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Nov 24, 2009



Nov 17, 2009


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?”

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.


Nov 16, 2009


Climate sceptics resent being called deniers because of the odium associated with Holocaust revisionism.

Even critics of the sceptics are careful to distance themselves from the implication that they are comparing climate denialism with Holocaust denialism for fear of being seen to trivialise the Holocaust by suggesting some sort of moral equivalence.

Judgments about moral equivalence depend on the ethical standpoint one adopts.

For consequentialists the morality of an action is judged by its outcomes. For those who adopt this ethical standpoint, any assessment of the consequences of the two forms of truth-rejection would conclude that climate deniers deserve greater moral censure than Holocaust deniers because their activities are more dangerous.

If the David Irvings of the world were to succeed, and the public rejected the mountain of evidence for the Holocaust, then the consequences would be a rewriting of history and a probable increase in anti-Semitism.

If the climate deniers were to succeed, and stopped the world responding to the mountain of evidence for human-induced global warming, then hundreds of millions of mostly impoverished people around the world would die from the effects of climate change.

They will die from famine, flood and disease caused by our unwillingness to act. The Stern report provides some sobering estimates: an additional 30-200 million people at risk of hunger with warming of only 2-3°C; an additional 250-500 million at risk if temperatures rise above 3°C; some 70-80 million more Africans exposed to malaria; and an additional 1.5 billion exposed to dengue fever.

Instead of dishonouring the deaths of six million in the past, climate deniers risk the lives of hundreds of millions in the future. Holocaust deniers are not responsible for the Holocaust, but climate deniers, if they were to succeed, would share responsibility for the enormous suffering caused by global warming.

It is a ghastly calculus, yet it is worth making because the hundreds of millions of dead are not abstractions, mere chimera until they happen. We know with a high degree of certainty that if we do nothing they will die.

But not everyone adopts a consequentialist ethic. An alternative ethical stance is to judge climate deniers not by the effects of what they do but by the rightness of their activities (a so-called duty ethic) or by their character and motives (a virtue ethic).

From a duty ethic position, the moral obligation climate deniers are violating is to the truth. Here there is a moral difference between denying the commission of a great crime, for which there are whole libraries of documentation, and rejecting the overwhelming evidence from science in which uncertainties nevertheless persist. This suggests that climate deniers are less culpable.

From a virtue ethic standpoint, moral culpability depends on motives. Attempting in good faith to uncover the facts is a good thing, which is why we regard genuine scepticism as healthy. Denialism is not scepticism but a refusal to accept the facts, the rejection of all of the evidence.

We think of Holocaust deniers as being immoral because we suspect them of being motivated by anti-Semitism or a desire for political advancement through stirring up racial hatred.

We think of climate deniers as being immoral because we suspect them of being motivated, not by truth-seeking, but by political goals, a desire for funds from fossil-fuel companies or personal aggrandisement.

Those who adopt a duty or virtue ethic would probably feel more personal antipathy towards a David Irving than towards an Ian Plimer or Andrew Bolt. There is something especially repugnant, even evil, about Holocaust denial. Denying or covering up a monstrous crime makes Holocaust deniers somehow complicit in it.

Better to have your daughter marry a climate sceptic, who is perhaps motivated by contrarianism, foolishness or self-importance rather than wickedness.

If, like me, you adopt a virtue or duty ethic, but one tempered by consideration of the consequences of an act, climate deniers are less immoral than Holocaust deniers, although they are undoubtedly more dangerous.

However, as the casualties from a warming world mount over the next decades, the denialism of those who continue to reject the scientific evidence will come to be seen as more and more iniquitous. So the answer to the question of whether climate denialism is morally worse than Holocaust denialism is no, at least, not yet.

Clive Hamilton is the Greens candidate in the Higgins by-election.

Comments & corrections

Apr 24, 2009



CRIKEY: In yesterday’s item “Fawcett to sue Tele over those ‘Hanson’ pics“, we reported that Jamie Fawcett had sued The Sunday Telegraph last year for defamation. In fact, he sued rival tabloid the Sun Herald.

Drinking to their deaths on Anzac Day:

Paul Donaldson, Group Manager VB, writes: Re. “Drinking to their deaths on Anzac Day” (yesterday, item 7). A lot has been written on the Raise a Glass Appeal in recent days calling into question the appropriateness of a link between alcohol and the Appeal beneficiaries, Legacy and the RSL. It’s not surprising, as we had similar discussions and concerns over the twelve months that the Appeal developed.

