No point complaining about it, Australia will face carbon levies unless it changes course

That’s the headline for a recent article I wrote for The Conversation. I meant to post it earlier, but didn’t get to it. Now that Trump is gone, there’s near-unanimous international support for border adjustments. But our government thinks it can bluster its way past the problem, as it does on domestic issues. And if Labor has any ideas on the issue, I haven’t heard about them.

Climate conspiracy, classical liberalism and Q-Anon

Writing in Reason magazine, Jacob Sullum laments that “Marjorie Taylor Greene Presents Republicans With a Sadly Familiar Choice Between Blind Loyalty to Trump and a Basic Respect for Reality”.

That’s true. But the choice between in-group loyalty and basic respect for reality was a core problem for the right when Trump was still a Democrat, and propertarians/libertarians/classical liberals were among the most prominent enemies of reality. For decades, they advanced a conspiracy theory in which all the governments in the world, backed up by every major scientific institution, were advancing a fraudulent theory of global warming.

Here’s a pretty typical example from Pat Michaels, then the lead climate authority at Cato, being interviewed on Fox

LEVIN: Let me stop you there. Who does these computer models?

MICHAELS: Governments. There are 32 families of computer models that are used by the United Nations, each government sponsored. And all of them are predicting far, far too much warming. … it’s not the science that’s determining how much it’s going to warm. A lot of people don’t know this, but it happens to be true, and you know, we could speculate as to why that paper was published right before the 2016 election? I wouldn’t want to impute causation, but gee, if … … When you buy off the academy, you can get what you paid for …So now, the academy roots for anything that is big government that it feels it can tie onto to maintain this relationship. The roots of political correctness, there are many, manifold and varied. But one of them certainly was the enslavement of the academy.

This seems to me to be more, rather than less, crazy than Trump’s “stop the steal” or even QAnon. At least in these theories, the conspirators are trying to achieving something big – establishing a socialist dictatorship or making the world safe for cannibal lizardoids. By contrast, Michaels wants an equally expansive conspiracy with tens of thousand of particpants (including lots of rightwing governments), whose object is – the establishment of an emissions trading scheme?

Before denouncing QAnon, libertarians ought to take some responsibility for their own leading role in the campaign against reality.

STEM (from Twitter via spooler)

A striking thing about Tehan’s university reform. Conservatives hate science even more than humanities, & feeling is mutual. Every scientist I know loathes them. Polling says my colleagues are a good sample. Only 6 per cent of US scientists are Republicans (…)

Rightists like technological goodies, but even there they want to fight culture wars, against renewable energy for example. In this context, is there a non-racist version of the “cargo cult” trope? It would be applicable here.

Twitter thread here

Labor: Hiding in the past, destroying the future

As I write this, the haze of smoke from the now-continuous bushfires is hanging over Brisbane, as it is over Sydney and other cities. It’s scarcely surprising that the Morrison government is doing its best to ignore the problem, but you might think the official Opposition would be making some noise about it.

Not likely! On Nov 12, Penny Wong said

the immediate focus should be on firefighters battling the blazes, people at risk and those grieving lost loved ones.

“When we get through this, it is a responsible thing for us to focus on how we plan to keep Australians safe,” she told ABC radio.

“Warnings about a longer bushfire season and more intense fires have been on the table for a long time.”

Three weeks later, neither she nor anyone else in the Labor Party has had anything of substance to say about climate change.

Labor has found time, however, to pump out what seem like dozens of statements claiming that, if only the Greens had supported Rudd’s CPRS ten years ago, everything would be so much better today.

I’ll leave aside the many dubious historical assumptions needed to make this claim stand up. Even if it were true, it would be about as relevant as Peter Dutton pointing out that Labor supported the White Australia policy in 1900.

The fact is that, at a time when the climate emergency has ceased to be a hypothesis and is a visible reality, Labor is more interested in scoring points off the Greens than in doing anything about the problem.

If there has been a more depressing time in Australian politics I can’t recall it.

Unmitigated failure

That’s been the response of Australia’s political class, politicians, pundits and journalists alike to the arrival of catastrophic climate change in the form of ubiquitous and semi-permanent bushfires. The failure has been so comprehensive, encompassing nearly everyone in Labor and the LNP, and most of the commentariat, that there is not much point in naming names.

I can’t motivate myself to write a proper analysis of this, so I’ve been reduced to writing a series of snarky tweets.

Update: Sean Kelly spells out the same point in the SMH.

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Triggering global warming

It’s tempting to dismiss Deputy PM Michael McCormack’s attack on “inner city greenies” who draw the link between climate change and bushfires as an ignorant rant. In reality, McCormack is pointing to a central truth about rightwing denialism on this issue.

Deniers like McCormack don’t (in most cases) believe the stupid things they are saying about climate change. It’s a shibboleth (a signal of tribal membership) and for this purpose, the stupider the better.

Nor is primarily about the economic interests of the fossil fuel lobby. McCormack doesn’t (AFAIK) have any coal mines in his electorate, and the farmers who put him in Parliament are being hit harder by the drought than anyone else.

In reality, it’s all about the inner city greenies: that is, people like the readers of this blog, whether or not we live in the inner city, and whatever our attitude to cafe latte. The whole point of rightwing politics now is to express antagonism to people like us or, in the parlance of Donald Trump Jr to “trigger the libs”

Climate denial has been one of the main avenues of this antagonism. The fact that the right has been proved catastrophically wrong isn’t going to change anything: as McCormack has shown, it is just making them worse.

Welcome to Armageddon!

Why partisans look at the same planet and see wildly different curvature

At Five Thirty Eight, Maggie Koerth-Baker has yet another article bemoaning the way partisanship biases our views. Apparently, one side, based on eyeballing, thinks the earth is flat, while the other, relying on the views of so-called scientists, or the experience of international air travel, regards it as spherical, or nearly so.

