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Hamilton: Denying the coming climate holocaust

Climate sceptics resent being called deniers because of the odium associated with Holocaust revisionism.

Even critics of the sceptics are careful to distance themselves from the implication that they are comparing climate denialism with Holocaust denialism for fear of being seen to trivialise the Holocaust by suggesting some sort of moral equivalence.

Judgments about moral equivalence depend on the ethical standpoint one adopts.

For consequentialists the morality of an action is judged by its outcomes. For those who adopt this ethical standpoint, any assessment of the consequences of the two forms of truth-rejection would conclude that climate deniers deserve greater moral censure than Holocaust deniers because their activities are more dangerous.

If the David Irvings of the world were to succeed, and the public rejected the mountain of evidence for the Holocaust, then the consequences would be a rewriting of history and a probable increase in anti-Semitism.

If the climate deniers were to succeed, and stopped the world responding to the mountain of evidence for human-induced global warming, then hundreds of millions of mostly impoverished people around the world would die from the effects of climate change.

They will die from famine, flood and disease caused by our unwillingness to act. The Stern report provides some sobering estimates: an additional 30-200 million people at risk of hunger with warming of only 2-3°C; an additional 250-500 million at risk if temperatures rise above 3°C; some 70-80 million more Africans exposed to malaria; and an additional 1.5 billion exposed to dengue fever.

Instead of dishonouring the deaths of six million in the past, climate deniers risk the lives of hundreds of millions in the future. Holocaust deniers are not responsible for the Holocaust, but climate deniers, if they were to succeed, would share responsibility for the enormous suffering caused by global warming.

It is a ghastly calculus, yet it is worth making because the hundreds of millions of dead are not abstractions, mere chimera until they happen. We know with a high degree of certainty that if we do nothing they will die.

But not everyone adopts a consequentialist ethic. An alternative ethical stance is to judge climate deniers not by the effects of what they do but by the rightness of their activities (a so-called duty ethic) or by their character and motives (a virtue ethic).

From a duty ethic position, the moral obligation climate deniers are violating is to the truth. Here there is a moral difference between denying the commission of a great crime, for which there are whole libraries of documentation, and rejecting the overwhelming evidence from science in which uncertainties nevertheless persist. This suggests that climate deniers are less culpable.

From a virtue ethic standpoint, moral culpability depends on motives. Attempting in good faith to uncover the facts is a good thing, which is why we regard genuine scepticism as healthy. Denialism is not scepticism but a refusal to accept the facts, the rejection of all of the evidence.

We think of Holocaust deniers as being immoral because we suspect them of being motivated by anti-Semitism or a desire for political advancement through stirring up racial hatred.

We think of climate deniers as being immoral because we suspect them of being motivated, not by truth-seeking, but by political goals, a desire for funds from fossil-fuel companies or personal aggrandisement.

Those who adopt a duty or virtue ethic would probably feel more personal antipathy towards a David Irving than towards an Ian Plimer or Andrew Bolt. There is something especially repugnant, even evil, about Holocaust denial. Denying or covering up a monstrous crime makes Holocaust deniers somehow complicit in it.

Better to have your daughter marry a climate sceptic, who is perhaps motivated by contrarianism, foolishness or self-importance rather than wickedness.

If, like me, you adopt a virtue or duty ethic, but one tempered by consideration of the consequences of an act, climate deniers are less immoral than Holocaust deniers, although they are undoubtedly more dangerous.

However, as the casualties from a warming world mount over the next decades, the denialism of those who continue to reject the scientific evidence will come to be seen as more and more iniquitous. So the answer to the question of whether climate denialism is morally worse than Holocaust denialism is no, at least, not yet.

Clive Hamilton is the Greens candidate in the Higgins by-election.

  • 1
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    … Just wait til they stop calling sceptics deniers, and start calling them heretics, and then have them ‘educated’ to renounce their positions.

  • 2
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    And anyone who calls sceptics deniers, has in my opinion, lost the argument. See Godwin’s law.

  • 3
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Clive appears to be slowly going mad. Not good for a standing candidate in the next by-election.

