Wednesday, May 09, 2007

These lies will end in our misery

Clive Hamilton criticises the Howard Government's global warming policy -
Propaganda often works through fabrications so audacious that it is hard to know how to respond. This technique has been adopted by the federal Environment Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in his frequent claim that Australia is "leading the world" in the response to the climate crisis.

To counter the view at home and abroad that Australia is a pariah in efforts to tackle global warming, the Government has campaigned relentlessly to persuade voters the opposite is the case. To succeed it must somehow undo the hold of the facts.

The first fact that had to be countered was that Australia did extraordinarily well out of the Kyoto negotiations in 1997. After playing diplomatic hard-ball, Australia was conceded a very generous deal. Yet the Howard Government soon began to portray that great victory as a bad deal which would wreck the Australian economy. This repudiation of a gift from the rest of the world created widespread resentment.

The Government's various voluntary greenhouse programs with industry can be understood as publicity stunts rather than real efforts to cut emissions. When the Government early in its term commissioned a review of its flagship greenhouse challenge program, the results showed that only a sixth of the emission cuts claimed for the program were real. Now the Government refuses any independent scrutiny of its programs.

Irrespective of a few minor green policies announced in last night's federal budget, the failure of the Government to take effective measures to cut Australia's emissions is well understood by experts and policy makers abroad. When a team of German researchers asked hundreds of experts around the world to score industrialised countries according to their commitment to tackle climate change, Australia ranked second last, with only the US doing worse.

But we need not rely on expert testimony to disprove the Government's climate change fabrication. There is a simple and incontrovertible test of whether Australia is a leader or a laggard: are we reducing, or at least slowing the growth, of our greenhouse emissions?

Since the Howard Government came to power, Australia's emissions have increased by 19 per cent, a growth rate more than double the average of all other industrialised countries. And the Government expects them to grow by another 25 per cent by 2020. This is at a time when the world's climate scientists say we must reduce our emissions to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

When deploying the big-lie technique there are rules to be followed: be audacious; never admit fault; never accept the possibility of alternatives; and repeat the falsehood so often that people end up accepting it as truth. This describes the Government's approach, one now articulated with renewed vigour by Turnbull.

The strategy to avoid responsibility has two prongs: displace and defer. The Government has repeatedly displaced responsibility from itself, first by fingering developing countries as being "exempted" from Kyoto (itself a lie, as almost all developing counties have ratified the treaty). More recently it has shifted the blame to China, stating there is no point acting if China "pollutes the environment to its heart's content", in the words of Alexander Downer.

The Europeans have also been blamed. They are pretending to cut emissions to impose a cost on Australia, goes the argument. Most recently, the bizarre policy of allocating $200 million to reduce logging in the Third World is another attempt to shift responsibility from the need to reduce fossil emissions at home.

The second prong is to defer action. While imposing no effective measures to cut emissions now, the Government has put its faith in the development of "clean coal" technologies and nuclear power, the most important features of which are that neither would have a significant effect on our greenhouse emissions for at least 15 to 20 years.

In the public mind the facts are often weak in the face of persistent and passionate fabrications by figures of authority. In the 1930s the leaders of Europe, still traumatised by the Great War, wanted to believe that the rise of fascism did not mean another war, that it was possible to appease an expansionist dictator and live in peace. Winston Churchill was one of the few with a clear-eyed understanding of Nazi aggression, yet his warnings were ignored. There are parallels with Al Gore's long crusade.

But truth frequently gains a momentum of its own. The question then is how much damage will be done before it prevails. In the case of climate change the answer is "a great deal". The 10 years lost will translate into enormous additional human misery later this century. If Turnbull perseveres with the lies, the misery will only accumulate and add to the imbalance on his karmic ledger.

One can only conclude that the Howard Government either doesn't believe or doesn't care about the issue of global warming; it is only interested in playing political games to get itself re-elected and to serve the big corporate emitters which are its backers.

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