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Timothy Egan

Timothy Egan on American politics and life, as seen from the West.



The tutorial in 8th grade biology that Republicans got after one of their members of Congress went public with something from the wackosphere was instructive, and not just because it offered female anatomy lessons to those who get their science from the Bible.

Take a look around key committees of the House and you’ll find a governing body stocked with crackpots whose views on major issues are as removed from reality as Missouri’s Representative Todd Akin’s take on the sperm-killing powers of a woman who’s been raped.

On matters of basic science and peer-reviewed knowledge, from evolution to climate change to elementary fiscal math, many Republicans in power cling to a level of ignorance that would get their ears boxed even in a medieval classroom. Congress incubates and insulates these knuckle-draggers.

Let’s take a quick tour of the crazies in the House. Their war on critical thinking explains a lot about why the United States is laughed at on the global stage, and why no real solutions to our problems emerge from that broken legislative body.

Clockwise, from top left: Representatives John Shimkus of Illinois, Joe Barton of Texas, Jack Kingston of Georgia, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Todd Akin of Missouri and Paul Broun of GeorgiaClockwise, from top left: Seth Perlman/Associated Press; Manuel Balce Ceneta, via Associated Press; Stephen Morton, via Getty Images; Daniel Acker for The New York Times; Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, via Associated Press; Paul Morigi, via Getty Images for OvationClockwise, from top left: Representatives John Shimkus of Illinois, Joe Barton of Texas, Jack Kingston of Georgia, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Todd Akin of Missouri and Paul Broun of Georgia

We’re currently experiencing the worst drought in 60 years, a siege of wildfires, and the hottest temperatures since records were kept. But to Republicans in Congress, it’s all a big hoax. The chairman of a subcommittee that oversees issues related to climate change, Representative John Shimkus of Illinois is — you guessed it — a climate-change denier.

At a 2009 hearing, Shimkus said not to worry about a fatally dyspeptic planet: the biblical signs have yet to properly align. “The earth will end only when God declares it to be over,” he said, and then he went on to quote Genesis at some length. It’s worth repeating: This guy is the chairman.

On the same committee is an oil-company tool and 27-year veteran of Congress, Representative Joe L. Barton of Texas. You may remember Barton as the politician who apologized to the head of BP in 2010 after the government dared to insist that the company pay for those whose livelihoods were ruined by the gulf oil spill.

Barton cited the Almighty in questioning energy from wind turbines. Careful, he warned, “wind is God’s way of balancing heat.” Clean energy, he said, “would slow the winds down” and thus could make it hotter. You never know.

“You can’t regulate God!” Barton barked at the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in the midst of discussion on measures to curb global warming.

The Catholic Church long ago made its peace with evolution, but the same cannot be said of House Republicans. Jack Kingston of Georgia, a 20-year veteran of the House, is an evolution denier, apparently because he can’t see the indent where his ancestors’ monkey tail used to be. “Where’s the missing link?” he said in 2011. “I just want to know what it is.” He serves on a committee that oversees education.

In his party, Kingston is in the mainstream. A Gallup poll in June found that 58 percent of Republicans believe God created humans in the present form just within the last 10,000 years — a wealth of anthropological evidence to the contrary.

Another Georgia congressman, Paul Broun, introduced the so-called personhood legislation in the House — backed by Akin and Representative Paul Ryan — that would have given a fertilized egg the same constitutional protections as a fully developed human being.

Broun is on the same science, space and technology committee that Akin is. Yes, science is part of their purview.

Where do they get this stuff? The Bible, yes, but much of the misinformation and the fables that inform Republican politicians comes from hearsay, often amplified by their media wing.

Remember the crazy statement that helped to kill the presidential aspirations of Michele Bachmann? A vaccine, designed to prevent a virus linked to cervical cancer, could cause mental retardation, she proclaimed. Bachmann knew this, she insisted, because some random lady told her so at a campaign event. Fearful of the genuine damage Bachmann’s assertion could do to public health, the American Academy of Pediatrics promptly rushed out a notice, saying, “there is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement.”

Nor is there is reputable scientific validity to those who deny that the globe’s climate is changing for the worst. But Bachmann calls that authoritative consensus a hoax, and faces no censure from her party.

It’s encouraging that Republican heavyweights have since told Akin that uttering scientific nonsense about sex and rape is not good for the party’s image. But where are these fact-enforcers on the other idiocies professed by elected representatives of their party?

Akin, if he stays in the race, may still win the Senate seat in Missouri. Bachmann, who makes things up on a regular basis, is a leader of the Tea Party caucus in Congress and, in an unintended joke, a member of the Committee on Intelligence. None of these folks are without power; they govern, and have significant followings.

