For deniers, politics beats the science. Handouts beat both by George Monbiot

24/8/2010 Guardian it was Australia’s second climate change election. Climate change deposed the former leaders of both main parties:Kevin Rudd (Labor) because his position was too weak, Malcolm Turnbull (Liberal) because his was too strong. When Julia
Gillard, the new Labor leader, also flunked the issue, many of her supporters defected to the Greens.
Labor’s collapse began when the senate rejected Rudd’s emissions trading scheme.
Faced with a choice of dissolving parliament and calling an election or dropping
the scheme, he chickened out and lost the confidence of the party. Gillard’s
support began to slide when she proposed to defer climate change policy to a
citizen’s assembly. Nearly 70% of the votes she lost went to the Greens.
Turnbull, like Rudd, was ousted over the emissions scheme, but six months
earlier. His support for it split the Liberal party, and just before the first
senate vote last December he was overthrown by Tony Abbott, who had told his
supporters that climate change “is absolute crap”. If Abbott manages to form a
government, he will reverse the result of the 2007 election, in which the
Liberal party was defeated partly because it wouldn’t act on climate change.
It’s not difficult to see why this is a hot issue in Australia. The country has
been hammered by drought and bushfires. It has the highest carbon dioxide
emissions per person of any major economy outside the Arabian peninsula.
Australians pollute more than Americans, twice as much as people in the UK and
four times more than the Chinese. Most Australians want to change this, but the
coal industry keeps their politicians on a short leash. Like New Labour here,
Rudd and Gillard’s administration was a government of flinchers. It has been
punished for appeasing industrial lobbyists and the rightwing press.
Australia provides yet more evidence that climate science divides people on
political lines. Abbott is no longer an outright denier, though he still
insists, in the teeth of the facts, that the world has cooled since 1997. Some
members of his party go further: Senator Nick Minchin maintains that “the whole
climate change issue is a leftwing conspiracy to deindustrialise the western
world”. (He has also insisted that cigarettes are not addictive and the link
between passive smoking and illness can’t be demonstrated). A recent poll
suggests that 38% of politicians in Abbott’s coalition believe man-made global
warming is taking place, in comparison with 89% of Labor’s people.
It’s the same story everywhere. At a senatorial hustings in New Hampshire last
week, all six Republican candidates denied that man-made climate change is
taking place. Judging by its antics in the Senate and primary campaigns all over
the US, the party appears to be heading for a unanimous rejection of the
science. Václav Klaus, the ultra-neoliberal Czech president, asserts that
“global warming is a false myth and every serious person and scientist says so”.
The hard-right UK Independence party may soon be led by Lord Monckton, the
craziest man in British politics, who claims that action on climate change is a
conspiracy to create a communist world government. The further to the right you
travel, the more likely you are to insist that man-made climate change isn’t
happening. Denial has nothing to do with science and everything to do with
In the Telegraph, the Conservative Daniel Hannan tried to explain this
association. “When presented with a new discovery, we automatically try to press
it into our existing belief-system; if it doesn’t fit, we question the discovery
before the belief-system.” He’s right, we all do this. It is also true that in
some respects an antagonism to climate science is consistent with rightwing –
especially neoliberal – politics. The philosophy of the new right is summarised
by this chilling statement from Václav Klaus. “Human wants are unlimited and
should stay so.”
But rightwing denial leads to perverse outcomes. In a desperate attempt to
appease deniers in his party, Turnbull proposed handing £70bn to industry to
soften the impacts of acting on climate change. Rudd’s scheme, by contrast, was
more or less self-financing. Abbott intends to lavish subsidies on polluting
companies without demanding any corresponding obligations. State handouts?
Rights without responsibilities? When did these become conservative policies?
Since way back. In the US Republicans also favour green incentives for industry,
without caps or regulation. Worldwide, subsidies for fossil fuels are 12 times
greater than subsidies for renewable energy. Many of the most generous handouts
are awarded by rightwing governments (think of the money lavished on the oil
industry under George Bush).
Yes, climate change denial is about politics, but it’s more pragmatic than
ideological. The politics have been shaped around the demands of industrial
lobby groups – which in many cases fund those who articulate them. Rightwingers
are making monkeys of themselves not just because their beliefs take precedence
over the evidence, but also because their interests often take precedence over
their beliefs.
A fully referenced version of this article can be found on George Monbiot’s
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