Melbourne University 7 PM 12 July 2011
The Critical Decade, the keynote address for the FOUR DEGREES OR MORE? Australia in a Hot World conference
Professor Schellnhuber, Head of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research and Chair of the German Government's Advisory Council on Global Change
4 Citizens Electoral Council members
As we entered the building, people were handing out leaflets for and against climate action. It didn’t take much grey matter to work out there would be some political theatre coming up. As the good professor began to speak, a protestor leapt to his feet in the second row and waved a very large noose. He yelled about a climate conspiracy involving Queen Elizabeth, the royal family, and green Nazis. He was taken by the arm by a senior academic who vigorously escorted him from the auditorium.
A series of interruptions followed. Next up was Doug Mitchell, a familiar face from Ross Garnaut’s recent talk at Melbourne University about the 2011 Update to his 2008 Climate Change Review. Mitchell had started a provocative verbal assault on Garnaut during question time but was relieved of the microphone by another assertive academic before getting to his question. I captured the incident on video:
This time he ran down the steps towards the stage, yelling slogans and accusations. He too was removed.
There were two more subdued outbreaks. They had obviously either skipped or failed Agitator Histrionics 101. As indicated in an earlier post, Professor Schellnhuber is clearly used to this kind of protest and seemed a bit surprised that the count stopped at four. Unfortunately, I could not find the incidents on the official video of the address.
As they were ejected, they accused the organisers of not letting them speak. The audience applauded when they were forcibly removed. It seems they came to listen to rational discussion not hysterical insults. The use of the noose was a reminder that some of the scientists in the hall have recently received death threats. To their credit the protestors were not hiding behind anonymity. Nor do I mean to imply any connection between them and the death threats.
Was it a case of quashing political dissent or a defence of the right to speak in public without harassment or abuse? More likely it’s just a healthy, if somewhat bizarre, part of our democracy. Both sides undoubtedly thought that the jackboot’s on the other foot. We lowered the bar of public behaviour when highly offensive and personal comments were not loudly condemned during the Murray Darling plan consultation meetings in October 2010.
But as they say, if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the limelight. Most of the audience seemed more concerned with the threats posed by the global warming scenarios explored by the professor.
When I edited my video Million of Low Carbon Jobs, I left out the incident above. The mainstream media are already obsessed with theatrical sideshows and stunts without adding more. Fringe dwellers like the CEC don’t need extra oxygen or carbon dioxide for that matter. But after Tuesday night, it seems impossible to ignore the low level of ‘debate’ that Australian politics has descended to. A couple of examples from their literature should suffice:
Anyway it wasn’t the most dramatic piece of stagecraft I’ve seen at a political meeting. WhenJohn Gorton launched his 1970 half-Senate election campaign at Springvale Civic Centre, a group of anti-Vietnam war demonstrators displayed large cardboard coffins they had snuck into the hall in pieces. Some Young Liberals attacked them. Guess who was arrested? A very young Laurie Oakes told me that he had threatened to make the police front-page news on The Sun newspaper if they didn’t release the protesters. Which they did.
Some of the more extraordinary views that surface during public debates, such as those of the CEC, are cause for reflection. What tortured paths bring one to the realisation that global warming is a monarchist, green nazi conspiracy. Why are some people drawn to gurus such as the CEC’s idol Lyndon LaRouche?
Just goes to show that there’s no such thing as normal.