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Senator Fielding: a climate change denialist « Previous | |Next »
June 9, 2009

Senator Fielding, the Family First Senator, attended the Global Warming: Was it ever really a Crisis conference hosted by the Heartland Institute. The institute, which stands for free market environmentalism (ie., is opposed to governmental regulation proscribing polluting activities), is not a natural science research institute. It's position is that public health campaigns against smoking are based on "junk science".

fieldingS.jpg Penny Bradfield

In his 'open mind' op-ed in The Australian Fielding says that his concerns arising from his fact finding tour are scientific ones, rather than policy ones about how to best address market externalities. He says:

I heard views that challenged the Rudd government's set of "facts". Views that could not be dismissed as mere conspiracy theories, but that were derived using proper scientific analysis. The idea that climate change is a result of the variation in solar activity and not related to the increase of CO2 into the atmosphere is not something I can remember ever being discussed in the media. The question of whether global warming is a new phenomenon or something that is just part of the naturally occurring 1500-year climate cycle was never raised in any of the discussions I have had with the Rudd government. Has the government considered these questions, or has it just accepted the one scientific explanation for climate change at face value?

Fielding's argument is that these are the sorts of questions about the science of climate change need to be answered before any emissions trading scheme (environmental legislation to deal with market externalities of greeenhouse gas emissions) can be properly considered.

What Fielding has embraced is the claim that carbon emissions are not driving global temperatures, on the grounds that during the past decade carbon emissions have been increasing rapidly but according to some scientists global temperatures have not been rising; that through the past 100 years, global temperatures have not changed in proportion to the changes in carbon emissions; and that solar radiation is both highly correlated to global temperature changes, and is a plausible alternative explanation for global warming.

Fielding's position is actually a denialist one, ie that global warming is not caused by human actions. It is solar activity that is the cause. We can also infer that he assumes that the market is able to correct the negative externalities of industrial production, because market mechanisms left to their own devices contain built-in incentives for environmental degradation. Fielding, consequently, is opposed to governmental regulation proscribing polluting activities. Thirdly, his open mindedness is limited as he views his environmental opponents in the public debate as being caught up in "alarmist rhetoric and extreme ideology."

If this is not his position, and if he were as open minded as he claims he is in the op-ed, then he would have also visited genuine primary research bodies, such as NASA’s GISS at Columbia, or NOAA’s Climate Diagnostic Centre at Boulder on his US fact finding tour. He didn't. It would appear that Fielding has also not bothered to arrange briefings on the scientific questions ----eg., whether solar radiation is a plausible alternative explanation for global warming----through the CSIRO or the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra. That he hasn't done this means that he not making a genuine attempt to enter the debate and that the criticisms from global warming scientists about his solar flare explanation is warranted.

We can infer that Fielding's position is a political one---he is acting to prolong the transition away from coal and other fossil fuels. Fielding frames his political opposition to an emissions trading scheme in scientific language so as to lend credibility to his blocking of environmental reform. His politics is to exempt coal-fired power stations from an ETS, or to provide them with free permits. In acting as the political representative for the Victorian coal industry Fielding has placed himself on the margins of the debate on the right kind of political action.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:30 AM | | Comments (18)
Comments

Comments

So Senator Fielding once again signals that he will act as a roadblock to reform.

Fielding's opposition to the science behind global warming means that he will block the Rudd Government's emissions trading scheme legislation in the Senate. That puts more pressure on Turnbull.

yep, Senator Fielding acts as a spoiler once again. The ETS looks like Monty Python's dead parrot. Presumably that is why the Government is trying to enlist big business to put pressure on the Coalition to back the legislation.

The only other option is the Rudd Government being forced to call a double dissolution election in a bid to pass its ETS legislation.

I laughed when Fielding said that he's an engineer, as if that had some relevance. Is he perhaps a bit sensitive to open skepticism about his intelligence?

Worse for him, media is reporting that the Heartland Institute also claims that links between smoking and cancer are overstated. The old tobacco lobby that John Quiggin has been linking to climate change denialism all this time are educating Senator Fielding. Does Family First also support smoking? It is, after all, only a form of air pollution.

Lyn,
I understand that Fielding has two degrees --an engineering one and an MBA. I guess his message is that he is not a useful idiot.

Unfortunately, Fielding seems to have not realized that the world has moved way beyond debating the science of climate change as a prerequisite for political action.

Lyn,
Fielding want to the US to try and find a position that would justify taking no action on climate change. He came back with the solar flare theory--concedes that global warming is happenign but it is natural.

That claim---argument?--- will be quickly be knocked out of the ring by the natural scientists working on climate change. What position does he fall back to then to justify no action and to retain his credibility?

Gary,
Fielding could have two million degrees and it wouldn't change the perception that he's not terribly bright. Or that his senate mission is obstruction. Or that he's an unofficial member of the coalition.

In his Oz article he went on about Copernicus and Galileo to justify his views. He seems to be unaware that the solar flare theory has been around for donkeys, or that if anyone is comparable with Galileo on the environment, it was Rachel Carson and now ancient environmentalists.

