Climate sceptics:

James Burke writes: Re. “Green groups cop blame for sceptics’ rise” (yesterday, item 13). Richard Denniss blames the environmental movement for failing to effectively fight climate change deniers, and he makes some good points about its missteps. But why should these polite boffins and naive do-gooders be left to fight alone against the fossil-fuel industry and its allies on the extreme right?

Persuading people and winning debates is supposed to be the job of politicians, and it’s the politicians who should be shouldering this burden. Particularly the Labor government, which continually tells us that it believes in the science, but refuses to condemn the deniers as either far-right wackos, ignorant people influenced by them, or cynics exploiting them for financial or political advantage.

In Saturday’s SMH, Mike Carlton made the connection between the denialists’ “One World Government” conspiracy theory and its anti-Semitic forebears. This link has long been obvious to those familiar with the history of conspiracy theories (for those who aren’t, I recommend Arthur Goldwag’s recent book The New Hate). Yet the ALP has steadfastly avoided mentioning this awkwardness, much less tried to make any political mileage out of it.

Why has Labor been so feeble?

Surely the cosy relationship between so many Labor players and the pro-denial News Limited is the prime suspect. A glance at the bylines on The Australian‘s opinion pages provides a sad insight into where contemporary Labor loyalties really lie.

Maybe all that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good people to delude themselves that the ALP will try and stop it.

George Crisp writes: In his article, Richard Denniss has made the very same mistake of which our media have been similarly guilty. It is not, and never should have been, the role of environmentalists to either deliver the current and available information to  the public, nor prosecute the case for climate science. This role is clearly one for  the media and other information services.

Instead there has been a “he said, she said” type approach to the area of climate science reporting, in the process “creating” the debate and inevitably the likely outcome of doubt and confusion. This is not some academic tussle between environmentalists and climate contrarians. This is likely to be the most serious and pervasive threat to society we have ever faced. It is a matter of utmost importance to all of us. It must be treated accordingly.

The correct response is for the media now, as it should have been all along, is to take the time and trouble to examine and relay the science as published by our climate scientists and peak scientific bodies.

Ken Blackman writes: Sure, the climate action movement has been part of this — but Richard Denniss seems to ignore the unusual cluster of characteristics already identified as involved here. These form the context of the growth of denialism and the sceptics.

There’s already the whole battery of research findings (especially in behavioural and social psychology, and world views and political inclination). The “time lag” between carbon-heavy behaviour and observed climate impact is close to unique in human experience, and produces all sorts of influences on response to the science.

And then there’s the observable prominence of Anglo-settler communities in the sceptics’ phalanx. Why is that? Is there something about our enculturation (in Australia and the US) that makes us more suspicious of “egg-head intellectual science boffins”, and more inclined to cheer rabid shock-jocks? The US and Australian media are known to be unusually dominated by right-leaning interests. Our education systems may even be failing in teaching the basic difference between fact and value.

And so on. Selling the need to get off the consumption/resource exploitation economic bandwagon, and work towards a less indulgent, no-growth world was never going to be easy. Just look at the hysteria here over a very modest carbon price.

Matt Davis writes: Richard Denniss’ article “Green groups cop blame for sceptics’ rise” should have more correctly been titled “Richard Denniss (executive director of The Australia Institute) blames green groups for sceptics’ rise.”

Or perhaps “Richard Denniss uses spurious and self contradictory arguments to kick the Environment Movement because it’s easier than reporting the truth.”

How about “When the biosphere collapses we won’t need sceptics anymore: Denniss”

Probably more appropriate to have left it out all together, considering how informative it was, how much it adds to the debate, and the quality of Denniss’ tautology riddled prose.

Tamas Calderwood writes: Richard Denniss has a stab at explaining the decline in climate hysteria and admits that “refusing to engage (sceptics) was clearly unsuccessful”, while “the strategic error that continues to haunt the environment movement is the decision to counter the sceptics message of ‘doubt’ with a message of ‘certainty’.”

These points ring true because the public needs lots of debate and reams of data if they are going to be convinced to radically change their lifestyles to avoid the apocalypse.  Refusing to engage the sceptic’s arguments makes it look like climate warriors have something to hide (like, you know, hiding the decline in the hockey-stick graph) and screaming absolute certainty in their science looks a bit silly when 50 million climate refugees fail to turn up, when the oceans don’t rise, Himalayan glaciers don’t melt and the atmospheric temperature plateaus for 14 years.

All this may be a “disaster” in Denniss’ view but I suspect the tactics of ignoring sceptics and screaming absolute scientific certainty were the only weapons the environmental lobby ever had. Given that observations show the climate is well within the bounds of previously documented natural variability, what else could they do?

Women in politics:

Katherine Stuart writes: Re. “‘Unproductive old cow’, say one-dimensional old men” (yesterday, item 3). Reading Bernard Keane’s article yesterday I was somewhat creepily reminded of a report I recently edited for a Swedish NGO called Kvinna till Kvinna (the Woman to Woman Foundation) entitled “Equal power, lasting peace” (see the website for this project).

While the cultural contexts may be different, this report highlights almost identical methods used to discourage or exclude women from participating in politics in the DR Congo, Nagorno-Karabakh, Iraq, Liberia and Bosnia-Herzegovina: pushing stereotypes of women as mothers, too naïve and/or delicate for the “rough and tumble” of politics, or failing that, as “loose women”.

While the latter two might still go home in the countries mentioned, you’d be hard pressed to get much of the Australian electorate to accept Julia Gillard as either a floosy or a shrinking violet. So it’s got to be the mother gig.

One is tempted to say in response to the sports jocks named and shamed in Keane’s article: “Is that all you’ve got?” If the cry is “Mum!” then these little boys must really be running scared.


Martin Gordon writes: Re. “Polling drives Labor’s push on gay marriage in Tasmania” (yesterday, item 9). Bruce Montgomery’s commentary was interesting, but the conclusion did not seem to align with the figures in the table and graph.

EMRS produces enormously high unsure votes relative to Newspoll and other pollsters. The facts from the table are latest ALP and Green votes of 17% each, a total of 34%, 38% for the Liberal Party, and 29% for others or unsure. Just on raw figures the Liberal Party is leading the combined ALP and Green total, and given those party votes are split and with Hare-Clark there is a lot of exhausting of votes, the Liberals seem better placed than Montgomery suggests.

Given that many of the minor party votes would prefer Liberal, what small advantage amongst them that would flow in preferences would advantage the Liberal Party. Most uncommitted voters would probably tend to flow with public opinion. All of which suggests a Liberal advantage.

If the Liberal Party vote around Tasmania is good in Bass and Braddon, and ahead of the Labor Green alliance generally, they would have to be favourites to win a majority, of 13 at least and likely more.

While the Tasmanian election is about a year and a half away, the figures are pretty gloomy for the Labor Green alliance. No amount of posturing will change that, I am sympathetic on gay rights, but the Commonwealth constitution makes it pretty clear that the marriage power lies in Canberra not Hobart.