Direct in-action

Good article by Neil Perry from the University of Western Sydney on why the Coalition’s ‘direct action’ plan makes no sense.

Posted in Climate change, Election 2013 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Abbott’s about face

Amusingly, Tony Abbott is on record as saying ‘climate change is absolute cr@p‘. Now he seems to have changed his tune and thinks its serious enough to need a ‘direct action’ plan to deal with it. So what is going on here?

Abbott is not the first conservative leader to do an about face on climate change. In the late 80s, when scientists first started warning about the dangers of global warming and the need for action to address it, both Margaret Thatcher and George Bush Snr took it seriously.

Thatcher is on record, in a speech to the UN general assembly in 1989, as saying:

“What we are now doing to the world … is new in the experience of the Earth. It is mankind and his activities that are changing the environment of our planet in damaging and dangerous ways. The result is that change in future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto. Change to the sea around us, change to the atmosphere above, leading in turn to change in the world’s climate, which could alter the way we live in the most fundamental way of all.

“The environmental challenge that confronts the whole world demands an equivalent response from the whole world. Every country will be affected and no one can opt out. Those countries who are industrialised must contribute more to help those who are not.”

George Bush Snr, in his campaign for the presidency, made tackling the greenhouse effect one of his key policy promises, saying: “We will use the White House effect to battle the Green House effect.

Rather unsurprisingly, both leaders went on to do absolutely nothing to reduce carbon pollution or tackle global warming. So what was responsible for their backflips?

The answer is that in the 80s, when scientists first warned about the dangers of climate change, everybody listened because there was no dis-information from fossil fuel industry poisoning the debate. After the fossil fuel corporations realised the implications of climate change for their business model, they started to devote significant funds towards creating climate change misinformation, as I have documented in my earlier posts. The single most successful tactic used by the fossil fuel industry in poisoning the climate change debate, has been its achievement in politicising the debate. It framed climate change as a socialist plot to destroy capitalism by stealth. This plan has been so successful that today a vast majority of conservative politicians refuse to acknowledge climate science.

While Tony Abbott appears to be taking the issue seriously with his direct action plan, make no mistake, underneath the façade is still the Tony Abbott who thinks climate change is absolute cr@p. Abbott knows that a majority of the population want action on climate change. He knows he has to pretend to support climate science to be able to win the election, so he does. However, the reality is that his direct action plan is worthless policy dreamt up by fossil fuel industry lobbyists.

The direct action plan involves paying big carbon polluters taxpayer money as a reward to stop polluting. But why should the taxpayer fork out billions of dollars to the very industry that caused the problem in the first place? Not only that, but why should the industry that is trashing the planet, and has poured millions of dollars into slagging off climate scientists and climate science at every opportunity, be rewarded for doing so? The answer is they shouldn’t.

Abbott’s policy would be like giving the keys to the lunatic asylum to the lunatics. Direct action is bad climate policy and Abbott is a climate charlatan. He should not be rewarded for his lies by being given the keys to the lodge.

Posted in Climate change, Election 2013, Politics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Market manipulation

So, there was a big hullabaloo recently in the right wing press about a group called the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) having an adverse influence on the American stock market. The SEA hacked into the Twitter account of media outlet AP and posted a tweet which claimed the White House had been bombed and that the President had been injured. This sent the market into meltdown for a short time, until it was realised that the whole thing was a hoax.

This proves my earlier point that free markets require access to accurate information to function properly. A similar thing happened in Australia earlier this year when an environmental activist produced a fake letter from ANZ bankclaiming that ANZ had refused funding to Australian coal mining company Whitehaven Coal. Whitehaven’s shares subsequently took a nose dive until the hoax was discovered. At the time, the right wing media were scathing in their criticism of the activist in question, railing against his manipulation of the market.

But this sort of behaviour has been going on for years. For more than 20 years, fossil fuel corporations have been funding conservative think tanks (CTTs) and so called ‘astroturf’ groups. The aim of these CTTs and fake environmental groups has been to produce and publish reports that rubbish the claims of climate scientists and underestimate the environmental impact of the mining and use of fossil fuels. The ultimate goal of this funding is to boost the profits, and therefore the share price, of the fossil fuel corporations. This is at best ethically reprehensible and at worst bordering on criminal behaviour.