A handful of Republicans have tried to fight the know-nothings. “I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming,” said Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, during his ill-fated run for his party’s presidential nomination. “Call me crazy.”

And in an on-air plea for sanity, Joe Scarborough, the former G.O.P. congressman and MSNBC host, said, “I’m just tired of the Republican Party being the stupid party.” I feel for him. But don’t expect the reality chorus to grow. For if intelligence were contagious, his party would be giving out vaccines for it.


July 18, 2012 – 10:08AM

Graham Readfearn

Anyone who places any stock in safeguarding the current and future climate (and for that matter anyone who doesn’t) should prepare themselves for the risk that very soon, climate science deniers, contrarians and sceptics will be running the show.

All the polls suggest that the Liberal-led Coalition will sweep to power at next year’s Federal election. Current Liberal leader Tony Abbott, if we care to remember, once described climate change as “crap“.

Our descent into the deluded world of pseudo-science occupied by astrology, creationism, crystal healing and homeopathy is almost complete.

Views shared among Abbott’s parliamentary coalition ranks are that climate science is a “leftist fad” and a “work of fiction”.

The Liberal-National Party’s new Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and his environment minister Andrew Powell have both said they’re unable to accept the evidence of human-caused climate change, going against the scientific findings of the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology and every major science academy on the planet.

Instead the Newmans and Abbotts of this world would rather stake the future of their constituents, our economies, our food supplies and our coastlines on the ideologically-blinkered pseudo-science of narrow vested interests and free market fundamentalists.

The latest snapshot on this inglorious race to the bottom came last week during the Queensland LNP state conference with a motion proposed by the Noosa LNP member Richard Pearson.

Pearson’s motion called on the state’s education minister John-Paul Langbroek to “remove environmental propaganda material, in particular post-normal science about ‘climate change’, from the curriculum and as adjunct material at exam time”. The motion was passed with party members overwhelmingly in favour.

LNP state representative Glen Elmes recently thanked Pearson in parliament for helping him win his Noosa seat at the state election earlier this year (perhaps those visits to Noosa by fake experts Christopher Monckton and Professor Bob Carter have rubbed off on the Sunshine Coast community).

As reported on Brisbane Times, Pearson said: “Few people understand that the so called science of climate change is really what can be defined as ‘post-normal’ science,” before apparently arguing that climate change went beyond traditional understanding of science based on experimentation and falsifiable theories.

To Pearson and others, the experiments of John Tyndall in 1859 which established the warming properties of what we now know to be greenhouse gases just didn’t happen. Not in existence either, are the reams of scientific papers over many decades which have attempted but failed to falsify the “theory” that burning fossil fuels is causing the world’s average temperature to rise, the oceans to become more acidic, the sea levels to rise and the ice at the poles to melt.

Also not in existence is last week’s study by almost 400 scientists (they’re everywhere) which showed that greenhouse gas emissions were increasing the likelihood of extreme weather events.

So far, Premier Newman has clarified that while Pearson’s motion has been passed by the party, this doesn’t mean it will be adopted by the parliamentary group which he leads.

“We will always do the right thing by Queenslanders ahead of the LNP,” he said, forgetting that just a few weeks ago he told Queenslanders the state was actually “in the coal business”.

Regardless, reaction to the motion has been damning. Anna-Maria Arabia, the chief executive of Science & Technology Australia, which represents almost 70,000 scientists and technology experts in Australia, described it as “extremely harmful”.

The secretary of the Queensland Teachers’ Union Kevin Bates told The Australian that it was important schools taught children to have an “open mind” (but presumably not so open that your brain falls out). “Our greatest concern is that this is a government that is going to interfere in the education process,” he said.

One blogging research scientist wrote that the motion was “preparing our children for future ridicule“.

Helping in this process is the Institute for Public Affairs, which has been sending out a discredited book on climate change to Australian schools. The book How To Get Expelled From School, written by Professor Ian Plimer, a member of the board of two of Gina Rinehart’s mining companies, was launched by former Prime Minister John Howard.

At the launch, Professor Plimer said “one of the aims of this book is to maintain the rage, because we have an election coming”. Clearly, Professor Plimer sees his book as a political tool.

While consistently claiming that school children are being brainwashed by climate change “propoganda”, those who push this line rarely (if ever) produce any actual evidence. Pearson didn’t define what he meant by “propaganda” or “post normal science”.

Plimer’s genuine piece of propaganda was described by the Commonwealth Department of Climate Change, which analysed his book, as “misleading” and based on “inaccurate or selective interpretation of the science”.

It should not be forgotten that Tony Abbott isn’t afraid of pushing his own misinformed climate dogma on young schoolkids when given the chance.

