The Acorn has a lot to Answer for - Address to SAYLM

Address to the Young Liberal Movement of South Australia, Adelaide

Old children stories and fables (which regrettably are now out of fashion) have a great application to everyday life including politics.

‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ is a classic which reminds us of the foolishness of and severe embarrassment caused by unthinkingly following the crowd. It is a must read for the political correctness brigade.

Similarly, the story of Chicken Little. It is apt and instructive for some of today’s public policy debates.

Chicken Little’s’ life story is profound in its simplicity.

For those of you who don’t know the story of Chicken Little, it goes something like this.

One day while she is walking an acorn falls from a tree, and hits the top of her little head.

- My, oh, my, the sky is falling. I must run and tell the lion about it, - says Chicken Little and begins to run.

She runs and runs. By and by she meets the hen.

- Where are you going? - asks the hen.

- Oh, Henny Penny, the sky is falling and I am going to the lion to tell him about it.

- How do you know it? - asks Henny Penny.

- It hit me on the head, so I know it must be so, - says Chicken Little.

- Let me go with you! - says Henny Penny. - Run, run.

So the two run and run until they meet Ducky Lucky.

- The sky is falling, - says Henny Penny. - We are going to the lion to tell him about it.

- How do you know that? - asks Ducky Lucky.

- It hit Chicken Little on the head, - says Henny Penny.

- May I come with you? - asks Ducky Lucky.

- Come, - says Henny Penny.

So all three of them run on and on until they meet Foxey Loxey.

- Where are you going? - asks Foxey Loxey.

- The sky is falling and we are going to the lion to tell him about it, - says Ducky Lucky.

- Do you know where he lives? - asks the fox.

- I don't, - says Chicken Little.

- I don't, - says Henny Penny.

- I don't, - says Ducky Lucky.

- I do, - says Foxey Loxey. - Come with me and I can show you the way.

He walks on and on until he comes to his den.

- Come right in, - says Foxey Loxey.

They all go in, but they never, never come out again

People will draw their own moral lessons from this particular story. They are manifold.

First, don’t think that the first thing that comes into your mind is necessarily correct.

Secondly, don’t run with a crowd especially if you don’t know where it is going to lead you.

And thirdly be very suspicious of those that offer all the answers. It pays to check their credentials.

Back to today and what passes for public debate.

It does perturb me that there is an inclination, especially with the media to have this insatiable and very corrosive fascination for the apocalyptical which always requires extreme policy solutions.

A News of the World phone hacking sandal in the United Kingdom morphs into a need to licence newspapers in Australia. Go figure.

I well recall as a newly appointmented Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Defence being given the task of dealing with the Y2K problem being the acronym for the year 2000 problem or the Y2K bug.

It was thought, by highly paid experts, that computers wouldn’t be able to make the transition into the new millennium and therefore computer testing, recalibration and safety mechanisms needed to be installed.

All at great expense to the taxpayer and only after substantial and hefty consultancy fees had been paid.

As the clock was approaching midnight for the change to the new millennium, people were filling their baths with water in anticipation that the water supply might fail.

People stock piled food and yes, a poor Parliamentary Secretary for Defence had to remain by his mobile phone through midnight of that fateful year change. And in the lead up he had to address forums to alert our South-East Asian neighbours about the issues.

Would weaponry self destruct? Would missiles self launch? Was Armageddon just around the corner?

I am happy to report that none of those things happened and we lived happily ever after -

Unlike Chicken Little.

As it happened - not even an errant garden sprinkler went off.  Nothing.

But a whole lot of costs, worry and scamming. And if challenged today we are told it was all averted because of all the action that we took in relation to the Y2K bug.

This fear driven apocalyptic approach to public policy issues appears to have been perfected by the green movement with Chicken Little type hysteria that regrettably catches on.

For the purposes of tonight, I want to concentrate on aspects of the environmental movement.

Just the other day, I received a copy of the Climate Commission’s latest offering entitled ‘The Critical Decade; International Action on Climate Change’.

You will be pleased to know that it came with a covering letter from Chief Commissioner, Tim Flannery, all paid for by our taxes.

Reading the name Tim Flannery, reminded me of his ‘worrisome’ predictions about Australia facing a ‘drought paradigm’ which included that the Brisbane River would never flood again and that the Murray River would not run out to sea again.

It wasn’t that long ago that he made those brave and worrisome predictions. It was at a time when a Leader of the Opposition sought to gain Government by the bizarre, yet inexplicably celebrated statement that ‘climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time’.

You may recall that statement was made just five years ago, in 2007.

There aren’t many people still chanting that mantra today.