Several authors (Monbiot 2007; Hoggan and Littlemore 2008; Oreskes and Conway 2009; and Washington and Cook 2010 to name a few) have noted that the oil company ExxonMobil is the biggest offender in this area. Exxon has contributed millions of dollars over the last few decades to this form of market manipulation. Hoggan and Littlemore (2008, p83) note that ‘in the ten years after the creation of the Kyoto protocol, Exxon invested more than US$20 million in think tanks that dedicated a large amount of effort to questioning whether climate change was sound science.’

Greenpeace have created a list of all the CTTs and astroturf groups that Exxon have funded. The list was compiled using Exxon’s own annual reports and tax statements. It currently contains the names of 176 organisations which have received funding from ExxonMobil. Amongst the list are the Australian organisations: The Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) and the Australian Climate Science Coalition (ACSC).

This is market manipulation on a massive scale, and its not just me that thinks so. The Age recently reported:

‘A report by the British-based Carbon Tracker Initiative and the Australian Climate Institute says companies listed on the ASX 200 spend $5.7 billion a year developing and replacing coal reserves.’

‘It says these reserves will largely have to be left unburnt if global warming is to be kept at safe levels.’

‘Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said investments in Australian coal rest on a speculative bubble of climate denial, indifference or dreaming.’

‘”Investors, governments and even some coal companies, say they take climate change seriously, but this report shows they do not or are taking risky gambles,” he said.’

This is fraud and market manipulation on a massive scale. As the Age notes: ‘The International Energy Agency has warned in its latest World Energy Outlook that no more than a third of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves can be consumed to 2050, without carbon capture and storage technology’ if the the world is to stay under the two degrees warming target that scientists say is the tipping point.

By spreading dis-information about climate change, fossil fuel corporations are conning investors into thinking that the mining of fossil fuels is not detrimental to the health of the planet. Where are the voices of the right wing press screaming about market manipulation in this situation?

Posted in Climate change, Mining | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The magical free market

Some people believe in a magical world where the free market is the solution to everything.

Funnily enough, these people also seem to be over represented on the boards of the biggest polluting companies.

But, if you dig a little deeper, you realise that these free market fundamentalists do not really believe in the free market. They believe in a magical version of the free market in as much as they say they believe in the free market, but in fact what they really mean is that they believe in the free market as long as the free market suits their selfish purposes.

Much like the concept of freedom of speech, which I examined in my last post, the free market can only work if people have access to accurate information. In the free market, we are all classed as consumers. Consumers, the theory goes, have the power to make or break businesses. If a company produces a product that consumers like, then that company will prosper. If, however, a company produces goods or services that consumers do not like, then the word will spread throughout the market, and the company will lose sales until they either change their product, start producing a new product, or until they go broke.

Sounds great doesn’t it? But for the free market philosophy to work, consumers must have access to accurate information. Imagine if I produced a product that I claimed doubled a person’s iq. In no time, word would spread amongst consumers that I had this fabulous product and millions of people would purchase the product. My company would flourish. It would be a win-win situation, I would get rich and people would become smarter.

But what if I lied about the product being able to double a person’s iq? People would buy my product in their millions, I would still get rich, but no one would increase their iq. In this case, I would have gained my fortune via deception. If only people had have had access to accurate information before they made their purchases. If people knew from the start that my product was a sham, then they would not buy it, and I would have been unable to get rich peddling lies.

So, accurate information is a must for the free market to work.

This is where fossil fuel companies come in. Most of them (especially in the US, but also in Australia and the UK) give generous amounts of money to free market think tanks. They also like to trumpet how they are strong advocates for the free market.

In reality, however, they are shonky sales men. They do not want a truly free market because, just like a shonky salesman, they would go bust in a truly free market.

Fossil fuel companies spend millions each year trying to convince us that their products don’t harm the environment. After all, none of us wants to be responsible for destroying the planet. If we had access to accurate information, then none of us would purchase products that are responsible for degrading the environment. This is why fossil fuel corporations deny climate science. “Global warming is not happening”, they say. Or “man made global warming is a scam”. They have to muddy the waters so that consumers will keep buying their product. If human induced global warming was a 100% certainty, if there was no doubt whatsoever that reliance on fossil fuels was doing irreparable damage to the environment, then consumers would demand action, and companies that did not move away from reliance on fossil fuels would go broke.

