On the conservative side of Federal Parliament are a cabal of climate change deniers who are determined to stop any action by Australia to lower its carbon emissions. In the process they are splitting the Liberal Party asunder. [1 December 2009 | Peter Boyer]
The clamour of the past week over Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, the emissions trading affray and the unmasking of climate deniers among conservative politicians have revealed something of how the climate debate could re-shape Australian politics.
The last-gasp wrangling over the Rudd government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme brought into the spotlight a subtext which has lurked beneath the surface of Australian politics for many years.
Politicians who doubted any human role in climate change have never been under any pressure to declare their hand publicly, but with last week’s debate climate change denial has emerged for all to see, and the results, at least for the Liberal Party, are anything but pretty.
Labor’s official support of accepted climate science has silenced the remaining doubters on that side, but for the Opposition it’s a different story. By declaring his party had to support climate action or be relegated to history, Malcolm Turnbull challenged them, and they came out swinging.
In the ABC’s November 9 Four Corners program, coalition heavy-hitters Tony Abbott and Senator Nick Minchin were among half a dozen Opposition politicians expressing doubt as to whether the world is warming and/or whether humans are causing it.
“It seems that the world has cooled slightly since the late 1990s,” said Tony Abbott. Nick Minchin declared himself “a sceptic about the theory that human emissions and CO2 are the main driver of global change”.
Senator Cory Bernadi boldly declared climate change science to be “increasingly discredited”, while the emissions trading battle brought out the Churchill in Senator Barnaby Joyce: “We will fight it on the economics, we will fight it on the science and we will prevail and we will win.”
Kevin Andrews, stalking-horse for the anti-Turnbull forces, has expressed doubts about the human factor in climate change. So have four of five Tasmanian Liberal senators — Stephen Parry, Guy Barnett, Eric Abetz and David Bushby. “Climate agnostic” was how Senator Abetz described himself.
While leading coalition contrarians declined Liberal MP Mal Washer’s invitation to an October meeting in Parliament House to hear invited scientists answer climate change questions, they have all been willing listeners to others supporting their stance against human-induced climate change.
Their advisers include two geologists, Professor Bob Carter of James Cook University who for years has been telling Australian audiences that his fellow-scientists have got it all wrong, and Professor Ian Plimer of the University of Adelaide, author of the book Heaven and Earth, a long, heavily-footnoted argument that today’s climate changes are entirely natural.
Professor Garth Paltridge, a Hobart-based atmospheric scientist and former head of Antarctic research programs at the University of Tasmania, is a third “sceptical” scientist consulted by the parliamentary contrarians. I have known Professor Paltridge for some years, and last spoke with him in the office of Senator Eric Abetz in a discussion about humans and climate.
Questioning is important to science, so the thoughts of these people shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. I have read climate writings by Garth Paltridge and Ian Plimer, sat through an Ian Plimer seminar, and viewed Bob Carter presenting on video, and have found among their assertions various questions which justified referral to other climate scientists.
But nothing I found from these referrals in any way weakens the central position expressed in the major UN climate reports and in every climate-related scientific journal you care to pick up.
Thousands of professional scientists in refereed articles, and a mounting pile of institutional, national and international assessments, say that humans are causing the climate to change and that the need for action is desperately urgent. Opposing them is an array of lobbyists, commentators and a handful of scientists arguing that the threat is imaginary and we need do nothing about it.
Taking their cue from their cherry-picked advisers, these non-scientist politicians now seek to obstruct action on climate (any action, not just the CPRS) and to have Australia stand apart from international processes, directly contradicting the overwhelming weight of global science and the position of all major world leaders. This is reckless, irresponsible behaviour.
Puppet-master Nick Minchin sees climate change in left-versus-right terms, part of the extreme left’s “new religion” by which it seeks to “de-industrialise” the West. He should take a good look at history. It was socialist left against Catholic right that brought about Labor’s disastrous 1955 split, which kept it out of office for another 17 years.
The anti-Turnbull camp might be expected to have expressed their climate beliefs even more openly given their announcement that strong support from party members was “pouring in”.
But when Mr Turnbull branded them climate sceptics, they became strangely coy on the science, presenting themselves as somewhere in the middle of the debate. Is a tiny part of their brains warning them that denying man-made climate change is not a good look?
The more rational of the rebels would have been well-advised to heed a new scientific report last week showing accelerating global warming with potential for a two-metre sea level rise by 2100. Or the monarchists among them might have taken pause from Queen Elizabeth’s weekend declaration that the challenge of our time was to act to prevent climate change from wreaking havoc.
This shabby, shambolic, dishonourable anti-Turnbull “cause” is 21st century self-interest based on 19th century science. Its adherents seem oblivious to the destruction they are bringing to the once proud party of Sir Robert Menzies.
Their party now approaches an election year deeply, bitterly divided over what will become the dominant election issue of our age. There are none so blind as those who will not see.