Part 1 – Covid and Climate Change
Most Australians, I fear, are reluctant to take part in the public debate on many important issues. This is because we suffer from political correctness, cancel culture and even infantilisation by the governments we have elected supposedly to represent us.
As a result of these various subterfuges we are avoiding dealing objectively with some of the most important issues that confront us. If we are ever to restore our democracy to something that really reflects the thoughts and addresses the needs of its citizens, then it is time we spoke up fearlessly and without undue constraint.
Let me explore with you a number of significant areas of the public debate where we are often being misled and unreasonably suppressed from expressing sensible but politically incorrect opinions.
In this essay I intend to relate some of my concerns about the debate about COVID and then climate change. (In my next essay I will try to address my concerns about racism and gender politics.)
Let us begin with Australia’s COVID response.
It seems to me that neither the Federal Government nor any of the states have any clue about how to manage a path to post-COVID normality. If you were to judge by the current responses of state governments there seems no likelihood of Australia ever reopening again! Whenever a few COVID cases are detected the first response is a lockdown. The only weapon in the anti-COVID armoury of our state governments is the lockdown (perhaps more appropriately the lock-up.)
(Since I began writing this, NSW has gone into major lockdown. NSW has been the state most reluctant to shut down its populace and as a result has sustained a reasonable level of economic activity. Victoria and Queensland have both imposed lockdowns of lesser dimensions.)
COVID, unfortunately, is here to stay. No matter how good our lockdowns, our tracing and quarantining work, COVID will always be present in our communities. Surely, once all citizens have had the opportunity to be vaccinated, all restrictions should be eased.
Now when that day arrives and in Scott Morrison’s words we emerge from “under the doona” there will be inevitable COVID deaths. That is unfortunate but it is just one of the risks informed citizens must take. We know when we venture out on the roads there is always the possibility of being killed (probably a greater probability than dying from COVID) but we don’t shut down our roads.
Statistics show that vaccinated people are unlikely to get very sick from contracting COVID and exceedingly unlikely to die. Surveys are telling us that most people grossly overestimate their chances of contracting COVID, their chances of dying as a result and the likely side effects of being vaccinated. The fear emanating from these misconceptions is preventing us from rationally addressing the pandemic and is manipulated by state premiers to provide an excuse for curtailing our freedoms.
A substantial factor militating against a high uptake of vaccinations is the fear campaign about blood clotting associated with using the AstraZeneca vaccine. Whilst the risk of using AstraZeneca is miniscule people are still avoiding it.
As well social media is full of misinformation which hasn’t help citizens make informed decisions.
One of the Government’s major failings during the pandemic has been a poor communications plan to properly inform the public on the risks involved. In a democratic society citizens should be able to make informed choices and not have their lives mandated by risk-averse public health officials.
And whilst our governments conveniently use the so-called very conservative “health advice” provided by these unelected doomsayers as an excuse to base their responses on, many other important aspects of our society are being neglected, not the least of which is our economic, mental and social welfare and the education of our children.
So it is time for the government to level with us. Unless we are forever to be COVID prisoners we need to vaccinate all those who wish to be vaccinated and then open up. There will be consequent COVID deaths but somehow our governments are exaggerating the importance of such deaths turning a blind eye to all the other deaths that a society must confront every day. Why on the public health balance does a COVID death have more weight than a death from cancer resulting from COVID restrictions causing a late diagnosis or a death from suicide resulting from the despair of lockdown?
Governments, via their public health officials, have instilled an undue fear in the populace which has enabled them to impose draconian restrictions on our freedoms that would otherwise not be tolerated. Whilst I don’t want to underplay the seriousness of COVID, for most countries, even allowing for the unfortunate deaths from COVID, overall mortality rates are little different from historical trends.
How long the general public will be prepared to continue to tolerate these severe imposts on their freedoms is difficult to know. Even as I write there are major protests occurring in Sydney and Melbourne indicating the patience of the populace is wearing thin. Our governments are taking great umbrage at these demonstrations and are forcefully trying to shut them down. Yet twelve months ago the same governments turned a blind eye to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations. BLM is a Marxist/anarchist movement that is anti-democracy and anti-capitalism. Those demonstrating against lockdowns, whilst probably inadvised with respect to their impacts on public health are at least advocating individual freedom which has been the capstone of our modern, liberal democracy. These protestors are rebelling against the fear propagated by government. The BLM protests were largely anti-democracy protests.
In my own case, I am, because of my age, one of the vulnerable. But living in regional Queensland in the last twelve months we have had no COVID cases at all. Yet when they get a few cases in Brisbane we have been required to lock down as well, even though there is probably not a COVID case within 800km of us. Surprisingly there is almost 100% compliance even though the restrictions are illogical. I can’t believe that the local population will continue to be so compliant if the lockdowns drag on for too much longer.
We are inevitably faced with the awkward dichotomy of trading off freedom for safety. One of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin declared that:
Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither Liberty nor safety.