    Venice is still above water. It is going under a bit, mainly due to sinking on its wooden piles and mud foundations as fresh water has been pumped out from the water table underneath for town water supply. Venice is one of my litmus tests. The seas may be rising at a near infinitesimal rate, perhaps 1mm a year. Perhaps. If the seas go up 20cm in 20 years, I will start to worry. Plenty of time to put the brakes on ‘carbon polluters’, although it is important to be developing alternative forms of energy and industry. I’m porsonally looking forward to ‘oilgae’ production kicking in, as it is a prolific source of hydrocatrbons, environmentally friendly, can serve to bio-sequestrate coal burning GHGs for a period, and is otherwise effectively carbon neutral — like a ‘living fossil’ fuel producer.

  • 4
    Dikkii Webb
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    The appeal to Godwin’s Law is an utterly irrelevant red herring. Calling a climate change denier a skeptic is like calling a creationist an “evolution skeptic”. In other words, it’s completely ridiculous.

  • 5
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    My reasoning follows the “climate denier is like a holocaust denier” -> calling someone a holocaust denier is akin to calling them a N*zi -> and that’s where the Godwin invocation came from. :)

  • 6
    Dikkii Webb
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    It’s not really good enough though is it Meski? The English language is the poorer when people try to ring-fence terms like this in order to quarantine themselves from criticism, I think. Not aimed at you specifically, there are hundreds in politics and the media invoking Godwin in order to stave off wingnut accusations.

  • 7
    Roger Clifton
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    Wicked people could be reminded of the consequences of willful blindness.

    After the liberation of Paris, some thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people were tried and executed for having continued with business as usual while the French world was in peril. Many more were humiliated and their careers destroyed. Like the followers of today’s climate deniers, they pleaded that had seen no evidence of evil and that they were just obeying their employers.

    However they were executed on the basis that they should have known better.

    …You’ll get yours, Jimmy!

  • 8
    jon Fairall
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Clive, you missed the really culpable. What about the ‘sceptic’ who actually accepts the science, but then goes on to calculate that his current gain is worth more to him than the future pain of his children. I don’t think this is an insignificant point; it can’t be a coincidence that so many climate ‘sceptics’ are elderly white males doing very nicely out of our current economy.

  • 9
    Most Peculiar Mama
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Yet another stream of conscious rant this time punctuated by invoking a most foul parallel.

    Clive’s desperate grasp for relevancy is palpable.

    Being so far on the fringes of any sensible debate on this subject means Hamilton has little of value to contribute.

    The good folk of Higgins deserve to know what a bonafide lunatic sounds like and this execrable piece of garbage is just the right manifesto for a by-election flyer.

    See you on December 5.

  • 10
    James Anderson
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Can we please have a rest from Hamilton in Crikey? Apart from all the tendentious crap, it is wicked to invoke the suffering of the victims of the Holocaust as he does.

  • 11
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    This is one of the instances where my fundamental belief in the freedom of speech is sorely tested and where it is impossible not to argue without attacking the messenger. The fact that the comments are made by someone seeking democratic office makes it even worse.

    Clive Hamilton, with comments like this, you will only allienate people and achieve nothing; Except to make it even more difficult for those who argue intelligently and purposefully for the case you purport to support.

  • 12
    Dikkii Webb
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    I must admit, Hamilton did kinda play into the hands of climate change deniers here in invoking the holocaust. It’s bad enough that they insist on misusing the term “skeptics” without a post like this making it worse.

  • 13
    james mcdonald
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    Instead of dishonouring the deaths of six million in the past, climate deniers risk the lives of hundreds of millions in the future.”

    Consider that instead of just imagining they can bring the six million back, those who use the “denier” slur toward climate dissenters risk the lives of hundreds of millions in the future. They do this by alienating (no matter how morally right you may be and how morally wrong they may be) some very powerful people whom you are still going to have to work with to make this happen.

    I agree with Meski.

  • 14
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    The best thing you can do for the environment Clive is to stand down as the Greens candidate for Higgins0! After finding out you were selected I decided to stop voting Green, and know of many other people who are doing the same.

    What did you hope to achieve by writing this article? The only thing this article ensures is a swift response from the climate change skeptics, who will probably rebut with the usual phrases like ‘the extreme greens who won’t listen to reason’, you may write a response to it, then so will they until we’ve had a series of articles written which are essentially two groups of people calling each other names and no progress has been made towards saving the climate.
    You could have written a piece about the investments that could be made in renewable energy or about other measures other countries are taking that we could be just as easily doing.

