Thursday, 8 December 2011

Finding a climate of hope in a climate of doubt about climate change

Today I found myself doing two very different things. One was writing a letter to the editor about a new “carbon tax calculator” that was sent out by a National Senator as ‘proof’ that the government calculator was incorrect and by inference, the work of insidious people who wanted your money – and nothing else.

The second thing was writing a short Christmas message for the local paper for the fourth week of Advent. That meant encountering Mary, the mother of Jesus in Luke’s gospel. I was particularly looking at the Magnificat.

You might be wondering at this point what these two things have to do with one another. As it happens, quite a lot.

I will start with the issue of climate change. I have been reading a book that is called Climate Cover-up by James Hoggan. It is frightening reading. By tracking down payments of large sums of money, and various bureaucratic paper trails, it shows very clearly that the so-called debate about climate change isn’t a debate at all among climate scientists. In fact, there is an astonishing consensus among such scientists. The ‘debate’ has been created by fossil fuel corporations, such as Exxon and Mobil. They have ‘mission statements’ that aim promote confusion about climate change amongst the general public, and also target “those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science” as being “out of touch with reality.” (Climate Cover-up p.43)

To achieve these goals, they have in their pay various other kinds of scientists, such as geologists, who muddy the waters of climate science with their vested interests and scientific credentials.

One such scientist is geologist Professor Ian Plimer. Professor Plimer is a director of three mining companies: Ivanhoe Australia, a subsidiary of Bob Friedland’s Ivanhoe Mines, CBH Resources and Kefi Minerals. As non-executive Director and Deputy Chairman of Kefi, he owns 3.6 million shares which would be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in today’s market. In an article titled “Why I’d put global warming on ice,” Plimer claims that his commercial interest in mining “does not colour his arguments, which he says are based on pure science” and “does not affect the independence of his beliefs.” Hmmmmmmmm.

Climate Cover-up openly provides all of its sources, unlike our political parties and the fossil fuel industry. It is a very sobering read.

In our own fair country, Senator Ron Boswell from Queensland has thoughtfully sent out a media release entitled “New on-line calculator shows the true cost of Carbon Tax”. It was presented as a true alternative for small businesses to the online government carbon price calculator – which, by the way, was put together by the CSIRO and Choice and which makes it workings quite transparent and which can be found at . How it calculates the figures can be found at

The government calculator takes into account geography, type of household, local temperatures, age of inhabitants, number of inhabitants, whether it is a household, commercial premises, and what energy-saving devices or activities might be planned. Senator Boswell’s calculator does not take any of this into account, and does not allow for the government rebates. It does not say how this calculator arrived at the figures it comes up with.

According to the government site’s calculator, we will be better off by $20. According to the other calculator (, it will cost us over $200 per year. This is suspiciously similar to the unsubstantiated figures that circulated some months ago that claimed we would all be at least $200 worse off.
So maybe its creators can’t do complex maths, you are thinking. I now draw your attention to who devised this calculator, the Institute of Public Affairs. Despite its claims to be “an independent, non-profit public policy think tank, dedicated to preserving and strengthening the foundations of economic and political freedom”, this institute is a think tank that has many funding links to large corporations, including the fossil fuel industry. The IPA has received funding from mining companies (BHP-Billiton, Western Mining Corporation), pesticide companies (Monsanto), tobacco companies (Philip Morris, British American Tobacco), oil companies (Caltex, Esso Australia, Shell, Woodside Petroleum) and as well as from numerous electric companies. (See )

That this right wing think tank has been funded by those whose business it is to have climate change denied has been known for some years. The Age newspaper in 2004 stated that: “The Institute of Public Affairs, which receives funding from companies such as ExxonMobil, the most sceptical of the world’s fossil fuel giants, also engages in the debate, scouring the web and email groups for evidence that climate change is natural.”

In other words, the IPA is neither unbiased or can be believed to be presenting a tool that is at all objective.

I can only assume the good senator is much more interested in petty politics and representing large cashed up corporations, rather than representing what is best for the people of Australia. I take exception to the fact he is promoting a calculator that has been funded by large corporations with vested interests in a fossil fuel economy.

Then we have Mary, the mother of Jesus singing a political manifesto that states categorically that the rich and ruling types of the world will be pulled down from their thrones or places of power in order that the poor may be lifted up – presumably to something resembling equality. No wonder that her boy Jesus declares in Luke four that he has come to free the oppressed, bring good news to the poor and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

So how is this and climate change related?

The leaders of climate change denial are selling a popular message. Robert Manne, in his excellent article in the online version of The Drum (,
How can climate change denialism be explained? states that

the reason is reasonably straightforward. The majority of people in Western countries live now in a state of material comfort beyond the imaginings of all previous generations. Who amongst us would not prefer to believe that there are indeed no limits to the material comforts we may enjoy? Who would not prefer to believe that this level of material comfort will go on expanding forever? To take the conclusions of the climate scientists seriously is to embrace the need for massive economic change and even for possible economic sacrifice.

So that’s it. Faced by an apparent choice between the continuation of our lifestyle or the wellbeing of our planet, it would seem that we are going to choose the continuation of our lifestyle over the fate of the planet, and more importantly, over the fate of those brothers and sisters that Jesus commanded us to love – particularly the ones in places like Kiribati and Tuvalu.

Robert Manne further points out that
What it revealed, broadly speaking, was that the poorer the country, the more likely are its people to believe in the reality of dangerous human-caused climate change. While 31 per cent of Americans and 38 per cent of Japanese thought climate change was a very serious problem, 75 per cent of Kenyans and 85 per cent of Bangladeshis did. Those who do have reason to fear climate change but have little to lose in the curbing of emissions are the people who believe in what the climate scientists are telling them. Those who do not at present fear climate change but recognise they have a lot to lose by tackling it have simply and conveniently ceased to believe what they hear.

As Christians, we surely should be exposing these corporations and their CEOs who sit on their fossil and tobacco and insecticide-fuelled thrones, and deposing the ruling powers that prefer money and profits over justice and people.

But Robert Manne believes that the citizens of our consumeristic society – all of us - are unwilling to risk the loss of any of their comforts. He thinks that “the climate change denialists - the lobbyists and propagandists of the fossil fuel corporations; the right-wing commentariat in the blogosphere and the media; the anti-political correctness and anti-collectivist ideologues in the think tanks and the academy; the angry older generation of engineers and geologists” are offering us an the alibi that is too good to refuse.

Who on earth do we Christians think following if we can’t even speak out to help our brothers and sisters who are already suffering the effects of climate change?

Just what do we think Jesus would have to say to us should he turn up to hear the case for Tuvalu versus our own fossil-fuelled comfort?

Are we really so complacent that we are only hearing the voices we want to hear – instead of the thousands of scientists who are trying to tell us that we must change before it really is too late?

It would seem that when we are required to choose between the interests of the fossil fuel corporations or the conclusions of the climate scientists, we, with little or no hesitation, have signed up to the ideology of greed and might as represented by the vested interests of fossil-fuel dependant corporations.

Good Christian people, it is time to remember from whence we came this Advent. It is time to relearn the words of the Magnificat and put them into action. It is time to share our resources – really share them. It is time to rethink what is really important to the Lord we serve as we celebrate his coming into our world.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic work (not sure if it's Elizabeth or John, or both!). The entire apocalyptic tradition comes to mind on this issue; we hope and pray that God WILL pull down the rulers so that there can be healing for the world (literally).