Chairman Wallop and Chairman Tim


Chairman Wallop and Chairman Tim

The federal government last week provided, not one, but two ministers to entertain the guests at a conference in Canberra dedicated to preventing any meaningful action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The conference was organised by the Australian APEC Study Centre — an industry-funded "think-tank" whose thoughts have yet to make an original impact on political or any other science — and the US Frontiers of Freedom Institute. Yes, really.

The FFI sounds — not only in its name — like something dreamed up as a satire of US loopy right politics. Its founder, chairman and probably sole member is Malcolm Wallop (yes, really), a former senator from Wyoming. The size doesn't matter, however, since the FFI has money.

The thoughts of Chairman Cods — sorry, Malcolm — include:

"The people who run [the United States] don't care about public safety, having left ordinary citizens with no choice but to protect themselves as best they can. They are now trying to take our guns away."

"We can and should end welfare — not 'as we know it'. Just end it, period."

"We can and should eliminate Social Security."

"Our patriotism exalts ... manliness, righteousness, the capacity to use force."

"Most of all I am proud of the role I played between 1978 and 1983 in starting many of the Defense Department programs that would later be labelled SDI [Star Wars]."

"If carbon dioxide didn't exist, global environmentalism would have had to invent it. Some few cynics might even suspect that they did invent it."

The last quotation indicates the attitude of the FFI on environmental problems generally: they are invented as part of a global conspiracy against US industry. The tentacles of this conspiracy are everywhere: last year, the FFI ran a campaign against the US House of Representatives speaker, Republican Newt Gingrich, claiming that he was "too green"!

In addition to Robert Hill, the mis-titled minister for the environment, Chairman Wallop had invited Prime Minister John Howard to address the Canberra conference. Instead, he had to make do with Deputy PM Tim Fischer.

Presumably this was a matter of choosing the man to fit the occasion. When Howard spouts government absurdities about greenhouse emissions, even to a sympathetic audience, the bad faith is plainly evident in his face. When Fischer says something stupid, on this or any other subject, it is easy to believe in his sincerity.

Fischer could also be relied upon not to seem to notice that there is an important difference between the position of the Coalition government and that of Chairman Wallop and friends. The latter assert that there are "scientific doubts" about global warming, and that there's no need to do anything about greenhouse gas emissions until "scientific proof" is available.

Those "doubts" are today widely recognised as being of the same character and quality as the "scientific doubts" about the effects of tobacco on health which are still trotted out by some tobacco companies, so the Australian government has not risked discrediting itself by endorsing them. Its position, more bluntly than it would like to put it, is that global warming is real and that other countries should reduce their greenhouse emissions.

In most venues, the government has publicly argued that greenhouse emission reduction targets need to take account of differences between national economies. In reality, of course, requirements to reduce emissions to levels of 1990 or any recent year do take account of national differences, since the 1990 levels of each country are determined by those differences.

Fischer made it clear to the conference, however, that the government's real concern is not the present structure of the economy, but the prospect of future profits to be made through increases in emissions. He cited, as reason for not reducing greenhouse emissions, hoped-for foreign investment in coming years in "emission-intensive sectors".

In other words, if it brings in money, go for it even if it threatens to destroy the planet: with any luck, someone else will save us by behaving more responsibly. That is the entire content of the Australian government's greenhouse position. Its intellectual and moral bankruptcy is what makes the Howard government so at home with the US loony right.