Books Australia

Head Beaters

25 September 2014

1:00 PM

25 September 2014

1:00 PM

Ah, democracy. The informed will of the majority. If only the practice was as simple as the theory. When it comes to issues such as climate change, one starts to wonder if democratic mechanisms can take the strain, with people on all sides claiming that their views are supported by irrefutable science and that all who disagree are either astonishingly stupid or part of a vast conspiracy.

In the past decade, this has reached an apex – or a nadir, depending on how you look at it – with repeated assertions from climate change advocates that the facts are so clear that the debate is over. No further correspondence entered into.

Not so, says Ian Plimer. He has written several books on this theme but Not for Greens is, one feels, meant to be something of a consolidation. A geologist by training and currently the Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne, he brings an unusual level of expertise to the field; not only scores of academic papers but a lot of time walking around the country. And he is absolutely, resolutely clear in his views that global warming and the issues related to it, from renewable energy to sea level rises, are dangerous crocks.

He says at the start of the book that this can be demonstrated by tracing the manufacture of a stainless steel teaspoon. This is an elegant idea, so it is unfortunate that Plimer keeps forgetting about it. His point is that without the organised mining techniques involved to obtain the required materials and the large amounts of power needed for industrial production, the creation of even the simplest objects of the modern world would be impossible. Fair enough, but whether he needs to go into so much detail that the initial concept is obscured is another question.

He also takes lengthy detours to refute the assertions of climate change advocates about the science of warming, using data from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to show that not much has happened since 1999 in terms of global temperature. Likewise, he makes the point that carbon dioxide is a natural and essential aspect of the biosphere, and attempts to differentiate human-generated carbon dioxide from natural carbon dioxide are merely silly. Efforts to lower carbon dioxide levels by renewable energy, he says, can make no real difference, even if it was cost-effective on the financial side. Along the way, he has a good time quoting various climate change alarmists whose predictions turned out to be ludicrously wrong, or who want to shut down any dissent with authoritarian means.

He offers large slabs of data to support his views but often the source is not clear. Indeed, the book lacks notes and a bibliography, which is a major shortcoming since so much of this argument is about which data is more reliable. If you are to question the information sources of others, then you are obliged to set out your own in solid detail.

But the major problem is one of tone. Plimer tends to use ‘greens’ as a catch-all term, which might not be appropriate. For example, a person can be concerned with pollution without buying the whole deep-Green package, or can be wary of resource depletion without being opposed to all mining. Certainly, many eco-socialists love to paint all of their opponents with a conspiratorial brush but that does not mean that doing the same thing on the other side is justified.

It is hard to escape the feeling that for Plimer there is no argument. It is all clear, all obvious, all proven. But even those who agree with his views might feel less informed by the book than beaten around the head.

Of course, there is no monopoly on dogmatism, as Bob Brown’s Optimism shows. It is an odd book, not so much a political biography as a series of semi-connected essays. His love for the natural environment is made evident but so is his steady move away from those roots towards a radical, and somewhat loopy, agenda.

There is not much consistency here. He veers between insisting that the Greens are ‘really’ supported by the majority of Australians and saying that most people are fools manipulated by the Murdoch media and wicked corporations. His claim that the Greens equally distrust the major parties does not make much sense after the 2010 Labor-Green alliance. He asserts that he has always opposed violence but his support for the Sea Shepherd organisation, with its long history of violence, makes it sound hollow. He says that he is not a hater but he has a long list of people that he, well, hates. And he says that Green ideas are inherently rational, just before he sails for the edge of sanity with his speeches about Earthians and global parliaments.

But most of all, he cannot understand that anyone could hold different views. After all, everyone he knows agrees with him, right? And therein lies the problem. Brown and Plimer are, in their own ways, people of intelligence and good intentions. But they need, in essence, to get out more.

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