The juvenile conservative

Tom Switzer may be forgiven for not knowing much about the arrival of Vietnamese boat people in Australia as he was hardly out of nappies at the time. But yes, Tom, there were boats, and Malcolm Fraser really did welcome them, just as Bob Ellis told you on ABC News 24 tonight. So, Tom, “Not by boat!”, as you so confidently stated, is really not quite the way it was.

True, Fraser went even further and organised flights for a whole lot more of them, and the far Left were totally unimpressed at the arrival of all these anti-Communist fascist “slopes” being treated so well. It was another time, you see.


Vietnamese boat people in Darwin Harbour in 1977

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Ben Eltham on Who killed the climate bills?

Today on ABC’s The Drum Ben Eltham has posted Who killed the climate bills?

John F. Kennedy, in the wake of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, once said that "victory has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan."

Not so climate change legislation, which has now failed in both the US Congress and the Australian Senate.

Both defeats can claim many parents: climate change skeptics, conservative politicians in opposition, well-funded lobbyists, vested interests in industry, the complexity of the proposed bills, the failure of international negotiations, and the complacency of ordinary citizens. All have conspired to defeat flawed but necessary attempts by progressive governments here and in America to combat rising fossil fuel emissions and the warming global temperatures they cause.

Close followers of Australian politics are of course well aware of the torturous and repeated failure of the Rudd Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in the Senate. After two efforts to get it up in 2009, the government gave up in April, marking the beginning of the end of Kevin Rudd’s Prime Ministership. Since coming to power, Julia Gillard has promised a citizen’s gabfest and a renewed effort to build consensus on the issue – but no price on carbon any time soon.

Across the Pacific, we’ve seen a similar story play out…

But who is really to blame for the failure? In another hard-hitting column in The New York Times, liberal economist Paul Krugman makes the obvious point that we should "follow the money":

"The economy as a whole wouldn’t be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries – above all, the coal and oil industries – would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines. Look at the scientists who question the consensus on climate change; look at the organizations pushing fake scandals; look at the think tanks claiming that any effort to limit emissions would cripple the economy. Again and again, you’ll find that they’re on the receiving end of a pipeline of funding that starts with big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, which has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting climate-change denial, or Koch Industries, which has been sponsoring anti-environmental organizations for two decades."…

There are, incidentally, left-wing versions of climate change contrarianism, notably Alexander Cockburn of Counterpunch.

We should never be more vigilant than at the moment a new dogma is being installed. The claque endorsing what is now dignified as "the mainstream theory" of global warming stretches all the way from radical greens through Al Gore to George W. Bush, who signed on at the end of May. The left has been swept along, entranced by the allure of weather as revolutionary agent, naïvely conceiving of global warming as a crisis that will force radical social changes on capitalism by the weight of the global emergency. Amid the collapse of genuinely radical politics, they have seen it as the alarm clock prompting a new Great New Spiritual Awakening.

Alas for their illusions. Capitalism is ingesting global warming as happily as a python swallowing a piglet. The press, which thrives on fearmongering, promotes the nonexistent threat as vigorously as it did the imminence of Soviet attack during the cold war, in concert with the arms industry. There’s money to be made, and so, as Talleyrand said, "Enrich yourselves!" I just bought two roundtrip British Airways ticket to Spain from Seattle and a BA online passenger advisory promptly instructed me that the CO2 "offset" cost would be $7.90 on each ticket, which I might care to contribute to Climate Care. It won’t be long before utility bills will carry similar, albeit mandatory and much larger charges. Here’s a forewarning of what is soon going to happen, courtesy of Samuel Brittan in the Financial Times, under the menacing title, "Towards a true price for energy”…

But most contrarians come from the Right. In Australia Quadrant provides a very handy anthology of their arguments, including not only Cardinal Pell but also one of my Facebook friends! Two things struck me as I browsed.