The role of alcohol in the Australian community is a complex one — both culturally and historically. VB was with our troop rations during virtually every conflict Australia has been involved in and yes, some returned serviceman turned to alcohol abuse in the aftermath of the national service we value so highly. We at VB acknowledge, as our partners at Legacy and the RSL do, that alcohol misuse and abuse is a serious problem, among the general community as well as amongst veterans.

We are saddened by stories of alcohol abuse, and as an organisation work hard to encourage responsible consumption in everything we do. We also believe that enjoying a few responsible beers and sharing stories about old mates is a valued tradition in RSL Clubs and hotels throughout Australia. And we do not feel it is out of place for Australia’s favourite beer to acknowledge the service of those fallen by making a significant and long-term contribution.

The Raise a Glass Appeal is not based on selling one extra case of beer, but on VB contributing $1 for every case of beer that we would sell regardless, in order to support current and ex-service men and women. In addition, we have had incredible support from the general public with a significant number of donations being made already, as well as contributions from our suppliers, customers and staff.

As of yesterday morning, this appeal has already raised over $1.1m and every cent of that goes directly to the understated work of Australia’s two leading ex-service organisations and that is why we believe so much in this initiative.

“War weary” writes: I wonder how many thousands of us, or even millions if you start counting the grandchildren, there are out there in Australia who feel the same as Paul Mitchell and me? I want nothing to do with commemorating the destruction to mind, body and soul that is war. For my father too, who served close to the full six years in WW2, war was a brain-altering experience.

I have two photos of him from that time: in one taken just before his departure he looks like any other young bloke of his era; and in the second, taken barely 18 months later, he has the gaunt, harrowed face of a man at least twice his age. He survived not one but numerous life-threatening incidents, each of which alone could have led to post-traumatic stress disorder — a condition he never fully recovered from to his death.

My father didn’t drink to drown his terrors. He put a tight lid on them and felt largely ashamed of his inability to keep that lid on. “I’m just not tough enough,” were some of his final words. Ours was a home strictly controlled and dominated by my father’s chronic and largely untreated anxiety and hyper-vigilance, and the necessity to keep him functioning at all costs so that he could earn our keep. It was a different, more subtle kind of violence than that of the alcoholic, but no less destructive.

As a Lebanese friend (born when the war in Lebanon started and knowing nothing else until well into his teens) remarked to me once: “It sounds like there was a war going on inside your home, whereas for me the war was always outside.”

My mother was granted a war widow’s pension after his death — but I felt moved to write a long letter to the Department of Veteran Affairs at the time, describing in summary the damage to all of us, his children. Where was the help for us? Each of us suffered long-term psychological damage, leading to enormous difficulties in establishing and sustaining intimate relationships. All of us have had to fund our own psychological help over many years. Not least this meant that our capacities to contribute positively to our communities were negatively impacted.

While Veterans Affairs and the military today clearly do recognize and attempt to mitigate the psychological damage of war, the grim reality and perniciousness of it have not yet permeated our cultural consciousness. Otherwise, how could such an insensitive piece of advertising have been endorsed by Legacy?

The Westgate Bridge:

Dave Noonan, National Secretary of the Construction Division of the CFMEU, writes: Re. “From internet to lunch: CFMEU bikie rumour takes wing” (Wednesday, item 11). The mythical bikies at the Westgate Bridge community protest is yet another neo-con job. It seems bikies have become the weapons of mass destruction of Australian IR disputes!

The attempt to link bikie gangs with the CFMEU shines the light on a new front emerging in the neo cons’ attempt to maintain moral panic around unions in the construction industry. So what’s really happening at the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne? Radical elements of the employer lobby are amping up pressure on the Rudd Government to walk away from its promise to the Australian people to review the operations of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, the secretive body with extraordinary coercive powers set up by the Howard Government to bust the CFMEU.

In this context a fabricated rumour from a disreputable blogger, becomes “news” — pumped up to the moment the Victorian Police Commissioner has to deny it. And in denying it, gives every media outlet the opportunity to run what was never a story. So a difficult dispute, made all the more intractable because its played out under the vestiges of Howard’s failed IR laws, becomes another reason to lock up your daughters and run the union out of town.

