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Jul 15, 2014

Climate sceptic HQ: undercover at Ian Plimer's book launch

Ian Plimer's latest book argues manmade climate change is not real and environmentalists are damaging the planet. Crikey infiltrated the book launch to see Plimer's fans in action.

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If I were an estate planner, I would definitely be sponsoring Professor Ian Plimer. Judging by the age of the audience at the launch of his latest book last night, they must need some help with their wills. And while they can’t help being old — it comes to us all — I’m still not sure why they were so angry. Surrounded by about 70 choleric, red-faced elderly blokes (there were only three women), I was terrified that one of them was going to have a stroke.

Not for Greens argues man-made climate change is a hoax, challenges the need for renewable energy, and argues environmentalists are damaging the planet. Yesterday and Friday Crikey published detailed critiques of the book by a climate scientist and renewable energy expert. Needless to say, this sixth outing from the University of Adelaide’s geology professor (he has no qualifications in climate science) gets a drubbing in those reviews.

Last night’s launch was held at the Tattersall’s Club in Sydney and hosted by the Sydney Mining Club, of which Plimer, who sits on several mining company boards, is a member. Crikey infiltrated the event. The evening felt like a Baptist revival meeting, with the 68-year-old academic as the high priest. Like a preacher, he related a long series of anecdotes about fighting the common enemies — the Greens, environmentalists, anyone who believes in climate change — to which the audience would respond with boos and jeers. But then he told us how he vanquished his foes with superior oratory and real science. Hooray, Ian will save us!

The content was immaterial, of course, as that audience has long since taken a position on this issue and is now untroubled by the facts. And by the time climate change has really taken hold most of them will be dead.

One audience member asked about getting Ian’s books into schools, complaining that she had been unable to get a previous tome onto the curriculum at prestigious eastern suburbs boys’ school Cranbrook. Plimer replied, with relish, that he had been banned from much more important places than Cranbook — in fact, he had been invited to speak at Buckingham Palace and then had his invitation withdrawn — and had the letter to prove it.

He had rewritten a previous book, Heaven and Earth, for younger readers, calling it How to Get Expelled from School, he said, and was considering turning the current book into an audio book for his mother, who was going blind. “But not blind to the truth!” an audience member exclaimed.

“Another man suggested that if Ian wanted to get some favourable media attention, he should go onto Michael Parkinson and ‘come out’ (huge laughs)”

Schools were unreceptive to his ideas, he complained, adding that universities were “toxic”. When he was at the University of Melbourne, he and Geoffrey Blainey were the only two conservatives, he said.

Plimer told us he had addressed Queensland’s Liberal National Party conference in Brisbane last weekend, telling them that they should fund a Climate Cooling Institute so that all the climate scientists would change sides (that got a good laugh).

One man asked about how to get Ian’s message out to the general public, to which another suggested going on to the website of the NSW Minerals Council, where you can sign up to become a “Voice for Mining”. The site also allows you to send emails of support for the mining industry to your MP,  which I assume is a digital version of “I Dig and I Vote”. This audience member then said he’d sent several of these emails to broadcaster Alan Jones, who’d had the temerity to oppose mining in the Hunter Valley. This particular remark totally threw me — what? Wouldn’t this audience love Alan Jones? If radio shock jocks are now the enemy then I’m going to need a white board.

Another man suggested that if Ian wanted to get some favourable media attention, he should go onto Michael Parkinson and “come out” — prompting Plimer to say that that was a “that is a line I will not cross” (huge laughs).

The only time the good professor looked put out was when one of the audience asked the wrong question — “aren’t there some advantages to a warmer climate, what about more wheat being grown in Canada” — and received a swift put down. But the climate isn’t warming, he said sternly.

There was then a bit of a debate about how their views were being stifled (being queried on your dubious scientific theories is now a freedom of speech issue). Plimer suggested contacting the Institute of Public Affairs, which “definitely punches above its weight”.

He also said that he had been on a plane recently with Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young (sustained booing), who was not only wearing leather shoes but also carrying a crocodile-skin handbag. While this seems unlikely — crocodile skin bags cost an arm and a leg, and not just for the reptile — I did ask her about it on Twitter and am awaiting a reply. If the Greens are now saving sharks and wearing crocodiles, then that’s the sort of policy inconsistency that the IPA needs to investigate.

The questions were interrupted while someone replenished Plimer’s drink — it was never a dry argument — and he related the story of having a very long lunch in Kalgoorlie. Stumbling out onto the street at 8pm, he had been assisted by the local Uniting Church minister, he said, who persuaded him to donate the royalties of the book to the church. Which does make Crikey’s purchase of several copies (for its reviewers) slightly more bearable.

Although under strict instructions from Crikey management to bail up the good professor and quiz him, feeling like the last Catholic in Belfast, my nerve failed and I slunk out into the night. There are many things I will do for the Crikey readers but outing myself to 70 angry pensioners at an Ian Plimer book launch isn’t one of them. Call it Voiceless for Mining.

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