Clive Hamilton is back on the new releases shelves with another book, Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change. I’ve dipped into it today, and while there is much criticism of the ‘right-wing’ groups that with the ‘greenhouse mafia’ of fossil fuel industry groups Hamilton believes persuaded the government to go slow on climate change, the initial chapters also have a distinct resemblance to public choice theories favoured by many on the right about how special interest groups capture the political process.
Of course there were other reasons why the government was always likely to lean to the sceptical side of the climate change debate. Industries that produce high levels of greenhouse gas are an important part of the Australian economy, and have contributed significantly to our current prosperity – no government is likely to jeopardise this lightly. As I argued last year when examing polls on the issue, while the public seems to have accepted the alarmist view of climate change, it still seems well short of accepting the measures needed to deal with it. The political commotion that goes with every oil price spike shows how hard it’s going to be to take this issue from abstract principle to practical policies.
Also, there were tribal political reasons for doubting the views of some climate change proponents. As I noted in my review of Hamilton’s Affluenza, he is part of a political tradition that has never much liked modern industrial society. Climate change is a godsend for such people, because it gives them a scientifically respectable way – a way consistent with modern thinking – to oppose material consumption. The instinct of those who like modern industrial soceity would always be to doubt what people like Hamilton say.
As the CIS has had little to say on climate change – expensive scientific research being well beyond its budget – it gets off fairly lightly in Scorcher‘s high UV day treatment of right-of-centre political forces. But there are some passing mentions that seem designed to haul it into the critique anyway. For example, on p.123 Hamilton describes a petition organised by ‘right-wing economist’ Alex Robson which was posted on
an anti-greenhouse libertarian website with links to the Centre for Independent Studies.
A check of the endnotes reveals this website to be that of the Australian Libertarian Society. It’s fair to say that the ALS and the CIS have things in common, but the links are loose – no formal association, no CIS control over the ALS website, but some overlapping writers. As I am, I think most people at the CIS would be happier with the description ‘classical liberal’ than ‘libertarian’, and the CIS has taken some libertarian flak over the years for its pro-family research programme and its concessions to political pragmatism in suggesting ideas that are feasible rather than ideal.
I suspect I would find much more in Scorcher that I did not like if I read it all (but I have a pile of more interesting looking and unread books, so I am not going to). But from what I have read, it is at least based on research of what actual right-wingers have said and done. That’s a considerable improvement on many other such critiques.