Australia’s very own Merchants of Climate Doubt

AS a celebrated historian, Professor Naomi Oreskes is interested in the origin of things – where ideas start from, what drives them and ultimately who propagates them.

Oreskes, Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California San Diego, has just arrived in Australia on a whistle-stop speaking tour promoting her new book, co-authored with Erik Conway, titled Merchants of Doubt – How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to global warming.

The book, five years in the writing, ultimately concludes that much of the world’s skepticism on climate change – whether that be over the validity or certainty of the science of climate change, its causes, or the need to act – is chiefly driven by a paranoid ideological fear of socialism and an unbending faith and belief in free-markets. What impact it would bring in the domain of climate change research is uncertain, but hopefully, this volume receives multilingual book translation, so that the information reaches millions across the world.

Put simply, free-market think-tanks such as the George C Marshall Institute, the Heartland Institute, The Science and Public Policy Institute and the Why-Can’t-You-Just-Leave-us-Alone-While-We-Make-Oodles-of-Cash Institute (not a real institute) don’t like industry to have to be held accountable.

Oreskes spoke to the ABC’s Lateline program on this brand of scepticism which also drove shoulder-shrugs over acid rain, tobacco smoke and ozone depletion

It’s part of this whole ideological program of challenging any science that could lead to government regulation, because it’s part of an ideological conviction that all regulation is bad, that any time the government steps in to ‘protect’ us from harm, that we’re on the slippery slope to socialism, and this the ideology that you see underlying a kind of almost paranoid anti-communism. So even after the Cold War is over, these people are seeing reds under the bed.

But before we all shake our heads at the audacity of these US think-tanks, muttering under our breath phrases like “only in America”, we should acknowledge that Australia has its own Merchants of Doubt, some of which have long-held associations with the US denialist machinery and share its habits.

In last night’s speech to the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute, Oreskes even went as far as to list Australia’s The Institute of Public Affairs alongside other free market think tanks including the George C Marshall Institute (a focus of her book), The Heartland Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

On its website, the IPA says it “supports the free market of ideas, the free flow of capital, a limited and efficient government, evidence-based public policy, the rule of law, and representative democracy. Throughout human history, these ideas have proven themselves to be the most dynamic, liberating and exciting.”

The IPA’s researchers and fellows are prolific in their writing and are virtual ever-presents in the op-ed pages of newspapers and on popular web opinion sites such as The Drum and The Punch. But given their open support for free markets, small governments and minimal regulation, they’re “research” and “analysis” is always designed to come to the same predictable conclusion.

Let me demonstrate.

Back in April 2010, the IPA’s executive director John Roskam wrote a letter to the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, giving chapter and verse on his organisation’s role in fuelling climate scepticism in Australia. He wrote:

The IPA has taken the lead in addressing the economic and social costs of assumed human induced climate change and the various costs of measures that seek to prevent it. The IPA has demonstrated that in fact the costs of climate change are likely to be modest but that the costs of the measures to prevent climate change will be very considerable, particularly for Australia.

The IPA has also been skeptical about the evidence and the extent of global warming that might be due to human activity. The claim that humans are the cause of harmful and potentially catastrophic global warming has been fashionable for a long time. No reputable authority claims the science on the matter is ‘settled’. Nonetheless, claims that warming is likely have been eagerly adopted by many interests. Some people have espoused ‘global warming’ as a means to make money, while others have adopted it as a new cause filling a void in the anti-capitalist ideology following the collapse of communism. The IPA is concerned by statements such as ‘global warming is too important an issue for democracy’.

Over the last two decades the IPA has published literally hundreds of articles and research papers, and made dozens of submissions on global warming. The IPA has maintained its skepticism regarding the science of climate change, and we have consistently warned of the prohibitive costs to the Australian economy of proposed measures to prevent global warming.

Also enclosed with the letter, was a book produced by the IPA titled “Climate Change: The Facts” described by Roskam as a “series of essays by some of the world’s best scientists and economists on why we need an honest debate about climate change”.

You can’t help but think that Roskam must have been chuckling to himself as he wrote that statement, given the paucity of actual peer-reviewed scientific research on climate change amongst the book’s contributors, which included Ian Plimer, Richard Lindzen, Nigel Lawson, William Kininmonth, Willie Soon, Christopher Monckton, Garth Paltridge plus the IPA’s own Alan Moran and Roskam himself.