In the past, before the rise of partisanship, we would have agreed on a sensible compromise, such as flat on Sundays, spherical on weekdays, and undetermined on Saturdays. Moreover, there was a mix of views, with plenty of Democratic flat-earthers, and Republican sphericalists.

Of course, there is no way to resolve questions of this kind, but apparently, ““warm contact” between political leaders” will enable us to agree to differ, which would be a big improvement, at least until we decided whether to risk sailing over the edge of the world.

Old men behaving badly (2nd repost)

I first posted this in 2011, and reposted it in 2014. Sadly, nothing changes, except that the old men keep getting stupider and behaving worse.

John Howard’s endorsement of Ian Plimer’s children’s version of his absurd anti-science tract Heaven and Earth has at least one good feature. I can now cut the number of prominent Australian conservatives for whom I have any intellectual respect down from two to one.[1] Howard’s acceptance of anti-science nonsense shows that, for all his ability as a politician, he is, in the end, just another tribalist incapable of thinking for himself. [2]

Although not all the tribal leaders are old men, an old, high-status man like Howard is certainly emblematic of Australian delusionism . Like a lot of old, high status men, he stopped thinking decades ago, but is even more confident of being right now than when he had to confront his prejudices with reality from time time. Like other delusionists, Howard has no scientific training, shows no sign of understanding statistics and almost certainly hasn’t read any real scientific literature, but nonetheless believes he can rank clowns like Plimer and Monckton ahead of the real scientists.

The situation in the US is similar but even more grimly amusing, with the sole truthteller in the entire Republican party, Jon Huntsman, recently reduced to waffling (in both US and UK/Oz senses of this term) because he briefly looked like having a chance to be the next non-Romney. This tribal mindlessness is reflected in the inability of the Republican Party, at a time when they ought to be unbackable favorites in 2012, to come up with a candidate who can convince the base s/he is one of them, but who doesn’t rapidly reveal themselves as a fool, a knave or both.

And, as evidence of the utter intellectual shamelessness of delusionism, you can’t beat the campaign against wind power, driven by the kinds of absurd claims of risk that would be mocked, mercilessly and deservedly, if they came from the mainstream environmental movement.

The global left is in pretty bad shape in lots of ways. Still, I would really hate to be a conservative right now.

fn1. Now (2014) down to zero. Turnbull has proved he lacks any real substance.

fn2. I’m not saying that all Australian conservatives are mindless tribalists. There’s a large group, epitomized by Greg Hunt and now Malcolm Turnbull, who understand the issues quite well, but are unwilling to speak up. Then there is a group of postmodern conservatives of whom Andrew Bolt is probably the best example, who have passed the point where concepts of truth or falsehood have any meaning – truth is whatever suits the cause on any given day.

Rethinking nuclear

Apparently, in order to placate Barnaby Joyce and others, there will be a Parliamentary inquiry into nuclear power. I was thinking of putting a boring submission restating all the reasons why nuclear power will never happen in Australia, but that seemed pretty pointless.

Given that the entire exercise is founded in fantasy, I’m thinking it would be better to suspend disbelief and ask what we need if nuclear power is to have a chance here. The answer is in two parts:

  • Repeal the existing ban on nuclear power
  • Impose a carbon price high enough to make new nuclear power cheaper than existing coal (and, ideally gas) fired power stations
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Yet more High Court absurdity

In the latest Section 44 news, it’s being suggested that three more MPs or candidates may be ineligible, two because they are doctors and one because they hold shares in a pharmacy business which is a partner in a Linkage project with the Australian Research Council.

For those who aren’t in the research business, the Linkage program involves research which is jointly funded by the ARC, a University and an industry this case the pharmacy business. That is, the crime allegedly committed by this MP consists of (indirectly) giving money (or support in kind) to a government program, in the hope that the resulting research will be useful to their industry in general or to society as a whole. (Work done for the private benefit of a particular business would not normally be eligible; it would be undertaken as a consultancy). On this basis, a volunteer at (say) the Commonwealth could be disqualified for using government resources.

Doubtless, the defenders of the High Court will rush to say that no such nonsensical inference can be drawn. But, if they had a shred of intellectual honesty, they will admit that, before this nonsense began, no one had ever contemplated the absurdities we have already seen.

The other defence that used to be offered was that MPs with s44 problems should have checked the rules. It ought to be obvious by now (but probably won’t be, given the human propensity for bloody-minded adherence to a fixed position) that no-one can check on the rules. Suppose you are, say, a bank clerk, and the local council banks at your branch. On a literal reading, which is the only kind on offer from this High Court, you would seem to be doing business with the government, and would be forced to quit your job rather than taking leave. Your case is even worse if your employer converts you into a contractor with a business that might continue while you served in Parliament.  Perhaps, based on past precedent, the court would let you off, but perhaps not.

There’s no easy way to fix this. Perhaps people will get sufficiently tired of this nonsense that the massive obstacles to a referendum might be overcome, but I doubt it. The only encouraging sign is that, so far, every member disqualified by the mischief-makers on the Court has been re-elected. Perhaps a few more pointless by-elections will produce some popular resistance.

In any case, the real problem is with the High Court’s entire approach to constitutional interpretation, based on the same kind of literalism that Garfield Barwick used to subvert the taxation system in the 1970s. Barwick was slapped down by changes to the Acts Interpretation Act, but Parliament can’t, I think, tell the Court how to interpret the constitution.  The only solution would be to replace existing justices as they retire, with followers of Lionel Murphy who would start from the commitment to a democratic government and strike down any interpretation (such as the disqualification of most of the population from election) that is inconsistent with that.