(Image: EPA/Szilard Koszticsak)

Among developed nations, why is Australia one of only two countries to have such a shameful record on climate change? And why have the brutal and divisive politics of climate change managed to topple three of our prime ministers? 

For several years, award-winning journalist Marian Wilkinson has been investigating the relationship between climate-sceptic politicians, business leaders and their allies. For her latest book The Carbon Club, she has conducted scores of interviews with players on both sides in order to expose the truth behind Australia’s inaction on climate change.

In this very readable book, released on Monday, Wilkinson has revealed many new details of the international campaign to undermine climate science and the urgency of the climate crisis. 

No book on this topic is complete without an analysis of one of our most sceptical politicians, Tony Abbott. In 2010, with Julia Gillard in the Lodge, Abbott’s shadow parliamentary secretary and chief attack dog Cory Bernardi was let out to stop the carbon tax. 

Bernardi teamed up with young libertarian Tim Andrews, who had trained with the Koch Brothers’ internship in the US. 

“The two helped create the ‘people’s revolt’ against the climate policy, using the power of social media and the tactics of the Tea Party movement that was gaining ground in the US Republican party. 

“One of the driving ideas behind the campaign was to exploit the anger and disaffection among ordinary voters towards politicians,” Wilkinson writes. 

Andrews had spent 2008 working with America’s most successful political operator Grover Norquist, who founded Americans for Tax Reform. He famously praised the role of “throat-slitters” in politics – activists who could get things done. 

Throughout 2011, the two men brought together more than 20 organisations, including Christian conservative lobby the National Civic Council, the Christian Democrat Party, the Young Liberals, the Liberal Students Federation, shooters, farmers, the Lavoisier Group, the Libertarian Party of Australia and a host of fringe climate-sceptic groups. United, they created a broad anti-carbon tax campaign. 

The “people’s revolt” against Gillard and the emissions trading scheme passed by Kevin Rudd would fundamentally fracture conservative politics in Australia, fostering splinter parties and deepening divisions in the Liberals, Wilkinson writes. 

“It would destroy any chance of uniting the major political parties to face the enormous challenge of climate change.”

In the final chapters of the book, the author looks to the future. Due to a COVID-related fall in demand for energy, 2020 is due to record the largest-ever fall in global emissions. However, scientists have pointed out that this would have to be repeated every year till 2030 to keep global temperature rises to well below 2 degrees Celsius, she writes. 

“For over two decades, Australia’s politicians have been fighting the climate ward fuelled by the carbon club. But despite the political carnage, the science of climate change has not been defeated. The carbon club is breaking up as the climate crisis becomes more urgent. The next decade will determine whether the country and its leaders can rise to the challenge that lies ahead.”

Marian Wilkinson will discuss her new book at a Crikey Talks event for Inside Access members next month. Visit our Inside Access page to upgrade

Peter Fray

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