Bikies are scary and their “crimes” are self-evident. Far easier to run this line, than to explain to the public why an employer should be able to force its workers to accept an agreement they have had no say in, significantly reduces their wages and will reduce safety on a construction site that has seen many deaths in the past.

Rudd’s recession performance:

David Hand writes: Re. “Labor’s GFC: The hare, the tortoise and Father Christmas” (yesterday, item 15). It was refreshing to read a political comment from someone other than the Kevin Rudd Cheer Squad in Crikey. A cross section of views, whether or not you agree with them, will broaden the publication’s appeal and make it more credible. I share Rowen Cross’s view that the next election will be fought more on the Government’s record and less on the Coalition’s performance. Current government policies will work through and by late 2010 the electorate will have a view about how effective they’ve been. It is what voters think then that will decide the election.

The coalition’s positions today are clearly aimed at the next election and not the next Newspoll. This idea that Turnbull is opposing aspects of the stimulus packages to appear strong and combative in the face of internal party pressure fails to recognise the possibility that he might actually believe the policies such as $900 hand outs are a mistake and fails to consider the possibility that he might be right.

When unemployment goes over 10%, staying on message that “The recession is not our fault” will have less impact as people start to ask, “But how well did you manage it?”

Ross Copeland writes: Rowen Cross says Labor won’t be able to blame the Coalition for the recession by the time of the next election. This is no doubt true but then the Coalition won’t be able to blame Labor for the GFC either. I have no doubt the Coalition will give it a shot but this will only further diminish their credibility. Even if Peter Costello was PM (perish the thought) he would not be able to cushion Australia from the effects of a world wide recession.

If Costello was really such a hot shot why hasn’t he been snapped up the IMF, the World Bank, the UN or one of the major international banks? If Rowen really thinks the Coalition (regardless of who is the leader) will be able to slide back into power in 2010 on the coat tails of the GFC he is seriously underestimating the Australian voter.

Alan Lander writes: A hedge funds lawyer of all people pontificating critically on the attempts of those trying to get us out of the position his mob put us in. This is even more ridiculous than the recent “Sydney lawyer” giving us sage advice. What’s next … Howard on the plight of refugees?

Rundle in the jungle:

Geoff Russell writes: Re. “Rundle: Rudd’s hero was a people smuggler” (yesterday, item 6). I just wonder if the people being smuggled out of Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere knew the music of Chopin or Liszt, would we treat them so poorly? Oskar Schindler was a people smuggler too. Of course, whenever somebody like Schindler sets out to move people out of harm’s way, others will provide services for a profit. Of course, should this latter group decide to come to Australia, their acumen will see them quickly employed … probably as financial advisors.

Peter Johns writes: In his article yesterday Guy Rundle refers to Howard’s “Hayekian Brutopia” I’m afraid that sailed a bit over my head. Is this what he meant?…

The Republican debate:

Thomas Flynn, Executive Director, Australians For Constitutional Monarchy, writes: Re. “An Australian head of state is what the people want” (yesterday, item 20). The by-line to Greg Barns article reminds us that he “ran the 1999 Republic Referendum Campaign for Malcolm Turnbull”. Sometimes these days it seems that republicans forget there was a referendum at all.

In 1998 there was a Constitutional Convention evenly divided between appointed and elected delegates. Republicans held an absolute majority. The convention was summoned to determine if there should be a referendum and, if so, what model should be put to the Australian people. The monarchist delegates abstained from the vote on the model — so that it was untainted by any spoiler vote. This was the model preferred by a majority of republican experts and this was the model rejected by the Australian people in all the states in the referendum of 1999.

The republicans had oodles of celebrities, masses of cash and pretty much every newspaper and media outlet on their side. And they still lost. If the vote had gone the other way would we now be discussing the possibility of changing back? I think not. In that case why should republicans get a second bite of the cherry? The last referendum alone cost some $60 million according to the AEC. The Australian people have never said yes in a referendum to something to which they have already said no. What would be the point of trying again at such vast expense?

Barns mercifully spares us from any stupid assertion that John Howard tricked the republicans and that somehow the referendum was grossly unfair (see the aforementioned media/celebrity/financial advantages). The same alas cannot be said of Tim Hollo who asserts (Thursday, item 23) “John Howard’s undermining of the referendum took the wind out of the sails of the republic push in a way that is deeply unfortunate”.

