In this month’s cover essay, ‘A Dark Victory’, Robert Manne analyses how the push for urgent global action on human-induced climate change was defeated. Manne focuses on the United States, where nothing has been done nor, in all probability, will be done, whether or not the Democrats win another term. Climate science in the US has become as politicised as gun control; effectively, this means it can only be addressed by conservative forces. It’s worth remembering that in Australia it took an enlightened conservative – or at least a conservative momentarily enlightened in the wake of national despair – to take on the gun lobby and prevail.
Beyond vengeance, despair doesn’t seem to motivate Americans much. Any action to address social or environmental ills is quickly smothered by vested interests. Manne lays bare the nefarious method behind the discrediting of climate scientists: the corruption of public debate through the dissemination of doubt, a tactic well honed in previous campaigns to stymie action on smoking, ozone depleting CFC emissions and acid rain. Not only has the strategy been the same but big business has funded the very same scientists to implement it.
Today, the campaign to protect the world from runaway climate change has been quashed as comprehensively as the efforts to protect American students, families and cinema-goers from being shot: Republicans 2, reason 0.
If it’s any consolation, in the minor league of Australia reason remains just in front. Exhibits 1 and 2: Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart. Both are climate change denialists. In this country that makes them look, well, a little ranting. Oracles of authority they are not. Their attempts at procuring influence have been risible or, in the case of Rinehart’s moves on Fairfax and her promotion of Andrew Bolt, risibly transparent. More than that, though, there is little question that their denialism is sincerely held. They are miners, and miners place their faith in geology, the most inherently nihilistic of the sciences. Geologists observe changes in stone, not life. Humanity is but a blip. They’ll tell you, as Rinehart and company love to parrot, that the climate has always been changing. Of course, most geologists also readily acknowledge it’s the rate of change that is of concern now.
It’s no coincidence that the only Australian scientist of any note attacking the case for climate science, Ian Plimer, is a geologist. Unlike his fellow denialist stooges in the US, Plimer made his name not by countering the links between smoking and lung cancer, but by contesting the creationist case for God. He made sense once.