At the recent United Nations climate summit in New York, Barack Obama told his fellow leaders that "the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent and it is growing". The Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, calls the threat "catastrophic", the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, believes addressing it is "crucial for the future of mankind".
Just months ago Tony Abbott described the same threat as "absolute crap". Yesterday the new Liberal leader backpedalled just a little by saying his words were "hyberbole" for debate. "I think that climate change is real and I think that man does make a contribution," he said, before adding the great qualification of sceptics: "There is an argument first as to how great that contribution is, and second, over what should be done about it."
There is no argument that Abbott's leadership marks the triumphant return of the climate sceptics to the top of the federal Liberal Party. Just last month Abbott attacked as "climate change alarmists" those scientists who worked on the peak UN scientific advisory body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and who are warning about the threat from climate change.
Abbott described them on Four Corners as "the people who will tell you as if it's as obvious as night following day that we have a huge problem and that unless we dramatically change the way we live, life as we know it will be under massive threat. As I said, there's an evangelical fervour about those people which you don't normally associate with scientists".
As a member of Malcolm Turnbull's shadow cabinet Abbott cheerfully championed the work of the prominent Australian climate sceptic Professor Ian Plimer. "I think that in response to the IPCC alarmist - ah, in inverted commas - view, there've been quite a lot of other reputable scientific voices. Now not everyone agrees with Ian Plimer's position, but he is a highly credible scientist and he has written what seems like a very well-argued book refuting most of the claims of the climate catastrophists." His remarks were a direct challenge to Turnbull, who had warned that he could not lead a party that did not take climate change seriously.
A decade ago, the Liberal Party's climate sceptics, backed by some of the world's big minerals and energy companies, fought an epic battle inside the Howard government to stop Australia taking action on climate change, ratifying the Kyoto Protocol or passing an emissions trading scheme. With the substantial support from the then Western Mining boss, Hugh Morgan, and successive heads of Rio Tinto, the sceptics quashed Howard's first environment minister, Robert Hill, who had endorsed Kyoto.
The Kyoto fight was lost on World Environment Day 2002, when Howard backed the sceptics. By then, Hill had been replaced by David Kemp, a vocal sceptic of the science on climate change. Only when Howard was under huge electoral pressure before the 2007 election did he moderate his own sceptical views, appoint Turnbull as his environment minister and promise an emissions trading scheme.
Last week Turnbull, at the death knell of his short leadership of the Liberal Party, had no doubt the sceptics inside the party were again fighting to regain control. "The people that have sought to tear me down do not even believe in the policies we took to the last election," he said bluntly. "They basically believe or regard John Howard as being too green. They don't believe in climate change, they don't think we should take any action on climate change."
Posted by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see TONGUE-TIED. Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here