Monday, January 17, 2011

Political flood damage

So last night I was looking around the news’ sites when I saw on the front of

Bob Brown: 'Coal miners caused floods' image

I was somewhat aghast that Brown would say such a thing and asked around to see if anyone could point me to his quote. It turned out he didn’t actually say “Coal miners caused floods”, but oh well I guess it no longer matters whether what is placed within direct quotes is actually a direct quote or not – I mean it does make life easier for journalists.

But that issue of good, honest journalism aside, what Brown actually said (and we have a media release to quote from, though he did also give a press conference) was this:

The full tax on excess profits by the coal mining industry, as recommended by Treasury, should be imposed with half set aside for future natural catastrophes in Australia, Greens Leader Bob Brown said in Hobart today.

"It is unfair that the cost is put on all taxpayers, not the culprits," Senator Brown said.

"Burning coal is a major cause of global warming. This industry, which is 75% owned outside Australia, should help pay the cost of the predicted more severe and more frequent floods, droughts and bushfires in coming decades. As well, 700,000 seaside properties in Australia face rising sea levels."

"A Goldman Sachs study found that the reduction in the mining super tax agreed by the current Labor government (the coalition opposes the mining tax) would cost Australians $35 billion in forgone revenue to 2019-20."

"Scientists agree that current floods come from record-high temperatures of Australian oceans this season."

"We also ask insurers to show some compassion to Queensland's flood victims, and to others who face loss as wild weather besets the country. Many people believe they have flood cover and, if not, the fine print should have been disclosed to them."

So in effect Brown is saying the burning of coal is a major cause of global warming (no dispute from me), global warming leads to more severe weather events like floods (I’m still with him), therefore coal mining companies should help foot the bill for the Queensland floods (err…ok you lost me).

A couple things. Firstly does Bob Brown have a completely tin political ear? Now is certainly not the time to be using the floods to push a political barrow. It was dumb when Tony Abbott used the floods last week to suggest the Government should scrap the NBN, and it is just as dumb for Brown to do so now.

When Abbott does it, it is dumb because, seriously, using the destruction of lives and homes to try to score points about an issue completely disparate from the event? How uncaring can you get.

When Brown does it, it is dumb because not only is it a big leap to suggest an individual event is caused by global warming, unlike Abbott’s comments, Brown’s will be used by talk back hosts, right wing bloggers and the national newspaper to display how out of touch and foolish he is, all of which makes it that much harder for the ALP to stand next to the Greens in any de facto partnership (though I grant you, the Greens probably don’t care about that).

I am quite comfortable saying that there is a strong likelihood that global warming will lead to an increase in severe weather events. But linking global warming to the current floods is a bit like saying that Sarah Palin caused the shooting in Tuscon.

I firmly believe the political rhetoric of the US right wing (and to be honest the right wing in this country as well) has become more greatly based on violence and advocacy of distrust of the government than in the past, and that such rhetoric can encourage individuals to take violent steps (either against property or person). But to say Palin or Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck caused the Tuscon massacre? Sorry I can’t. All I can do is is agree with this excellent article by Frank Rich in the NY Times:

Obama said, correctly, on Wednesday that “a simple lack of civility” didn’t cause the Tucson tragedy. It didn’t cause these other incidents either. What did inform the earlier violence — including the vandalism at Giffords’s office — was an antigovernment radicalism as rabid on the right now as it was on the left in the late 1960s. That Loughner was likely insane, with no coherent ideological agenda, does not mean that a climate of antigovernment hysteria has no effect on him or other crazed loners out there. Nor does Loughner’s insanity mitigate the surge in unhinged political zealots acting out over the last two years. That’s why so many — on both the finger-pointing left and the hyper-defensive right — automatically assumed he must be another of them.

So too with climate change and the floods. Certainly the burning of coal contributes to global warming and if it does continue at the current rate the likelihood is pretty high that there will be more such events more often in the future. But there are also weather events that are just weather events. Climate change is about trends and long terms changes. Those who say the QLD floods are caused by climate change are as in danger of being shown to be foolish as those who point to a cold day in December and ask “where’s you’re global warming now?”

