Shark Tank's Steve Baxter Joins Climate Science Deniers and Islamophobes for Australian LibertyFest

What do you get when you bring together some of Australia’s most fervent climate science deniers with anti-Islam activists, fledgling right-wing political groups, and an American “free market” Libertarian?

The answer, apparently, is the one-day conference titled LibertyFest scheduled for Brisbane this Saturday.

Two mainstays of Australia’s “fever swamp” of climate science denial, Professor Ian Plimer and Jennifer Marohasy, are set to kick-off the proceedings on Friday evening.

Organizing the conference is Brisbane-based group LibertyWorks, founded 18 months ago by local businessman and libertarian Andrew Cooper.

For those uninitiated, libertarians will tell you governments should be small and stay out of people’s lives, regulations should be drastically scaled back, and economic markets left to function with little to no regulation.

Cooper, who pleads not to be described as a “conservative,” defended his decision to give a platform to climate science denial.

Plimer and Marohasy start proceedings on Friday with a session whose title  — Climate Change & Electricity Ripoffs: The Delusion and the Facts — leaves little doubt about the thrust and tone of their arguments. The pair will also speak on Saturday.

I agree they are on the fringe, but that does not preclude them from appearing,” says Cooper. 

They both have a high degree of certainty in their views and are prepared to share them, and therefore people with opposing views would feel put off or offended.”

Sharks in the Tank

Perhaps the most surprising name on the speakers list is tech entrepreneur Steve Baxter, who stars on Australian primetime TV as one of the investment sharks on Channel Ten’s Shark Tank.

What’s more, Baxter’s appearance will come just two days before he officially takes office, on 16 October, as the Queensland state government’s Chief Entrepreneur, where he will work pro-bono.

DeSmog approached Baxter for comment, but a representative said he was too busy to respond. Baxter’s speech will not cover climate change (and there’s no particular reason it should), but instead cover his insights as a successful entrepreneur. 

On Twitter, Baxter has said he agrees that adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is “bad” for the atmosphere, but points to the construction of coal plants overseas to suggest people don’t care enough about the issue.

Fever Swamp

Cooper says Plimer and Marohasy are not well known and because their views are “outside the mainstream,” they deserve a platform (we disagree about that).

Cooper says he is “comfortable” that manmade warming is likely happening, but this is about as much as he is prepared to concede.

He thinks it’s a valid question to ask if “on balance” climate change will be bad, and would like to see a “cost benefit” analysis carried out on policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions (actually, the Federal Government’s 2008 Garnaut Review did just that, and found the “costs of action are less than the costs of inaction”).

Plimer, a geologist, has been a mainstay of Australia’s climate science denial fraternity for the best part of a decade. He denies that human emissions of CO2 cause global warming.

His 2009 book, Heaven and Earth, influenced the views of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, despite many scientists pointing out it was riddled with errors and misrepresentations.

A follow-up 2011 book, How to get expelled from school: a guide to climate change for pupils, parents and punters, was described by the government’s Department of Climate Change as “misleading” and “based on inaccurate or selective interpretation of the science.”

The department produced a blow-by-blow debunking. Plimer’s latest book is called Climate Change Delusion.

Jennifer Marohasy

Marohasy, of the “free market think tank” the Institute of Public Affairs, has been busy claiming, through the pages of Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian, that the country’s weather agency, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), is engaged in a grand conspiracy to fiddle with temperature readings expressly to make warming look worse than it is. In short, they’re not.

Australia’s five hottest years on record have all happened since 2005, according to the BoM. Queensland just had its hottest winter on record. The country’s iconic Great Barrier Reef has seen the death of more than a third of its corals after consecutive mass bleaching events caused by warming sea surface temperatures.

One of LibertyWorks’ first campaigns was to challenge Australia’s Renewable Energy Target and Cooper said the “No RET” campaign was the issue he had pushed the hardest.

Cooper said such policies “have the effect of socializing countries” and tended to give power to “central planning” which he said “as a Libertarian, I get scared about.”