And of course since the ‘moral challenge of our time’ and ‘drought paradigm’ assertions the Brisbane River has flooded and massively so, and the Murray River is flowing out to sea.

Despite having made demonstrably false predictions and assertions, Tim Flannery is still receiving huge sums of our money as Chief Commissioner.

The most damning point is this – that whilst Australia covers a vast continent that suffers from regular ‘droughts and flooding rains’ as Dorothea McKellar tells us in her epic poem ‘My Country’ Australia for the first time in a long period of time, does not have a single drought declared zone.

That is a first for a very long time. Yet just a few years ago, we were led to believe by Mr Flannery and others that we were in a ‘drought paradigm’ from which we would never emerge.

Coincidently, I understand the current Government is lagging in the polls, especially in Western Sydney.  Professor Flannery has now through great scientific endeavour no doubt discovered that the latest hot-spot for human induced climate change in the whole continent of Australia is now going to be focussed on – you’ve guessed it -Western Sydney.

And so with all the same fervour as we were introduced to the ‘drought paradigm’ which never occurred, we have been introduced to a similar type setting of Armageddon type proportions for the poor inhabitants of the marginal seats of Western Sydney.

The Carbon Tax even if it only exists for 12 months will no doubt be their salvation and will avert their destruction.

Whilst on the issue of human induced climate change we should remind ourselves of the prophetic words of the head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri who in 2007 warned ‘...if there’s no action before 2012, that’s too late ... This is the defining moment’.

Well Rajendra, there we are well and truly ensconced in 2012 and ...the IPCC continues unabated in delivering its predictions.

When a prediction fails to materialise, the pedlars simply and seamlessly slide to the next ‘apocalypse now’ chapter, or they say the apocalypse was averted courtesy of them alerting the world to the issue.  As a result of which our very existence is due to their endeavours. And we should therefore be eternally grateful.

The so-called Environmental Movement as we know it, was largely kicked along by a book entitled ‘Silent Spring’ which was first published about half a century ago.

The thesis was that pesticides were causing a cancer epidemic and massacring wildlife.

As an aside, you will be pleased to know that the world renowned adherent to the slogan ‘live simply that all may simply live’- Al Gore - wrote some 20 years ago that this book ‘Silent Spring’ was responsible for the modern Environmental Movement.

One of the inspirational sources for this book, ‘Silent Spring’ was one Wilhelm Hueper.

This Mr Hueper was so convinced that evil capitalist pollutants from industry floating in the atmosphere were causing lung cancer, that in 1955 he had an article published in A Cancer Journal for Clinicians.

In it, he made the following observation and I quote -

‘Industrial or industry related atmospheric pollutants are to a great part responsible for the causation of lung cancer ... (and wait for this killer) cigarette smoking is not a major factor in the causation of lung cancer’.

Such was his dislike of industry that he was willing to set aside every other possible explanation.

Now with the benefit of the passage of time, I think we might all be agreed that there is a relatively well established causal link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer.

In 1970 Life magazine made this prediction for us –

‘Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support the following predictions; in a decade urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution ... by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half’.

One assumes that would have introduced an era of world cooling, rather than global warming, but I won’t go there for the purposes of tonight.

In the 1980’s it was the turn of acid rain as the latest doomsday prediction.

Given that humans were still alive, I suppose it was only natural that the victim this time around was going to be nature herself.

Der Spiegel, in November 1981, had a cover story entitled ‘The Forest Dies’.

And not to be outdone, the Stern magazine boldly asserted that a third of Germany’s forests were already dead or dying.

To which was added, the wisdom of a soil scientist, who kindly told us it was all too late.  The forests could no longer be saved.

This was all in the European context.

Then courtesy New Scientist in 1982, we had a contribution with stories that  forests were also dying in North America.

At that time, if you were a scientist wanting a taxpayer grant, you couldn’t study the mating habits of squirrels. But you could if you studied the changed mating habits of squirrels because of acid rain.  Sound familiar ...?

Taxpayers dollars, Deutch marks and pounds were being hoovered up by scientists willing to prove the latest theory, developing new regulations and bureaucracy.

Those seeking to disprove or just approach the matter with an open mind weren’t so fortunate with taxpayer funding, especially in Europe.

However, in 1990, a US taxpayer funded study involving 700 scientists and costing $500 million, found that there is ‘no evidence of a general or unusual decline of North American forests due to acid rain’.

The study went further to specifically find there is no case of forest decline in which acidic deposition is known to be a predominant cause.

Finally, the hysteria was dissipated by the director of the Institute of Forest Growth, Heinrick Stiecker being convinced to assess the health of European forests.

His conclusion ... European forests were growing faster and healthier than ever and had actually seen a marked improvement in the 1980’s.

Having been a relatively regular visitor to European forests over the years, I can vouch for their ongoing existence.

But in the meantime, how many taxpayer funded studies were undertaken?

How many people were unnecessarily alarmed and frightened? And why are the people that make these outrageous predictions never brought to account?

Another environmental scare was the hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic.  It was all to do with chlorofluorocarbons we were told - leading to blindness in animals and melanoma among many other catastrophes.

International agreements finally banned CFC’s in 1996.

It must have been the discussion about the ban rather than the ban itself which saw the growing of the hole stop before the ban was even implemented.

From the ecological scares we can move to the other scare that the Greens love to indulge in, namely over-population.  Paul Ehrlich of ‘The Population Bomb’ fame wrote some nearly 50 years ago about a hot stinking evening in Delhi whilst being driven around in a taxi about which he recounted the following –

‘The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping, people visiting, people arguing and screaming, people thrusting their hands through the taxi window begging, people defecating and urinating, people clinging to buses, people herding animals. People, people, people’.

Ehrlich’s conclusion was bleak. ‘The train of events leading to the dissolution of India as a viable nation was already in progress,’ he asserted.

The organiser of the first Earth Day in 1970, Dennis Hayes agreed with the Ehrlich view.

He said ‘it is already too late to avoid mass starvation’ and the authors of the book ‘Famine – 1975! wrote ‘sending food to India was a mistake and only postponed the inevitable’.

Well, here we are 45 years later, and if anything, India is a stronger nation than she was 45 years ago.

Given the benefit of the passage of time, we now know that something quite different actually occurred.

The death rate fell, famine became rarer, the population growth rate was cut in half thanks chiefly to the fact that as babies stopped dying, people stopped having so many of them.

Over the past 50 years, worldwide food production per capita has risen even as the global population has doubled.

Indeed, so successful have farmers been at increasing production that food prices fell to record lows in the early 2000’s and large parts of Western Europe and North America have been re-claimed by forests.[1]

Not to be outdone, we have Paul Watson of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society fame telling us ‘we need to radically and intelligently reduce human populations to fewer than 1 billion ...curing a body of cancer requires radical and invasive therapy and therefore curing the bio-sphere of the human virus will also require radical and invasive approach’.

If ever there was a sick and wholly unnecessary world view, that is one.

Why Paul Watson is given such an unquestioning run in the media I will never know.

It is interesting that Paul Watson sees humanity as a virus from which the bio-sphere needs to be cured.

One assumes Paul Watson sees no need to lead by example,

Assertions about resource depletion are also often framed in the apocalyptical.

In 1977 then President Jimmy Carter, went on television to declare ‘world oil production can probably keep going up for another six or eight years but sometime in the 1980’s it can’t go up any more. Demand will overtake production’.

On 1922, some 55 years earlier, then President Warren Harding created the US Coal Commission which undertook an eleven month survey that warned ‘already the output of natural gas has begun to wane. Production of oil cannot long maintain its present rate’.

And in between these two Presidential announcements we had M. King Hubbert telling us in 1956 that gas production in the US would peak sometime around 1970.

A quick fast forward from those three predictions to 2011 and we have the International Energy Agency estimating that global gas resources will last 250 years.

We even had the highly respected National Academy of Science tells us, courtesy of one of its members, Harrison Brown in 1970, and such was the stature of his views, that he was published in Scientific American telling us that lead, zinc, tin, gold and silver would all be gone by 1990.

Then we had the famous, or should I say infamous, Club of Rome that published its bestselling book ‘The limits to Growth’ some 40 years ago.

They bravely predicted that world reserves of several metals could run out by 1992 and help precipitate a collapse of civilisation and population in the subsequent century when people no longer had the raw materials to make machinery.

Here we are twenty years later.

And it won’t surprise you that all these claims were being repeated in the school books of the time. Sounding terribly familiar, isn’t it?

In the event that you should be flattered that I have undertaken such a great degree of research to address you this evening, can I disabuse you of that and indicate that I have relied extensively on an article by Matt Ridley, a Wall Street Journal columnist who has pulled many of these facts and figures together in a very informative article entitled ‘Apocalypse Not; Here is why you shouldn’t worry about end times’.

There is a saying ‘History teaches us that we don’t learn from history’.

‘The sky is falling’ will always ensure a better media headline than ‘an acorn fell on my head’.

Similarly, ‘the sky is falling’ approach will always make for far worse public policy outcomes than the alternate.

As Conservatives, let’s defend the much maligned sky and remind ourselves the real culprit was in fact a nut – and a falling one at that.

[1] One thing mitigating against this trend is the Green initiated policy of turning some of the world’s food sources, namely grain into motor fuels which has driven some prices back up.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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