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Global Warming

Nov 9, 2009

Is Rudd the worst kind of climate sceptic?

Kevin Rudd's speech to the Lowy Institute last Friday was one of the most extraordinary pieces of rhetorical hypocrisy this coun

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Kevin Rudd’s speech to the Lowy Institute last Friday was one of the most extraordinary pieces of rhetorical hypocrisy this country has seen in recent years.

Coming only days after he had been singled out by African negotiators at the Barcelona pre-Copenhagen talks as one of the leaders whose action does not match his political manifesto, you have to admire our PM’s gall for blaming the lack of global and domestic action on sceptics who, frankly, are not in a position of real power. Sure, the sceptics make a lot of noise. Sure, they make life annoying and difficult. But a real leader would stand up, sweep them aside, and do what it takes.

Unless, of course, that leader is also a sceptic – of a sort.

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the different kinds of climate change sceptics in our debate. The PM joined the fray in his Lowy Institute speech, defining three kinds of sceptics as follows:

The opponents of action on climate change fall into one of three categories.

  • First, the climate science deniers.
  • Second, those that pay lip service to the science and the need to act on climate change but oppose every practicable mechanism being proposed to bring about that action.
  • Third, those in each country that believe their country should wait for others to act first.”

As far as it goes, that is quite a useful analysis. But it leaves out the fourth, and, in my opinion, by far the most dangerous category of sceptic: those who profess to take the science seriously, seek to hold the moral and scientific high ground, and then utterly fail to take the kind of action the science requires.

Those who claim to care but do too little are far more worthy of scorn and derision than those who profess not to care at all.

Let me put forward a scenario to help us decide who is most culpable.

A child swimming at a surf beach starts waving frantically from out in the waves. Corey Bernardi says “he’s not drowning, he’s just waving.” Nikki Williams says “oh, the poor dear, but I really couldn’t do anything to help, it’s just beyond my stength.” Mitch Hooke says “he might be drowning, I’m not 100% sure, but we’d be far better placed to wait for the lifesavers to get here and deal with it.” That’s Kevin’s three categories. But what does Kevin himself say?

Kevin says “this is a crisis on a grand scale. Look at all these people milling around on the beach and cravenly refusing to do anything. We have a moral obligation to act.” He starts wading in. Everyone else breathes a sigh of relief because they think Kevin’s got it under control. But Kevin never gets anywhere near the child, as he only wades in 5% of the way. The child drowns.

The fourth group of sceptics are by far the most dangerous because, through their protestations, by continually talking about how serious the issue is, they convince a great many people that the issue is under control. I believe, for example, that recent polling results by Lowy and others, which show an apparent reduction in levels of popular concern about climate change, are due in large part to the Rudd approach. Certainly, the growing chorus of scepticism helps, but far more insidious is the feeling that it is under control, that it is being taken care of. That is the power of  greenwash, which corporations (“Beyond Petroleum”, anyone?) have long understood.

The core of this problem is that Rudd presents “two stark choices – action or inaction”. That is the point he made in his speech on Friday, and it’s his main rallying cry for the CPRS.

But “action or inaction” is the kind of false dichotomy that can only be supported by the shallow, spin-over-substance brigade that is so powerful in this highly political, incredibly policy-cautious government. For those of us who are actually concerned about outcomes, about delivering something meaningful – in this case a safe climate for us and for all those who come after us – the choice is very different.

The truly stark choice is “do we do what needs to be done, or do we fail?” Will we pull out all stops and do everything we can to protect the climate, or will we deny, faff around, equivocate or, worst of all, dissemble until it’s too late?

Mr Rudd attacks sceptics as gambling with our future.

Do you feel lucky?

Tim Hollo —

Tim Hollo

Tim Hollo is an adviser to Australian Greens’ Deputy Leader Christine Milne.

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40 thoughts on “Is Rudd the worst kind of climate sceptic?

  1. klnine

    I guess im one of Rudd’s climate change skeptics, and proud of it. Of course my skepticism is based on degrees in Physics and chemistry and 25 yrs studying the earths geology. Sadly I should have rounded it all off with Asian studies , but had to work for a living!

    Tragically Rudd does have a science resource at his beck and call…CSIRO ! Where is there independant study on anthropological climate change ? Having seen the pollies deny them teh use of the “N”word for the past 25 years , then it’s hardly surprising that they havnt been permitted to investigate the climate change scam.

    Oh yes as, I am aided by a group with a vested interest in seeing through the climate change rhetoric ( my wife and kids) ..so i should keep quiet ?