In 2010, he told a class of five and six year olds in Adelaide: “OK, so the climate has changed over the eons and we know from history, at the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth the climate was considerably warmer than it is now.”

Nobody should be surprised that conservative politicians are unable to accept climate change science. A survey of political representatives at local, state and federal level carried out in late 2009 found that acceptance of climate change science was divided along political lines.

The University of Queensland survey found only about one third of Liberal/National politicians accepted the world was warming because of human activity. This compared to nine out of 10 Labor politicians and practically all Greens.

Then there’s the “conservative white male effect” discovered by scientists (yes, them again) in the US linking the described demographic to the denial of human-caused climate change.

The Australian conservative political movement’s lurch towards the denial of human-caused climate science is like a mirror-image of the same enlightenment-crushing ideas of many US Republicans.

None of the recent candidates for the Republican presidential nomination (excusing possibly John Huntsman) were able to publicly back climate change science, with some reverting to scepticism after previously accepting the issue.

Also in common with the US is the existence of Tea Party-style “grassroots” activism in Australia, helped along by free market think tanks that claim regulating greenhouse gas emissions is an attack on our freedom.

But rather than have an honest debate about a policy response to a real world risk, they sink to trying to discredit climate science while telling the public that carbon dioxide from burning coal is just “food for plants”.

Earlier this week the climate sceptic organisation the Galileo Movement, founded by two retired Noosa (!) businessmen, tweeted a link to a document written by Viv Forbes claiming coal was not dirty and CO2 was plant food. No mention anywhere in the document that Forbes is a director of Stanmore Coal.

Galileo’s patron is Sydney radio host Alan Jones, who recently told a crowd that climate science was “witchcraft” and a “hoax”.

Our descent into the deluded world of pseudo-science occupied by astrology, creationism, crystal healing and homeopathy is almost complete. It’s a place where progress dies and business-as-usual thrives.

Graham Readfearn is a member of the BT Blog Army. He blogs at

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Published 10:04 AM, 23 May 2012

Gwen Andrews

 In April the Korean Parliament passed legislation to establish a carbon emissions trading system starting on January 1, 2015.

Unlike in Australia, there was almost no public debate about the reform. Although the main business group, the Korean Federation of Industry, opposed it, lawmakers on all sides of the legislature combined to vote for it – 151 ‘yes’ votes and three abstentions.

Why is this story so different from Australia’s torturous route to a carbon price? Basically, it’s down to good political management and the integration of the carbon emissions trading concept into a much broader industrial policy. Here is how it happened.

On August 18, 2008 – the 60th anniversary of South Korea’s independence as a nation – President Lee Myung-bak declared “Low Carbon, Green Growth” as the core of the country’s new vision for the coming 60 years. South Korea’s economic development from one of the poorest nations on earth at the end of the Korean War – often referred to as the Miracle on the Han River – has been impressive.

Korea is now the 13th largest economy in the world – just behind Australia – and the only nation to have transformed from an aid recipient to a donor country in a single generation. It would be a brave commentator who predicts that they cannot reach their new economic goals. Korea’s National Strategy for Green Growth is based on integrating mitigation of climate change with improvement of energy independence (Korea has no indigenous fossil fuels), creation of new growth engines for the 21st century, improvement in the quality of life and enhancement of Korea’s international standing.

These are clearly stated goals that the Korean public can understand and accept. The country took a number of steps in pursuit of these aims in recent years.

In Copenhagen in 2009, it adopted a voluntary national emissions reduction target – the equivalent of 4 per cent reduction a 2005 baseline by 2020. Domestically, it plans to invest 2 per cent of GDP annually in green growth. In terms of exports, it has identified a goal of capturing 20 per cent of the green industry market. The vast majority of its financial stimulus during the global crisis was aimed at green investment. It hosted the G20 Seoul Summit in 2010, with a theme of green growth. Also in 2010, it launched the Global Green Growth Institute, establishing an alliance in 2011 with Denmark and the Global Green Growth Forum.

But probably the most ambitious of Korea’s green growth initiatives is the establishment of an economy wide carbon emissions trading system – the first Asian nation to take this step. With the legislation now in place, the enabling work for the system is underway.

Part of the transition plan is the Target Management System (now operating), which captures almost 500 entities representing 68 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Korea. These entities emit over 25,000 tpa of CO2e in 2012; in 2013 the threshold will reduce to 20,000 tpa of CO2e and in 2014 to 15,000 tpa, to bring more entities into the system. Liable entities are set targets for reductions based on the average of their last three years emissions records. They must submit an implementation plan to government and will pay a small penalty if their targets are not met. In effect, the TMS is conditioning industry for carbon emissions trading, and its real value is in establishing a solid database of emissions for monitoring, reporting and verification purposes.

