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Tim, Meet Wayne

By Simon Grose

Frustrated climate change activist Tim Flannery could benefit from the counsel of a rugby league mentor.

The legendary rugby coach of the Brisbane Broncos, Wayne Bennett, has a terse line for petulant young men in his charge who punch a wall when they are dropped from the team.

“Don’t get bitter, get better,” old Wayne says drily, perhaps with a pat on the shoulder and a manly dart of eye contact. Five words to convey tough love and a path to redemption.

Climate Council supremo Tim Flannery could do worse than take a session with Coach Wayne.

A former Australian of the Year, our Tim went right off when the University of WA got $4 million over 4 years from the Department of Education & Training to fund a branch of Bjorn Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Centre.

This was “an insult to the Australian scientific community,” the Climate Council said online, miffed that its former funding of $1.5 million per year as the Climate Commission was withdrawn and now “the money has become available to import a politically-motivated think tank to work in the same space”. Even worse, “Mr Lomborg’s views have no credibility in the scientific community… and he still believes we shouldn’t take any steps to mitigate climate change”.

Telling blows, but it’s a shame they were aimed at a straw Bjorn. First, the new centre’s focus is on economic development, not climate change. UWA said it will have three main projects: global development goals for the United Nations post-2015 agenda, proposing policies to keep Australia prosperous, and setting global priorities for development aid to produce the most good for dollars spent.

Climate change is a factor to consider in all three – as in pretty much everything concerned with future planning – but it’s one of many.

Second, the Copenhagen Centre makes an emphatic statement on its website: “Global warming is real; it is caused by man-made CO2 emissions, and we need to do something about it. But we don’t need action that makes us feel good. We need action that actually does good.”

It’s disappointing that one of Australia’s most prominent public scientists has allowed his standards to fall so low. Attacking individuals rather than ideas is pretty slack, but even slacker is attacking ideas that aren’t on the table. The Climate Council’s outburst also implicitly criticises UWA for harbouring this monster – surely it has a place in Australia’s “scientific community”.

Was this just another example of the declining integrity of public debate in general – and climate policy debate in particular? Maybe so. It’s perhaps also a sign that the Climate Council should fold its tent, or at least join another caravan.

The Climate Institute is Australia’s leading advocacy organisation for the dominant carbon-price paradigms of emission reduction policy and methodology. It is a much more hard-headed and strategically effective player than the Climate Council. Combining the two organisations would be a better way to get the most value from their resources.

Simon Grose is Editor of Canberra IQ (canberraiq.com.au)