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The Propaganda Machine

In recent weeks there has been much commentary about the formation of Bjorn Lomborg’s “Consensus Centre” within the halls of the University of Western Australia. We have been aggrieved at the profligate use of taxpayer funds during a “budget crisis”. We are offended, but hardly surprised, at the disbanding of the independent Climate Council, saving $1.5m at the cost of losing internationally-recognised expert climate change opinion, followed by a $4m grant to the Consensus Centre, whose methodology and outcomes are universally panned. We have been repeatedly shamed by our government in its statements and actions on the world stage in relation to climate change, and this latest move is simply the most recent in a long list.

However, the issue goes deeper than this. Beyond our anger at the heedless use of money and the slap in the face to reputable Australian scientists whose contributions are valued far more cheaply than an imported demagogue; beyond our shame at being led by people who not only deny the recognised scientific truth but who paint Australia (and the rest of the world) as misled fools; and beyond our bemusement that our government could lend support to, and expect support from, an internationally derided charlatan who is good at manufacturing numbers. Beyond these things is the undeniable fact that our government is spending our money in an attempt to lie to us more effectively.

The Consensus Centre is a propaganda machine. Nothing more, nothing less.

I have written before about the cruel bind in which the Coalition finds itself. It is in the unusual, perhaps unique, position of having been voted into power to rule over a people who disagree with its central beliefs. The outcomes of such a conflict are seen in the 2014 budget – a budget true to the Coalition’s ideology, but absolutely rejected by the vast majority of the Australian people. We see the conflict in a hundred big and little ways, from the attempts to squeeze pensioner entitlements to the risible knighthood for Prince Philip. We have seen it in the government’s attitude to climate change: a conflict which will only grow as the outcomes of climate change become progressively more undeniable, as the rest of the world leaves Australia in the dust on climate change action, and as Australia’s coal assets become progressively more undesirable.

Our government, in toto, does not believe in climate change. We are led by a Prime Minister who, recent avowals that climate change is real notwithstanding, still truly believes that “The climate change argument is absolute crap”. Tony Abbott presides over a government whose overriding principle is to promote and support the continued use of coal for energy, both as an ideological position and an economic imperative. Australia’s current economy relies absolutely on coal, and everything the Coalition has done since coming to power has simply increased that dependence.

For the Coalition, the imperative is clear. Put simply, there are only two possible ways to make sense of the government’s avowed acceptance that climate change is happening and humans are responsible, and its actions upon coming to government.

  1. The first possibility is that the government does believe in climate change and sees future climate action as inevitable. However, Australia stands to lose, and lose big, if it accepts this publicly and is forced into action. Reforging the Australian economy as a 21st century society is seen as far too hard, a preferable approach being to deliberately sabotage and delay consensus in any way possible. In this way it can support its own temporary position, granting two or more terms of government, notwithstanding Australia’s increasing reliance on fossil fuels. In this analysis, the short term benefit which accrues to Australia and to the current cadre of politicians will eventually and inevitably lead to dire outcomes for Australia and likely disrepute for members of the current government. The current government’s actions to date do not appear to indicate that they particularly fear disrepute.

  2. The second probability is that the government really doesn’t believe in climate change. It has chosen to accept the (well under) three percent of scientists who profess any doubts at all. It prefers to listen to economists and accountants and fossil fuel lobby groups, to Heartland Institutes and Peers of the Realm, instead of the vast weight of scientific consensus in Australia and abroad. If you don’t believe in climate change, the only position with integrity is to frustrate the creation of any kind of global, binding emissions standards. To long-time watchers, it is quite clear that this government does not believe in climate change. The Emissions Reduction Fund that Greg Hunt is so proud of was always going to be a success because, in the government’s eyes, it is not expected to address any real problems, only political ones.

Thus we see Australia’s obstructive approach to global standards and agreements. We see Tony Abbott dismantling and disbanding and defunding every climate change body over which he has the least power. It’s a rearguard battle, one that will be lost, and soon, but the Coalition can’t afford to recognise that or they will see that a large portion of their policy platform is bankrupt.

At the same time, they recognise that the real fight is not against science. The unstated position of the Coalition is that the science is wrong, that the world is wrong. The Coalition does not intend to fight on that battlefield; the science is not the main game. The main game, for any political party at any time, is the beliefs of the people and the fight for re-election.

Thus the Consensus Centre. The Centre is the Coalition’s next piece of artillery in the war for the minds of the people.

The climate change war of ideas in Australia has not yet been won.

A large proportion of Australians accept the truth of AGW, at least intellectually, but there remains a reluctance to accept the ramifications. Tony Abbott knows this. The anti-renewable lobby knows this and is relying on it.

