Greenhouse mafia's scorching approach to climate change

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Scorcher: The dirty politics of climate change, by Clive Hamilton. Black Inc., Australia, 2007. ISBN 9780977594900. RRP $29.95.

Greenhouse mafia's scorching approach to climate changeOnce I had a discussion about the future with a Minister in the Irish Government. He told me not to worry about it too much. "Posterity," he said, "has never done anything for us." Climate change is about the future; but a future which creeps up on us every day. It threatens living standards, lifestyles, quality of life, all the aspirational clichés of human existence. It’s not comfortable to think about.

No wonder people hope for arguments which suggest it will go away. The discussion about climate change has become increasingly feverish, polemical and downright dishonest. So, I should state my own position right at the beginning.

I’m a lay person who believes that the overwhelming consensus of international scientists is correct. Climate change is happening, it is substantially contributed to by human activity and particularly the burning of fossil fuels. If we can, we should do something about it. I think we owe something to posterity.

Clive Hamilton, the author of Scorcher, has been pretty consistent on environmental issues over the years and about climate change. In 1999 the Australia Institute, of which he is the Director, published a damning report which alleged that Australia had the highest level of Greenhouse gas emissions per person of any industrialised country in the world.

In Scorcher, he follows up the issues worldwide, from the international negotiations leading to the signing of the Kyoto agreement to the various strategies adopted by countries in response to growing awareness of the implications of global warming.

The big question is why Australia, an apparently enthusiastic signatory of the Kyoto agreement (subject to special conditions) not only failed to ratify Kyoto but actively sought to undermine its influence. In the Australian context, the sub-title of Hamilton’s book The dirty politics of climate change tells us something of the answers to this question.

In fact, this is very much a book about the pollution of Australian democratic processes by a combination of self-interested corporations, an ignorant and apathetic media (with some exceptions) and a spineless government manipulated by a prime minister who failed to comprehend important issues which fell outside the narrow confines of his political imagination.

If Clive Hamilton were only half right , and I believe this well documented book is a lot more than half right, then it is a shameful story.

It is a story of government bureaucrats reacting to the apparent influence of environmentalists and of the formation of a self-styled 'greenhouse mafia' (formed principally from executives of the mining, coal, aluminium and energy sectors), which became enormously influential in government decision making.

Greenhouse mafia's scorching approach to climate changeIn its period of greatest influence this group sometimes had direct access to cabinet papers, held secret meetings with the prime minister and a few of his close colleagues, and on one occasion in 2003 had a cabinet decision (supported by all government agencies other than Finance) reversed after two members of the 'greenhouse mafia' (Rio Tinto and Alcoa) lobbied the Prime Minister.

A lot of things happened because of the cosy relationship between the 'greenhouse mafia' and the prime minister. Australian delegations to international negotiations on climate change were largely comprised of representatives from the major polluting companies. The renewable energy industry (solar, wind power, etc) became the enemy, to be discouraged as a potential alternative to the fossil fuel industry.

The government showed itself willing to accept flawed modelling from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics so long as it agreed with the government’s position. It even used material from this source to try to frighten developing countries about aspects of the Kyoto agreement.

The CSIRO suffered a different fate, with pressure being exerted on scientists not to talk about climate change and one, Dr Graeme Pearman, being effectively sacked. This was all part of government attempts to manipulate public opinion, a task which included the appointment of a tame Chief Scientist who happened to also be Chief Technologist at Rio Tinto.

Hamilton describes the government’s strategy on climate change as "do nothing at home and work hard to prevent others taking action". So there was encouragement of apathy here because of a loathing of environmentalism and "feverish activity abroad" to protect the interests of the coal export industry.

In the Australian context, Hamilton writes, "the government was ... enamoured of green consumerism"; green energy, hybrid cars, all that sort of stuff, which laudable though it may be "contributes to the progressive privatisation of responsibility for environmental degradation". The more individuals are made to feel responsible for the problem the less the onus on the government, which should be providing leadership and policy direction on such a significant issue.

For a long time the public was relatively apathetic about global warming: neither alert nor particularly alarmed. The tide turned during 2006, probably as a result of a long drought, very hot summers and the Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth. Now, suddenly it’s an election issue, a frantic struggle for credibility. In the meantime, Australia has lost ten years and our political system has been guided into further disrepute. It’s this part of the story which makes me particularly angry: the evidence of a government sinking to new lows in honesty and openness in its administration.

