Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Seeing through the hoax of the century

Janet Albrechtsen

INCREASINGLY, the road to Copenhagen resembles a suburban street on Halloween with the number of climate change freak shows and stunts reaching a nadir in recent weeks. Nicholas Stern says we should turn vegetarian in order to combat climate change. If you must eat meat, eat kangaroos, says Ross Garnaut, because marsupials emit negligible amounts of methane. And that champagne you drank on Melbourne Cup day? Scientists scolded us with a report that a 750ml bottle of bubbly could produce 100 million bubbles, releasing five litres of carbon dioxide.

Yet far from rallying people to the cause of immediate action on climate change, every new cri de coeur may be turning people away. Could it be that those derided as the great unwashed are beginning to ask more questions than their smart political leaders or the bastions of intellectual curiosity in the media?

Late last month, activists gathered at Sydney Opera House to listen to Sydney mayor Clover Moore announce that “the time for talk is past”. “Already we know that this building, our Opera House, for decades a symbol of optimism and the human spirit, is under threat from global warming,” she says.

The Opera House under threat? That would be from rising sea levels, right? Just like the small island nation of Maldives where, last month, the president conducted a cabinet meeting underwater to remind the world that his country would be rendered uninhabitable by rising sea levels. Kitted out in full scuba-diving outfits, Mohamed Nasheed and his ministers sat at a table underwater off the coast of the capital of Male. As planned, the president’s stunt made headlines across the globe. Send us money - and lots of it - is his message. The media love stunts. They are so easy to report.

Sadly, the media is not inquisitive enough to report those who question the circus acts of climate change. A week after the Maldives underwater show, Nils-Axel Morner - a leading world authority on sea levels - wrote an open letter to the president telling him that his stunt was “not founded in observational facts and true scientific judgments”.

Morner is a former professor who headed the department of paleogeophysics and geodynamics at Stockholm University and past president (1999-2003) of the International Union for Quaternary Research commission on sea level changes and coastal evolution. INQUA was founded in 1928 by scientists who aimed to improve the understanding of environmental change during the glacial ages through interdisciplinary research. In other words, the Swedish professor has gravitas when it comes to sea levels. Alas his letter did not make headlines. That is a shame. Morner says there is “no rational basis” for the hysterical claims that the people of Maldives - or the rest of the world - are threatened by rising sea levels. And he sets out some facts.

Fact number 1: During the past 2000 years, sea levels have fluctuated with 5 peaks reaching 0.6m to 1.2m above present sea level. Fact number 2: From 1790 to 1970 sea levels were about 20cm higher than today. Fact number 3: In the 1970s, the sea level fell by about 20cm to its present level. Fact number 4: Sea levels have remained constant for the past 30 years “implying that there are no traces of any alarming ongoing sea level rise”. Fact number 5 (and I am paraphrasing here): The notion presented by the President of the Maldives that his country will be flooded is bunkum.

Yet, last week a federal parliamentary report told Australians to make plans to evacuate if we live on the coast. Warning that the “time to act is now”, the bipartisan report said the 711,000 addresses within 3km of the Australian coast - and less than 6m above sea level - face threats from rising sea levels. The report called for an inquiry by the Productivity Commission to examine the need for bans on homes within these areas. Viewers of the 7pm News on ABC1 were told by a Richard Branson lookalike - complete with longish wavy grey hair, beard and crisp white shirt - that the township of Byron Bay would be completely flooded by rising sea levels. His expertise? He is a resident of Byron Bay.

Despite the headline grabbing rhetoric about climate change calamity, recent polls reveal that more and more people appear to be challenging the orthodoxy. The most recent Lowy Institute poll found that while 48 per cent of Australian believe that global warming is a serious and pressing problem, the numbers are down 12 points since 2008 and 20 points down since 2006. “This is also the first year that it has not had majority support,” said the Lowy Institute.

A poll by Ipso Reid in Canada in September found that global warming has dropped down the list of people’s concerns. Indeed, a full 41 per cent now say the threat has been overblown. In the US, Associated Press reported on a poll last month that found 57 per cent of people believe there is clear evidence that the world is heating up, down 20 points from three years ago. These are some trend lines worth watching.

Perhaps we are wising up to modern day millenarianism where end-of-the-world cults - those who have the most to gain from their fear mongering - preach calamity. Remember Y2K? The cult back then comprised computer experts. They predicted disaster. Planes would fall from the skies. People would be caught in halting elevators. Chaos would descend on anything that relied on a computer, from financial markets to utilities. Governments duly prepared for disaster with the BBC reporting that global preparations for the millennium bug were estimated to have cost more than $US300 billion. All for nought. Nothing happened. It was, as James Taranto wrote in The Wall Street Journal, the hoax of the century.