In 2015, the emissions trading scheme will begin with two key aims: reducing greenhouse gas emissions cost effectively, and developing low carbon and high efficiency technologies. The first two phases of the ETS will run for three years each, and over 95 per cent of carbon permits will be allocated free. After that, phases will be five years long and allocation plans will be determined by Presidential decree. The threshold for mandatory participation in the ETS will be the same as Australia’s: installations emitting over 25,000 tpa of CO2e, or entities emitting over 125,000 tpa in total, but entities below these thresholds may participate voluntarily. If emissions targets are not reached, entities will be liable for penalties of up to three times the average market price, capped at US$113/tonne. A National Reserve of carbon permits will be used to promote market stability. Use of offset credits conforming to international standards will be permitted, though to what extent has yet to be determined. Other details such as financial support for competitive disadvantage, whether there will be any carbon price floor or cap, and establishment of an Emissions Trading Market Authority also remain to be worked out. The Presidential Decree on these matters will be finalised after consultation with stakeholders by November 2012, before the upcoming Presidential elections. However, given the extent of bipartisan support for carbon trading, it is unlikely to be revoked by any new government.

This is a very different story from Australia. Korea is implementing its emissions trading scheme as a key part of its national industrial policy, with a clear vision of transforming its economy into one of green growth and making it a role model for the world. Admittedly, this sort of industry policy is easier to construct in an export-oriented economy than in a resource-based economy.

 But our leaders could learn something from their Korean counterparts on how to steal an advantage in the new industrial revolution.

May 19, 2012Opinion

The Scientist, Peta Ashworth

THE latest Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO State of the Climate 2012 outlook reaffirms that in Australia we are observing a steady increase in air temperatures, ocean temperatures and sea levels in response to rising CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that global and national change in climate is due to human activity, issues relating to climate science and associated responses have never been more polarised in the media. It wouldn’t be unreasonable to believe this reflects the views held by the wider Australian community.

However CSIRO’s research with the Australian public, either through large-scale surveys or smaller face-to-face workshops with communities, demonstrates that a different dynamic is at play. Most Australians we surveyed do see climate change as an important issue and many are already taking action.

Many are making energy efficiency improvements to their homes and workplaces or adopting more proactive measures around adaptation to extreme events. They choose to act despite the inherent uncertainties in the science and possible trajectories that our future climate will take.

The challenge I see is how to ensure the solutions that are needed for action in response to a changing climate are easily accessible to the broader public. Developing effective approaches to implementing these solutions either through bottom-up grassroots action or via top-down policy initiatives is critical to their success.

For example, CSIRO through its involvement in the Energymark and Energy Savers programs

has been helping house-holds to understand the science of climate, as well as identify how they can reduce their overall carbon footprint. The success of these programs is based around an onus on trust, social support and social networks to help participants achieve the goals they set for themselves.

We are beginning to assemble a much clearer picture of the vulnerability to climate change across a range of scenarios and the costs and benefits of various adaptation options.

While future climate is uncertain we have enough information now to better inform planning decisions e.g. how to build and where to limit developments in vulnerable areas. As the old adage suggests, prevention is better than cure.

So the urgency abounds, the Australian public is concerned, and we all need to work together to implement the solutions most appropriate for different levels of society.

Peta Ashworth is group leader, Science into Society, CSIRO.


The Commissioner, Gerry Hueston

THE Climate Commission was established last year to provide Australians with an independent, reliable source of information about climate change. We are non-partisan and do not comment on specific policies or make policy recommendations.

As part of our work, we have been all over, from Mackay to La Trobe Valley, from Bunbury to Tamworth, to the cities and the bush.

The people we met wanted action from the government and business, and wanted to know what action they could take themselves.

The Illawarra is a great example of people coming together across business, community groups, unions and local government to find solutions to the challenges of a changing climate.

Without bipartisan agreement, the community and business is uncertain. If people feel the situation is out of their control, if they cannot understand it or they think they have been sidelined in the debate, they can switch off. A lot of the debate has become polarised and captured by views at the extremes of the debate, instead of the need to recognise the risks there are and what we need to to do about them.

Uncertainty about the regulatory environment is going to be the biggest obstacle preventing businesses, which are so fundamental to providing the solutions, from innovating and investing.

What has tended to be ignored is that there is a lot of bipartisan agreement in this area. Both sides of politics accept the science and both have committed to cutting Australia’s emissions by 5 per cent by 2020.

It also needs to be recognised that it is this commitment that is the most important driver of what it will cost the economy. How we take action in the most efficient way is what the debate is really about, not about whether we need to take action.

The debate also tends to ignore that there are many solutions and opportunities for Australia to grow and prosper as solutions that address climate change are nurtured and supported.