    All this ‘climate change deniers are…’ and ‘those extreme greenies are…’ is just political point scoring between two groups of people who are more interested in talking themselves up and their opponents down rather than focus on any real issues.
    In that respect you are perfect for politics, only i feel you would feel more at home in the Labor or Liberal party, they’re just as interested in putting point scoring ahead of focusing on the real issues, don’t ruin a real party like the Greens.

  • 15
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think you can have a consequentialist ethic about something which happened 60 years ago. The problem with holocaust deniers is not that they fail to honor the dead of WWII but that they are usually pushing a contemporary agenda of racial dominance and hatred. Climate change deniers are not, for all their faults, actually arguing that we should kill a couple of billion people they just don’t believe its going to happen. Thats being wrong, not evil, and I think confusing the two is not a good way to convince the doubters. As has been pointed out, Godwins law is not entirely facetious. If I had to pick a WWII analogy for the denialist position it would be ‘peace in our time’. Woefully wrong, desperate in clinging to the false comfort of inaction, but not actually said by Hitler.

  • 16
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

    Invoking Godwin isn’t something I’ve seen politicians or the media do, it’s a usenet phenomena.

    Godwin has argued[4] that overuse of Nazi and Hitler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact.
    (from wiki, google it, I’m tired of getting moderated each time I post a url)

    I’m saying that analogising climate sceptics to holocaust deniers is something that we should avoid.

  • 17
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Invoking Godwin isn’t something I’ve seen politicians or the media do, it’s a usenet phenomena.

    Godwin has argued[4] that overuse of N*zi and H*tler comparisons should be avoided, because it robs the valid comparisons of their impact.
    (from wiki, google it, I’m tired of getting moderated each time I post a url)

    I’m saying that analogising climate sceptics to holocaust deniers is something that we should avoid.

    FFS, even using the N & H words gets me moderated.

  • 18
    Dikkii Webb
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    You are correct, Meski, however there is an insistence on steering clear of the term “denier” in the media and in politics because of its association with holocaust deniers. I don’t believe that use of the term “sceptics” by the media or politicians is unrelated to this. And I’m not necessarily certain that the term “Godwin’s Law” needs to be spelt out when invoking it.

    Hamilton well and truly overstepped the mark in specifically equating climate denialism with holocaust denialism in this instance.

    The fact remains, though that denialism is what it is. Personally, I would have preferred that Hamilton used creationism (evolution denialism) or Big Tobacco’s denial of smoking-related cancer deaths in order to illustrate his point.

  • 19
    Jamie Reeves
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the comments here that this is a very poor thesis indeed, especially well put by Altakoi. Apart from the word “denier” the two things have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with each other. If the idea is to use history to try and understand current behaviours, then surely there are more analogous situations for comparison (but maybe that’s too much effort, and no where near as sensational?).

    The only good reason I can see for publishing is that it sheds some light on Hamilton prior to the by-election, which is a pretty useful insight for the good folk of Higgins.

  • 20
    james mcdonald
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    What’s wrong with calling them “Dissenters”?
    I see three advantages:
    1. More polite; the same word is used of a judge disagreeing with the rest of the bench
    2. Avoids implying the scientific/rational high ground as “skeptics” does; it simply means they disagree
    3. It does imply, however, that they are outside the prevailing scientific view

  • 21
    Jim Reiher
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if the reason so many people have reacted badly to this article is because they are either skeptics or denialists (of climate change) and they are freaked out because their denialism (or skepticism) has being discussed in the same article as Holocaust denialism. Or just because nobody likes talking about the Holocaust.

    I did not read Hamilton as making the two comparable. In fact he qualified that quite clearly. They can’t be equal, but depending on one’s way of evaluating things, they may be more or less evil in the way they are concluded about.

    So… all you critical people: Read him again… it is solid reflection … but not impossible to understand! He is philosophizing and reflecting about the way we judge things. Of course he could have written about the science of climate change. Or the economic and social effects. Or the ways to fight it. (He does do that to, at other times, remember).

    But when he reflect on different ways of evaluating something … suddenly everyone is jumping down his neck. … What the? …

  • 22
    Most Peculiar Mama
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    …Climate change deniers are not, for all their faults, actually arguing that we should kill a couple of billion people they just don’t believe its going to happen. Thats being wrong…”

    What a stupid, stupid statement.

    What proof do you have that anything even remotely like this is going to happen?


    You’re just as big a shrieking harpie as Hamilton is.

    You can join him at the bottom of the garden with the other fairies on the lunatic fringe.

