In the space of twenty-four hours, Webdiary received two reviews of Guy Pearse's new book, High and Dry: John Howard, climate change and the selling of Australia’s future (Penguin, 2007).
One review was from longtime Webdiary contributor, Kerryn Higgs. Kerryn's archive is here , and her most recent piece for Webdiary was Economics and the Laws of Physics .
The other was from a more recent Webdiarist, Sally Woodward. I requested a brief biog to introduce Sally's first piece for Webdiary, and this is her response:
I first started taking a mild interest in politics about 15 years ago. I've always had 'left leanings' politically, firmly believing that no one in a situation of disadvantage should be left behind, especially in a wealthy country such as ours. After reading Margo's 'Not Happy John' prior to the last federal election, I became passionate about accountability, transparency and ethics in government and trying to get active in my own small way. The book I've reviewed, like NHJ, exposes the deceit 'behind the scenes' and I felt it was worthy of some additional exposure through Webdiary, especially with the federal election around the corner and climate change having become such a major issue.
After due consultation, we thought it would be a good idea to publish both reviews together. Not only are they both worth reading, but they provide complementary insights into an important book. So, on a coin toss, Kerryn goes first:
Kerryn Higgs' Review
In early October, Tim Flannery told Tony Jones on Lateline  that the forthcoming November report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will confirm that the risk of dangerous climate change no longer lies in the future. We reached the level of greenhouse gases likely to lead to extreme climate change (450 ppm) back in the middle of 2005 and are now speeding beyond it. Those of us who have been watching the ice dissolve for the last few years (glaciers, sea-ice, permafrost and even the Greenland icesheet) will not be surprised. While there is a general belief that we have something like 8 or 10 years to act, Flannery’s revelations suggest the window may be narrower than that.
Guy Pearse’s High and Dry: John Howard, climate change and the selling of Australia’s future gives a blow by blow account of the Howard government’s appalling record on global warming and a detailed analysis of just how John Howard put in place his determined resistance to any emissions reductions, here or anywhere else. As the election finally approaches, Pearse’s book is an indispensable guide to seeing through whatever claims of Australia’s “world leadership” on climate change will be pedalled by Howard and his ministers over the coming weeks. It should also serve as an antidote to the hype which is likely to accompany the government’s greenhouse policy announcements as they are released.
Pearse has been a member of the Liberal Party for nearly 20 years, though he is no longer likely to resume his career there. He joined the party back in the Peacock and Hewson years, when its environment policies were sometimes better than Labor’s and its greenhouse targets more ambitious. For Pearse, the environment is vital for all shades of political endeavour, and is not a leftist issue or a partisan issue. He believes that the market solutions he generally favours can successfully address most environmental problems. But, in the case of climate change fuelled by accelerating carbon emissions, Pearse knows the market is useless while carbon remains untaxed and unpriced.
In the Introduction, Pearse outlines his dawning realisation that the party he hoped to serve was in the pocket of the major carbon emitters, and had no intention of limiting emissions in any way:
I started to think the unthinkable – the Liberal Party was taking the country in precisely the wrong direction on climate change. It had been captured by a cabal of powerful greenhouse polluters and had no intention of reducing Australia’s greenhouse pollution, ever (p. 22).
While the scientific consensus suggests a 60% emissions reduction is essential by mid-century, the Howard government’s policy would see Australia’s greenhouse emissions rise 70% by 2050, according to the government’s own Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE).
After working as then Environment Minister Robert Hill’s speechwriter through the Kyoto negotiations, Pearse began a PhD at the ANU. He wondered why businesses such as tourism and insurance, whose interests are jeopardised by climate change, had so little to say about it. Why was the Australian business community dominated by greenhouse sceptics? These questions led him to his series of interviews with the self-styled “greenhouse mafia”, people connected to the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network (AIGN), “a highly influential collection of Australia’s biggest greenhouse polluters”. In return for his guarantee of individual anonymity, some of his interviewees spoke with startling candour of their successful campaign to hijack the debate about climate change and the Howard government’s policy.
