Hugh Morgan in charge of climate policy? You must be joking.

IF you were going to have a serious high-level discussion about, say, improving science teaching in schools, then who would you invite to chair the meeting.

How about an astrologer? A purveyor of crystal healing, perhaps? Maybe a creationist, a fortune teller or a spiritual healer?

Well of course not. This would be ridiculous. But just hold that thought for a minute.

A few days ago, the Commonwealth Business Council brought its high-level bi-annual forum – hosted in Perth, Western Australia – to a close.

Among those in attendance were the Australian Prime Minister, senior Australian cabinet members, ministers from South Africa, the UK, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Rawanda and the Caribbean.

There were senior representatives from international energy and mining companies, including BP, Woodside, RioTinto, Shell and Hancock Prospecting.

With all of that power and influence in the one place, organisers promised that the meeting would likely spawn many multi-million dollar international business deals.

But the meeting also broke-up with the news that, among other things, it had failed to reach any kind of agreement on tackling climate change.

According to a report in The Australian, the London-based council’s director-general Mohan Kaul said this lack of an agreement was down to the “diverse views” of those businesses in attendance.

Mark Barnaba, the forum’s steering committee co-chairman, said the lack of consensus was “unsurprising”.

Indeed, this lack of agreement was unsurprising. Even an astrologer could have correctly predicted it.

The three-day forum had only one session devoted to the issue of climate change. Titled, “Tackling Climate Change and Energy Challenges: A Government Business Partnership” the session’s contributors included Australia’s Climate Change Minister Greg Combet and ministers from the UK, South Africa and Bangladesh.

I now ask you to recall those astrologers and fortune tellers, because the chair of the session was businessman Hugh Morgan, a denier of the science of human-caused climate change.

Quite how, or why, he was given this gig is almost as unfathomable in its stupidity as the idea that the motion of a distant planet can somehow influence whether or not I’m going to win at the lottery (which I’m not, because I don’t enter).

Morgan is a founder member and current president of the Lavoisier Group, launched in Victoria in 2000. The group was set-up chiefly to oppose any regulation on greenhouse gases.

In his latest “President’s Report” on the Lavoisier Group’s website, Morgan concludes: “We have been doing everything possible in recent years to destroy our coal-fired electricity industry in the superstitious belief that carbon dioxide is a pollutant.”

Also on the website, you can enjoy articles such as “Is the Western Climate Establishment Corrupt” and “Nine Lies About Global Warming”.

Hugh Morgan, 71, is also a former director at the Institute for Public Affairs, a free-market think-tank which promotes climate science denial and consistently attacks the efficacy of the renewable energy industry.  He was also the former boss of the Western Mining Coproration.

Morgan, a former board member of the Reserve Bank and President of the Business Council of Australia, is currently a member of the lobby group Australians for Northern Development and Economic Vision, which wants to create a separate economic zone in the north of Australia with low-tax and low-regulation to promote mining industries.

ANDEV was established by Australia’s richest person Gina Rinehart, chairman of Hancock Prospecting and promoter of climate science denial. Rinehart has twice supported tours of climate “sceptic” Lord Christopher Monckton. Also an ANDEV member is climate sceptic and mining entrepreneur Professor Ian Plimer, who Rinehart passed-off as a climate expert in front of another influential audience earlier this year.

Morgan is also on the advisory board of the Tony Abbott-led Australian Opposition’s climate policy advisory board.

Putting a man like Hugh Morgan in a position of influence on climate change is a bit like.. well.. asking an astrologer how we should teach science to kids.

The act is irresponsible and the result will be highly predictable.

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Hector, the healthy lump of coal, targets kids

HE’S healthy, he juggles fruit, plays cricket, he always rides safely and kids can colour him in.

Meet Hector, the lump of coal in a hi-vis safety jacket. Apparently, Hector has been popping up at community events in the Mackay area of north Queensland for a couple of years.

He’s the mascot for the Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal and the main attraction in the “fun zone” on the terminal’s website (I was keen to do the word search but it wasn’t working, but the colouring pages are great… I’ve already run out of black crayon).

