Sunday, April 27, 2014

Medieval ignorance against climate action seeks a privileged voice we should reject

The federal government's threat of further job and funding cuts to the CSIRO - among Australia's premier scientific truth-finding research organisations - fits neatly with the recently reported comments of Federal Attorney-General George Brandis in claimed defence of freedom of speech for climate change deniers.

As reported by The Guardian, Brandis used an interview in online journal Spiked to describe as "ignorant", "medieval" and "authoritarian" those he says exclude deniers from the debate and fail to engage them with arguments.

Brandis' comments should be seen for what they are - an arrogant exercise in normalising a self-interested and irrational stance through the privilege of a powerful but insufficiently accountable voice.

Climate change deniers are not prevented from voicing their dangerous, anti-scientific falsehoods. And they are routinely engaged with arguments they ignore or fail to convincingly answer, most recently in the compelling form of the latest IPCC climate assessment.

Yet, despite the disproportionate impacts of climate disruption on the disempowered, not only do deniers remain unsilenced, they are championed by the powerful, such as Prime Minister Abbott and Attorney-General Brandis, whose actions amount to effective climate denial.

Brandis' claim of exclusion from the public debate of alternative views on climate change risks leaving a disengaged public with the false impression that there is a body of credible scientific research suggesting the case for climate action is overblown.

If that were the case, the Federal Government has the access, power and resources to ensure such research is presented to the public - something the defunded Climate Commission (now Council) was readily able to do in arguing the case for urgent climate action so repugnant to the Coalition.

Should the Abbott Government now fail to produce any coherent response to the evidence and conclusions produced by the IPCC's latest report - let alone the previous and overwhelming case already presented by the global scientific community - it will only underline its complete abdication on the science.

As for the denialist commentators, a government lacking the ability to rigorously substantiate its case for climate inaction (also known by the policy name of "Direct Action") has a distinct need to protect the space denialist commentators occupy in the media as a meagre substitute for the vacuum of scientific fact underpinning fossil-fuel-driven business-as-usual.
While we may tolerate climate denialist speech, we should not tolerate governments who enact it against all the evidence in the shape of disastrous climate laws and policies.

As the CSIRO cuts play out, I will wait for Brandis to denounce as medieval and ignorant all the medical scientists who rightly dismiss those denying the link between tobacco and cancer.

In the meantime, the climate cancer spreads through voices amplified by power and access to the media - their flawed and disingenuous arguments undermine our environment, our standards of government, and our international reputation as a country of progress and decency.

A letter based on this text was published in today's edition of the Sunday Age.

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Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.