Fear-mongering with friends on planet Hyperbole
The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed — and hence clamorous to be led to safety — by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.
H L Mencken
Less than twenty-four hours after the government’s Clean Energy Legislative Package was passed by the Senate just after midday on the 8th November, the prime minister celebrated her Year of Decision and Delivery with a victory speech to the Carbon Expo Australasia 2011 conference.
It was, the PM said, an historic day; a day on which “the federal parliament landed our nation on the right side of history.” Carbon (dioxide) pricing will be the magic key that unlocks the door to the nation’s “clean energy future”. There had been, however, some bumps along the way.
“Friends, in getting to this point, we’ve seen some of the less favourable aspects of political life on display: fear-mongering.”
Fear-mongering: 1. Repetitive use of fear to influence opinions and actions of others. Syn. Scare-mongering. 2. Politics: Frequently used as a term of abuse or tactic to neutralise an opponent’s argument, especially in Australia. 3. Science: Tendency of practitioners of post-normal science to claim worst-case projections are “predictions” and to promote the precautionary principle as a law of Nature.
The PM understood why many Australians were anxious about the government’s legislated carbon (dioxide) price. The other side’s fear-mongering on the issue was sickening. They were full of “rash, irresponsible talk”. “Their sole intention is to cause damage by corroding certainty and seeing investment deferred.” Her fear-mongering, however, was in a different class. It had an apocalyptic dimension. So she was not going to sit back and accept the slings and arrows of our outrageous climate without a fight.
“We accept the cost of not acting is too great to accept because not acting means more and longer droughts, rising sea levels; more severe storms and cyclones; lasting damage to the Murray Darling food bowl; to the Great Barrier Reef; and to Kakadu. No nation can accept such threats. We must act.”
The other side, the PM stressed, was guilty of “distortion of facts and the trashing of science”. It was “playing to short-term political advantage to the detriment of the national interest.” In its “bizarre parallel universe”, there was “juvenile talk of repeal and promises etched in blood, with fingers firmly crossed behind their backs as they are made.”
In her side’s parallel universe, the PM’s favourite planet, Hyperbole, revolves precariously on the edge of a black hole of scepticism. Here, she said, there was reason, creativity and innovation. Here was the “ability to see solutions where once there were only problems”. Here, there was no distortion of facts, no trashing of science, no contradictions, no obfuscation – and no Climategate 1 & 2 emails (click here to access.) Here the ruling elite had mastered the knowledge (or so it said) to engineer a “stable” climate, one (like Goldilocks’s porridge) just right for the planet’s inhabitants.
Hyperbole, n. 1. A deliberate exaggeration or extravagant statement used for emphasis or effect (Eg: "I nearly died laughing". "Human beings have an infinite capacity to imagine a different world and bring it into being”. “A second industrial revolution is just around the corner”.) Such statements are not literally true, but are made to sound impressive or to emphasize something. 2. Astronomy: The name of a red planet once inhabited by a race of climate catastropharians; now extinct due to their inability to distinguish causes from effects.
It was the right thing to do. “Governments must walk the reform road and make the big calls”, said the PM. While there was no way of knowing what a “stable” climate might be, or whether what the government is doing will produce one, it was still the right thing to do. Hyperbole’s high priests had considered the prognostications of their astrologers, consulted the sacred Book of Doublespeak and decreed it was in Australia’s – and the planet’s – interest.
Doublespeak, n. 1. Language that deliberately disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. It may take the form of euphemisms (eg:”reforms”, “compensation”; “transitional assistance”, “big decisions demand courage”, etc), making the truth less unpleasant, without denying its nature. It may also involve intentional ambiguity, or reversal of meaning (eg: describing carbon dioxide, an invisible gas, as black “carbon pollution”; and more expensive forms of power generation as “clean energy”, etc). In such cases, doublespeak disguises the truth.
The PM’s “one big decision” would break the “three-century-old link between emissions growth and economic growth. The age of carbon pollution will end for the same reason we don’t ride in horses and buggies anymore. Or send our messages by carrier pigeon.” (Yet paradoxically the nation’s emissions are expected to be higher in 2050 than they are today.)
“Friends, you here in this room and your colleagues around the nation will be the leaders of that change. So by the middle of this century, we will be a different nation – cleaner, smarter, richer.”