This is why the fossil fuel industry promotes denial of climate science. And this denial goes against every true free market principle. These companies believe in the free market only as an abstract concept, as a ‘free market’ versus ‘socialism’ kind of proposition. They have forgotten that basic tenant of the free market, that the ‘customer is always right’. Instead, they take the line that ‘we are always right’ and ‘if you disagree with us then you are the enemy of the free market’.

In this way they can shift the focus away from accurate information. Accurate information is not a part of the fossil fuel industry’s magical free market realm. Instead they are locked in a battle with the mythical socialism monster. Only the free market can defeat this ugly beast, they proclaim, and not just any free market. It can’t be the shiny, heroic free market of the real world. It can only be the dirty, sleezy, grubby free market that lies down with the fossil fuel industry.

Posted in Climate change | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A note on freedom of speech

The Australian media recently kicked up a stink about the government’s proposed new media regulations, even though all the proposed regulations called for, in effect, was a stronger form of self regulation. The Murdoch press was particularly scathing of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, with the Sydney paper The Daily Telegraph running a front page picture depicting Conroy as the Russian communist dictator Joseph Stalin. If you believe the shrill hysteria of the Australian media, then the government’s proposed reforms were an attack on free speech. But do the accusations of the media really stand up to scrutiny?

To answer this question, I’d like to examine the historical context of the idea of freedom of speech. One of the fundamental ideas behind the notion of free speech is that, in a society where citizens are allowed to express their opinions freely, the truth will naturally prevail. Complementing this idea is the idea that when citizens are allowed to express their ideas freely, the best ideas will eventually come to the fore, whilst the worst ideas will, after being debated, be left by the wayside.

If you think of free speech in this regard, then the oft promoted rhetoric of the media, that governments are the biggest threat to freedom of speech, begins to look a bit shaky. In fact, in this light, it is private corporations and wealthy individuals, most notably the mass media themselves, who are the biggest enemies of freedom of speech.

There are several examples of this, the most notable at the moment being the efforts of that champion of the giant hole in the ground, Gina Rinehart, in taking legal action against Fairfax journalists Adele Ferguson and Steve Pennells. These journalists have used their freedom of speech to write articles that are critical of Rinehart, most notably articles about her public court battle with her children. The journalists have an inside source, someone who is close to the Rinehart family, feeding them insider information. In an attempt to get the journalists to disclose their source, Rinehart has subpoenaed them to appear in court in an effort to bully them into disclosing their sources.

This is one of the ways that corporations and wealthy individuals can ride roughshod over freedom of speech. Rinehart, as we all know, is fabulously wealthy. She can afford to hire the most expensive lawyers and keep her case going for as long as she wants to. The journalists, however, do not have access to such funds. The journalists, who have every right to express their freedom of speech, and use it to criticise Rinehart, are being unfairly punished by her for doing so. In modern society, corporations and wealthy individuals have the power to bring legal actions against people for using their right to free speech. It does not matter whether the person who speaks out is right or wrong, because the corporation or wealthy individual has the financial resources to outlast the hapless journalist or blogger in the courts. Of course, this shouldn’t be confused with liable. Everyone should have the right to sue for liable if they believe someone has unfairly defamed them. But liable is often abused by the rich to bully or threaten others into not speaking out, thereby curtailing their freedom of speech.

Another example of this is the case of Empire Oil and Gas company. An individual Empire Oil and Gas shareholder, not happy with the way that Empire Oil and Gas is being run, has criticised the company board on an internet chat site. The board has responded by suing the outspoken shareholder for liable. The board has even had the audacity to use company money to finance their vicious legal action, leading to a situation where an individual shareholder, who has every right to state their opinion on the way the company is run, is being sued by the board, and the board is using the company’s money to finance the action. While the hapless shareholder is losing their life savings trying to defend themselves in court, the already rich company directors are using company money to effectively bankrupt their own shareholder for nothing more than voicing their opinion. So much for freedom of speech when it comes to the mining industry.

The press, particularly the Murdoch press, is also very good at using its money and influence to trample over the freedom of speech of others. A case in point is the way the Australian newspaper has taken upon itself to run a relentless campaign against climate science and climate scientists. The Australian has long been a vocal mouthpiece of the climate change denial movement. This has been highlighted in a recent study by the Independent Centre for Journalism at the University of Technology Sydney. The centre studied the coverage of the carbon tax debate and found that 84% of the Australian’s articles on the carbon tax were negative. This is despite the fact that 97% of climate scientists agree that human induced climate change is a significant problem that needs to be addressed, and despite also that the majority of economists agree that a carbon price is the best mechanism to reduce carbon pollution. So much for freedom speech if you are a climate scientist or economist that advocates climate action.

