The ‘grassroots’ backlash against the Government’scarbon trading legislation was inevitable, in hindsight, and the reason for it is clear: Those of us who feel that, on balance, Climate Change could possibly be – worst case scenario - the greatest threat to humanity in history and that urgent action must be taken to reduce the severity of its impact, are stunned by the groundswell of Denial that has carried populists like Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce to prominence in Australian politics.
Where did it come from? The conventional consensus view that Al Gore helped form with his slide show “Inconvenient Truth” and the unanimity of the 2500 IPCC Scientists gave us a sense of certainty about the problem we face. The only dissenters were fringe ‘professors for hire’ in the pay of Exxon Mobil whose influence was limited to small circles of far right activists. They had a clear strategy: create doubt. It played perfectly on the IPCC’s naïve honesty in publishing its degrees of uncertainty. The complexity of Climate Change science itself is also a fundamental weakness the scientists never sought to address.
It was illogical and contradictory: how could Global Warming involve periods of cooling? If it does, don’t call it ‘warming’. And don’t rely on “Trust me. I’m a scientist.” The conspiracy theories promoted by the Denialists found willing ears among older audiences, especially in the regions where – ironically – Climate Change was hurting most. The arrogance of the scientists fed their suspicions.
Now the Climate Change Conclave has been broken. While the Howard Government and the Opposition were both proposing a carbon trading scheme, and while the Rudd Government and both the Brendon Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull Oppositions concurred, dissenters were very much a minority.
Once the Denialists Tony Abbott and Nick Minchin gained control of the Opposition, the disbelievers found a legitimacy and a focus. PM Rudd & Co. now have a real problem. Their legislation has been blocked. Action stymied. And the Opposition has got traction with a line depicting the Emissions Trading Scheme as ‘a monster tax on everything’ – the Keating line that destroyed the GST Mk1. “If you can’t understand it, don’t vote for it,” he said. The ETS is even harder to understand than the GST. The Opposition feels it has the ammunition to fight an election.
The elation of the Unbelievers at the elevation of one of their own to the leadership role is understandable. These events have given the voiceless and the powerless a sense of justification. They had been dismissed as stupid by the elites – the winners in the long economic boom. Little wonder that they hiss when they hear the name of Macquarie Bank. Climate Change was just another chapter in the culture wars.
The underbrush was tinder dry, created by the attitude towards unbelievers. They could not tell the difference between sound and unsound science, peer-reviewed papers or propaganda. The ‘science’ they supported was dismissed as “rubbish” and scorned by the ‘new scientific establishment’s Dr Graeme Pearman. It was delivered by non-Climate Scientists such as geologist Dr Ian Pilmer whose delivery is as sarcastic and partisan as any politician’s could be. But the ordinary folk didn’t know that. It just made sense to them. Scientists like Pearman declaring that Pilmer & Co. don’t have peer-reviewed publications made no impression on them. The messages of the Climate Change activists have been pitched at the educated elites. Not the ordinary folk.
Now we know what we have to do. Al Gore is right: simply giving out more facts won’t work. More handwringing by scientists on TV won’t do it. More Chicken Little predictions won’t either. None of that reaches the ordinary folk where they live.
Take a leaf from the Denialists’ book: To neutralise the following they have gathered we must create doubt. They are not impressed with the downside they have been pitched – environmental degradation. It doesn’t out-point ‘a monster tax on everything’. They don’t care about the environment.
What do they care about? What works on them like a red rag to a bull? So effective that John Howard used it frequently to keep his followers following him… Boat people. Millions of them. “The Yellow Peril” their parents feared in the 1950’s. Invaders from the near north, landing in numbers that could easily be double or triple our population. More than a million Tampas. Would the military fire on women and children? Unthinkable. But how would we stop them?
Senator Bill Heffernan told the Bulletin magazine that rising sea levels could send many millions of people from Asia to find a new place to live, and Australia is wide open. Normally a lone voice, Senator Heffernan has significant support. The Commissioner of the Australian Federal Police. The Head of the Australian Defence Forces. A panel of retired US Armed Forces generals. A Pentagon Report. A United Nations Report. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies, The Oxford Group….
So if Barnaby and the Denialists prevail and the soil carbon sequestration solution is not deployed in time to bring down CO2 levels equivalent to 50ppm for 50 years, your grandchildren will have some new neighbours.
Will The Government Steal $12 billion From Australian Farmers?
The Garnaut Inquiry Final Report estimates that Australian soils can sequester conservatively, 600 million tonnes of CO2e pa. At $20/tonne, that is a $12 billion incentive for Australian farmers to change their land management and adopt carbon farming. That money can save rural communities; it can save family farming; it can save rural landscapes and restore soils. And, as Garnaut sees it paid for between 25-50 years, it can help Agriculture prepare for and even prosper in the dryer, hotter future we are assured is coming. Or - as it did with the Native Vegetation Laws - will the Government 'nationalise' the soil carbon to pay its Kyoto bills? Who owns the carbon in the soil?