A new diatribe demonstrates how demonising opponents creates a climate hostile to reasoned policy debate, writes IPA Communications Director Evan Mulholland.
Marian Wilkinson is described on the inside of her new book, The Carbon Club, as a “multi-award winning journalist”, but many of the claims read like the ramblings of a conspiracy theorist on Twitter.
What it fails to accept is the reality of what I will call The Mandate Club. The book concentrates on a small number of people in order to explain away the reasons why at every election since climate change became an election issue, Australians always have voted against the party offering more “action” on climate change. Mainstream Australians understand we contribute just 1.3 per cent to global carbon emissions. Whatever we do will not make any difference to the world’s climate, the weather, or the Great Barrier Reef. With that as the context, it is absolutely reasonable in public debate to question the consequences of carbon taxes and other such ‘actions’, and mount a reasoned argument against them.
This book is being reviewed because IPA members reached out, as it mentions the IPA quite a bit—20 times, to be precise. From an organisational standpoint, I could not be prouder of the role the IPA played in mounting the case against the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, the Emissions Trading Scheme, the Carbon Tax, and even its later incarnation, the National Energy Guarantee.
Assuming bad faith in political opponents prevents real debate.
Wilkinson credits the Institute of Public Affairs as “one of the first serious think tanks in Australia to attack mainstream climate science”. She describes a “loose confederation of influential climate-sceptics, politicians and business leaders that sought to control Australia’s response to the climate crisis” and credits a number of influential figures with having “undermined science and the urgency of the climate crisis”.
The main protagonist in this case is highly respected business leader Hugh Morgan, who Wilkinson describes as “one of the most divisive businessmen in Australia … Charming, eccentric and highly influential, Morgan was a doyen of the Melbourne Liberal Party establishment and the ideological godfather of the Australian Right”. An introduction that would make any man blush.
Another individual credited as part of “The Carbon Club” is the late great Ray Evans, a figure who was indeed well known and respected on the conservative side of politics and amongst those opposed to climate catastrophism. The author describes Evans as a mouthy speechwriter and sidekick of Morgan’s, albeit a good organiser. The other two individuals credited for playing a big role in ‘The Carbon Club’ are libertarian activist Tim Andrews and then Liberal Party Senator Cory Bernardi.
Wilkinson rightly points to Tim Andrews’ talents in bringing together a broad coalition of conservatives and libertarians to “create a powerful show of populist unity” against climate policy in Australia. Similarly, she credits Cory Bernardi with championing climate sceptics and scepticism in Australia, and working with Evans, Morgan and Andrews to build a movement against Julia Gillard’s carbon tax. Also, for convincing Liberal Party colleagues to oppose Kevin Rudd’s Emissions Trading Scheme.
Most powerful of all are Mainstream Australians and their “Mandate Club”.
The book continues down the rabbit hole of its ‘what if’ narrative regarding Australia’s ‘climate wars’. What if the Greens had just supported Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) in the Senate? Tony Abbott would never have been Opposition Leader, would never have won a democratic mandate defeating Labor, twice. Malcolm Turnbull would have stayed Opposition leader supporting Kevin Rudd’s CPRS policy, and Kevin Rudd would still be Prime Minister.
A notable snippet from the book is when negotiating his CPRS, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd did not even pick up the phone to call Greens Leader Bob Brown to negotiate getting his CPRS through the Senate. Yet Rudd was scathing in his assessment of the Greens for not passing it.
The author discusses how some heralded the reduction in emissions due to lower demand for energy stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, but cautioned that many scientists have warned such a dramatic fall in emissions would have to be repeated every year until 2030 to keep global temperature rises well below 2°C. What is not said often—or in Wilkinson’s book—is that like the Carbon Tax, CPRS and ETS before it, the solutions to achieve this are unlikely to achieve popular support among mainstream Australians. The World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last year said:
… we will not—we cannot—go back to the way things were… the pandemic has given new impetus to the need to accelerate efforts to respond to climate change. The pandemic has given us a glimpse of our world as it could be: cleaner skies and rivers.
What policies will unelected bureaucracies be pushing in order to ensure we never go back to the way things were? Those who follow ‘the science’ let the cat out of the bag. “We need measures to deal with climate change that are similar to the restrictions on personal freedom [imposed] to combat the pandemic,” wrote Karl Lauterbach (professor of health economics and epidemiology at the University of Cologne) in Die Welt. Lockdowns for climate change?
Many commentators at the ABC—where Wilkinson was employed until recently—dubbed the 2019 election as “the climate election”, yet this book does not confront the reason why mainstream Australians might be put off by a 45 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030 where the cost cannot be explained. This book is not about putting an argument in favour of action on climate change—those are plentiful—but instead seeks to explain why people would make a stand against climate change policies. In doing so, the book assumes everyone who holds a different view on the issue is either brainwashed (by the likes of the Murdoch media’s bogeymen) or bought (by fossil fuel interests).
Assuming bad faith in your political opponents means there can never be any real debate. Perhaps that is what the activists want. But it does give those arguing against climate alarmism an opportunity to argue that the activists have something to hide. This is why the ‘costings argument’ was such a potent issue at the 2019 election.
Every time someone tried to argue against Labor’s climate policy, they were dubbed a “denier”. This happens often in public debate. Therein lies the issue: the left has forgotten how to debate. It’s easier to misjudge the intentions purposely or otherwise than to bother with a defence of your argument. Assuming bad faith in your ideological opponents only widens the divide of delusion. Maybe, just maybe, those arguing against carbon taxes, economy-destroying climate targets, and endless subsidisation of intermittent and unreliable renewable energy, are doing so because they have genuine concerns about the economic impacts of such policies and genuine observations about the lack of quality assurance in the science.
This kind of belief system can only come from an elite who take mainstream Australians for fools. They believe their worldview and ideological perspective is so pure that those choosing to believe otherwise and mainstream Australians consciously choosing to vote another way to their preferred political party must be brainwashed by external influential parties, be it the likes of Morgan, Andrews, Evans and Bernardi—or even Rupert Murdoch.
Anyone arguing against Labor climate policy was a “denier”.
It is a terrible way of approaching a debate. And this approach goes a long way towards explaining why at every election where it has been “The Carbon Club” versus ‘The Climate Elite’, mainstream Australians have sided with ‘The Carbon Club’. You do not have to search too far to see why.
This article from the Autumn 2021 edition of the IPA Review is written by IPA Communications Director, Evan Mulholland.