Activist confronts the logic of a climate sceptic

October 28, 2013

Madlands: A Journey to Change the Mind of a Climate Sceptic
Anna Rose
Melbourne University Press, 2012
357 pages, $19.99 (pb)

Anna Rose, a young climate change activist, was warned by her many colleagues in the environment movement of the risks of agreeing to do a television documentary, screened earlier this year by the ABC, pitting her against the former Liberal Party senator, science minister and climate change denialist Nick Minchin.

The “whole show will play into the denialists’ strategy of framing the science as disputed when it actually isn’t”, she was told. It would serve merely to give the infinitesimally tiny bunch of cranks and denialists prime time exposure to market their shonky product, “doubt”.

Rose had heard that the respected scientist, Tim Flannery, and the ABC’s science journalist, Robyn Williams, had declined to “balance” the scales on an issue for which the time for weighing up the science is long past.

Nevertheless, the documentary was going ahead, so Rose decided it may as well be her and pinned her hopes on exposing the weaknesses of the denialists’ case to sway the undecided viewer. Madlands is her account of the experience.

Her first meeting, with Minchin’s hand-picked right-wing libertarian bloggers, “a mum and dad team from Perth” who “had discovered that thousands of climate scientists and all the world’s main scientific academies were wrong”, set the tone for incredulity that was not dispelled by subsequent denialists.

Meanwhile, a stubborn Minchin proved impervious to the patient persuasion of Rose’s chosen climate scientists. Pillow-punching frustration at Minchin’s smug (“I remain to be convinced”) irresponsibility is punctuated by Rose’s dawning realisation that his intransigent denialism was not really about the science at all.

Rather, it was about the implications of the science for the future of, and for the huge profits from, a fossil-fuel-based economy.

Minchin’s claim to be an “open-minded sceptic” is hollow, says Rose. She shows how Minchin relentlessly denies scientific fact because of his core conservative political and economic values.

These values are especially his opposition to environmentalism as “the new religion of the extreme left”, and his dread of government interference and regulation of the free market — except, of course, for favoured causes such as the $9 billion annual government subsidies that make fossil fuels so much cheaper compared to assistance-starved renewable energy.

By book’s end, Rose, having despaired of changing Minchin’s politically-shuttered mind but determined to find “common ground” with denialists, joins hands with Minchin in celebrating “competitive economic advantage” through energy efficiency.

However, this solitary policy plank sidesteps the central issue of replacing carbon-dirty energy with clean renewables. This concedes scientific ground to ratbag denialists.

Rose’s concluding plea that the climate change movement needs “people who understand markets”, like Minchin and other free market ideologues (“harmonising the market with the environment” is “what this whole project has been about”, she concludes), is a crippling political concession given the carbon tax and emissions trading scheme failures of the capitalist market to solve a world-threatening crisis of its own making.

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