Maurice Newman, who was chairman of the federal government’s Y2K committee told The Australian last week that “in pressing the urgency for compliance, the committee members relied heavily on confirmatory bias. Most of this came from so-called experts who had much to gain from creating a sense of alarm. The consequence of widespread inaction was claimed to result in chaos and systemic failure. As there was no alternative authoritative voice, this became perceived wisdom and was certainly believed by the committee. As such the Y2K phenomenon took on a life of its own.”

Deja vu? Preparing for the deluge of rising sea levels, we were treated to footage last week from parliamentary question time starring Julia Gillard and her gumboots. Appropriately she was followed on ABC1 by Bananas in Pyjamas. Could man-made climate change turn out to be the greatest hoax of the present century? Certainly, ordinary people are beginning to ask questions.


Australians want a tougher stand on illegal immigrants

MOST voters believe Government weakness on border protection is to blame for the rising number of boats in Australian waters, according to a new poll. The Essential Media poll, reported on The Punch today, also finds more than half of voters believe there is a “real prospect” there are terrorists aboard the boats and say the Government is doing the right thing in trying to turn the boats away.

The findings coincide with the latest Newspoll showing a 7 point rise in primary vote support for the Coalition and a corresponding fall for the Rudd Government.

This spectacular swing comes amid a mounting sense of crisis surrounding the arrivals of asylum-seekers in Australian waters.

Only one in three respondents in the Essential poll said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was doing an “excellent or good” job on border protection. More than half rated his performance as “not so good” or poor.

But the Essential research finds a majority of voters also agrees that asylum seekers are coming from countries that have seen an escalation in violence and persecution.

Writing on The Punch, director of Essential Media and Communications Peter Lewis said the findings showed Mr Rudd’s “attempts to play tough cop are failing to translate into public approval for his handling of the issue.” Mr Lewis said the public understanding that asylum seekers were fleeing violent countries “suggests that if the public were presented with a story that humanised the plight of the asylum seekers they would be more likely to take a global view” and less likely to blame the Government for the current troubles.


Liberal Party members have every right to feel vindicated

By Piers Akerman

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd's appointment of ex-treasurer Peter Costello to an $87,000-a-year job with the Future Fund is a huge endorsement of his former opponent's economic track record. The funny thing is, it's the same track record that Rudd and his ALP comrades have spent the past 13 years deriding.

Costello is unlikely to bend his tried-and-proven economic philosophy to accommodate Rudd's bizarre flights of fiscal fancy during his term on the Future Fund, which means that a future clash over economic theory is not unlikely.

There will be those on the Liberal side, also, who believe Costello has accepted the Rudd shilling far too soon and too eagerly, giving the Rudd Government a green card and the Future Fund a sanctuary from Opposition attack.

Rudd claims that he wants to "harvest" the best talent the nation has to offer, regardless of political background, but his appointments reflect a greater desire to make appointments which will embarrass the Opposition and defuse their attacks.

The first of Rudd's Opposition opponents to be given a significant office last year was Bruce Baird, a notorious soft-liner on refugee policy. The former Liberal member for the southern Sydney seat of Cook was appointed chairman of the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Committee, one of Labor's most influential committees on immigration issues. Baird, of course, had been one of the harshest critics of his party's successful refugee policies, along with West Australian MP Judi Moylan and Victorian Petro Georgiou.

Now Baird is spruiking the Labor line that the ALP's softening of policy in August last year has nothing whatsoever to do with the current surge in boat arrivals. This position is demolished by Immigration Department statistics, which show the number of asylum seekers using people smugglers increased immediately after Labor watered down the Howard government's tough stance on illegal boat arrivals.

Next, former Nationals leader Tim Fischer was appointed Australia's first resident ambassador to the Holy See. The universally liked Fischer heads a new diplomatic mission within the Vatican City, costing taxpayers more than $1 million a year. Fischer is furthering the Rudd Government's vainglorious campaign for an appointment to the UN Security Council in the 2013-2014 session.

Rudd's recent appointment of former Howard defence minister and former Opposition leader Brendan Nelson to the European Union should be viewed as similar to those other placements. While Nelson is to be commended for taking the poisoned chalice of Liberal leadership in the aftermath of the party's 2007 election loss, his acceptance of the Labor Government's appointment blunts Opposition attacks on Rudd's fawning approach to the EU. At this time, with Euro-bureaucrats planning to install a new world government under the guise of the Copenhagen summit on global warming, precise and thorough criticism is crucial. Not that the Opposition leadership has shown inclination to illuminate the electorate on the EU's plans.

The tactic of keeping one's friends close, and one's enemies closer is an old one but Labor has made the play an art form. While Baird, Fischer and Nelson were not seen as major impediments to Labor during the ALP's years in opposition, Costello was without doubt the Liberal Party's most effective parliamentary weapon.

Rudd may embrace him now as a tool to use against the Liberals but there are many in Labor's ranks who will not forget and forgive so easily. Among them are such staunch attack dogs as the current Defence Minister John Faulkner, long renowned for his ability to carry on the fight against former opponents. Even former Labor prime minister Paul Keating, another good hater from the ALP's ranks, said at the weekend: "The Prime Minister's goodie-two-shoes approach of appointing former opponents to the Labor Party to important public jobs is no substitute for thoughtful and mature reflection as to the public requirements of those jobs. It is also disloyal to those members of the Labor caucus in the Keating government and Labor members of the Beazley, Crean and Latham oppositions who stood and fought Costello."

