8th February-Weekend Australian
The climate debate has turned hysterical and ugly; Scott Morrison must defeat this madness
Climate politics in this country are so wacky that informed adults ought to scoff at them and move on. But with Labor, the Greens, much of the media and some Liberal moderates caught up in this nuttiness, Scott Morrison is confronted by a serious challenge.
The climate election should have settled all this but, alas, the climate saga is alive again. The Prime Minister should accept this long-running policy schism as a useful opportunity that can give shape to his agenda and put the government on a positive footing — he should relish the climate wars.
To get a sense of how ludicrous this debate has become, consider this: Inexperienced, socialist US Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposes a radical climate and redistributive agenda dubbed the Green New Deal. It sets the practically impossible and economically destructive goal of having the US reach zero net emissions in a decade.
It will never happen, of course, but the revolutionary agenda and catchy phrase have been adopted by the new leader of the Australian Greens, Adam Bandt.
While Bandt and Ocasio-Cortez are the sort of politicians who are one soy latte away from gluing themselves to the road, there is another prominent political figure who has adopted this slogan. Writing in Guardian Australia, former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said this country should have its “own green new deal” to deliver zero net emissions.
And before we dismiss him as an embittered former leader exacting revenge on his former colleagues — true as that might be — it is worth reminding ourselves that many of his supporters are still in the Liberal partyroom and acted up this week demanding more climate action.
Never mind that cautious climate policies got them into government and allowed them to stay in power; never mind the Coalition is committed to the Paris climate targets; never mind that Australia’s emissions effort is incapable of having any impact because global emissions are rising; and never mind that we just had an election on these issues, these opportunists are spooked by the bushfire politics and want to go closer to matching Labor and Greens climate gestures. At this rate there will be Liberal MPs supergluing themselves to the partyroom carpet.
Driven by the public broadcasters and woke elements of the Canberra press gallery, the media is relentlessly alarmist. There is a McCarthyist zeal to their gotcha questions that distil a vast array of complex scientific modelling, observations and possible policy responses into a banal binary: Do you believe in human-induced climate change?
Aside from the ridiculous conscription of belief into science, the point about this question is that nothing turns on it — except perhaps political humiliation for anyone who considers the wrong answer. What matters is not what our politicians believe but what they do, their policy responses.
In this emotive climate there is widespread reluctance or refusal to discuss practical policy options and their costs and benefits. The hysterical, ugly and deceptive pointscoring over our horrific summer bushfires had Greens, Labor and media activists linking the Coalition’s emissions reduction policies to the fire conditions.
As I argued from November last year, when former NSW fire commissioner Greg Mullins and other climate activists positioned themselves to make political points out of inevitable bushfire challenges, the linking of Australian emissions reduction policies to global climate trends is a science-denying absurdity.
We know this country will always experience catastrophic fire conditions and if they have or will become more prevalent because of global warming, then the role of our emissions, one way or the other, is nil or infinitesimal.
Even Chief Scientist Alan Finkel publicly declared that if we took all of Australia’s annual emissions out of the atmosphere it would do “virtually nothing” to the climate. Yet still the vicious and absurd attempts to blame the terrible fire season on the Coalition continue.
While relevant facts are deliberately ignored by the public broadcasters, social media and a largely progressive journalistic groupthink, none of this changes the facts. As Winston Churchill said of the truth, “Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
This week Labor MP Matt Thistlethwaite joined me on television and sought to make the now familiar political attack against the Morrison government over the bushfire season. This raised the question about what climate policies could possibly have done to make things less severe, so I asked Thistlethwaite whether Labor would be taking climate policies to the next election that would ameliorate the bushfire threat in Australia.
It is nonsense, obviously, that any national emissions reduction policy could influence our fire weather. Thistlethwaite could do no more than dodge a direct answer. So I asked him if it was possible for national climate policies to reduce our bushfire threat. Again, a non-answer.
I persisted, asking whether Australia’s emissions reduction policies could lower our bushfire risk. Despite being implored to give a yes or no answer, he continued to talk around the issue.
The only truthful answer to these questions is no.
But if Labor, the Greens, activists and campaigning journalists were to answer this question honestly they would effectively be admitting that their entire political pile-on against the Coalition was baseless.
Members of the green-left often point to “the science” but they are not interested in sciencebased, factual analysis of policy costs and benefits. They demand climate gestures as a political ploy or as a form of virtue signalling but have nothing to say on practical outcomes or costs.
Imagine if we tried to assess the practical and economic costs of Australia shifting to zero emissions within a decade and compared them with the environmental benefits. Clearly, the costs would be too immense and complex to quantify accurately, and the benefits would be too small to identify.
This is not my argument for doing nothing — although that is a perfectly rational position — but it is my case for doing our bit under Paris and not a tonne of emissions more until we see more concerted global action and firmer scientific cost-benefit analysis.
Morrison needs to embrace this debate and avoid offering head nods to the activist left by pretending our policies will improve the climate, even while global emissions rise.
Members of the left don’t thank him for Paris, they just up the ante. They don’t thank Donald Trump for lowering US fixedenergy emissions or promising to plant a trillion trees.
The climate evangelists cannot be reasoned with and they must be defeated in a blunt and factual debate.
Even within his own party the Prime Minister faces weathervane moderates who think they can trade deeper emissions for holding leafy Liberal seats. Such pathetic politicking should have no place in a serious policy debate that presumes to encompass the future of our national economy and the planet itself.
There is nothing about the climate debate in Australia that is normal. The level of misinformation is disturbing and deliberate. The amplification of the issue’s significance in this country by environmental, media and political activists is inversely proportional to the nation’s global role in the solution.
A moderately important policy issue has been elevated to an existential threat and almost two decades of partisan polarisation, drowning out much more pressing policy debates. From this, surely, springs Morrison’s main opportunity.
He deftly charted a centrist course on climate in the lead-up to the election and beyond, sticking with the Paris emissions reduction commitments. But now he must fight against the alarmists and demolish arguments to inflict further economic pain.
Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis wrote last week that “climate change is capitalism’s Waterloo”. He said we could not achieve “restabilisation of the climate” and maintain “capitalism’s main pillars”.
His piece was highlighted on Twitter by the ABC’s Jonathan Green, who commented: “The great truth we are circling.” This is an argument the left and its allies will continue to pursue relentlessly, for all kinds of reasons
— and it must be defeated.
Green’s tweet demonstrates the institutional jaundice the Coalition and the Prime Minister are up against.
This is not a minor battle. It is a crucial social, environmental and economic debate that demands a rational, ideological and political campaign.
Morrison must fight back against the climate madness. The country needs it, the economy needs it, and the contest will give shape to a Coalition agenda that looks a little anaemic.
The linking of Australian emissions reduction policies to global climate trends is a science-denying absurdity There is nothing about the climate debate in Australia that is normal. The level of misinformation is disturbing and deliberate