Climate denial being spread by Ballarat Councillors

UPDATED 9th August to include Cr Samantha McIntosh who added her voice, joining Tillett and Rinaldi, who all push a particular kind of climate denial…… 

On July 11 2020, Ballarat Cr Jim Rinaldi wrote an op-ed deploying a classic climate denial trope, where he paints climate change as being disputed science. He wrote, “My question is which scientists are councils believing when we consider the climate? Those who say the sky is falling, or those who argue it hasn’t, and won’t?” And that there are those  “creating environmental alarmism – the new religion, it seems, in an increasingly secular world.” His contention is that it is a “concern” for Local Government to be mandated through the Local Government Bill 2018 to consider climate risks. As the Act states “the economic, social and environmental sustainability of the municipal district, including mitigation and planning for climate change risk, is to be promoted”. 

In other words Jim Rinaldi is practising the rhetorical trick of sealioning a subset of “just asking questions“, a favourite of anti-vaxxers. 

In response multiple people in Ballarat wrote Letters to the Editor, see below. Jim Rinaldi responded to these by doubling down on his claims, saying he “received many phone calls and emails thanking me for raising the issues and asking the questions” – doubt that – and that he was merely asking questions, not taking a position. He says that asking questions “was, after all, the intent of my article,” even though he framed the mandate for councils to consider risks of climate change as the “sky is falling.” He continues:

I didn’t take a position on climate change – I merely asked which science it is that we should be guided by when making our decisions, again, those ‘who say the sky is falling, or those who argue it hasn’t, and won’t’. [or the IPCC?]

This question has got nothing to do with my view on climate change. As far as I’m concerned – and I think all scientists agree – the climate is always changing. It always has, it always will. It is the science I was asking the question about.

Yes Jim the climate is always changing, however, now it’s human causing the changes by digging up fossil fuels and burning them causing, as the Royal Society, “the fastest known natural sustained change on a global scale.” If Rinaldi is concerned about the science then he can go to Royal Academy of Science or the International Panel on Climate Change which summarises the best scientific knowledge on climate change.  Instead of creating silly false dichotomies.

Not to be outdone Cr Grant Tillett, who recently announced his candidacy, jumped to Jim Rinaldi’s defence, gaslighting the community at the same time, by saying that we read him wrong: 

…you and the other critics should really reread Jim’s comments. You are doing him an injustice by misinterpreting what he said. In Jim, the South Ward has a very caring dedicated representative who quietly goes about his work in a very professional manner – just re-read what he said.

Tillett has form, previously voting against a climate change motion, saying “We can’t, as councillors declare a climate emergency in the City of Ballarat..” I guess at 83 he doesn’t have to worry much about the long term consequences of climate change?

UPDATE: Councillor Samantha McIntosh added her voice joining Tillett and Rinaldi, who are pushing a particular kind of climate denial, on the 9th of August writing:

“In a democracy that supposedly celebrates freedom of speech, Cr Rinaldi recently asked a very simple question: which scientists should councillors listen to given we are now required to consider climate change as a ‘governance principle’?

He referred to climate change ‘warriors’ such as former environmental advisor to US President Barack Obama, Michael Shellenberger, who are now apologising for creating environmental alarmism and highlighting more pressing environmental issues facing the world.

Jim voted for the Gatekeepers Cottage.

He voted for it as an opportunity to seed understanding about nature and gardens and their role in our broader ecosystem. Our climate.

Some might call it real action on climate change.”

I have the same level of qualification and one that is closer related to the field of climate science than the the popular science writer Ranaldi thinks has debunked conservative climate science. Myself and Michael Shellenberger both having a Master’s Degree, him in Anthropology, and mine in Master of environment from Melbourne Uni. He, like me, hasn’t published in peer reviewed literature on climate science (which is why I defer to credible scientific bodies that synthesis the most up-to date knowledge). His recent POPULAR work in the Murdoch press has been trashed by real climate scientists.

“Six scientists analysed the article and estimate its overall scientific credibility to be ‘low’. A majority of reviewers tagged the article as: Cherry-picking, Misleading.”

