ONE block east of Grand Central station, in a skyscraper on 42nd St, is the office of Australia’s Consul-General.
It’s a high profile diplomatic role and one that gives business leaders, thinkers and politicians the chance to see what drives the Australian Government of the day.
In April, Australia will have a new Consul-General taking up that seat on New York's 42nd Street.
Seemingly in lock-step with the prevailing views of the conservative government in Australia, that man will be Nick Minchin — a rusted-on denier of the science of human-caused climate change and power broker in the country’s Liberal (that’s conservative) Party.
Minchin has claimed the “extreme Left” has used environmentalism as a way to try and “de-industrialise” the western world. He thinks human-caused climate change is a scare story.
Minchin’s appointment was announced by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who said the consulate role was “high profile” and that it could be used to “influence perceptions of Australia” in the city.
She said Minchin’s role would be to influence “key individuals and companies across a range of sectors particularly business and politics.”
Things could get a little awkward if talk at those business and political lunches turns to climate change — which it surely will in a city acutely aware of its susceptibility to climate change impacts.
In April 2012, Minchin ridiculed the notion that human-caused climate change was a risk, writing in a column that “despite the hype” the ice at the world’s poles was not melting and that “our cities aren’t being submerged.”
Six months later, New York was submerged by the storm surge from ex-cyclone Sandy.
In the wake of the storm, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo described climate change as a “new threat” which should force people to “look at the world differently.” Cuomo told journalist Rachel Maddow:
This is climate change. And it’s not a political concept; it’s a practical concept. It’s not debatable and not ideological or philosophical; it is reality-based. Changing weather patterns create real, practical issues for the world. Let’s build an awareness, a consensus, and let’s educate and mobilize the body politic around it. When do politicians succeed in bringing change?
Most New Yorkers saw the storm as a sure sign of climate change. New Yorkers are also acutely aware of how exposed their low-lying Manhattan centre is to sea level rises and severe storm surges.
The new Consul-General, a former government minister, might also have a job convincing the New York Times that climate change is just a scary story. The paper’s editorials repeatedly warn of the risks of climate change.
Most recently, the paper’s editorial board said there would be “devastating climate-change consequences” unless there were “aggressive moves” to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Minchin himself has fought hard for the opposite. When the Liberal Party was in opposition, Minchin played a key role in unseating leader Malcolm Turnbull and replacing him with Tony Abbott, now the country’s Prime Minsiter.
Turnbull wanted to support an emissions trading scheme, but Abbott — who once described the science of climate change as “absolute crap” — did not. Abbott, backed by Minchin, won, but has since claimed he accepts the science.
In an interview with the ABC’s flagship Four Corners investigative journalism television show in 2009, Nick Minchin named Australian climate science deniers Bob Carter and Ian Plimer as two “scientists” he thought were credible on climate science.
Carter, who has only ever written one peer reviewed scientific paper on climate change (which was later debunked), is on the payroll of the notorious Heartland Institute free market “think tank.”
Plimer, who has never written a peer reviewed scientific paper on climate change, now spends much of his time as a director of several mining companies, including two controlled by one of the world’s richest women, Gina Rinehart. One company is oil and gas firm Sun Resources, where Plimer is chairman on a board that includes another former Howard Government Minister and Minchin contemporary, Alexander Downer.
Minchin told the ABC he did not accept that carbon dioxide was the main driver of climate change. He said:
I frankly strongly object to you know, politicians and others trying to terrify 12 year old girls that their planet's about to melt, you know. I mean really it is appalling some of that sort of behaviour.
“For the extreme left it provides the opportunity to do what they've always wanted to do, to sort of de-industrialise the western world. You know the collapse of communism was a disaster for the left, and the, and really they embraced environmentalism as their new religion.
Minchin also appeared on a contrived ABC documentary on climate change in 2012.
The show — I Can Change Your Mind About Climate Change — took a climate science denier and a climate advocate around the world.
The two participants, Nick Minchin and Australian climate change campaigner Anna Rose, took each other to meet people they thought would help change their opponents’ mind.
In a segment not aired on the show, Minchin was taken to meet Naomi Oreskes, a science history professor at UC San Diego and co-author of the book Merchants of Doubt: How A Handful of scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.
Oreskes warned Minchin that he was basing his decision on “bad information” and said that while many conservatives feared regulating greenhouse gas emissions amounted to an unwelcome government intrusion, avoiding taking action actually made those fears far more likely to come true.
Minchin’s “expert” choices included Marc Morano, the communications director for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) and former advisor to Republican Senator James Inhofe, who says global warming is the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”
CFACT has accepted at least $4 million from Donors Trust – a fund that spends cash on behalf of rich conservative millionaires while keeping their identities a secret. CFACT has also accepted cash from fossil fuel interests, including $500,000 from Exxon.
Morano told the recent United Nations climate talks in Warsaw that coal was the “moral choice” for the developing world.
A relative of the new Consul-General is the comedian Tim Minchin, one of Australia’s most famous exports.
When the younger Minchin accepted an honorary doctorate last year from the University of Western Australia, he had a few choice words to say about his senior cousin.
“The idea that many Australians – including our new PM and my distant cousin Nick Minchin – believe that the science of anthropogenic global is controversial, is a powerful indicator of the extent of our failure to communicate.”
In a city where the fear of human-caused climate change is real, it seems appointing a climate science denier to a key diplomatic position is another “powerful indicator” of the Australian Government’s unedifying position.