How precisely did John Howard undermine the referendum? It was the first time in Australian history that a referendum went forward to bring about a change which the Prime Minister of the day did not want. Furthermore of the appointed members of the constitutional convention (the one that brought forward the model which lost, lest we all forget) some were ex officio (state Premiers and the like) and some were directly in the gift of the Prime Minister. In appointing delegates to the convention, John Howard appointed a majority of republicans.

This favouring of republicanism by holding a referendum and by putting republican delegates in positions of control is supposed to be “undermining the republic push”. I’d hate to see what Howard’s support for republicanism would have looked like.

Abortion laws:

Ben McGinnes writes: Re. “Queensland’s ‘antiquated and repressive’ abortion laws” (Wednesday, item 4). Last year a very good friend of mine was spending time in Queensland and became pregnant. She has a number of medical conditions which make it unlikely she would be able to carry to term and neither did she want to. She went to one of the hospitals in the area and was actually refused any information regarding abortions in Queensland or how to obtain them because the doctor she saw in the emergency department of that hospital refused to provide it.

The doctor cited their Christian faith as the reason for refusing to provide information or treatment. My friend ended up calling me in desperation to find the details of appropriate Queensland facilities from organisations here in Melbourne (Marie Stopes International was the answer, by the way). I was able to provide my friend with the information and a legal abortion was performed, though I do not believe there was any follow up in Queensland, either physically or through counselling.

It seemed to me at the time, however, that there is a strong influence of religious belief of doctors in Queensland conflicting with their duty of care to patients. My friend was told she would have to see someone else, but was not even told who would be willing to talk about it let alone offer the service.

In this type of environment it is unsurprising to me that the young couple currently facing charges were probably unaware of the options available to them in Queensland.


Marcus Vernon writes: Why is Mungo MacCallum (yesterday, comments) allowed to blatantly get away with factually incorrect assertions under the guise of informed comment? Is it really because he thinks no-one would dare challenge him because he is, well, Mungo? In claiming yesterday that former Liberal Party federal director Lynton Crosby said after the 2001 election that Tampa was worth “perhaps 10 per cent” to the Coalition vote, Mungo has verballed Crosby and misled Crikey readers.

In his lengthy post-election analysis at the National Press Club on 21 November 2001, Crosby said polling had rated illegal entrants/boat people as an issue of sixth-order importance for voters, well behind loyalty to the Liberal government, economic management and the respective leadership of both major parties. On Tampa specifically, he said: “It reinforced an existing perception rather than creating a new one.”

Yes, Crosby said that about 10 per cent of voters surveyed had rated Tampa as their lead issue — but that doesn’t mean they changed their vote over it, and therefore swung the election, and Mungo knows it.

And Mungo I never thought I’d see you rely on such an appalling Americanism as you used yesterday i.e. “You do the maths”. We both know saying something like that in the Non-Members Bar at Old Parliament House on a Friday night would get you laughed out of the place.

Bad work Crikey:

Geoff Anderson writes: Re. “Plimer’s Heaven and Earth: a conservative coup?” (Monday, item 3). Your piece on Ian Plimer’s book reinforced my decision not to renew my subscription to Crikey. I attended the launch, and I am looking forward to reading the book, but don’t recognise myself from the descriptions in the article. I teach politics and public policy so I am interested in the debate and how it is shaping one of the major political issues facing government today. You may have more on your website, but certainly the piece in the Squatter edition doesn’t rate a sensible contribution to the debate.

Malcolm van Rensburg writes: Re. “Forget the IMF, listen to Stevens instead” (Wednesday, item 25). So you say we should take the most positive view of the Oz economy and discard what’s happening elsewhere, and ignore what experts elsewhere are saying if we don’t like the sound of it (all as if we’re an island sufficient unto ourselves, eh?). This was the first article I’ve read at your site, and will also be the last. You are an idiot. Get a real job. Bye.

The Holocaust:

Brian Mitchell writes: I must disagree with Andrew Dempster (yesterday, comments). He says “the Holocaust was bad but the war was a lot worse, for a lot more people”. World War II — sans the Holocaust — was just another war. Bloody and terrible, but different to others only by virtue of the sheer number of dead. The Holocaust, on the other hand, was a scar on humanity’s soul. Its true horror its automation and efficiency: Death by bureaucracy.

The Nazis — who were elected to government — came to label certain classes of its citizenry as no longer worthy of life. So these people were classified, transported, stored and disposed of. And it was all legal. There was paperwork. It was only in retrospect that these acts were deemed a crime. The horror of the Holocaust isn’t its gas chambers and SS, it’s the IBM punch cards and bespectacled clerks.

