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Small government and deregulation could be the death of us

In 1977, at a meeting in Exxon Corporation’s headquarters, a senior company scientist named James F. Black delivered his message to an audience of powerful oilmen: carbon dioxide from the world’s use of fossil fuels would warm the planet and could eventually endanger humanity.

He warned Exxon scientists and managers that independent researchers estimated a doubling of the carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration in the atmosphere would increase average global temperatures by 2 to 3 degrees Celsius, and as much as 10 degrees Celsius at the poles. Rainfall might get heavier in some regions, and other places might turn to desert.

“Some countries would benefit but others would have their agricultural output reduced or destroyed.”

“Present thinking,” he wrote in 1978, “holds that man has a time window of five to ten years before the need for hard decisions regarding changes in energy strategies might become critical.”

Exxon responded swiftly. Within months the company launched its own extraordinary research into carbon dioxide from fossil fuels and its impact on the earth. Exxon’s ambitious program included both empirical CO2 sampling and rigorous climate modeling. It assembled a brain trust that would spend more than a decade deepening the company’s understanding of an environmental problem that posed an existential threat to the oil business.

One manager at Exxon Research, Harold N. Weinberg, shared his “grandiose thoughts” about Exxon’s potential role in climate research in a March 1978 internal company memorandum that read: “This may be the kind of opportunity that we are looking for to have Exxon technology, management and leadership resources put into the context of a project aimed at benefitting mankind.”

His sentiment was echoed by Henry Shaw, the scientist leading the company’s nascent carbon dioxide research effort.

“Exxon must develop a credible scientific team that can critically evaluate the information generated on the subject and be able to carry bad news, if any, to the corporation,” Shaw wrote to his boss Edward E. David, the president of Exxon Research and Engineering in 1978. “This team must be recognized for its excellence in the scientific community, the government, and internally by Exxon management.”

Then, toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon curtailed its carbon dioxide research. In the decades that followed, Exxon worked instead at the forefront of climate denial. It put its muscle behind efforts to manufacture doubt about the reality of global warming its own scientists had once confirmed. It lobbied to block federal and international action to control greenhouse gas emissions. It helped to erect a vast edifice of misinformation that stands to this day.

This shameful history has been extensively researched and written about at InsideClimate News which details the deliberate misinformation campaign despite their full knowledge of the damage they were doing.

This type of behaviour is not isolated.

Pharmaceutical company Amgen is a significant sponsor of Tony Abbott’s pollie pedal ride. Amgen promoted the use of the drug Aranesp to treat anemia in cancer patients who were not undergoing chemotherapy, even though the drug’s approval was only for patients receiving chemotherapy. A subsequent study sponsored by Amgen showed that use of Aranesp by those nonchemotherapy cancer patients had actually increased the risk of death. In 2012 they were convicted of “pursuing profits at the risk of patient safety,” and forced to pay $762 million in criminal penalties and settlements of whistle-blower lawsuits.

These examples of deliberate duplicity, similar to that of the tobacco industry, shows why deregulation and small government are a bad idea. Governments are the only organisations that can protect us against the harm caused by those who put greed in front of the welfare of the planet and its inhabitants.

The Coalition seems to think that, if business is given a free rein, all will be well, but this is patently not the case.

In his haste to claim some sort of an achievement for the Abbott government, Andrew Robb was willing to sign away the right for us to make laws in our best interests. Instead, he agreed to protections for business profits despite the repeated examples of industries deliberately lying about the harm they are causing.

Can we really expect businesses to be ethical when their sole purpose is to make profit for their shareholders?

Why is it that every policy proposed by the Coalition is to protect and promote the very people who have been proven liars?

Why are we giving the fossil fuel industry subsidies when they, themselves, knew 40 years ago that their business was unsustainable?

Why are we reducing taxes for companies that not only do everything they can to avoid paying tax, but also falsify research knowing the potential damage they are causing?

Could it be because our government is more interested in investors’ profits than the wellbeing of its citizens?

On August 18th, the Australian Financial Review published a list of Malcolm Turnbull’s investments; they include the SPDR S&P 500 Fund, whose 3rd largest holding is Exxon Mobil, who have also been significant donors to the right wing Institute of Public Affairs who have effectively been paid to continue the misinformation about climate change.

Understand Australia, if you vote for the Liberal Party you are voting for people who not only facilitate this behaviour, they personally profit from it. It’s time to stand up and say enough is enough!



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  1. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    The less government dream has prevailed throughout my lifetime. Resistance also exists but it has never triumphed. Thanks for reminding us of the consequences of living in a society where the market prevails above all else. Let’s resist political sectarianism and focus on the common struggle from differing perspectives provided its exponents are really for progressive change and not apologists for the market itself. A pleasant to read article, Kaye Lee!

  2. Adrianne Haddow

    The gloves are off and the masks are slipping. The powers behind the government aren’t even bothering to hide their rampant greed. It certainly feels as if the peasants are being pillaged.

    The assault on our way of life and our expectations of, if not good government, at least some pretence at governing for all Australians, has been relentless over the last two years.
    Not only a relentless assault but a signing away of any part the Australian people have in the decisions made by any future government for this country.