My other problem with Brown’s comments is that he is mixing up his taxes. If he is worried about climate change and the coal industry, then talk price on carbon. Talk a carbon tax, talk an emissions trading system. Talk clean energy. The Resources Super Profits Tax, or the Minerals Resources Rent Tax that it has become, has nothing to do with climate change. It is a tax to be placed on mining companies because there exists an economic rent within the industry. The minerals are finite and when gone, so too will the mining companies off to some other country to mine it for all it is worth. Whether or not those minerals contribute to climate change is irrelevant when it comes to taxing their excess returns.

Brown is suggesting the coal companies are to the QLD floods like James Hardie is to Mesothelioma. It would be lovely it were so easy, but it is not. We need a price on carbon (and other things) to help mitigate against the likelihood of more such events as the QLD floods occurring in the future, we don’t need to tax the mining companies to pay for every flood or bushfire in Australia. 

The other problem is that back in December Brown spent the proceeds on the RSPT:

"The recommendations of the advisory group, so heartily welcomed by the big miners and described as ‘common sense' by the government yesterday, reinforces the mining tax compromise which robs the Commonwealth of $10 billion to $20 billion a year that could go into a long-term sovereign wealth fund and pay for housing, schools, high-speed rail, dental care and free tertiary education."

The RSPT is starting to look a little magic puddingish.

The Australian of course was all over Brown’s comments.

imageThis is no surprise given that we all know the stated editorial position of The Oz is that it wants to see the Greens destroyed at the ballot box. You would think Brown would be more aware of how his words (or in the case of, what they decide to say are his words) will be used against him. Perhaps he and the Greens have decided not to care, as whatever they say will be turned against them by The Oz. Perhaps they don’t care because if the attacks are as pathetic as evidenced today, they don;t have much to worry about:

GREENS leader Bob Brown is facing mounting condemnation after calling on coal companies to foot the bill for the Queensland flood recovery.

Oh dear, that sounds bad. So who was delivering this “mounting condemnation” of Brown calling on mining companies to cough up? Well mining companies of course.

Wow, what a surprising bit of investigative journalism that is. I can’t wait for them to run the story with the headline: “Husband stunned to discover mother-in-law backs wife in argument”.

But wait, there’s more, it wasn’t just mining companies, Brown was also condemned by… wait for it… (yeah I know you’ll be shocked) the Liberal and National Party! Well that’s pretty definitive isn’t it. Time for Brown to back down in disgrace. The Oz quoted that great man of science Senator Eric Abetz who said:

“Senator Brown's comments expose the Greens and his leadership as shallow and cynical; willing to peddle political propaganda in the face of a natural disaster,”

Yep, you’re right Eric, I am sure your own leader would never do anything like that eh?

Fortunately for Abetz, The Oz didn’t also quote the rest of what he said in his press release:

“To imply climate change is responsible for flooding is to deny the World’s history from Noah and beyond.”

Yep. You read correctly, Noah. As in Noah, who was begat by Lamech, who was begat by Methuselah, who was begat by Enoch, who was begat by Jared, who was begat by  Mahalalel, who was begat by Kenan, who was begat by Enosh, who was begat by Seth, who was begat by Adam.

Yes, Noah.

I wonder that Abetz hasn’t criticised Anna Bligh for not having constructed prior to the floods a boat three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high..

Seriously, what can you say? That someone would introduce a Biblical story from Genesis into a scientific debate pretty much should exclude that person from contributing anything further on the issue. And I say that as a committed Christian. Here’s the passage in Genesis (Chapter 6) dealing with the flood:

11Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. 12 God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. 13 So God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.

So we have a guy voting on climate change in the Senate who believes we don’t have to worry about the impacts of climate change because there was a flood back in the past brought on by God to punish the wicked.

Though perhaps I am being too harsh on him. Maybe when Abetz mentioned Noah he was thinking about the earth being full of violence because he had just listened to Neil Mitchell on 3AW give his reaction to Brown’s Comments:

“I would take Bob Brown and put him in cage with the looters and scam artists and put him in a river .. he's a dill."