Proof, if necessary, that it is difficult to spend a dozen years in opposition screaming invective across the Chamber and then be expected to cosy-up to the Liberal's best performer and Labor's greatest tormenter.

Rudd may think it is smart to have Keating criticising him over this appointment from one corner and Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull criticising him from another - though in fact Turnbull has welcomed the appointment - but he cannot dodge the claim that he is a monstrous hypocrite. In embracing Costello, he has embraced the Howard government's economic reforms, including the introduction of the GST, which he railed against. The Opposition has every right to feel vindicated.


Extraordinary stupidity

And despite the evidence staring them in the face, they are not admitting any error. Mother to sue for second-degree sunburn after hot day at childcare centre. Sunburn like that could well lead to skin cancer in later life. The child obviously had very fair skin but there is plenty of that about in Australia (principally from our extensive Irish heritage) and failing to allow for it is just thick

A YOUNG Queensland mum is planning legal action after her toddler suffered second-degree burns from being exposed to a day of blazing sunshine at her local childcare centre. Sixteen-month-old Ozzy Buisson sustained badly sunburnt arms which burst into deep, weeping blisters the morning after his stay at the Jumping Beans Children's Community Child Care in Kingaroy just over a week ago.

His mother, Michelle Murton said she was horrified to find the fair-skinned Ozzy "as red as a beetroot" when she picked him up about 4pm on Friday, October 23, The Courier-Mail reports. "I've never seen sunburn like it before," she said yesterday as a still red-armed Ozzy played. "He was so red it was almost purple. For him to be burnt this bad, he must have been outside in the sun most of the day."

Ms Murton said she questioned Ozzy's centre group leader and the woman replied that the toddler had been playing in water and his sunscreen must have washed off.

She was told centre staff had applied sunscreen in the morning and when they noticed Ozzy's skin looked red after his noon nap, they reapplied cream but still let him play outside.

Ms Murton said she bought after-sun gel for Ozzy's arms that night but when huge blisters appeared the next day she rushed him to the Kingaroy Hospital emergency ward where he was treated with an antibacterial burns cream and strong painkillers. "Everyone at the hospital was amazed at his burns," she said. "They all came to look at him."

Ms Murton said it was clear the centre's sun safety policies needed an overhaul and she had contacted solicitors about instigating legal action for her son's pain and suffering. Ozzy was immediately withdrawn from the centre. "I just want them to recognise that they are responsible instead of denying they did anything wrong," she said.

Jumping Beans owner and manager Bevan Pearson said all sun safety procedures had been followed on the day, which had been a special playground fun day to farewell two of the centre's long-term youngsters as well as a business partner. He said the top temperature on the day was 29C and all children had sunscreen applied, wore hats and spent their rest and meal times in the shade.

Mr Pearson said the centre usually suggested to parents that children also wear long-sleeve shirts. "All the children played in the water and of 39 children on the day he (Ozzy) was the only one who had sunburn," he said. Mr Pearson said while he was "sympathetic and apologetic" over the incident he was not admitting any liability.


QANTAS near-disaster again

Qantas pilots forgot to lower wheels. Qantas is going to run out of luck soon

QANTAS has stood down two pilots after a Boeing 767 landing in Sydney came within 700ft of the ground before the flight crew realised they had not lowered the plane's undercarriage. The airline and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau have launched investigations into the October 26 incident. The pilots are due to be interviewed by authorities on Friday.

The crew on the Melbourne-Sydney CityFlyer service apparently recognised the problem and had started go-around procedures when they received a "gear too low" aural warning from the aircraft's enhanced ground proximity warning system.

It is understood investigators are looking at possible human error and a communication breakdown between the first officer and captain about who was lowering the landing gear.

According to a former Boeing 767 pilot, a crew on an instrument approach would normally start lowering the undercarriage when the plane was between 2000ft and 1500ft in order to ensure that it met requirements that the aircraft was stable and configured to land at 1000ft. In visual conditions, the aircraft needed to be stable by 500ft, but lowering the gear at 700ft or even at 1000ft was still far too late, the pilot said. Landing gear problems or gear-up situations were involved in 15 per cent of airline hull-loss accidents last year, according to an analysis by the International Air Transport Association.

But Qantas said yesterday that a crew failing to lower the undercarriage was extremely rare and it was taking the incident seriously. "The flight crew knew all required procedures but there was a brief communications breakdown," a spokeswoman said. "They responded quickly to the situation and instigated a go-around. The cockpit alert coincided with their actions. There was no flight safety issue. "The incident was reported to the ATSB and the pilots were stood down. We are supporting the ATSB's investigation and our own investigations will determine what further action might be warranted."


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