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Fruit loops

November 15th, 2009

It is I think, comparatively rare for a senior political figure to describe equally senior members of their own party as “fruit loops” and “f…wits”, going on to observe that “They don’t know how crazy they look, because crazy people never do”.

But that was exactly the reaction to last Monday’s Four Corner’s program in which Liberal Party Senate Leader Nick Minchin and others went on camera to spout delusionist conspiracy theories of the type Kevin Rudd had pre-emptively denounced only two days previously (i guess he had an idea what was going to be on Four Corners). Minchin described the scientific consensus view that human activity is driving climate change as the result of a communist plot, saying

For the extreme Left it provides the opportunity to do what they’ve always wanted to do, to sort of deindustrialise the Western world. You know the collapse of communism was a disaster for the Left, and … they embraced environmentalism as their new religion.

This is, of course, standard stuff on the political right – I had a string of people pointing me to the latest silly talking point in which a British unfair dismissal case was supposed to prove that global warming is a religion – but it was a big mistake to say it on Four Corners.

The real problem though is that Nick Minchin is not, in the ordinary sense of the term, a fruit loop or f…wit. Rather, he is a sharp and effective political operator, who doesn’t worry much about ideas and therefore takes his beliefs from the environment in which he moves. In the current state of the right that means his ideas on climate change, like those of most of the people with whom he mixes, are deeply delusional. So thoroughly embedded are delusionist assumptions and information sources on the right that, within the given cultural milieu, any psychologically normal person must necessarily, in exactly the same way as any psychologically normal member of an isolated tribal culture would accept the standard myths of that culture. The delusionist message is propounded by a parallel-universe of “scientists” (a handful of whom have relevant scientific qualifications), think tanks and bloggers, and continually reinforced by the distribution of talking points like the unfair dismissal case mentioned above.

This is bad enough as applied to climate change, which is one of the big problems facing the world. But the problem goes far beyond this, extending, for example to economic policy issues. It is unsurprising that advocates of market liberalism would like to downplay the implications of the global financial crisis for the theoretical foundations of their position such as the efficient markets hypothesis, and it ought to be possible to make a case that the current crisis does not provide sufficient evidence to abandon the EMH. But, thanks to the rightwing talking points machine, no one much feels the need to make such a case. Instead we get absurd claims that the near-collapse of global capitalism was brought about by the Community Reinvestment Act, a minor piece of 1970s legislation aimed at ensuring fair access to bank loans for credit-worthy borrowers in poor neighborhoods. This claim, silly on its face, has been comprehensively refuted, but people I would otherwise regard as sensible continue to put it forward.

And of course, the talking points machine was seen in full force before and during the Iraq war. The lionization of someone like Arthur Chrenkoff, who argued throughout 2003, 2004 and 2005 that the view of events in Iraq presented by the mainstream media was excessively gloomy and pessimistic (!) and presented a “Good News from Iraq” to explain how well things were going, was a typical instance. Chrenkoff ended up working for Liberal Senator Brett Mason, who is, unsurprisingly a prominent climate delusionist.

The fact is that the political right, at least in the US and among those sections of Australian opinion that take their lead from the US, has become utterly unhinged from reality, to the point where anyone who relies on rightwing sources for information is bound to be deluded. Even where individual pieces of evidence may be factually correct, they are selected to support delusional claims such as those cited above, with the often overwhelming evidence to the contrary being disregarded.

This raises an interesting question for those of my readers inclined to conservative or libertarian views but disinclined to joining the fruit loops. How should such a person form their views on current issues. My answer is that the only option is to ignore entirely everything written on “their” side of the debate and confine attention to factual evidence presented by reputable official and scientific sources and to critical analysis of the arguments of the “left:. Perhaps if enough people did this, they would be able to form the nucleus of a body of thought which would reclaim the ground once occupied by sane conservatives. But, at present, there is no sign of this happening.

Categories: Environment, Oz Politics Tags:
  1. Fran Barlow
    November 19th, 2009 at 06:15 | #1

    No, MOSH, we don’t. Right now the government is negotiating even further concessions to what is already a very poor scheme which will discredit all future schemes.

    A good ETS would be a useful tool but this is not it.

  2. nanks
    November 19th, 2009 at 06:41 | #2

    @Michael of Summer Hill

    Michael of Summer Hill :
    Fran Barlow & Iain, the CPRS is not everyone’s cup of tea and I also do not believe in giving out free permits to the big polluters but we must face reality and try to make the best of what will become law.

    ‘we’ can face reality mosh. if Rudd et al would do the same then we wouldn’t have this dud ETS on the table.