1. It is remarkable how many of the contributions really come from a prior ideological or political conviction rather than from actual scientific considerations. Even the heading quote of the set confirms this:

“Today’s debate about global warming is essentially a debate about freedom. The environmentalists would like to mastermind each and every possible (and impossible) aspect of our lives.”

Vaclav Klaus
Blue Planet in Green Shackles

2. It is sad how they have in the past twelve months latched on to one debunked guru after another: first the egregious Lord Monckton; latterly the US radio weatherman and blogger Anthony Watts*.

In a comment on Ben Eltham’s post Old Bill asks: “How does one obtain a qualification to discuss climate change? Is there a B.Cli.Ch.Dis? Perhaps one needs to be elected a fellow of the Royal Society?”

Well, the good news is we don’t have to rise to the heights of election to the Royal Society as those already there have delivered their verdicts on climate science already: they respect it, they respect its methods, and they endorse its findings as far more credible than contrarian or denialist positions. My own position as (like most of us) a total amateur is 1) the more I read about the science of climate change the more sense it makes and 2) when I see people like Stephen Hawking, Lord May of Oxford (FRS since 1979 and former President of the Society), and our own Nobel prizewinner Professor Peter Doherty have no trouble accepting the conclusions of climate science then what weight should I give to dissenters whose views so often prove suspect?

If you want as objective an account of the science as seems reasonably possible view the lecture series by Professor Richard Muller of the University California, Berkeley.

That video “deals with the physics of climate change, the data on global temperature and carbon dioxide changes, and some potential solutions. Also covered are the many mistakes that can be made, including the trap of exaggeration. He warns against the danger of cherry picking and overstating the case. When people discover that the exaggerated case is not valid, they may dismiss the problem altogether. Professor Muller has researched this topic for many years and has co-authored a book with Gordon MacDonald called Ice Ages and Astronomical Causes.”

If you know a bit about physics already consider The Physics of Climate PPT. Nothing hysterical there.

Fact is just about every reputable scientific academy and journal in the world will give you the same answer: the science is at least 90% certain. Why contrarians want to go for the 10% of uncertainty as the part of the equation to base our policy responses just defies even everyday common sense. Of course the trouble is the observed changes so far really are very small, and the possible catastrophic changes are highly unlikely to happen quickly or in the lifetimes of us or even of our children, though there is uncertainty about that too as they may well happen rather more suddenly than predicted. What does make sense is to do all that is reasonably possible to mitigate future changes due to man-made components of climate forcing while we can. Adaptation to changes we cannot mitigate is also important, but the trouble is the more we debate and wait the less mitigation will be possible and the less pretty adaptation becomes.

Yes there is a debate to be had about the most effective forms of mitigation, and the following is I think fair comment:

But the current inertia really ought to be a concern.

Another good source of information I have not mentioned in earlier posts on this subject is The Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Meanwhile, another issue comes via ABC: Selling the farm is a special report by Radio National and the ABC News Online Investigations team.

Foreign interests including state-owned companies from China and the Middle East are increasingly looking to Australia to secure their food production by purchasing key agricultural assets.

The sale of agricultural land is exempt under Foreign Investment Review Board regulations and the FIRB’s attention is usually triggered only by the sale of companies whose assets exceed a $231 million threshold.

In recent years, and especially since the global food shortage in 2008, China, South Korea, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have all been engaged in massive agricultural purchases around the world and in Australia – as outlined in these maps of Australia and the globe.

New South Wales Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan says Australia risks losing control of its wealth-creating agricultural assets. He believes the Federal Government is not paying sufficient attention to the issue of global food security…

* I’ve been thinking about his famous expose of inadequacies of US weather stations (see the video above) and been wondering why he didn’t go on to say “the temperature in Godzilla NC today might have been 83F” whenever he did a weather report, as presumably he relied on these stations for his own weather reports. Unless he has his own network of people with cuckoo clocks all across the USA who SMS him whether the little man or the little woman has appeared that day.

Late addition