Social change at the heart of climate dilemma

April 20, 2011 at 3:44 am Leave a comment

Two days before a March 23 rally against the government’s proposed carbon price took place in Canberra, Liberal MP Dennis Jensen told reporters gathered outside parliament house why he opposed the policy.

He held up a piece of charcoal and dropped it to the ground. “Does anyone know what that is? Charcoal, also known as carbon,” he said. “If you notice when I let it go, it doesn’t float into the air.”

After this attempt to rebut the science that says that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, Jensen offered another argument.

He opened a can of coke and poured it in a glass. “All of those little bubbles there, it’s the same stuff that you breathe out,” he said. “This government has managed to actually tax the air that we breathe.”

Not true, of course. The proposed carbon price would be levied on the 1000 biggest polluting companies — not on cans of soft drink or “the air that we breathe”.

Jensen’s antics are easy to poke fun at. But he and the rest of the Liberal party are carrying out a deliberate political strategy to distort the debate on climate change.

The aim is to associate any kind of action on climate change with economic hardship for ordinary people. The subtext is the idea that the climate change crisis has probably been exaggerated, and may not exist at all.

Liberal leader Tony Abbott’s decision to speak at the Canberra rally fitted neatly with this strategy. Coalition MPs Barnaby Joyce, Bronwyn Bishop, Eric Abetz and Warren Truss joined him on the platform.

Abbott attacked the carbon price proposal in front of a banner that said, “Ju-Liar Bob Brown’s Bitch”.

He later said the crowd of 3000, which included members of far-right groups such as the Citizens Electoral Council and the League of Rights, was “a representative snapshot of middle Australia”, ABC Online reported.

The rally was organised by the Consumers and Taxpayers Association (CATA), which makes no secret of its climate change denial.

Its website includes an article by amateur astronomer Gregg D Thompson, titled “CO2 The Truth”.

CATA says “there is no proof at all” that carbon dioxide “causes a greenhouse effect”. It claims the Arctic ice sheet is not shrinking (not true), glaciers are not retreating (false) and that the Earth has cooled since 2006 (the hottest years on record were 2009 and 2010).

A detailed response to CATA’s climate denier arguments is available at the Skeptical Science website.

In Australia, the US and Britain, the right is rushing to embrace climate denial at a time when the scientific evidence of climate change is more alarming than ever. On one level it’s an irrational response. But it’s not completely illogical.

In a March 9 Democracy Now interview, The Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein pointed out that “climate change really is a profound threat to a great many things that right-wing ideologues believe in”.

She said: “So they’re choosing to disbelieve it, because it’s easier to deny the science than to say, ‘OK, I accept that my whole worldview is going to fall apart,’ that we have to have massive investments in public infrastructure, that we have to reverse free trade deals, that we have to have huge transfers of wealth from the North to the South. Imagine actually contending with that. It’s a lot easier to deny it.”

Klein’s point is important. The mainstream “debate” about climate is becoming less and less about the facts and science, and more and more about ideology and politics.

In this context, does the Labor/Greens carbon price plan offer a viable alternative?

To answer this, it’s vital to set apart carbon pricing in general (which could, in theory, help the transition to a zero-emissions economy) and this particular carbon pricing proposal.

Countless journalists, NGOs and politicians have referred to the proposal as a “carbon tax”. It isn’t.

It’s a carbon trading scheme that begins with a temporary fixed price for three to five years. This is similar to the former Rudd government’s proposed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which was to begin with a temporary fixed price for one year.

The big problem is that carbon trading schemes haven’t worked anywhere to cut emissions sharply.

In a 2009 New York Times article, NASA climate scientist James Hansen described carbon trading as “a market-based approach that has been widely praised but does little to slow global warming or reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

“It merely allows polluters and Wall Street traders to fleece the public out of billions of dollars.”

Yet the carbon trading plan has the support of Australia’s big environment NGOs. This underscores another big problem with the mainstream debate on climate — the real solutions to the climate crisis are still on the margins of the discussion.

As Klein said: “What I [also] see is that the green groups, a lot of the big green groups, are also in a kind of denial, because they want to pretend that this isn’t about politics and economics …

“And they’re not really wrestling with the fact that this is about economic growth. This is about an economic model that needs constant and infinite growth on a finite planet.

“So we really are talking about some deep transformations of our economy if we’re going to deal with climate change. And we need to talk about it.”

A step in this direction would be public investment in renewable energy infrastructure.


Entry filed under: climate denial.

Deniers, pretenders and real climate action Capitalism’s war on the planet

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