  3. iain
    November 19th, 2009 at 07:57 | #3

    mosh, I believe the CPRS needs to be voted against for the following reasons. If anyone can explain to me why any (or all) of these reasons are invalid – then I am happy (and open enough) to be persuaded otherwise.

    1. The CPRS proposal doesn’t provide low cost and effective administration (and hence may invalidate Coase’s Thereom), and hence invalidates its own fundamental theoretical underpinnings.

    2. Permit allocation numbers (cap) is subject to vested interests – potential for overallocation may (likely) occur (refer EU ETS for precedent).

    3. Not all relevant “buyers” and “sellers” are included (indeed, you often leave many of them out by ignoring agriculture “indefinitely”), and hence incomplete market conditions will prevail as the norm.

    4. Free permits compensate illegitimate businesses (over and above Garnaut’s compensation recommendations for EITE companies). Additionally, free permitting arrangements reward high emissions intensive companies over low emissions intensive companies (within the same industry) and hence incentivise inefficiency. Refer, for example, chapter 14 of the final Garnaut Report.

    5. Cap and trade is not the most economically efficient method where rate of change of MAC greater than rate of change of MDC. Additionally, the system focuses on willingness to pay methodologies for determining marginal abatement and damage costs (and ignores multi criteria and stakeholder analysis as a serious alternative to cost analysis). The system does not accept, nor engage, pluralist valuation methods.

    6. Redistribution of scheme earnings is currently ad hoc (and wasteful in its support of CCS). Redistribution dialogue ignores wider stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders include future generations which are discounted unethically by current CBA approaches.

    7. Once approved it will create a false sense of having “achieved” in regards to CC. Convincing the general public of the need for additional measures will be increasingly difficult. It marginalises and trivialises discussion of non-market methods for addressing CC.

    8. Aids, abets, and “locks in” BAU (including – ignoring limits to growth in any economic sense). Neoclassical market hegemony is not significantly changed, and (as neoclassical economics does not effectively provide correct social and environmental valuation of goods and services) pervasive externalities will continue to increase. Locking in BAU, will, by logical extension, “lock in failure”.

    9. As we are at 390ppm and the safe level is 350ppm – government sanctioning of any additional pollution is morally bankrupt. Phased in banning of CO2-e emissions is the only serious solution – and it is a solution that becomes lost in the din of meaningless debate over alternative market based mechanisms. Even other debates such as pollution permit allocation methods to illegitimate businesses may be seen as simple distractions away from the core issue of banning CO2-e emissions.

    10. The CPRS does not directly address consumers of carbon pollution (and consumers of carbon pollution products) – it is a market for pollution suppliers. Whilst an increasing price signal will, obviously, influence consumers through the normal supply and demand pricing mechanisms – it does not directly engage consumer psychology and behaviour in the same way that participatory and democratic planning approaches may, nor, for example, in the same way that proposals such as TEQs might more directly engage consumer psychology and behaviour.

  4. Donald Oats
    November 19th, 2009 at 09:11 | #4

    @wilful

    I’ve given Tony some lumps when he has been particularly irritating. On the other hand, I do prefer to provide information or references to such scientific knowledge as I can. If Tony chooses not to follow up, that’s his choice. Other people reading the thread – and many people do shadow this blog – can of course follow the leads I give (and Glen is giving, good to see). I’m not a scientist, and long gone are the days where someone can sneak a few teraflops from the supercomputer or cluster by dropping off a few bottles of home brew – but, I digress.

    There are plenty of people out there that are sceptical of AGW or climate change, but that scepticism probably comes from two sources: genuine uncertainty about the scientific claims, probably because it is way outside their everyday skills and time to understand it; and, most of the initial significant changes happen in the Arctic, the Antarctic, and above the old snowlines on mountain tops, and changes benearch the ocean surface..

    The Denialists – Derailers, really – easily exploit the quite understandable uncertainty in order to protect a particular type of Western Society, as if society remains frozen in time! However, the Derailers still insist on increasting rates of growth and technological progress unfettered by the potential constraints of dealing with AGW directly. The rather invisible nature of some of the bigger changes taking place just makes it even easier to claim either nothing is changing, or the changes are just part of the cycle (of unspecified length, I point out :-) ).
    Furthermore, if a series of high temperature records are broken in mid and northern South Australia (for example), instead of observing that this is in line with predictions made nearly 20 years ago in various scientific articles and by CSIRO, they say oh, when the drought breaks it will be back to normal. Ta, guys!
    While I don’t doubt that most of the Derailers believe that they are right, hardly any of them cobble together anything remotely resembling a good scientific hypothesis for the current statistically significant global temperature trend taking place, that doesn’t rely upon the greenhouse effect increased by human CO2 emissions, and that explains why the human contribution to CO2 *is not* causing an increase in temperature as well.
    Saying it is just a cycle covers everything and explains nothing.

