Climate denial and the decline of the IPA

The Institute of Public Affairs has long been a major source of anti-science climate denial, following naturally from its earlier role as the leading denier of the health risks of passive smoking. While intellectually disreputable, this aspect of the IPA’s output seemed not to pose a problem for its broader role as an advocate of market-oriented economic policies. Indeed, given the frequency with which free-market economics and anti-science nonsense on all sorts of issues go together, the two seemed like a comfortable fit.

Over time, however, major corporations have become more wary of being linked to climate denialism, with the result that the IPA has become increasingly dependent on wealthy private donors like Gina Rinehart and Rupert Murdoch, whose definition of “free market” appears to be “lots of free stuff for Gina and Rupert”. In particular, Rinehart and her front group Australians for Northern Development are pushing the federal government to offer a tax holiday for Northern Australia, where most of her business interests are located. The IPA has delivered in full for Gina, including

* Joint work with ANDEV pushing the case for massive tax expenditures
* Prominently announcing that Ms Rinehart, arguably Australia’s greatest corporate welfare queen, had received a “2012 Visionary CEO Award”[1].

To get a feel for the kind of nonsense the IPA is now espousing, listen to this interview with the head of ANDEV on RN Bush Telegraph. It’s a display of rent-seeking that would have been considered brazen back in the days of ‘protection all round’. Particularly absurd, and offensive, is the suggestion that an income tax holiday designed to attract lots of (non-indigenous) workers to Northern Australia will somehow benefit the indigenous community.[2]

Of course, as long as Tony Abbott is in office, the fact that the IPA has lost all intellectual credibility won’t be a problem. But in the long run, the embrace of climate denial is exacting a high price for the IPA, as for US counterparts like Heartland.

fn1. I can’t find anything about this award on Google, except for an apparently unrelated gong given by a US outfit call It appears to be an instance of the Montgomery Burns Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence, except that IIRC, Burns gave the award to Homer, not himself.
fn2. Compare Rinehart to Andrew Forrest, who at least makes efforts to employ indigenous people, and criticises Rinehart for not doing the same.

43 thoughts on “Climate denial and the decline of the IPA

  1. Thanks to the Chinese and, not least, an Australian educated solar power entrepreneur who has possibly lost as well as made a fortune in China, I can contemplate using solar generated elecrtricity (as well as the solar powered electric fences I installed long ago to make sure cattle were eating the right greenery). But I have yet to learn of any reason to trust government, either politicians or bureaucrats, to pick winners or even faintly justify the rash of windfarms which have blighted some heritage landscapes while increasing the cost of electricity. Any argument there, anyone?

    And, whether or not the authorities cited by Matt Ridley are right in saying that the world’s population is, on average, going to benefit from increasing temperatures up to 2080 I have never heard the slightest suggestion of a convincing case for Australia to do anything about AGW – apart from some Australians doing excellent relevant research which will not be a product of government policy.

    Just supposing we actually knew what AGW was occurring and at what rate (not what the great and good say 97 per cent of some sorts of science workers agree on as though the opinions of tree ring specialists have some validity on whether the critical positive feedback is proven or not) what could we do about it? Repeat the total farce of Rudd going off with a huge delegation to Copenhagen only to be shown to have no influence at all. Funnily enough the rulers concerned with the welfare (or at least the apathetic acceptance of their rulers) of billions of people wouldn’t even let him in the same room for discussions amongst the big boys. So much for our persuasiveness and our example. Mind you some bien pensants in European universities will probably tut-tut to their visiting Australian friends while Poland reopens coal mines closed by EU bribery because they have completely stuffed up their dishonest and badly designed emissions trading scheme. If you want to see how absurd this humbug is just consider the likelihood of China punishing us by refusing to import our coal. Half our coal is burned by others: which of them are going to spurn it at the cost of charging their citizens more for coal and making less steel for new cities (in China)?

