Liberals disregard science just when we need it most | OPINION

AUSTRALIA has an enviable reputation for scientific research, extending long before the heyday of the CSIRO in the 1950s.

It has been of mounting concern in recent years to see governments adopt increasingly anti-science agendas.

The federal government is taking anti-science to new heights. Its scorched earth approach discards virtually everything not in line with narrow, free-market ideology centred on sustaining Australia’s 20th century dig-it-up-and-ship-it-out economic growth model.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s supposedly visionary address to the World Economic Forum in Davos in January outlined this agenda. Free markets create prosperity, but their full costs have only become apparent in recent years.

The PM’s “vision” ignored such costs, along with the disastrous outcomes that the short-termism, inequity and corruption of free markets delivers. Markets are important but they must operate within sensible rules and continual vested-interest lobbying has got rid of those rules.

Official orthodoxy decrees that conventional economic growth take precedence over all else, without understanding that such growth is no longer possible. In 1945, we had a relatively empty world of 2 billion people; we now have 7 billion. Exponential increases in both population and consumption have delivered a “full” world, such that humanity today needs the biophysical capacity of 1½ planets to survive.

Excessive consumption has created global limits never previously experienced. Cheap fossil-fuel energy, which delivered our supposed prosperity, has dried up. Its carbon emissions have triggered global warming. The remaining fossil-fuel reserves cannot be used if catastrophic climate outcomes are to be avoided. Water and food security are already affected.

Yet our political and corporate incumbency refuse to join the dots.

They cannot grasp that we have enormous opportunities to prosper in the 21st century, built around the rapid development of a low-carbon economy. We have the best low-carbon assets in the world, but to realise their potential, we need a new vision grounded, as never before, in science.

The government ignores the leading-edge climate science developed by our institutions and informed scientific bodies worldwide.

We disregard them at our peril — science has disappeared from the government’s priorities just at the time we need it most.

Greg Hunt’s direct action white paper has no scientific and economic grounding at all. It is the climate policy you have when you don’t want a policy.

The work of the former climate commission, providing independent, objective explanation of the climate science, has been archived away from public view. Scientific illiterates have been appointed to key climate and business policy advisory positions. The budget has gutted science funding in general, further emasculated the wholly inadequate direct action policy and rendered the CSIRO impotent.

The response from the supposedly scientifically literate chairmen and chief executives of our major corporations, at the wanton destruction of their future innovation base, is a deafening silence.

Grandees such as John Howard and George Pell parade cynical climate denialism before international audiences, putting more peer pressure on the current incumbents to toe that line and providing rare insight into the widespread denialist groupthink within conservative ranks.

Literally and figuratively, we are witnessing a “burning of the science books”, the like of which has not been seen since mediaeval times. It did not work for the Catholic Church in the days of Copernicus and Galileo, nor in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It will not work today.

Ian Dunlop was formerly an international oil, gas and coal industry executive, chairman of the Australian Coal Association and chief executive of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.