    Finally, there are some Derailers who I suspect are reasonably confident that not only is AGW real, but that it is already happening and could be as bad as some of the upper projections for 2050, 2060, 2100. However, since they are quite affluent, they probably feel – quite rightly – that they and their immediate families are insulated from the effects. AT least on a timescale they care about. For these Derailers, the motivation for running interference, and the like, comes from a deep-rooted fear of losing their political ascendancy.

    Something that scientists, or more to the point, University Media Depts, need to grasp is that before publically announcing new and more extreme climate possibilities, they need to assess where the public is situated on climate information (ie what do they know and are comfortable with), and to temper their language. If this is done correctly, the public’s knowledge expands to take in the new facts/hypotheses. If the gap between the currently accepted extremes (accepted by the public, that is), and the new information is too large, then people become sceptical. All a Derailer need do with this is to seed opinion pieces in the newspapers (the Australian national newspaper in Australia – who’d have thought? – is an almost daily practitioner in this) where they make explicit the gap and turn it into an attack upon particular scientists or greenies.

  5. Fran Barlow
    November 19th, 2009 at 09:26 | #5

    @iain

    I’m obviously going to be sympathetic to much of what you say Iain, but I am of the view that an ETS could be designed that minimised these flaws and would still, at the margin, improve in abatement and reconciliation outcomes over any other politically plausible suite of measures.

    Creating a new form of property in emission rights militates against subversion of the system in exactly the same way that the system constrains the government from simply printing money. Holders of money recognise that someone printing more of it undermines their asset. Since business is the main obstacle to progress on emissions, wedging them on a world scale makes good political sense. This is why this is an improvement over taxes or resort to regulatory measures, which are at the mercy of local porkbarrelling/populism.

    Key is a low (and technological best-practice-driven decrementing) target, a high marginal cost for uncovered emissions, and near ubiquity within the system.

    I’d also favour a complementary system of carbon emissions rationing at retail level (with a safety net in which relatively socially disadvantaged people could receive necessities in kind) and buttressed by expansion of obvious major emission – displacing services — such as public transport, public housing, localised water capture and recycling etc.

  6. Donald Oats
    November 19th, 2009 at 09:58 | #6

    I just want Labor to be able to take a target to the Chinese and USA, negotiate up toward a more realistic target, while sorting out a few trade issues as part of the bargain, and then being able to keep pressure on China and the USA (and them on us) to hold the whole lot to target commitments, not “aspirations”, not “politically binding” targets, but actual legally binding targets with penalties for ducking them.

    Last chance to get the ball rolling internationally. Meanwhile, Aussies per-capita CO2 emissions should make us ashamed of ourselves. Use the WFBTF for further info.

  7. Donald Oats
    November 19th, 2009 at 10:28 | #7

    @Addendum to Don’s previous comment…

    I should say that for Scientists and University Media Centres, if new results are to be announced in which previously extreme results are reduced in severity due to new data being available, then this too needs clear explanation. If they aren’t careful to clarify the statements of their results enough, the media will run stories like Antarctic ice loss offsets global warming in which newly exposed ocean allows phytoplankton to gobble up carbon dioxide, which they naturally sequester by sinking to the ocean floor when dead. Fair enough, except for two problems. The researchers give the quantification of current impact:

    Their estimate, based on images of green algal blooms, is that the phytoplankton absorbs 3.5 million tonnes of carbon, equivalent to 12.8 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2).

    To put it in perspective, this is equivalent to the CO2-storing capacity of between 6000 and 17,000 hectares of tropical rainforest, according to the paper.

    The tally is minute compared to the quantities of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels and deforestation, which amounted to 8.7 billion tonnes of carbon in 2007.

    (My highlighting.)

    The second issue is that the researchers may, or may not, have considered the consequences of this important increase in the local food chain. Once other plants and animals become involved, the net effect might be any of a) beneficial, b) roughly neutral, or c) negative. The media centre should ensure that such information makes it to the journalists, otherwise there is virtually zero chance of it being mentioned. If it makes it into the journalist’s article, a reader is in a position to judge this new scientific observation as novel but rather incomplete at this point in time. Otherwise, it risks sounding like “Problem Solved, pack up and go home”.

    JMHO.
    Don.