Making headlines:

Doug Melville writes: Re. Alan Lander (yesterday, comments). I liked the “Headless Body in Topless Bar” but I offer another suggestions for best headline ever — it’s from when minor football team Inverness Caledonian Thistle beats Scottish soccer powerhouse Celtic: “”SUPER CALEY GO BALLISTIC, CELTIC ARE ATROCIOUS”.

The AFL:

Roo Beauty blogger Captain Shinboner writes: Re. “AFL’s Gold Coast plans will hurt Melbourne and the AFL” (Tuesday, item 21). The AFL’s plans for expansion into the Gold Coast by 2011, and potentially Western Sydney the year after, have attracted much scrutiny. By the AFL’s own admission, the foray will be an extremely costly long-term venture. But few critics have gone on such anti-expansion crusades as Crikey’s Adam Schwab, his latest tirade suggesting that the AFL’s expansionist agenda is short-sighted.

Schwab contends that without a substantial increase in broadcast revenues, dismissed as “highly unlikely” in the financial climate, the AFL will rely on the continued leaching of Melbourne-based clubs to prop up an ailing Gold Coast franchise. This shows a complete lack of understanding as to the potential earnings the next round of broadcast rights hold (2012-2016), the cash cow that has sustained both the AFL and its Melbourne clubs for the last 20 years

Despite the perfect storm currently facing television networks, no one can argue with weekly audiences of 4.668 million, a figure which has grown consistently over the last decade. With the introduction of two additional teams, the AFL will have the extra fillip of an additional game a week, as well as the potential of increased audiences in northern markets.

By the time the current rights expire in 2011 it’s possible that major sporting events will be the last mass audience available to advertisers in this country. Which television network, terrestrial or otherwise, can afford NOT to own the biggest local sport of all? The introduction of new media players (thanks to the Federal Government’s Fibre to the Premises proposal) to such a bidding war will only increase the AFL’s earning potential. It’s difficult to see anything but a substantial increase on the previous $780 million bonanza. According to Harold Mitchell, a lazy $1 billion is achievable. I wouldn’t be surprised if it fetched more.

The AFL’s build-it-and-they-will-come strategy seems logical. It has the financial capacity and political fortitude to prop up a fledgling Gold Coast franchise for the long-term. With the Carrara stadium redevelopment all but finalised and the depth of local support already garnered, it’s likely to be years rather than decades.

Whether the AFL can sustain a Western Sydney franchise on top of this, which may require a generation of hand outs to succeed, is a different question. Judging by the PR silence on the Western Sydney front, AFL HQ’s previous red-hot enthusiasm might have turned lukewarm in recent months. But with a solid Tasmanian bid waiting in the wings it has real options before heading down that path. Options a courageous AFL Commission will be eager to pursue.

Climate change cage match (now with its own blog):

Simon Mansfield writes: Great to learn The Greens have an enlightened view of biofuel technology. I look forward to publishing an oped on the issue from the Australia Greens. will happily publish such a piece. Of course I will need to check with my commercial backers. But that shouldn’t take long given there are none. As to Peak Oil, I think my point was to question the very idea. And if it is real, then biofuels are the only viable solution to providing sustainable supplies of liquid fuels.

Meanwhile, Clean Coal is critical to our immediate future energy needs, and if we don’t make inroads there — what chance do we really have in bringing C02 emissions under control unless we give civilization the flick… My only commercial interests in the energy business are as a publisher and via ABC Solar and ABC Wind — being a part investor in the first and managing partner in the second. But sounds like a good idea — thanks for the tip.

Tamas Calderwood writes: Yesterday’s editorial asserts that deep CO2 emissions cuts of 24% by 2020 (from 2000 levels) are “not that hard”. Really? How are we going to replace 24% of our electricity supply in 11 years? Or do you suggest we simply reduce demand by that amount? And what will it achieve? Let’s say Australia’s CO2 production is reduced to 76% of its current 1.5% contribution to humanity’s 4% annual share of CO2 emissions.

The product of those numbers will be the triumph of this radical policy — a reduction in emissions to 0.05% of the total from our current 0.06% share. Whoopee. The 4% increase in CO2 concentrations over the past 10 years hasn’t had any effect on the temperature so just remind me what that staggeringly expensive 0.01% reduction will do again?