Dalrymple is the larger of the two terminals which make up the Port of Hay Point – which is laying claim to be the world’s biggest coal export port. The terminal shipped out 63.5 million tonnes of healthy and wholesome coal last year. Isn’t that great, kids?

Now I don’t want to spoil the family fun or anything, but shouldn’t someone mention.. erm… climate change?

The marketing chaps at Dalrymple Bay aren’t the first to morph environmentally questionable sources of energy into fun for kids.

Super Rock

There’s been Super Rock and his sidekick Spurt – two chunks of coal which starred in a kids colouring book to promote the Pennsylvanian coal industry described generously by Grist as “wonderfully crappy”.

I’m sure you’ll agree, though, he’s not a patch on Hector.

Earlier this year, there was Talisman Terry, the “friendly fracosaurus” [gedit?] who featured in a colouring book from the gas company Talisman Energy.

The company withdrew the colouring book after complaints it was engaging in child-directed propoganda.

A wicked parody of Terry’s exploits from American satirist Stephen Colbert probably didn’t help matters, especially the bit where Terry committed “frackicide” by standing in the shower and setting fire to the water.

But it’s not just corporations who are keen for kids to see the “cool” side of coal.

In Illinois, the state’s Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity runs an annual competition (top prize $100) where school kids draw posters about coal, the best of which are chosen to feature in the state’s “coal calendar” which is in its 23rd year.

Among the winning entries, are such marketing gems as “If Coal is Our Past… then it’s also our future,” and “You can’t say no to Illinois Coal”.

I’m wondering which industries might be next to kiddify their products? How about Uri Uranium, Billy the Brominated Flame Retardant, Calista the Cluster Bomb and her friend Lenny the Landmine?

Or we could have Asbestos Bertha, Chris the Chlorofluorocarbon or DDT Debbie? (I’m claiming copyright on all those).

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Wielding power the Rinehart way

IT was one of those “drop your bacon sandwich at the audacity” kind of stories – the sort of revelation that shows what power and influence in a democracy really means.

Australia’s wealthiest individual, Hancock Prospecting chairman Gina Rinehart, loaded up a couple of Federal MPs onto her private jet and flew them to India for a wedding.  What for?

At the time, Rinehart was trying to secure a deal with infrastructure giant GVK, which had shown an interest in buying into some of her coal mine projects. Walking up the aisle was Mallika Reddy, grandaughter of GVK’s founder GV Krishna Reddy. As was reported in Crikey, the two MPs National Senator Barnaby Joyce and Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop were there to “lend cachet” to Rinehart.

Actually, it wasn’t just two MPs. Unreported at the time, but buried away in the register of interests, was an alteration to Brisbane Liberal MP Teresa Gambaro‘s entry. The change, recorded on 7 July, shows that Gambaro was also on the flight from Perth to India and stayed two nights in Hyderabad.

Continue reading “Wielding power the Rinehart way”

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Rescued from the internet dustbin

A NOT-FOR-PROFIT organisation established in San Francisco has managed to save a large chunk of my Australian online blogging career from the internet dustbin.

Although I’ve never met them, I owe them a debt of gratitude. So to the folks at Internet Archive, who run the web archive site Wayback Machine, a heartfelt thank you.

This is why.

A few days ago, when I was researching this piece for DeSmogBlog about the questionable coverage of climate change science by The Australian newspaper, I found that none of the links to my old News Ltd blog – GreenBlog – were working.

To be precise, the links worked, but there was no content on the pages. Just a white screen where about 650 posts and 14,000 comments used to be.

The record of an online blog session with then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd? Gone. The full Q&A with former UN general secretary Kofi Annan? Gone. My catalogue of critiques of News Ltd’s climate denial bloggers, Tim Blair and Andrew Bolt? All gone.

Continue reading “Rescued from the internet dustbin”

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Catching up on old-ish news

Double yolker actionIT’S been a frantic few weeks, so just time to share some recent links of mine.