Nice one Neil, stay classy.


Ariane said...

I didn't read Bob's press release as saying that coal miners should be paying for this clean-up - I read it as him calling for extra money to be taken from them to clean up future increased flooding. Which while unlikely to eventuate, seems reasonable and in line with science and so on.

His timing, however, was abysmal. It was political point scoring almost, but not quite, as bad as Abbott's.

Sonia said...

Well I'd much rather blame it on the coal miners than the Noah alternative which infers the people of Queensland are so corrupt .
Given how amazing they have been this week maybe God will give them a second chance

Matt c said...

Why do you just blame the political right for violent rhetoric?

The likes of marike hardy and the ex-oped writer for the age (can't remember her name sorry) are hardly exemplars of rational debate.

Plus it wasnt that long ago that Howard and Bush evoked some disgraceful attacks from the left.

Coldsnacks said...

That's all well and good Ariane...but it's not the coal miners who are burning the coal and causing emissions. So why should they wear the burden alone?

I noticed that Cate Faehrmann (NSW Greens MP) distanced herself from the "Climate changed caused the floods" line on ABC News 24's "The Drum" tonight. But, let's face it...whilst this may be a stronger version of La Nina than has been previously recorded, bearing in mind, El Nino/La Nina has only been recorded since the late '70s - so this could be an normal occurrence for all we know - La Nina DOES bring more rain. Floods happen when you have a lot of rain, after all.

Anonymous said...

"Plus it wasnt that long ago that Howard and Bush evoked some disgraceful attacks from the left."

That pair of corrupt mongrel curs deserved them, plus more.

Ariane said...

@Coldsnacks: I agree, they shouldn't be the only ones, but I very much doubt that what's being proposed here would in any way represent "bearing the burden alone".

Granted, like many other Greens policies, I'm not entirely sure I'm seeing clear and complete costings, but the idea that this sort of thing - extreme weather - is what climate change is costing us is important. There's no point arguing that we can't afford a carbon tax when we'll be picking up the bill for more events such as these if we don't. But Bob's line here is too specific, really, to get that bigger picture message across. I don't actually think it's good policy, I just think he was monumentally misquoted.

Greg Jericho said...

Matt c, the left ain't perfect that is for sure.

But here's the thing - you talk about Marieke Hardy and Catherine Deveny. Deveny is a comedian, much like Sandra Bernhard in the US (she often gets singled out by Bolt), and Hardy would not consider herself a journalist either.

Both can be vulgar and maybe even abusive, but to suggest they incite violence is a pretty long bow.

And if you want to say that they are the left's counter to the right's Bolt, Ackerman, Jones, Mitchell, Oldfield etc, well then I think that says a bit about the esteem in which those on the right are held, if Hardy and Deveny are the only ones you can use to say the left is just as bad.

Pip said...

That was a lot of begat'n there Grog. Abetz is quite devoid of humour but he's good for the odd laugh.
That headline in quotes is a disgrace but then that is the way operates.
Bob Brown was a dill to say what he did, but as you said maybe the Greens don't care that is out to destroy them; good job the phone hacking happened in England and not here.....
Neil Mitchell could take a long jump [to the right] off a short jetty.
Matt c, Bush and Howard deserved to be criticised.

Tim Byron said...

It is not that the floods are caused by global warming - there's been floods before and there will be floods again. But they are made worse by global warming. It's a bit hard to know how much worse these floods were as a result, but at the very least, if natural disasters are going to happen more often, we should be more prepared for it.

As to blaming the coal mining industry, trying to put up the RSPT, and Brown's political smarts, I agree. Dumb move, too soon.

