Carlo's Corner: Howard's climate concerns are really, truly about the poor

John Howard has read one book on climate change, which has been said to have a 'surprising ignorance of elementary statistical a
Friday, November 8, 2013

It was nice of former prime minister John Howard to let us know he was still alive and spending his politician's pension wisely by flying to Britain to give a talk insisting the threat of climate change was “exaggerated”.

Howard gave the keynote address at the Global Warming Policy Foundation on November 5. The foundation was set up by climate “sceptic” and former chancellor in Margaret Thatcher's government Nigel Lawson.

Now, we should be clear: Howard is no Greg Hunt. Unlike the federal environment minister, Howard didn't just have a quick glance at Wikipedia on the matter before launching into his talk! No, he is much better informed.

John Howard, you see, has read an actual book on climate change. Yes, one book. Before the speech, Howard explained the only book he had ever read on climate change was Lawson's 2008 “sceptical” book An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming.

Sir John Loughton, lead editor of the first three reports by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the book showed a “surprising ignorance of elementary statistical analysis” and ignored the impact of more frequent floods and droughts.

But it was more than enough for Howard to declare that climate change activists used global warming as “a substitute religion”. The talk was even titled “One Religion Is Enough” (now I know Howard is not a fan of multiculturalism, but presumably he must be at least aware of the fact there are actually already a few more religions in the world than just one).

And he is right, climate science is just like a religion. Except, you know, with all the statistics and stuff and the terrifyingly real evidence of large-scale ice-melting and the even more frighteningly real extreme weather events.

October, by the way, marked the 332nd consecutive month of above average temperatures. As I write this, the most powerful storm on the planet in 30 years, Super Typhoon Haiyan, is smashing the central Philippines. And where I write this — in Sydney — authorities are bracing for potential new bushfire catastrophes to break out, fuelled by higher-than-average temperatures.

And yes, as Howard pointed out, there have always been big storms and big fires — but climate scientists have warned for decades climate change would make them worse and more frequent.

But sure, if John Howard thinks it is probably all OK, who I am to take the word of 97% of climate scientists?

I mean I could ask, why do we even care about what Howard says about global warming? If I had a potentially fatal illness, I'd be talking to a doctor, not an aging reactionary with no medical degree who has only read one book on the illness by a quack who said it doesn't exist and has a pathological hatred of anything that blocks the right of his beloved huge fossil fuel corporations to profit.

But that's probably being unfair. Because, you see, Howard actually spoke out of his deep concern for the poor. He said: “I am opposed to putting a ludicrously heavy financial burden on often poorer people in the community in the name of shifting to renewables when I am unconvinced that catastrophe is around the corner.”

Yes, the man who introduced a goods and services tax that places the greatest burden on the poorest, savaged the welfare safety net, and tried to smash unions and remove basic protections for low-paid workers is actually really thinking about — not the profits of the large corporations that directly benefited from his attacks on workers’ rights, heaven forbid — no, he is thinking about the poor. Presumably for the first time in his life in a context where it is not preceded by the words “Christ, I'll tell you who I really hate... ”

* * *

After weeks of allegations, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has publicly admitted he had smoked crack cocaine. My first thought on hearing this was “Why on Earth is this news?” I had always assumed all politicians smoked crack.

I mean, how else do you explain the behaviour of the Australian Labor Party? That was less a federal election we just had than a collective, nationwide intervention. Really, reinstalling Kevin Rudd as your leader is about as clear a cry for help as you can get. The scary thing is I don't think they've hit rock bottom yet. When they make Paul Howes federal leader, then we'll know they've truly bottomed out.

Of course, replacing the Labor government with Tony Abbott is a bit like quitting smoking crack only to start mainlining crystal meth.