Who has been most responsible in recent times for preventing progress in the reduction of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions? The Dirty Dozen — which I originally named in 2006 and updated in 2009 — are the people who have most effectively denied the science of climate change, lied about its implications, lobbied to water down laws, or provided cover for weak policy.
They are doing most to help turn Australia from a reluctant leader into a proud laggard in responding to the most dire threat to the world’s future. Some are well-known — even if their links and tactics are not — while others do their dirty work behind the scenes. Here is my Dirty Dozen for 2014, in no particular order …
Where to start with The Australian’s editor-in-chief? How about here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here or, if you can’t be bothered clicking on all of those, look here or here.
Just as his reporters repeatedly misrepresent the science of climate change and blacken the names of eminent scientists, so Mitchell’s opinion editors are always willing to turn over their pages to whatever disinformation is being peddled by the likes of Ian Plimer, Bob Carter and Bjorn Lomborg, plus blowhards like Maurice Newman and George Pell. Even the loopy Lord Christopher Monckton gets space.
Otherwise-good journalists at The Australian allow themselves to be sucked into Mitchell’s vortex of paranoia about all things green. At the heart of his relentless campaign of anti-science and debunking of measures to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions is a visceral hatred of environmentalism, especially the Australian Greens, whom he wants to “destroy”.
In 2009 the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, the oil and gas lobby group, awarded Mitchell the JN Pierce Award for Media Excellence “for leading the newspaper’s coverage of climate change policy”, which proves that the greenhouse mafia does have a sense of humour. As a sign of his endurance, Mitchell’s is the only name to appear in all three Dirty Dozens.
What to say that everyone does not already know? Environmentalism was not around when his spiritual mentor was wielding his influence, but Bob Santamaria would have feared and hated it. His spirit lives on in the magazine he ran, News Weekly, which now reports on “how the globalist powers are using environmental scares to achieve the same ends that the older socialists could not quite pull off”.
This is Abbott’s real opinion. He has never changed from the ex-seminarian who turned up at the University of Sydney as Santa’s bully boy, but if he ever wavered, his two closest mentors — George Pell (“the Greens are sweet camouflaged poison”) and John Howard (the “agnostic” who launched Ian Plimer’s latest piece of anti-science) — would soon return him to the straight and narrow.
For too long the presenter of ABC Radio’s Sunday morning program Australia All Over has flown under the radar. When not chatting about the weather in Nuriootpa, Macca’s huge cohort of two million listeners (enough to make other shock jocks weep) is prone to debunking climate science and ridiculing renewable energy. He draws in his salt-of-the-earth listeners with a kind of folksy bush wisdom that has little time for eggheads with PhDs in atmospheric physics. Periodically, listeners complain to the ABC about McNamara’s “pot shots” at global warming and his penchant for inviting on his right-wing mates. If ABC management wants the definitive response to conservative politicians who complain that its coverage of climate change is biased (because it reports real science), it should point to Australia All Over. Macca beats Amanda Vanstone hands down as the ABC’s “right-wing Phillip Adams”.
But shouldn’t McNamara’s place among the Dirty Dozen be taken by Andrew Blot? Compared with McNamara’s numerous and impressionable listeners, Bolt’s 300,000 readers are beyond persuasion because they have already drunk the denier’s Kool-Aid. It’s true that Bolt’s impact has been multiplied by the activities of the keyboard militia of aggro deniers who fire off volleys of abuse to the “warmists” he rails against. However, most warmists now understand that the militia makes a lot of unpleasant noises but only fires blanks. The influence of Bolt on the landscape of climate denial has been exhausted.
Climate science deniers arrange themselves on a spectrum of respectability. Those who don’t want to be seen to be swivel-eyed lunatics associate with Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation and critics like Roger Pielke Jr. (which is why Pielke hated being named by Foreign Policy as a top “skeptic”). At the other end are those like Gina Rinehart, who think Christopher Monckton is a man to be listened to. So she pays for the loopy Lord to come to Australia and thrusts him onto Notre Dame University to deliver the Lang Hancock Memorial Lecture.
Rinehart is every inch her father’s daughter. An implacable red-hater, Lang Hancock wrote “capitalism means life — environmentalism means death”. To counter their lies one should “aim at their jugular vein”, which is presumably what Rinehart likes in Monckton when he put a quote from respected economist Ross Garnaut next to a giant swastika and said “Heil Hitler”.
Rinehart is a major funder of the Institute of Public Affairs, the primary conduit of denier talking points in Australia. The IPA’s 70th birthday party last year was a love-in for the nation’s most powerful climate deniers; Murdoch, Pell, Bolt, Rinehart, Abbott, all co-ordinated by IPA executive director (and former Rio Tinto employee) John Roskam.
If the Minerals Council decided to replace a hard man (Mitch Hooke) with a persuader (Brendan Pearson), the Australian Industry Group has gone the other way, replacing Heather Ridout with Innes Willox. Willox has made himself into the enforcer of the greenhouse mafia, pushing the hardest line against measures to limit emissions. He is said to draw out the worst in other industry lobbyists, who breathe a sigh of relief when he leaves the room.
Willox was a well-liked journo and chief of staff at The Age who worked his way, via a PR job with Singapore Airlines, into being Alexander Downer’s chief of staff, leaving his former colleagues mystified. In last year’s election campaign he mimicked Tony Abbott’s “scrap the tax” crusade.
Plimer is the chief ideologist of climate denial in Australia. The geologist is too busy to have his ideas on climate science published in refereed journals, but his 2009 book Heaven & Earth sold 40,000 copies, a publishing success for right-wing Catholic boutique publisher Connor Court and a sign of the appetite for anti-science. Described as “largely a collection of contrarian ideas and conspiracy theories that are rife in the blogosphere”, the tome sits on a scarily large number of bookshelves in Parliament House. Plimer is closely linked to the IPA and to the thoroughly nasty Heartland Institute and is close to Gina Rinehart, who has put him on the boards of some of her companies, including Roy Hill Holdings.
Plimer’s 2011 book — How to Get Expelled From School (launched by John Howard and mailed by the IPA to hundreds of schools) — listed 101 questions for sceptical students to ask their “warmist” teachers, i.e. those who respect science. The federal Department of Climate Change (abolished by Abbott) prepared a response that thoroughly debunked his claims in words a child can understand. How long before Environment Minister Greg Hunt is instructed to have this demolition of Plimer taken down?
*Clive Hamilton is professor of public ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra and author of Requiem for a Species: Why we resist the truth about climate change.