The title of this essay comes from an online website to which I subscribe, PoliticOz, and because the text that follows is so striking I thought it would be useful to set it out in full.
Denialism comes in many forms. The most obvious is literal denial, in which facts are denied outright. But there are more insidious and dangerous forms (coined ‘interpretive’ and ‘implicatory’ denial by sociologist Stanley Cohen). These acknowledge basic truths but deny their significance. Facts are minimised or reframed out of the debate, inaction excused or rationalised away, and their moral weight denied.
In the past week the government has, in relation to climate change, exhibited such denialism in all its forms.
With global CO2 levels hitting record highs, and the scientific consensus clearer than ever, the government has refused to send a single MP to the next round of UN climate change talks in Poland, and cancelled its related briefings. It has approved a massive new coal mine and tried to reframe the debate on carbon pricing as one about household electricity prices.
This comes on top of de-funding the Climate Commission; denying the link between climate change and extreme fire conditions; accusing the UN climate chief of “talking through her hat”; and trying to repeal the carbon tax without giving any detail of its ‘direct action’ plan.
In a speech in the UK this week, bizarrely titled ‘One religion is enough’, John Howard referred to climate science as a “substitute religion” and spoke of the “alleged views of experts”. His own actions, he admitted, were driven purely by his political instincts. Is this now the position of the entire Coalition, including those who once supported an emissions trading scheme?
What would an agnostic say to all this? I don’t have much to comment on the first paragraph on ‘denialism’. The Wikipedia entry has a useful definition, drawn probably from the field of public health: ‘It has been proposed that the various forms of denialism have the common feature of the rejection of overwhelming evidence and the generation of a controversy through attempts to deny that a consensus exists.’ I would focus on the issue of ‘overwhelming evidence’.
With respect to ‘climate change’, one could respond as follows. First, it is true that global CO2 levels have hit record highs, and also true that global warming has levelled out (I’ll devote my post tomorrow to that subject). It follows that there must be other influences at work on global temperature, and that if CO2 is not all-powerful now, it can’t have been all-powerful in the past, either. Not to recognise this is a sign that belief in the imminent threat of ‘climate change’ is more powerful than attention to the evidence for and against it.
The ‘scientific consensus’ is hardly ‘clearer than ever’, though the 5th IPCC Report claims that it is. Given the 17-year pause, and the impossibility of carbon dioxide’s being responsible both for warming and for the lack of it, and the failure of the models to predict the actual observed temperatures over the past twenty years, to say that scientific confidence has risen about the effect of our burning fossil fuels is close to fatuous.
I can only applaud the Government’s decision to be represented at the coming Warsaw talks by a single diplomat. These massive meetings achieve nothing, cost a lot and paradoxically, from the point of view of those who worry about such a thing, add unnecessarily to greenhouse emissions. There is virtually no sign that an abiding global treaty to deal with ‘climate change’ is going to occur, let alone that it is necessary (see above). Why waste money on sending a team to yet another futile talk show?
Coal provides 70 per cent of our electricity. Neither solar energy nor wind is yet able (or likely to be able) to provide significant grid power, while we have little more scope in Australia for hydro, and nuclear energy still seems politically difficult. Other than gas, coal is the only possible source for new grid power. And electricity prices are really important to families with low incomes.
The Climate Commission was not a dispassionate provider of valid information but a Ministry of Propaganda, probably the worst example of such an entity that I can remember in Australia. It should never have been created. Even the IPCC, in its 2012 Report on Extreme Weather, accepted that there was no observational evidence that extreme weather events could be linked to greenhouse gas emissions. In my view the UN climate chief’ should not have instructed the Prime Minister of a nation state about his actions with respect to ‘climate change’, and in any case ‘the science’ doesn’t support her view any more than the IPCC itself does.
Finally, the repeal of the carbon tax has been the single most consistent goal of the Coalition ever since Mr Abbott became its leader, and arguably it was the single most important policy reason the Coalition won office in September. In my view the Coalition is entitled to set about repealing the tax whatever else it decides to put in place, if anything.
Apart from that last opinion of mine and the earlier one about the proper way for a UN official to talk about the leader of a UN member state, everything else I have put forward is based on the scientific evidence that is available to us all, including the editor of PoliticOz. The fact that an editor can simply ignore the evidence points to the powerful belief, akin to a religious one, that supporters of the supposed need to combat ‘climate change’ possess about the goal, no matter that the the scientific evidence increasingly suggests that carbon dioxide cannot be the enemy it was once thought to be.