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Sep 29, 2011

Abbott's climate change Tea Party stirs in Canberra

It’s been fascinating to watch climate change emerge again as a political issue in the US, writes Giles Parkinson, of Climate Spectator.

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It’s been fascinating to watch climate change emerge again as a political issue in the US, with President Barack Obama taking potshots at Republican Tea Party favourite and presidential candidate Rick Perry over his denial of climate science.

“You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change,” Obama said this week, revelling in the opportunity of engaging a debate he might actually win. Perry’s camp said the jibe was outrageous. But such was the impact that most US political commentators agreed on one thing: climate change is now back on the political agenda, and will be a key battleground in the 2012 presidentials.

All three Republicans-most likely — Perry, Michelle Bachmann and Mitt Romney — have expressed doubts about the scientific consensus, but Perry has been the most outspoken, accusing scientists of fixing data to help secure funding and seeking to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating emissions. Salon.com noted the irony that for the first time a wildfire erupted within a major city — in the George Bush Park in Houston, the headquarters of the nation’s fossil-fuel industry.

There has been no such striking symbolism in Australia. Even though Australia rivals the US as a hotbed of climate sceptics, the conservatives here have been trying to bury it as a public issue, and it doesn’t even rate a mention in the 34 pages of talking points produced to guide Liberal and National Party MPs on how to demonise the carbon-pricing legislation. And why would it, considering the Coalition has its own plan to reduce emissions by 5% below 1990 levels by 2020 and officially accepts the science?

Well, the answer to that can be found in Hansard. It’s just too dammed hard to keep good sceptics down, especially when there is such fertile material to be gleaned from your favourite sceptics and denialists websites. And party discipline is just not what it used to be.

In the recent parliamentary debate on the Clean Energy Future package, Barnaby Joyce — a noted sceptic — couldn’t help ridiculing the idea of redesigning the economy on a “colourless odourless gas”, South Australian Senator Sean Edwards said reducing emissions wouldn’t lower temperatures for 1000 years, Queensland MP Bertie van Manen said temperatures had fallen since 1998 while Co2 levels rose, and Queensland Senator Ian Macdonald poked fun at Tim Flannery for having a riverside house on the Hawkesbury while warning of rising sea levels.

And Macdonald went on: “I should remind (Labor) Senator (Mark) Furner that his side does not talk about global warming any more. It is climate change, remember, because the science these days is showing that any increase in temperature is minimal, if it is there. I understand the accepted science now is that the temperature over the last decade really has not increased at all.”

The NSW Senator John (Wacka) Williams, the Nationals Whip in the Senate went further: “I totally believe in climate change. In fact, I believe the climate has been changing for millions of years. Just recently I was fortunate to spend three days at Airlie Beach, in the Whitsunday Islands, only to discover that 18,000 years ago the Whitsunday Islands were actually part of the Australian mainland because the sea levels were so low and that, 10,000 years ago, the globe warmed, the ice melted on the mainland and the seas rose and, hence, we now call them the Whitsunday Islands. The climate changed. What caused that climate change? What caused the globe to warm back then, Mr Acting Deputy President? Was it hoons in V8 Mustangs, putting out carbon dioxide and chucking wheelies? No, they did not exist then. Perhaps it was coal-fired generators.”

Etc etc.

And on Tuesday this week, South Australian Liberal Senator Corey Bernardi in a blog hopefully titled “Is scepticism back in fashion?” again was railing against the “futile” policies of “prophets of catastrophic anthropogenic global warming” and the “gospel of environmentalism”.

Liberal MP Dennis Jensen is equally hostile — describing climate change science as a “work of fiction” and policies as “worldwide economic sacrifices at the altar of the god of climate change”.

Go back further into Hansard and press clippings and you find Liberal MP Luke Simpkins borrowing Alan Jones’ line about Australian emissions representing 0.0000002% of the atmosphere, Liberal MP Patrick Secker saying more people will die from global cooling, Victorian Senator Mitch Fifield describing proponents of an ETS of having a a theological approach to discussion “more suited to an inquisition”, Nationals Senator Ron Boswell describing the science as fraudulent, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz questioning the science and promoting a bogus petition of 31,000 “climate scientists”,  and Liberal frontbencher Andrew Robb telling the AFR that global warming is just a leftist fad. Nationals MP John Cobb, and Liberal MPs Bob Baldwin, John Cobb and Bronwyn Bishop have also questioned whether the mainstream science has got it right.

The NSW Liberal MP Johanna Gash, one of her party’s appointees to the joint committee reviewing the Clean Energy Future package, is a fan of arch denialist Ian Plimer — “It makes for very interesting and illuminating reading” — she said of his book in 2009. Another appointee to the committee, George Christensen, who won the Queensland seat of Dawson for the Nationals in 2010, said in his maiden speech to parliament last year that the “science is not settled”.

And then, of course, there is Tony Abbott, the Coalition leader who once said the science is crap and has never really sounded convincing in claiming he’s changed his mind.

But this is not merely a game of pinning the tail on the donkey. This is a serious issue for Australian business, because the passage of the carbon price legislation by the end of the year will likely encourage domestic and international corporates to finally push the button on billions of dollars of investment — mostly in energy generation but also elsewhere — that has been held up while the fate of the carbon price remained unclear.

The Labor Party is going to great lengths to ensure that the carbon pricing legislation and the permits are “indefeasible” — which makes it extremely hard, and costly, to unwind.

Abbott has committed his party to repealing the legislation should it win government (as the polls currently suggest is likely) in 2013 and trying to estimate the depth and breadth of the Tea Party rump in a Coalition government will be a critical consideration for some investment multibillion-dollar investment decisions.

The quotes included above suggest at least a quarter of the Coalition members fall into that camp. The reality is that it might be closer to 40%. Take that into consideration with the results of the party vote when Abbott took the leadership from Malcolm Turnbull — the pro-Abbott camp, led by the climate denialist Nick Minchin, gained 35 votes, while the rest (49) were split evenly between Turnbulll and Joe Hockey. That first round vote was considered an informal on whether you accepted the science on not — if you didn’t, you voted for Abbott. If you did, you chose Turnbull or Hockey.

Abbott’s decision to send two sceptics out of five appointees to the joint committee looking at the CEF package may be a fair reflection of his party make-up. His ability to repeal the carbon price will depend on how many of his party faithful support his original proposition that the science is crap, because the Direct Action policy is untenable to anyone who thinks otherwise.

*This article first appeared on Climate Spectator

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20 thoughts on “Abbott’s climate change Tea Party stirs in Canberra

  1. Flower

    Most, if not all, of the five global mass extinctions in Earth’s history carry the fingerprints of the main symptoms of global carbon perturbations (global warming, ocean acidification and anoxia or lack of oxygen.)

    It is these three factors — the ‘deadly trio’ — which are present in the ocean today. In fact, the current carbon perturbation is unprecedented in the Earth’s history because of the high rate and speed of change. Acidification is occurring faster than in the past 55 million years, and with the added man-made stressors of overfishing and pollution, undermining ocean resilience. ( Source: Professor Jelle Bijma, Marine Biogeosciences, Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research):

    http: //www. stateoftheocean.org/ipso-2011-workshop-summary.cfm

    Mass extinction at the Triassic-Jurassic (Tr-J) boundary occurred about the same time (200 Ma) as one of the largest volcanic eruptive events known, that which characterized the Central Atlantic magmatic province. Homo Stupidus is merely the new kid on the block (and the most destructive). Luckily for humans they were not around during the mass extinctions to dirty things up a bit and hasten the catastrophic process of self-destruction.

    “Do the Earth’s volcanoes emit more CO2 than human activities? Research findings indicate that the answer to this frequently asked question is a clear and unequivocal, “No.” Human activities, responsible for a projected 35 billion metric tons (gigatons) of CO2 emissions in 2010 (Friedlingstein et al., 2010), release an amount of CO2 that dwarfs the annual CO2 emissions of all the world’s degassing subaerial and submarine volcanoes (Gerlach, 2011).

