By Maximilian Silverton (nom de plume)
Experience over many years working as a consultant with large funds management and global financial services firms have given me a useful education in gravy trains.
The world now resounds with dire warnings about what might happen if the ‘independent expert’ advice on Climate Change, from the UN especially, is not followed. We hear that the very survival of the planet is at stake. Well, maybe it is, or maybe not – but it does no harm to remember that we’ve heard this mournful song before.
Forty years ago, it was called the ‘Energy Crisis.’ More recently there was something called Peak Oil. Now the world is awash in hydrocarbons. No matter, the message always seems to be the same: the workers of the wicked West must be made to pay for their sins with billions of dollars in higher prices and new taxes.
One of my mementos from a stint of a few years in the US starting back in the seventies, is a dog-eared copy of the principal UN prospectus on the solution to the supposed Global Crisis of that sad decade: a document entitled North-South: a program for survival. It came out during the last inglorious days of the Carter administration. Like most people, I thought that the Saudis and the fellow OPEC oil producers, who had spent most of the seventies ratcheting up oil prices to unheard of levels, were responsible for the economic mayhem of the time. But no: the North-South people told us it wasn’t really caused by OPEC – it was all just a symptom of the ‘Energy Crisis.’ And it was the West, and only the west, that was to blame for that.
From North-South we also learnt how the business of transferring the earnings of Western citizens to more morally and environmentally worthy recipients – and a very big business it was and still is – has to be managed by a virtuous Elect of failed politicians supported by armies of bureaucrats, to be supported in turn by further armies of financial engineers, media consultants and so forth. All for a very modest fee. (Plus brokerage, of course.)
Today’s Climate Change juggernaut displays many of the same old gravy train features as the North-South push of the seventies and eighties. Climate Change has its much vaunted Intergovernmental Panel (the IPCC). The North-South document was the product of two years of soul-searching by an ‘Independent Commission on International Development Issues’ – a panel led by Willy Brandt (a former West German chancellor) and Ted Heath (a former British Tory Prime Minister). Both were very down on the Western voters who had rudely turned them out of office in their respective countries, and were therefore perfect for their roles. Wall Street was represented on the panel by a master of the universe or two, as was the media in the person of Katharine Graham, chairman of the board at The Washington Post – the first instance, I think, of those now-commonplace ‘partnerships’ between major media organisations and save-the-world causes.
But this time really does seem to be different in one very important respect. For what distinguishes the Climate Change episode from past panics is not greed or disgruntlement or misplaced idealism, all of which are surely constants in human affairs. What makes this time different – and much more dangerous – is the new form of institutionalised intellectual intolerance that seems to be eating at the practice of science itself in the West.
Intolerance in the intellectual slums of the humanities is something that we have all sadly just had to get used to over recent decades. But the spectre of such dogmatism – the other side of the coin to intellectual relativism – seeping since the ‘real world’ of the sciences, is more deeply troubling.
This I think is what makes the creation of the Saltbush group a moment of such potentially great significance. For Saltbush promises to open up a genuine forum for those Australian scientists whose positions and arguments are not necessarily predictable, but who are simply making a stand for genuinely disinterested, scientific debate, in preference to the intolerance that now clearly prevails towards those branded as ‘sceptics’ (as if scepticism were an intellectual vice and not a virtue). Many of these are no doubt wearing significant professional, financial and even personal costs for their trouble. But they are the hope of the West. They deserve support and encouragement, and it is in all our interests that they get it.