Roll Over, Galileo


"This carbon tax debate is almost completely out of hand," Alan Jones told his 2GB listeners yesterday. The coal and car industries aren’t getting anywhere with their negotiations — and anyway "why these outfits [coal and car industry]engage with the government in these sorts of talks is beyond me, it’s like talking to a brick wall" — and ominous reports predict that "the nation’s electricity bill" is going to rise.

"We are now entering very serious territory. And today this program is doing something about it."

And with that, Jones launched the Galileo Movement, a local lobby group whose objective is to expose "misrepresentations pushing a price on carbon dioxide". Dig deep and donate, Jones implored his listeners. The Gillard Government is treating us like mugs, "real world scientists" are being silenced, it’s time "to reconnect with Galileo’s spirit".

Why Galileo? Because, according to Jones and the Galileo Movement, we’re living in a time when objective science is being replaced by "ideology, ignorance and state control". Jones has thrown his support behind the anti-carbon tax lobby, encouraging his readers to attend rallies and share their concerns with politicians. So who is behind the movement?

Case Smit and John Smeed, two retirees with backgrounds in science and engineering respectively, are the men behind the Galileo Movement.

"We care about freedom, security, the environment, humanity and our future" — and we don’t want to pay a carbon tax. Last year, Smit and Smeed organised an Australian tour by Lord Monckton, "famous," they write "for explaining the scientific data, the statistics and the UN bureaucracy’s political fabrication of global warming alarm".

Frustrated by limited media coverage of Monckton’s visit, infuriated by the alleged misrepresentation of climate science, and livid at the prospect of a carbon tax, they established the Galileo Movement:

"The key to ending corruption of science and politicised misappropriation of public funds is to reach out to people directly by enabling people to discover climate reality themselves. People are then free to protect Australia, workers, families, jobs and industry against politicised misrepresentation of science. Voters will have the power to influence politicians of all parties to vote against any carbon dioxide taxing or ‘trading’."

Jones and the Galileo Movement are using a fairly broad brush to set up the Italian scientist as a latter-day anti-statist, a hero for modern-day free thinkers. On the movement’s website, it’s put pretty simply: "Galileo stood up to statism".

Galileo was an Italian scientist who Stephen Hawkings — and many others — recognise as the father of modern science. He invented a telescope sufficient to the task of proving Copernicus’ theory that the earth orbited the sun, rather than the other way around. His further innovations and invention were numerous, but like Copernicus, what got him in trouble with the Church was his work on heliocentricism. He was hauled before the Inquisition twice and lived out the last years of his life under house arrest.

Back to Jones: "You may ask how much has changed in 500 years. We’re back to fabricated science and central control." It’s actually more like 400 years, but numbers are funny old things — and so are historical analogies.

Climate sceptics — advocates of real world science — are here likened to Galileo and his supporters. Following this logic, Ian Plimer, Bob Carter, Lord Monckton and co are suffering for their science in the same way as Galileo did. Galileo was persecuted by the Inquisition, ergo Julia Gillard and Tim Flannery are agents of a 21st century Inquisitorial Church. The publication and dissemination of Galileo’s work was restricted thus the marginal status of climate sceptic scientists within the scientific establishment warrants the incessant broadcast of their views on talkback radio. Does it? And does that make a carbon tax somehow tantamount to house arrest? It’s a clumsy, unwieldy analogy and the claims that Smit and Smeed make for it seem, well, more suited to their opponents.

Here’s why they argue Galileo is the right figurehead for the movement:

"Taking his name, we honour his integrity and courage in championing freedom and protecting science. He replaced religious doctrine with solid observable data. His outspoken defence of truth is a rallying cry to all people valuing freedom and objective understanding of the world. His spirit guides us to ensure that we and future generations continue making the world a better place to live — by protecting the environment and making honest decisions based on factual scientific evidence."

This week, the Multi Party Climate Change Committee is exerting itself to make some honest decisions.

Rob Oakeshott, who’s taken a bludgeoning from Jones and his ilk since throwing his vote behind the Gillard Government, spoke to James Carleton on Radio National this morning. Warren Truss and Barnaby Joyce spoke at an anti-carbon tax rally in Port Macquarie, in Oakeshott’s seat of Lyne over the weekend. Although he acknowledged that his constituents had some concerns about the carbon tax, the independent came across all Galileo when he said that he wouldn’t "respond to the noisy mob of the moment".

He said the committee was "negotiating like crazy", conducting up to three meetings a day to lock down a price on carbon. Oakeshoot is looking for "pragmatic outcomes", arguing the broad agreement to reduce emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 meant that this was an issue that wasn’t going to go away, regardless of who is in office. Indeed, as he put it, "this is now a policy contest, not a science contest".

There was, however, an empty seat at the table — the one that had been left vacant by the Coalition. In a statement that may have made the Galileo Movement wince, Oakeshott said, "I’m at the table because I get the science and because I’m convinced the majority of scientists have made a good case." In refusing to take part, the Coalition is essentially "standing on the sidelines and chucking stones".

This year, some serious stone chuckers have joined the Coalition. New movements aplenty are emerging to challenge government policy, and especially taxation. Big Gambling is waving the flag against pokies reform, Big Mining doesn’t want a mining tax or a carbon tax, and Big Tobacco is prepared to slash their own profits to undermine plain packaging legislation. And now the Galileo Movement joins the rest of the anti-carbon circus in thundering variously against a carbon tax and climate science. They have a powerful ally in Alan Jones in spreading their message of low taxes, small government and "real world science". It might not have much to do with Galileo, but when have the facts ever gotten in the way of a good anti-statist story?


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