This example highlights that newspapers often have an agenda. With their great power and resources, media outlets and media owners can often use their power to push an agenda that is against the long-term public interest. This goes against the very principle behind the concept of freedom of speech. The principle that says that when everyone is allowed an equal say, the ideas that are best for society as a whole will always win out. The media and other unscrupulous corporations, or wealthy individuals, can often distort the debate. They can use their power and financial clout to silence the most rational voices in the debate, or to shout louder than the most rational voices, in an effort to further their own interests. In this way they are more a danger to freedom of speech than governments, because they promote lies and invective over the truth.

Free speech is indeed a noble concept, and one worth defending. But we must also be wary of those who seek to distort the truth in the name of free speech in order to further their own narrow interests, for this is to the detriment of society as a whole.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Australians are the world’s biggest red necks!

I fear this country has become a nation full of red necks.

Consider the evidence:

Whilst our New Zealand neighbours have just passed a bill to legalise same-sex marriage, both major parties in Australia are against it. The way things stand, it could be a decade or more before similar legislation is passed by our parliament.

Both major political parties seem to be in a race to the bottom to demonise refugees. There seems to be a competition between Labor and Liberal as to who can offer the worst punishment to refugees arriving here seeking a better life for themselves and their families.

Meanwhile, we have the best economy in the world, one of only three countries to get a Triple A credit rating from all three major rating agencies. And yet, we seem to be amongst the biggest whingers in the world. A recent survey ranked Australians’ dis-satisfaction at 40%, this was double the amount of dis-satisfaction amongst Brits (20%), despite the British economy being down the toilet compared to ours.

We are currently the fattest nation on earth, with around 60% of Australians being overweight.

Shock jocks rule the radio airwaves. Bitter old men who are trapped in the Cold War era and preach hatred of anything remotely different to themselves. These caustic buggers see everything as a commie plot designed to upset their capitalist utopia. Their hatred spreads to almost every facet of society, from welfare recipients, to students, refugees, immigrants, gays and lesbians, and even climate scientists.

And finally, we are the world’s biggest polluters, emitting more carbon dioxide per capita than any other nation on earth. This is compounded by the fact that it looks almost certain that an Abbott led Liberal party will win the next election and form government. Abbott has pledged to scrap the only significant action ever taken by an Australian government to address climate change – the price on carbon. This is despite a record breaking summer just gone in which 127 heat records were broken!

Abbott is famously on record as saying: ‘climate change is absolute crap.’ There is no doubt that, when he gets in, he will give the biggest polluters, the fossil fuel industry, carte blanch to do whatever they like. Still, the world’s biggest red neck country probably deserves the world’s biggest red neck Prime Minister!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Mining sends the RBA broke!

Turns out the mining boom is not just sending Australia’s automotive, manufacturing and retail sectors to the wall. News is the mining sector is also sending the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) broke as well!

According to Michael West of The Age, the high value of the Australian dollar, bought about as a direct result of the greed of our mining industry, is bad news for the RBA.

The RBA keeps a huge stash of foreign currency in it’s reserve fund for emergencies. Unfortunately, the higher the Australian dollar, the more the RBA’s reserve fund is devalued and, therefore, the less it is worth.

As West notes: ‘The rising $A had cut $5 billion from its capital base in 2009 and 2010. As the local currency rallied against its peers, the value of all its foreign currency assets fell. Now its ‘reserve fund’ or capital buffer hovers at just $1.95 billion.’

This devaluing means that the value of the reserves savings has dropped in relation to its borrowings. Meaning as the dollar goes it, the Reserves debit ratio gets higher, as West points out: ‘Another rise in the $A, and Australia’s central bank could find itself in ‘negative equity’.’

This could be really bad news for the Australian economy, because the Reserve Bank is the institution that is supposed to bail out Australia’s other banks if they get into financial trouble. If the Reserve Bank has no emergency money, where does that leave all our other banks?

Dutch disease strikes again!

Posted in Mining | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment