The Right Swindles Itself on Global Warming

Apparently under pressure from rightwingers inlcuding Janet Albrechtsen on its board the ABC will broadcast The Great Global Warming Swindle tomorrow night. This piece looks like being the last hurrah for the delusionists in Australia – even JA herself seems to have got the memo recently.

I’m not going to bother with the tired talking points presented in Durkin’s film. The Wikipedia article (to which I’ve contributed a bit) does an excellent job on it, as on most forms of delusionism, and there are more critiques here. Paul Norton notes that some of the most clearly bogus elements have been cut from the version to be shown here, but the basic claim, that thousands of scientists and all the world’s major scientific organizations are engaged in a gigantic fraud (directed from beyond the grave by Margaret Thatcher!), remains right out there in LaRouche/Lavoisier territory.

The more interesting point to me, is the way the political right in Australia is swindling itself here.

To begin with, I’ll observe that, AFAIK, no significant commentator on the Australian right has criticised the film (I’m labelling Harry Clarke as a centrist here) and many have endorsed it. (Counterexamples will be gratefully accepted and prominently publicized)

To the extent that this pattern of implicit or explicit endorsement isn’t purely opportunistic it’s indicative of the extent to which the those on the right have come to be complicit in their own delusion, disdaining factual evidence in favor of wishful thinking and a magical belief in the power of ritually repeated talking points. It is a notable reversal of the situation a few decades ago, when there was a lot of pressure on the left to endorse (or at least tacitly accept) various kinds of fringe science and anti-scientific rhetoric. The same pattern has been evident in relation to the Iraq war, and reflects a willingness to take the standards of evidence used in partisan political debate and apply them to issues where reality will bite no matter how clever the rhetoric.

By now, though, I doubt that, to the extent that they adhere to a notion of objective reality at all, many on the right seriously think these claims are defensible. Rather, they apparently believe that it is a good thing that they should be aired. Perhaps a handful of them are serious devotees of Voltaire and John Stuart Mill, but given their reaction to (say) the films of Michael Moore, the number of free speech absolutists on the Australian right cannot be large. In any case, devotion to free speech shouldn’t stop those with critical views from airing them. So, I conclude, those who welcome the film being shown must think it is politically beneficial to their cause. Presumably the idea is that creating doubt on the science will reduce support for effective action to stabilize the climate.

This just seems silly to me. The Australian public has made up its collective mind on this issue, and the government has been at pains to assure us that it accepts mainstream science on the topic. Now, we are presented with ample evidence that its ideological backers are just as far out on the lunatic fringe as ever. As Paul Norton observes:

I must say that from the standpoint of partisan political calculation, given the state of public opinion on climate change it may not be a bad thing to have such tripe being screened in a Federal election year at the behest of an ABC board cluttered with Howard government appointees, and for a very loud chorus of greenhouse denialism to be sustained by prominent supporters and allies of the Howard government. Messrs. Rudd and Garrett will hopefully ensure that this is not lost on the voters.

The main inference to be drawn from this sorry episode is that there is no-one among the government’s supporters who is intelligent enough to see through this fraud, honest enough to admit that it is a fraud and brave enough to say so out loud.

28 thoughts on “The Right Swindles Itself on Global Warming

  1. I hope the debate scheduled to follow will see the defenders of real science able to hold their own. When the skeptics need only muddy the waters and create doubt, the actual science tends to require background and explanation, a lot of it not easily fitted into soundbite sized slogans. When every peak scientific body you can think of upholds the validity of the science you’d think it would be easy, but fast talkers have “won” debates before.

  2. John: I think your reference to Margaret Thatcher directing activities from ‘beyond the grave’ might well be speculated by the superstitious one day but, I fear, the lady remains with us as I write.

  3. Or the film’s airing may simply be the one percent reminder to us all, that even the IPCC is only 90% sure of its predictions on CO2 induced GW. Some uncertainty aside, that leaves the whole Pandora’s Box of uncertainty as to whether the problem is really globally insurmountable (a bit like abolishing poverty or legislating world peace)and hence adaptation is the only viable solution under such circumstances.

