Love Andrew Bolt or loathe him, you’ve got to admit the right-wing Herald Sun columnist and radio shock jock is a master of the ambush interview.
Add in Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott’s slipperiness with any kind of truth — scientific, political or otherwise — and you have a media product so toxic it deserves to be trucked off for incineration by people in respirator suits.
Unfortunately, that’s the product that was all over the talkback airwaves and parliamentary reports for several days at the end of March.
Significant numbers of Australians will now be convinced that according to the federal government’s chief climate commissioner, Professor Tim Flannery, nothing that we do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will make any difference to the climate for a thousand years.
That assertion is rubbish and Flannery never made it. But such details don’t bother the right-wing climate deniers.
Interviewing Flannery on Melbourne Talk Radio on March 25, Bolt asked: “How much will it cost to cut our emissions by the government’s target of 5% by 2020 and how much will world temperatures fall by as a consequence? What will that lower the world’s temperatures by?”
Here, Flannery should have slammed Bolt for putting a false question designed to confuse the dialogue and mislead listeners.
Cutting emissions won’t, as it happens, reduce temperatures on any time-scale to affect people alive today. But not cutting emissions will bring temperature rises that ravage the environment and threaten the very basis of civilisation — all within our children’s lifetimes.
As Bolt clearly knew, scientists have concluded that global warming works like a ratchet mechanism: once average global temperatures go up, they stay up. This effect was reported in a 2009 paper by a team under the leadership of eminent US atmospheric chemist Susan Solomon.
Global warming, the paper states, is largely irreversible for 1000 years after emissions stop. The effect of ending emissions “is largely compensated by slower loss of heat to the ocean, so that atmospheric temperatures do not drop significantly for at least 1000 years”.
These findings shocked serious followers of humanity’s climate dilemma. Global warming, it is now clear, cannot be dealt with using a strategy that tolerates medium-term temperature rises while gradually reducing emissions in order to bring temperatures down again towards the end of the century — hopefully, before the environment suffered irreversible harm.
The only course, scientists have realised, is to limit temperature rises in the first place, by drastically reducing emissions over the next few decades.
This challenging message, though, was lost on Bolt, who only saw a chance for a media mugging.
Flannery blundered into the trap. “If the world as a whole cut all emissions tomorrow,” he responded to Bolt’s question, “the average temperature of the planet is not going to drop in several hundred years, perhaps as much as 1000 years, because the system is overburdened with CO2.”
Bolt then had little trouble cutting off further explanation.
In a letter published in The Australian on March 28, Flannery tried to repair the damage. Unless major emitters decarbonised, he explained, humanity would “likely see temperatures rising by 4 C° towards the end of the century and it will still be going up at 2100.”
But it was too late. Another climate myth had taken wing.
Enter Abbott. As reported on the Crikey blog on March 29, the opposition leader quoted Flannery to parliament while ridiculing “the ultimate millennium bug”.
”It will not make a difference for a thousand years,” Abbott said. “So this is a government which is proposing to put at risk our manufacturing industry, to penalise struggling families, to make a tough situation worse for millions of households right around Australia. And for what? To make not a scrap of difference to the environment any time in the next 1000 years.”
We should not doubt both Bolt and Abbott know the key facts of climate science. To have set Flannery up, Bolt would need to have read at least a summary of Solomon’s paper.
One wonders if he read the lines that warn of the consequences of atmospheric greenhouse gas levels predicted for mid-century if concerted action is not taken: “…irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the ‘dust bowl’ era and inexorable sea level rise.”
Abbott’s offence is worse: not just media manipulation, but shameless dishonesty and blatant self-contradiction. Why does he plug his “direct action” emissions-cutting hoax, if he thinks cuts will “make not a scrap of difference” until the remote future?
Anyone like to vote for a bare-faced liar who preaches inaction in the face of dangers that threaten to kill off most of humanity? That’s what the Liberal Party has on offer.