Monday, April 25, 2011

Paul Sheehan, and same as it ever was, same as it ever was, into the infinite blue ...

(Above: red heads on parade in support of Tony Abbott).

It's always worth remembering that a couple of years ago, Paul Sheehan drank the Ian Plimer magic water (kool aid if you will), and set it all down in Beware the climate of conformity.

In the usual way of Colonel Grumpy, it was the contrarian approach that appealed, starting with the greater question ... am I - and you - capable of questioning our own orthodoxies and intellectual habits?

A better question would have course have been ... am I capable of questioning my wilful ignorance of science, which led me down the mystical path to the magic water affair (and for an examination of Sheehan's favoured nation treatment in that sordid matter, look no further than Another miracle at SMH: story carefully checked).

It's worth remembering all this, and Sheehan's approach to science, as summarised in his revelation as to why any reader must take Plimer seriously:

The book's 500 pages and 230,000 words and 2311 footnotes are the product of 40 years' research and a depth and breadth of scholarship. As Plimer writes: "An understanding of climate requires an amalgamation of astronomy, solar physics, geology, geochronology, geochemistry, sedimentology, tectonics, palaeontology, palaeoecology, glaciology, climatology, meteorology, oceanography, ecology, archaeology and history."

Indeed. There are of course at least - according to some wags - 774,746 words in the bible, the product of much research and depth of scholarship in translation, and requiring many disciplines to understand, and within it, an explanation of everything you need to know about anything involving humanity on earth. Except perhaps dinosaurs, the theory of evolution, and silly posturing by people who believe in the power of lists ...

And who leave off, for some peculiar and offensive reason, arachnology.

Aranchnology as well as sedimentology? Yep, as a special one off pond offer, you can rush off to The Journal of Arachnology, volume 38 issue 2, and find a compelling short piece by Sascha Buchholz, Simulated climate change in dry habitats: do spiders respond to experimental small-scale drought?, and thank the absent lord it's an open access article which turns up as a pdf.

And that way you can outdo Plimer in listing all the relevant ologies you'll need to understand climate change. (and next week, there'll be a bonus ology, featuring reflexology).

Speaking of lists, Sheehan is at it again today, listing all the reasons a carbon tax is bad, in The great carbon chasm that could swallow Gillard whole.

He manages a splendid fifteen in his list, but not once does he manage to list whether he still believes in consorting with climate change denialists, and not once does he manage to list Australia's ongoing status as carbon kings of the planet.

For that kind of information and perspective, you have to look elsewhere, as in Crikey's story, Queensland: the carbon kings, reviewing National Greenhouse Gas Inventory data:

... even in the unlikely event that emissions growth is constrained to the muted 2010 level, it would still mean national emissions of over 570 million tonnes per annum in 2020, well above the target of about 530 million tonnes.

And by the way, based on even the highest population growth projections, that 2020 target will still make Australia one of the world’s most carbon-intensive economy, producing more than 20 tonnes of CO2 per person - ahead of the likes of the United States, Canada - even Saudia Arabia.

Yep, Australia isn't likely to crack its bipartisan target of a 5% reduction by 2020.

Now of course if you're a student of various arcane arachnologies, and come to the considered position that climate change is a myth, none of this, or Australia's, and if we must single out a state, Queensland's conspicuous world leadership in carbon hoggery matters that much.

Of course back in the day, Sheehan was all agog at rampant consumerism, as he explained in great, perhaps tedious detail in Why the West is riding for a fall.

Cultural amnesia, excess consumption and environmental decline are more dangerous than terrorism, but we are so awash with propaganda we don't even notice. Or care.

Back then Jared Diamond was all the rage, and Sheehan could indulge to the full his plentiful apocalyptic visions of the future, with a hard rain gonna fall on all the consumerists and cultural hubrists.

These days, it seems it's simply a matter of thumbing the nose to the world, sitting on our fat fat arses, and doing nothing, and producing as much carbon as we like.

That's why in Sheehan's list, you'll find at 12 the usual stuff about how Australia contributes about 1.5 per cent of global missions, and anything Australia does will be irrelevant to the world scene. As opposed to showing the world how truly selfish people manage to sit on the arses emitting a giant cosmic carbon fart without giving a whit or jot of care about anyone else.

That's why Sheehan concentrates on keeping the debate within the turf of the carbon tax.

He isn't actually interested in the point of the tax, or any scheme which might redirect the economy away from carbon reliance.

That's why he personalises his tale with the poignant story of Sue Iles, small business person and now political agitator, and suddenly an exponent of grassroots political action, antipodean tea party style.

Naturally the valiant vigilant Sheehan is ready to stand fast and insist that the two bit carbon rally offered up on March 23rd was something more than an assembly of agitators, provocateurs, and malcontents ...

Well you can bet one thing. Confronted by the pro-carbon tax rallies - with numbers equal to or better than anti-carbon rallies (Pro and anti-carbon tax protestors take to streets), Sheehan doesn't take time to personalise any of the pro-carbon tax types, because after all those rallies must have been just an assembly of agitators, provocateurs and malcontents ... not salt of the earth small business people like Sue Isles.