The mood was ecstatic. Richer! Was the pot of carbon gold at the end of the atmospheric rainbow about to become a reality? By monetising an invisible trace gas, carbon dioxide, the government has created a new currency – the Carbon Con Credit (CCC) – literally out of thin air. As if by magic, an anthropogenic tonne of the stuff is now deemed to be “worth” $23 a tonne, with a guaranteed floor price of $15 a tonne, but only in Australia. (A former Reserve Bank Governor, Bernie Fraser, has been appointed Chair of the new Climate Change Authority, the body that will regulate this pseudo-money printing operation.)
The Canberra Carbon Cargo Cult Club’s (CCCCC) biggest fans were all there: the “carbon” bankers, verifiers, accountants, traders, asset managers, investors, offset providers, researchers, educators, hangers-on, etc. The folk who will benefit most (after the government) from climate alarmism – far more than the planet, it must be said – gave the PM a standing ovation.
Carbon Expo Australasia’s foundation sponsors were the Carbon Market Institute, Investor Group on Climate Change Australia/New Zealand (IGCC), Victorian state government and its investment promotion agency, Invest Victoria.
Event organisers presumably were unaware of a recent development. Carbon has become a dirty word. The Carbon Markets and Investors’ Association erased it from its name last month; another sign all is not well in the international carbon (dioxide) space.
Representing more than 50 firms involved with “promoting efficient market solutions to combat climate change”, this group has morphed quietly into the Climate Markets and Investors’ Association.
According to CMIA director, Miles Austin, "The new name reflects both the need and potential for the diversification of the role of the private sector in combating climate change.” (Translation: "Carbon trading does not have the best reputation. If you want to stay in this space, use climate instead of carbon." )
IGCC locally represents institutional investors with total funds under management said to be about $700 billion. IGCC’s international parent claims to have 285 investors representing “assets of more than US$20 trillion”. It aims “to encourage government policies and investment practices that address the risks and opportunities of climate change, for the ultimate benefit of superannuants and unit holders”. In other words, make serious money from the climate scare.
Shakespeare was right. Misery (real and imagined) acquaints a person with strange bedfellows. Some of the signatories to IGCC’s 2011 Global Investor Statement on Climate Change: the Daughters of Wisdom, Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors, Development Bank of the Philippines, Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose, Earth Capital Partners, First Swedish National Pension Fund, Five Oceans Asset Management, HSBC Global Asset Management, London Pension Fund Authority, Korean Teachers Pension Fund, Low Carbon Investors, Presbyterian Church, Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Rockefeller Financial, Royal London Asset Management, Santander Brasil Asset Management, Schroders, Scottish Widows Investment Partnership, Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Sisters of St. Dominic of Caldwell, NJ, Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi, Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, Swiss Re, The Representative Body of the Church in Wales, etc.
By what sorcery had so many good and honest folk been persuaded to place bets with their savings on the carbon roulette wheel? Will they be left holding a bunch of dodgy “AAA”-rated – yet very sub-prime – CCCs when the music stops?
Is eco-capitalism’s dream of profiting immensely from the business of “saving the planet” within reach, or will it be exposed ultimately as a brazen attempt to exploit what some are now calling the scientific scandal of our generation?
Meanwhile, a synchronized recession is underway in the Euro zone, induced by tighter credit and higher bond rates. Europe is the world’s largest trading bloc. A sharp economic downturn here will slow global growth.
How ironic that our political class is so keen to act in the interest of “climate” traders and burden us with a dodgy "carbon" currency at precisely this moment, when the mess from earlier government (and banking) misadventures into the realm of currency (the euro) – and debt – creation is constellating all around us again.
As for rhetoric about decision and delivery on the right side of history, perhaps we should sit down and take a Bex or three? The year ahead will be much more about contagion and credit, (lack of) confidence and capital, and crash and conflagration.
Despite a real prospect of another global economic crisis, the Geneva-based UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) – a venture with IGCC – nevertheless is “urging governments and international policy makers to take new and meaningful steps in the fight against climate change”.
It is a measure of how much money is at stake here, and how desperate the UN is to attract developed world private sector investment (governments have no funds) to its Durban $100 billion Green Climate Fund that, incredibly, “climate change solutions” suddenly have become “essential for ensuring the long-term sustainability and stability of the world economic system.”
Whatever the problem today, whatever the concern, however big or small, the alleged solution is always the same – “control climate change”. Welcome to planet Hyperbole.
Michael Kile is author of No Room at Nature’s Mighty Feast – Reflections on the Growth of Humankind. His latest project is The Devil’s Dictionary of Climate Change.