Any way here’s the letters to his first op-ed:

Ballarat councillor ‘irresponsible’ to cast doubt on climate change

‘An irresponsible stand’

I am concerned that our City Council is not showing leadership about our climate emergency.

Informed people know that there is no doubt that our climate is changing so it’s potentially dangerous to all life. This fact is not alarming because we have the ability to mitigate the damage. It becomes alarming when governing bodies like our City Council ignore the danger and carry on business as usual.

Although it has declared a climate emergency, our Council’s policies and behaviour suggest that we have all the time in the world to respond to that emergency. They have made improvements to lighting, tree canopy, recycling, etc which are easy to justify even if we didn’t have a climate problem.

He goes on to question the science of climate change. This is clearly an irresponsible stand.

I applaud the emphasis in the proposed Bakery Hill Precinct development on energy efficient and low impact living, but it is not a response to an emergency. In an emergency this development can wait, while we spend the $15million on changes to the current operations of Council, and working with the citizens of our city to become more efficient in living with our environment. They barely talk to us about it.

One of our councillors, in an opinion piece in your paper last Saturday, even complained that a State Government act “forces councillors to join the climate debate”.

He goes on to question the science of climate change. This is clearly an irresponsible stand. What alarms me is that he may be speaking for the majority of council in expressing this opinion.

Joe Boin, Invermay.

‘Scientific consensus is overwhelming’

Recent legislation introduced by the State Government – the Victorian Local Government Act 2020 – requires local government to consider climate change as an “overarching governance principle” in which councillors must think about the “environmental sustainability of the municipal district, including mitigation and planning for climate change” as outlined by Cr Jim Rinaldi in his opinion piece 11/7/20.

Cr Rinaldi is critical of this legislation. He asks whether we should believe those scientists who say “the sky is falling” or “those that say “it isn’t and it won’t” – a reductionist and inaccurate portrayal of any climate science.

He also questions the science of climate change and criticises “environmental alarmism” which he describes as the “new religion”.

It seems hard to credit that anyone could hold this view after a year in which the eastern seaboard was aflame.

The recent budget, with some minor concessions to climate change fails to reflect this declaration or treat climate change as urgent.

The scientific consensus on climate change is overwhelming and it is worth remembering that most of the scientific arguments denying climate change have been funded by vested interests such as the fossil fuel industry.

During the current COVID-19 crisis, the contrast between health outcomes for countries like Australia that have been willing to trust and act on the advice of scientists and those like the USA and Brazil that have defied the scientists has been stark.

Ballarat City Council has declared a climate emergency. The recent budget, with some minor concessions to climate change fails to reflect this declaration or treat climate change as urgent.

There is much that Local Government can do to reduce the impact of global warming and this “whole of Government” approach mandated by the legislation is welcome. In addition, there is a unique opportunity in planning for economic recovery from Covid19 to prioritise programs that will not only stimulate the economy but will also reduce the impact of climate change.

The vast majority of Australians when polled, express a high level of concern about climate change – unlike Cr Rinaldi, they need no convincing.

The Victorian Local Government Act also stipulates that “priority is to be given to achieving the best outcomes for the municipal community, including future generations”. In the upcoming Council elections residents will have an opportunity to vote for representatives who better reflect their concerns for the future.

Sally Missing, Buninyong

‘Should have used Google’

Cr Rinaldi asks which scientists councils should believe when it comes to climate change, citing ‘Australia’s top scientific body, the CSIRO’ said that ‘climate change was not to blame for the summer bushfires.’ (11 July) A simple google search would prove this incorrect – with CSIRO actually saying:

Climate change doesn’t cause fires directly but has caused an increase in the occurrence of extreme fire weather and in the length of the fire season across large parts of Australia since the 1950s. In addition to 2019 being the driest year since records began in 1900, it was Australia’s warmest year. In 2019 the annual mean temperature was 1.52 °C above average.

Strong, decisive, science-based leadership is steering us through this pandemic. We need the same to tackle climate change

The CSIRO also includes an extensive breakdown on what causes bushfires and why climate change is making them worse.

