes that global carbon emissions for the past two decades were greater than previously estimated.

The team found that underestimating past emissions had led to discrepancies between climate models and actual temperatures. It recalibrated the global carbon budget in three separate exercises using different models, all of which yielded similar results.

The paper concludes that the amount of carbon we can still release into the air while staying below the Paris “aspirational” target of 1.5C by 2100 (0.5C warmer than at present) is more than we’d thought – about 880 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide or 20-odd years of current emissions.

Based on this the team estimates that current 2030 emissions reduction targets should be about 10 per cent tougher to meet the newly-assessed carbon budget. Countries will have to continue cutting at a similar rate for 20 years beyond that if we are to remain below the 1.5C limit.

Millar and his colleagues concluded that the world needed a steady year-on-year decline to zero emissions in under 40 years, starting now. It still won’t be easy, they say, but getting warming under control is an achievable challenge.

Co-author Michael Grubb of University College London said the study had led him to revise his former view that staying below 1.5C was incompatible with democracy. He now thinks that with swift, decisive action the Paris goals are within reach.

Enter James Delingpole, a UK opinion writer who describes climate science as a false, self-serving attempt to destroy fossil fuels and wreck the economy. As is his wont, he launched yet another attack on the “climate alarmist establishment” in Breitbart News and London’s Sun newspaper.

“What [the Millar paper] effectively does is scotch probably the most damaging scientific myth of our age – the notion that man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) is causing the planet to warm at… dangerous and unprecedented speeds,” he said.

In the Melbourne Herald-Sun a day after Delingpole’s Breitbart piece, Andrew Bolt chimed in with his own critique of what he called a “landmark paper”. (They may despise “warmist scientists”, but when it suits them both Delingpole and Bolt cite their work as gospel, which is a win of sorts.)

The Millar paper, Bolt said, “now concedes the world has indeed not warmed as predicted, thanks to a slowdown in the first 15 years of this century.” He then took the opportunity to bash old climate predictions by Tim Flannery and Bob Brown, as if that had any relevance.

In their haste to condemn, Bolt and Delingpole claimed modelling for the “landmark paper” showed past research outcomes had exaggerated current and future warming. But the modelling didn’t (and couldn’t) do that because it was set up just to illustrate a research point about carbon budgeting.

Millar wrote a written response to Delingpole’s attack, published by the Guardian, pointing out that the study’s warming projections for coming decades were identical to conclusions of the 2013 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The response indicates that Delingpole never contacted Millar or any of his colleagues involved with the research paper. He may never even have spoken to a scientist about it.

If he had explored further he might have learned what the authors were really saying, about how they reached their conclusions and how they continue to debate their work with others around the world. He might have been able to see more clearly how a lay person can get things wrong.

But that would have blurred his line of attack and spoiled his story, which is his bread and butter. What he has to say doesn’t bear any sort of objective scrutiny, but he continues to get airplay because he has a nifty turn of phrase and plenty of devoted followers.

The bottom line is that Delingpole, Bolt and their like aren’t interested in science. Their focus is the game of politics. They’re political animals through and through.

Time and reality are against them. Eventually all but the loony fringe will accept science’s assessment of climate change and regard the rise of renewables and energy storage technologies as a natural and necessary progression in the march of history.

But in the meantime these people continue to do great damage. Back in 2009 Delingpole claimed that hacked scientists’ emails revealed scientific fraud. The affair, which he called “Climategate”, saw scientists subjected to public abuse and international action held back for years. Multiple official inquiries found his charges were baseless.

False claims about good science continue to give traction to a phony public debate that can still be heard in some business and political circles. In our own federal government it has stymied effective abatement policies.

Delingpole now writes that “the scientists” (whoever they are) “owe us an apology so enormous that I doubt even a bunch of two dozen roses every day for the rest of our lives is quite enough to make amends for the damage they’ve done.”

For what, Mr Delingpole? Studying our climate and telling us and our governments about how it is changing? It’s not scientists who should apologise for damage done. It’s you.

Posted in Australian politics, carbon, carbon emissions and targets, changes to climate, climate politics, climate sensitivity, contrarians, fossil fuels, future climate, international politics, modelling, renewable energy, scientific method, temperature | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment