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Welcome to the new site!

10 March 2013

The new website has been up and running for a fortnight now, but I think I’ve now ironed out some of the kinks.

By coincidence, in the interim I have published a number of posts on Australian climate change politics, many of them very important. Here is a list for anyone who missed them:

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Precarious Climate has moved!

23 February 2013

Precarious Climate has moved to http://precariousclimate.com/

https://jameswight.wordpress.com/ will no longer be updated.

See you at the new site!

James

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Greens denounce Gillard Labor government

19 February 2013

The Greens have publicly distanced themselves from the Labor government in the leadup to the Australian federal election on 14 September.

Last month, Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Liberal leader Tony Abbott each launched their party’s election campaign with a National Press Club speech. (Gillard discussed economic policy, hinted at more budget cuts, and announced the election date; Abbott reiterated past promises including a budget surplus.) Today, Greens leader Christine Milne similarly addressed the National Press Club. In a strong speech, Milne argued Labor has flouted the principles it agreed with the Greens in 2010: “transparency and accountable government”, “policies which promote the public interest”, and “policies which address climate change”.

The move is long overdue. As I’ve written before, the Greens’ support has given credibility to a government which has gotten away with: Read the rest of this entry »

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Australia’s Minister for Greenwash

13 February 2013

Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke – or as the Greens call him, Minister Against the Environment – on Monday signed conditional approvals for three new coal and coal seam gas (CSG) mines in New South Wales.

The three projects are Whitehaven’s Maules Creek coal mine (despite Burke having said last week he would defer that decision for months), Idemitsu’s Boggabri coal mine expansion, and AGL’s 110 CSG wells in Gloucester (the first stage of a potential 330-well project). Together, they would result in 47 million tonnes of CO2 emissions per year. (To make matters worse, on the same day the NSW state government gave conditional approval to BHP Billiton’s Dendrobium coal mine expansion, and on Tuesday the Queensland government lifted a moratorium on shale oil.)

Burke says his decision is intended to cut the NSW government out of the process, after NSW Resources Minister Chris Hartcher leaked a confidential letter from Burke expressing an intention to approve the three projects. Burke claims his new approvals come with unusually stringent conditions:

For the areas that are not yet resolved, instead of giving a normal approval and say these are the conditions, I’ve said these further issues need to be worked through to my satisfaction before we know whether the project can actually go ahead. So it’s quite – even though it’s just being reported as approvals, it’s actually quite a different set of conditions to what would normally occur. Read the rest of this entry »

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Good news from China (maybe)

7 February 2013

Last week China announced what might be a rare bit of good news on climate change – or is it too good to be true?

The Chinese government State Council has set a cap on total energy use for 2011-2015, which it claims will cause Chinese coal consumption to peak below 4 billion tonnes per year, a target that has been rumored for a while. According to the Chinese government, coal-fired electricity generation would continue to grow at a slower pace while the steel industry would suffer.

Last year China burned 3.9 billion tonnes of coal, a 163% increase since 2000 and nearly as much as the rest of the world combined. Greenpeace recently identified the projected expansion of coal mining in northwestern Chinese provinces as the world’s largest “carbon bomb” (followed by Australian coal export expansion).

coal Read the rest of this entry »

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The illusion of the reasonable centre

4 February 2013

Republican strategist Karl Rove in 2002 notoriously disparaged “the reality-based community [who] believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality”. He continued: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

That quote has become a symbol for the Republican Party’s detachment from empirical reality, like Mitt Romney’s recent declaration “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers”. I’m a proud member of the “reality-based community”, in that I try to base my views as much as possible on observed facts rather than instinct or ideology. Yet Rove understood something his political opponents don’t: “political reality” is an illusion.

Campaigners who pride themselves on being “political realists”, and voters who pride themselves on being “centrists”, make the fundamental mistake of assuming the political centre is a real thing fixed in one position. Although political scholars talk about an objective centre halfway between the most extreme possible ideological orientations, it has no influence on political debate. In practice, the political centre is a perception that can be manipulated by various political forces. Thus it is possible to shift the political centre, or “political reality”, without deluding as the Republicans do – you only need to change the perception of where the centre is.

Here’s another way of looking at it. The “Overton window” is the range of political positions considered to be the scope of reasonable debate. The perceived political centre is in the middle of the Overton window. Positions toward the edges of the Overton window are considered radical, and positions beyond the edges are considered unthinkable.

A third way of conceptualizing this is “Hallin’s spheres”, three nested ideological spheres illustrating the implicit bias of ostensibly objective media coverage. In the centre is the “sphere of consensus”, consisting of propositions considered by the journalist (or other observer) to be self-evident to all reasonable people. The intermediate shell is the “sphere of legitimate controversy”, matters considered suitable to be debated among reasonable people; journalists generally strive for balanced coverage of the views in this shell. The outer shell is the “sphere of deviance”, positions considered to be outside the range of mainstream debate. In this metaphor it is journalists who (consciously or otherwise) decide which ideas belong in which sphere, and they tend to make those decisions based on the thinking of the political establishment. Read the rest of this entry »

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Liberals Part 5: Are they hiding a radical agenda?

31 January 2013

This is the fifth part of a series examining the Liberal Party of Australia. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 examine the party’s climate policies. Part 4 debunks their allegations that the incumbent government is illegitimate. This part argues they are hiding a radical agenda of deregulation and austerity.

The countdown has begun: 226 days until an Australian federal election in which the Liberals look likely to sweep into office. Yet we still have very little idea what the Liberals would do in government. Leader Tony Abbott contradicts himself from day to day, apparently depending on who he’s speaking to, and even his party’s official policies are not very clearly explained. At this stage, a vote for the Liberals is a blank cheque. In this vacuum of confirmed information, I am forced to resort to informed speculation. You’ll know whether I’m right when the Liberals finally announce their fully detailed policies (which looks like it will be about 5pm on 14 September).

The deregulation agenda

I fear an Abbott government would be a wrecker government. We already know the Liberals would repeal the carbon and mining taxes, axe most other climate change policies, and delegate environmental approval powers to the states. These policies should be disturbing enough for anybody, but increasingly appear to be only part of a broader agenda of deregulation and austerity which should trouble even those unconcerned about climate change. It would follow the precedent set by the Newman government in Queensland, which blindsided the state last year by sneaking into power under cover of opposing a long-lived incumbent then proceeding to implement massive cuts. Read the rest of this entry »

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