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The Australian's irrationality « Previous | |Next »
January 22, 2007

The Australian continues to talk its nonsense on climate change due to its odd conception of environmentalism as a religion. This time it downloads an op-ed from the UK based Financial Times written by John Kay, that is entitled 'Green lore now treated as gospel.' It's more of the same old stuff that is endlessly repeated by the defenders of the free market who misinterpret Adam Smith.

The standpoint of Kay's text is that of an enlightened economic rationality. Suprisingly,for someone who wants to link economics to the natural sciences, he views environmentalism not in ecological terms terms but as an Apocalypse myth. Hence envirornmentalism belongs to literature, not history or science, so it is fiction and has nothing to do with truth. Presumably a (romantic) environmentalism as a religion is a part of the counter-enlightenment. Kay spells out his thesis of environmental evangelism thus:

Environmentalism at first lacked a persuasive Apocalypse myth. The litany of environmental degradation had to confront the manifest fact that many aspects of the environment were steadily improving, with cleaner air, rivers and seashores. The discovery of global warming filled a gap in the canon. That is why environmentalists attach so much importance to the assertion not just that the world is warming up, which is plainly true, but that this warming is our fault, which is less plainly true. The connection between rising carbon concentrations and the growth of modern industrial society provides justification for the link between the sins of our past and the catastrophe of our future.

This is not very persuasive. 'Cleaner' rivers does not make sense of the lack of flows in the Murray-Darling Basin's rivers. I presume that Kay is referring to a cleaned up Thames. Yet The Australian is saying that this kind of widely acclaimed English commentary is relevant to policy and public debates in Australia.

Secondly, Kay's phrase 'sins of the past' uses the language of Christianity to link climate change to religion. However, environmentalists do not use the sin language to explain the lack of flows in the rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin, as they say it is caused by the over-allocation of water licences by state governments. Nor do environmentalists use the sin language of religion to talk about the effects of climate change in terms of global warming, changing rainfall patterns and water shortages. Their's is a secular language of greenhouse emissions being caused by the way energy is currently produced by coal fired power stations.

Kay, who produces a weekly column in the Financial Times, is way off target, as is The Australian in terms of the tacit linking of romanticism to religion and evangelism (fundamentalism). Environmentalists in Australia say that the current drought is overlaid by the effects of global warming. The account given of effects is based on the natural sciences and climatology, as it cites a clear downward trend in regional rainfall over the past 30 years as evidence of climatic change. It is acknowledged that, whilst the magnitude and nature of the change are far from certain, there is a need to be prepared for the eventuality that our dams may yield less water than has been the case in the past; and that this is coinciding with the prediction that climate change will bring higher temperatures and evaporation, increasing the demand for water.

Kay just loses the plot at this point, which is where economic rationality as a defence of the liberal free market Enlightenment, becomes so distorted and twisted that it transforms into its opposite--irrationality. He says:

Environmental evangelists are therefore not interested in pragmatic solutions to climate change or technological fixes for it. They are even less interested in evidence that if we were really serious about reducing carbon emissions we could do so by large amounts without significantly affecting our economies or our lives. Windmills on roofs and cycling to work are insignificant in practical consequence, but that is to miss their point. Every ideology needs rituals of observance which demonstrate the commitment of adherents.

See what I mean--its a rant not an argument? Kay's claim, that environmental evangelism's ritual, gesture and rhetoric takes the place of substance, simply does not connect with the policy proposals in Australia. These are firmly based on policy substance, as environmentalists address water shortage in the policy terms of the recycling of storm and grey water. It is the state governments that refuse to invest in water infrastructure. Moreover, environmentalists say that Australia needs to invest in wind power to feed into the electricity grid, and invest in renewable energy industry to meet peak electricity demand from airconditioners during the summer; and that the best way to facilitate this is for the energy intensive industries to become part of an emissions trading scheme. It is the Federal Government that refuses to do this because it is hell bent on protecting the coal industry.

This kind of op-ed is yet another example of the poor quality of the commentary pages in the corporate media in Australia. Junk is being downloaded that has no relevance to the policy debate about energy and water in Australia. This the " expert professionalism " of a political hack with an axe to grind, which is defended by journalists in the corporate media when they dismiss bloggers for producing meaningless drivel. Such junky commentary under the guise of "expert" is the reason why the credibility of journalists is now on the line.

What is being paraded for all to see is ignorance, columnists saying the same thing year after year, ill-informed rants, and vacuous, staged polemics. What it produces is a low grade public culture where little by way of fresh intellectual content or new ideas is produced, and you can go a little time and encounter nothing but received wisdoms.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:18 AM |