  4. Interestingly, I heard some enviro scientist on ABC radio yesterday, lamenting the new evangelism on GW and the way in which it was siphoning off scarce environmental resources, politically. GW had become the only game in town for many scientists now and he was complaining that even if we manage to ameliorate CO2 emissions over the next 50 years, the loss of habitat and species now was much more urgent. That’s not what the new evangelists want us to hear.

  5. Dissent is a vital aspect of scientific advancement. But scientific dissent must still be scientific. That’s the problem with ‘The Swindle’; it’s, at times, an irrational piece of contrariness that’s more likely to undermine rational dissenting opinion than to stimulate it.

  6. I think the ‘Swindle’ should be aired but introduced and criticised afterwards by climate scientists. The show is a slick production but one thing I notice is that it totally rejects consensus science. This consensus science should be presented.

    I strongly recommend to anyone Allan Brandt’sThe Cigarette Century which I hope to discuss on my own blog eventually. It’s a great account of the development of the US cigarette industry and the way the US industry responded to the health warnings in the 1940s and 1950s through to the current day. Its my pick of a book of the year.

    The thing that struck me time and time again was the resemblance between the debates on the dangers of tobacco and those connected with global warming. The same demands from denialists for ‘proof’ the same rejection of causality and the same self-interested madness displayed by those with a quid at stake.

    Of course as has John has pointed out some of the same denialists then are denialists now in a different debate.

  7. Hmmm, maybe someone else was listening to that bloke on ABC radio too,22606,22053409-2682,00.html?from=public_rss
    Anyway, with all this warm fuzzy consensus about, I was passing a solar shop yesterday and decided to see what the latest in science had to offer. Joining the evil, capitalist landlord class does have its benefits in that regard. The days are not all filled with gouging the shirt off small business tenants’ backs and what is gouged and surplus to requirements, needs to find an appropriate return. Besides, if it can ameliorate the carbon footprint of Paris Hilton’s understudy and her indoors, and obviate the need for more copious gouging, so much the better eh? Into the solar shop I went.

    Well the rub is, you can choose from a number of different solar panels, but they boil down to the longest lasting, best bang for your buck, Thin Film Silicon, or the dearer, Mono/Poly Crystalline Silicon. The former last longer (25 year guarantee) than the latter (only 20yrs), but the drawback is the former need much more area (ie panels) More than double in fact. Anyway, I have the room on a north facing roof of a double garage/carport on the boundary, facing north and my neighbour’s backyard, rather than cluttering up the Tudor’s terracotta. Essentially, the neighbours would get to appreciate my greenness, rather than the visitors and yours truly. 32 panels, 990mm x 990mm spread along 12 metres of roof. 2000Watts of inverter power, earning me the maximum govt handout of $8000 at $4/watt. My price installed is then $13,990 and although it peaks at 11.9kwh/day in summer, the average return is mooted to be 9kwh/day. So much for the science and the aesthetics, but what about obviating the gouging I hear you say.

    At present the Observa household is all electric (Leigh creek burnable dirt and gas fired), with off peak hot water. Tarriffs vary from 6c/kwh for off peak hot water to 15c and maxm 18c for peak winter and summer. On average the $14k solar system would save me 17c/kwhr by 9kw/day by 365 days per year, a saving of $558/yr, which takes 25 years to pay back the investment. Bear in mind my total kw for the year cost $1739, at a daily useage of 31.7kw, or $4.45/day. Those solar panels would save $1.53/day of that. However, that $14k in my super at 5% tax free return is $700/yr, or $1.92/day, with no maintenance worries. Perhaps I could choose a green fund to help assuage all the personal guilt here.

    Now there is some more sunlight on the horizon though. Apparently our warm fuzzy state govt is tipped to force the generators to buy back solar power from such grid systems at 2.4 times, instead of one for one now. That means 17c x 2.4 x 9kw/day x 365 is $1340 savings per year with a 10.4 yr payback period (9.6% return) Now that would certainly interest me, particularly if the Kyoto freaks are to be unleashed soon. Granted, struggletown will have to pay more (2.4 times for my hypothetical 9kw/day, but then what’s a bit of middle class welfare for us greenies eh? I might even whack on a few more panels to boot. There might be something in this saving the planet stuff for an old RWDB yet. I’ll keep an open mind on it all.