Unfortunately our governments are so obsessed with safety that they believe that any amount of Liberty might be jettisoned to preserve the safety of our citizens.
Tellingly Sociologist and author, Frank Furedi writes:
In most instances it is unlikely that public figures perceive themselves as the practitioners of the black arts of the politics of fear. They have come to adopt the perspective of fear without very much thought. Their experience has taught them that drawing on people’s insecurity is a far more effective way of winning support than appealing to their confidence in the future.
This is reflected in the electoral support that our most reactionary premiers have received for using draconian measures to suppress the virus.
So, my plea to governments is to level with us. Treat us like adults. Give us reliable information. Let us make our informed choices and then get out of the way. The celebrated female scientist Marie Curie said:
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
It would help us understand more if our governments were more forthright in giving us factual information rather than fanning our fears.
[As I complete this essay the Prime Minister has added a few more details to the roadmap out of COVID lockdowns which is a welcome development. Whether the premiers will commit to such a plan is yet to be seen. But on a few fronts Morrison’s plan is unduly optimistic. As well it relies on modelling and to date modelling has been grossly exaggerating the likelihood of people catching COVID and dying. That was how the fear campaign began. At the onset of the virus the modellers were predicting that we would be getting hundreds of thousands of COVID cases clogging up our hospitals and on course that never eventuated. But I would say it is a positive move to start focussing more on vaccinations rather than case numbers. The latter always implied that governments thought zero case numbers was a legitimate target when it clearly is not.]
Unfortunately the COVID situation is not the only one where exaggerated fear is being used to manipulate public opinion. Well before COVID reared its ugly head, climate change activists were using the same tactics.
Frank Furedi (quoted above) has written insightfully about the politics of fear. When commenting on his book Culture of Fear he stated:
My arguments about the ascendency of the culture of fear emphasized the proliferation of alarmist institutional reactions to an expanding range of human experiences. It pointed to the emergence of a sensibility that tended to treat threats to society as existential in nature and that used a language of catastrophe to describe risks that were susceptible to policy and technical solutions – eg the ‘Millenium Bug” or the bird flu virus. The argument suggested that these developments fostered a disposition to fear the worst, overreact and panic.
The problem we face in developing appropriate policies in these fraught times is that our population generally is not able to properly assess risk.
For example many parents fear their children might be kidnapped. This is indeed a low probability event and they would be better advised to spend more effort in protecting their children from road traffic. Public fears about the risk posed by nuclear power stations bear little relationship to the actual dangers posed and unfortunately have mitigated against our efforts to reduce carbon emissions from power generation. After the terrorist attacks in the USA in 2001, people were afraid to fly. This resulted in a disproportionate increase in road deaths. This again demonstrated the general public’s inability to assess risk.
In his book Overblown, American political scientist John Mueller notes that:
Fewer people have been killed in America from terrorism than have drowned in toilets or died from bee stings.
Evidence shows then that the general public seem ill-equipped to make rational decisions about the risks associated with various threats to public well-being. This is undoubtedly true about their response to COVID and to global warming.(One of the factors causing people to be reluctant to get vaccinated against COVID has been the irrational fear of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of a miniscule risk of blood-clotting.)
And all of this confected fear emerges at a time when by most accounts we are living more securely than in any time in history.
Despite this, the climate alarmists have been remarkably successful in their fear campaign. Unfortunately they have managed to convince a goodly number of young people that climate change poses an imminent existential threat. Many of them are convinced that human life on earth is doomed within a decade or so. That is a huge burden to place on gullible, vulnerable children. Indeed it might be argued that this is a cynical case of child exploitation.
Let us not forget that history shows human beings have survived major temperature variations in the past. In fact previously warm periods correlate with peaks of human progress. In cold times death, depopulation, plagues, war and starvation are much more dominant. And even today many more people die from the effects of cold than die from the effects of heat. As well, modern technology provides today’s generation with a hugely enhanced capacity for adaptation to temperature variations than previous generations which gives us confidence that we have the capacity to deal with global warming. I have argued for some time that instead of pursuing fruitless mitigation strategies we would be better off to concentrate more on adaptation strategies.
But this exaggerated fear of climate change is driving nations to unduly allocate more resources to reducing carbon emissions at the expense of other initiatives that might render more benefits to humankind.
Human beings are meaning makers. As Austrian psychiatrist and concentration camp survivor, Viktor Frankl related in his important book Man’s Search for Meaning, it is an inherent characteristic of human beings to try to find meaning in their lives. Concomitant with that is that we seek to find meaning in the significant events that occur to them. But as we saw from Marie Curie’s quote above, what we don’t understand we tend to fear. And often to reduce that fear we resort to dubious explanations of phenomena we don’t understand.
In the past, to explain catastrophic natural phenomena (such as plagues, comets earthquakes, floods and so on) humankind manufactured supernatural explanations.
