Image for The Australian tries to remake its relevance in a changing world

In a strange twist, following recent battles with the Greens, the paper’s Environment Editor, Graham Lloyd, feels it necessary to state the paper’s position on the climate, “THIS newspaper supports global action on climate change based on the science.”

In a 2,812 word essay, the history of The Australian’s positions is explored from 1995 to last month, with a side foray into related issues about how the debate is managed by The Australian.

A Danish economist, Bjorn Lomborg, is held up as an example of a widely held opinion, when I have only read about the position he posits with him quoted as the source. Perhaps I have missed the others. Lomborg believes that whilst the climate is changing there are other more important issues requiring immediate attention.   

Other keys to The Australian’s position lie in the quoted Editorials, of which I will use the most recent.

“The paper continues to support action on climate change and free speech. On March 12 this year the editorial said: “For the record, The Australian has long accepted the probability of anthropogenic climate change and favoured the introduction of an emissions trading scheme. But reputable scientists and stakeholders deserve their say, regardless of whether they subscribe to a newspaper’s editorial line.””

When conspiracy theorists like Monckton are given a say as reputable stakeholders one has to wonder what was in Ed’s head. Or that Danish economist given prominence for writing a book about his personal view. One of how many economists?

Newspaper sales are important to the Editor but at what cost as the Liberal Party take on board the comments of some who have been given space in The Australian and move away from an efficient market mechanism so favoured by the paper to describing such a mechanism as “a great big new tax on everything”.

Do the Liberals get a continuing drubbing for their complete rejection of a market mechanism to reduce emissions? No the focus of odium is on the Greens for delaying the CPRS, a supposedly effective market mechanism that would comprehensively reduce carbon emissions in a timely way. The Greens thought otherwise.

If stakeholders deserve their say, as the paper claims, then surely a political party that has been involved with the issue longer than The Australian and has the support of reputable scientists in its Safe Climate Policy, deserves the same respect as the other parties.

Lloyd continues to quote examples; “On October 2, in response to the Royal Society’s revised discussion paper in Britain: “The Royal Society sets out a strong case for pursuing the cautionary, responsible approach long advocated by The Weekend Australian. The society “[sic]” cites strong evidence that increases in greenhouse gases due to human activity are the dominant cause of global warming.””

Yes folks it’s the fossil fuel burning, the degradation and destruction of natural forests and the inefficient uses of energy that are the root causes and the heart of the solution, something the paper hints at but as yet has not called on government for comprehensive, effective and timely change.

“The Australian has never hidden its preference for technological solutions over proscriptive restrictions that shift Australia’s emissions to other countries.
And it has argued that the emphasis should always be on getting the greatest carbon abatement at the least financial and social cost.”

This may not explain the paper’s support for carbon capture and storage as soon as this undeveloped technology appeared as the coal industries saviour regardless of its efficacy and for waving the flag for nuclear power from time to time, regardless of the costs. Methinks this rapid adoption of some ideas cannot be explained by the paper’s supposed position.

Lloyd goes on; “On November 27: “As the carbon reduction debate progresses, it is clear that the real argument is not primarily about climate science but economics. If greenhouse cuts are to be made, which The Weekend Australian believes is necessary insurance against climate change, the challenge is to achieve the biggest cuts for the least cost, a process that needs an efficient market mechanism.”

I wish this was the case for the entire News Ltd stable. Whilst the Australian reaches out to ‘serious’ readers it cannot ignore the science but two other journalists in papers that appeal to readers who want less of an intellectual challenge and more conformation of their fears, Bolt and Ackerman, are happy to provide examples of editorial “independence” in a continual stream of denial.

Of course the least cost solution is best, and we will have the argument over what that is until decisions are taken. But what the least cost path to the future is not free from the constraint of time. The atmospheric carbon level influences the climate, including the release of other greenhouse gases.

The rate at which we reduce emissions is predetermined by the time at which we need to arrive at a stable climate, making waiting for inventions, for research developments and the building of a whole new industry to start having an effect on greenhouse gas levels, next to impossible.

With the majority scientific opinion recommending deep cuts by 2050, some say 85% on 1990 levels, and cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries ranging between 25 and 40%, why is it The Australian is not taking the Labor Party to task for shooting below that range in its first draft of the CPRS, and then only under pressure putting up a 25% maximum.

