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'Scorcher: the dirty politics of climate change'
Margo: Roger Fedyk is a longtime Webdiary contributor. His independent Webdiary archive is here. Roger is a computer database expert who helped enormously in the 2005 move from the Sydney Morning Herald website to to an independent operation. He's stood by Webdiary during tough times, and I love him for it. This is his second book review for Webdiary. His first was 'A life of unlearning' (June 2005)
Now, would anyone like to review the other investigative book on the Australian politics of climate change out now? High and Dry is by Guy Pearse, a former liberal staffer turned academic, who exposed the existence of a 'greenhouse mafia' while researching his thesis. Four Corners used some of his work in The Greenhouse Mafia, broadcast in February 2006.
Clive Hamilton’s book Scorcher, the dirty politics of climate change is guaranteed to make you angry whichever side of the climate change debate you support.
Let me declare at the outset that I am 99% convinced by the arguments that are put in support of climate change being driven by mankind’s burning of fossil fuel. I have a small 1% element of reservation, not because I think that the pro-global warming science is badly done. My reservation is centred on the uncertainty of exactly how the exquisitely complex interaction of nature’s forces will react to compensate for the extra greenhouse gas that we are pouring into the atmosphere.
There has to be some credence given to the idea that we may be experiencing natural variability and that the greenhouse emissions are not a potentially catastrophic problem. The challenge that we face in making a decision is that our record keeping is abysmally inadequate. We have barely two hundred years of well-kept records and approximately two thousand years of sparsely kept ones. To be able to make sense of our current predicament we need hundreds of thousands of years of records.
There are some scientific methods, such as ice sheet cores, that do give us a glimpse of long ago weather. But the information that we gather by these methods are records of effects and not causes. It does not help us as much as we need when we cannot sufficiently link causes and effects.
Perhaps many of you also share this small seed of doubt, but there are other ways in which we can reach a decision as to what our decision needs to be. Needless to say, if I was offered odds of 100 to 1 on, about a two horse race, on which my whole life was staked, I would be a fool to back the 100 to 1 against chance. Being 99% certain in this two-horse race is enough to make my personal decision to support all efforts to reverse the effects of global warming.
So, even if the science is bamboozling, even if sceptics abound in newspapers and other media, why would I risk my future on the long-shot that nature will accept everything that we throw at it and bounce back?
So back to the book!
Hamilton has gone to considerable lengths to research and document his sources. The book is very thorough and easy to read. It is not a scientific treatise. Instead, it focuses on politics and, in particular, dirty politics.
Hamilton’s bad guys are John Howard, the fossil-fuel lobby of which ExxonMobil is presented as by far the worst, Murdoch media outlets, and various think tanks that support conservative ideology. Against supporters of the climate change theory, it is a well-identified group that is incredibly well-organised and funded and, sometimes, open about its mission. For example, read Andrew Bolt to see what a completely unapologetic anti-climate change zealot sounds like. Bolt has no doubts, at least none that he is paid to express.
Murdoch’s media, for which Andrew Bolt works, are an interesting case study. Like a whore who services all comers, Murdoch’s papers are virulently anti-climate change in Australia and pro-climate change in the UK. In the US, Fox remains true to its ideological right-wing roots and lambasts supporters of climate change while other more respectable newspapers owned by News Corporation take a more measured and sometimes pro-climate change stance. What may be deduced from this is that, whichever way the wind blows, Rupert is making money from all constituencies.
Hamilton spends considerable time trying to reveal what motivates John Howard to act in the ways that he has when considering climate change policy. The Prime Minister is a late convert to the need to act and certainly still behaves as a climate change sceptic. His rhetoric does not match his actions. Hamilton suggests that such strong resistance by Howard to change his thinking on climate change is born of more than just an ideological conviction. In fact, Howard has been remarkably consistent in his actions. He will do nothing that would jeopardise Australia’s position as the world’s largest coal exporter, and will go to any lengths to be the favoured supplier of all type of energy and mineral resources to China.
Hamilton exposes the sequence of events and Government actions, in which we have connived with the Americans, to sabotage the Kyoto Protocol. Equally compelling is his reporting of the international reaction to what we have done. It seems as if there has been a gross failure on the part of most media outlets to inform the Australian public how we viewed with disdain and even disgust by other nations, even those who are our allies in most things.
It is tempting to lay the blame on Howard and his government for what has been done in our name but, at the end of the day, it is the Australian public with whom much of the fault lies. We have been gullible and self-absorbed. As a nation, we do not really take the threat of global warming seriously. The disengagement by the public at large has allowed our politicians of both major political persuasions to give our big polluters a free ride.
Labor has been disappointingly weak in its responses. Of course, Howard is acutely of this and has been using it to his advantage. Hamilton states that the Government has changed its rhetoric of late to sheet the blame and responsibility for ameliorating action on the public and not the polluting industries. And right on cue, John Howard has announced his climate change initiatives. Nothing will be required of industry until the Government carbon trading scheme is enacted in 2012. Instead schools and the public are exhorted to act.
The whipping boys, and public diversion, for both Coalition and Labor have been the Greens. The most vitriolic and reprehensible bile has been reserved for Bob Brown and his associates. Even Satan gets a better press. Ask yourself, why? Such things are never done by accident. They are always done by design. When Brown had the temerity to suggest that we should stop coal exports he was immediately pilloried as a “loony”.
There is such depth in its revealing details that I would need to write another book in trying to review it. I commend it to all sides of the debate.