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Jun 9, 2009

Senator Fielding ventures to the climate sceptic heartland

Steve Fielding's climate change scepticism pilgrimage to Heartland, USA, won't change the ETS vote.

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Well the Heartland Institute is certainly doing its job. The right-wing American think-tank explicitly aims to influence politicians and, while they normally aim at state legislators in the US, doubtless they’d be chuffed that such an influential Australian political figure as Steve Fielding has been giving their climate change scepticism a detailed hearing.

Heartland has extensive links with the tobacco industry and has previously received extensive financial support from Exxon Mobil. The Institute’s sloppy, biased approach to climate change is best summed up by an incident in 2007 when Heartland published on its website “500 Scientists with Documented Doubts of Man-Made Global Warming Scares”.

Dozens of the scientists named on the Heartland list subsequently demanded the removal of their names, saying they had not been contacted by the Institute and had views diametrically opposed to those presented by Heartland.

Heartland refused to remove any names and declared “they have no right — legally or ethically — to demand that their names be removed,” although it did amend the title of the page to “500 Scientists Whose Research Contradicts Man-Made Global Warming Scares”.

Heartland also typifies the “fallback” approach of climate sceptics — as each aspect of the debate is lost, they fall back to other positions that justify taking no action on climate change.

After decades of rejecting climate altogether — a position still clung to by some local dills — they appear to have reluctantly accepted that some “moderate warming” has occurred but that, variously, either it is nothing to do with human activity — it’s the fault of solar flares (the Fielding argument) or natural climatic variation, or that it is in fact a good thing — a warmer climate will enable people to live longer because old people tend to die in winter, and increase food production in currently hostile northern latitudes.

The fallback argument from that position is, even if humans are responsible for climate change, developed countries should take no action.

In Washington, Fielding attended a conference with the splendidly-named Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner Jr. Sensenbrenner — literally heir to the Kotex fortune — actually agrees that climate change is happening, but isn’t sure how much is caused by humans.

He believes technology will provide the solution (although he thinks regulations for greater fuel efficiency in US vehicles is hurting the American economy) and is in a good position to push that agenda as the lead Republican on the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming — although he voted against its establishment.

Sensenbrenner opposes any climate change agreement that doesn’t include China and India and, he told Fielding, the entire issue is about “the Third World using the collective guilt of the First World to have a massive transfer of wealth to help them fund their development.”

Climate scepticism has been enjoying something of a local renaissance, primarily at The Australian, long the house organ of greenhouse denialism, which gave extensive publicity and op-ed support for Ian Plimer’s Heaven and Earth, although it did run at least one review demolishing Plimer’s sloppy conspiracy theories.

The fallback argument here is the same one that has been trotted out for decades, that there is no scientific consensus on climate change. This “lack of consensus” is best summed up by Tom Baker’s sea-captain in Blackadder, who claimed there was no consensus about how necessary it was for sailing ships to have crews. “All the other captains say it is; I say it isn’t.”

It was such commitment to balanced coverage that earned Chris Mitchell the fossil fuel lobby’s JN Pierce Award for Media Excellence in coverage of climate change policy.

The refreshing irony of The Australian’s climate scepticism is that it is The Oz which for years has — commendably — railed against the relativism and obscurantism to be found in modern — or should that be post-modern — academia. But when such willingness to debase science, ignore intellectual rigour and elevate all claims to equal status regardless of merit are employed by climate sceptics, they get direct backing on The Oz’s editorial page.

Fortunately Fielding’s solar-flare-powered vote won’t be crucial in the ETS debate. Fielding was never likely to vote with the Government anyway, so his trip to the US looks a lot more like self-promotion than a genuine attempt to enter the debate. He hasn’t explained why he felt it necessary to skip Senate Estimates for the trip, or why he waited until now to apprise himself of the “facts” about climate change.

The ETS will either pass with the support of the Liberals or it will go down with only Labor senators standing up for it.

Bernard Keane — Politics Editor

Bernard Keane

Politics Editor

Bernard Keane is Crikey’s political editor. Before that he was Crikey’s Canberra press gallery correspondent, covering politics, national security and economics.

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29 thoughts on “Senator Fielding ventures to the climate sceptic heartland

  1. Bruce Messmer

    Mr Keane misses the point when he infers that the debate on climate change is settled. It is anything but and until the final scientific truth (as much as we can discover it) becomes apparent, the debate has to continue.. To accuse so-called climate sceptics of “debasing science, ignoring intellectual rigour and elevating all claims to equal status regardless of merit” is equally applicable, if not more so, to the proponents of the global warming theory; and it is just that – a theory. What happened to the Hockeystick graph of the IPCC – it was disproved because it was virtually fraudulent, in spite of all the initial publicity. The IPCC has made a basic scientific error in assigning a positive radiative forcing to water vapour in its effect on CO2 and global warming. The science of weather forecasting is such that it is hardly possible to accurately forecast the weather three months in advance and yet the IPCC diegns to give climate forecasts into the next century, some of which are patently absurd.

