Don’t Hide your love away: Don Brash, climate and a very particular kind of coup

by Doug Mackie on April 30, 2011

The most right wing political party in New Zealand that is represented in parliament is the Act Party. This blog post by Bryce Edwards, a political scientist at the University of Otago, is a little long and a little out of date now (November 2009) but it gives a reasonable summary of the state of play in New Zealand. For the impatient the guts is that parties can be positioned on xy axes of left-right and libertarian-authoritarian.

Lib cons

Positions of New Zealand political parties as of 2008. Figure by Doug Mackie, drawn from the mean data at Bryce Edwards’ blog. Scale converted from 0-10 in original to -5 to +5 here. Edwards gives the caveats and all errors and distortions are mine.

Until just after the 2005 General Election the ‘centre right’ National Party was lead by Don Brash, an ex-governor of the Reserve Bank. The arguments will go on but most think Brash lost the election for the National Party as he was too right wing.

National won the 2008 election without Don Brash. But it seems Brash and his mates have ‘unfinished business’. Brash gained infamy in 2004 as leader of the opposition for suggesting to a US Congressional delegation that if he were elected in the 2005 election then New Zealand’s nuclear ship ban would be gone by lunchtime. And as leader of the National Party Brash was vocal about his extreme scepticism of climate change.

This week Brash announced he wanted to emerge from dotage and take over the leadership of the further right Act Party. A few funders of Act, like Alan Gibbs were said to support the challenge and on Thursday the coup went through. Oh, and this weekend, after the coup Don Brash will go through the formality of actually joining the party he now leads.

The Act Party already has a solid line in denialism. The just toppled leader, Rodney Hide thinks that:

…that the entire climate change and global warming hypothesis is a hoax, that the data and the hypothesis do not hold together, that Al Gore is a phoney and a fraud on this issue, and that the emissions trading scheme is a worldwide scam and a swindle.

So will things be any different under Don Brash? Before getting into the details it is worth starting with the fact that, in a Speech in memory of Michael Joseph Savage 28 May 2008 Brash says of himself:

…and I’m not well qualified to offer strong views on global warming.

Though to me this sits a little oddly with a statement made only 6 weeks earlier in a 14 April 2008 speech to the Centre for Independent Studies that:

I remain somewhat sceptical about the impact of human activity on the climate, and suspect that within five years many others will have come to share my scepticism. 

Going back to October 2006 in his regular press release column he appeared less equivocal when talking of launching a National Party environmental policy document:

Although there are still uncertainties around some of the science – and National will keep a close eye on the latest findings so our policy response remains appropriate – the majority of scientists believe greenhouse gases are causing climate change. National views the climate change proposals in [A Bluegreen Vision for New Zealand] as an insurance policy to protect against that risk.

The 2006 Bluegreen Vision for New Zealand says that:

Many years of scientific work, summarised by the National Academies of Science of all the main countries, including the United States, and by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, confirms the risk is serious, although uncertainty remains about the rate and timing of global climate change and its regional effects (1). These uncertainties are not an excuse for doing nothing.

That “(1)” in the Bluegreen document is a reference to 4 sources presenting such ‘uncertainties’. I wondered if National/Brash thought these uncertainties offered them an out so I followed the references up.

The
Levin & Pershing source turned out to be obscure with only a few thousand google hits – so I knew it wasn’t disputing the science as anything that even superficially appears to offer doubt is passed around the echo chamber by the million in milliseconds. However, it is cheerily doom laden:

2005 was a year in which the scientific discoveries and new research on climate change confirmed the fears and concerns of the science community. The findings reported in the peer-reviewed journals last year point to an unavoidable conclusion: The physical consequences of climate change are no longer theoretical; they are real, they are here, and they can be quantified.

In this short paper, WRI reviews some of the major discoveries from the past year. Taken collectively, they suggest that the world may well have moved past a key physical tipping point.

In addition, the science tells us the effects of climate change are at a scale that adds enormous urgency not only to the efforts to prevent additional change, but equally important, to efforts to adapt to the impacts already occurring.

Finally, the science makes it clear that additional climate impacts will result even if emissions of greenhouse gases are halted immediately.

In one place the paper discusses sceptical views “that human induced changes in atmospheric composition would only lead to insignificant changes in the climate system” and concludes that:

“This study, [details of methodology], solidly refutes those sceptical views.”

The second source presenting uncertainties is United States National Research Council 2001: Climate Change Science – An Analysis of Some Key Questions

Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability.

Third is the Joint Science Academies 2005 statement :

We recognise the international scientific consensus of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

I saved the best till last. The 4th reference used by National as proof of uncertainty is the IPCC 3rd Assessment Report. ’nuff said.

These are the sources that the National Party under Don Brash demonstrated that “uncertainty remains about the rate and timing of global climate change and its regional effects.” Uhh hello! That is exactly what the IPCC Assessment Reports have repeatedly said.