Peter,

I think Fielding went to the US to be seen to be finding out something new. He's talking about his charts and graphs as if he's single handedly discovered some previously unearthed treasure. I think that is his entire position.

He never had any intention of supporting action on climate change. He's just come up with something to justify his position, and nothing will move him. He doesn't need a backup argument.

For the Fieldings of this world there will always be questions that have to be answered before they can agree to any change. That way they can wait until events overwhelm them and then later smugly proclaim that they cannot be held responsible for any of the problems and IF ONLY PEOPLE HAD WAITED LIKE I SAID THEY SHOULD!!

I don't think it's necessarily political. He's just a stupid gutless cypher who refuses to be accountable for anything.

You have to admire the denialists though, the Plimers and Bolts and Carters and so on. They've more than achieved their objectives. Quite why it was a fight worth winning is beyond me but they've done it. Maybe they are just such pathetic specimens of humanity that putting one over the despised Greens is the only joy they can get from life.

Well I will be sure to check the way the political party I vote for has allocated its preferences next election.

Do you really think there are enough climate deniers in Vic to return Fielding to the Senate?

I suppose the fossil fuel lobby has made some promises of on-going remuneration to the soon to be former senator from Victoria. He is clearly a one election wonder - so he must be looking around for his next job

Lyn,
maybe he's trying to deal himself back into the Senate game withe the Rudd Government by getting himself publicly noticed. "Here I am over here. Don't forget me. I'm important too".

Fielding was on Radio National Breakfast this morning. He has an open mind cos he is an engineer. He said that nobody has asked about science behind the emissions trading scheme. Was it right?if it wasn't then there is no need to go ahead with an ETS. Everyone in the Australian Parliament has just taken the science for granted. So it is up to him, Captain Courageous, to ask the questions. He's taken advice from his American experts and there is a case to be answered.

He reckons he 's read all the stuff and listened to all the debates that have happened during the last couple of years. His mind must work very slowly then given the two year time lag.

He did sound like a useful idiot way out of his depth. All he could do was keep on repeating himself whilst evade questions about why he hadn't contacted Australian scientists about the science issues that so troubled his open engineer mind.

Billie,
so you think that Fielding is trying to broaden his electoral base from a disaffected social conservative Labor/pensioner crowd, to the climate change deniers? And that his electoral campaign will be bankrolled by the Victorian coal industry and energy companies?

Like you I think that he will disappear at the next Senate election. Labor would not dare preference him above the Greens, as they did last time. Would they?

Gary I don't think Fielding had an electoral base, I think he just collected every one's preferences.
There may be enough climate deniers in Victoria to find him electorally appealing but as Victoria enters its 15th year of drought where gardens are dying and water allocations is a very emotive subject for people on the land, I can't see where they would be. Probably the idiots who like to argue til the cows come home because they like to argue.
I think Fielding has been promised a consultancy in the fossil fuel industry when he leaves Parliament

I agree with Ken, that Fielding is all show pony and no responsibility. He doesn't seem to have any political awareness at all. So yes, his expectation that Rudd, Wong and a flock of scientists should be at his beck and call is about him, not the science.

As Nan points out, the political aspect of the question was worked out ages ago. There's this miraculous thing called majority opinion. The only remarkable thing is that an independent senator could go so long without noticing a raging debate over the issue.

Gary,
Don't be too surprised if Labor do preference him over the Greens. If he runs again. Nan said he's a useful idiot and he is that for the denialists, but he's also a useful idiot for Labor.

To all those deniers who think that the global warming debate is over be prepared to find out that the weight of scientific evidence that anthropomorphic controls climate is unsustainable. Just one comment - over the past 70 years it has cooled for 45 years and warmed for 25 years through constant CO2 increase

Colin,
yep Fielding has put the work of thousands of the world's top scientists done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to one side in favour of the work of an institute which holds that public health campaigns against smoking are based on "junk science".

Fielding, as well as many other people, are confusing the issue which is: Carbon in the atmosphere will arguably cause global warming and certainly cause increased oceanic acidity. At atmospheric CO2 450ppm, the oceans become so acidic that Calcium Carbonate cannot form in the solid, and the chain of life is irrevocably broken. The seas turn to sludge and the consequences cannot be anticipated. It doesn't matter if the CO2 is a consequence of natural or man made activity. It is, however, within our ability to have an effect on total CO2 and so perhaps avoid catastrophe. Even if this is not the case then the process of developing renewable resources is not expensive, and leads to improved social systems and new options for arranging our affairs.

John,
"Open minded" Fielding is definitely in the denialists camp. He says he cannot get satisfactory answers to his scientific questions from the Australian scientists. He keeps wandering around saying that he needs to hear an explanation of why carbon emissions have been going up over the last decade and temperatures haven't been going up.

His engineering training seems to led him to assume that CO2 and temperature levels must change in perfect lock step if climate is influenced only by rising levels of CO2. I guess he doesn't know about multiple causation of climate changes.