    We have decided unilaterally to follow the pathetically weak science of the UN’s IPCC and once again our buddies the USA ?

    Lets think for a minute about where this strategy of following the USA’s lead has taken us recently ..

    1. Afghanistan
    2. Iraq
    3. The global war on terror
    ..and yes almost forgot
    4. the global financial crisis.

    Isnt it time that we decided major issues for ourselves ? A few nutters in the IPCC, uniformed politicians, journalists and the guy that came second to George Bush , emminent scientist, Al ( my graph shows Co2 levels lagging temperature !) Gore , is hardly a team to save us from oblivion is it.

    And fore all of you people living on the coast terrified of drowning…I have lived all of my life (55 yrs) near the sea. You know what ? …shhhhh…..I havnt notice any change in sea level !
    Weird eh ?

  2. zoomster

    And there’s plenty of problems with the ‘go for broke now’ approach, namely that it isn’t achieving anything either.

    If Rudd had come out with a bold target – and I wished at the time he had, and in retrospect it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference, but he didn’t know that then, and so I can understand where he came from – we’d still be in exactly the same spot we are now. The only difference is that there would be even less pressure on the Libs, because Rudd’s approach has got a lot of their traditional consituency on board.

    It’s always easy to come up with the dream for a perfect world and then insist that it’s that or nothing. It gives you a nice warm inner glow, even if you don’t achieve anything. You sit there in the twilight of your life, having changed nothing, being able to blame it all on others for not having the same breadth of vision you had.

    Both strategies have locked in failure, alas. One strategy – Rudd’s – had a chance of getting something in place now. The other relied on a new Senate, one way or another, and thus had delays built in. As it is, that’s where we’re back to, but Rudd couldn’t foresee this.

    I would argue by analogy – the all or nothing brigade took exactly the same argument to the Republic referendum, assuring all and sundry that if the proferred model didn’t get up, they would ensure there was another referendum within a couple of years. It didn’t and there wasn’t. So, instead of having a republic in place which could be tweaked here and there (as almost everything is) we have no republic and won’t have one for probably a decade.

    I don’t object to criticisms of the targets, although I understand why they were set. I do object to those who can’t offer realistic proposals on how to get the thing through Parliament quickly (and simultaneously push the need for urgent action) putting up nonsense proposals, with the benefit of hindsight, and using these to argue that Rudd was being hypocritical.

    He got the politics wrong, that’s all; but in the light of the situation at the time, it was a reasonable course of action if you wanted something in place quickly.

  3. jack jones

    What about this scenario that Rudd could have followed. He could have gone in with a much more Garnaut like ETS that was aimed at real reductions. He could have also gone in with a raft of stronger non-ETS complimentary measures-massive Keynesian renewables and efficiency push, jobs everywhere… He could have used the authourity he gained at his Kyoto signing and the mandate from the election to paint himself as a man of real action (he’d have to dust up a few union leaders to do it but I think most of the rank and file would go with him). Then he could have presented something real to the Senate. Turnbull and the nutcases would then have either torn themselves apart as they are now doing-only over something actually worthwhile instead of the rubbish now in front of them, or simply voted en-bloc against it. Then you’d have your double dissolution trigger and your moral authourity. Industry would shit itself at the prospect of a greens balanced senate at the following election (double dissolution or nay) and labor could have added to that with a comprehensive preference swap. Then either industry would panic so much that they’d force the coalition to get some concessions that were less extreme than their current ones or the election would be won by a greens labor combo and you’d actually be able to get stuff through. He could have wedged the opposition and still come out with a real ETS instead of a bollocks waste of time. Admittedly he’d probably need to go through another election to get it but who cares? Better to wait for something a bit later than get nothing now and lock an ETS that’s going to be more of a barrier than an aid to reform. The main problem is that to Rudd Climate Change is just a clever-clever issue to throw to inner city luvvies and hoist Malcolms y fronts from the back. He actually either doesn’t get it in a real leadership sense or is so shallow he just doesn’t care if he does anything of substance.