These sources discuss real scientific uncertainty. Of the ‘it is happening but we don’t know yet if it will be really bad or really really bad’ type. Not the ‘it might not be happening’ type of uncertainty. Not one contains any hint that the climate change situation is anything other than dire and urgent action is required.

So what changed for Don Brash? In 2006 he was launching a policy paper that cites a document saying: “The physical consequences of climate change are no longer theoretical; they are real, they are here, and they can be quantified” and in 2008 he had become “sceptical” about the reality of human induced climate change.

This is what I think changed: In November 2007 Nigel Lawson (Nigella’s dad) came to town. Scroll the Stuff item, appropriately in ‘entertainment’ and see a picture of Brash and Lawson. Lawson is a barking mad denialist and his views on climate change science are widely considered unsound .

But why should Brash believe Lawson? Because I think that Brash agrees with Lawson on other issues:

From the book An Appeal to Reason, A Cool Look at Global Warming.
To take the extreme case, while it may at first blush seem heartless to say that the welfare of those living in the next millennium is of no consequence, to take decisions on the basis that it is every bit as important as the welfare of the population of the world today would be palpably absurd.

So easily swayed. Is Don Brash just a hollow man with no originality? We have a few throwaway lines from the speeches above but what about the detail of what Don Brash thinks about climate change?

Brash (along with Roger Douglas and Alan Gibbs) is a trustee for the ‘Centre for Resource Management Studies’ (i.e. Owen McShane) which made a submission to the 2nd ETS Select Committee in February 2009. Total 31 pages plus another 46 in supplementary material.

As supplements to this submission they included parts one – 25 pages and two – 21 pages of an open letter to John Key written by the fraud Monckton .

No prizes for guessing what it says but page 15 of part one is a must see. Trust me. Go look.

John Cook’s multipart series of Monckton Myths demolishes Monckton’s delusions for the layperson and Prof John Abrahams does if for the scientist .

The part of the submission written by the ‘centre’ for which Brash is a trustee has laughs but no originality. It is, for the most part, devoid of science (though it would take 2 or 3 full posts to debunk the lies they do slip in). Instead it is mostly a rant about the evils of public transport. And that seems to be the motivation for Brash and company. Oh, the banality of venality.

[The Fabs]

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Doug Mackie April 30, 2011 at 8:25 am

Numbers after each party name are (rounded) share of party vote in last (2008) election.

robint April 30, 2011 at 6:25 pm

Page 15 of Monckton’s submission is far out and groovy, man… taking too much acid in his student days might explain why he is the way he is now!

Carol Cowan April 30, 2011 at 8:54 pm

Do we want someone so easily swayed to be making decisions for our country? This looks like being a dirty election year; Brash wants John Key to strip Hide of his ministerial duties, Hone Harawira wants to force a by-election, what’s next? NZ is sold to the highest bidder?

Thomas May 1, 2011 at 9:11 am

In the case that Brash indeed succeeds to keep Act in Parliament past the election he will have continued and perhaps increased the split in the right between National and Act. So all he will accomplish is to take a few votes of National, embarrass the country with his right wing racist backwards stance and provide a bulls eye target and lively punch bag for the oppositions work. Perhaps Hide got a bit to dull in this role. Any good arguments, not unlike marshal artists, gain power by feeding from the dumb energy of its opponents…. ;-)

_R2D2 May 2, 2011 at 9:44 am

On the image:

Act is in no way an authoritarian party. They are social libertarians so should be further south with the Greens. Figure 4.5 in the text has the Greens and Act on the same side of the axis for this measure. The only socially conservative parties in NZ really are United Future and NZ First.

Politics really exists on far more than two axis, you have: (below are mainly extremes (ie communism and fascism) but parties fall somewhere in between)
Communist -> Socialist – Libertarian
Planned economy – Free market capitalist
Social liberal – social conservative (in terms of social freedom, gay rights etc)
Individualistic -> Nationalist -> Fascist*
Environmentalism – (Industrialist)
And many more.

[Doug: As noted in post and comments, the caveats to the figure are at the original blog. Did you read them?]

ACT is very much a libertarian-free market capitalist – social liberal – individualistic – industrialist party. That is not captured in the image at all, it just makes them look an extreme version of National, when their principles are quite different (especially on nationalism).

On the Don Brash quotes. In the first one he says ‘I’ in the others he says ‘National’. It is very acceptable to have a party policy and individual opinions.

[Doug. snip. Random OT Godwin deleted]

_R2D2 May 2, 2011 at 1:51 pm

All the snipped bit did was explain why fascism was an extension of nationalism, as I figured many readers would find this confusing due to fascism wrongly often being classified as extreme right wing or the opposite of communism. Its extreme right wing only on an axis that compares individual rights (not free market policies), and in that case communisism is not at the other end of the spectrum but sitting next to fascism.

Under a fascist state the good of the state always trumps the rights of individuals. An example is China’s one child law.

There, avoided prompting Godwin’s law censor now (a good job explaining fascism without doing so!)

bill May 2, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Under a fascist state the good of the state always trumps the rights of individuals. An example is China’s one child law.