Further, the same November 27 editorial headed; “The folly of tilting at Windmills” states “Given Australia’s coal reserves, resources might better be invested in making coal-fired power cleaner.” And then goes on to refer to energy experts such as Amory B Lovins “that the cheapest way to cut carbon emissions is to design buildings and transport systems that waste less energy…. if the whole of the US, for example, used electricity as efficiently as its top 10 states,.., 62 percent of electricity generated from coal … would be superfluous.”

“Greens…tend to condemn those who question the investment in renewable energy at the expense of other initiatives [Note: The Australian wants CCS and nuclear power as renewable] as climate science deniers. In cutting carbon the best solutions are those that do the job cost efficiently.”

Really. The Australian would do well to note that it was the Tasmanian Greens who bought energy efficiency experts to that state well before the paper had a position on the climate. They would also do well to read the Greens Safe Climate Policy to understand that the Greens, in advocating a 40% cut in GHG emissions by 2020 give eminence to energy efficiency. Also, we could read more in the paper about energy efficiency, how it is good business to save on costs and how the government could support such investments.

As I said earlier, there is a time imperative in reducing emissions levels and judging simply on cost is not sufficient. The actions Australia takes have to be comprehensive, they have to be effective and they must be timely.

Without those 3 in concert Australia can expect a more rapid descent into the climate instability we are experiencing at the end of a long drought in the south-eastern states. As the Attorney General states when flagging the costs of the current flooding in NSW, that he says is running into billions, this year we are forecast for another dangerous fire season and tropical cyclones reaching further south than is their usual pattern, all potentially adding more billions in costs. The Age reports on the study into the impacts of the heatwaves in Victoria last year and the concerns about repetitions of such events.

Time is not on our side when addressing climate stability.

Lloyd states “While the views of climate sceptics have been represented in the news and opinion pages of the newspaper they have not been reflected, and have been seldom mentioned, in the paper’s editorials. The paper has, however, defended their right to have a voice.”

How many times do you have to mention a person in an editorial to give them or enhance their status, warranted or not?. Methinks Monckton and Lomborg have made it in along with Kinninmonth and Carter.

I may be wrong but that is not the point. To badge a newspaper as a neutral agent in society, simply giving opinions a voice, is to belie reality. Media has influence and uses it. There is no proper way to use it but the readers do judge.

In the Memo to Julia editorial in the same November 27 edition The Australian conflates climate change and ‘same sex’ marriage and declares them feel good notions for Adam Brandt’s base. So much for the voice of those who want to allow marriage for those who wish it, let alone the paper’s stated position on a matter it is trying to argue it is serious about, the climate.

And now we come to the most recent push for nuclear power commenced in the week before the Weekend Edition of the folly of tilting in an opinion piece by Janet Albrechtson where she dug up a Labor proponent for nuclear being given equal renewable energy certificate status as the more well understood examples of that form of energy, wind, wave and solar.

In the weekend edition a now landed, and perhaps gentrified, John Coombs, expresses his opinion that it’s time for a change before his nice piece of countryside is covered with windfarms, the same position as taken by the GAIA founder, James Lovelock. And that opened the floodgates of pro-nuclear opinion.

Well, the only ‘renewable’ nuclear power comes from fast breeder reactors, which, although you may start off with Australian uranium, once your bred fuel [plutonium] stockpile grows big enough, the power supply becomes self fuelling. Not bad, although you end up with a lot of dangerous waste and more and more fuel.

And if this is a successful campaign to get Australian to go nuclear and it sets a global trend what of our investment in coal, in its export and in carbon capture and storage. If nuclear is so good and cost efficient then surely old King Coal is not efficient and The Australian should also campaign for that mining industry to close in favour of the efficiency god that the newspaper lauds.

Of course, nuclear will not be timely and CCS is still years away so what are we to think of a newspaper that says it recognizes that dangers inherent in the business as usual model and the need to reduce carbon [greenhouse gas emissions] yet fails to support measures that we can, and need to take, now. These measures include windfarms.

We don’t have endless time to waste trying to get the solution right. Australia needs to deploy currently proven technologies that are socially acceptable, not follow some ideologically driven course that results in delay to meet the demand of efficiency. The immutable laws of physics and chemistry will not bend out of the way for the pursuits of special and vested interests.

phill Parsons
has been busy planting and nurturing natural carbon sinks and stores. He calls on Richard Branson put his money up and save $25,000,000 of forest, it’s the one thing we can get to draw down atmospheric Carbon without dangers for earth’s systems.