First up, I had a look at the phenomenon of the “conservative white male” effect which is a bit like the greenhouse gas effect, in that seemingly the more of it you release, the worse things get. This could lead to some serious negative thinking, and even be the start of a bout of anxiety. Should this be the case, and you find yourself struggling to cope with every day, you may wish to look to a natural product from somewhere like Bluebird Botanicals to help you see things a little clearer and focus your thoughts on what matters in your life.

I also took a look at the new climate sceptic group the Galileo Movement, and their various links to conservative white males like Alan Jones, Andrew Bolt and pretty much every climate denier that’s ever stalked the corridors of a free market think-tank. Oh, and they share a PR firm with the Church of Scientology and The Exclusive Brethren.

On the Brisbane Times and across the rest of the Fairfax network, I previewed a court case about to close in Queensland which is hearing a challenge against a huge coal mine development by Xstrata. Over the mine’s lifetime, the coal burned will see about 1.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases added to the planet’s atmosphere. If you’re following Australia’s carbon tax debate, then this cancels out the Government’s five per cent cut about seven times over.

Also on the Brisbane Times, a look at a report from The Climate Institute into the mental health issues related to extreme weather events like floods, droughts, bushfires and cyclones. If you take your climate science from climate scientists, then you’ll know that adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere increase the chances of events such as these happening more often (or in the case of cyclones, there could be less of them, but the ones we do get will probably be bigger and meaner).

Oh, and one of my chickens laid that egg. Disappointingly, there was no dinosaur inside.

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Monckton threatens to sue ABC

CLIMATE change denier Lord Christopher Monckton has described the chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Maurice Newman as a “shrimp-like wet little individual” in a speech given in Melbourne.

In the outburst on 20 July, Lord Monckton said he had written to Mr Newman to demand he be allowed to respond to an episode of the ABC Radio National documentary Background Briefing, produced by Wendy Carlisle, which heavily criticised Lord Monckton.

In audio of the Melbourne speech obtained by this blog and available at the bottom of this post, Lord Monckton says:

“I have written to the chairman of the ABC who is a shrimp-like wet little individual and I have said to him, right mate, I warned you about this woman (Wendy Carlisle) orally over breakfast – I then wrote to you saying she is going about my friends pestering them and then she produces and broadcasts this garbage because you did nothing about it. Now I want the right of reply to these lies by the ABC or I will sue. So watch out ABC”

Shortly after Lord Monckton’s previous visit to Australia, Mr Newman told senior ABC staff that some were guilty of “uncritical group think” in accepting that serious climate change was being caused by humans, despite the firm evidence that this is the case.

Lord Monckton caused controversy before arriving in Australia, when it was revealed he had displayed a quote from Australia’s former climate change policy advisor Professor Ross Garnaut beside a large swastika.

The outburst was widely condemned and prompted Lord Monckton to apologise, only for him to then claim that the term “climate change denier” was a reference to Holocaust denial, which it isn’t.

Earlier this week, the House of Lords took an unprecedented step of posting an open “cease and desist“-style letter saying the Lord should stop referring to himself as a member of UK’s upper house of Parliament.

More to follow, no doubt!

Listen to audio here

UPDATE: I’ve done an expanded version of this story with early response from the ABC for Crikey.

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Running out of important things?

WE tend not to worry about running out of stuff nowadays.

Since the invention of shops, we’ve become increasingly accustomed – bank balance willing – to being able to pluck pretty much anything from a shelf or storeroom somewhere.

Obviously, you don’t want to run out of particular types of stuff at times when you need them.

Like bread and milk at breakfast time, deodorant on the morning you go for that big interview (especially if it’s at a deodorant company), petrol when you’re miles from a petrol station, coffee at times when you’re awake, toilet roll when you’ve just…. well, you get the idea.

Even if there’s a gap on the shelf where your favourite brand of plastic-encased price-inflated tap water used to be, there’s usually another exorbitantly-priced bottle of water (also available from a tap) to choose from.

But what if we started to run out of really important stuff? Fundamental stuff. And no, I don’t mean Tres Chic Dead Black Eyeliner #65 or Frog-embossed bog roll.

