CPAC of liars

In 160 years of record keeping, it has never rained more in Sydney. With three months left before Christmas, readings have already exceeded the peak set 72 years ago. Parts of the city are inundated and buildings are set in the mould and decay of a third La Niña summer. Climate change is no longer a warning: it is washing away roads and growing in black patches on the walls.

In the same city, at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last weekend, Ian Plimer said there was no evidence at all of human contributions to rising temperatures. Anthropogenic climate change was not real. “We are dealing with a fraud,” he said. “A scientific fraud from day one.”

Reasoning that his breath contained carbon dioxide, he said the test he needed to do was to kiss any woman in the room and not kill her. He did not promise – to use his favoured construction – that this would be colourless, odorless and tasteless. “Line up … outside,” he said, “and we’ll put this to an experiment.”

Tony Abbott spoke at the same conference. Dominic Perrottet sent a video message, celebrating the people in the room as “part of a conservative movement that’s driven by big ideas and bold action”.

Teena McQueen, a vice-president of the Liberal Party, told those in attendance they should “rejoice” in the fact moderate Liberals had lost their seats at the May election. “People I’ve been trying to get rid of for a decade have gone,” she said. “We need to renew with good conservative candidates.”

These people would be the political fringe, except they have held the country’s highest offices. The link between them and the flooded city outside is more than glib symbolism. The thinking in this room – if it can be called thinking – has been instrumental in holding back action on climate change and ensuring that whatever happens next will be catch-up.

When Alan Jones crawls on stage to say cutting emissions is like “signing an economic suicide note” he is repeating a lie that still shapes our politics. The timidity of Labor’s policy is still guided by the imagined power of the people in this room, the wet-look quasi-academics and pocket-squared commentators whose influence is not influence at all but rather habit and narrow thinking.

Labor is persevering with the Coalition’s sham carbon market when it should be introducing a carbon price. It will muddle through negotiating a safeguard mechanism when it would be more efficient and effective to simply tax emissions.

It is doing this because, even as the eastern seaboard floods again and a pandemic worsened by climate inaction spills into its third year, political wisdom says it cannot do more. This is the trick played by Abbott and Plimer and McQueen. The incredible thing is that the Liberals do not even have to be in power for them to play it again.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 8, 2022 as "CPAC of liars".

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