Saturday, November 20, 2010

Labor among the merchants of climate doubt

Kim Carr was on the money when he wrote in The Age on Thursday that we need champions of science to battle the merchants of doubt. Borrowing the powerful expression of visiting US academic Naomi Oreskes, we can say the merchants of doubt are those who argue against necessary action - especially on climate change - even as the science should compel our emergency response.

They do this by suggesting doubt about the science that doesn't exist among those most qualified to understand it - the worldwide community that carries out peer-reviewed research.

So who, exactly, are these deadly merchants among us? As Oreskes explained in her excellent talk at the State Library on Wednesday, they began as ideologically driven cold war scientists, but came to include a multitude of free-market think-tanks and their spin doctors representing vested interests. In Australia that includes the coal lobby.

Yet, some of the merchants reside within Government itself, and doubt is a powerful lens through which to understand them.

You will no longer hear any Victorian Labor politician rejecting the reality of climate change. Instead, you will hear them sew doubt over whether renewables can provide baseload power (they can), or whether we really need to supplement our smattering of renewable energy projects by replacing Hazelwood - our dirtiest coal-fired power station - in the next term of government (we do).

You won't get any detailed response from the Victorian Government substantiating such doubts, but they all serve the purpose of justifying the continuing and disastrous exploitation of brown coal at the expense of global climate impacts, and of local ones, such as an increase in the frequency and severity of catastrophic bushfires.

As the world's leading climate scientist, James Hansen, has noted: “If coal emissions are phased out rapidly ... the climate problem is solvable.” If they're not, there's no doubting we're in trouble.

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