We all know we cannot live unsustainably. However, there are many win-win solutions to protect the economy and the environment. It is not apathy that is getting in the way but uncertainty.

We must stop attacking each other and realise we are on the same side. We need to focus on what we agree on so we ensure Australia does capture increasing prosperity and continue to be one of the best places in the world to live.

Gerry Hueston is a former president of BP Australasia and climate commissioner.

The Local Councillor, Robyn Horden

COMMUNITY apathy? I disagree. But I do believe the community’s focus, or priority, has shifted in the past two years due to increased concerns regarding the economy.

When I talk to people the sense I get is that they are more aware of climate change than they were five years ago. The major disasters we have had in recent years – particularly the Brisbane floods, which were not that far from Ballina Shire – brought home to everyone the impact that climate change could have on people’s lives.

To hear stories where the value of homes have halved and the owners can no longer get insurance is devastating.

The debate among decision-makers appears to have largely shifted from “is this happening?” to “this is happening and what are we going to do about it?”

Ballina shire is built where the Richmond River meets the Pacific. A large part of the town also adjoins a floodplain.

Our subtropical climate and proximity to the coast means extreme weather events in the future are a real possibility.

In 2010 Lennox Head was hit by a small tornado that wreaked havoc.

The northern rivers region is regularly subject to flooding. Many of our residents understand and appreciate that no one can stop the force of Mother Nature – but we all want to be safe and we want to know that everything possible is being done to protect our people and their property.

The council is tackling climate by expending significant amounts of money in preparing flood and coastal erosion management plans to ensure residents and their property are protected in the longer term, and by implementing programs to reduce our environmental footprint. After extensive public consultation we have adopted a climate action strategy which recognises that the responsibility for responding to climate change lies with all levels of government, along with the community.

We have installed solar panels on many of our buildings and are also replacing street lighting with more energy efficient lights.

Australians are not apathetic but the long-term impact of climate change means that it is not the highest priority for people who are often balancing busy lives. This makes it essential for governments and major business organisations to look at the bigger picture and introduce programs and policies that will bring about those long-term changes to try and mitigate any future impacts of climate change.

The political cycle of four-year terms may work against councillors looking at long-term initiatives, but I am confident that local councillors have a real desire to protect and enhance the lifestyles within their communities for future generations.

Robyn Hordern is a councillor in Ballina Shire.


The Sceptic, Des Moore

SINCE the 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and subsequent revelations of various exaggerations of potentially rising temperatures, attitudes of governments and wider communities have changed towards the earlier proposal for urgent government action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast with the build-up before the 2009 Copenhagen conference, the so-called sceptics have established a strong case for not proceeding urgently.

While political leaders still formally support the dangerous warming thesis, it is now evident that no binding international agreement on government emission reduction policies is obtainable. In particular, most leaders in low-income countries rightly take the view that the top priority is avoidance of emission reduction policies restricting their economic growth and poverty reduction.

Hence, only a limited range of reduction policies has been adopted by individual governments and, except for a few believers, the urgency prescription has virtually disappeared. The US President, Barack Obama, has accepted that Congress will not buy a carbon tax and his opponent, Mitt Romney, has now declared the dangerous warming thesis a hoax. A Romney presidency could evoke a big change in attitudes of other political leaders.

The limited extent of reduction action does not reflect apathy but rather the emergence of a genuine questioning. This extends into the scientific community and, while still accepting that temperatures are likely to increase, most scientists now probably reject the dangerous warming thesis. One of many explanations is the absence of temperature increases in periods when theory says they should have, such as over the 1940-77 and 1998-2011 years. Another is that, while sea levels have been steadily increasing, the rate of increase is clearly not threatening. Importantly, the panel’s models used to predict temperature increases have been wide of the mark, indicating serious defects in the theory.

Examples of scepticism include the signatures of more than 30,000 US scientists for a petition that specifically rejects the theory of dangerous warming. Increasing numbers of peer-reviewed papers either do the same or seriously question it, including papers by distinguished Australian scientists of my acquaintance. The government has mistakenly locked itself into a carbon tax that will have a minuscule effect on global emission levels but will leave many Australian businesses at a competitive disadvantage with overseas counterparts. This will probably disturb any apathy here.

Des Moore is director of the Institute for Private Enterprise and former deputy secretary, Treasury.

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by: By Claire Connelly, Technology Reporter
climate change

Australia has been hotter in the last 50 years, than any time during the last 1000. Source: The Daily Telegraph 

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SCIENTISTS have used natural records including tree rings and ice cores to reconstruct the first picture of Australia’s climate over the past 1000 years – and the news is we’re getting warmer.

The study, published in the Journal of Climate, found there were no warmer periods than in the years after 1950 and temperatures have been increasingly decade on decade ever since.

