Depoliticise this, politicise that

Tuesday, 10 November 2009 

Malcolm, Barnaby, Andrew, Janet stop gambling with our future. You’ve got to know when to fold ’em and for the sceptics, that time has come.

K Rudd 6 November

I’m not as familiar with the Alumni of Bumcrack as you may be. Or any bumcrack quite frankly.

Piers Ackerman Insiders 8 November

A few nights ago on Lateline, Leigh Sales was interviewing the chief scientific adviser to the British government, when she asked a bizarre question:

Did you ever imagine that climate change would become as politicised as it has, given the overwhelming majority of the scientific community are in agreement on the principles?

Naturally, he didn’t have a clue what she was talking about.

In the UK there is little political discussion about climate change. The Conservatives are, if anything, even more pro-environment than Labour, the protection of the English countryside fitting comfortably with their anti-immigrant, anti-working-class-urban-sprawl, anti-modernist point of view. (In fact, as Turnbull reminded Alan Jones last week, it was Thatcher who took an early lead in setting up an international body to take action on climate change, getting involved in environmentalism at around the same time as Hawke did and for much the same reason, to breathe life into a flagging government).

Even in the US, where the battle lines are drawn along more recognisable lines, climate change is not the centre of political contention. Across the political class, there is recognition that the US cannot afford further damage to its political influence by being sidelined in the climate change agenda, a political reality even Bush was recognising in his final days.

In Australia, of course, things are different. As The Australian begins the long and arduous task of retreating from a rogue poll, some in the press have said Rudd should have saved his breath talking about the limits of what government can do about asylum seekers, largely what the public suspected, but something incomprehensible to a media harking back to a day when it was possible to pretend otherwise. But even if the asylum issue has not had any impact on the polls, it remains part of Howard’s political legacy that needs to be cleared away. On Friday, Rudd capped it off at the Lowy Institute by ramping up and politicising his agenda of climate change.

Rudd was a bit cheeky in his speech implying there was an international conspiracy of deniers blocking the progress of climate change action around the world. Arguably, Australia would be where political resistance is most organised and it is hard to claim that the Liberals are that much of a barrier. Certainly not compared to the government’s own caution, resulting from a lack of a social base, but rather psychologically called “lack of political will”. However, perhaps it was last week’s fright from ghosts of the past that has led Rudd now to move things forward and demonise climate change sceptics for a political agenda that may not match others on his side of the climate change debate.

One of the most irritating aspects of the climate change debate is the way that the right and left use an important but complex scientific issue as a vehicle to carry on their battles. To read the media and the blogosphere you would think the ANU’s climatology departments had been heaving with graduates over the last two decades. Instead, armed with degrees from the University of East Bumcrack, we have bloggers from both sides of the debate throwing out graphs and numbers in a parody of a scientific debate. Given that scientific consensus is so strongly behind the human impact on global warming, it has especially been used by the exhausted left as a convenient means of carrying on a faux anti-capitalist argument.

Those that are doing so might be unaware where it is heading, because Rudd isn’t politicising the issue to keep the Red Flag flying. Far from wishing to keep up the political traditions of the past, Rudd is using the climate change agenda to delegitimize them.

It is hard to recall after two decades of self absorbed analysis by both sides of the political divide along the lines of “Whither the left?” and “What now for right?” that political parties didn’t exist for their own sake but as a vehicle for sections of society to get what they want, whether organised labour, business or rural interests. Such sectional interests are made illegitimate against the claims of a global catastrophe like climate change. Coal industry management, or the unions, may haggle over compensation, but they cannot argue for the maintenance of existing industry practices in the face of this agenda. In fact the only particular institution that benefits from the climate change agenda, above all others, is the state. It is only the state that can regulate the economy at home and pursue climate change’s global agenda abroad, and Rudd clearly looks the best qualified to lead it. The rest of us need only constrain ourselves.

The impact of this can, of course, be most clearly seen with the Liberals, Australia’s last political party, as the last party to meaningfully represent a particular section (however, coy they may be about it). Business wants the Coalition they back to cut a deal with the government. Because whatever they may think about climate change, for business leaders like the AIG’s Heather Ridout, shown meeting Ian MacFarlane on this week’s 4 Corners, it is in their interests to negotiate to extract the best deal possible. The trouble is that for the rest of the party and the frustrated right ideologues like Alan Jones, who gave Turnbull such a hard time last week, this doesn’t address the need of the right to justify their existence. This is the tension tearing the Coalition apart, and which the Mandarin fully intends to exploit.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Tuesday, 10 November 2009.

Filed under Tactics

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2 responses to “Depoliticise this, politicise that”

  1. Persse on 10th November 2009 7:03 am

    To be fair to Maggie, she was a chemist. Chemists get it – CO2 has certain physico – chemical properties, more CO2, more of said properties, truckload of black coal, warehouse full of CO2 etc.

  2. The Piping Shrike on 10th November 2009 8:43 am

    She knew her molecules, gawd bless ‘er!

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