    “The published estimates of the global CO2 emission rate for all degassing subaerial (on land) and submarine volcanoes lie in a range from 0.13 gigaton to 0.44 gigaton per year (Gerlach, 1991; Varekamp et al., 1992; Allard, 1992; Sano and Williams, 1996; Marty and Tolstikhin, 1998). The preferred global estimates of the authors of these studies range from about 0.15 to 0.26 gigaton per year. The 35-gigaton projected anthropogenic CO2 emission for 2010 is about 80 to 270 times larger than the respective maximum and minimum annual global volcanic CO2 emission estimates. It is 135 times larger than the highest preferred global volcanic CO2 estimate of 0.26 gigaton per year (Marty and Tolstikhin, 1998).

    “In recent times, about 70 volcanoes are normally active each year on the Earth’s subaerial terrain. One of these is Kīlauea volcano in Hawaii, which has an annual baseline CO2 output of about 0.0031 gigatons per year [Gerlach et al., 2002]. It would take a huge addition of volcanoes to the subaerial landscape—the equivalent of an extra 11,200 Kīlauea volcanoes—to scale up the global volcanic CO2 emission rate to the anthropogenic CO2 emission rate.

    “Similarly, scaling up the volcanic rate to the current anthropogenic rate by adding more submarine volcanoes would require an addition of about 360 more mid-ocean ridge systems to the sea floor, based on mid-ocean ridge CO2 estimates of Marty and Tolstikhin (1998).” (Source: US Geological Survey.)

    Take that to the unenlightened geologists to whom you refer, John Geary of Australian International Petro-Consultants (AIPC)

  2. Jim Reiher

    I dont think Abbott can possibly get rid of the legislation once it is in, for a few reasons:
    1) He wont win a majority in the whole Senate with a normal half senate election, and so the labor Green Senators will block any such proposal
    2) There will be penalty clauses in the legislation that will make it very expensive to change it.
    3) Other nations are (have been for years some of them) doing similar things already – lots of other nations. Our system evolving into an ETS after 3 years will make it very much a part of a world trend and global trading. (There are so many nations already doing similar things. Even China has plans to bring in a Carbon Trading scheme by 2015 for 7 provinces and 5 major cities – that affects over 250 million people).
    4) They would find it very very hard to LOWER the tax free threshold back down to $6000 a year, or to take back off Pensioners their pay rise, etc.

    I can give the Liberal party some strategies to make themselves look good for “backflipping” on this:
    1) They can blame the senate (and say they wont waste tax payers money calling a double dissolution – a DD might not give them the senate still of course: lots of small parties and independents have better chances of winning in a DD when the quota is half). When the senate blocks the feeble attempt to undo it, they can say “we kept our promise – we tried – but we got blocked by the evil Labor and Greens parties.”
    2) They can say “the world has changed over the last couple of years and it seems that much of the trading world is going that way now, and so we need to be a part of it – it is not our ideal way forward but at least others are doing it now” (they can give the impression that dozens of places have not been doin git for years already! I am sure the popular media wont correct them)
    3) They can say “because of the penalty clauses it would cost billions in compensation to undo it – bloody Labor and the Greens”

    Or how about this… they just quietly forget all about it and talk about other things…. that has happened before. Aussies can forget about big things very quickly it seems. Just feed us something else to distract us. (Fukushima? where is that? something happen there? ….)

  3. Justin

    That’s um (http://www.portnews.com.au/multimedia/29115/346959/tony-abbott-visits-port-macquarie.aspx?Start=10), that’s unfortunate, *cough* really, I feel sorry for him *snort* (posts on FB).

    Labor should keep hitting Tony on the cost of his climate change plan, it’s ineffectiveness, and how our export markets already care about carbon-priced goods, even if our competitors don’t

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