“The Australasian region has not been warmer than it has been over the past 50 years and this cannot be explained by natural variability,” lead researcher Joelle Gergis, from the University of Melbourne, said.

Dr Gergis said the findings suggested “a strong influence of human-caused climate change in the Australasian region”.

Australia does not have any formal climate records in the years before 1910 so researchers used collated data from 27 natural – or “palaeoclimate” – records from decades of work across Australia and New Zealand.

The study will form the Australasian region’s contribution to the 5th IPCC climate change assessment report.

University of Melbourne Co-researcher, Professor David Karoly said the research put to rest the popular belief that Australia experienced a similar warming the medieval period.

“There was no sub-medieval warming period in the Australian region, and that the medieval region was not as warm or warmer than the present day,” Prof Karoly said.

A spokesperson for Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet said the study contained the “latest scientific research to find evidence that the climate has been changing in recent decades and that Australia is being affected.”

“The Government has received advice from respected scientific organisations including the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and the Australian Academy of Science that climate change is real, that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are contributing and that if it continues unabated there will be significant adverse impacts on Australia’s environment and economy,” the spokesperson said.

“That is why we are taking action to tackle climate change including introducing a carbon pollution that will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions at the lowest cost to the economy.”

Opposition leader Tony Abbott declined to comment.

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Rosslyn Beeby

May 7, 2012

That scientists received death threats is sad, but irrefutable, ROSSLYN BEEBY writes

Last year, The Canberra Times broke the story that a number of Australia’s leading climate change scientists were being targeted by a vicious, unrelenting email campaign that had resulted in police investigations of death threats.

The news report was based on information – including copies of a number of abusive emails – provided by more than 30 scientists in all states and territories. As the reporter who researched and wrote the story, the aim in contacting scientists right across Australia was to determine if the abuse was only being directed at pockets of high-profile scientists. If that had been the case, one could argue being a target for hostile comment is an inevitable downside of being a public figure.

Many actors, television presenters, politicians and sports figures will ruefully agree. When Australian-Samoan actor Jay Laga’aia spoke out about racial bias in casting roles for local commercial television, his comments provoked a torrent of racial abuse on digital news response forums. But by outing the issue, Laga’aia made it a subject for serious discussion. There are now calls in influential arts circles for Australian television, and culture generally, to address ”monoracialism.” Attracting crankish comment has always been a known, calculated risk for anyone taking a principled stand. But unfortunately, the immediacy and reach of the digital world has upped the stakes. Anyone who wants to vent anger, or ill-informed opinion, can fire off an abusive comment to an online forum within seconds, and have the dubious gratification of watching those comments spark an online response. And, as most climate scientists have a university or research agency web page listing their email address along with their list of publications, it’s easy to use an anonymous hotmail address to take dissenting opinions about climate change to a personal level.

In the case of the 30 or so climate scientists mentioned previously, many received hate emails that were well beyond the pale. And yes, there were specific threats of violence, sexual assault and worse. In the most stomach-churning case, a woman’s children – a toddler and a pre-schooler – were named and threatened. Why wouldn’t she be rattled? She received those emails because she agreed to be photographed by a local newspaper to promote a community tree-planting event, and was briefly quoted as urging people to come along and plant trees to mitigate climate change. Disagree by all means, but write a letter to the newspaper’s editor, and sign it.

None of the scientists bragged about being a target, and all were apologetic about forwarding to our newspaper examples of the hate mail they received. So it came as a surprise to learn last week that a Sydney climate blogger had made a freedom of information request to obtain examples of these emails from the Australian National University. The ANU initially refused to release the documents, and in response to a formal appeal by the blogger, the Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim was asked to a adjudicate. He is reported as ruling that 10 of the 11 emails sought under FoI ”do not contain threats to kill” and the other ”could be regarded as intimidating”. The emails in question pertain to one scientist, ANU Climate Change Institute director Professor Will Steffen. He was among the group of 30 contacted by The Canberra Times, and revealed the worst threat he received – and we will not divulge it – was made verbally to one of his staff. It was the chilling nature of that threat – and the casual way in which it was made – that prompted the ANU to question its security arrangements. If they had not, they would have been guilty of ignoring staff safety requirements.

The 30 scientists I spoke to included ecologists, environmental policy experts, meteorologists, atmospheric physicists and agricultural scientists. Perhaps Australia’s farmers are more tolerant of differing views, for it was only the agricultural scientists who had not received abusive emails about their research. In fact, they seemed puzzled as to why public debate over climate research should reach such a low point.