In forensic detail, Pearse examines the alarmingly small group of people responsible for this feat: Part Two of High and Dry, almost half the book, looks at the connections between industry funding, business interest groups, a few key think tanks, public relations companies, supposedly “independent” economic modellers, lobbyists, media sceptics on both sides of the Pacific, plus senior federal bureaucrats and ministerial staffers in the departments handling industry and trade – not to mention a few senior cabinet ministers, led by Howard himself. Most of these names will be familiar to any reader who has followed government policy. There’s a lot of musical chairs as they jump from the Canberra bureaucracy to the boards of mining and energy corporations, on to CSIRO advisory bodies, key think tanks or industry peak bodies. These few, Pearse shows, make up John Howard’s echo chamber, where public service advice parrots industry advice and both are duplicated in the reports of his chosen economic modellers, all of them masquerading in public as independent and impartial.
Pearse exposes Howard’s links to the world of the greenhouse sceptics and his longstanding doubt about the science: “We should never have got on this particular truck in the first place at the Rio Conference”, he once remarked. His decision to accept the IPCC science late last year was a political decision, forced on him by the dawning public awareness which has made global warming an election issue this time around. But from outright denial, Howard has moved smoothly on to implacable delay.
This denial and delay strategy is the same one pursued worldwide by the high emissions corporations both before and after Kyoto. Ex-petroleum geologist Jeremy Leggett’s excellent book, The Carbon War , traces exactly the same tactics as they were applied by the big polluters during the UN climate change negotiations leading up to the Kyoto Protocol. Here, too, are found the same kinds of alliances between the polluters, the deniers they have funded and the recalcitrant governments who refuse to cut their emissions – Saudi Arabia and the USA in Leggett’s study. Australia was already wavering then, but still backed serious binding targets before John Howard came to power.
Pearse shows how Howard himself took personal control of greenhouse policy. In 2002, he made the decision not to ratify Kyoto unilaterally and has twice blocked senior cabinet proposals to establish emissions trading. Howard’s latest carbon trading proposal will, Pearse believes, quarantine the key polluters – coal miners, power generators and electricity-guzzlers such as the aluminium industry – from paying for their emissions. Pearse’s inside information suggests that Howard’s colleagues are thoroughly cowed, whatever their concerns – no-one in the parliamentary party has ever raised climate change in the party room.
Howard’s meeting with President Bush on the eve of 9/11 was a watershed event. Despite explicit promises to cut greenhouse emissions during the presidential campaign, Bush had by that time decided that the US would not cut emissions or set targets. The “voluntary” path to “technological solutions” was already in place. Cheney had met with his energy task force – Big Coal, Big Oil and Big Auto – and the administration’s policy was in place. John Howard adopted the same plan.
Pearse outlines what he calls Howard’s “quarry vision”, the idea that Australian prosperity rests on cheap coal, mining and energy exports. Although much of the media has swallowed this line, Pearse argues that it is flawed and unsupported by the facts. The reality of the commodity cycle, where booms come and go, is that prices tend to fall in the long term and fewer and fewer jobs are generated for the same output. Only 10% of our GDP derives from the entire mining and energy sector anyway, and only 5% of our jobs. Meanwhile, something like 70% of the sector is owned by foreign multinationals who export their profits abroad. Pearse does not object to foreign investment as such, of course, but can see little justification for making those investors the arbiters of Australia’s future. At the same time, the majority of the local economy is linked to services and many of these businesses are threatened by the climate change already menacing our water supplies, our coral reefs and the Murray-Darling basin. A price on carbon is inevitable in the long run and early action will be far less likely to carry economic penalties. Seen in these terms, Howard’s protection of the big polluters defies the national interest.
So, while the government rabbits on about “clean coal”, “green nuclear” and “carbon capture”, the real carbon capture has been the takeover of government climate policy by the dirtiest industries in the country, successfully embedding their own people into John Howard’s very small circle of trusted advisors, both in and out of the government.
Here they can help to disseminate the plethora of half-truths and outright lies which distort the public understanding of what is happening, and what can and can’t be done. Pearse analyses a great array of this propaganda. A few examples follow:
“We met our Kyoto target”. Even if this is actually true, which some dispute, it rests on the incredibly generous target negotiated for Australia, which included concessions for halting land-clearing and allowed us to increase our greenhouse emissions by 27%, while other countries had to actually cut their industrial emissions. Many have succeeded at that much more difficult task.
“We’re spending $2 billion on climate change”. This sum is to be spent over 25 years. On an annual basis, it’s about half what the Howard government has spent on its controversial advertising – and includes “clean coal” funding, such as the Latrobe Valley project which emits more CO2 than standard black coal plants in NSW. Pearse calculates that routine annual subsidies which encourage fossil fuel use (for roads, aviation, car-making and the aluminium industry) are about 28 times the greenhouse budget.
