Climate of error

The Spectator’s cover was a week early: a headline, eight days ago, shouting “Our victory!” Below it, Alan Jones, Tony Abbott and Andrew Bolt danced in paper hats, celebrating the repeal of the carbon tax amid streamers and party horns.

John Roskam at least waited for the repeal to pass the senate on Thursday before he trotted out a smug email to supporters of the Institute of Public Affairs. “We did it,” the institute’s executive director wrote. “A few minutes ago the senate voted to repeal the carbon tax. Let’s pause a moment to reflect on our achievement.”

The wonderment continued: “Together, we’ve won the debate. It was your financial support that allowed the IPA to do all of this. So thank you for your courage. You did what was right – not what was easy. And we prevailed.”

World wars have been ended with more grace and less hyperbole.

Back at The Spectator, the premature adulation traced the battle back to 2008. “We yelled because, like broadcaster Alan Jones, pundit Andrew Bolt and the Institute of Public Affairs, we hoped to be heard in a conformist climate,” they raged. “These were the days of Tim Flannery’s hysteria, the Garnaut Report’s hype and Kevin Rudd’s ‘greatest moral challenge’.”

Dark days, to be sure. Mercifully, the fight did not end there. “When global warming alarmism was dominant in late 2009, Mr Abbott – encouraged by people like us – had the political nerve and moral conviction to provoke people into questioning the religious fervour of carbon pricing. To wit, he has been able to pioneer a new direction in climate policy that has transformed Australian politics. Bring out the champagne!”

A week early, but right eventually. Throw forward to a throwback.

The victory is pyrrhic, a messy fight that sets Australia back to where it was six years ago on climate change policy. If anything has changed since Rudd and Howard began talking about an emissions trading scheme in 2007, it is that the science supporting the need for one has grown. International consensus has, in that time, consolidated behind a market mechanism as the best means by which to contain emissions. Australia, however, now has the pitiful distinction of being the only developed nation to have moved backwards on climate action.

And it is worse than that. Whatever replaces this scheme will almost certainly be more expensive. Households will be worse off. Unquestionably, the environment will be worse off. On the forecasts of many economists, industry will eventually be worse off.

None of this matters to those for whom carbon pricing is about more than rational thought. It is about party horns and mindless slogans and standing up to an environment that has the temerity to be fragile. It is about man’s triumph at all costs. And the costs of this will be great.

A war has been won. The earth has lost. Champagne.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 18, 2014 as "Climate of error".

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