    This is a particularly insidious form of fascism, as it is visited upon us bit by bit by a government lacking in transparency and reeking of hypocrisy i.e. sneaky Friday decisions and press releases.

    We are all in the process of being betrayed with the theft of our natural resources, our farming land, our societal cohesion and future opportunities for our youth.

    I’m appalled that most people continue to be conned by the change of mouthpiece, when the actions of this government have not changed.

    Less government equals less overseers, less accountability and less representation of the electorate.
    Another attempt to concentrate decision making and power into the hands of the few.

  3. Miriam English

    As usual, a clear and well thought out article Kaye. Thank you for writing it.

    The market is a really important thing and has a lot of very cool advantages over centralised decision making. Its distributed nature often lets it respond to needs much more quickly and effectively than a centralised system.

    There is, however a number of glaring flaws in the market that those caught up in the religious fervor of devotion to “the invisible hand of the market” never seem to notice. The most dangerous flaw is the tendency to concentrate money and power into fewer and fewer hands, gradually moving towards a monopoly.

    Those who worship “market forces” hate concentration of power in a few hands when those hands are democratically elected, but they don’t see that giant corporations are dictatorships with their power often far more centralised than governments’. The lack of responsiveness and inefficiency of centralised rule is true of giant corporations, just as it is often true of governments. What makes them different is that governments are (usually) elected and must satisfy their voters or they are voted out. In a business you don’t get to vote your boss out.

    As I say, the market is important. For the sake of a healthy society we need find a way to prevent the growth of super-powerful monopolies that destroy the market. Any ecologist knows that a diverse ecology is more healthy and stable than a monoculture. The same is true of our markets. Small businesses are our biggest employers. They keep the economy going. Giant corporations all too often misuse their power to distort the market, corrupt politicians, and destroy the environment and the economy.

    We need to get it through the heads of those who idolise the market that giant corporations are the enemy of the open market. They close it and kill off competition and reduce efficiency.

    Small business and government are not without fault, but at least we have a chance of controlling them.

  4. Kaye Lee

    “New modelling from the Parliamentary Budget Office reveals the likely impact on government revenue and household budgets of an increase in the GST to 12.5 per cent, or a broadening of the current 10 per cent GST base.

    It shows the government would raise about $14 billion a year by broadening the GST base or raising the rate to 12.5 per cent.

    It estimates a carbon price of $28 per tonne would raise the same amount.

    The modelling also shows if the GST base was broadened it would cost the average household about $48 a week, and if the rate was raised to 12.5 per cent it would cost households less, at $23 a week.

    But a carbon price of $28 per tonne would cost households less than both options – just $10-15 a week on average – while raising the same amount of revenue for the government, it shows.”

    Oh but we can’t have a job destroying carbon tax because it’s bad for business. Let’s get the money from pensioners instead.

    Everyone who fell for the “axe the tax” crap should be hanging their heads in shame. If Shorten can’t use this to advantage then he may as well give up now.

  5. Kaye Lee

    A Pew survey conducted in 40 countries found that a majority of respondents were concerned about the threat of climate change and wanted their governments to be more proactive about mitigating its effects.

    “Majorities in all 40 nations polled say it is a serious problem, and a global median of 54% consider it a very serious problem,” Pew finds. “Moreover, a median of 78 percent support the idea of their country limiting greenhouse gas emissions as part of an international agreement in Paris.”

    Pew also found a discernible divide along ideological divides, with the attitudes of those surveyed in Europe and the United States in alignment with their broader political views.

    This was also borne out in a closer look at a handful of major Western economies, where supporters of prominent right-wing political parties were less willing to make major personal changes to their lives to help reduce their impact on the global climate.

    The LNP should be renamed the SGB party – Selfish Greedy Bastards Party

  6. i have a nugget of pure green

    to an extent, both major parties are somewhat implicated in being owned by fossil fuel interests. They have been “captured” at the top of both political structures.

    But blame is attributed to 2 parties. The Backbenchers of both parties who toe the line and approve the line of miscreants on the front bench and the ignorance and apathy of the electorate.

    Without the silent compliance of these two groups, the people at the top are the ones that have to toe the line, or be turfed out on their collective arses.

    It is never ok for politicians to lie to the public, but the regularity and pervasive deceit that characterises modern politics shows that our current crop are not fit for office.

  7. Zolbex

    Whenever the government of different shades of blue is contemplating “reform” it gathers advice from the ones who have the most to lose from genuine change. How does that make sense?

  8. Anomander

    Years ago, the pollies and the parties made a show of representing the interests of everyday Australians or doing things that put the interest of the nation first.

    They have long since given-up all pretense at governing for the people.

    It is as plain as the nose on your face – those people we elect to represent us, do nothing of the sort. They are merely there to do the bidding of their corporate masters and the uber-wealthy, who are the ones who dictate, and benefit solely from, government policy nowadays.

  9. ace Jones

    Thank you Kaye Lee, I really enjoy your enlightening stories which help me understand the fraudulent and dishonest ways of modern political parties, even though i do utterly despair at the garden path we are being lead up.

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