  • 23
    Dikkii Webb
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    I rather like “dissenters” and for the reasons that you discuss.

    The only thing I don’t like about it is that it suggests that that it gives the appearance of a legitimate debate when some would suggest that an “artificial controversy” has been generated. Which can be problematic.

  • 24
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

    Nothing like an ad hominem argument to make your case MPM.

  • 25
    Harvey Tarvydas
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    Clive I posted this on BK’s comment space today ……………………

    ” BK, good on you.
    Your approach has more power than most will appreciate.
    The recalcitrant luddites, or those posing as denialists as all are in the habit of calling them, laugh at the effort made to convince them with good science and smart reason. It’s a waste of time.
    You may, on the other hand, be showing them that their self serving motives are best put aside for the time being as the whole thing is starting to give them a bad look of the kind they won’t afford.
    Especially as on the same page Clive Hamilton is doing an excellent job of discovering a brand new gruesome very hairy look to boot.”

    My parents were twice thrown into Nazi concentration camps (not for being Jewish) and escaped (as did some Jewish victims) three times and then became Aussies thanks to the Red Cross & Aus after living for three years in Germany under threat of recapture.
    They escaped to Germany in 1942 choosing likely death over certain death (proof coming) by Stalin’s pure Pol Potian motivated eradication (the 1st Pol Pot) of my father’s whole large family who were far more frightened of Hitler and stayed (for the chop).
    I am not sure if they were counted in the 20 million that Stalin murdered most of whom weren’t Jewish and have thereby been so conveniently forgotten.

    So I am the son of a man who stuck his 2 fingers up to the most serious murderers in recent history, first Stalin then the other one, survived them both and raised me ‘finger sticking goodly’.
    And I have and am practicing the art.

    Someone out there think they’re qualified to teach me the meaning of life?

  • 26
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Lets get it straight…objectively hamilton is right in making such a comparison. As you say Dikkii the problem is that its probably not politic to do so cos then you get all the self righteous ranters and wingnuts going on about the immorality of invoking the holocaust and pulling out the irritatingly ubiquitous cornflake box notion of Godwins law - All of which are dumb efforts to avoid having to argue the fact that if you deny climate change and the need to address it - you’re essentially either an idiot or corrupt.

    Now before I get howled down for that very reasoned and considered statement, the fact is, dear deniers, that in denying the science you’re denying something that you have no capacity to deny. I expect that if you notice a lump in your groin (or more likely on your brain) then you’ll go to a specialist for treatment - not to some alternative herbal quack who wrote a book once about the evil mainstream medical industry. Unless of course I’m wrong about that too, which come to think of it, is possible, in which case I hope the herbal ointment works!. But if not, please spare us your irritating, illinformed ranting. Go over to Andrew Bolts blog and you can all speak in tongues together.

    If, on the other hand you’re prepared go in to scientific detail as to why, for instance, NASA’s chief climate sceintist is wrong, or the other 95% of world climate scientists are wrong, then I’ll listen to your argument - as long as you don’t pull out any of the Pilmer style shiboleths sponsored by Shell oil that have been doing the rounds of every right wing nutter on the planet. If you’re just gonna drone on about the importance of ‘skepticism’ when in fact youre not a sceptic but a rather dim witted denier then you’re not worth listening to either. Further to that I’d suggest you might want to get some therapy and find out what weird psycho pathologies are clouding your judgement. Good luck.

  • 27
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    I think the Greens supporters in Higgins feel very frustrated that global warming deniers have hijacked the debate.
    Thanks Clive Hamilton for framing global warming as the great moral issue of our time.

  • 28
    Jamie Reeves
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jim - Just for the record I believe the majority scientific opinion re climate change: we’re (especially our kids) in some deep shit. I reacted badly to this essay because I think it is crap from someone who probably could’ve done better. That’s all.

  • 29
    Dikkii Webb
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jim,

    For the record, I reacted badly to this because I’m sick of climate change deniers using the “I’m no holocaust revisionist” as a podium to legitimise their positions. I felt that Hamilton was played like a fiddle in actually using it in this post.

    I also object to the use of the term “climate skeptic”. The media and politicians have dropped the ball on this one.

