You are currently browsing the daily archive for July 28, 2011.

Given the recent national hysteria about the carbon tax, which is going to cost people earning less then $100,000 a year a devastating +20 cents, I thought I might mention a few things about climate change. You may have heard of this. It’s been big in the media in the last few years. The media is also big on talking about the climate change “debate,” which does not exist. 97% of people qualified to hold an opinion on the matter concur that it is happening, which is why it grinds my gears when the Prime Minister has to say on national television that she “believes” in man-made climate change.

I don’t. I can’t “believe” in climate change any more than I can “believe” in my scarf or my laptop or my nose. It exists. It is happening. We caused it, and the only question now is whether we’re going to take action to reverse it, or whether we’re going to collapse into a tangle of squabbling idiots while the atmosphere is ruined around us. Smart money is on the latter.

Yet you’ll see a lot of talk in the media about the “debate” on climate change, which they’ll usually express as giving equal airtime between an esteemed climate scientist and an English aristocrat with an undiagnosed mental disorder, or between a representative of the Commonwealth’s official scientific agency and a representative of the mining industry. It’s utter bullshit and I am going to appeal against it based not on empiricism but on rationalism.

The ironic thing about the climate change debate is that it is, by and large, a subject of faith. Like most people, I can only grasp the fundamentals of any given scientific issue, and that includes climate change. I take the scientific community at their word, because I cannot personally verify their information. It’s all out there, and you or I could go look it up. I could even reproduce it here. I’m not going to, because graphs and charts and scientific studies exist beyond the realm of my attention span, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to try to understand them. Few people do. So it comes down to trust, and whom you choose to place it in.

On the one hand we have our elected Prime Minister, CSIRO, and 97% of the world’s climate scientists. On the other hand we have Lord Monckton, Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and – the man behind the curtain – various lobby groups and alliances associated with the mining industry.

Which of those sides stands to benefit from the status quo?

It didn’t take long after the government announced its carbon tax policy for an ad campaign to be released by the Australian Trade & Industry Alliance, producing a series of misleading “facts” objecting to the government’s decision. The ATI did not exist prior to the carbon tax hysteria. It was formed solely to combat it, and one needs only click on their “about us” section to get an inkling of what this alliance consists of. The Australian Coal Association. The Mineral Council of Australia. The Australian Steel Institute.

Is a lobby group of polluting industries, formed during the announcement of a tax on polluting industries, really the organisation you want to listen to for unbiased information?

There is absolutely nothing unusual about huge corporations distorting the truth and pouring millions into propaganda in order to preserve their own profit margins. Unethical, yes, but not surprising. Corporations exist to make money. (They can even claim that they must distort the truth and create propaganda, because they have an ethical duty to give their shareholders a return; to keep their promises.) The climate change debate is a struggle between the national interest and the vested interest; the interest of a few powerful people who meet at the intersection of polluting industry, politics and media. It is completely unremarkable that such people would exploit their influence to deny climate change and protect their wealth.

What is remarkable is that ordinary Australians – people who stand to lose from climate change, who gain nothing from corporate profits – believe them. Andrew Bolt’s column is the most widely read in Australia. One only need skim the comments on any given article there, or on The Australian or news.com.au or The Drum, to wonder if wilfully blind climate skeptics comprise a majority of our population.

Some of them are diehard partisans who will criticise anything the Labor Party does. Some of them are diehard tribalists who will believe anything Andrew Bolt writes. Some of them are simply naive, and believe that because mining corporations provide us with jobs, they must love us and have our best interests at heart.

Yet I think most climate skeptics – and this includes many people I know in real life – believe climate change isn’t happening because it’s easier that way. It would be so nice, wouldn’t it, if we could go on the way we are? Chugging along in our cars, using our coal power plants, not having to change one tiny whit of our lifestyle. Say what you will about Al Gore, but the title of his film could not have been more perfect. Climate change is inconvenient, and when Australians suffer inconvenience they squeal like stuck pigs.

To return to the faith comparison, this is similar to the reason I think many people believe in God and an afterlife: it’s easy. It’s nice. It’s comforting. They shut out the evidence and the facts and their own nagging doubts, and embrace the myth, because it makes life so much easier.

And so we have this ludicrous “debate:” our elected officials, national science agency and leading researchers vs. shock-jocks, right-wing journalists and mining companies who stand to lose money if we take action on climate change. All because Australians are self-centred skinflints who are happy to let our planet slide into environmental ruin because they don’t want the price of groceries to go up a few dollars.

It’s all really depressing. I’m not the kind of person who looks back on “the good old days” or “the greatest generation” with misty-eyed fondness – the 1940s were, after all, a time when women couldn’t hold real jobs and Aboriginals couldn’t vote – but the last time an Australian generation had to face down a dire threat, they were asked to sacrifice a lot more than a few extra bucks a week. Some might think it specious to compare war with climate change. I almost think it myself. That’s because our brains are still, fundamentally, primate brains. They react to sudden, shocking things like bombs and gunfire, and are complacent about gradual threats like climate change – which will ruin us, financially and physically, more than any war could.

So, as usual, the problem isn’t the media or the government or even big corporations. It’s us. It’s the fact that most of us haven’t learned to critically assess claims, to scrutinise the motives of the person making them. Most of us suffer from normalcy bias, which means we’ll gladly listen to anyone who tells us it’s not really happening, so we can go back to driving our 4WDs and watching The Biggest Loser on our plasma flat-screens. Most of us, even if we do believe in climate change, will scrounge around for reasons why we don’t need to do anything – because it’s not happening as fast as they say it is, or because our contribution wouldn’t make a difference, or because Juliar’s Great Big New Tax won’t immediately solve the whole problem. The Herald-Sun has a higher circulation than the Age not because Rupert Murdoch is an evil Sith Lord who exerts eerie powers over the populace, but because most people are happier to read an oversimplified, sensationalist story that stokes their anger than they are to read in-depth, unbiased, fact-based journalism. It’s not stupidity or even ignorance – it’s just laziness, and an unwillingness to think laterally about how and why people tell you things.

Stop doing that. You don’t need to bury yourself in the last ten years of scientific journals, spend all your free time examining the different carbon pricing schemes in countries across the globe, or fly to Antarctica and take your own ice core samples. Just think for a moment about who Andrew Bolt’s largest patron is, and why mining industries are opposed to the carbon tax, and whether CSIRO is a more reputable source on scientific matters than News Ltd and Lord Monckton.

But I know that any climate skeptic or Boltite who reads this isn’t going to do that. They’ll dismiss it as leftist-warmist-Nazi-fascist crap, and go on listening to their propaganda, and claiming that the real propaganda is the scientific evidence, and 150 years from now our planet will have warmed, our arable land will have been decimated, our economy will be in ruins, we will be wracked by drought and bushfires, and the descendants of today’s climate skeptics will be howling with indignant rage that the government of today didn’t do anything to stop it.

Archive Calendar

July 2011
M T W T F S S
« Jun   Aug »
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Archives