“The politics of this are tough for us. Eighty per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger.” That was Tony Abbott’s unguarded commentary at the same event where he made the infamous “total crap” comment. In the government’s eyes, the problem is not climate change, desertification, the loss of arable land, or global action to decarbonise the world’s energy and bankrupt Australia’s coal economy. In the government’s eyes, the problem is the people, and their stupid belief in “the global warming religion” (as Tony Abbott’s chief business advisor, Maurice Newman, calls it).

The real purpose of Consensus Centre is not science. It is propaganda.

Lomborg is being paid to manage the “tough politics”, not to actually influence the science of climate change. The saying goes “Lies, damn lies and statistics…”, and this might be doubly true for an institution such as Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre, the body on which UWA’s Consensus Centre will be modelled. “[Lomborg] is famous for using economic modelling as a mercenary gun for hire, saleable to governments and jurisdictions requiring climate inaction, climate distraction, or just straight-out climate crisis denial.

On the surface, Lomborg’s Consensus methodology seems reasonable, perhaps even visionary. On the basis that we cannot fix all the problems in the world, Lomborg attempts to prioritise the various issues across the globe in terms of best return on money invested. The Consensus Centre methodology is primarily an economic one, and it judges climate change to be a low priority. It does this on the basis that addressing climate change will be very expensive for comparatively little gain. If this were true, there would be some validity to Lomborg’s approach. Unfortunately, this result can only be arrived at through underestimating the impacts of climate change, underestimating the amount of benefit global action could bring to the problem, and overestimating the cost of these efforts. Lomborg uses the “locked-in” climate change that is currently unavoidable to argue that our efforts to address climate change will be largely in vain, deliberately ignoring the exponential increase in climate damage that will come about if we don’t address global warming. He also claims that the required cost of decarbonising the world economy is too expensive, and our efforts would be better spent addressing more modest issues.

The consensus methodology is specifically intended to apply economic modelling to produce a predetermined outcome. This is the antithesis of science. Science operates on the basis of disproving hypotheses, measuring real-world data in order to be sure that it matches the theory. In science, there is no room to adjust the parameters of reality to make the answers say what you want.

In statistics, on the other hand, if the result comes out counter to what you hoped, you have the ability to change the inputs, say by valuing people in different places with different economic worths.

Lomborg’s Consensus Centre methodology has no academic credibility. “Within the research community, particularly within the economics community, the Bjorn Lomborg enterprise has no academic credibility. It is seen as an outreach activity that is driven by specific set of objectives in terms of bringing particular messages into the public debate and in some cases making relatively extreme positions seem more acceptable in the public debate.”

Fighting back without fighting

The Abbott’s government propaganda efforts are seeming more and more like George Orwell’s 1984. We are being led by a government that actively works to silence dissent; that seeks to criminalise protest; that has access to secret police and legislation that can effectively make its citizens disappear without trace, announcement or recourse; a government whose defining characteristic from well before it was elected was that it lied to the people it sought to govern. Now that same government is using taxpayer money to help set up a body with the primary purpose of lying to its electors more effectively.

When your government actively engages in deliberate propaganda, what can a concerned citizen do?

Some have proposed campaigns of civil disobedience. However, the March in March rallies, union actions, or currently the thousands-strong marches in protest of the closure of indigenous communities appear to have little effect on the extraordinary thick-skinned government. Following each rally, government ministers and conservative columnists pop up to say things like “Twenty thousand people marched, but that means four million people did not” and “These are union troublemakers, not ordinary people” and “We will not be swayed from what’s right [in our opinion]”. Does that mean that we should not march?

Obviously not. It may be too much to expect that the government would pay attention to the desires of its people when they go directly against Coalition ideology. But the one thing that currently separates this government from facism is our system of free elections. It is only at the ballot box that we can expect to address the wants of this government. So we must fight – not to change government policy, but to keep its failings in clear view. We must keep up the protests at the lies.

We must also be informed. We cannot rely on this government to give us the information we require to make effective decisions at the next election; in fact, this government relies on its people not receiving, or not paying attention to, real information on climate change, on the economy, on the budget and on asylum seekers. We must keep reading (and writing in) independent media vehicles such as the AIMN. We should bear in mind that most of what we hear from politicians and establishment media is liable to be designed to keep the populace misinformed and compliant. And we should keep our sources of primary information close to hand.

On climate change, to counter the “modelling” of the new Consensus Centre, there are a variety of primary sources. Skeptical Science is a vital resource. For those interested in understanding not just the truth of climate change, but the reasons behind ongoing climate change denial, this author can recommend the free online course Making Sense of Climate Science Denial, offered by the University of Queensland via ed-X. The course largely consists of a range of short online videos and interested participants can put as much, or as little, time into it as they prefer.

