So last night I was looking around the news’ sites when I saw on the front of news.com.au:
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.
This 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 news.com.au, 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.
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.