  8. Observa
    chances are you’ll still be getting those 9 kwh/day from your panels in 20 years time. Will we still have superannuation by then?

    I didn’t know ETSA (has it been privatized yet?) was considering feed-in tariffs. I did know they wanted to keep a register of households with airconditioners for ‘special treatment’ down the track.

    Perhaps it’s just me but since SA has the world’s largest uranium deposit and a dire need for a large desalination plant maybe the State has other energy options.

  9. Observa, re#5

    the short-term vs. long-term and shortage of funding debate has been running for some time. Having worked on both (practical & ecology reveg) in the 1980s, other long-term issues such as salinity and now global warming, I can confidently state that there is not one area of research/action in the environmental/ecological arena that is bleeding the other to death.

    There are, however, (large?) sums of money being wasted in programs of dubious benefit, designed to soothe voters who are concerned with various facets of environmental degradation. Very often this money is being spent counter to the best scientific advice as to what might be cost-effective.

    Our development of strategies on managing climate change risk, particularly adaptation, are endeavouring to integrate short and long-term issues

  10. On balance, I think the screening of the TGGWS is probably a good thing. Its central claim of a global conspiracy by scientists who apparantly are making up the threat of GW to gain extra funding is patently nonsense – and as JQ points out, the errors in the piece have been dealt with in places like Wikipedia. It has been thoroughly discredited.

    Nonetheless – I think it is a useful counterpoint to some of the shrill voices on climate change from the extreme left. These voices are making a rational debate about what to do about climate change difficult because it has taken on the aura of a religious crusade rather than a global challenge that needs to be rationally addressed.

    The consensus mainstream view (to which I subscribe) is that climate change is a real issue that needs to be addressed in a considered and measured way.

    Any actions we take to reduce the impact of CO2 emissions need to pass a couple of simple sanity tests –

    1) Will the action have any meaningful impact on emissions and climate change? Some of the more extreme measures being proposed seem to be more about implemeting social/political agendas than environmental.

    2) Will the cure be worse than the disease? Anything that reduces living standards today needs to be very carefully considered – it may be that the better option is to simply adapt to a changing climate.

    Having said that, it is clear that something needs to be done to reduce or at least stabilise emissions.

    I personally would support measures such as a revenue neutral carbon tax. The best way to reduce CO2 emissions is to make sure that the real and full cost of CO2 is reflected in all goods and services – it seems to me that easiest and most equitable way to do this is to introduce a carbon tax at the source (power generators, oil refineries) – and then offset the revenue raised by reducing personal and corporate tax.

    The effect would be that the price all goods and services would rise in proportion to the CO2 that they produced – and consumers would have more disposable income to choose which goods and services they consumed. Presumably a rational consumer would choose to buy ‘greener’ services becuase they would be cheaper.

    The GGWS ‘documentary’ is a bizarre piece of propaganda in the same mold as Michael Moore’s works or 9/11 conspiracy pieces like Loose Change. Nonetheless – I think Moore plays a useful role in providing a counterpoint to maniacs like Bush/Chaney and I think TGGWS does the same to the enviro-nutters who want to use climate change as a vehicle for their social agendas.

  11. “…the shrill voices on climate change from the extreme left”

    Who are these voices, Andrew? They can’t be very loud, because although I’ve been following the debate I haven’t heard them. I have heard various pessimistic voices, eg Lovelock, but not these allegedly noisy extreme lefties.

    Meanwhile, my own objection to TGGWS is the same as to ID – it’s antiscientific propaganda directed to a political end that is not itself openly stated. ID pretends to raise scientific points but is in fact promoting obscurantist religious fundamentalism. Climate change denialism pretends to scientific concern but in fact promotes continued prodigal use of finite resources.

