It has been an historic week for climate change policy as Australia becomes the first nation in the world to repeal laws that had put a price on greenhouse gas emissions.
The Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Government’s supporters are claiming a key victory.
But who actually won?
Science denial, so-called “free market” ideology and the interests of the fossil fuel energy industry are the termites chewing away at the base of all efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
They are the winners. The lobbyists, the ideologues and the fossil fuel industry.
Let’s first remember the nuts and bolts of all this.
The price on greenhouse gas emissions that came into force in 2012 was a long overdue acknowledgement that you shouldn’t be able to dump industrial waste products into the atmosphere for free.
The idea is to give companies and societies an incentive to cut down on fossil fuel use.
Removing the price means the atmosphere can again be used with impunity as an open sewer for the disposal of carbon dioxide and methane.
Of course, there really is no “disposal” as the gases hang around to accumulate in an atmosphere that now holds about 40 per cent more carbon dioxide than it did before the industrial revolution.
The symbolism of a price on emissions wasn’t lost on Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Only months ago, he told a mining industry celebratory dinner that the “one fundamental problem, above all else, with the carbon tax” was that it served to “demonise the coal industry”.
Given that continued use of coal around the globe now and in the future risks serious implications for human civilization, the fact that coal is being “demonised” is perhaps understandable.
But the response from the vested interests and the majority of the political right in Australia was to demonise the price on the use of this demon coal.
It became a “toxic tax” that would be an economic “wrecking ball” that would make joints of lamb unaffordable and wipe out entire towns. Alarmist, much?
When opposition leader Bill Shorten pledged this week Labor would stand by the party’s position of pricing greenhouse gas emissions, Education Minister Christopher Pyne described the policy as “a rotten, stinking carcass” that he would hang around Shorten’s neck until the next election in 2016.
In an attempt to push back against this “demonisation” of coal, some of the world’s biggest fossil energy companies had been targeting Australians with a barrage of public relations and advertising.
Coal was the answer to ending global poverty, we are now being told, and anyone standing in the way is morally dubious.
The ABC revealed last year that the coal industry had tweaked its Coal 21 fund – originally plugged as a cash pot to research lower-emissions coal technologies – to allow the money to also be used simply to promote the use of coal.
The fossil fuel industry continues to utilise the revolving lobby doorwhere high ranking government officials and politicians step out from years navigating the inner workings of government to land jobs as advocates and lobbyists.
One recent example of this would be Martin Ferguson, who after spending six years as the Labor government’s resources minister took a job as chairman of APPEA, the peak body for the oil and gas industry (as I’ve mentioned here before, Abbott advisor and Liberal Party polling guru Mark Textor owns a company that is registered as a lobbyist for APPEA).
Another example of the revolving lobby door in action is Stephen Galilee, a former advisor to several Liberal Party politicians (including Tony Abbott and the now Premier of New South Wales Mike Baird) who now heads the New South Wales Minerals Council representing the interests of coal miners.
In coal friendly Queensland, coal company employees are asked to draftthe state's environment policy.
The opaque state lobby registers, together with the Federal register, are littered with former government staffers, high ranking political advisors and former politicians whose experience is now being put to good use by the resources and energy majors.
Carbon pricing matters to the fossil fuel industry in Australia because so much of the energy we use comes from burning their products.
About 69 per cent of Australia’s electricity comes from burning coal, followed by gas (20 per cent) and then hydro (six per cent) with the rest coming from wind (two per cent). Solar power currently makes up a tiny percentage.
Neither does Australia want the world to think that one of its biggest exports is in any way demon-like.
So as the debate over carbon pricing has burned continually hot, there have been concerted attempts to undermine the science linking human activity to climate change and undermine the impacts.
Abbott's own position on the science of climate change has changed very little since he declared it was "crap". His coalition party room is well attended by climate science deniers.
One MP recently returned from a US conference for sceptics - a visit paid for by the notorious Heartland Institute - declaring climate scienceto be more like "fiction dressed up as science".
