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Climate recalcitrance

By John Haly

“Recalcitrant” is what Prime minister Keating once described Malaysian prime minister Dr Mahathir over economic considerations with APEC. In this century, “recalcitrance” has become a term more readily applied to the current persistently pro-coal conservative Government over issues of ecology.

On the 8th of October 2018, as I was leaving Korea, I noted the first Green Climate Fund’s Global NDA Conference at the Hyatt Conference Halls had commenced next door to where I had been staying.

Having addressed climate and economic policy failures by the Australian Government recently, I became interested in how these representatives of the global community were discussing climate investment opportunities to facilitate the reduction efforts against greenhouse gas emissions.

Later the next day, I learned that during the opening sessions it was reported that Thelma Krug, the Vice Chair of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said “The IPCC report is a bridge between the science and policymakers – limiting the temperature increase to 1.5℃ is not impossible.

At the same conference, Jim Skea, Co-Chair of the IPCC Working Group noted, “Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes.

Jim Skea, Co-Chair of the IPCC Working Group

There was an evident emergence of urgency arising within this conference that repeatedly referenced the IPCC Special Report of Global Warming. It is only with immediate and focused effort can we prevent global temperatures rising above 1.5°C. (The report is available at which includes its summary for policymakers.)

The question on everyone’s mind is, of course, are we up to that challenge and can we do it in time? It is well observed in literature and public commentary that the greatest obstacle to adoption of climate change mitigation is not the science, but the political policymakers and their conservative media support. Notable is their reluctance to take scientific advice over significant business lobbying and financial donations. Hence the desire to either shift the climate change discussions away from the political arena or build a “bridge” the economic policymakers of the world have to cross. The later is what the IPCC report attempts to address.

Back in Australia, the IPCC report bridge to our policymakers seems to have suffered the same fate as that of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen in 1945 at the end of World War 2. It similarly, has been captured by allied forces (western political democracies such as Australia and America), and they are hell-bent on no one crossing it. Hopefully destroying that metaphysical bridge will be as difficult as was the physical one. Although that analogy is troublesome because when they eventually destroyed the Ludendorff Bridge, it was never rebuilt.

Regarding climate change mitigation policies, legislation, measures and institutions the CLIM index (for measuring these factors comparatively for 95 countries) places Australian 55th in the world somewhere after Mongolia and Egypt but doing marginally better than Belarus and Uzbekistan both of whom have economies that are heavily based on fossil fuels. Just as a point of comparative interest, the United States is 45th in the world.

Meanwhile back in South Korea (18th on the CLIM index), the participants at the Global NDA Conference know that the South Pacific and Asian regions have the most to lose if climate change is not mitigated. Across the continent from the Korean NDA conference, the South China Morning Post had previously reported. “Australia’s new prime minister will not revive plans to embed carbon emissions targets in law, a thorny issue that triggered the ousting of his predecessor in a party coup.” It is not merely a matter of “revival” of policy plans but hostility to even considering implementing any. Pressure by the Institute of Public Affairs (the policy lobbying arm of the Liberal conservatives) to exit the Paris Climate agreement is exemplified by their policy propaganda piece, “Why Australia must exit the Paris Climate Agreement”.

In the early history of that “party coup”, it was evident the conservatives held out hope that Dutton’s potential rise to power meant an end to the Paris Climate accords. While the emerging choice of Prime Minister, Scott Morrison has ruled out exiting the Paris Climate accord, he has decided to deny any further funding to the global climate fund. Claiming in an interview; “I’m not going to spend money on global climate conferences and all that nonsense.” So I can assume it is safe to imagine that the Australia government was not contributing to the NDA conference in Korea, despite Australians having contributed to the IPCC report.

Australia’s recalcitrance in following the leadership of European and British nations in preference for American policy adherence is disheartening and irresponsible. The failure of leadership on climate change by Australian Politics is well recognised even abroad in other countries. Ironically, the delays on mitigating climate change risks instituted by one Australian Prime Minister had previously been considered a luxury we could not afford.

Strong opinions held by Malcolm Turnbull

While the political ideology denies the science in preference for economic overtures and lobbying of financially significant fossil fuel interests, the future of the planet and our collective ability to survive climate change is at stake.

