Upon reading Clive Hamilton’s comments in yesterday’s Crikey (Hamilton: denying the coming climate Holocaust, Item 3), I opened up my copy of Martin Gilbert’s ‘The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy’ at random to page 230 where I discovered this passage:

A further fifteen thousand German Jews were sent to Kovno, principally from Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Breslau and Frankfurt.

An eye-witness in Kovno, Dr Aharon Peretz, later recalled how, as the deportees were being led along the road which went past the ghetto, towards the Ninth Fort, they could be heard asking the guards, “Is the camp still far?”

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They had been told they were being sent to a work camp. But, Peretz added, “We know were that road led. It led to the Ninth Fort, to the prepared pits.”

But first, the Jews from Germany were kept for three days in underground cellars, with ice-covered walls, and without food or drink. Only then, frozen and starving, were they ordered to undress, taken to the pits, and shot.

The challenge for Clive Hamilton is to explain how an argument over appropriate policy for the future is equivalent to the Holocaust where millions of people were deliberately put to death. The Jews and the Gypsies and the homos-xuals and the clergymen and the trade-unionists and others of Europe did not die through inaction, but rather they were deliberately and systematically hunted down, and murdered in what can only be described as an industrial scale slaughter.

Hamilton can make as many fancy-pants arguments he likes about ‘consequentialism’ and what-not. To equate climate change scepticism (however defined — Kevin Rudd has three different definitions) with the Holocaust is the mark of a moral dwarf. It is a good thing that Hamilton speaks of morality and the science of climate change, because it turns out there is more to climate change than just the science.

Climate change involves scientific questions, economic questions, technological questions and, yes, moral questions too. Unfortunately we run out of the science very early in the piece. Even if we assume, for argument sake, that the IPCC version of the science is correct, that still does not take us very far. So imagine we know with more than 90 percent confidence that anthropogenic global warming is occurring, what next? We have exhausted our scientific knowledge already.

The questions, “Should we do anything?” “What should we do?”, and “How should we do it?” remain unanswered. These are not scientific questions at all. In the first instance there are economic questions, “How much will doing ‘something’ cost?”

Perhaps it would be cheaper to do nothing and adapt. Perhaps not. We simply do not know. The Australian Treasury modelling does not answer that question; indeed it doesn’t model the actual policy under consideration.

But Hamilton invites us to consider ‘morality’. So let’s raise some of those questions. Who should pay the costs of fixing the climate change problem assuming that it can be fixed? Perhaps the industrialised world; after all it is they who first caused the problem. But it is the developing world that will benefit most from solving the problem, so perhaps they should pay. On the other hand, it is previous generations that caused the problem and future generations that will benefit, so why should current generations bear all the costs?

That suggests that the costs of climate change abatement should be financed through some or other long-lived debt instrument that will transfer the burden (as well as the benefits) to future generations. Should costs be apportioned on an aggregate basis or a per capita basis? And so on.

There are heaps of unanswered questions and issues beyond the science that so excites the commentariat. All we really know is that the Australian government and other world governments want some sort of cap and trade scheme, and this is because of the science.  What is lacking is a discussion of the issues beyond the science. This important consideration has been lost in the name calling.

In simple terms, the science makes up a very small component of our decision making.

All the other aspects of the decision have not been adequately debated, and have not been well explained to the community, and labelling doubters and dissenters as mass-murdering war criminals is not appropriate in a democracy.

Sinclair Davidson is a professor in the School of Economics, Finance and Marketing at RMIT University and a senior fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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