Doubt merchants and their self-inflicted blindness

The people obstructing our already difficult path to a low-carbon future

The video of Malcolm Roberts’ media conference last November, as it appeared in Andrew Bolt’s blog.

The video of Malcolm Roberts’ media conference last November, as it appeared in Andrew Bolt’s blog. Flanking Roberts are Tony Heller, a.k.a. Steven Goddard (left) and Ted Ball.

Want to know why power bills are so high? Look no further than South Australia’s battery project and other “make-believe solutions to a make-believe crisis”. That was Andrew Bolt’s advice last week in one of his Herald-Sun tirades.

Ignoring chief scientist Alan Finkel’s advice that high power prices are due to expensive gas, a malfunctioning electricity market, old technology, poor planning and business uncertainty, he chose to heap all the blame on the “fraud” of global warming.

Then, sidestepping recent record-breaking warming, he claimed that “leading global warming scientists” Ben Santer and Michael Mann “have just admitted in a paper in Nature Geoscience that the global temperature over the past two decades has not risen as their climate models predicted.”

“Admitted” implies that Santer and Mann were confessing to error, like defendants under cross-examination. But there was no error to confess; the paper was about the endless process of making climate models better able to account for the intricacies of Earth’s complex climate system.

A strange inclusion in the online article was a video captioned “Australian senator appears with American climate sceptic”, about a Canberra media conference featuring One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts. We aren’t told this, but the media conference happened eight months ago.

At the event Roberts introduced Canadian Tim Ball, calling him “the world’s most eminent climatologist” and Tony Heller, nom de guerre Steve Goddard (“a very devoted scientist”). Both men have tertiary degrees, but neither has a formal climate science qualification.

The 30-minute media conference – a string of tired old accusations of scientific fraud – highlights Andrew Bolt’s willingness to use every weapon to hand, regardless of currency or content, to hammer home his line that we’re being ripped off by “make-believe” science.

Meanwhile in Canberra, some noisy Coalition politicians are insisting there must be no price on carbon and that coal must be treated as “clean energy”. Like Bolt, they assert that high electricity prices are due to the pernicious influence of renewable wind and solar energy.

Government MP Craig Kelly went a step further last week, claiming that renewable energy is a killer. People will die from cold this winter, he told an ABC radio interviewer, because they can’t afford to pay for electricity to heat their homes – all because of subsidised solar and wind.

He’s far from alone in his Coalition party room. The Australian Financial Review’s Aaron Patrick reported at the weekend that more than half federal Liberal MPs and as much as 90 per cent of National Party MPs remain unconvinced about human-induced climate change.

Patrick cites the executive director of the conservative Institute of Public Affairs, John Roskam, saying that “more than 50 per cent are solid sceptics and more than 50 per cent feel they need to be seen to do something”.

That adds up to a massive headache for prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and his energy and environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, desperately trying to convince their colleagues to support Finkel’s recommended Clean Energy Target.

Their cause wasn’t helped by former prime minister John Howard last week when he told a Sydney audience that he had become “increasingly more of a sceptic on climate change”, adding that “I was never a paid-up enthusiast”.

All this is happening because some people (nearly all men, actually) in positions of power and influence have predetermined that the science underpinning climate change, the work of thousands of physicists and chemists and geologists and biologists around the world, must be wrong.

They join others of like mind – almost invariably not climate specialists – in the self-contained world of climate change denial, in a cause that has become an ideology. I could almost call it religious, a word deputy PM Barnaby Joyce often uses to describe people opposing new coal mines.

Now, the projections of decades of modelling showing high carbon dioxide levels leading to higher global mean temperatures, more energetic storms, warmer oceans and higher sea levels are coming to pass, and people are already suffering as a result.

We keep hearing from Joyce, Kelly, Bolt and their kind that we export coal because it helps the world’s poor. Try telling that to villagers from Pacific atolls or coastal Java who have become climate refugees because rising seas – a result of burning coal – have forced them from their homes.

This wouldn’t matter, except that time is running out to contain carbon pollution. We desperately need the weight, muscle and focus which only national government can provide, but with a fervour worthy of any evangelist, these people are preventing that from happening.

They might accuse me in return of being a zealot, but there’s a crucial difference. Every major scientific institution including all national science academies and all but a handful of the world’s professional climate scientists are on my side of the argument, not theirs.

Their behaviour seems crazy, but to me it’s more like a kind of blind anger – obdurate, ego-driven, self-inflicted. I hope for all our sakes it’s curable.

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