One of these scientists pointed out that while many farmers, at public meetings, would willingly argue the toss about whether they were experiencing climate change or climate variability, it was always done with good humour and respect. And, unlike the anonymous climate-hate emailers, the farmers introduced themselves, gave out business cards, listened to explanations and rebuttals from scientists, and often pressed their case by handing over CDs and USB sticks containing weather maps, rainfall graphs and other material. They invited scientists to visit their farms, or discuss matters further over lunch. And, not surprisingly, the learning exchange was not a one-way affair.

Rosslyn Beeby is science and environment reporter.

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  • by: By Ron Corben in Bangkok
  • From: AAP
  • April 30, 2012 9:22PM


  • Thai firm to invest $572m in Aussie wind turbine plants
  • Aimed at staying in step with nation’s future energy policies
  • Move part of its acquisition and expansion plans


A wind farm power turbine electricity generator at Codrington, Victoria. Picture: Nicole Cleary Source: AdelaideNow


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THAI energy company Ratchaburi Electricity Generating Holding Plc is planning to invest $600 million ($572 million) in new wind turbine plants in Australia, tripling its local wind-power output to 300 megawatts.

The expansion by Ratchaburi’s subsidiary, Ratch-Australia Corporation, is aimed at staying in step with Australia’s future energy policies, Ratchaburi Electricity chief executive Noppol Milinthanggoon said.

The planned investment comes as Ratchaburi Electricity is moving to complete a $US813 million acquisition of Transfield Services Infrastructure Fund in raising its stake to 80 per cent by June 2012.

Noppol said Ratchaburi Electricity is to invest a further $US30.5 million in Ratch-Australia to meet the 80 per cent target from a current stake of 68 per cent.

A spokesperson for the company said the Australian offshoot will lead the expansion as part of the company’s offshore investment plans.

Ratch-Australia operates three wind power plants in Victoria at Starfish Hill, Toora and Windy Hill. Toora is said to be one of the world’s largest wind turbines and the second largest wind farm in Victoria.

The Toora operation has 12 turbines with a production capacity of 1.75 megawatts, meeting the power needs of 6600 families.

“We have a goal to invest in at least three wind energy projects with a total production volume of 200 megawatts from an existing 100 megawatt capacity,” Noppol said.

He said the company was also looking to overhaul and expand the production capacity at Ratch-Australia’s existing plants.

Ratch-Australia Corporation currently oversees three natural gas power plants, two coal power plants and three wind power plants with a total production capacity of 1126 megawatts.

The company says it has firm agreements covering 90 per cent of the generated electricity to be purchased under contract over the next 11 years.

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by Dom McInerney 30 Apr 05:50am

 The Australian Vaccination Network stuck its head over the parapet again this week, and almost immediately copped one between the eyes.

American Airlines pulled the group’s anti-vaccination ad from its flights before it even aired. It’s the latest in a series of setbacks for the controversial organisation, which is increasingly struggling for air in the Australian media.

The media has been exemplary on this topic, refusing to indulge a group that is full of rhetoric but light on evidence. Most famously, Tracey Spicer demolished the AVN’s president, Meryl Dorey, on 2UE. The well-researched Spicer gave Dorey short shrift, eventually hanging up on her.

But the media treatment of this topic raises a serious question about another group: why do climate change deniers continue to hold such sway in the public realm, and why are they treated differently to groups like the AVN?

Compare the two groups side by side: Both climate change deniers and the AVN have ignored the overwhelming scientific consensus of their respective topics. Both groups ignore volumes and volumes of rigorous peer-reviewed research, and misrepresent isolated facts to make their cases. Cherry-picked data is presented, devoid of context, as unassailable truth.

Yet the fortunes of the two movements couldn’t be more different. The AVN is hanging on grimly, despite being rightly tested – or ignored – by the Australian media.

Meanwhile, the stocks of climate change denialists have never been higher. They appear to have a charmed run in large swathes of the Australian media, which often seems happy to run their questionable positions unchallenged. The pursuit of ‘balance’ in reporting has long been held up as justification for coverage of climate change sceptics. But if this is the case, the standard is being applied inconsistently, as coverage of the anti-vaccination movement demonstrates.

Internationally, some media outlets have learnt their lesson. A July 2011 BBC Trust review of impartiality and accuracy of the BBC’s coverage of science found the broadcaster’s coverage of both the safety of the MMR vaccine and the existence of man-made climate change were examples of “over-rigid” application of the BBC editorial guidelines on impartiality. The review said the BBC often failed to take into account the “non-contentious” nature of some science stories. It also highlighted the need to avoid giving “undue attention to marginal opinion”. The BBC editorial guidelines were changed accordingly. O

f course reporting on public opinion or policy matters is not the same as reporting on science – the climate change policies of both the Government and the Opposition are fair game for analysis, critique and dissenting opinion.

