The Greenhouse Mafia


Last month I wrote about author and former Howard Government adviser Dr Guy Pearse’s take on the politics of climate change. In his book High and Dry, Pearse writes about the Greenhouse Mafia and their enormous influence on the Howard Government’s policy (or lack thereof) on dealing with climate change.

In the same article, I outlined how the growing awareness of this issue could well divide the Liberal Party, and how many National Party MPs have been forced to accept the overwhelming sentiment of their largely rural constituents that worsening droughts and reduced prospects for commercial fishing must have some (human-induced) environmental cause.

Thanks to Bill Leak

The strange thing is, despite the overwhelming evidence of human involvement in global warming, there are still large pockets of scepticism in conservative circles. Already, four prominent Howard backbenchers Jackie Kelly, Danna Vale, Dennis Jensen and David Tollner have questioned the existence of climate change. In a dissenting chapter to a Parliamentary report, this quartet of MPs have written that:

most of the public statements that promote the dangerous human warming scare are made from a position of ignorance by political leaders, press commentators and celebrities who share the characteristics of lack of scientific training and lack of an ability to differentiate between sound science and computer-based scaremongering.

This isn’t far off from the consensus of Coalition MPs as expressed hardly 12 months ago. In this regard, it’s amazing what you find when you go through old papers and separate today’s rubbish from tomorrow’s. Over the weekend, I was cleaning out my office when I found an old edition of the weekend Australian Financial Review from June 2006.

I thought I’d better go through it one more time before throwing it in the recycling bin. After turning a few pages, I noticed an article by Lenore Taylor called ‘Shift on Carbon Trading.’

John Howard might deny until he is black and blue in the face that he has been a climate change sceptic. He might claim he has always been in step with the views of both the business and the broader communities. Yet the AFR article showed that as late as June last year, Howard was still refusing to adopt a carbon trading scheme.

In fact, it was only after such a scheme was recommended by the PM’s nuclear energy inquiry that Environment Minister Ian Campbell ‘welcomed the idea.’ Here’s what Campbell had to say:

I absolutely believe that we have to design a carbon price signal for Australia that does not create the perverse effect of driving greenhouse emissions offshore, closely followed by jobs and investment.

It’s hard to know what to make of Campbell’s words, but the main point of mentioning this article is encapsulated in the following sentence:

Government policy is that it is too early to implement emissions trading because it would harm Australia’s economic competitiveness, and Treasurer Peter Costello dismissed the idea the inquiry could consider a carbon tax.

The Howard Government was more worried about what it saw as our short- and medium-term economic gain. But what were business (at least those outside the Greenhouse Mafia) thinking? Taylor’s article notes that ‘business groups have called on the Government to embrace a carbon price signal by the end of the year.’

Even employers now want action on climate change. Yet Howard has been asleep at the wheel. And it seems his Deputy has been sleeping with him.

Speaking of newspapers, Pearse’s website identifies the PM’s XI. No, not the cricket team. Pearse is talking about a list of ‘Australians whose work to deny the science or delay action has been critical to the œcarbon capture  of John Howard by our biggest polluters.’

I felt it was rather unfair that Pearse listed Chris Mitchell of The Australian as the ’12th man’ in this lot. Yet when I spoke with Pearse, I found him particularly scathing in his criticism of the role played by conservative elements in the national broadsheet as well as other News Limited papers. Pearse made a point of attacking the editorial and op-ed line taken by the national broadsheet.

Even since that transformation in the News Corp position, there’s been a continuation in The Australian of a very sycophantic re-write of the Government’s position. Particularly by some columnists, most notably Dennis Shanahan. You see the same flavour coming through on the Opinion page.

The editorial has just been singing the Howard Government’s song sheet. They’ve been perpetuating the idea that climate change is green religion. Even on Saint Valentine’s Day this year, long after Rupert Murdoch’s transformation [acknowledging the truth of human-caused climate change], there was an editorial suggesting this was going to be the ‘Club of Rome’ all over again. There’s not been a change [in editorial policy]at all. They say they’re interested in practical change, but they haven’t systematically taken apart any of the Howard policies.

High and Dry is no less scathing, with Pearse claiming ‘insiders at the paper had confirmed’ to him that The Australian‘s ‘increasingly marginal views on climate change can be traced back’ to Mitchell. This has even manifested itself in the paper running an anonymous op-ed written by a special correspondent whose sole qualification to write on the subject was that s/he was ’employed by a resources lobby.’

And don’t even get me started on the imbecilic arguments of the likes of Tim Blair (opinion editor of The Daily Telegraph) and Andrew Bolt (star columnist for The Herald-Sun).

Allow me to end this with a lesson from one of the more refined products of Hollywood. Remember that slapstick comedy Top Secret? In the film, which is set during the Cold War, the World War II French underground rescue a scientist detained by East German communists before he completes his giant magnet designed to capture NATO submarines.

Perhaps the only rational sentence in the entire movie is where the scientist’s daughter ponders her future on the other side of the Iron Curtain with her Yankee popstar lover. She thinks aloud: ‘Things change. People change. Hairstyles change. Interest rates fluctuate.’

In the last election, many voters were sucked in by the prospect of keeping interest rates down and mortgage repayments on the McMansion as low as possible. When Australians exercise their vote this time round, the future of our planet should be uppermost in their minds.

As former Liberal insiders, ‘resources industry lobbyists’ and even media moguls move beyond scepticism, it’s time for us to insist on action.

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