In medieval times unusual climate events were seen as the handiwork of wicked demonic forces. During the fourteenth century when temperatures in Europe plummeted due to the Little Ice Age the climatic disaster was often attributed to witchcraft.
Father Friedrich Spee, a Jesuit critic of witch hunting is said to have remarked:
God and nature no longer do anything; witches, everything!
A late winter in the district of Treves in France in the fifteenth century, for example, led to over a hundred people being burned at the stake.
[As late as 1847 during the Irish potato famine, Charles Trevelyan, the assistant secretary to the Treasurer in the British parliament wrote:
It is hard upon the poor people that they should be deprived of knowing that they are suffering from an affliction of God’s providence.
He went on to say that God had ordained the famine to teach the Irish a lesson and that such a calamity should not:
…..be too much mitigated. The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.]
In today’s (hopefully) more enlightened world, we have largely put aside such supernatural explanations for our catastrophes. But I suspect that the climate catastrophists still rely on demonic forces as an explanation for the world’s travails. Reading between the lines, it would seem that the chief such demonic force they see is capitalism.
The more radical environmentalists seem to have scant concern for the welfare of human beings, economic prosperity or industrial development. Typical of such ideological pursuits is the “Great Reset” which emanated from the World Economic Forum (WEF) which promotes the redistribution of wealth and argues against the ownership of private property.
Reports also suggest that the recent attempt by UNESCO to rate the Great Barrier Reef as endangered had little to do with saving the reef and more to do with putting political pressure on Australia to toe the line regarding committing to the dubious target of zero net emissions by 2050 by the more “woke” European states.
Moreover, despite the fact that climate (and as a result temperature) has varied dramatically over earth’s history, the radical environmentalists would like to portray a stable and ideal world which has only been upset by the sinful CO2 emissions of the late industrial era.
Yet, as Professor Ian Plimer relates:
There have been six major ice ages all of which had multiple glaciations when the ice expanded and multiple interglacials when the ice contracted. All these ice ages were initiated when the atmospheric carbon dioxide was higher than now and during the most intense ice age, the atmospheric carbon dioxide was at least hundreds of times higher than at present.
Now if you do not buy into the conventional wisdom of the climate warriors you are treated as best as a pariah and worst as a Luddite and an imbecile. Even the BBC’s chief environmental correspondent, Justin Rowlatt, has expressed his concern that the word ‘sceptic’ was in danger of becoming a term of abuse, – whereas, in fact, scepticism is the foundation of good science and should be encouraged and praised. Many of science’s major breakthroughs occurred because sceptics challenged the conventional wisdom.
The development of science relies on an open ended orientation towards experimentation and the testing of ideas. Science is an inherently sceptical enterprise and its findings are provisional and open to reinterpretation. Thus it is foolish to claim as the climate warriors are wont to do that “the science is settled”.
As William W Hogan, Professor of Global Energy at Harvard Kennedy School has written:
The science of climate is neither settled nor sufficient to dictate policy.
This theme is elaborated on in Steven E Koonin’s recent book Unsettled. It is worth pointing out that Koonin is no right wing reactionary having been the Undersecretary for Science in the Department of Energy in the Obama administration.
One of the contentious aspects of climate change has been the reliance by the climate doomsayers on unreliable climate modelling. Over the last thirty years or so more than 100 such models have been developed. Pretty well all the models have overestimated the degree of global warming. Moreover, the models when run backwards have not given reasonable correlations with historical results.
As I write, press reports quote Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies admitting that models have overestimated temperature rises and suggesting that the models put too much emphasis on the effects of CO2 on the determination of global temperature.
Now you might wonder why rational scientists keep propagating the climate warming scare campaign. Science is largely government funded. Most governments, unfortunately, have bought into the climate scare campaign. Consequently research is tilted towards affirming the dangers of climate change. As a result, if you are a scientist, you are more likely to attract government funding if your work tends to confirm the conventional wisdom. And of course when you write your paper warning of the dire consequences of global warming it is peer reviewed by your mates who hold similar views.
Independent thinkers who refuse to toe the line are vilified. Professor Peter Ridd who has dared to question the validity of research that suggests the Great Barrier Reef is in imminent danger because of global warming is a case in point.
So there we have it.
With respect to COVID, the populace is being manipulated by spurious fear campaigns by over cautious governments who hide behind the skirts of health officials who have sought to curtail COVID cases at any cost with little concern about the economic and mental welfare of the population at large.
And then on the global warming front ,the catastrophists have succeeded in alarming the population and blackmailed the government to take extreme and costly measures to reduce CO2 emissions even though Australia is an insignificant contributor to global CO2 levels.
We seem to be at the mercy of those who can manipulate our irrational fears to further their ideological ends. Worryingly our population that has been successfully manipulated by fear by the COVID pandemic seems even more conditioned than it was to be further manipulated by global warming catastrophists. The proponents of the “Great Reset” are trying to make the most of this opportunity.
In my next essay I intend to do some plain talking about racism and gender politics.