Parliamentary service confers on its participants a wide range of life skills. One of these is an unerring ability to spot a particular personality type: the wacky fanatic. My introduction to this process came during my first days as the Member for Werriwa in 1994, taking over from John Kerin.
I met a constituent, Mrs Baskerville (known as ‘Hounds Of’), who visited the electorate office every day to tell us about the latest correspondence she had received from various government agencies. It might have been an electricity bill, a council rates notice or a pension update. Whatever the letter, she was incapable of dealing with these routine matters herself, requiring staff assistance to process them.
Hounds Of was typically obsessive. She carried a wide-eyed stare and Gatling-gun voice. She was oblivious to what anyone else might be saying. She was, by far, our most demanding constituent. As my secretary was fond of saying, ‘That woman is as high-maintenance as Bronwyn Bishop’s hair.’ Just as Bronnie’s hairdresser needed a degree in structural engineering, we needed similar qualifications to grapple with Baskerville’s bulging file.
Eventually, I had to tell Hounds Of we could not continue with her daily visits. In a busy office, it was wasteful and unfair to the needs of other constituents to allocate so much time to one person. I declared her file to be full, that she had reached her allocated quota of Werriwa staff-time.
I expected a long argument with her about this decision but ultimately, she took it quite well. Perhaps she just wandered down the street and started the process afresh in the office of the Campbelltown State MP, Michael Knight.
I was reminded of Hounds Of last week while watching the ABC documentary I Can Change Your Mind About Climate. The participants hand-picked by resident climate change sceptic Nick Minchin matched the identikit for wacky fanatics. Only one of them was a climate scientist, the rest arguing their case with unconvincing, eye-bulging fervour. As a measure of their obsessiveness, they made our old buddy Gerard Henderson and his letter-writing affliction appear normal.
Minchin’s obsession is to preserve the capitalist system at any cost. He made it clear in the documentary that his starting point on climate change is not scientific research but ideology. This is a classic case of confusing ends and means.
The purpose of political activity should be to find the means for citizens and nations to enjoy the best life possible. If, as is now the case, science establishes that an economic activity (the burning of fossil fuels for profit) threatens the environmental viability of the planet, then the economy needs to change. Minchin cannot countenance this prospect. His attachment to free enterprise is so blinkered that he would rather dismantle the ecosystem than reform capitalism.
In other areas, Minchin’s scientific credentials are absurd. He is a believer, for instance, in red meat causing cancer. He has also argued against the proven link between passive smoking and health problems, declaring in a 2009 Senate report his disbelief that ‘cigarettes are addictive and passive smoking causes a number of adverse health effects for non-smokers’. In the strange world of Minchinite science, it is not tobacco which causes cancer, but a good feed at the local steakhouse. There must be something in the letters ETS that sends the poor bugger berserk, whether it’s an Emissions Trading Scheme or Environmental Tobacco Smoke.
Given the damage being caused by climate change, future generations are likely to wonder how humankind blundered so badly at the beginning of the 21st century. In understanding this folly, they might consider an Australian case study: those who accepted Minchin’s snake-oil science ahead of the findings of the international scientific community.
The first Australian parliamentarian to talk about the dangers of climate change was Barry Jones. Today he is still on the job, offering this explanation of the problem:
In 1824 the French mathematician Joseph Fourier anticipated what we now call ‘the Greenhouse effect’, arguing that it was the atmosphere which maintained surface heat on Earth – otherwise Earth’s orbit would be too remote from the Sun for a temperature which could support cellular life. Without these greenhouse gases (such as atmospheric carbon dioxide, methane and ozone) the mean temperature of Earth would be about 33 degrees Celsius colder than it is.
Concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was stable at about 280 parts per million (ppm) for 10,000 years before the onset of the Industrial Revolution. It has now risen to 391 ppm, with an impact completely disproportionate to its volume. This is thought to be the highest level of carbon dioxide concentration for 800,000 years, perhaps longer.
As greenhouse gases increase so does the rate of global warming – in the Arctic, Antarctica, the oceans and many other areas where ‘pollution’, as conventionally defined, has no direct impact. The decade 2001-10 had the warmest global aggregate temperatures ever recorded.
This analysis is accepted by almost every national science academy and professional association of scientists in the world. How could any rational, intelligent person think otherwise?