Clive Hamilton tells it well and his book should be widely read by people concerned about Australian democracy.

 

 

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I look forward to reading "Scorcher". Others, such as Australia's Sharon Beder, have investigated the mafia-like activities of fossil fuel companies and government. The climate change hypocrisy of the Howard and Bush governments are surely directly related to their push for the nuclear industry and for US "new generation" of nuclear weapons. Christina www.antinuclearaustralia.com
Christina Macpherson | 14 June 2007


I have read this book. I spent one sleepless night grieving over the mess we have made to our planet home and trying to write a letter to my potential grandchildren, apologising for it.
When I raise these matters in workplaces, I find people come out of their offices and express great concern about our politicians inability to see that the time for change is now, not 10 years in the future, maybe.
Eira Clapton | 14 June 2007


I hope all people of faith get to hear and understand how divorced from the kingdom or God's creation the federal government and its mates with money power and influence really are. We cannot entrust the increasingly fragile planet we all depend upon to those people who have been shown to be knowingly trashing it in the name of their almighty god of mammon and their own self interest.
Angela Ballard | 14 June 2007


Thanks for your excellent review of Scorcher John. I just wish you were still a Labor Minister. Have you thought about coming out of retirement?
Chris McGrath | 14 June 2007


The UK Stern Review was probably also influential in changing perceptions. Its language of economics seems better understood in Canberra than the language of ecology.
George Emeleus | 14 June 2007


I'm afraid John's take on climate change is too secular and superficial. For a full and deeper CATHOLIC understanding of the climate change scam and its origins and dangers,John needs to read "Environmental Evolution: From Darwin to "Gaia" and Beyond Genocide" at
www.christianorder.com/features/features_2006/features_oct06.html
As for his spurious claim about the "overwhelming consensus of international scientists", I suggest he consider (for starters) the 18,000 scientists who have signed the ‘Oregon petition’ [www.sitewave.net], which declares global warming a lie with no scientific basis whatsoever! Many of those lies (and half-truths) have been presented by Al Gore in his film without the least scrutiny or complaint by the enviro-socialist lobby.
"Manipulated," "downright dishonest," "shameful," "spineless", "ignorant".... Right descriptions, John. Wrong target!
For a little more info about Al himself and the sort of self-interested political ignorami leading clueless churchmen into the man-made global warming con, John might also consider my editorial "Inconvenient Truth" at www.christianorder.com/editorials/editorials_2006/editorials_oct06.html
(Heavy sigh...)
Rod Pead

Rod Pead | 14 June 2007


Great article John. I agree with Chris McGrath. What chance a comeback to federal politics?
maryrose thomas | 14 June 2007


With degree in Physical Chemistry and as a subscriber of NewScientist for two decades, I have known that the scientific consensus that climate trends have been unambiguously towards warming for at least 15 years; before that it was still possible that the world was approaching the end of the present interglacial period. It is with this knowledge that I have watched the public discussion follow.
The IPA and its journalistic mouthpieces (at the behest of theifr mining corporate masters) have gone postmodern - they claim that their fatuosities are as valid as the findings of people who actually know what they are talking about, such as Graham Pearman.
PM John Vidrun Howard has gone with the big money, rather as his namesake Vidrun Quisling gave Norway's acquiescence to a like-minded all-conquering corporate state in 1939.
Just think, if John Howard's parents had had the wisdom to name their son after the greatest national leader of WW2, Churchill, perhaps Clive Hamilton would not have had to write Scorcher, about how the Australian PM sold all our grandchildren out.
David Arthur | 14 June 2007


Clive Hamilton is a prophet of our times. God bless him and his endevours.
Emmanuel Sant | 20 June 2007


Rod Ped, you put faith in the wrong sources. The Catholic Church is not blind or mute to the crisis facing the earth. (Nor do they have any problems with evolution.) Catholic Earth Care Australia. Also
Protect God's creation: Vatican issues new green message for world's Catholics (The Guardian)
,
Pope: Listen to the earth and do not destroy it (ABC America)
Jay Alt | 06 October 2007


labor is the only party guilty of dirty politics. john howard was interested in the integrity of science over the poltical views of graham pearman. now that labor is in power they have sacked anyone that doesn't agree with them. the sun drives climate change and graham pearmans co2 models are a politically driven lie.
george rock | 20 September 2008


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