Whatever your preferred approach, however, just bear this in mind: your government is lying to you.


25 comments

  1. Philc

    I agree with every point made oz. I also think that many in the government are actually deluding themselves. Pretending that something real is real, even though you think it is not, for some perceived short term benefit for your rich mates is stupid, vile and immoral. It is also insane.

  2. Flumber

    Cor that elongated piece sure waz conflabulistic, confirming it is true that 70 per cent of Australians are overweight – or just plain fat if you’re into economy language!
    Given that you’ve got all your parameters wrong to begin with you can never even hope to be half right lol.
    The liberal party does not rule Australia. At the moment the liberal party outwardly constitutes or gives the impression that it is the governing party – it is not. Democracy is a sham. All you, the author, do is perpetuate the lie. Those who control the mainstream media control this country, they in turn control the media elsewhere in the West, they also control Wall St and Hollywood. Quite probably you are one of them, we’ll obviously you are engaged in the coverup so you must be one of them.

  3. LOVO

    One wonders, as one does 😉 , what it must be like to be “one of them” ……. I bet it’s just awful, I mean, like, having to ‘cover’ shit up all the time….and stuff 🙂

  4. Brown

    Consensus, oh boy – It’s Hegelian, Ozbuffoon, it’s right up your cultural Marxist alley! Neocons and cultural Marxists are the two (contrived) faces of the Jewish controlled political system, supposedly in opposition but look a little deeper and it’s obvious both positions are the means by which the master race effects it’s control – and the underlings are kept happy imagining they are fighting the good fight lol (meanwhile the multiculture is busily fanned thus ensuring white minority before you know what hit you! There’ll be no coming back for whites lol, it’s so much easier to control a society that’s comprised of disparate racial sub-groups, gotta love it!

  5. donwreford

    When we have a minster or for that matter a individual that acts in a way that is peculiar such as not being trusted to give and carry out what they assured you to be so? we have to look at other possibilities as to why? owing to Abbotts repressive and denial of what he once stood for and is now become a tricky individual who no longer can be trusted, when he resorts to the banking fraternity for advise, we may assume he could have had a contract with bankers with a fee such as a quarter of million dollars for a private consultation with the banking fraternity to put it to effect programs the electorate has no knowledge nor will they ever know, the fee can be deposited in a overseas account and this will become a bottom of the harbor scheme.
    You will never know who Abbott is? what we do know is he has no concern for the environment nor social justice.

  6. Matters Not

    An exceptionally well-written piece. Congratulations. It’s insightful! Well referenced and very powerful in its logic.

    (As for Flumber and Brown, one should not take them too seriously. Certainly the ‘logical’ among the readers won’t).

  7. Kaye Lee

    A great piece. We must all continue the conversation. We must refute the lies. Different information gets through to different people in different ways.

    As you may already know, I’m a numbers girl….bores the crap out of heaps of people I know and fair enough….but as an example of how the persuasive and confident Mr Lomberg makes his arguments sound credible to people who don’t read reports (like Tony Abbott and Dr Karl)…

    “Estimates of the “social cost of carbon” vary massively. A study led by Stanford University scientists in January, for example, tried to better represent the costs of climate change impacts and found that each tonne of carbon dioxide had a cost to society of $220, compared to US government estimates of about $37.” Lomberg uses $5 per tonne.

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/planet-oz/2015/apr/23/australia-paying-4-million-for-bjrn-lomborgs-flawed-methods-that-downgrade-climate-change

    How many dollars does Mr Lomberg put on the loss of the Kiribati Islands? What’s the price of the extinction of the red-tailed black cockatoo?

  8. Matters Not

    I’m a numbers girl

    I think not, re the ‘girl’ bit. The evidence suggests that, given the maturity and insightfulness of your arguments, ‘girlhood’ was confined to the dustbin of history some time ago. And all should be thankful for that.

    But seriously, how does one sensibly give ‘dollar’ cost to ‘loss’, at least in the ‘sociological/philosophical/anthropological/’ sense.?

    Personally I’m not attracted to the notion that ‘value’ must be reduced to the ‘dollars’ on each and every occasion.

    It’s not how most people live their lives. It’s certainly not how I live my life, and I hope that for the betterment of ‘all’ they can rise above what I choose to call ‘base’ considerations.

    Georg Simmel had much to say on that view.

  9. paul walter

    I can’t find anything to argue over, either.

    Apart from wondering why Labor was so spineless in opposing Data Retention, which was a suite of rubbish aimed at curbing dissent and increasing censorship by stealth (to be replaced by propaganda).