Cooper says LibertyWorks, which has taken no corporate or government donations, has “not taken a position on the science because we are not scientists.”

We have people who think we should accept the science, but one of our board members, Alan Moran, is deeply skeptical of the science,” he says.

Moran was a long-serving staffer at Melbourne’s Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), but was let go after controversial tweets attacking Islam.

The IPA has pushed climate science denial since the early 1990s. Now, Moran runs his own consultancy business and issues a monthly “Climate News” web bulletin that attacks “warmists” and pushes denialist talking points.

US Links

Flying in for the event is Dan Mitchell — a U.S.-based libertarian who recently left the Cato Institute — a “think tank” funded in part by the petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers that has fought against policies to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Cato and the IPA are both part of a global network of conservative, libertarian, and neoliberal think tanks called the Atlas Network. Mitchell’s Center for Freedom and Prosperity is also a member.

Also listed to appear is One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts who, depending on a High Court hearing over his eligibility, may or may not still be a senator by the time the conference starts on Saturday.

Roberts, of the far-right One Nation party, is one of Australia’s most fervent climate science deniers.

The former coal miner managed the climate science denial group Galileo Movement, where he would routinely hassle climate scientists with demands for “empirical evidence” on human-caused climate change which, while it exists , Roberts refuses to acknowledge.

In December 2016, Roberts traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with a gaggle of climate science deniers, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Myron Ebell, who led the team tasked with preparing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for an incoming Donald Trump presidency.

But outside of climate science denialism, Cooper has also attracted several other controversial figures to his LibertyFest conference.

Rebel Media

Former Labor Party leader Mark Latham is also scheduled to speak. Latham has had a recent and rapid fall from grace. Fired from Sky News earlier this year, Latham is known for his bullying attacks on women.

In a 2016 radio interview, Latham suggested that men hit their wives as a “coping mechanism” because some men had lost their self-esteem.

Latham has recently been signed by controversial conservative online news outfit Rebel Media. Rebel has also signed, as a presenter and general agitator, Tommy Robinson, the former leader of the anti-Islamic group the English Defence League.

The founder of Rebel Media, Canadian conservative Ezra Levant, also pushes climate science denial and claims there is no link between rising levels of carbon dioxide and global warming.

Only three years ago Latham was scathing of the kind of people he will share a platform with on Saturday.

Right wing fanatics,” wrote Latham in his 2014 book The Political Bubble, “have created an alternative universe of denialism, an anti-science movement that places greater weight on the political economy of climate change rather than scientific research.” He also reserved criticism of the “green left” for occasionally engaging in what he saw as overreach.

These days, Latham is more concerned with confected attacks on “free speech” and an apparently rampant “political correctness” in society — the common themes of his not-that-popular Rebel YouTube show, Mark Latham’s Outsiders.

Rod McGarvie, the Queensland state director of the Australian Conservatives, is another speaker.  The Australian Conservatives were established by former Liberal Party member, Senator Cory Bernardi — another climate “skeptic” who posted a picture of himself with “pal” Levant on Twitter in April. McGarvie formerly ran as a senate candidate for Family First — a conservative Christian party that also rejected the science of human-caused climate change.

Islamophobia Fest

Also on the LibertyFest running order is “Safe Communities Australia” — a group that says it wants to “protect our multi-ethnic community” but is distinctly anti-Islam with a current campaign to block the building of a mosque on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, an hour north of Brisbane.

Cooper, who put up his own money to create LibertyWorks and back the conference, is sincere in his efforts to draw attention to his own values and it seems he is not scared of courting controversy in order to get it.

He claims “true Libertarians would tend to believe the science (on climate change) but are suspicious” of the policies that are put in place to tackle the issue.

But there won’t be much space for a sensible conversation about that, when inflammatory activists like Ian Plimer and Jennifer Marohasy are continually given a forum.

Main image: A great white shark. Credit: Flickr/Elias Levy (CC BY 2.0)