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 scepticism 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.

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.

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