Tag Archives: ACT New Zealand

Big money behind local climate change deniers?

Last week I commented on the climate change denial machine in New Zealand. A few days later the NZ Herald published some relevant information – the sources and amounts of money going to local political parties from major donors (see Act line-up attracts Gibbs’ money).

Here’s the information from the article for large donations since 2009

National: $530,000

Donors: Susan Chou ($300,000), Todd Corporation ($50,000), Graeme Douglas ($25,000), Team McMillan ($50,000), Antoines Restaurant ($105,000).

Act: $312,855

Donors: Alan Gibbs ($110,000), John Boscawen ($52,335), Christopher and Banks Private Equity (John Banks’ company) ($50,000), Southland businessman Louis Crimp ($100,520).

Labour: $100,500

Donors: Todd Corporation ($50,000), Mike Smith ($25,000) and Meatworkers’ Union ($25,500).

Green Party:  $21,000

Donor: Dr Stuart Bramhall.

(Tally is of donations of more than $20,000 until January 1, 2011, and more than $30,000 since then.)

OK – we expect the National Party to be the front-runner. But the ACT Party in second place? With three times the large donations than received by the Labour Party?

Now this is a party which gets incredibly low poll support (usually within the margin of error).

It recently had a leadership coup with a unique twist – the new leaders were not even members of the ACT party before their coup!

They have relied on winning the electorate of Epsom to piggyback a small number of their members into parliament on this list. Now the polls suggest this might not happen this year. Despite their candidate being an ex-mayor of Auckland.

Yet a “filthy capitalist” like Alan Gibbs (who has an murky record in New Zealand) can bankroll them. Of course Gibbs is also a backer of the The NZ Centre for Political Research – a local conservative think tank which appears to pull the strings of the Act Party and the New Zealand climate change denier astroturf organisations.

The ACT Party has a disgusting record on  climate change. they have continually attacked the science and the scientists.

But considering the close relationship between the ACT Party, the NZ Centre for Political Research and the climate change denial groups one can’t help drawing some conclusions.

Is the financial backing of the ACT party (not much more than an astroturf organisation itself) indicative of the sort of financial backing going to the climate change denial groups like the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition and the NZ Climate Conversation Group?

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The climate change denial machine

Here’s an interesting diagram I found at Climate Progress (see Organized Climate Change Denial “Played a Crucial Role in Blocking Domestic Legislation,” Top Scholars Conclude). It’s taken from the book  chapter,Organized Climate Change Denial,” by Riley E. Dunlap and Aaron M. McCright in The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society.

This describes the situation in the USA where Joe Romm points out:

“the fact is that what the deniers have accomplished in this country is unique in the world, going far beyond the spread of disinformation.  They have allowed fossil fuel interests to “capture” almost an entire political party — at least these in national office (see National Journal:  “The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones”).”

The New Zealand denial machine

OK. things are nowhere as bad in New Zealand. But I still think a similar diagram applies here – providing we include international connections.

We have some local corporations and financial interests supporting climate change denial, but they themselves have international inks. And many of the fossil fuel interests in the US have connections down under.

At the next level we even have our own conservative think tank – The NZ Centre for Political Research. This has important links with local big business, overseas business and conservative think tanks, local politicians and news media. Links with the NZ ACT Party are clear – and one can’t help thinking that this was the organisation pulling the strings behind the recent leadership coup in that party. Especially as the plotters were not even members of the party!

Links with astroturf climate denier and contrarian organisations like the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition and the NZ Climate Conversation Group are also clear. The Centre for Political research also has a forum which displays plenty of evidence of links with some way-out conspiracy theory organisations and individuals.

These links with media, politicians, astroturf organisations., blogs and internet forums form the local denier echo chamber. Individuals involved in the echo chamber also spread their influence more widely, for example, to conservative Christian and political blogs, by their cut and past activity.  Follow one of these blogs and you get the impression of a few very active individuals passing on links to denier sources, and disparaging comments about science and scientists. They rely very much on the “authority by hyperlink” process.

The authors of the chapter from which this diagram is taken say in their conclusion:

“We have argued that because of the perceived threat posed by climate change to their interests, actors in the denial machine have strived to undermine scientific evidence documenting its reality and seriousness.  Over the past two decades they have engaged in an escalating assault on climate science and scientists, and in recent years on core scientific practices, institutions and knowledge.  Their success in these efforts not only threatens our capacity to understand and monitor human-induced ecological disruptions from the local to global levels (Hanson 2010), but it also weakens an essential component of societal reflexivity when the need for the latter is greater than ever.”

Again, this denial machine has far less influence in New Zealand than in the USA. But I think, if we remember the activity of the local components (as for example their attacks on our NIWA scientists), this conclusion does describe the local denial machine as well.

