There seems to be three rules for membership of the Coalition’s new backbench Monash Forum that wants taxpayer subsidies for new coal fired power stations.
Firstly, you have to really love the life-giving and not-really-all-that-deadly rock from the late Permian and Carboniferous which, if they made it into a snack bar, you would totally want to eat it and then rub the bits left sticking to the wrapper all over your naked form.
Second, you need to harbour a deep dislike for renewable energy, which you find untrustworthy and suspicious because its feedstock is as illusive as catching sunbeams and harnessing atmospheric pressure differences.
Thirdly, you need to have enough respect for a great Australian war hero and nation builder – Sir John Monash – that you’d appropriate his name and legacy for your own little coal gang.
Oh no wait, there are four rules. Because, most importantly, to qualify for coal star membership of the Monash Forum, you need to be a climate science denier – a proper one that goes to climate denial meetings on the other side of the world and gives speeches and stuff.
Like Nationals MP George Christensen, for example, who seems to have been a chief architect of the Monash Forum.
Christensen’s speech was titled “Climate Change: Where the Horror and Comedy Genres Collide” which, it might occur to some, could have been a prescient commentary on the Monash Forum.
Two years earlier, Heartland had corporate backers and their cash heading for the exit after one of the most ill-judged billboard campaigns in history. “I still believe in Global Warming. Do You?” asked the billboard, next to a mugshot of terrorist and serial killer Ted “Unabomber” Kaczynski.
When US president Donald Trump announced his country’s withdrawal from the United Nations Paris climate agreement, Heartland’s president was on the invite list for the Rose Garden announcement.
Christensen’s new Monash recruit, former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, is another to have warmly embraced the vast body of evidence linking fossil fuel burning to climate change.
Then there’s former prime minister Tony Abbott, who, like Christensen, has long rejected the conclusions of all the world’s major scientific institutions on the risks of burning the Monash Forum’s favourite food.
Last year, Abbott flew to London to deliver the annual lecture of the Global Warming Policy Foundation. How the coal executives must have laughed at Abbott’s ham-fisted comparisons of emissions cuts to goat sacrifices “to appease the volcano gods” (he actually said that).
Liberal MP Craig Kelly is another frontbencher in the Monash Forum. Kelly is chair of the backbench energy committee.
In 2015, Kelly tried to “balance” a parliamentary briefing delivered by respected climate scientists by inviting some climate science deniers from Melbourne’s Institute of Public Affairs – a group that, if it’s possible, loves coal more than he does.
The forum’s manifesto, if you’ve had the misfortune to read it, has all the creepy qualities of the old bloke selling cigarettes to school kids down the back of the oval.
After pushing the myth of “cheap power” with no mention of the fuel’s actual social and environmental coasts, the forum says, “all Australian governments must overcome their current coal-phobia and ensure that coal-fired power stations continue to be built.”
As maybe I’ve just illustrated, it’s easy to be flippant and dismissive about the role and impact of climate science denial on Australia’s climate policy.
Yet the undermining of mountains of scientific evidence over the course of more than two decades has poisoned and politicised an issue that was urgent two decades ago.
When analysts ask why Australia’s energy policy is in crisis, there’s a tendency to forget the illogical political animosity towards renewables that stemmed from climate science denial.
The thinktanks that want to tell you that the science is flawed are the same ones still pushing coal, still lobbying against clean energy and still trying to sell that mythical clean coal.
There’s an argument too that it’s only really possible to get all warm and fuzzy about coal if you hide yourself from the true impacts that burning it is having now, and will have in the future, and that goes for the the majority of the Coalition that aren’t members of the Monash group.
If you want to understand why Australia got itself into an “energy policy crisis” with spiraling retail electricity prices, then the Monash Forum gives you a handy list of characters and some warmed-up coal industry talking points.
Once they’ve stopped selling us subsidised coal, they no doubt have a great line in second hand typewriters that you could use to knock out your next fax.