    One must remember that the climate is a non-linear, complex and chaotic system which is still rather poorly understood, and anyone who dares to make long term forecasts does so at their peril. Furthermore, it is quite possible that climate change may revert to a cooling system over the next twenty years. If such happens, the measures now being bandied about to conteract a rise in carbon dioxide levels (which are not crucial anyway) and costing hundreds of billions of dollars annually, will be wasted instead of being used more fruitfully in relieving human and environmental distress such as poverty, disease, the need for reforestation, water conservation, coastal marine pollution, etc.
    One hopes that the CPRS meets a terminal fate. (This is a misnomer anyway as carbon (dioxide) is not a pollutant).

    Finally, two relevant quotes :-
    ‘The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance’ – Albert Einstein

    ‘The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.’ – The late Dr Michal Crichton, Address to the Commonwealth Club :

  2. Evan Beaver

    What an incredible load of nonsense here from the deniers. Science is not a debate, nor is it based on consensus. Should we have an open debate on the existence of the Higgs Boson as well? That would be really informative. There also needs to be an acknowledged difference between ‘belief’ and ‘trust’. I do not ‘believe’ in the AGW hypothesis, but I trust that the scientists trying to figure out what is going on are probably those best skilled to do it.

    The obfuscation from the deniers side is a pretty transparent tactic; muddy the waters so they can continue with the status quo which is making them personally rich. Fortunately, very few of these people have any real power, and are just trying to derail the argument for a few minutes, hours, years to try and continue with their comfortable, lazy existence. The fact stands though, that the EU, UN, US, Chinese, Indian, Australian, Canadian etc Governments have all put their best minds onto this, and despite enormous political and financial cost have all deemed that it is necessary to do something about climate change. For Christ’s sake, even the coal industry in Australia acknowledge that CO2 emissions (among others) are affecting the climate. If you think you know better than these people, then I would suggest the deniers should be wearing the Order of Arrogance medallion proudly on their chests.

    The science was so rock solid 20 years ago people stopped debating the mechanisms and started talking about what to do. That was when it became a political football; once the big emitters started to realise that their grasp of world resource income was about to be affected. The Heartland Institute has nothing useful to add, and their junk-science is easily refuted.

    The fact that someone takes a stand does not make their opinion any more valid. For every renegade that was proven right over the years, thousands of kooks have been shown to be just that. Fielding’s grasp of the issues is appalling and easily disproven. He doesn’t even read the paper FFS. Fortunately his opinion will have no baring on the passage of the legislation, and nor will any of the crowing sceptics.

  3. Evan Beaver

    Richard, I am extremely sceptical of people’s motives. It’s a competition between the IPCC/UN/Governments who have a lot to lose by CC being true, and the resources companies who also have a lot to lose. Seems to me the most opposed are the ones with the most vested interest. The poorly structured attacks on the science by Heartland etc strike me as the moves of a desperate industry.

    Do you really think the coal industry has more opportunity supporting CC than fighting it? It’s not like there’s much choice in where we get our power from.

    No, I don’t think CC is 100% man made, never said it was. The IPCC report doesn’t even say it is. But carbon compound emissions definitely aren’t helping either.

    I wouldn’t worry about hormones in your water supply. They are mostly found in the sewage outflow, which doesn’t feed into the major Sydney reservoirs any more. A huge percentage of Sydney’s water comes from Warragamba, the catchment of which is now ably managed by the SCA. All the STP’s in the upper Blueys have been closed and their flows redirected out of the catchment, and the western border is formed by the Kanangra/Blueys NPs. This water is treated at Prospect, and pumped vast distances around the network. Hormones levels in potable water are virtually non-existant. Don’t drink grey water in Rouse Hill though.

    The deforestation point is an interesting one. Given that Australia won’t actually reduce their emissions at all, but will instead buy up permits in SE Asia to protect forests, it could be argued that a CPRS is the most effective way to protect these forests. Never mind the inherent value argument.

    Sorry, my paragraphs are out of order.

    I’m not trying to scare anyone, just get on with solving what is a fairly simple problem. All we need to do is reduce our CO2 emissions by, what, 30%? The coal plants will most likely stay open, there’ll be more renewables on the grid, and more forest protected in Asia. That’s it. These are the steps required to cover a risk that has been identified by pretty good science. The doom and gloom from both sides covers no one with glory. And debating science in a flawed public arena like the press doesn’t help anyone either.