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

Then there was the 'classy' back and forth between Neil Mitchell(amazing how quickly the paradigm of a TV station changes once a Packer & a Murdoch Jr take over? All the pond scum of the media ooze their way in), and the bought & paid for George Negus on the 7PM Project(where Lachlan's missus, Sarah has already been gifted a co-hosting job). The 2 old media lags were pontificating about Julia Gillard's mental state, based simply upon her 'wooden'(the latest media meme) performance during the floods, with George advising her to see a behavioural counsellor because he detects big problems knowing who she is behind the wooden facade!!! You know, why couldn't she be as seemingly empathic as Anna? Ergo, must have big problems. Hooley Dooley, I nearly fell off my chair. The media pundits as psychoanalysts of the political class now?
It's a pity that they can't see themselves as the obviously pathetic, misogynistic masses of inferiority complexes that they are & the Glass Houses they live in, before they start throwing stones at the Prime Minister.
Then you think to yourself, well, how are they going to top that, now that they have questioned the PM's sanity? And it's only the beginning of the year. Oi vey!

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

Also, I'd just like to state that Bob Brown's suggestion that the Coal companies fork out for the reconstruction costs is a bit 'Totalitarian State'. They are Private Companies, after all, and in a democracy they have the right to sell their wares to whoever has the cash and desire to buy them, come what may. As we haven't made the sale of coal illegal yet, they can't be hauled into the Naughty Corner per se.
Hence I agree with your assertion that a Carbon Tax is the only way to go here, wrt the Coal companies.

Peter said...

"Political Flood Damage". I couldn't think of more appropriate headline. The power of mother nature is so overwhelming. Nobody shouldn't mess with her.

Greg Jericho said...

Hillbilly, I didn't see that. As a rule I don't bother with the 7pm Project, and the times I do haven't caused me to change that habit.

xenides said...

Mr Abetz's release no longer mentions Noah, begat or not. Do you have a screen-shot? Perhaps it was just a surveyor's mark you were seeing and nothing Biblical at all.

xenides said...

Wait, what, it is there. I must be on drugs.

George said...

Or perhaps Bob should have called for a phasing our of coal fired power stations if we want to see less "growth" in climate related events ( such as floods ).

Or isn't that the same thing with a different temporal perspective ?

And by the way this is what climate scientists have been saying.

James Hansen called coal power stations "Death factories" during his visit to Aus last year, on account of their affects on climate

@AndySHastings said...

I am getting seriously fed up with the obvious ignorance of the way our economy functions from our national leaders.

A sovereign wealth fund? Putting taxes aside to pay for disaster recovery in the future? God damn, it is impossible for the Federal Government to save in the currency that it issues! In the event of a disaster (such as these floods) the Federal Government has the capacity to meet any and all costs of recovery and rebuilding. It will ALWAYS have the capacity and it doesn't need to tax anyone (or issue bonds) to get that capacity.

Jeezus, our whole governing class needs a macroeconomics 101 debriefing, urgently.

Hillbilly Skeleton said...

I normally don't bother with The 7PM Project, either. Normally I watch the rehashed Murdoch daily memes on the ABC 7o'clock News, however one of my kids saw a promo about a tattoo story they were presenting last night, so I was press-ganged into watching it for once. Nevertheless I found it an instructive experience, as I said. It appears that the gloves are off when it comes to men in the media criticising our first woman Prime Minister. Most of the women in the media, like Niki Savva, are just A Grade media harlots(except the nice ones of course!), and don't think twice about having a go at a female ALP politician.
But to suggest that the Prime Minister has a serious personality defect on national TV. That's lower than below the belt. That's in the gutter. And that from men whose success in life amounts to an ability to produce verbal diarrhoea on a daily basis for public consumption.

George said...

Or perhaps Bob should have called for a phasing our of coal fired power stations if we want to see less "growth" in climate related events ( such as floods ).

Or isn't that the same thing with a different temporal perspective ?

And by the way this is what climate scientists have been saying.

James Hansen called coal power stations "Death factories" during his visit to Aus last year, on account of their affects on climate

Jamie said...

Excellent post Greg. The only thing I dispute is your comment about Australian miners and " .. taxing their excess returns .." That's like "How often do you beat your wife". I suspect you haven't tried to earn a living investing and trading in mining shares.