As unlikely as it may seem, Donald Trump and Malcolm Turnbull have much in common. Both serve similar institutional forces and employ similar tactics. Donald Trump may be in a higher league of irrational demagoguery, but this is really a matter of degree. When Malcolm (and Josh Freudenberg) used prime time television to link (however tenuously) catastrophic weather in South Australia to the size of the relatively successful renewable energy program in that state, they crossed a line separating reasonable political rhetoric from irrational brinksmanship (ABC, 7. 30 Report, 29 September, 2016). The following day Barnaby Joyce and Nick Xenephon had also joined the club (SMH, 30 September, p.1).
It should be crystal clear that these men, like Trump, are opportunists willing to whip up irrational fear and resentment in media audiences. In essence, that is the line that more than ever needs to be defended. If a catastrophic weather event can be used as an opportunity to rail against a new industry most likely to achieve something substantive in mitigating global warming (and associated climate change) we all need to worry about a political climate in which climate science and common sense go out the window. It hardly needs pointing out that even if all of South Australia’s energy were being generated by coal fired power stations, the destruction of energy transmission infrastructure would have still delivered a state-wide blackout (See Climate Council, ‘Fact Sheet: South Australian Storms & Power Outages’, 29.09.2016 at <firstname.lastname@example.org>). But it probably does need pointing out that if interstate energy markets are affected by renewably generated electricity coming on line, government intervention is called for. The current energy market will not voluntarily abandon coal fired generators and their associated workforces without a fight. Governments need to force the issue. ‘Free markets’ will be too slow to make rational economic adjustments in the light of climate science and ‘new’ technologies.
In fairness to other politicians, it should be said that modern politics is fundamentally about persuasion through media campaigns and the changing of public opinion. Whether arguments are rational and science based has never been the most important concern. It’s all about gaining seats in parliaments, winning elections, and for men like Trump and Turnbull, becoming ‘leaders’. Nonetheless the issue of global climate change requires more of our politicians. They all now need to lead and make brave decisions, and particularly so the leaders. Which takes us back to Trump and Turnbull and the exploitation of fear and doubt.