At one point or another, pretty much every one of these climate sceptics, or sceptics of the need for action, have also been hosted by the likes of the George C. Marshall Institute and Heartland. Oreskes asked last night’s Brisbane audience

But who funds these groups and what do they really represent? The tobacco industry, fossil fuel industries, the mining industry and the chemical industry. All of these have heavy environmental footprints which stand to lose from government regulation. But rather than trying to defend the obvious evidence, they hide behind the rubrik of freedom and liberty.

Before his job at the IPA, Roskam was the executive director of the Menzies Research Centre, a Liberal Party think-tank. Before that, he was corporate affairs manager for mining company Rio Tinto. Organisations like the IPA are not obliged to disclose legally where their funding comes from, but some reports have suggested that about a quarter of its income is from organisations with a stake in the climate change debate. But if you sign-up to the Oreskes theory, the core driver of the scepticism of groups like the IPA isn’t money, but ideology.

Also in the Rudd letter, Roskam pointed out how the IPA had hosted speakers “at dozens of events and lectures” including Bob Carter, Ian Plimer, Garth Paltridge, Pat Michaels, Bill Kininmonth, Sinclair Davidson, Alex Robson, Christopher Monckton, Richard Tol, Brian Fisher, Aynsley Kellow and Nigel Lawson.

Earlier this year, Lord Monckton was featured heavily in newspaper coverage when he conducted a speaking tour in towns and cities across the country, including a debate in Brisbane which was televised by national broadcaster the ABC (featuring yours truly). Ian Plimer, a geology professor at the University of Adelaide, also joined Monckton in the debate. He is well-paid consultant who, since 2008, has earned more than $750,000 from his work with two mining companies.

Professor Bob Carter, an adjunct research fellow at James Cook University in Queensland, has closer links to the IPA as it’s solitary science advisor.

His latest book, launched in October, is called Climate: the Counter-consensus. The book is published by Stacey International, which has also recently published books titled “The Wind Farm Scam”, “Cimate:The Great Delusion”, “When will the Lights Go Out” and “Chasing Rainbows: How the Green Agenda Defeats its Aims” and “The Hockey Stick Illusion” and other anti-green or climate “sceptic” books.

The publisher’s summary of Carter’s tome explains how it “examines, with thoroughness and impartial expertise, the so-called facts of global warming that are churned out and unquestioningly accepted, while the scientific and media establishments stifle or deride any legitimate expression of an opposing view.”

The IPA were reported to have paid for New Zealand politician Rodney Hide, leader of ACT New Zealand, to fly to Australia to attend the book launch. Hide was gushing in his praise of Bob Carter’s book and used the speech to suggest it proved why his ACT party had been right to oppose (unsuccessfully) the introduction of an ETS in New Zealand.

I am here to encourage Australian politicians and policy makers to read this book and avoid New Zealand’s costly mistake

In one of his regular pieces for the ABC site The Drum ( about 40 in the last 12 months), the IPA’s Chris Berg attacked “climate activists” for attacking sceptics.

But there is serious debate to be had about climate change. Debate about the best response to the changing climate and the degree to which we are responsible for that change. Debate about how we can adapt to a warmer or colder environment. Debate about whether Australia should bother trying to “lead the world” if the world isn’t interested in following. Instead of tackling those questions, many climate activists would prefer to treat the existence of public uncertainty about the origin, costs and consequences of climate change as not just wrong, but corrupt, immoral, and, now, unhealthy. This attitude has the stale whiff of authoritarianism.

As well as using the weapon of doubt and uncertainty to water-down public concern about climate change, the IPA has, unsurprisingly, consistently opposed any kind of price on carbon. These drone-like protests have increased in their frequency as the Gillard Government has re-iterated it’s pursuit of a carbon price through the Climate Change Committee.

In one opinion piece written for the Australian Financial Review last week,the IPA’s Tom Switzer managed to pour cold water not only on legislated measuers to combat climate change, but also on direct measures – the kind that Australia’s Liberal opposition likes to trumpet. Switzer wrote

To be sure, Barack Obama hopes to unveil other climate initiatives such as multimillion-dollar subsidies for renewable energy projects. But most green lobby groups concede that direct-action proposals are insufficient measures to combat global warming. Obama could use the US Environmental Protection Agency to override Congress and unilaterally impose regulations under the 1990 clean-air laws. But such action would be deeply unpopular in several bellwether, recession-plagued states in the lead up to the 2012 presidential election. In any case, administrative regulation would almost certainly be tied up in litigation for years.