“We only produce 1% of global emissions, so nothing we do really matters”. Despite our small population, our emissions rank 10th in the world and our per capita emissions are the highest on earth.
“We lead the AP6 alternative, which is the practical way”. Pearse describes the AP6 charade as a “powerful credit-taking exercise for activities that are essentially business as usual”. It has no targets, no timetables and its members are tipped to double their emissions by 2050.
You can get a taste of Guy Pearse’s book on the High and Dry website , where the chapter entitled “Today’s Liberal Party: Amnesia and Quarry Vision”  can be read online. And, for those who missed it, this is the link to the transcript of the Four Corners program Greenhouse Mafia .
As the campaign rolls on, we will hear the government’s specious arguments over and over again. Guy Pearse’s book provides a very useful antidote to the overblown claims of “world leadership” which will surely lace the rhetoric. Whatever is said, we can be certain that, if he is re-elected, Howard will continue to delay and obfuscate on behalf of a small sector of Australian industry at great risk to the rest of us and the world at large.
Sally Woodward’s Review
Recently I came across a book called High and Dry; John Howard, climate change and the selling of Australia’s future. Prior to reading it, I had no idea what was going on behind the corporate and political scenes in relation to climate change and the extent of the control some of our biggest corporate polluters have on government policy. The book, written by Guy Pearse who was formerly a speech writer for Environment Minister Robert Hill, exposes the grip our big polluters have on the Howard Government.
I wanted to raise awareness of the book and felt that Webdiary would be the perfect forum to do this so I’ve provided an outline of the contents of each of the four sections in the book.
Part 1: Smokes & Mirrors
Climate change itself will not be swayed by argument and excuses for delay. It will only march on, into a danger zone from which there is no return for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. It is against this warning that arguments and excuses for delay should be judged. (p 52)
Pearse explains the basics behind global warming and outlines some of the climate change effects we’re already experiencing to help readers understand the magnitude and immediacy of the threat, and as a lead up to the information he provides on why Australia’s response to the threat has been so inadequate both politically and economically. As he points out, this section does not make for happy reading. He explains that it’s virtually impossible to find a reputable scientific organisation that disagrees with the proposition that human activity is responsible for the unprecedented rise in greenhouse gasses, and that although there are a small number of scientists who still believe this is a naturally occurring phenomenon, he is yet to find one who is not financially supported either directly or indirectly by the fossil fuel industry and it’s biggest customers.
In the past 250 years, the human population has increased from 1 to 6 billion, and we have seen an explosion of industrial development powered by the combustion of fossil fuels… we are burning coal… effectively using in one year the equivalent of 422 years of fossilised sunlight. At the same time, we have cleared huge areas of forest, not only removing the natural sponge that absorbs carbon from the atmosphere, but releasing the carbon those sponges had already soaked up. (pp 38-39)
He also examines how the world has responded to the crisis, in particular the impasse around the issue of developing countries vs developed countries; the history of international negotiations; the response by business and the successful demonstration that cutting emissions doesn’t harm the economy; and finally how states and cities around the world are acting to combat climate change despite the lack of federal leadership.
Just one of many examples, in California, Arnold Schwarzeneggar has the world’s 8th largest economy and is leading US cuts with the following mandates:
• 80% emissions reduction by 2050
• By 2017 at least 20 per cent of electricity sold in that state will come from renewable sources.
• By 2016 emissions from new vehicles will be cut by 30 per cent.
Pearse highlights the Howard Government’s ambiguous climate change policy going into the 1996 election… In a 50 page environment policy, climate change was relegated to a brief discussion on page 39 with few specifics and no spending commitments.
The premise of John Howard’s entire response to climate change is that he is saving us from economic ruin… the premise is spectacularly flawed and deliberately misleading. (p 97)
He provides a history of Australia’s involvement with the Kyoto Protocol, how the US provided Howard with the reason and opportunity to back out of Kyoto, and explains how Australia moved from Kyoto to the AP6.
Pearse outlines the various climate change packages the Howard government has introduced throughout its tenure from ‘Safeguarding the Future’ in 1997 through to ‘Nuclear Power & Uranium Mining’ in 2006-07 and more importantly, he looks at how John Howard’s greenhouse policies and the government’s main claims about climate change stack up.
