My column from today’s Fin is over the fold. I had a generally positive response, and also an interesting email exchange with Gerard Henderson. Gerard disputes my view that voting for Turnbull in the leadership election constituted evidence of a pro-science viewpoint, preferring to count only those who voted against Abbott’s subsequent abandonment of the ETS deal. And, he points, out the Nationals are uniformly anti-science. On this basis, as he observes, 75 per cent of Coalition parliamentarians are alarmist cranks. (At least, that’s the view he thinks I’m committed to, given the premise that only cranks believe in scientific absurdities and conspiracy theories like those of Monckton and Plimer – he appears to disagree, but it’s not clear why).
In any case, I prefer the more optimistic view stated in my conclusion that there is still time for pro-science conservatives to act.
Tax alert for real alarmists
The last couple of weeks have not been good ones for climate alarmists in Australia. By the term ‘alarmists’ I do not refer to the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which has been the basis of much public discussion. Because of its reliance on consensus, the IPCC has consistently erred on the side of conservatism in its assessments of the likely pace of climate change, and the magnitude and severity of the impacts. As Ross Garnaut pointed out recently, global CO2 emissions are near the top of the high-range scenario considered by the IPCC, and the same is true for the rate of warming, and recent estimates of damage.
The alarmists in this debate are those who claim that the modest measures required to cut our emissions of carbon dioxide will be ‘ruinous’ (Andrew Bolt), ‘destroy jobs’ (Tony Abbott), ‘wreck our economy’ (Terry McCrann), and so on.
Some of those making these statements are sufficiently innumerate that they don’t realise how silly they are. But some must have been betting that a tax or carbon price would never actually happen, so that the falsity of their claims would not be exposed.
McCrann, in particular, is certainly capable of doing arithmetic when he chooses to. He correctly estimates that the revenue from a carbon tax is going to be between $10 and $12 billion a year, perhaps one quarter of the revenue raised by the GST. As McCrann wrote in 2009, ‘the carbon tax is going to arrive like a thief in the night; taking an extra $1 for every $4 plucked by the GST, which, in effect, is an increase in the GST from 10 to 12.5 per cent.’
At this point, it would be sufficient to observe that, if the GST at 10 per cent had none of the catastrophic effects predicted by Labor, a tax one-fourth the size is even less likely to have the catastrophic effects predicted by conservatives like McCrann. But we don’t need even to take that step. We can simply quote McCrann himself who, in August 2010, advocated raising the GST, not to 12.5 per cent, but to 15 per cent. Apparently, McCrann wants to destroy the economy twice over
An even more alarming feature of this kind of rhetoric is the conspiracy theory required to support it. The mainstream consensus on climate science has been endorsed by every major scientific organization in the world, national governments including those of Australia, the US, the UK and the rest of the EU, politicians as diverse as Margaret Thatcher and Al Gore.
The alarmists claim is that this is all a gigantic fraud. A range of motivations have been advanced, ranging from the absurdly grandiose (Lord Monckton’s claims of a communist world government) to the trivially venal (the whole thing was faked to get research grants). Many alarmists make both claims, rather like the Tasmanian advocate of Federation who promised voters that ‘if you vote for the Bill you will found a great and glorious nation under the bright Southern Cross, and meat will be cheaper’
As I mentioned recently A climate of ignorance AFR 3/2/11, the Bureau of Meteorology has been a prime target of such attacks, being routinely accused of fraud by such critics as Andrew Bolt of the Sun-Herald and Jennifer Marohasy of the Institute of Public Affairs. But the alarmists scored an own goal when they persuaded Tony Abbott’s spiritual advisor, Cardinal George Pell, to join the attack, with a letter to Parliament based on the nonsensical polemics of mining geologist Ian Plimer.
In an estimates hearing last week, the Bureau struck back. Its director, Dr Greg Ayers, read into evidence a methodical demolition of Plimer, over the frantic efforts of Senators Boswell and MacDonald to shut him up. This was a courageous act, given the very real possibility that these advocates of ignorance may become his political masters.
There is some grim amusement to be had in watching the supposed leading lights of political and cultural conservatism reduce themselves to the promotion of ratbag conspiracy theories. But the future of the planet is too important for such nonsense. And conservatism is a central part of our political culture, which deserves better advocates than this.
The near-majority vote for Malcolm Turnbull a year ago shows that not all conservatives are alarmist cranks. It is time for pro-science conservatives to take their movement back from the alarmist warriors of ignorance.