  • 30
    D. John Hunwick
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Clive for clarifying the position of the sceptics and denialists. MY only comment is that the figures of future catastrophe are far too low. As water becomes a contraint, as food becs more expensive, as carbon-based energy supplies wilt in the heat, there will be an outbreak of civil disobedience that won’t hesitate to become violent. The responses by nature to what is happening will prove to be largely unpredictable - and then we will really know the cost of not listening to the best available scientific advice.

  • 31
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    I take a denier as someone who resorts to denialism to justify their position. Wikipedia has a good definition of this fundamentally irrational process:

    This should not be confused with denial, itself is a psychological mechanism used to avoid having to confront difficult facts/situations.

    I think so-called climate sceptics resent being called deniers (denialists?) because it suggests irrationality or even bad faith, while scepticism is an important component of science. I also doubt David Irving would describe himself as a “Holocaust Denier”.

    I may personally retain some scepticism or doubt about elements of climate science because I’m trained to evaluate the quality of evidence. But that level of scepticism is trivial compared to my level of confidence that anthropogenic climate change is real and dangerous.

    I have little doubt that “climate deniers risk the lives of hundreds of millions in the future”, but the best we can do now is name and shame them.

  • 32
    Kevin Hogarth
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    I agree with Meski that analogising climate sceptics to holocast deniers is something that we should all avoid in order to keep the debate rational. Perhaps a more apt parallel with todays climate change deniers is that of the ‘smoking causes cancer’ deniers that abounded in the 50’s and 60’s when science had not proven to everyone’s satisfaction that a causal link existed.


  • 33
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Don’t forget those who are using global warming for pushing the nuclear buttons(sorry, couldn’t resist). I’m almost a screaming, frustrated wreck. I hate to think what’s going to happen in the future. I can’t do anything about it except vote for the Greens as NO 1 at the next election/s - which I have for some time anyway. What else can I do? Apart from sending emails, being familiar with what’s going on, and doing a lot of ‘wishing’? I wish it was not true, I wish I could just vote and fix it, and I wish it would all go away! I wish I didn’t have the feeling, that my grandkids and everyone else’s too, are really going to hate us in a few years - 10, 15, 20?

  • 34
    Roger Clifton
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Liz45 has identified a source of moral strength: the certainty that we will be judged by our grandchildren.

    If you consider that the rightness of an action can be sensed by how we imagine that some respected reference group would respond, the correctness of our in/actions today can be guided by how we can expect to be seen in the future.

    In this sense, those who resist the moral imperatives of climate change today can be likened to those who tolerated the Holocaust while it was happening.

  • 35
    james mcdonald
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 6:19 pm | Permalink


    The only thing I don’t like about [the alternative word “dissenter”] is that it gives the appearance of a legitimate debate when some would suggest that an “artificial controversy” has been generated. Which can be problematic.”

    The context I’ve most heard the word “dissent” is in law (I’m not a lawyer), when a dissenting judge sets down for the record his/her reasons for disagreeing with the rest of the bench, but still accepts being outvoted.

    The main point being, there was a legitimate debate, but the phrase “dissenting judge” only becomes applicable when that debate is over.

  • 36
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 6:37 pm | Permalink

    Oh lordy, lordy - here we go again!

    I could go on and on about the holes in Clive’s position and the offensive comparisons between sceptics and holocaust deniers, but I am trying to restrain myself and will just comment on one aspect.

    It is utterly unfair to compare a group of people who stubbornly deny the reality of something that has actually happened in the past with another group who cast doubt on something which is essentially a prediction of the future. The past is partially and relatively knowable. The future is fraught with uncertainty and anyone who ventures to make future predictions should do so with a bit of humility.

    I draw everyone’s attention to the paper by Green and Armstrong: “Global Warming: Forecasts by Scientists versus Scientific Forecasts”, available from: http://www.forecastingprinciples.com/files/WarmAudit31.pdf

    Green and Armstrong are prominent members of the International Institute of Forecasters. They have audited papers containing climate forecasts (including the IPCC Expert Working Group’s Fourth Assessment Report) against the Institute’s long-established principles of good practice in forecasting. They conclude that: “The forecasts in the Report were not the outcome of scientific procedures.” They go on to say: “We have been unable to identify any scientific forecasts of global warming.”

    Beware the prophecies of the righteous!