For example, in response to the government’s continued claim that “Kyoto is not the answer to climate change; it is nothing more than a symbolic gesture…” he explains that Kyoto was never intended to be the answer, it was only ever meant to be a small step in the right direction and the decision by Australia and the US not to ratify reduces that step by about one third.
The book also examines the government’s $2 billion response to climate change and Pearse points out that the $2 billion is to be spent over 25 years commencing in 1996. This equates to an average of $80 million per year or about $4 per Australian per year and John Howard would have to win at least the next 4 federal elections, and be 81 years of age to preside over the last of his $2 billion being spent. This yearly average is also just 1 per cent of the amount the government provides annually for activities that boost greenhouse pollution.
Part 2: Carbon Capture: How Australia’s Biggest Polluters Captured John Howard
The Liberal Party was taking the country in precisely the wrong direction on climate change… we were on track to become a greenhouse ghetto – the place where the world’s dirtiest industries would choose to do business. (p 22)
Pearse reminds us that Andrew Peacock took the Liberal Party into the 1990 election with a commitment to reduce greenhouse emissions by 20 per cent by the year 2000. He looks at where various MPs stand on the issue of climate change, including the preferences of John Howard, and how suffering from ‘quarry vision’, the Liberal Party gradually moved away from the 20 per cent emissions cut and Kyoto.
He also outlines who John Howard trusts, who he hears inside his bureaucracy, and those businesses he can’t hear that would actually benefit from emissions reduction but who so far are remaining silent. He exposes what’s behind the information given to Howard from those he trusts and listens to, and talks about ‘the usual suspects’ that are determined to have any movement on climate change delayed as long as possible, including what Pearse dubs ‘The PM’s IX’ – those Australian’s whose work to deny the science or delay action has been critical to the ‘capture’ of John Howard.
Part 3: Australia High & Dry
The ‘carbon capture’ of John Howard is leaving Australia High and Dry… threatening our environment, economy, national security and our place in the world. (p 291)
In this section Pearse discusses in detail the predicted impact of climate change on temperatures in Australia according to the various models used by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO, and in turn, explains what that means for our environment in Australia.
He expands on the issue of ‘quarry vision’ and the Liberal Party’s reliance on the resources boom to secure Australia’s economy indefinitely. He explains how this is based on a total misreading of that economy through a set of assumptions that are dated, flawed, and disconnected from reality which consequently leaves Australia dangerously exposed as the world starts to price carbon, and greenhouse pollution becomes a financial liability. He explains the extent of our exposure by looking at the disparity between John Howard’s vision and reality, while also looking at how we are squandering the assets and opportunities that could dig us out.
The book details where our costs lie in adapting to climate change, how our national security is exposed through food and water scarcity, a decline in infrastructure, a potential breakdown of law and order, and the inevitable flood of climate change refugees.
Part 4: The Future
In the final section of the book Pease outlines the election year equation… what to expect from Kevin Rudd if Labor get in to power, and what to expect from John Howard if he’s returned, along with the five key issues that need to be understood by whoever wins power.
Finally, the book talks about what we can do both as a community and individuals, and how we can harness community leadership to help force the federal government to do the right thing.
This book should be on the ‘must read’ list for all Australians, but none more so than those who believe or hope the Howard Government will come around on climate change if re-elected.
It portrays a government that appears to be incapacitated by the clutches of big business polluters and the lure of profit, operating with the motto of ‘deny and delay’. Due to the pressure of public opinion they can no longer deny climate change and appear to have moved into the phase of delay as long as possible.
One thing I found particularly disturbing isPearse's comment
The party room is especially mute on the issue of climate change. I am reliably told by still serving government ministers and backbenchers that even as recently as late 2006 climate change had not been raised in the party room – not this century, and quite possibly not for the whole period of the Howard Government. Not one person stood up and sought to query, question or challenge the Howard Government’s policy in these meetings. (p 136)
Pearse has a website  which is well worth visiting, and he is also speaking at a number of forums around the country during the election campaign. Details of all forums can be found on his website.
In addition to being Robert Hill’s speech writer, Guy Pearse has been studying environmental policy for 18 years, has been an industry lobbyist, worked on the Clinton/Gore re-election campaign, is a Liberal Party member and aspiring federal candidate.