If China was a fascist state it would have rolled through several of its neighbours by now (Taiwan certainly and then Vietnam, I’d have expected), and certainly would not allow some of its ethnic minorities to have more children than the Han majority are allowed.

That fascism and communism are both rigidly hierarchic and severely authoritarian is indisputable, but this revisionist ‘Hitler was a socialist’ crap is just part of the great global dumb-down! It pisses me off, to be frank…

And don’t the Chinese fasco-communists now run the globe’s most successful market economy, even having the grace to keep their supposed ideological enemy and major debtor afloat?

Your ‘free market’ is perfectly at home under the most dreadful authoritarians – witness South America before its recent lurch left (largely as a result!) It is utterly contemptuous of the ‘rights’ of individuals, seeing them only as as – in hierarchical order – property owners, consumers, tractable workers – or a liability that may have to be ‘dealt’ with.

And ‘Liberty’ itself is a fairly daft notion if it focusses solely on individuals. This is what you ‘free-marketeers’ never seem to get! L I M I T S – you know, finite world and all that?

It would be the right of Chinese individuals – and therefore an inherent good – to have to have as many children as they like, I gather? And these individuals would thrive greatly in a nation with, ooh, lets see, what’s India done – currently more than 3 times it’s independence population, so China should have, let’s see, 560 million at the revolution only 2 years later, so, what, nearly 1.6 billion? And could look forward to, what, 2 billion? (As it stands India should outstrip China by about 2030.)

Chinese individuals would stand to be amazingly happy in these circumstances, I gather, and their population would expand endlessly forever as they enjoyed their liberties to the full… if it got a bit crowded they could always gain a bit of lebensraum from the neighbours I mentioned before!

This is not even worthy of contempt. It’s every bit as silly as John D’s paranoiac ranting.

Gareth May 2, 2011 at 6:16 pm

I’ve approved this, reluctantly, because it’s way off-topic — even if valid enough as a response to R2. Please everybody, please stick to the subject of the post. Any further wandering into the further realms of political structures will be moved to an open thread.

_R2D2 May 2, 2011 at 1:56 pm

Didnt read the original blog yet but will after work – but anyhow it is so long most people wont read it so putting bits in comments shouldn’t be discouraged.

Macro May 2, 2011 at 5:07 pm

“ACT is very much a libertarian-free market capitalist – social liberal – individualistic – industrialist party. That is not captured in the image at all, it just makes them look an extreme version of National, when their principles are quite different (especially on nationalism).”
Except for:
3 strikes and your out.
Abrogation of the democratic process in the “super city” – “this is how it is to be” says Rodney.
I could go on, but the list would be sickening.
No not “authoritarian” at all – yeah RIGHT!
Act is Libertarian in only this regard R2 – wedded to neo-liberal economics, and just leave me to pursue my own selfish wants.

Doug Mackie May 2, 2011 at 10:55 am

R2D2,
random Godwin comments are OT and will be trashed.
Re figure: As I said all the caveats are at the original blog. You are a political scientist?

See also Elections.org.nz

_R2D2 May 2, 2011 at 11:18 am

“You are a political scientist?”

Haha no – so everything I say must be wrong??? No I am proudly not a political scientist. I have studied two ECON papers that covered this topic and provided various ‘axis’ interpretations of the different schools of economics in policy etc. The stuff in the comment was no more complicated than these two papers. Not that this should be needed to justify comment.

How come the comment disappeared? It was OT, this post is about politics! Everything in the comment was addressing comments in the post!

Doug Mackie May 2, 2011 at 11:29 am

As the post says, the figure is drawn from someone else’s data. As the post says the caveats associated with the figure are at the original. Follow the link. Read that post. Follow the link to the elections.org site. Read what they have to say.

‘Studied’ two ECON papers, Is that the same as passing them?

_R2D2 May 2, 2011 at 11:49 am

Haha no its not but of course I passed. Now that I think of it one post grad paper also covered this strongly so three papers in total.

Doug, I request you revise your decision to delete my first comment. It in no way was off topic or inflammatory etc.

Perhaps if you repost it others can comment on its relevance. I would suggest that you judge the relevance of this topic with the precedent set by other comments in mind. I think there is far worse accepted everyday on this blog and if we are suddenly suggesting a more authoritarian approach I would like to see the owner of the blog, Gareth, acknowledge and endorse this change in approach.

_R2D2 May 2, 2011 at 1:59 pm

And 3+ papers that covered different political approaches, of course studied more papers than that in total and major was economics.

I dont really see how any of that matters, the opinions in the comments are what they are and wont change with a few letters behind my name. I proudly take anyones view point seriously no matter what their background.

Doug Mackie May 3, 2011 at 11:39 am

John D: Just so as you know, my moderation policy for your comments is to trash without reading until you apologise for earlier conduct. If that happens normal moderation rules will be applied. (You have had enough comments trashed that you must have some idea of what gets through and what does not).

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