    And JQ can of course explain all about opportunity costs: the real nub of useful economics being about choices. If we squander money on useless anti-AGW measures we won’t be able to afford all those lovely but unfunded Gillard government policies like the National Disability Scheme and all the no-waiting-list hip replacements we are going to need as we get older. Of course we can, like Europe, run down our defence spending even if, unlike Europe, we do have a few more years in which the demographic deficit in fit young potential soldiers won’t make use impotent.

    You see I haven’t said a word against the reality of AGW. I’m primarily hoping that economists like JQ will be true to the kind of arguments they are good at and for which their understanding of the factual premises is sound.

    Still, if you are worried that pragmatic people like me (at least those with lots of money who might otherwise be paying taxes to our governments to waste but who can easily change residence and domicile) will simply say “who cares” and consider an investment in an North Siberian marina to open circa 2050 just down the road from my Dacha, do try and convince me that any of the one in 10,000 scientists who might have at least a worthwhlie opinion on the reality and seriousness of AGW can answer the critical questions; to wit

    1. Given that there are about a dozen models cited by the IPCC for climate change incorporating the effects of greenhouse gases and that they give remarkably different predictions – although all up for reasons that those who think the sceptics are all dishonest servants of money-bags might like to consider – what reason is there to believe that the enormous forces of nature, oceanic, atmospheric, stellar, solar etc. are properly modeled?

    2. Can it be claimed with any credibility that the critical element of positive feedback from warming of the oceans has been modeled accurately and proven empirically?

    3. If you think there is an affirmative answer to 2. how can that be reconciled with the lack of climate models (unless you can point to ones that contradict me) that explain huge climatic disasters in the past – and not just the very distant past but the 10,000 years of the Holocene. E.g. why did the first Indus Civilisation fail? Why did the Sahara dry out and thereby help create the Egyption Old Kingdom and then why did another great drought so dry up the Nile that the Egyptian Old Kingdom itself went under? What about the drying up of the Great Lakes in North America about, from memory, 6000 years ago? What caused the Roman and the later Medieval Warm Periods? What caused the Maunder Minimum and the Little Ice Age? What caused the Little Ice Age to end about 160 years ago? Absent any plausible quantification of these changes and the related causation how can the AGW effects (which I wold concede are real) be quantified in a way which justifies huge amounts of money to be spent as though on certainties? Yes the fact that the volume and mass of the ocean is about 300 times that of the atmosphere I concede must be important and I concede that it may be that the oceans may be acting as a sink for temperature gains which cannot be dissipated into space and thereby storing up trouble for the future. (A slight problem with that of course is that it has only been posited by the leading worriers since it became apparent that they had to say something about admittedly embarrassing failures of the earth’s atmosphere to heat up as predicted for over 10 years. Allow me, with great delicacy, to ask what sort of explanation you might first look for if your funding had all been based throughout your career as a climate researcher by governments and institutions signed up to the AGW threatens us all scenario.. Sauce for the goose you know.)

    And by the way, if we are so trusting in the “climate scientists” (difficult to categorise many of those contributing to the IPCC’s reports by that name) might we not ask them about the ice ages yet to come. I don’t know about the Little Ice Age but the big ones seem to be well enough understood in principle.

    Another by the way which invites others personal experience. In my childhood I used to go to beaches which showed proof of the fact that the water had been much deeper just offshore where the boat jetties, sea baths, and piers were but, today, while the sea has made a bit of a comeback it is only minimal and largely the result of some heavy seas washing away sand. Where, might I ask, is there evidence of serious sea level rise despite all the expansion by warming and the extra water from Greenland ice flows? As an aside, there’s another bit of humbug on offer in relation to those low lying Pacific islands where, if you check the figures you will find that their problems are about 10 to 1 excess population growth as against rising waters. A calculation by one geographer suggested the whole of Tuvalu (or was it Kiribas?) could be raised a metre for $300 million!

  2. @Midrash

    Any argument there, anyone?

    There’s no point arguing with invincible ignorance. Might as well argue with a block of wood.

