25 June 2012
This was re-published on Climate Spectator.
I am very much looking forward to hearing Robert Manne give a public lecture this Wednesday, when he will discuss climate denialism and irrationalism in the context of the broader history of ideas.
Robert Manne is one of Australia’s leading public intellectuals, with a keen interest in the meaning and implications of global warming. In his Quarterly Essay “Bad News: Rupert Murdoch’s Australian and the Shaping of the Nation”, he did an excellent job of exposing how Rupert Murdoch’s flagship newspaper mis-reports climate science.
In “Bad News”, Manne went into forensic detail to show how Matthew Warren and other environment editors of the Australian have run a shabby war of misinformation against climate science across the news and opinion pages.
(It was no suprise that the paper had Manne’s essay reviewed by Peter Craven, who knows nothing about the issues and lacks any credibility in the debate.)
So where is Manne going to take the discussion at Wednesday’s lecture?
This is the University’s synopsis:
Ever since the Enlightenment, one of the core assumptions of Western societies has been that in the long run reason would triumph over ignorance. This assumption rested on a simple belief—that stronger, more plausible and evidence-based arguments would be preferred to arguments based on prejudice or the special pleading of vested interests. As the largely successful war against climate science has shown, this core assumption is now under threat. In this lecture the puzzling rise of climate change denialism and irrationalism will be analysed to answer a broader question: whatever has happened to argument?
There are many important issues to be teased out of this discussion.
Here are three questions concerning the renewable energy sector and the ‘green economy’:
Firstly, where is climate denialism going in 2012?
It seems that climate denialism has morphed into ‘renewables skepticism’. These skeptics believe that a global conspiracy is in place to hide various negative facts about renewable energy, such as the notion that wind turbines cause over 100 illnesses or that solar PV generates less energy than is used in the manufacture of the PV cells.
Many conservative figures have become renewables skeptics. They are thus positioning themselves against technological progress itself and the consequent ‘creative destruction’, meant in the liberal sense that old business models are destroyed as capital flows to new models. This is a quite extraordinary situation, because traditionally it has been radicals who have argued against techno-economic progress.
Secondly, who benefits if argument fails?
Conscious change and reform require constructive debate. So it follows that those economic interests who represent the status quo will intrinsically benefit from the failure of argument. For example, if we cannot sensibly debate how to make the transition to a low carbon / high-security economy powered by renewable energy, then we are not going to make the transition; we will remain addicted to coal, oil and gas.
Thirdly, what happens to hate speech and extremism if argument fails?
My fear is that the collapse of rational debate in the public sphere will encourage more extremism in the mainstream political parties and media. This is already resulting in hate-speech against greens and vandalism of wind farms.
Manne is Professor of Politics and Convenor of the Ideas & Society Program at La Trobe University.
This event is part of the Wednesday Lectures series at Melbourne Law School, presented by Professor Raimond Gaita.