  4. Liz45

    IF the Coalition won’t vote for a CPRS that is say, wishy washy, what would be the point of a policy that was ‘suitable’? It wouldn’t happen. Perhaps an inadequate one will at least start the process, and once it’s a going concern, some of the big polluters(who’ve been successful in their lobbying, much to my disgust) would be forced to adopt better practices? Or am I being gullible, unrealistic or ???Any decrease must be an improvement? I’d like to see more policies re conservation – buildings with solar panels, switching off lights and computers etc after last person leaves the building. There’s a couple of these in Sydney I believe; and some great innovations in some housing projects up north, but not much else is happening. For example, why are some electrical appliances built in so well, that you can’t switch them off at night, or when property is vacant – holidays etc? Why aren’t these ‘power boards’ that will turn off domestic appliances after say 30 mins inactivity, not being promoted by govts. There should be more emphasis on conservation, apart from changeing light bulbs and removing plastic bags for example. There must be much we can all do. I try on a personal level, but I’m willing to accept, that there’s more I can do – if encouraged by govt smart spending and education. Water conservation is also vital to energy alternatives. For instance, those who promote nuclear power aren’t queried as to the amount of water required, in all stages of the cycle. These are just a few of the relevant issues that are not included in discussions or any education about alternate energy sources and the need to cut dangerous emissions. The right and the left hand are not acting as one. Most frustrating I find!

    In this area, Rudd and Garrett etc have been negligent. In NSW, how can building dams or power stations on agricultural land be even considered? Doesn’t make any sense? In the driest inhabited continent on the planet, we should be tackling problems from a broader perspective. No wonder we just ‘shut down’ and/or get weary or bored! I just throw my hands up in despair and frustration!
    I want a better world for my grandkids, that covers all environmental issues, otherwise, we’re all just offering lip service, not just Rudd. He needs to be pulled back ‘on track’?

  5. zoomster

    I’m very much one of the ‘we’re all doomed’ camp.

    I disagree with you about adaption, however, as would most of the climate scientists. The aim of any emissions reduction scheme is not to stop or reverse climate change but to get it to plateau – we’ve brought into twenty years, regardless, but after that we may be able to keep things as they are.

    CC is happening now, it’s not something which might happen if we don’t act, and it’s only common sense that we recognise this and alter some aspects of our work and lives accordingly. To pretend that we don’t need to adapt – can go on with business as usual as we wait for the effect of emissions cuts to kick in – is ignorant in the extreme.

    Moreover, the early stages of any crisis is the best time to prepare for its effects. If, for example, the irrigation areas of the MD system are no longer viable, then it makes sense to move their operations elsewhere over the next decade, rather than waiting for the farmers to exhaust their resources and simply walk off the land.

    No scientist I know of any repute is arguing that big cuts in the next few years will achieve anything more than the holding pattern I’m referring to. Yes, as much as we can do as soon as we can do it, but having no framework to do it in because we don’t work with the political realities we have is counterproductive.

    So: get a CPRS in place, any at all, it doesn’t matter. It gives us something to work with, a chance to show that it isn’t the end of civilisation as we know it. Then we can build on what we have – hopefully the next election will see a more climate friendly Senate, unless we’ve scared the horses in the meantime.

  6. Mark Duffett

    @6 Tim, so now some sort of carbon domino theory is our only hope for a significant international agreement? Looks like we’re back to ‘oh sh!t’ again.

    Such is my pessimism that a sufficient global CO2-e reduction protocol will be arrived at, the harsh pragmatist in me is beginning to wonder if Australia wouldn’t be better off banking as much wealth as we can now, and using it to ward off the slings and arrows of adaptation as best we can.

  7. Tim Hollo

    Names that have been raised for crossing the floor include Judith Troeth (she’s done it before, she’s a progressive wet Lib, and she’s retiring), Russell Trood (wet Lib who is almost certain to be in an unwinnable spot on the QLD Senate ticket next time, so has little to lose) or even a Simon Birmingham, if he were to throw his lot in with the veiw that, over time, the Libs will move towards the centre and the greener end of the spectrum.

    No, it’s not likely, but it’s at least as likely as Fielding.

    Totally agree, not negotiating with the Greens does not equal not caring about the climate. However, developing an emissions trading scheme which will give $16 billion to polluters over its first 5 years of operation, sets a target range that cannot do anything but hold back global action through its shortsighted miserliness, hands out so many free permits as property rights that it will be economically and politically impossible to buy them back, is designed based on economic modelling that shows Australia’s emissions not falling before 2033, and altogether effectively locks Australia in to a high polluting trajectory for at least 5 years?

    That equals not caring about the climate.

    This is not about getting started, zoomster. We can get started with a whole pile of other actions like feed-in tariffs (rejected), government purchasing policies (not being done), energy efficiency roll-outs (half-baked), etc. Or with an emissions trading scheme that follows solid economic principals even if its targets aren’t good enough.

    This isn’t about getting started. It’s about locking it in.

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