Back on October 9th the Deputy prime minister and leader of the National Party, Michael McCormack stated:

I’m very much supportive of the coal industry. I understand the IPCC report, and I’ll certainly consider what it has to say, but the fact is coal mining does play an important part of our energy mix in Australia and will do so going forward. [The government is not about to change policy] just because somebody might suggest that some sort of report is the way we need to follow and everything that we should do.”

Since the report has emerged, the government has not backed down from this position and confirmed their rejection of the IPCC report to back away from coal power over the next 30 years.

For a country replete in land and sunlight for setting up solar power generation, the excuses against transitioning our energy supply are feeble. Options include intermittent power supplies provided by solar panels, to the 24-hour power supply of solar reflectors heating molten salts, Wind and geothermal, although intermittent, backed by the hugely successful battery storage exemplified by the much faster supply response by the South Australian Tesla batteries set up by Elon Musk, is also potentially plentiful. Scotland expects to harvest all its electricity via renewable means by 2020 and California expects to be complete by 2045. While this nation and state had both different starting points, what has made the difference is not technology, but a political imperative to pursue the goal to not continue to heat the planet.

We have untapped employable resources in Australia, with already 2.383 million people under and unemployed and not enough job vacancies to absorb even 8% of that number. We have the educational resources with 42 universities and 59 TAFE institutions dispersed across metropolitan and regional areas of Australia. This is, despite a concerted effort by conservatives, to restrict access to education. Spending money on innovation, employment and educational resources to boost climate change mitigation infrastructure is a clear growth strategy for our economy, according to the Treasury. Other Nations have demonstrated evidence that climate mitigation has been economically prosperous. What we don’t have, is the political will to act to survive anthropomorphic climate change.

Fear mongering about climate change mitigation by the Liberals, the IPA and mining/coal lobbyists is not based on evidence or the examples of nation-states on this planet. Climate change disharmony (evidenced by increasing global heatwaves, and abnormal climate events) on the other hand, are increasingly apparent. Scientists and experts at these conferences have for decades repeatedly warned us, time is running out, and we need to act soon and fervently. If big business lobbying and political ideology are all that stands in the way of averting a climatic breakdown, then we as Australians need to vote out of office anyone who even remotely risks the future of our planet, in preference for greed and power.


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  1. Martin Connolly

    Just back from five weeks in Europe.
    I was actually surprised at the amount of discussion on climate change and energy policy on the radio am TV there.
    Far more open discussion than we ever hear in Australia.
    Probably because it is not such a political football, or brought down so many PMs?
    They also don’t have neanderthals like Abbott calling the tune with a bunch of knuckle-dragging flat-earthers.

    I come back with the hope that other countries have surpassed Australia and we may be forced to follow for economic reasons.
    Business and a fair number of our people are way ahead of our government. Not sure that Labor will give enough impetus to al this but it can’t be worse than we have now.

  2. Al

    We have seen time and again that conservative politicians are woefully ignorant about basic science, as well as being functionally innumerate. Not only do they not understand science, but they do not understand what science is for, and how it helps us understand the world. Several years ago a major public figure (I can’t remember who) commented that the major problems confronting us: climate change, access to water and food for example, were all problems requiring some scientific literacy, which is conspicuously missing amongst our politicians, most of whom have a legal or economic background. Instead of heeding the science, they rely instead on their gut instincts (which are invariably wrong), or worse, as you say, are driven by their masters of media and fossil fuels. Another issue is that climate change is a problem requiring a long-term solution, whereas politicians think only in terms of the time between elections. I think the cards are heavily stacked against us, and I have no idea whether we will in fact mitigate the problem, or whether we are sliding inexorably to our doom. It’s a crap legacy to leave our kids, though.

  3. Michael Taylor

    Same here, Martin. In Europe the person on the street was all too willing to accept and talk about climate change.

    And wherever you went you saw wind or solar farms.

    Not only do they believe in climate change, but they’re doing something to address it.

  4. SteveFitz

    Thanks John, really good – informative, precise and at the same time frightening. The IPCC summary for policymakers, along with your article, should be compulsory reading and it has been framed to be digestible. You note: “Climate change mitigation is not the science, but the political policymakers and their conservative media support”.

    I’ll say it again – Anyone who embraces the continued use of fossil fuel, to the detriment of the global climate and our environment, are blindly doing that on behalf of huge and powerful corporations.