  8. Michael of Summer Hill
    November 19th, 2009 at 18:21 | #8

    Fran Barlow, once the CPRS Bill becomes law , politicians from all persuasions will still be able to voice their opposition and debate the merits of the new legislation and seek further ammendments. Not all is lost.

  9. observa
    November 19th, 2009 at 23:17 | #9

    “There is no need to compensate any businesses. The government should be ready for some bankruptcies though. Some thought should be given to improve the bankruptcy laws to handle the situation.”
    Brings a wry smile to my face a bit like facing the practical problem of emptying Gitmo after talking big in Opposition. It’s like this Freelander. The moment the Carbon Pollution Rorts Scheme is ratified, the directors of most of La Trobe’s power stations face declaring their companies bankrupt, thereby placing them in administration and effectively handing them back to the banks. That will immediately trigger panic among power retailers as all long term contracts and price hedging is off the table and welcome to this brave new world energy consumers, not to mention a Victorian State Labor Govt going apopleptic at the the ramifications. To give you an example, Adelaide’s heat wave just saw spot power prices peak at $10000.00/MWhr before the aghast pollies stepped in to price fix it at $600.00. They will do that at their peril of future brownouts of course. Now while the banks may continue to run the generators, they like the current ‘owners’ will have no interest whatsoever in preventive maintenance, nor will they have the technical wherewithal in any case.
    At present Federal Labor are more interested in wedging the Coalition and blind to the ramifications of what they’re doing. Big Biz knows it but figures ETS is the best of a bad lot under the circumstances and is playing mum, whilst trying to wheedle the most out of emission handouts. It’s the only game in town. When Big Govt/Union/Biz are all singing from the same hymn sheet there’s nothing surer than the battlers need to bite down hard on the pillow and think of England, after reaching for the vaseline for some comfort.

  10. observa
    November 19th, 2009 at 23:25 | #10

    But cheer up Freelander. We all know who thinks banks are too big to fail eh?

  11. November 23rd, 2009 at 18:54 | #11

    no coments

  12. Chris O’Neill
    November 23rd, 2009 at 19:30 | #12

    observa:

    Now while the banks may continue to run the generators,

    Well at least he’s not claiming the generators will be switched like most of the mitigation alarmists.

    they like the current ‘owners’ will have no interest whatsoever in preventive maintenance,

    If they’re like the current owners then what is your point?

    nor will they have the technical wherewithal in any case.

    First it was the generators are going to be switched off, now it’s the technical expertise is going to vanish into thin air. Do these people ever give up their pathetic arguments?

  13. Joel
    November 24th, 2009 at 13:26 | #13

    Hi John,

    I saw Steve Fielding the Parliment House climate change protest Monday — he was showing a CO2 trendline and Air Temperature graph and asking everyone to “explain why CO2 is rising, yet global temperature isn’t”.

    I found the graph here: http://www.stevefielding.com.au/climate_change/

    The reaction of the crowd was emotive and confrontational, and looking at the news highlights that night, they cut it in a way that led my wife to believe he’d dug up valid evidence to the contrary.

    Any thoughts on this?

  14. November 24th, 2009 at 14:19 | #14

    Don, Glen and James, sorry it took such a long time to get back, but you did give me a lot to read. I have read your posts and links to experiments etc, but unfortunately like US climatologist Kevin Trenberth, I am still not convinced the world is warming. In fact he like me seems to think it is cooling.

    As such, could you kindly withdraw your fraudulent assertion that the globe is warming and work out what to do about global cooling?

  15. Chris O’Neill
    November 24th, 2009 at 16:56 | #15

    Tony G:

    like US climatologist Kevin Trenberth, I am still not convinced the world is warming. In fact he like me seems to think it is cooling.

    He knew, quite rightly, that it cooled from 2007 to 2008 and into 2009. This is commonly referred to as weather. He did not say the climate is cooling and if you asked him he would say that the climate continues to warm.

    As such, could you kindly withdraw your fraudulent implication that the global climate is cooling and work out what to do about global warming?

  16. November 24th, 2009 at 17:40 | #16

    You can believe it is weather Chris, but he was talking about climate, you can read the IPCC scientist’s damning quotes here;

    The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t. … Our observing system is inadequate.

  17. jquiggin
    November 24th, 2009 at 17:44 | #17

    @Joel
    I think it’s very difficult to do this kind of thing by talking point. Flat earth proponents used to do a roaring trade bamboozling sphericist geographers in public debate in the 19th century.

    While I’m on this, I’ll note that the popularity of the long-refuted delusionist talking point that scientists used to believe in a flat earth is yet another indication that these people are both ignorant and unwilling to learn. The longer they stay in the delusionosphere the sillier and more ignorant they become. Recent threads here give regrettable examples.

