Mungo MacCallum- Political Corrections

Business as usual despite global threat

Australian conservatives really are hopeless; mired in superstition, glorying in stubborn ignorance, refusing to recognise genuine science yet ever eager to embrace the fads of witch doctors.

Look at their record on climate change. For well over a decade now the evidence for man-made global warming has been irresistible. An overwhelming majority of qualified scientists agree that carbon emissions from fossil fuels are producing a greenhouse effect in the upper atmosphere which is increasing the temperature at the earths surface and that if this continues the resulting changes will become catastrophic in their scale.

The conservatives have simply refused to accept the facts, relying instead on a dwindling minority of sceptical mavericks whose views have long been discredited by their scientific peers. And then along comes an economist a pseudo-scientist from the high Tory sanctum of the World Bank to say that yes, the indications are that climate change might actually cost quite a lot, and suddenly the idea that there is a crisis is accepted by all but the crustiest reactionaries. If only we could get the astrologers on side we could probably convert even these last recalcitrants.

Obviously we should be grateful to Nicholas Stern for his apocalyptic report, but lets keep it in perspective. All Stern has really done is to put a price on the predictions of the real scientists; he has added nothing to the sum of human knowledge. Economics can not be counted as genuine science in that it is unable to predict results with even a modicum of accuracy; if there is any doubt about this, look at the Australian Treasurer and his regularly risible underestimates of government revenue. If you really want to know about the future you might just as well employ an augurer to examine the entrails of a chook; at least that way you get to eat the chook.

And yet economists, not hard scientists, rule the world. It is worth noting that apart from the sheerly perverse hidebound Luddites like Piers Akerman and Andrew Bolt the most persistent critics of climate change have been economists: Alan Wood and Paddy McGuinness for example. Both are top economists, proved by the fact that their predictions are almost invariably wrong. But neither has an inkling of the real science of climate change and both have stubbornly declined to learn.

For the record, the evidence for global warming comes not from the exhumation of Antarctic ice samples nor from some esoteric study of the fossil record, but simply from measuring the earths temperature; for the last 150 years this has been rising. The evidence that the rise is linked to human activities is that the temperature increase corresponds very closely to carbon gas emissions from the consumption of fossil fuels. As the emissions have increased, so has the rate at which the temperature has risen.

And as the earth gets warmer, the climate changes. The change will be different in different places: some areas will become drier, some wetter. As the ocean currents alter some will even get colder. But nowhere will be immune and everywhere without exception the results will be bad for the human inhabitants and worse for other endemic species.

And obviously the longer we dither, the worse things will become. It is a measure of the purblindness of our politicians that it has taken Sterns report to get this obvious truth into their thick heads.

It is probably already too late to avoid a considerable amount of pain. Demonstrably, weather events droughts, floods, hurricanes and ocean activity are becoming more severe. Most dramatically the glaciers are receding, either because there is no longer enough snow being dumped at the top or because they are melting away at the bottom. Urgent action is required.

Well, tough. Our own Dear Leader has made it clear he is prepared to react to the belated sense of public alarm, but has warned his followers not to get spooked by it. He has announced a few token projects (costing, as critics have caustically pointed out, considerably less than his exciting plan to place chaplains in schools) but is still not prepared to take either of the obvious steps: sign up to Kyoto or charge a carbon tax.

His stated objection to Kyoto is that neither India nor China are involved, but that is precisely its point: the industrialised nations must be the first to exercise restraint, to show the developing economies that we are serious. Howard, for purely selfish reasons, prefers to side with the United States in order to postpone setting any mandatory target for as long as possible.

And on carbon tax he is determined to defend Australias cosseted coal industry from any impost whatsoever, so much so that it is not even expected to undertake its own research; if the hugely profitable and heavily subsidised sector is ever to produce a clean coal strategy (little more than a pipe dream at present) the public will have to pay for it.

Howards long term solution, endorsed by his hand picked committee of nuke-spruikers, is atomic power to switch from one finite and dangerous fuel source to another. Stern may have provided Howard with a political imperative for action (or at least the pretence of it) but the idea of safe and sustainable energy continues to pass him by.

And of course, at the industry level, its still business as usual. A gigantic new coal mine is to open in NSW, because if we dont do it, theyll only open one in Queensland or Victoria or somewhere else. And well go on selling the stuff to China for them to burn in dirty and polluting generators, because of they dont get it from us theyll get it from somewhere else.

The excuse of arms salesman and drug peddlers throughout the ages, enthusiastically endorsed by our Prime Minister. Yes, the conservatives really are hopeless.

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