    From where I stand, the two greatest threats facing humanity today are (1) The rampant greed of corporations and the people they serve and (2) The rampant greed of huge corporations and the mindless politicians who serve them.

    Numb-nuts like Melissa Price being gullible and clearly challenged are a serious concern but, what drives her are those same corporations. So, where’s the real problem? The “Predators behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership – AIMN” was prepared to expose corporate intent.

  5. John Haly

    Well, Martin & Michael, I am still in Europe and headed to the Copenhagen IACC conference next week. It is although so apparent that Europe (and in particular the Scandinavian countries) take Climate Change seriously. On the way down from Oslo to Copenhagen by train, we noticed you could not look out a window to either farmland nor oceans and not see wind turbines. Even in Korea on the way to the airport from the Hyatt, we saw sizeable solar panel farms. I regretfully did not get my camera out of my bag in time to catch more than the retreating end of it as the shuttle bus from the Hyatt drove past the “farm”.

    AI, I am not so sure the politicians are so must “ignorant” as they are “compromised” by donations and financial support from mining and industrial interests. Corruption is probably more responsible for the ideological position of denial. I am hoping that when I get to Copenhagen for the IACC conference, I will find a speaker with expertise on the corruption angle for climate denial. If I am lucky, I will try to both listen/record their presentation and seek an interview. I am interested in pursuing this angle, so I will see what it turns up.

    But you are also right, AI, about saying this is a crap legacy to leave to our kids and as my child is sitting across from me at a European airport while we wait for our next flight, I want better for him. That is why I write here and elsewhere and pursue a better future for him.

    And Steve, your two points are right on the money, so to speak. 👍 😎

  6. Stephen Fitzgerald

    John, I’m proud of you – Extreme right wing governments are corporate flunkies and the push from them, on behalf of the corporates they represent, is denial or adapt to climate change. Australia’s LNP and the US Republicans to name two. There’s a collective in the UN and the IPCC that understand the problem and push the citizens of those countries to force a change in government.

    This needs further exposure as it is possibly the greatest stumbling block to affirmative action on climate change. It’s corporations that will destroy us driven by rampant greed. Being aware of it is the first big step.

  7. ChristopherJ

    Thank you John. Aussies have been recalcitrant about our environment since we took the place off the black fellas. Nothing left now when compared to what they had been stewards of, but you know this, so I’ll get to Chris Hedges and Guy McPherson.


    Chris Hedges has been saying (well forever, but this month, October 2018) that we can only have hope now if we are willing to do mass civil disobedience. Plenty of recent vids of him online – worth a look.

    In his current speaking tour, he is using his new book as a platform to spread a very urgent warning on what he calls the ascendancy of corporate totalitarianism. Chris actually uses the word ‘revolution’ as he eyes off the Homeland guys who are just waiting for the ‘go’ word. Chris knows he can say this because we are not quite at the point where people like him are arrested in public view, but we’re close. He witnessed what was required to get the State to back off at Standing Rock and people are being murdered to cover shit up or to incite State-level violence, so we are watching a man take real risks to his life and livelihood, not to mention his family.

    Underpinning his message is those in charge are going to kill us all if we don’t take back the power that they wield over us.

    In Australia, we are in dreamland, and our neighbors are laughing at us. I got some of the Senate on the radio this week and was, as I always am, appalled at the lack of a sensible discourse on Capitol Hill. ‘Do your effing jobs’ I muttered to myself and others several times in disgust this week.

    Do we have time? That’s what most of the AIMN writers, readers and commentariat are assuming, yes? Otherwise what’s the point of being in this space.

    Another person I’ve been watching over a year or so, an American scientist (ecology and evolutionary biology), Guy McPherson, has been seeking to frighten people into action, telling them that:

    a. Changes to the micro regions in which we live and work are going to be abrupt and unexpected;
    b. We will be reactive in our adaptation to these changes, as we will increasingly be unable to forecast, and hence prepare for, them;
    c. We will not put even a fraction of the resources necessary to reverse the current trends; and
    d. Our capacity to grow crops and livestock at scale, ie produce food, is going to collapse…

    Most of life is extremely sensitive to changes in temperature. We regulate ours with clothing, fire, aircon and shelter. Plants, insects and most of life don’t have that capacity and will need to adapt. But they won’t. 200 species are becoming extinct every day.

