The dirty politics of climate change

May 4, 2007

"We know more about energy policy than the government does ... We know where every skeleton in the closet is — most of them we buried", boasted a member of the self-described "greenhouse mafia", a group of lobbyists comprising the executive directors of the coal, oil, cement, aluminium, mining and electricity industries, said Clive Hamilton, executive director of the Australia Institute.

Hamilton was addressing a meeting of several hundred people at the Seymour Theatre Centre on April 24, kicking off a national speaking tour to promote his new book, Scorcher, which details "the dirty politics of climate change".

Hamilton was drawing on the work of Guy Pearse, whose frank interviews with the members of the "greenhouse mafia" were the basis for an expose aired on the ABC's Four Corners program in 2006. Hamilton also quoted from leaked minutes of private meetings between government ministers, bureaucrats and representatives of the corporations most responsible for Australia's carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Their ability to exert undue influence stems not only from such meetings, Hamilton explained, but also from the "revolving door" that means that many lobbyists once sat behind the desks of those they now lobby. Such influence seriously undermines democracy and accountability, he said, as the same kind of access is not accorded environmental activists or independent experts.

Reminiscent of the tobacco industry's longstanding refusal to admit to the dangers of active and then passive smoking, the big CO2 emitters deny global warming. Hamilton explained that it was no coincidence that the "Advancement of Sound Science Coalition", first funded by tobacco giant Phillip Morris to campaign against public awareness of passive smoking, has since been supported by Exxon to sow doubt in climate change.

Hamilton outlined the links between climate skeptic front groups, web-sites and think tanks. He said that Australia's refusal to sign the Kyoto protocol was about protecting coal exporters' profits, and that the Howard government was keen to dissuade other countries from signing up as well.

Asked what the community can do to force action on climate change, Hamilton responded that Labor's Kevin Rudd needs to decide whether to adopt a "darker green" policy than Howard's "pale green" one, which would include a carbon emissions trading scheme with meaningful caps.

The need for accountable, public ownership and control of industries that contribute most to climate change wasn't addressed, although Hamilton's presentation demonstrated that industry bosses are in no moral position to argue for the "right" to continue to pollute.

In answer to a question about whether a new political party, or even new system, is necessary to avert catastrophic climate change, Hamilton said there is not the time to construct either. We have to work within the two-party system, he said, because the "greenhouse mafia" and its accomplices in the corporate media and government mean we've already lost 10 years. How relying on the status quo would ensure that we don't lose another 10 (or more) years, Hamilton unfortunately didn't explain.

[Scorcher is published by Black Inc. Visit <http://www.blackinkbooks.com>.]

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