  4. Andrew

    Everyone is entitled for his opinion, but not to his “facts”.

    Some climate realities::

    1. Current climate change is now exceeding the maximum natural greenhouse radiative forcing level of the last 2.8 million years by 38% based on CO2 alone (387 ppm) and by 53% based on CO2+methane (430 ppm CO2-equivalent). Up-to-date studies define the upper atmospheric forcing limit of the Antarctic ice sheet at about 500 ppm CO2. Due to carbon cycle feedbacks and ice/water interaction feedback, this threatens accelerated collapse of polar ice and rapid meter-scale sea level rises within time frames shorter than originally projected by the IPCC, as reported by Hansen et al. 2008 and 2007.

    2. The threat of irreversible tipping points in the climate system is more urgent than has been envisaged by the IPCC-2007 Report, as indicated by Lenton et al., 2008 and recent studies of the vulnerability of the atmosphere and ice sheets during the most recent history of the Earth (Steffensen et al., 2008).

    3. In view of the cumulative long residence nature of CO2, reduction of emission is no longer sufficient to avert positive Carbon feedbacks, notably release of methane from permafrost and from bogs, with consequent climate runaway process.

    4. Based on the above , Hansen et al. 2008 indicate the maximum CO2 level allowable should be defined at 350 ppm. As this level has already been exceeded, to avert climate crisis, every effort should be made to develop rapid CO2 atmospheric draw-down technology, such as already exists in principle, including chemical capture and fast-growing CO2-sequestering vegetation.

    Andrew Glikson
    10 June, 2009

  5. Richard Wilson

    You are all missing the point. As earnest as you may all be.

    Take a look at this headline from Bloomberg today:

    “France Finds ‘Carousel’ Tax Fraud in Carbon Emissions Market

    The French government has found evidence of “carousel fraud” relating to value-added tax on trades of European Union carbon dioxide allowances, according to an official in the nation’s budget ministry. June 9 (Bloomberg, by Helene Fouquet and Mathew Carr)

    According to the report, French officials have not disclosed the size of the fraud but note that the exchange handled 19.8 metric tonnes on June 2 alone. Evidently, sellers committing carousel fraud, or “missing traders,” collect the tax and then disappear before submitting the money to authorities. France, the article continues, will remove the tax on emissions trading as early as tomorrow since it now considers carbon allowances to be financial products rather than goods, the official said today. Exactly my point. This is about money not the environment.

    According to Bloomberg, BlueNext is the biggest exchange for spot carbon transactions. It has halted prompt trading in Paris until tomorrow to allow dealers to adjust their information systems to new value-added tax rules. BlueNext is 60 percent-owned by NYSE Euronext. France’s state-owned lender Caisse des Despots et Consignations owns the rest.

    As I have been saying all along, this whole thing in my view is a financial con trick. Whatever the actual environmental merits happen to be, I for one am not in favour of Wall Street or even O’Connell or Collins Streets running this!

  6. Richard Wilson

    What I think Evan is immaterial to the true purpose of this program which in my view represents the biggest ever taxation rip-off yet. And it is global.

    Do you really think that if the UN, and all of the other bodies invested with the care of the planet, were truly concerned about climate change they would have allowed the forests of the Congo, Sumatra, and Borneo and ever increasingly Brazil and the rest of South America to be decimated along with their attendant wildlife and plant life? It is criminal. Think about what is happening. You are trapped in a debate – scientific or otherwise which is nothing more than a spectacle while the real issue namely a massive funds transfer from the people to the state and the financial services industry is being put in place. I have shown you how open to corruption this system is and how tempting it will become to exploit the goodwill of the scientific community and the people of the world. Imagine how tempting in the future it will be to crank up the taxation mechanism to a point of bankrupting the planet as an ever expanding state demands more to sustain itself.

    Adam Morton disclosed in the Age on March 20, 2009 that the proposed scheme stood to yield to the Australian government up to $20 billion per year in the not too distant future. Andrew Fraser confirmed this same estimate in the Canberra Times.

    Can you imagine that once any tax addicted government gets its hands on an income stream of this magnitude, how hard it will be for them to relinquish it. In fact it is possible to argue that any recipient govt could conceivably have a vested interest in ensuring an ongoing army of well heeled polluters to sustain it.

    Go on call me sceptical but I think you may find that there is more to this than meets the eye.

    Don’t get me wrong I am 100% for clean energy alternatives and a pollution free planet – now! It’s just that I don’t believe that if one were serious about it they would do it this way.

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