It gets even more peculiar when Sheehan chooses to revisit the politics and the placards, and comes out with this nonsense as he talks about a carbon chasm:

It first became evident on March 23, the day of the first anti-carbon tax rally outside the Federal Parliament, when the Prime Minister was happy to demean the several thousand demonstrators, including Sue Isles, who had turned up that morning:

''As I understand it, the Leader of the Opposition did not lack for red-headed company at that rally,'' Gillard said in answer to a question from Tony Abbott during question time. ''He had a redheaded friend out at that rally, so I am sure he would not have missed me.''

The irony of this smear - that opposition to the carbon tax is led by people such as Pauline Hanson - was that Abbott was the person most responsible for putting Hanson in jail.

Actually the irony, and there's no smear involved, is that Abbott should end up addressing a rally which contained Pauline Hanson - after all his many disreputable behind the scenes, slush funded, covered up and denied schemes to take her down - and Hanson was there to cheer on Abbott's position on climate change, and the science involved therein.

Yep, all the tears forgotten - Abbott claims responsibility, PM knew of Hanson slush fund - and united in making sure bugger all happens as a response to global warming, at least in Australia ...

If you wanted genuine smears, the average bystander didn't have to look much further than the demeaning signs about Julia Gillard, which backgrounded Abbott's appearance, such as "ditch the witch" and "Juliar ... Bob Browns Bitch".

It was cheap sordid wretched populism and a tactical mistake by Abbott.

Happily that sort of cheap populism - rallies pro and con at ten paces - seems to have died down, but not if Sheehan, going all moisty eyed and indignant about Sue Isles, was to have his way in the future ...

Here's his idea of a penetrating question:

Why is there such a sharp and growing divide between the majority who oppose the carbon tax and the minority who openly treat the majority as idiots?

Would those be the idiots, who, according to Sheehan a mere six years ago, were taking the west to a Jared Diamond collapse of civilisation scenario?

How about this as a question?

Why is there such a surge in ratbaggery and climate change science denialism, and a willingness on the part of a minority of commentariat commentators to treat the scientific community as idiots?

Only Sheehan knows the answer to that one, but speaking of smears, he shows how it's done with Greg Combet. Never mind the actual issues to hand, Sheehan spends a number of pars dressing up Combet as a union thug, on the front lines of union pickets, leading union demonstrations that turned ugly, and so on and so forth.

No mention of lock outs, private security guards, mass sackings, strike breaking stevedores readied to be trained in Dubai, and Reith sending in the hounds ... (and the controversies still linger on in the wiki page 1998 Australian waterfront dispute).

All because Combet dares to mention that Menzies House, and the notorious Cory Bernardi, climate change science denialist, and a mob of cranks, like the anti-semitic Australian League of Rights, and the detritus of One Nation were involved in the Canberra rally, and dressing it up as a grassroots bout of revivalism (and for an example of the Menzies House mob at work, look no further than Michael Crosby's Setting the record straight: in the crowd at the anti-carbon tax rally).

The key to this political debate eventually comes out in a throwaway aside by Sheehan before he heads into his fifteen anti-carbon tax points:

The justification for this tax is that it will curb greenhouse emissions endangering the planet. It is an argument which covers a multitude of sins.

Wait a second. Did I just read that aright? Greenhouse emissions are endangering the planet?

Well here's a challenge for Sheehan.

Instead of his fifteen nattering nabob points of negativity about a carbon tax, how about a column explaining and confirming that greenhouse emissions are indeed endangering the planet, and that Australia is failing miserably even in meeting its bi partisan 5% reduction by 2020 target, and detailing some thoughtful suggestions about how Canberra might go about remedying the situation. A humble 15 succulent, succinct points would do ...

Uh oh.

That sounds too much like hard work, when a column is much easier to come by on a holiday weekend by sniffing through the delicately aged truffles of a rally back in March, wringing the verbal hands and announcing that nothing can or should be done, and things can just go on merrily as they are ... with snouts in trough and devil may care and be damned to the consequences.

Now there's a solid risk management strategy as a way to move forward ...

Still it does help me answer Sheehan's question:

Why is there such a sharp and growing divide between the majority who oppose the carbon tax and the minority who openly treat the majority as idiots?

Because if the inner city urban elite that Sheehan represents is the majority, the minority are left with no choice but to treat them as idiots, since all the signs are that they must be as dumb as a stick ...

Hmmn, that reminds me of some favourite rural sayings. There's the familiar variant "dumb as a stump", and then there's "dumber than a bucket of rocks", but perhaps my favourite is, "if dumb were dirt, he'd be about an acre".

Time to modernise it? If dumb were dirt, Sheehan would be about a hectare ... (and a hectare being roughly 2.47105381 acres, it just goes to show the relentless march of inflation in all fields of life).

Well if you're a cliché lover like the pond, there's a handy list of phrases and sayings of a garden and agricultural kind compiled here.

Or you can just keep on reading Paul Sheehan blathering on about the grass roots and sturdy leaves ...

(Below: and now to keep the elevated scientific tone going, here's a little xkcd. More here, and click to enlarge).

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