Why not wreck the planet? It could save your political skin

There is a certain mindset in politics, present the world over and across the political spectrum, which dist...

Posted: Aug 21, 2018 2:11 PM
Updated: Aug 21, 2018 2:11 PM

There is a certain mindset in politics, present the world over and across the political spectrum, which distrusts expertise. That mindset is presently revealing itself in Australia, where this week a small group of conservative-minded members of parliament held the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, hostage over climate policy.

Turnbull's center-right Liberal party had pledged to reduce emissions from Australia's energy companies more than a quarter (from 2005 levels) by 2030, a key part of its efforts to meet its international obligations.

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But several of his own MPs, led by his predecessor as prime minister and long-term rival Tony Abbott, forced him into a climbdown by threatening to vote against the legislation. Turnbull's government barely has a majority in the House of Representatives, and losing such a key vote could have led to a leadership challenge. Cowed, he dropped the pledge, and on Tuesday narrowly survived the revolt.

Internal Liberal party politics are one thing. But the symbolism of the gesture is telling. Australia is a country where environmental damage is obvious, in the form of the hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic caused by use of CFCs decades ago, the steady bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef from warming, carbon-dioxide-acidified seas, and the ever more prevalent bushfires.

Yet for large parts of the political class here, and the people who vote for them, climate change is seen as a scam perpetrated by liberal, anti-business scientists.

One in five Australians, a poll last year showed, believe that climate change is a "hoax." Another poll in 2015 declared that Australia was the most climate-skeptical nation on Earth.

Abbott himself has said that the "settled science" of climate change is "absolute crap" and that efforts to reduce its impact are like "killing goats to appease the volcano gods." Another politician, the anti-immigration populist Malcolm Roberts, has clashed with scientist Brian Cox, claiming that NASA data was "manipulated" to make climate change appear worse than it was, to Cox's astonishment.

For the record, climate change is not a hoax. There is some debate over how extreme the warming will be, but the warming so far has been within predicted levels. NASA has not been falsifying data. This is conspiratorial, anti-scientific nonsense.

But anti-scientific nonsense is extremely appealing at the populist fringes of politics. In the US, President Donald Trump has also called climate change a hoax, perpetrated by the Chinese, and has been filling the Environmental Protection Agency with climate skeptics, including former chief Scott Pruitt, now resigned amid multiple ethics scandals.

Trump is also anti-vaccine, associating with Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced, fraudulent British doctor behind the discredited research linking the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine to autism, and weirdly claiming that multi-vaccine injections are bad because "tiny children are not horses."

British politics has its own share of climate skeptics and anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists, especially on the UKIP-led hard right. And the left is not innocent -- the left-wing populist leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, once signed a parliamentary motion supporting the pseudoscientific alternative medicine homeopathy, tweeting that it "works for some people." The Green Party is resolutely anti-nuclear and anti-genetically modified organisms.

What all these positions have in common is a distrust of what "the experts" are saying -- the relevant scientists who are almost uniformly convinced that climate change is real, human-made and dangerous; that vaccines are safe and highly effective; that homeopathy is ineffective, and that nuclear power and GMOs are important tools for powering and feeding the world.

Populism offers simple, intuitive alternatives to complex, messy reality. For example, immigrants or the EU are behind all your problems; get rid of them and it'll all be OK. That makes populism almost directly opposed to science.

Scientific truths are complex. Understanding how an invisible, harmless gas can trap heat in the atmosphere because of its molecular shape is not easy. The claim that if a child gets ill shortly after being vaccinated, that doesn't mean the vaccine caused the illness, is counter-intuitive, as is -- conversely -- saying that just because someone gets better after taking homeopathy, that doesn't mean the homeopathy made them better.

Science deals in uncertainty, and in often counter-intuitive fact.

"Climate change is not dangerous; it's a liberal hoax" is a more reassuring message than "climate change is real and going to make things much worse." It's also easier to understand. The only drawback is that it's false.

The public may have had enough of experts, but as the winter bushfires in Australia show, that doesn't mean the experts are wrong.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 664446

Reported Deaths: 12663
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion909511650
Lake48568884
Allen36004640
Hamilton32182398
St. Joseph30166513
Elkhart25453419
Vanderburgh21300382
Tippecanoe20143203
Johnson16407361
Porter16042276
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Monroe10379163
Delaware9870179
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Warrick7438151
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Wayne6648192
Grant6446157
Boone610989
Morgan6106126
Dubois5925112
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Cass547299
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Henry542594
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Harrison402564
Gibson402083
Clinton396753
Montgomery389683
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Knox357885
Miami357863
Whitley350237
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Steuben339555
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Ohio Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 974480

Reported Deaths: 16750
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1125851214
Cuyahoga964441832
Hamilton736841034
Montgomery47424903
Summit40474802
Butler35678505
Lucas35588685
Stark29495803
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Mahoning19532537
Lake18471318
Clermont18459201
Delaware16537116
Licking15037189
Fairfield14587180
Trumbull14381413
Greene13626218
Medina13448226
Clark12319248
Wood11604163
Portage11078164
Allen10804216
Richland10334183
Miami10048189
Muskingum8204112
Columbiana8160200
Pickaway8079107
Tuscarawas8063227
Marion8006125
Wayne7898193
Erie6925140
Ross6161128
Geauga6097136
Hancock6013116
Ashtabula5993152
Scioto597780
Lawrence527218
Union515237
Darke5040114
Belmont497659
Huron4838107
Jefferson4814107
Sandusky4785108
Seneca4709107
Washington470991
Athens465447
Mercer459180
Auglaize456480
Shelby442479
Knox4045101
Putnam400090
Madison394253
Ashland381381
Fulton381258
Defiance372983
Brown372244
Crawford359096
Logan356072
Preble353678
Clinton341152
Highland328649
Ottawa324869
Williams302962
Jackson290745
Champaign289249
Guernsey288444
Perry270447
Fayette269441
Morrow260934
Henry247058
Hardin246558
Holmes243493
Coshocton238054
Van Wert230154
Gallia223131
Adams217436
Pike216026
Wyandot211747
Hocking194754
Carroll181641
Paulding160530
Meigs135930
Noble129333
Monroe116927
Morgan101119
Harrison100724
Vinton76613
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