USA’s right wing dictated Abbott’s climate denialist policies

How Rupert Murdoch created the world’s newest climate change villain, Salon  Australia was once a leader on climate action. Thanks to American conservative powerhouses, that’s no longer true  21 June 14,  Australia, the sunburned country, is uniquely vulnerable to the dangers and risks of global warming. Whether it is the severe effects of flooding, unseasonal heat waves, devastating bush fires or decade-long droughts, Australia’s people, economy and natural environment have all keenly felt the impact of extreme weather and climate change.

Australia’s national scientific organizations have been raising the alarm for more than a decade, and the previous government accepted that scientific consensus and enacted a cap-and-trade scheme in 2012. But after a divisive election last year — one that saw native-born Rupert Murdoch exercise his considerable influence in Australian media markets to disastrous effect — the country is now governed by a deeply unpopular Liberal-National government, crafted in the image of the most climate-denying elements of the Tea Party. And its position on climate change has significant impacts on global efforts to reduce carbon emissions: Australia is not only the chair of the G-20 group of nations, but also holds a place on the U.N. Security Council.

The rest of the world saw this ideology on full, embarrassing display with the recent visit by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to Canada and the United States. A week after President Obama’s introduction of substantial policy reforms to reduce carbon pollution, and China’s first-ever pledge to cap carbon emissions, the Australian prime minister stood next to his Canadian counterpart and scoffed at the idea of global warming, saying that climate change is “not the only or even the most important problem that the world faces” and that measures to reduce carbon emissions would “clobber” the economy.

All of this marks a shift for Australia, from constructive middle-power to fringe-dwelling rock-thrower and -blocker. Back at home, Tony Abbott is on course to make Australia the first nation in the world to abolish a legislated carbon price.

But how on earth did this happen?

The calm before the storm Tony Abbott was elected prime minister last September, after six years of rule by the progressive Labor Party, which had engineered Australia’s leap forward as a leader on global climate policy. Following its rise to ruling party in 2007, the first act of the new Labor government was to ratify the Kyoto protocol, after a decade of refusal by the former prime minister and close George Bush ally John Howard. Howard himself was defeated and ignominiously lost his own seat in parliament. Labor’s historic victory was later dubbed the world’s first “climate election.”……….

Unholy alliance: Murdoch, Norquist and Abbott…….[2010 Gillard Labor Government brought in  Clean Energy Future Act].……Behind the scenes, several key members of Abbott’s party including the now-Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, visited the United States to meet with conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, and conservative players in last year’s government shutdown debacle of 2013, including Matt Kibbe and Grover Norquist.

Gillard’s carbon pricing laws eventually came into effect in 2012, amid the biggest fear campaign ever seen in Australia. Rupert Murdoch-owned mastheads, controlling as much as 70 percent of the newspaper market, carried front-page stories attacking the laws.

U.S. climate-denier talking points became commonplace in the Australian media. Gina Rinehart, whose wealth is significantly derived from coal mining, aggressively bought up shares in Australia’s only major non-Murdoch-owned media company, Fairfax. She is now its largest shareholder. Australia’s only national daily newspaper, the Murdoch-owned Australian, promoted “misleading” stories giving credence to climate denialist views, outnumbering those accepting climate science by 10-to-1, according to a report in the Quarterly Essay.

A senior Liberal-National senator who played a major role in Abbott’s rise to the party leadership was sponsored to attend a Heartland Institute conference in 2013; that same senator is also a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that has opposed climate action in the past. Another senior backer of Abbott and former Howard government minister, Nick Minchin, who has since retired, is an avowed climate skeptic and claims recent warming is due to a “natural cycle”…….

The age of Abbott………

While Prime Minister Abbott is doing all he can to stymie action on global warming in Australia, his views also have an international impact.

Australia has a seat on the United Nations Security Council, and holds the chair of the G-20 group of nations. At the UNFCCC, Australia has joined the shrinking group of fossil fuel-addicted nations like Canada and is now seen as “anti-climate” at multilateral negotiations………

The same ideological and climate-denying foes in Congress who are blocking a path forward for Obama have secured a foothold in Australia. Abbott’s actions no doubt give credibility to the climate skepticism and stalling tactics of denialist Republicans.

But despite the scare campaign and media cheer squad against climate change and the carbon price, Australian public opinion is swinging back in favor of action.

Opinion polls show that not only is Tony Abbott one of the least popular prime ministers in 40 years, but also that Australians are again increasingly concerned with global warming.

This change in public opinion coincides with unprecedented heat waves, unseasonal bush fires and threats to the Great Barrier Reef. This May saw a record-matching hot streak in a normally cool month, leading to Twitter wits quipping that “Winter is not coming” to Australia.

The carbon price repeal has already been blocked in the senate. A new senate will sit in July. Anything could happen.


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