  10. Pingback: THE PROPAGANDA MACHINE – Written by OZFENRIC | winstonclose

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  12. Pudd'nhead

    Matters Not- Kaye asked for an evaluation for the loss of livability for the Kiribati Islands and the demise of the red tailed black cockatoo. While I do not disagree with your dismissal of the convenience of assigning monetary values to the causes of loss and potentially lost items themselves, what do you offer in place thereof – the volume of tears from the population of the Kiribati Islands and the collected tears of bird lovers who will no longer hear the staccato cry of our red tailed bird as it flies overhead? .

  13. Loz

    Excellent article. If this government gets a second term then we must all be very afraid for our future. Every statement this government makes me wonder about their true agenda.

  14. Kaye Lee

    Matters Not,

    I am the same age as Tony Abbott which would tend to indicate that ‘maturity and insightfulness’ is not necessarily a function of age.

  15. paul walter

    Come on, you can’t rate yourself any worse than Tony Abbott? No point having a brain if your outlook is stuffed.

    Are you as mentally dysfunctional as the likes of Tony abbott?

  16. Kaye Lee

    I am in the enviable position of having no-one else dictate to me what to think. I have the time to review what I am told. I was lucky enough to have a government funded education that gave me a love of learning and the skills to research. I have studied many things and worked at many jobs. This makes me an expert on nothing but interested in many things. I like to hear what others have to say but I also understand the value of credibility of sources and the importance of factual evidence. I would much rather find a solution than someone to blame.

    As far as I am concerned, the only thing Tony and I have in common is our age, and a few years at Sydney University when our lives overlapped.

  17. diannaart

    Excellent article which has been duly Tweeted to the multi-verse.

  18. Brad

    You’ve summed up the situation well, oz. We have an ideologically insidious government prepared, as toxic tony once said to Tony Windsor, to do anything for government so as to implement backward policies such as inDirect Action.
    Let’s hope enough of the rest of the country thinks similarly.

  19. paul walter

    Kaye Lee, you mean you were there and survived close encounters contamination? A rare feat.

    You poor woman, the trauma must run deep.

  20. Matters Not

    Pudd’nhead @ May 4, 2015 at 6:37 am

    do not disagree with your dismissal of the convenience of assigning monetary values to the causes of loss and potentially lost items themselves, what do you offer in place thereof

    Nothing! To me the assumption underlying the question is at the heart of the problem. The notion that ‘values’ can always be reducible to ‘dollars’, is in my humble opinion, a nonsense. When Whitlam died, for example, the last thing I thought of (actually it wasn’t the last thing because the thought never happened in reality) was assigning a monetary value to his demise and my loss. Over time we all lose those who are significant in our lives, including mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters and the like. When those sad events occur, as they inevitably do, to all of us, I suggest that on the majority of occasions ‘numbers’ in the form of dollars isn’t at the forefront of our brains.

    Simply, ‘money’ is often an expression of our ‘values’. But not always.

    As for:

    am the same age as Tony Abbott which would tend to indicate that ‘maturity and insightfulness’ is not necessarily a function of age.

    Kaye there’s ‘physical’ age and then there’s ‘mental’ age. Equating same is ‘courageous’.

    Let’s face it, Tony has never mentally grown up while on the other hand you …

  21. Kaye Lee

    Matters Not,

    I am still waiting for the world to grow up. When I was 17 I won the Lions Club Youth of the Year public speaking contest. They had a wonderful rule that allowed me, a mere girl, to compete but in the unlikely event I should win, the highest placed boy would be the person to go on and represent the district at the state finals. As it was International Women’s Year (1975) I made that the topic of my speech and the headline in the paper the next day was “Schoolgirl pours scorn on sex bias”. Here I am 40 years later still pouring scorn on a government who could only find one woman of merit and on a society where violence against women is commonplace. I despair at the objectification of women in advertising. I despair that our girls feel inadequate based on some unattainable “perfect body” image. I despair that, as our world has become richer, it has become greedier. People are less likely to help others rather than more. I despair that we are once again sending our young men and women off to war in distant lands.

    Has anything changed since I was 17?

  22. Möbius Ecko

    UWA have dropped Bjorn Lomborg’s Consensus Centre giving back the $4 million government money.

    UWA stated it was not value for money for Australian taxpayers, it did not have enough support across the university and several other university contributors had threatened to pull out if it went ahead.

    Pyne has said he will find another university that will take up the $4 million.

    Footnote: Pyne was heard muttering as he walked away, “I will fix it, I’m the fixer, I will fix it,” over and over.

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