    Curiously, from the pov of ‘extreme leftism’, Andrew, TGGWS writer and director Durkin is a spruiker for the anarcho-syndicalist Revolutionary Communist Party.

  12. Hal,

    If you don’t think some of the views from the left on climate change are driven more by social agendas than environmental concerns then you are clearly closer to their politics than I am. I guess they don’t sound shrill to you.

    I’ve seen plenty of entrys on this very blog along the lines of ‘we all need to make significant changes to our lifestyle if we are to avert disaster’.

    Personally – I think characters like Bob Brown fit into the shrill camp. But those with a left leaning bias probably think he’s cool.

  13. even the IPCC is only 90% sure of its predictions on CO2 induced GW.

    No no no. This is a common misconception.

    The IPCC is greater than 90% sure that humans are currently warming the climate, or put another way, that anthropogenic warming is greater than anthropogenic cooling.

    If sulphate emissions (which tend to have a cooling effect) were to increase unexpectedly, then the IPCC’s confidence would drop, but this wouldn’t tell us anything about the likelihood that carbon dioxide causes warming.

  14. “I’ve seen plenty of entrys on this very blog along the lines of ‘we all need to make significant changes to our lifestyle if we are to avert disaster’.”

    I’m not sure what you mean here – I’ve made numerous posts arguing that the required adjustments will be very modest. There have been comments (mostly from the right) arguing the opposite, but that seems to run against your point.

  15. Given that TGGWS fabricates data to support it case, I think that it is a useful filter to separate intellectually honest global warming skeptics from the ideologues.

  16. JQ,

    No – wasn’t fingering you – and I agree you have generally been a voice of reason on this issue. My comment was more aimed at some of your contributors….. there have been quite a few along the lines I suggested.

  17. Hal9000, IIRC “anarcho-syndicalist Revolutionary Communist Party” was founded by none other than LaRouche!

  18. Same name, but different groups. I think Melanie. After all, there are only so many possible permutations on Judaean Popular Front. The US version are Maoists led by one Bob Avakian. Crooked Timber sorted it all out a while back.

  19. I’m also getting blocked by the spam filter. I’m not sure what word is causing the trouble

    Interestingly, although LaR0uche agrees with the (British and now-ex) R C P about the environmentalist consp1racy (except that in his version, it’s the Queen and not Maggie Thatcher who runs the show) he has also accused the R C P of being part of a narc0-terr0rist conspiracy in which the Bushies are involved (this was back in 95 when Jr was a customer rather than a supplier I guess).

  20. I’ve just turned off the telly, being unable to stand it for a moment longer. Where did the ABC find all those LaRouchian nutters for the audience? Thanks melanie for the nutter family tree…

  21. I did not watch, as i suspected that it would be only a political and corporate message, not far out from an election.
    Regardless of the ABC being touted as leftist by the Federal government and oil and mining corporates, the ABC is controlled wholly by the Federal government.
    It has used fear to deny the staff their right to freedom of speech. There are only a couple of staff who have called John Howard’s bluff.
    I am 68, and have been an observer of Nature and human nature, from an early age.
    There are always two sides to every debate, unfortunately only one side is dominant in the current debate on climate change, due to having the power to mislead and manipulate public thinking.
    Not many of us have the qualifications to debate this most important issue, those with the megaphones are just the same as the rest of us, but they have more to lose politically and fiscally.

  22. R C P (without the spaces) is what’s being blocked by the spam filter. I worked that out by a process of elimination.

    LaRouche is American right? His version of the R C P used to ascribe anything and everything to a Rockefeller-CIA conspiracy. I believe that one of Nelson R’s daughters was a member – which goes to show how ludicrous it was. Possible LaR disbanded it when he went over to the right – making way for a new generation of nutters? Or maybe it’s only Mao who could see through the Rocky (the headlines of their newspaper always called him that) plot. Was there a British splinter group after the LaRouche transformation? It’s possible that they were separate groups, but the original group was certainly international – it had members (possibly only one) in sleepy ol’ Adelaide.

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