But in terms of the scientific cases that the AVN and climate change deniers are trying to make, there is no compelling point of difference between the two groups that justifies the varying coverage they receive in the Australian media. The inconsistency should prompt some uncomfortable reflection among Australian media outlets.

21 Apr, 2012 04:00 AM
Maitland Mercury
After spending almost a year visiting Australia’s coal mining communities Sharyn Munro discovered a warzone. She observed what’s really happening at the coalface: towns and districts dying, people hurting, rebelling and ultimately paying the price for the nation’s mining boom.Munro listened to stories of homeowners being forced out of townships, broken in spirit and in health, or else under threat – their lives in limbo as they battle the might of huge mining companies.

This is what she found.

Sharyn Munro is not anti-mining. She is a writer and grandmother with a social conscience wanting to inform the ordinary Australian of what is happening in rural areas.

And she opposes inappropriate development of any sort, driven by the impact of mining she has watched overwhelm parts of the Hunter Valley.

In her latest book Rich Land, Wasteland, Munro presents an impassioned account of the human price individuals and communities are paying for the coal rush.

“I wrote this book to share with Australians what I experienced and learnt,” Munro said. “Most Australians, I believe, are decent people who would be appalled by what is going on if they knew.”

During her research for the book, Munro discovered that incidences of asthma, cancers and heart attacks show alarming spikes in communities close to coal mines and coal power stations.

Once reliable rivers and aquifers are drying up or becoming polluted. Once fertile agricultural land is becoming

unusable and what was once a rich land is becoming a wasteland.

“I am motivated by concern for the health and futures of my grandchildren who have been living in the coalafflicted

Hunter, and for everyone else’s grandchildren who must breathe such polluted air and who face devastated and dewatered landscapes that will be unusable.”

The large, mostly foreign-owned, mining and gas companies continue to push into new areas and Munro observes that our governments continue to help and protect them at the expense of rural communities.


All of this is problematic.
(i) The scientific consensus is that human-created climate change is occuring at a rate faster than accepted and that (a) the costs of remediation will grow the longer no one does anything about it; (b) we may be close to the tipping point, beyond which remediation may be impossible. Where will we live then?
(ii) Science is not optional. One may choose one’s options, but facts are less negotiable. Even for politicians.
(iii) If the conservatives oppose the use of market-based solutions, what sort of solutions will be acceptable? Direct intervention in the market? Huh? A strange moment in political history when the social democrats, the political greens and the left accept the use of market-based solutions, where the polluter pays, and the conservatives argue for the socialisation of the costs of pollution.
  • by: By Malcolm Farr, National Political Editor
  • From:
  • April 20, 2012 12:07PM


  • Carbon scheme will be scrapped within six months – Abbott
  • Lib Leader will call double dissolution if blocked in senate
  • Says voters will not miss out on pension increases, tax cuts

Tony Abbott

Opposition leader Tony Abbott has vowed to scrap the carbon price scheme. Picture: Kym Smith Source: The Daily Telegraph

The Opposition Leader said that if blocked in the Senate he would immediately call another election, a double dissolution, and invite the ALP to commit “suicide twice”.

“I won’t reduce the tax, change the tax, or redesign the tax. I will repeal the tax,” Mr Abbott said in Brisbane today.

The Coalition is maintaining its course to make the election scheduled for late next year a referendum on the carbon pricing scheme set to begin this July.

Mr Abbott ramped up his intentions to scrap the entire scheme if elected, and assured voters they would not miss out on pension increases and tax cuts to be funded by the scheme’s revenue.

“There is no mystery to this. Essentially, all that it requires is the passage of the repeal bill through the Parliament,” Mr Abbott said.

“After all, what is done by legislation can be undone by legislation.

“I don’t expect the Greens to support repealing the carbon tax. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine the Labor Party, beaten in an election that’s a referendum on the carbon tax, committing suicide twice by resisting the new government’s mandate.

“If they do, there is a constitutional procedure designed for just this eventuality. It’s called a double dissolution. I would not hesitate to seek a second mandate to repeal this toxic tax. Indeed, it would be my duty to do so.”

Mr Abbott said that “because the electorate would double-punish the Labor Party for wilful obstruction, I expect that the repeal arrangements would be in place within six months.”

Mr Abbott dismissed the Government’s argument that scrapping the scheme would cost voters extra welfare payments and tax cuts which it plans to fund from pollution penalties paid by major companies.

“Well, the public aren’t mugs. They know that a tax cut paid for by a tax increase is a con, not a cut,” he said.

“The only way that taxes can sustainably be lowered is if government spending is lower or if the economy is larger.

“The Coalition can deliver tax cuts without a carbon tax because we will eliminate wasteful and unnecessary government spending and because lower taxes and higher productivity will boost economic growth.”

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