Chief protagonist in the pushing of climate science denialist talking points into the public discourse in Australia is the Institute of Public Affairs, a Melbourne-based “free market” think tank.
Last year the IPA issued a wish list of public spending cuts including the gutting of most climate change functions across multiple government agencies. The group has long campaigned to “axe the tax”.
The IPA promotes climate science denialist books with city-hopping tours for authors and organises speaking tours for international climate science denialists.
In recent years the IPA has sponsored tours and visits from the likes of UK blogger and anti-wind activist James Delingpole, the US Cato Institute’s Pat Michaels (who once estimated 40 per cent of his income came from the oil industry), Canada’s Donna Laframboise, Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg (whose US think tank paid him $775,000 in just one year) and former Czech president Vaclav Klaus.
All these international guests have poured scorn on efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions or claimed the science of climate change is alarmist.
In the 2013 book Big Coal, authors Guy Pearse, David McKnight and Bob Burton explain their view of the role of think tanks in the climate and energy debate.
"What think tanks such as the IPA and like-minded groups effectively do is free up the coal industry’s primary lobby groups, such as the ACA (Australian Coal Association, which is now part of the Minerals Council of Australia) and the companies themselves, from damaging their own credibility by being publicly identified as rejecting the scientific consensus on climate change."
Like other Australian think tanks, the IPA isn’t required to disclose its funders, even though it is looking to influence public policy.
The IPA is allowed, however, to use its privileged tax status to encourage supporters to claim tax breaks in return for donations to fund a climate science denial book.
Other anti-climate science groups have emerged, such as the Galileo Movement (the patron is the combative radio host Alan Jones) and even a political party devoted to “axing the tax”.
British climate science misinformer Lord Christopher Monckton has been flown in three times for speaking tours, two of which were aided by mining billionaire Gina Rinehart. All to undermine public concern and foster antagony between climate science and the public.
Another key to the Abbott’s “victory” in the carbon price repeal has been the role of the Rupert Murdoch-owned media in Australia.
In 2007 Murdoch said in a webcast that the planet should be “given the benefit of the doubt” on climate change as he launched an initiative to make News Corp “carbon neutral” (I remember the webcast well as I was a News Ltd journalist at the time when we were all encouraged to down tools and watch).
Murdoch’s “conversion” was said to have been heavily influenced by his son James. But the media mogul’s apparent new concern for the climate didn’t last.
When Murdoch joined Twitter in January 2012, his first tweet was to recommend people read a book by Sir Matt Ridley, an advisor to UK-based climate sceptic group the Global Warming Policy Foundation.
When Tony Abbott became Prime Minister, Murdoch tapped out a congratulatory tweet pre-empting how Abbott would be “killing the carbon tax”.
Murdoch isn’t a fan of wind energy either. On Twitter, he unleashed his wisdom on his followers (now numbering more than half a million) to say “let's stop wasting money on ridiculous windmills”, “stop wasting billions on windfarms now!” and describing turbines as “uneconomic ugly bird killing windmills”.
The vast majority of news stories and opinion columns published by the dominant Murdoch press in Australia, as one study has documented, promote long-debunked fringe views on climate science.
In a recent cringe worthy interview on Sky News, Murdoch showed just how personally misinformed on climate change he actually is.
Murdoch’s newspapers have provided the main public forum for the fringe opinions of climate denialists.
Yet the most telling impact globally of the Abbott Government’s position on greenhouse gas policy may still be to come.
Like any other country, Australia can choose to be a blocker in international climate change negotiations at UN meetings in Peru later this year, where a new global deal to cut emissions will start to take shape.
Because the UN process relies on agreement among all parties, it only requires one fly to spoil the ointment.
The plan for Peru is that a new deal will be progress ready to sign at the following year’s meeting in Paris.
Based on its record, any world leaders claiming to want genuine action to cut emissions might now have to work out how to cut Australia out of the equation.
This article is reposted from the Guardian Author credit goes to Graham Readfearn Images credit goes to Gary Ramage