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Editorial

Maurice Newman, chairman of Prime Minister Tony Abbott's Business Advisory Council and a pillar of the Australian corporate establishment, had an opinion article published this week that portrayed anthropogenic global warming as a delusion promulgated by scientists (using fudged data) whose sole purpose was to dupe the public and extract more money from compliant politicians and bureaucrats. Putting to one side his slandering of a profession whose regard for ethical standards would be considered by many to be orders of magnitude higher than that found in the corporate world, Mr Newman's article did contain one (unsettling) truth: global opinion polls indicate climate change policies are losing public support.

Mr Newman's suggestion that this because they now realise the ''climate change delusion'' is a tyranny that ''favours the rich and the politically powerful at the expense of the poor and the powerless'' is wide open to debate. The dwindling support is more likely to be attributable to other factors, principally the inability of most people to wrap their heads around what is a large and complex problem that transcends nation states, continents and hemispheres. The manifestations of climate change (increased temperatures, ocean acidification and more extreme weather events) are evident, but they have not caused undue inconvenience to people living in the developed world, where the effort to ameliorate rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere must be led if it is to be successful. If a threat is nebulous and lies some way off in the future, sowing doubts about its existence or its effects can be a relatively straightforward process.

That some people might want to minimise the threat or dismiss it altogether by muddying the waters, questioning the competency (or the honesty) of those issuing the warnings is understandable given that carbon minimisation strategies involve reforming the existing economic order.

Spokesmen for commercial interests (such as Mr Newman) are inevitably well-resourced, well-connected and have little difficulty obtaining a platform for disseminating their views. That politicians, particularly those of a free-market ideology like the Liberals, might be swayed by such opinions is hardly surprising. Well before Mr Newman traduced climate scientists and, indeed, well before the election, the Coalition had said it intended to retreat from Labor's modest climate change mitigation measures. If Mr Abbott (and Mr Newman) are congratulating themselves on a well-fought campaign, there is no evidence that the problem has gone away. The front page of The Canberra Times on Wednesday recorded the fact that 2013 was Australia's hottest-ever year - at a time when the Southern Oscillation index indicated there was no tendency for the hotter, drier weather typically associated with El Nino summers. And new research by the University of New South Wales' climate change research centre indicates a likely doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide by 2100 and an increase in average global temperatures of at least 2 degrees and possibly higher.

Though he claims the public has woken up to the scientific fix, we can expect no let-up from the likes of Mr Newman. Interestingly, the food industry has embarked on a concerted push back of its own against scientists and nutritionists who have begun recommending that people reduce the amount of sugar in their diet. Concerns over rising sugar consumption, particular from sweetened soft drinks, are not trivial. Obesity-related diseases such as diabetes and heart problems - triggered by the so-called empty calories in sugar - have risen steeply in recent years, adding to the burdens of already cash-strapped healthcare systems. A reduction in the sugar content of drinks and fast food might seem a sensible precaution (and one that might head off calls for regulation and taxation), but instead multinational companies such as Mars and Coca-Cola are copying the techniques used by climate denialists to resist change.

It is easy to assume the corporate world thinks wholly as Mr Newman does. But that would defame many intelligent, perceptive and worldly people in big business. For the sake of good governance and for Australia's future prosperity, these CEOs need to step up and challenge Mr Newman's claims.