The most depressing statistic of modern times is the one that tells us that well over 50 percent of adult Americans do not believe in evolution.
Or at least it was until last week, when Senator Nick Minchin, the Liberal leader in the senate, told Four Corners that a majority of his party room did not accept the reality of man-made climate change.
At least the Americans — well, some of them, anyway — have an excuse for their ignorance and perversity. In a great many places education standards are low and the general environment is bigoted and provincial. The evolution denialists can reasonably claim that they don’t know any better.
But Liberal members of the Australian federal parliament are among the most privileged groups in the world, with access to the best education money can buy. That a majority can comprehensively reject a scientific consensus that has been confirmed over more than two decades is almost beyond belief — until you remember that these people are first and foremost politicians for whom the truth has always been an optional extra.
What concerns them is political advantage, and rightly or wrongly they perceive their current advantage lies in opposing the government’s emissions trading scheme. They could, of course argue about the detail and seek to amend it, which is what the more rational members of the party are doing. But it is far easier just to reject the lot, to say it’s all a left wing conspiracy and a fraud cooked up by communist greenies intent on destroying the Australian way of life.
They take their cue from the right-wing commentariat headed by Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtsen and Miranda Devine, none of whom is inclined to let the facts get in the way of a good diatribe. Their loathing for the left in general and the Greens in particular is so obsessive that the mere suggestion that the Greens might support a position is sufficient for them to condemn it out of hand.
So in pursuing their vendetta against the reality of man-made climate change they are prepared to give aid and comfort, and most importantly media space, to every maverick dissenter who emerges from the woodwork. This utterly unmerited exposure is calculated to make it appear that the argument is still unsettled, there is still a sizeable and respectable body of scientists who doubt the validity of the climate change thesis.
There isn’t: the basic fact of man-made climate change is accepted by all but the fruitloops — and it would appear that Australians are among them. Britain’s new High Commissioner to Australia, Baroness Valerie Amos, commented rather tactlessly last week that she was surprised to find there was still debate about it in her new posting. She refrained from suggesting that she felt herself surrounded by slow learners, even primitives, but the point was clear.
Throughout the civilised world, man-made climate change is a scientific fact, up there with the law of gravity. Of course there is still debate about the details, but no serious student of the literature questions the role played by carbon emissions in accelerating global warming or the catastrophic consequences which will flow from it unless action mistaken.
Those who pretend otherwise can no longer plead ignorance, so their perversity must be put down either to cynical self-interest or to sheer bloody-mindedness. In the case of the recalcitrants in the Liberal Party room it is probably a combination of the two. So Kevin Rudd is perfectly entitled to excoriate them in the strongest possible terms, as he finally did in his Lowy lecture.
The pity is that he has left it so long. For most of the last two years the government has virtually ignored the debate on climate change in favour of pursuing its agenda on the Global Financial Crisis. This is understandable in the circumstances, but it has left a political vacuum to be filled by the denialists and as a result public opinion, once red hot for action on climate change, is now at best lukewarm. There is confusion over just what the government’s emissions trading scheme entails and doubts over its efficacy.
Rudd is now attempting to revive the sense of urgency which prevailed at the start of his term. But it may be too little too late. As, of course, may be whatever course of action is determined at Copenhagen next month. And if Copenhagen is a flop, Minchin and his troops will undoubtedly claim the failure as a justification for their do-nothing stance, and even as some sort of political victory. Those whom the gods seek to destroy, they first make mad.
Malcolm Turnbull is sane on climate change but when it comes to asylum seekers he appears just as unhinged as everyone else. His solution to the non-existent crisis is the reintroduction of some form of temporary protection visas — refugees who arrive by boat are to be given shelter for three years rather than permanent asylum.
This is silly on two levels. For starters, almost all of them eventually qualify for residency anyway – the waiting period is both cruel and pointless. But more importantly it just doesn’t work; when the Howard government introduced TPVs the boat numbers actually increased.
Still, it must be admitted that the Rudd government’s approach to the issue hasn’t been all that brilliant either. It now appears that face will be saved; the recalcitrants on the Oceanic Viking are beginning to trickle ashore in Indonesia, having been enticed, bribed, suborned and conned by promises of privileged five star treatment which Rudd assures us that they won’t get.
Some are still holding out for a better offer, which will surely be forthcoming. What about a Christmas hamper, a Kevin 07 T shirt and an autographed pin up of Julia Gillard or Wayne Swan, according to orientation and preference? That should get them moving, one way or another.