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Religious theology of secularism

There has been a debate among local bloggers about the nature of secularism and the problem of religious privilege in a secular society. These sort of “god debates” generally produce more heat than light. However, it is worth actually considering elements of some the arguments being used. And how meanings have been manipulated to achieve a desired result.

I have listed a few of the arguments here.

What does “secular” mean?

I discussed this in Secular democracy and its critics. Here I favoured the meaning that is “Not at all opposed to religion, or denying a religious participation. It just describes procedures which cannot be appropriately treated as “sacred” (whatever that means).”

This certainly describes the secular arrangements we have in New Zealand – although Professor Paul Morris (Director of The Religious Studies Programme at Victoria University of Wellington), for example, acknowledges that our society is not completely secular in that it does tend to favour one religion – Christianity.

But even this simple definition gets distorted in ideologically motivated debates. Take how Madeleine Flannagan at MandM treats the document The Tolerant Secular State,”* prepared by the NZ Association of Humanists and Rationalists (NZARH), (see The New Zealand Association of Rationalist Humanists and the Privileging of Secularism). She takes the first sentence: “The NZARH strongly believes that government should be secular; that is dealing with the issues of this world rather than following a religious agenda” – then manipulates it!

She says:

“They start by defining secular in the first of these senses, in terms of “dealing with the issues of this world.” The switch to the second definition occurs immediately in the claim that a secular state must not follow a “religious agenda.” From what the NZARH subsequently argues it is clear that this second sense is what it really has in mind as much of what it says simply does not follow from the first sense.” (My bold).

See what she does? Takes a perfectly standard and proper definition of “secular” and converts the inclusive concept  that people of all religions and beliefs can come together to deal with the issues of the real world (not possible if the state has a religious or anti-religious agenda). Now comes the switch – she converts a simple inclusive approach to an exclusive anti-religion one.

She, not NZAHR, is doing the switching.

Her introduced words in bold, “must not follow,” creates an atmosphere of compulsion, of privileging a non-religious approach. A common trick of dishonest advertisers and politicians.

So now she can say “the second sense is what it [NZAHR] really has in mind as much of what it says simply does not follow from the first sense.” NZAHR’s second sentence: “Our law should not give one set of beliefs privilege over another and the state should treat religious organisations the same as any other organisation” then becomes sinister – according to her. Rather than describing an inclusive, democratic arrangement she claims it describes a “privileging of secularism” – and by that she means privileging anti-religion!

Secularism a “viewpoint” fallacy?

Here comes another switch in the meaning of “secularism:”

“So let us get this straight. Secularism is a type of viewpoint that 1) the NZARH seeks to privilege over religion.” (Again my bold).

She wishes to replace the meaning of “secularism” as an inclusive, over-all arrangement neutral to religion and anti-religion by a meaning which it implies it is actually a non-representative ideology!

It’s like saying democracy is  simply a political ideology – advocates of democracy seek to privilege their viewpoint over the ACT Party! (whereas, of course, our democratic political arrangements allow the ACT Party to work alongside all other parties. It’s just that our democracy does not have an ACT, National, Labour, or any other political party agenda).

Actually, Madeleine almost concedes her point – which illustrates she knows what she is doing:

“Of course, if one assumes from the outset that secularism is not a specific view and is somehow some kind of neutral position that everyone can subscribe to then the statements read together might make sense but that is an erroneous assumption.”

So she labels any correct reading of the statement “erroneous.”

These little switching tricks have a purpose. She wishes to protect religious privilege – things like tax exemption for supernatural beliefs (see Avoiding tax – supernaturally). She sees this privilege threatened by secular democracy. Therefore she, quite naturally, wishes to discredit secularism. This switching of meaning also helps to divert attention away from the real inequalities – those areas of society where religion, and especially Christianity, maintains a privilege over other beliefs (in conflict with our human rights legislation).

Some ridiculous results

Madeleine disagrees with my description of accountancy as a secular activity (see Secular democracy and its critics).

“It is not secular. When a Christian does accounts he invokes God in the sense that his math is correct and his tallying of the books is honest. We do not turn God off and on when we do these things. You do not understand Christianity if you think this. I know Christians who pray through such activities and praise God when the numbers add up.”

” Therefore, by adopting a secular stance the State is taking a viewpoint that excludes Christianity (and other religions that hold to a similar stance).”

Yes it’s a strange old world! I have a picture of an old school with pupils being forced to read their books. They are surrounded by nuns who hit them with a ruler at any sign they are not praying or “invoking god” while doing their sums. Perhaps Madeleine could comment on whether these clergy in the Boston Archdiocese were praying and invoking their god in their activities? After all “We do not turn God off and on when we do these things. “

But what an insult, she seems to think that when I do accountancy my maths will be incorrect and my tallying dishonest because her god has no place in my work!