  • 37
    Tim nash
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Why is it harmful to ask questions? And what does it matter what the outcome is.
    Nobody has a crystal ball, the future could be bad but there’s a chance it may not be so bad
    We don’t know.
    Environmentalists use science to show us that climate change is real.
    It is ironic that the same science, that helped create the over populated state of the world, and much of the pollution also shows us what damage humans have done.
    Why can’t we use the same science that caused the problems to fix the problems.
    Nothing cannot be done, human kind has done some amazing things…let’s not be negative.

  • 38
    Dikkii Webb
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Hi James,

    Your judge analogy is a good one. The problem remains twofold:

    1. Is there a legitimate debate? There doesn’t appear to be one in science anymore; and
    2. Do any of the current dissenters accept that they’ve been outvoted?

    Liked your italicising of “was” and the “when the debate is over” bits, by the way.

  • 39
    james mcdonald
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 8:24 pm | Permalink


    1. Most of the scientific community seem to believe that the debate is well and truly over, which is good enough for me. Others don’t think so, but an increasing proportion of them are people for whom it will never be over.
    If the whole thing can be made attractive to business at taxpayer expense, then I think a lot of the recalcitrants will suddenly experience a road-to-Damascus change of heart (comprising a vision of money, rather than Paul’s tableau of fish, but that’s how the world works). See Tony Kevin’s article today, Crikey, item 16 for some good ideas on that side of things.

    2. Malcolm Turbull said in a recent Alan Jones interview, “You want to go out there on the climate sceptic platform, believe me you’ll get about 15 per cent of the people voting for you.”
    I think there’s a law of diminishing return convincing people of something. It will take more effort to convince the the next 10 per cent of people than it did the preceding 50 per cent. The last 10 per cent will never be convinced. But they will accept sooner or later that we can’t always get what we want. The important thing now is to make it attractive to big business, not punters. And for that, you need to use respectful language and pragmatic compromises.

  • 40
    the duke
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

    I agree with you 100% James.

    The whole enivronmental argument has been too over politicised now anyway.

    I, like so many other people now, am so disillusioned with Rudd that I am starting to question whether he really believes in the environmental debate. I am starting to believe that MT is more fair dinkum about the environment than Rudd is…..!

    Whilst everyone has the right to reserve judgement, I may be one of them, taking out a little insurance policy to protect the environment won’t harm anybody. If we can afford to pay premiums attached to Landlords and Income Protection Insurance, I am sure we have something in our heart for the environment!

  • 41
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    There is a great and pertinent quote from Neal Stephenson’s novel “Zodiac” (about an eco-warrior, direct action environmentalist trying to stop the pollution of Boston harbour) which goes like this:

    And I hadn’t even told him the truth. Actually, the shit coming out of Basco’s pipes was a hundred thousand times more concentrated than was legally allowed. … That kind of thing goes on all the time. But no matter how many diplomas are tacked to your wall, give people a figure like that and they’ll pass you off as a flake. You can’t get most people to believe how wildly the eco-laws get broken, but if I say “More than twice the legal limit,” they get comfortably outraged.”

    Hamilton’s comparison with the Holocaust is indeed apt. In the Holocaust at least 6 Million people were killed due to the direct actions of a group of people (and many more were displaced, left physically and emotionally scared etc). By contrast, there is clear evidence that with a high degree of certainly, inaction on carbon emmissions will cause many times the deaths and displacements. I’m just re-phrasing Hamilton, his arguements are not hysterical despite what many of the above comments are claiming.

    Despite that, I think, in reference to the Stephenson quote, that invoking the Holocaust is a bad bad tactic no matter how carefully worded. It doesn’t matter how clearly you state the comparison, you’ll always come across as mad and flaky to those who don’t want to read too closely. The truth of what climate science predicts is so utterly terrifying that it sounds like it must be hyperbole and people seem to switch off and find some justification, however flimsy, for ignoring it. We need to somehow hit that “comfortably outraged” trigger, even if that means presenting the situation as less frigtening than it really is, ironically that just might work better than simply stating the truth

  • 42
    Dikkii Webb
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 9:10 pm | Permalink


    1. Your first point is precisely why I asked is this a legitimate debate. We saw similar tactics used to alarming effect in the States a couple of years ago during the creationism wars. It was part of a tactic that the Discovery Institute called, “Teach the Controversy™.” That is, talk up a controversy where one does not exist.

    2(a). Here’s where I stand on “respectful” language: We can either use it or not. Neither will make a difference, particularly to the lunatic fringe who will not be convinced. I simply prefer to call a spade a spade, because it avoids confusion.

