Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

NYT compares Oz No-Carbon-Tax movement to Tea Party

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On May 23, the New York Times carried an article In Australia, a Tempest With Echoes of a Tea Party, reprinted in the International Herald Tribune. It compared the “people’s revolt” with the Tea Party, saying:

A call in February by the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, for a “people’s revolt” against the plan has incited one of the most raucous protest movements the country has seen in decades. Thousands have rallied and counter-rallied across the country, with the battle hardening along familiar lines: small versus big government; free markets versus environmental protection; climate change believers versus skeptics.

“Australian politics is becoming increasingly vitriolic, as I think maybe American politics is too, and especially since Tony Abbott became opposition leader,” Rod Tiffen, a media expert and emeritus professor of political science at the University of Sydney, said in an interview. “The charge and counter-charge has just really escalated and become more personal and, well, simple-minded.”

The leaders of the two main parties increasingly view politics as a zero-sum game, he added.

All this is true, but what the journalist, Matt Siegel, didn’t mention was that the counter rallies far outweighed the  rallies. This wasn’t all that well reported in Australia, either. The Melbourne rallies were reported by our ABC as several hundred anti C-tax (400 official) versus several thousand pro C-tax (8,000 official).

What the article did show was that the resemblance is more than skin deep. He mentioned an organiser of the anti-tax coalition as one Tim Andrews, co-founder of conservative Internet portal Menzies House. Andrews’ CV includes his last two jobs, which were with the anti-tax Americans for Tax Reform and as a fellow at the Charles G. Koch Foundation. The latter is a think-tank for culture warriors financed by the Koch Brothers, offensive science denialists and bank-rollers of the tea party.

Manzies House, the internet portal for conservative, centre-right and libertarian thinkers is supporting the anti carbon tax campaign (no I won’t link). It’s just a blog, so there are no think tanky publications or mission statements, but the site does carry a few anti climate change science posts. About half are by federal politicians. Like the Tea Party in the US, the little people who find themselves threatened by global change (at all levels), might just find they are acting as beards for much larger interests who want their own form of globalisation. Unfettered free markets at their core. These interests are funding anti-science, anti-government, anti-tax (pretty much anti-social) movements by creating rifts in the risk society. It has nothing to do the preservation of local interests and conservative values which really drive the citizens’ movements of the right.

This strategy is still clearly expanding in Australia, the media are complicit and the government appears to be at a loss as to how to sell their message that a price is neccessary, and no it won’t hurt individuals because of the compensation mechanisms. Polls suggest a clear majority of people who want workable policy on climate change but many are balking at the carbon tax because they don’t understand how it affects their pockets. I’m beginning to think the government would have trouble selling ice cream in a heat wave.

We’re now in the situation where well over half the printed media in Australia and a large proportion of the broadcast media is openly questioning the policy of having a price on carbon. This is despite the majority of academic experts – which includes both progressive and conservative economists – backing a price on carbon. They mainly disagree over the mechanism, between tax and market instruments. Interestingly the more neo-classically oriented economists prefer a tax or levy due to its perceived simplicity. Two papers on this subject by Bill Nordhaus are referenced at the bottom of the post. The same goes for direct action on technology or increasing R&D to foster new technology. Analyst David Popp asks “Is there a free lunch for R&D?” and answers no in a 2006 paper in Climatic Change. This debate is being muddied by a good deal of anti-science and pseudoscience being supported by the print and broadcast media.

Monday’s release of the Climate Commission’s report THE CRITICAL DECADE: Climate science, risks and responses says what everyone knows. The science is real, urgent and requires rapid responses commensurate to the risks. In this regard, the targets of both parties, -5% Co2 by 2020 from 2000, are inadequate but better than nothing.

The entry of Gina Rinehart into the media and public opinion-making, and movement of Andrew Bolt to Channel 10 shows that resources are flowing into similar anti-science and anti-social enterprises as in the US. So the New York Times may be right, the Aussie tempest has the echoes of a tea party, but so does the underbelly of the whole show.


Nordhaus, W.D. (2006) After Kyoto: Alternative mechanisms to control global warming. The American Economic Review, 96, 31-34.

Nordhaus, W.D. (2007) To tax or not to tax: alternative approaches to slowing global warming. Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, 1, 26-44.

Popp, D. (2006) R&D subsidies and climate policy: Is there a “free lunch”? Climatic Change, 77, 311-341.


Written by Roger Jones

May 26, 2011 at 5:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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