I’m on about food, oil and water. And I’m not talking about a shortage at the corner shop or a petrol pump; if you are about to run out of fuel, you can always buy some in advance, as long as you keep it stored safely in flammable cabinets (like the ones you can find at Storemasta or similar stores online) to prevent any disaster. What I am trying to say is that if there’s a risk that as a planet, our supplies might be in danger of running low in a permanent manner soon.

I looked at these resource crunch issues in a feature for G Magazine on the challenge Australia and the rest of the world faces to secure food, oil and water.

As is always the case in questions about sustainability or environmental degradation, the answers are way more complex than the question.

It’s not so much that we’ll run out of water, but rather there’ll be a lot less clean water for drinking and growing food. It’s not so much that we’ll run out of food, but that food supplies will be less reliable. And we won’t squeeze the last drop of oil from the planet, just the easy to reach and therefore cheap stuff.

Of course, the issue underpinning a lot of this has much less to do with running out of stuff, and a lot more to do with our ability to see and act before the problems hit.

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Monckton not in control of his own biography

ON ABC radio 702 Sydney this morning, host Adam Spencer engaged in what you might describe as a relatively lively chat with climate change denier Lord Christopher Monckton.

Spencer challenged Lord Monckton on his qualifications, questioned his links to mining squillionnaire Gina Rinehart, pressed him on his misrepresentations of the science and asked him to clarify whether he is, or is not, a member of the House of Lords.

Lord Monckton wasn’t too pleased and told Spencer to “shut up” which, obligingly for some listeners but not to Monckton, Spencer ignored.

There’s much to chew over in the interview, but one of Lord Monckton’s claims jumped out like an environmentalist at a mining conference. His claim to be a Nobel Laureate.

Spencer: Are you a Nobel Laureate as is claimed on many websites?

Monckton: I don’t know what websites… there is no website that I control that says any such thing.

Really? No website that you control? This, from Lord Monckton’s biography on the Science and Public Policy Institute‘s website, where Lord Monckton is Chief Policy Advisor.

His contribution to the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 – the correction of a table inserted by IPCC bureaucrats that had overstated tenfold the observed contribution of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets to sea-level rise – earned him the status of Nobel Peace Laureate. His Nobel prize pin, made of gold recovered from a physics experiment, was presented to him by the Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Rochester, New York, USA.

And just in case you think I’m making this up, a screen grab from the same page.

I should just point out that there’s nothing too revelatory about this incident. Journalist Hugh Riminton pointed this out when Lord Monckton was last in Australia, in February 2010.

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Now on DeSmogBlog

THERE are stacks of reasons why the rest of the world would bear more than a passing glance at what’s going on in the climate change debate in Australia.

Obviously we have the current cacophony over attempts to legislate a price on greenhouse gas emissions, set to get even louder come Sunday when Prime Minister Julia Gillard announces what the starting price will be.

But then there’s Australia’s other contributions to climate change. For example, our position as the world’s leading exporter of coal and a booming multi-billion dollar liquified natural gas export industry.

How could we forget, too, our global links with the climate science denial industry, a resource Australians are also more than happy to give and receive, as I wrote recently on The Drum.

Over the last few years, one of my favourite places to go for coverage of the climate change denial industry has been the North America-based site DeSmogBlog.

It’s a site that’s been working since 2006 to uncover the corporate backers and marketing tricks that cloud environmental issues.

A few weeks ago they asked me to start contributing. I said yes. I’ll still be here and elsewhere too, but my first couple of pieces have gone up.

Off you go then.

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Australia’s place in a global climate denial web

This post originally appeared on The Drum.

Climate sceptics, deniers, contrarians – call them what you like – are engaged in a fight for column inches, radio waves, TV talk-time and community sentiment.

In Australia, the issue has turned decidedly unsavoury, with climate scientists revealing inboxes chock-full of hate and Government advisors being slurred as Nazis.

But as a memo from US Republican communications guru Frank Luntz revealed in 2003, the most important aspect of climate change denial is not to throw hate, but to sow doubt.

Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.

Doubt is the product of the climate change denial industry – an industry which is tightly knit, well resourced and globally linked. Continue reading “Australia’s place in a global climate denial web”

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