When fear of the Greens becomes dangerous extremism

The Greens' election success in 2010 may actually have set clean energy back in this country, with deep fear of the party by conservatives inciting extreme positions of opposition to anything the Greens are associated with.

Sometimes I wonder whether the Greens Party’s considerable success at the last federal election was the worst thing that could have happened to the cause of clean energy and reducing carbon emissions in this country.

Their success, when mixed with Tony Abbott’s inflammatory rhetoric, has been like a volatile cocktail. It has incited normally staid people with a conservative political bent to take extreme positions of rabid opposition to anything that the Greens might be associated with. Policy is not looked at as it is in legislation, but rather through a lens about what these people fear the Greens are ultimately after. This includes, in these peoples’ eyes, mass wealth redistribution, withdrawal of essential modern industrial conveniences like reliable electricity and motor vehicles, and undermining religious social norms and conventions believed to be important to stable functioning of society.

These fears may be overblown but are not without some supporting basis in the policy positions of the Greens and statements from some of the more extreme elements of the Greens Party, such as Lee Rhiannon.

Yet, this deep-seated fear of what the Greens intend to do has led to some incredibly bizarre reactions to things linked with the Greens.

As an example take this e-mail received in my inbox in response to the Climate Spectator article, ‘Why is Australia afraid to lead the world’:

“Because the whole green religion is a HOAX to achieve wealth redistribution and world government which will tell us how to live poorly – the same as you mob are! For no climate benefit. Man cannot rule the weather. Increased CO2 has produced no global warming so your science is wrong!”

So human induced climate change is seen as a mass hoax even though you’d think one would at least give some degree of credence to the research and conclusions of senior staff working for some of the most respected scientific institutions in Australia and the world. I might understand someone choosing to think that climate change will be sufficiently benign that we could adapt. But to reject these respected scientists’ views outright as a complete hoax? That seems like an emotional response to me, rather than a rational one. But it appears to be an incredibly widespread view among many influential Australians.

In terms of carbon emissions trading this is an idea pioneered by free market economists and championed by stalwart Liberal Party people such as Alexander Downer (see his 1998 speech) and David Kemp, and ultimately adopted as policy by Prime Minister John Howard. Yet somehow this has now become an economy-wrecking, mass wealth redistribution scheme by stealth? For you to believe this then Treasury’s 2012-13 budget papers must be an incredible fabrication.

And now it seems as if these people are embracing ideas around the impacts of wind farms that seem better suited to hippies from Nimbin than conservative politicians and retired businessmen that make up the Waubra Foundation. We now even have the South Australian shadow minister for planning promoting the idea that wind farms induce illness.

Yet there is no paper published in a peer-reviewed medical journal providing a physiological explanation for how a wind turbine manages to transmit from a kilometre or more away some kind physical phenomenon that causes people to become ill, nor any kind of epidemiological study illustrating a statistical pattern between proximity to turbines and above normal prevalence of a particular ailment.

Infrasound (an inaudible, low frequency vibration) induced by wind turbines has been invoked as a cause, yet the levels of infrasound created from turbines are no greater than those created by a range of natural phenomenon which have never been known to cause health problems, such as waves crashing on the beach.

I cannot make sense of these extreme views without attributing them to a deep seated fear of some kind of broader, imagined Greens agenda. But attempting to exploit this fear for political and commercial advantage is now leading to dangerous extremism.

A Freedom of Information request to University of East Anglia revealed an example of how this extremism is leading some to make incredibly violent threats to climate scientists targeted by the likes of Andrew Bolt and other conservative columnists. These e-mails include things like:

 “you are a f…ing scumbug, a liar and a fraud. I hope someone put a bullet between your eyes”;

“kill yourself scum”; and

“we know you f…. with humanity. Your children and family will know because we know where you live.”

The person targeted by these e-mails, Phil Jones, was the subject of a concerted campaign by conservative columnists (as well as The Guardian newspaper) which they labelled ‘climategate’ – a reference to US President Richard Nixon’s Watergate Hotel Affair. Yet Phil Jones did nothing even remotely equating to the kind of disgraceful and illegal conduct undertaken by Nixon.

A detailed inquiry into this whole affair around e-mails obtained by illegal hacking found:

“On the specific allegations made against the behaviour of CRU scientists, we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt.”

It’s time for a bit more rationality and a lot less emotion around climate change policy issues in this country.