  18. Alice
    November 24th, 2009 at 17:51 | #18

    I knew this would wake up Tony G…groan.

  19. Freelander
    November 24th, 2009 at 18:31 | #19

    @observa

    The banks to big to fail debate has it all wrong. It is not that the banks are to big to fail, it is that the problem was to big to ignore. It was convenient that the problem was embodied in fewer entities as it made the government’s job easier. The moral hazard argument is one of the most misused. Anyone contemplating doing similar bad things is hardly going to be dissuaded by one or more of these banks failing as the culprits would still have walked away better off than if they had not done those bad things. As for the electricity industry, the government should just stand ready to take it back at bargain basement prices, as any other canny entrepreneur would do.

  20. Chris O’Neill
    November 24th, 2009 at 20:36 | #20

    Tony G:

    he was talking about climate

    There’s a big difference between talking about other people talking about climate and stating that the climate is cooling. You yourself say he “seems” to think it is cooling. You don’t sound too convinced yourself. You’re delusional Tony.

  21. Cynic
    November 24th, 2009 at 20:53 | #21

    @Freelander
    “Anyone contemplating doing similar bad things is hardly going to be dissuaded by one or more of these banks failing as the culprits would still have walked away better off than if they had not done those bad things.”

    I don’t think so. Remember, a large portion of those bonuses were funded by the American taxpayer. Thank you Mr Paulson and Mr Geithner.

    I think the moral hazard explanation cannot be easily dismissed. The “Greenspan Put” and the “Bernanke Put” were openly discussed long before the GFC and we all know about the extremely close relationship between Wall St and the regulators. Moreover, don’t forget the role of the FDIC in creating moral hazard among depositors.

    Govt = “canny entrepreneur”? LOL!!

  22. November 27th, 2009 at 18:56 | #22

    Pr Q said:

    So thoroughly embedded are delusionist assumptions and information sources on the right that, within the given cultural milieu, any psychologically normal person must necessarily, in exactly the same way as any psychologically normal member of an isolated tribal culture would accept the standard myths of that culture.

    What strikes me about the “New Right” these days is how much it appears to be aping the New Left c 1975. One finds numerous points of agreement in both policy generics and political modus operandi.

    The noughties New Right = seventies New Left

    - jaunty reliance on power of positive thinking (marketing = post-modernism)
    - flaunt disdain empirical science in favour of ideology (AGW = hereditarianism)
    - laud empire building (“mergers and acquisitions” = burgeoning bureaucracy)
    - practice the cult of personality (CEO rock stars = “glorious leaders”)
    - lavish rewards on unproductive parasites (executive remuneration committees = tax payer funded jaunts)
    - prosecute class war (investor politics = New Class)
    - fervidly support foreign revolutions (Iraq-attack = Cuba etc)
    - endlessly celebrate diversity (mass immigration = mass immigration)
    - ferocious polemics directed at opponents personality (“politics of personal destruction” = character assassination)
    - unashamedly resort to deficit financing and debt (Keynsian pump-priming = Bush-onomics “red ink as far as the eye can see”)
    - set up parallel intellectual universe (think tanks = humanities and social sciences)
    - self-destructive political stunts deliberately snubbing mainstream values (greenhouse denialism v street theatre)

    Lewis Lapham elaborates the New Left/New Right parallel at length in Harpers (sub req)

    Obviously both the New Left and their middle-aged descendants in the New Right picked up the disastrous stream of post-modern liberalism that emerged in the wake of various cultural revolutions in the sixites. And barbaric New Leftists often morphed into decadent New Rightists without an intervening period of civilization in the old-fashioned Centre.

    What they share is a contempt for conventional wisdom, a kind of Gnostic sense of superiority based on privileged access to esoteric truths.

    So elitism plus post-modern liberalism equals political disaster.

    The disturbing point is that the seventies New Left set back the political cause of the traditional Left by at least a decade. The Right made up a tremendous amount of ground from the early eighties through early nineties, largely as a reaction to New Left lunacies.

    I forsee the same thing happening to the AUS Right if it keeps this up. Really a tragic and unnecessary waste considering that Howard managed to keep a tight grip on reality.

  23. Freelander
    November 27th, 2009 at 19:13 | #23

    @Jack Strocchi

    Yes, there are great parallels and Lewis Lapham is not the first to have noted them. The new right has taken quite a few tricks from the new left and put them in their play book. One that I have always liked is the requirement for a ‘regulatory impact report’ everytime a regulation is introduced which was obviously inspired by ‘environmental impact reports’.

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