So, I would say to Cr Rinaldi, you don’t need to be confused about which scientists to believe when it comes to climate change, you should follow the advice of CSIRO – just be sure to read all of it.

This year alone has shown us how lucky we are to live in the Ballarat. We have been sheltered so far from the worst that 2020 has thrown at us – bushfires and now the coronavirus pandemic.

We are in the best position to become leaders and show other LGAs how to tackle the challenges ahead. Strong, decisive, science-based leadership is steering us through this pandemic. We need the same to tackle climate change.

Lucy Bracey, Golden Point.

‘No more time for denial’

Cr Jim Rinaldi used his broadside against disgraced former Local Government Minister, Adam Somyurek in last Saturday’s Courier to vent on some of his favourite topics.

Regarding politics in local government, the reality is that the majority of local councillors are affiliated with political parties. Wouldn’t we rather know the values of a candidate up front, rather than waiting until after they are elected for their allegiances to be revealed?

Concerningly, Jim has also outed himself as a climate change sceptic, despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that man-made climate change is real – 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree on this. His own council acknowledged the climate emergency in 2018 – but Jim missed the vote.

There’s no more time for denial. Climate change is real and we need to act. The climate, the economy and the planet need people in power who are able to take the best advice available and to act on it for our collective benefit.

Jackson Snep, Black Hill.

The obsession with economic growth

We may escape the rain, we may escape the cold, we may even escape COVID-19, but we seemingly cannot escape economic and its associated population growth.

Both are destroying the environment, destroying the eco-systems, destroying the biosphere, have the world into the 6th mass distinction, and will ultimately destroy humans. Only then will the obsession with the duopoly of growth finally end.

This may sound like doom and gloom. As an optimist I hope it will not come to this, that those vested interest growth people will come to their senses, do a 180 degree turnaround and pursue an economic and social model that will return the planet to a well balanced living place for all life forms.

We can do it, it is not even hard, it just requires the will to do it.

Margit Alm, Eltham

‘Increasingly worrisome article’

While I agree with the first part of this article, it does become increasingly worrisome as it progresses. And ends in climate change denial – which totally discredits the author. Sorry but the science is unanimously warning of the increasing risks.

The only deniers are highly questionable people and organizations – usually with something to gain by putting their heads in the quicksand.

A new generation is voicing its concern about the secuirty of its future as the globe changes.

While I like the idea of non-party-aligned (independent) local gov Councillors, unfortunately the Libs keep putting up closet Libs, some of whom reveal their colours /ambitions by standing for state/fed gov.

At least the ALP & Greens are open about their allegiances. The branch stacking certainly has besmirched the ALP but right wing Libs who deny the weight of science evidence on climate change are dangerous.

We do have something to fear about the future of our planet, destruction of species/habitat and I want our local councillors to have the guts and intelligence to do what it takes to at the very least protect what we have.

Merle Hathaway, Buninyong

Joe Boin’s Letter to the Editor published on 15 Aug 2020

I am concerned that our City Council is not showing leadership about climate.  Three councillors have recently indicated denial of climate change facts, even though they claim open-mindedness.  While they and other leading figures procrastinate, the climate emergency deepens.  Although our council has declared a climate emergency, its policies and behaviour suggest that we have all the time in the world to respond to that emergency.

I don’t doubt that councillors are sincere in dealing with local issues, but climate change is a global concern which affects us all.  The three councillors are undermining the Council’s climate emergency declaration.  Cr Rinaldi asks “Which science should we be guided by?”   That’s easy.  It should be the findings of scientists who study climate, not those who specialise in other areas.  Would you consult a plumber about problems with your car?  Mechanics and plumbers are both tradesmen, but you would consult the trade which knows about cars.  Likewise with scientists.  Around 98% of climate scientists agree that current climate change, unlike past changes, is caused by man and that we must act.  These councillors are giving undue credence to the doubts of the remaining 2%, as well as other less qualified people.

Instead of endlessly “asking simple questions”,  these councillors should act responsibly and support action on climate change now.  The situation is not alarming, because we have time to mitigate the damage.  However it becomes alarming when we see Council ignoring the emergency and carrying on business almost as usual.

Joe boin




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