For The ABC’s The Drum, Switzer also wrote

In this environment, domestic plans to price carbon unilaterally would inflict collateral damage on the Australian economy: higher energy prices, lower growth and lost jobs to nations that won’t conform to any post-Kyoto deal.

Then there’s the IPA’s Alan Moran, long-time advocate for doing nothing much on climate change who has a particular disliking of renewable energy. Again, for The Drum

Setting ourselves up as a pacemaker would create an even worse outcome and would almost certainly plunge the economy into a deep depression and wreck the nation’s competitiveness.

There are of course many other characters who make-up Australia’s Merchants of Doubt. There’s the role of The Australian newspaper, for example. Just for fun, I’m supplying this link to one of my former blogs which, due to the GreenBlog’s syndication across all News Ltd websites, also appeared on The Australian and documented how one of its editorials had misrepresented the work of a climate scientist.

There are literally scores and scores of examples of The Australian newspaper’s active and regular abandonment of journalism in favour of an ideologically-driven opposition to climate change and environmentalism generally. At one point, Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology even stopped bothering to try and correct their mistakes. Deltoid has been documenting the newspaper’s “war on science” for longer, and with more vigour, than anyone else.

Then of course, we can add News Ltd commentators such as Andrew Bolt, Tim Blair, Janet Albrechtsen, Miranda Devine, Piers Akerman and Terry McCrann. Then on radio you have sceptic talkback radio hosts such as Alan Jones and Michael Smith, both of which regularly trumpet sceptic guests.

Dishonourable mentions could also go to Australian Senators. On his own blog, South Australia Senator Corey Bernardi recently declared all climate scientists were “rent-seekers” running a “pseudoscientific racket”. Last year soon-to-be-not-a Senator Steve Fielding even spent time at a Heartland Institute conference before returning with some sceptic talking points in hand. Nationals Senators Ron Boswell and Barnaby Joyce agreed last year to launch mining consultant Ian Plimer’s much derided book Heaven and Earth.

What’s compelling about Oreskes and Conway’s research, is the level of detail and research which has gone into building their argument.

What’s comforting, is that it also allows us to take with a pinch of salt what the likes of the IPA have got to say on climate change, because essentially they’re unable to step outside their narrow frame of free market reference.

Or in other words, we’ve heard it all before.

Author: Graham

Graham Readfearn is a Brisbane-based journalist. Go to the About page in the top navigation for more information.

14 thoughts on “Australia’s very own Merchants of Climate Doubt”

  1. Thank you, Graham, a great follow-up to Naomi Oreskes’ excellent presentation on her research in the US into the strength of decades of scientific research on climate change, and the vehemence of efforts to instill doubt and prevent action.
    It is really helpful to examine the motivations of different entities and individuals and to realise that some involve money (a simple idea but involving complex flows that can be very hard to follow – as in Tobacco’s “Doubt is our product” approach), while others stem from deeply-held beliefs about human life, society and meanings of freedom.
    Our views and beliefs about the world are naturally involved in how we respond to information on climate change; and rather than justifying attacks on science, this makes it essential for us to be aware of those beliefs and to question our responses, especially in this case, to ask: ‘freedom of what, and for whom?’

  2. Not sure what this article is trying to prove, but certainly reinforces the fact that Climate Alarmist’s attack the person without discrediting their points. To imply that “sceptic’s” receive funding ignores the elephant in the room……and that is that Alarmists also receive funding (usually taxpayer funded). Show your committment to reducing CO2 by supporting the establishment of Nuclear Power in Australia – it is the only sustainable solution.

  3. You should add the deceptively named Australian Environment Foundation which consistently attempts to undermine confidence in climate science and the scientific basis for taking action, and the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network which consistently opposes and works to discredit any and all policies that might genuinely result in emissions reductions on economic grounds. Both use the baseless assumption that there are and will be no significant costs associated with unmitigated climate change, only with taking action on climate change. Neither honestly puts a case for adaptation over mitigation and both ignore repair and remediation, which are the costly consequence of too late and ineffective mitigation and adaptation.

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