  3. This is telling it like it is:

    George Monbiot on the corrupt morons calmly advising us that should just adapt to climate change

    My guess is that they don’t envisage anything: they have no idea what they mean when they say adaptation. If they’ve thought about it at all, they probably picture a steady rise in temperatures, followed by a steady rise in impacts, to which we steadily adjust. But that, as we should know from our own recent experience, is not how it happens. Climate breakdown proceeds in fits and starts, sudden changes of state against which, as we discovered on a small scale in January, preparations cannot easily be made.

    “Nest of Imbeciles” is an apt description.

  4. @Michael
    In a presentation to a CEDA function this afternoon, Ross Garnaut took the view that it would be possible (though expensive) to adapt to temperature rises of up to 2 degrees or so, but much beyond that, it was difficult to see how existing civilisational arrangements would survive (for example, if you have uncontrolled cross-border population movements of hundreds of millions of people, it’s extremely difficult to envisage how existing nation states and multilateral institutions could survive the strain). Without stable national and international governance arrangements, adaptation will be impossible.

  5. I count 15 questions in Midrash’s comment.

    Impressive, but ineffective, attempt at a Gish Gallop.

    The establishment is getting very frightened about several things. The two big ones I’ve noticed recently are climate change and refugee prison camps.

    My greatest concern is that when all the worst effects of neo-liberalism are unavoidably obvious to a sufficiently large percentage of the population they will not be able to locate and hold to account the people who caused us to get there.

    It really wouldn’t be fair to just focus on a small handful of untouchables. Their foot soldiers must also be held to account.

  6. FWIW yesterday was the hottest April day ever recorded in many parts of SE Australia. Melbourne for example got to 33.4C in their case not an April record but swathes of country were 13C hotter than normal for this time of year. I seem to remember as a schoolkid learning a poem about autumn ‘season of mist and mellow fruitfulness’. Eddie Obeid’s ski lodge may not get used much this year.

  7. An Eminent professor said:

    “the embrace of climate denial ”

    I do not know of many people who deny there is a climate.

    When faced with such a brilliant riposte, I can see immediately that my whole career has been a petty useless sham – JQ

  8. @David Irving (no relation)

    They certainly don’t stray far from the same well-worn repeatedly refuted RW populist cum American libertarian talking points. I have to assume it gives them some comfort — like those folk who cover their ears and try to drown out things that wiould upset them — and let’s face it — the idea that you were trashing the planet, leaving nothing for the grandkids and would be recalled as a despoiler of the only planet in the universe known to support life would be pretty hard to live with.

    They could of course jump ship and start being part of the solution rather than part of the problem, but most of them are too stupid to figure that out, and the rest are an oddball assortment of delusionals or (actual or putative) spivs.

  9. Midrash is a sockpuppet for a commenter who has previously appeared as Angus, among others. This is a violation of comments policy warranting banning. But, I’m feeling capricious at the moment, so he can stay. I’ll leave him to the tender mercies of the home team.

  10. @phoenix

    Ellipsis and context don’t exist for you eh?

    FTR, I know of nobody who claims that climate deniers deny that there is a climate. Mind you, I often come across climate deniers who constructively deny or confuse the distinction between climate and weather, ar argue as if they were the same thing.

    While that’s not denying there’s a climate, it repackages it as whatever the denier wants it to be.

  11. @phoenix
    Phoenix, being recently reborn from the ashes, is probably too young to remember that from 2002 to 2007 Ross McKitrick (yes, the Robin to McIntyre’s Batman) was claiming that there was no such thing as an average temperature. Without an “average”, it makes no sense to speak of an overall “climate” as opposed to random weather, so there’s at least one prominent climate denier out there.

  12. Fran,
    In your context
    “Climate Denier” and “Climate Change Denier” are academic elitist terms.

    I’m not part of this highly-educated fraternity who frequent this blog and who tend to form an isolated social group whose views tend to be overrepresented among journalists, professors, and other members of the intelligentsia who often draw their salary and funding from taxpayers.

    So let’s try and decipher this fraternity’s abstruse style of obscurantism.

    “Ellipsis and context don’t exist for you eh?”

    Climate Denier = someone who denies there is a climate.
    Un ellipsed version: Climate Change Denier = someone who denies the climate changes.

