When I wrote my long response to John Menadue, I did so because I had suggested to him on previous occasions that he accepted the views of people like Ross Garnaut far too easily and without challenge. John had attacked Tony Abbott about the wind-farm issue as though all the truth was on his own side. Since I had just written a piece on the wind-farm issue I felt able to disagree, with chapter and verse.
And I expected some sort of response. My reply to him was full of references to other work. Surely he would put up his own defence. Not a bit of it. It seems that he has declined to respond in any way other than to suggest that I stay on my own website and not bother his. This is hugely disappointing to me. The wind-farm issue is a central policy problem for those who think that by building wind farms we are ‘combatting climate change’. I think building wind farms is a colossal waste of money, and I’ve shown why I think so. Not to engage in such a debate, if you are a policy analyst, as John Menadue is, is to elevate your own views from the world of rationality to the world of belief.
I could accept a response like ‘Well, there are other factors involved, like this and that.’ But simply to shut off debate, with a ‘Debate not wanted here’ sign is, to me, an almost craven response. It is suggestive of ‘Look I don’t have a decent response to your criticisms, and I don’t even want to think about them, So please go away.’
And of course, one’s instant reaction is that if this is the response to well-argued criticism on something one knows a little about, how much can one trust the other perspectives that the website has. All this makes me feel that John Menadue, whom I have known since he was a Labor candidate for Hume in 1966 (no, even earlier, when he was on Gough Whitlam’s staff), is now too committed to his own point of view to be trusted on anything about policy. And that is a great pity.
I mentioned Robert Manne in the title because at the head of the piece of John’s to which I wrote a response there was a reference to a piece by Robert Manne extolling the virtues of the Pope’s Encyclical, about which I wrote a piece of my own. Now Robert Manne has twice been voted ‘Australia’s leading public intellectual’, though by whom is not mentioned. He is another commentator who declines to take notice of anything critical about the orthodoxy of global warming, and I took him to task for that intellectual failing three years ago.
Nothing has changed. Manne tells us that we are faced with a crisis of civilisation of equivalent depth but of an altogether different kind [to the ‘moral collapse’ after the Great War] – the gradual but apparently inexorable human-caused destruction of the condition of the Earth in which human life has flourished over the past several thousand years, at whose centre is the phenomenon we call either global warming or climate change.
Manne goes on: During the past decade I have read scores of books and thousands of articles, many outstanding, examining from every conceivable angle and also trying to explain the wreckage we are knowingly inflicting on the Earth. Like what exactly, I want to ask, much too late of course. Robert and his papal mate need to read some more cheerful material, like the work of Jesse Asubel I referred to in a recent essay. It’s not as bad as you think, at all! Why haven’t you read the other side, the more positive, cheerful possibilities that the advance of human civilisation offer us?
Well, that would get in the way of the big, black awful future that Manne believes is coming, and ‘denialists’ like me (yes, he uses the term ‘climate change denialism’ in his essay) are just obstructionists in the pay of Big Oil or some other capitalist league of evil. I have never sorted out why Robert Manne thinks as he does. So much of his writing seems to me as almost a betrayal of the intellect. But I can see why John Menadue thought that Manne’s piece deserved honourable mention on his website.
Economists have techniques to use, and they need problems to solve. If you tell them that the world is coming to an awful crisis because of the the over-use of fossil fuels, they will design mechanisms for you that will avert the evil hour. It is not for them to question the problem you have provided them. It is enough for them to know how to tackle it.
Ross Garnaut indeed said in his Report that it wasn’t for him to question the validity of the problem. Science had spoken, and that was that. Anyway, he wanted the job. There is something to it, to be sure. Judith Curry calls global warming a ‘wicked problem’, meaning that it is not clear even there is a problem, and if there is it is not clear how to deal with it. I agree with her which is why I’m happy to be classed as a ‘lukewarmer’. Back to Robert Manne: he says it really is a terrible, awful and world-shattering problem, and there are those who deny it, too. So there’s support for the economists and policymakers who want to ‘fix’ it.
The test for me, with respect to websites, is whether they tolerate dissent. I was appalled that John Menadue wouldn’t tolerate a dissenting voice on his website. That instantly reduced greatly the value of everything that was on it. My own website has entered its fourth year, and has had nearly 500 comments. Not one has been expunged from the record, so to speak. I do put into the spam bin apparent references to one of my essays that turn to to be offers of Viagra or Cialis at cheap prices. But real comments from real people, no. Everyone gets their say. I try to respond to them all, too, which is a lot of work.
Not only that, I learn greatly from reading other points of view. I get things wrong, and make errors of other kinds. The comments remind me that I am as liable to error as the next person, and that makes me keener to get it right the first time. Websites that don’t accept criticism cannot be about the world of ideas but are a kind of preaching. That points to religion ,not to science and really finding out about the world and our role in it.