    Guy’s taken his family down to Belize, not because he thinks he can survive, he just feels more at peace there.

    His time frame of where it all starts to accelerate – ‘possibly’ in the next 18 months.

    ‘Nature always bats last’, is his current headline – see short interview, here:

    We have extracted out of the ground in 500 years what it took the earth at least 300,000,000 to lay down there. And all of it, we have burned without a second’s thought as to the consequences. Greed.

    Sorry I can’t be more upbeat. I’m scared enough to be writing. It’s all I feel I can do right now.

  8. Diannaart


    We have extracted out of the ground in 500 years what it took the earth at least 300,000,000 to lay down there. And all of it, we have burned without a second’s thought as to the consequences.

    Doesn’t take a “rocket surgeon” to fathom that releasing massive amounts of gas from a previous era which supported an eco-system of life very different to that of today, means abrupt and powerful change. However, greed blinds.

  9. SteveFitz

    Christopher –It needs to be said. We don’t live in an authoritarian state but occasionally I get this uncomfortable feeling that the extreme right wing and corporate intent is to rule over and exploit society in a much-diluted form of democracy. We need to stay on top of that and keep pushing back.

    In lessor countries, government are held to ransom or bribed into submission by criminal organisations and drug cartels where the money flows up and democracy crashes down. In more progressive countries it’s global pharmaceutical companies and huge corporations with legislation and the legal system corrupted to protect them. It’s a much more civilised way to rape, pillage and plunder society with the end result the same.

    What climate change has done is expose precisely, corporate and political collusion and corruption in terms of the above. The countries opposed to climate action are the countries telegraphing to the world that their governments have been infiltrated and corrupted by corporates. It’s a flashing red light and it’s flashing right here in Australia under the extremist right wing LNP government.

  10. Diannaart

    The term “cleaning out the swamp” is a populist one these days.

    If too little action, too late is taken on global pollution (I find climate change wholly inadequate a descriptor) the swamp of humans will be cleared out along with other life forms.

    Now, the sensible approach would be to work with what we have, the technical means and ability to create a system of energy networks which obviates the need for a massive singular grid network which only works for coal, gas or nuclear.

  11. totaram

    You can vote out the pollies who you think re not doing enough. But the question you have to ask is this: how will you ensure that the new bunch of pollies you vote in will not be bought off by the usual lobbyists and do exactly what these pollies have been doing. This is the big question and unless we find the answer to this with anti-lobbying legislation and an ICAC to enforce it, nothing will change.

  12. ChristopherJ

    Thank you Steven, Dianna and other thinking people who visit this space. Yes, greed has blinded many.

  13. James Lawrie

    Simply put; Australia should pay for our reluctance to do our bit.

    Sanction would be a good start.

  14. ChristopherJ

    Yes, James, it’s getting so bad we should be sanctioned.

    If we were smart Aussies, instead of selling the rights to dig up and sell our coal to be burnt, I reckon we could have got paid by countries, people and organisations to keep the stuff in the ground. (Harder to hide the corruption with the latter, I guess.)

    And, I’m still waiting for my oil, iron, coal… cheque

  15. SteveFitz

    God, sanctions? Where would you start – No emission policy, denying the IPCC report, environmental vandalism, human rights abuse, persecuting refugees, abusing our children, jailing and deporting Kiwi’s, growing inequality, rampant poverty, homeless epidemic, starvation, no federal corruption watchdog, political cronyism, political instability and the list goes on – Who would come near us and thanks to the LNP government we deserve to be shunned.

  16. SteveFitz

    Johno – Your right. Nitrogen fertilizers are made from ammonia (NH3), which is manufactured using the Haber-Bosch process. Natural gas is used in the process as the source of hydrogen to combine with nitrogen from the atmosphere to make the ammonia that is the foundation of the nitrogen fertilizer. The by-product is Co2 released into the atmosphere and adds to global warming.

    Organic food waste can be composted or converted into fertiliser using a chelated iron process. This would go towards reducing our waste and atmospheric Co2. Win win. Now, we just need governments to legislate in favour of chelated iron organic fertilisers and reduce our reliance on natural gas nitrogen fertiliser as an environmental protection measure.

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