    As I state above, I do not know anybody who denies there is a climate or someone who denies the climate changes.

    If “Climate Denier” and “Climate Change Denier” is implied to mean something different to that stated above, the academicians who imply this ambiguity are charged with over-complicating problems and expressing them in obscure language (e.g., Climate Change Science can only be construed as a Sokal hoax or some other form of obscurantism).

  13. @phoenix
    Shorter Phoenix: “I don’t understand that actual meaning sometimes differs from literal meaning…(fap fap fap) therefore… (fap fap fap) CLIMATE CHANGE IS A HOAX!!!1!!asfdgvd!”

  14. @phoenix

    Oh for pity’s sake …

    In your context “Climate Denier” and “Climate Change Denier” are academic elitist terms.

    No, they aren’t. They are elliptical forms of the much more prolix “denier of the anthropogenic provenance of Charney Forcing and its climatic consequents”. Your immediate introduction of “elitist” here signals your intention to make a sub-intellectual appeal to plebeian authenticity — i.e. an appeal to rightwing populism. “What do those boffins in those white coats in their ivory towers with their big fancy words mean? I’m just a regular plain-speakin’ man and I don’t go for that university expert stuff with all its damn computer models.

    There, I’ve saved you the trouble.

    I’m not part of this highly-educated fraternity who frequent this blog and who tend to form an isolated social group whose views tend to be overrepresented among journalists, professors, and other members of the intelligentsia who often draw their salary and funding from taxpayers.

    RW populism … see above …

    So let’s try and decipher this fraternity’s abstruse style of obscurantism.

    RW populism … see above … Hang on … “abstruse … obscurantism?” … gosh that sounds a bit elite to me.

    “Ellipsis and context don’t exist for you eh?”

    Climate Denier = someone who denies there is a climate.
    Un ellipsed version: Climate Change Denier = someone who denies the climate changes.

    Nope … see above …

    As I state above, I do not know anybody who denies there is a climate or someone who denies the climate changes.

    This is an explicit attempt to win by equivocation. As this is a well-worn piece of nonsense used by your fraternity, you surely know that that’s not what is meant by “climate denier” and would have known before I pointed it out.

    If “Climate Denier” and “Climate Change Denier” is implied to mean

    Dreadful English. Perhaps you meant to say:

    If the terms, “Climate Denier” and “Climate Change Denier” imply something other than the above …

    the academicians who imply this ambiguity are charged with over-complicating problems and expressing them in obscure language

    One can always tell when someone is using a register in which they are uncomfortable. On the one hand, you want to present yourself as more authentic than the “intelligentsia” with their “abstruse” “obscurantist” language. Your use of the passive voice is unnecessarily convoluted and was the source of the inelegant use of “imply”.

    On the other hand, you’re stuck with the reality that the semi-educated, your asserted peer group — their protestations of authenticity notwithstanding, put an equals sign between erudition and moral worth. You’re reluctant to say you’re under-educated because you want us to grant you the standing to challenge science. So you reach deep into your lexicon, or perhaps some web thesaurus in an attempt to place a patina of erudition atop your silly fallacy-mongering.

    It’s utterly unconvincing.

  15. James,

    “don’t understand”

    It is pretty clear who does not understand ; you only have to consult a dictionary.

    Climate: “The weather conditions prevailing in an area in general or over a long period” Oxford

    Denier: ” one who denies”

    The term “climate denier” in mainstream society (the other 73% that did not go to uni) is a joke, just like ‘climate science” is.

    Now if you want to invent a new meaning for “climate denier”
    e.g. “denier of the anthropogenic provenance of Charney Forcing and its climatic consequents”.

    Your newly invented definition clearly demonstrates that ‘Academic Elitism’ tends to be more pseudo intellectual than intellectual.

    The same academic elitist tendency is clearly demonstrated when we are told that science is ‘consensus’ as opposed to a rigorous scientific method, that tries to disprove a hypothesis with falsification.

    Reputations that have been trashed after 15 of no warming.

    Majority of scientists
    Majority of Journalists
    etc etc

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