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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?

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