Tony Abbott dares us to reject evidence on climate, but reveals a coward | Graham Readfearn

The former Australian prime minister’s misleading speech to a London thinktank was full of climate denial mythology

The former Australian prime minister’s misleading speech to a London thinktank was full of climate denial mythology

But what would constitute bravery for a conservative politician like Abbott? Changing your mind when the evidence tells you you’re dead wrong, or saying what you’ve always said, using the logical fallacies that you’ve always used? One step is brave, the other is cowardly.

Nobody should be surprised that what we got was an absolute crap speech from a man who confessed he still thinks climate science is “absolute crap”.

Abbott went for the whole canon of tired climate science denial talking points – carbon dioxide is just food for plants, the climate has always changed, it’s the sun – in what constituted a warmed-up meal of misinformation with a side order of supercilious gravy.

Abbott’s speech was also chock-full of internal contradictions.

He suggested a conspiracy to tamper with temperature readings, but admitted the globe was warming. He described carbon dioxide as a “trace gas” and dismissed its role in warming, but elsewhere thought warming (which might not be happening) would be good. And the “trace gas” is insignificant, but not when it comes to its ability to “green the planet” and help plants grow.

Professor Steve Sherwood, deputy director of the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre, read the speech and said it was “the usual mix of misdirection, falsehoods and tirades against ‘brigades’ who supposedly say this and that but are never clearly identified”.

Abbott told the thinktank – which had denied requests from seasoned climate reporters to attend – that past climate changes that occurred millions of years ago showed there was nothing to worry about now.

“Abbott is trying to hide the fact that it is the scientists themselves – who know more about past climate changes than he does – who are sounding the alarm,” said Sherwood.

Abbott presents an absurdly and intentionally distorted viewpoint, reminiscent of a conspiracy theorist

Professor Mark Howden, director of the ANU Climate Change Institute, said Abbott’s claim that other factors, such as sunspots cycles or wobbles in the Earth’s orbit could be just as important as carbon dioxide, was simply false.

Abbott’s claim that “no big change has accompanied the increase in carbon dioxide concentration” was “problematic”, said Howden, given “research shows that the world has already warmed by approximately 1C since pre-industrial times”.

Professor Andrew Pitman, director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes, said while it was true that CO2 is essential to life, “life also requires many trace elements that at higher concentrations are toxic”.

“It is a myth to imply that because CO2 is essential to life, more of it is good.”

Abbott also deployed another favourite talking point from climate science misinformers – that warming (which, remember, he thinks might not be happening) will cut the number of people dying of cold.

Pitman said this argument, too, was misleading, saying: “It is true that in rich countries which tend to be in the mid to higher latitudes, some warming might help reduce deaths from cold. In the lower latitude countries – the subtropics and tropics – people rarely die of cold. In contrast they die of heat and lack of clean water.

“So, countries responsible for global warming might gain a minor benefit from warming while those least responsible will wear the consequences.”

Dr Liz Hanna, an expert on the impacts of climate change on human health, said human-caused warming was already implicated in the deaths of many thousands.

“In 2003, 70,000 people died in western Europe, and in 2010 a further 55,000 people died in Russia and eastern Europe. These figures far exceed deaths from cold snaps. The decade 2001-2010 saw a 2,300% increase in heat deaths above the previous decade. Mr Abbott’s assertions don’t tell the whole story, as they’re based on what has happened in the past rather than what is projected to happen in future. While more people die from cold than heat in Melbourne at the moment, this will reverse as more summer days reach the high 40s.”

Away from his errors on the evidence, Abbott tried to characterise climate science and environmentalism as being hamstrung by a religious-type fervour that gets in the way of “common sense”. Abbott said:

Environmentalism has managed to combine a post-socialist instinct for big government with a post-Christian nostalgia for making sacrifices in a good cause. Primitive people once killed goats to appease the volcano gods. We’re more sophisticated now but are still sacrificing our industries and our living standards to the climate gods to little more effect.

Beware the pronouncement, ‘the science is settled’. It’s the spirit of the Inquisition, the thought-police down the ages. Almost as bad is the claim that ‘99% of scientists believe’ as if scientific truth is determined by votes rather than facts.

As a Roman Catholic libertarian free market ideologue, Abbott is, presumably, immune to such group think.

Climate scientist Ben Henley, of the University of Melbourne, also spots Abbott’s facile argument. In an email he told me:

“By implication, Abbott superstitiously questions the foundations of science, and in doing so, he questions the same scientific method which discovered wifi and penicillin, and proved the Earth was not flat.

“Abbott presents an absurdly and intentionally distorted viewpoint, reminiscent of a conspiracy theorist.”

Abbott’s attitude to climate change seems to rest on a Boy’s Own “who dares wins” approach to policy that’s neither brave or daring. It’s stupid.


October 12, 2017

Sources:` New York Times ; The Guardian

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