So Madeleine rejects educating our children in accountancy, mathematics, science, history, social studies and anything connected with the real world – unless its accompanied by prayer and invoking of her god. She rejects secular education.

To be consistent she should also reject anything that education has produced. Cars, banks, culture, medicine, etc., etc.

It’s an approach that very few Christians would support – and I honestly suspect Madeleine doesn’t run her life this way. She has just got into this ridiculous situation because of the way she has switched meanings to justify her argument about “privileging secularism.”

However this mental gymnastics has allowed Madeleine to define anything our democratic society does as “anti-religious” because it is secular. Therefore the current situation “privileges secularism” and she is disadvantaged because of her beliefs!

Perhaps while she is boycotting our secular schools, government departments, hospitals, research institutes, universities, etc., she could also boycott the NZ Charities Commission. Refuse to accept her tax exemption for supernatural belief (subsidised by the rest of us – see Examples of Charitable Purpose) because the institution is secular?

Yeah, right!

*It’s worth reading The Tolerant Secular State– it’s brief and gives a clear statement of the problem of religious privilege and the interference with human rights in New Zealand.

The climate change denial industry

Book review: The climate denial industry and climate science – a brief history of attacks on climate science, climate scientists and the IPCC by Cindy Baxter
Publisher: Greenpeace International (24 March, 2010)
Number of pages: 25
Publishers description: This report describes 20 years of organised attacks on climate science, scientists and the IPCC. It sets out some of the key moments in this campaign of denial started by the fossil fuel industry, and traces them to their sources.
Download Document

Anyone interested in the current “climategate” clamour will find the report interesting. It’s a must read. It’s brief (25 pages) and available as a free pdf download.

Dealing in Doubt has just been released by Greenpeace international. The report provides a brief history of attacks on climate science, climate scientists and the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It starts with the 1990s, describing the prehistory of the organisations involved (campaigning against the science on the dangers of tobacco) and the formation of the denial networks. And the history is described up until the last few weeks.

Even little old New Zealand gets a mention:

“The campaign has made it to New Zealand, where the Business Roundtable has regularly hosted a slew of denial tours, from Fred Singer in the early ‘90’s to Lord Lawson as recently as 2007134. The New Zealand government’s international stance on climate change is one of the weakest in the industrialised world.

The New Zealand and Australian deniers have joined forces with Canadian deniers to form the International Climate Science Coalition. The New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, formed in 2006, has given international fame to a small group of retired colonels and scientists, who managed to get the Heartland Institute to pay for them to attend conferences, and were supported, in part, by Heartland to go to the Bali climate negotiations in 2008.”

It’s heavily referenced for any reader who wants to dig deeper. The resources listed include useful blogs and some excellent books.

There are lots of details in this report but it still only skims over the surface of the climate denjial networks and their funding. I would love someone to dig deeper into the New Zealand situation. To reveal the links between the ACT Party, The Climate Science Coalition, the Climate Conversation Group , and the Centre for Political Research. These organisations certainly coordinated their activity recently in attacking New Zealand NIWA scientists. They will also be  linked to the usual overseas conservative organisations like The Heartland Insitute and conservative media like The American Thinker, and Quadrant.

But this report is a great start.

See also:
Dealing in doubt: 20 years of attacks on climate science
Greenpeace Says Climate Denialism a 20–Year Industry

Crescendo to Climategate Cacophony


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Freedom of information and responsibility

Prepare for another round of “climategate,” misinformation and distortion of climate change news. This time conservative news media, denier organisations and bloggers will be concentrating on the current inquiries taking place in the UK. These will be considering issues related to the illegal hacking and release of emails from the Climate Research Unit and the University of East Anglia. One of these is the Science and Technology Committee of the UK Parliament inquiry which hears oral submissions this week.

Already we have seen some selective and biased reporting of written submissions and I am sure this will continue. However, there are important issues at stake to do with freedom of information (FOI), harassment of scientists and the responsibility of those making freedom of information requests or using publicly available data. I hope the inquiries will deal with the underlying principles as well as making determinations on the specific cases considered.

Clearly many of the FOI requests made to the CRU were malicious. The UEA submissions says:

“In July 2009 UEA received an unprecedented, and frankly administratively overwhelming, deluge of FOIA requests related to CRU. These amounted to 61 requests out of a 2009 total of 107 related to CRU, compared to annual totals of 2 in 2008 and 4 in 2007 (University totals for those years were 204, 72 and 44 respectively).”

I wonder if the requesters were building up to something?

(Graphics thanks to Going on a Bear Hunt).

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