    2(b). On compromises: Two plus two does not equal three, nor will someone persuade me to compromise and agree that it does. I’m willing to change my mind, but the other side is going to have to come up with a bitchin’ argument as to why it equals anything other than four.

    It took a court to shut creationism down in the states a couple of years ago. It took the judge in that case to come out and describe participants of the Dover Area School Board for what they were: Liars.

    You can see why I’m not greatly convinced of the merits of sugar-coating wingnuts, but it’s all fine by me as long as they @#$%ing well stop calling themselves “skeptics”.

  • 43
    Evan Beaver
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Bogdanovist, I don’t think the comfortably outraged position exists. I’ve heard quite a few ‘the sea level will only rise 1m in 100 years’ or ‘2 or degrees warmer? That sounds fine. Should take the edge off the Canberra winter. Ho ho ho.’

    I like the ruling classes analogies above. It is very difficult to motivate people who are not affected by something. Human nature. God we’re lazy and selfish.

  • 44
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    I take your point Evan, that kind of it’s-not-so-bad mentality is probably at least as dangerous as outright denial. But I do think that anything that comes across as “OMG we’re all going to die!” is much easier to ignore than something less extreme, regardless of the truth of the matter and regardless of how well argued the case is.

    But yes, having said all that, it appears that there is no good way to get the message across to a solid minority of people. Plus Human nature is inherently tribal (it’s an evolutionary blink of an eye since we where all hunter gatherers) and it is appallingly difficult to get people to give up small comforts to save the lives of someone from another tribe. Of course, it’s not as though we are not threatened ourselves, just not as existentially as some other countries.

  • 45
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Interesting comments, Clive. It was only recently that you suggested the only way we could deal with AGW was the suspension of democratic government and now you’re here accusing sceptics of being like nazis. Have you any shame at all?

    You’re the one promoting totalitarian government and you’re accusing sceptics of being like what you advocate. This is a new low even for you.

    This was you saying this, right?

    ….that we look to any possible scenario to head it off, including the canvassing of emergency responses such as the suspension of democratic processes.

    It was also only recently that you were strongly advocating for internet censorship. How on earth you could say you’re representing the Greens is beyond me. Perhaps a version of One nation next time?

  • 46
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Agreed, Michael T and Marcerin.

  • 47
    John Bennetts
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 11:11 pm | Permalink

    Dunno ‘bout you lot, but Green is starting to sound better than CPRS/Labor or NO CPRS/Liberal or WHAT-ME-WORRY/Nat.

    We shouldn’t be made to apologise for using strong analogies when it is the future of Gaia that is at stake.

  • 48
    james mcdonald
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 11:15 pm | Permalink


    Rudd’s CPRS legislation was never intended to work, I think he feels it’s enough to get the ball rolling and bring about a global big-government revolution, and the rest will solve itself. To that end, the quality of the legislation was neither here nor there, he just wanted to appear on the global stage with a working piece of law to wave around in the air.

    Malcolm Turnbull, I think, actually takes the problem more seriously than Rudd does. Interesting that in spite of interest from CSIRO, NFF and others, Rudd showed no interest in soil carbon sequestration, and Turnbull had to bargain with him to get farmer incentives included.


    By compromises I don’t mean watering down the requirements. I mean coming up with carrots as well as sticks to offer to big business, especially the coal miners. Making some deals that might be unpalatable to the Clive Hamiltons of this world, who would probably like to see the mining giants fall down one of their own mineshafts. Though some may wish it, this isn’t going to become the pretext for some kind of garden-of-eden revolution. It just doesn’t work that way.

  • 49
    Posted Monday, 16 November 2009 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    @John Bennetts, don’t worry about Gaia, she’s a tough girl and able to take all that Mankind could possibly throw at her at more. Life will persist on Earth for Billions of years to come regardless of what we do. It’s a common misconception that enviromentalism is about ‘saving the planet’ (of course a myth perpetuated by many environmentalists) in fact it’s all about saving the species. Life will go on, that is assured, the question is whether humans will be part of that, and how well those humans will live. We can make the globe extremely uncomfortable for us, possibly even eventually uninhabitable, but life in some form would still go on.

  • 50
    Posted Tuesday, 17 November 2009 at 12:38 am | Permalink

    Clive Hamilton is living proof why Rupert Murdoch should be able to censor the interenet.

    You frighten me Mr. Hamilton, and I don’t frighten easily.