At least Dennis Shanahan doesn’t pretend to be impartial. Paul Kelly’s splenetic attack on the media in yesterday’s Australian confirmed that he has seamlessly shifted from chief apologist for the Howard Government’s do-nothing approach to climate change to chief spruiker for a Rudd Government do-as-little-as-possible approach.

“The Professor” variously accuses the rest of the media (read Fairfax and the ABC) of, in his words, feeding myths and lies to the public, working furiously to conceal the truth, engaging in pro-green bias and deliberately belittling Australia. Kelly flays them for being hypocritical, intellectually vacuous and delusional, concluding that “the media should … be put on trial in any contest about honesty and integrity”.

The hack who wants to put fellow journalists on trial for dishonesty works for the newspaper that will run any old anti-science clap-trap dished up by discredited climate sceptics, all on the spurious grounds of “balance”.

In truth, Kelly’s spray could be used as an exemplar in a course on how to use debating tricks to try to win a losing argument.

First up, he claims that those who argue that rich countries like Australia should lead the way by cutting their emissions first do not accept that developing countries need to cut their emissions too. Kelly cannot name one person who does not believe that developing countries will have to cut their emissions, because there are none. Everyone knows that developing countries must slow then cut their emissions. The question is not whether it should happen, but how best to get it to happen.

Kelly insists that poor countries must cut their emissions at the same time as rich countries. Anyone with any sense of the history of the global negotiations — or who opens their ears to what China and India are saying right now — understands that there is a powerful moral argument for rich countries to cut their emissions first.

The strident demand for developing countries to start cutting now, after years in which leading rich countries have refused to act responsibly, is in fact the best way to destroy the delicate rapprochement between rich and poor countries that has painstakingly been built over the last three years. Kelly is either obtuse or malicious.

Secondly, Kelly praises Ross Garnaut for adopting a per capita convergence principle and chastises the “media-scientific-green position” (note the way he tries to discredit the science by squeezing scientists between the media and greens) for criticising this approach.

In truth, Garnaut lifted the contraction and convergence proposal lock stock and barrel from London’s Global Commons Institute, which has been pushing the idea hard since 1995. As a long-term goal, equal per capita emission entitlements has enjoyed strong support from greens for years. I have been advocating it since 1997. In his report, Garnaut gave virtually no acknowledgement of his debt to the GCI and has been writing and talking as if he invented it the idea, allowing Kelly to claim that greens oppose it.

Garnaut’s relentless self-promotion — which has seen him attach his name to the inquiry, the various reports, the book and even to model runs — suggests he wants to be remembered as the man who came up with the plan to save the world. Our saviour’s name appears 459 times in the final report.

In his recommendations, Garnaut has selected one of a range of possible paths that could see the world converge to equal per capita emissions. Surprise, surprise, it’s the one that sees Australia do less in percentage terms than anyone else. In a blunder in his draft report, Garnaut himself wrote that his “per capita approach protects Australia’s position”, a declaration that sounds horribly familiar.

In fact, Australia is in a position to do much more than other rich countries since we have not yet bothered to pick the low-hanging fruit in the form of energy efficiency measures.

If for a decade Australia has done less than everyone else, it is not unreasonable for the world now to expect us to do more. The Howard Government may have gone, but the nation lives on.

Besides, Australia’s high level of population growth — Garnaut’s rationale for a lenient target — is a choice we make through high levels of immigration. Why should we ask the rest of the world to exempt us from some of the costs of this policy (higher greenhouse gas emissions) while we enjoy the benefits?

Thirdly, Kelly says “the problem is now caused by the developing nations”. As an exercise in cheap blame shifting, this really takes the cake. If Kelly understood the first thing about global warming, he would know that it is caused by the increased concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, not by annual emissions.

After burning fossil fuels for two centuries, rich countries are responsible for some 75% of increased concentrations. It will be several more decades before developing countries account for half of the increased concentrations.

Yet Kelly thinks 200 years of pollution debt should now be wiped from the slate and all blame must be shifted to the inscrutable yet guilty Chinese, even though they each emit around one tenth as much as Australians.

Finally, as if to highlight his miserable understanding of the global ethics of climate change, Kelly wheels out the favourite whine of the Howard Government — we only account for around 1% of global emissions so what we do is irrelevant. Yes, and Kerry Packer accounted for less than 1% of Australia’s total tax revenue, so it did not matter that he avoided paying his taxes.

Kelly’s defense of Ross Garnaut, whose early reports stood out for their clear-eyed assessment of climate science, shows how Garnaut has been captured by climate conservatives who accept the science of global warming only reluctantly and want Australia do as little as possible about it. As a conventional economist, Garnaut has reverted to type.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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