On Friday, in a speech at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd described climate change sceptics and what he called “deniers” as reckless gamblers who were playing with the future of Australia’s children and grandchildren. Rudd said they were radicals not conservatives, and were driven by vested interests.

Malcolm Turnbull labelled the speech “loopy”, here’s what two Crikey contributors had to say:

Rudd’s rhetoric on climate sceptics was statesmanlike

Tony Kevin, author of Crunch Time, writes:

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The PM’s Lowy Institute speech on Friday is highly significant in Australia’s climate-change policy debate. It is much more than an attempt to move public attention away from his problems on boat people. It is a robust attempt to recapture Rudd’s credentials on climate change, which have been slipping in informed environmental circles.

The speech is unprecedentedly strong in its language denouncing denialism … It clearly took the Opposition by surprise.

Both Labor and Coalition MPs had got used to the convention that to attack climate sceptics and deniers on public record was off limits — that this view of climate change was too politically powerful in electorates to criticise.

Both leaders have been tiptoeing around climate denialism.

This is why Rudd’s speech was remarkable in its force and why Turnbull (who probably privately agrees with its thrust) was quick to denounce it as “loopy”‘ and Abbott even more scathing. Rudd has rattled the teacups of the cosy convention that had grown up in the major parties to go soft on denialism.

Rudd knows that Copenhagen is not going to produce a treaty. There will be great disappointment and disillusion among environmentalists when Copenhagen fails. Rudd needs a new policy focus on climate change … and he is here laying the public groundwork for what may be important policy changes in 2010 — such as a less total reliance on a market-based ETS. He may be considering a more aggressive direct government approach to reducing carbon emissions. He knows that the 5% ETS is widely regarded by anyone with serious interest in the debate as a joke.

This speech — coming on the heels of Gore’s important new book — may be testing the water for such potential policy changes.

Maybe by this speech, Rudd is laying the groundwork for a real differentiation from the Opposition on climate change. To the public, they were beginning to look like Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

In the context of a possible double dissolution in early 2010, Rudd needs to recapture the moral high ground on climate change — and he needs to make the opposition look like denialist dinosaurs.

Thus, the Lowy speech. It is clever politics, and it is statesmanlike as well. It opens the door to more serious and responsible government policy rethinking next year, and this is to be welcomed.

Is Rudd the worst kind of climate sceptic?

Rooted blogger Tim Hollo ain’t buying it:

Kevin Rudd’s speech to the Lowy Institute last Friday was one of the most extraordinary pieces of rhetorical hypocrisy this country has seen in recent years.

Coming only days after he had been singled out by African negotiators at the Barcelona pre-Copenhagen talks as one of the leaders whose action does not match his political manifesto, you have to admire our PM’s gall for blaming the lack of global and domestic action on sceptics who, frankly, are not in a position of real power. Sure, the sceptics make a lot of noise. Sure, they make life annoying and difficult. But a real leader would stand up, sweep them aside, and do what it takes.

Unless, of course, that leader is also a sceptic — of a sort.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the different kinds of climate-change sceptics in our debate. The PM joined the fray in his Lowy Institute speech, defining three kinds of sceptics as follows:

The opponents of action on climate change fall into one of three categories.

  • First, the climate science deniers.
  • Second, those who pay lip service to the science and the need to act on climate change but oppose every practicable mechanism being proposed to bring about that action.
  • Third, those in each country who believe their country should wait for others to act first.

As far as it goes, that is quite a useful analysis. But it leaves out the fourth, and, in my opinion, by far the most dangerous category of sceptic: those who profess to take the science seriously, seek to hold the moral and scientific high ground, and then utterly fail to take the kind of action the science requires.

Those who claim to care but do too little are far more worthy of scorn and derision than those who profess not to care at all.

Read the rest at Rooted and join the conversation.

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As a Crikey subscriber I always feel more informed and able to think more critically about issues and current affairs – even when they don’t always reflect my own political viewpoint or lived experience.


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