Saturday, March 06, 2010

Farewell to the Era of Panic

Australian newspaper columnist Andrew Bolt is, I think, the Antipodean equivalent of Rex Murphy.

In a recent column "Farewell to the Era of Panic" he uses the tsunami warnings that arose from the earthquake in Chile to remind us that "Once again the experts and the politicians had ramped up the booga-booga" but this time people rebelled against the panic-mongering, reclaimed their senses, and actually came to the beach to watch what turned out to be a non-event rather than obediently fleeing for the hills.

His column continues:

We're on to them now, you see, these backside-coverers who'd rather be blamed for predicting an all-shrieking Armageddon than for being no-worries relaxed among a crowd of look-at-me urgers.

We're on to the kind of people who last July "leaked" a warning from Victoria's Department of Sustainability and Environment, claiming that the fire season now just ended would probably be worse than last year's Black Saturday one, and had the "greatest potential loss to life and property"?

Yeah, right. Not one big fire came. Not one person died. Plenty freaked, though.

And last week, very quietly, came yet another muffled admission of a terror that had been similarly oversold.

The good news, federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon brightly announced, was that this nice Government was donating 10 per cent of our swine flu vaccines to Laos and other poor neighbours.

The even better news, which Roxon somehow failed to add, was that we could give away so many vaccines because very few people actually caught the swine flu that one of her own advisers, Prof Raina MacIntyre, last year swore could kill between 10,000 and 20,000 of us.

I'm sure you remember that mega-fear campaign - one of the Big Three that made 2009 so infamous in the already sordid history of the Age of Panic.

Swine flu was hyped as a virus so deadly that cruise ships had to be quarantined, schools closed and families with the sniffles locked in their homes.

"All of humanity is under threat," screamed the World Health Organisation, another United Nations bureaucracy (like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) that feeds on fear.

Britain's National Institute of Medical Research helpfully put the likely death toll at up to 120 million.

The reality? Swine flu turned out to be one of the mildest forms of flu yet seen. We didn't have 20,000 Australians die, but just 191, most of them people already desperately ill with other serious ailments.

To put that in context, about 3000 Australians die each year with normal flu.

Worldwide, it was the same shamefaced story - not 120 million deaths, but 16,226, according to WHO's own figures.

That's less than half the people who die in a normal flu season in the United States alone.

And what of that global financial crisis that last year was going to wipe out the few of us lucky enough to survive swine flu?

What Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gleefully warned was "the worst financial crisis in our lifetime" turned out to be one of our mildest. In fact, "probably our smallest", as Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens conceded last week.

Which means that what will hurt us most is not the financial crisis, but the insane spending Rudd unleashed to stop it, leaving us not just with electrified ceilings, mountains of useless insulation, overpriced school halls and blown-already cash handouts, but now a deep sink of debt as well.

But let's not forget the third leg of last year's great trifecta of panics: the global warming that was going to dry out the dams of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, turn the Great Barrier Reef white and drown half of Bangladesh.

Instead, as rain returns, the globe refuses to keep warming, the Arctic ice rebuilds, great snows bury North America and Tuvalu refuses to sink into the sea, the only thing rising now is the public's scepticism.

Yes, we're finally coming to our senses. We're finally seeing through the spivs who grow rich and mighty by playing on our fears. We're calling time on this Age of Panic.

Well said, Mr. Bolt. In these times of Single-Issue Fanatics, Sound Bites and Political Correctness, it has been difficult to be a dissenting voice against the hurricane of fear-mongering. But sooner or later the average man in the street will tire of hearing cries of "Wolf! Wolf!" and do exactly the opposite of what his betters are suggesting for him. In Australia, perhaps it is already happening.


PKD said...

Bolt is a well known denialist who gets hits for his website by being as controversial, i.e. as unscientific and as emotive, as possible.

TO illustrate, there's not one AGW science fact in his peice you've quoted - you'll find that is a recurring theme in his pieces...

Halfwise said...

I agree that Andrew Bolt stirs the pot with great enthusiasm and less than total reverence for fact and reason. Newspaper opinion writers seem to me to be generally like that, from whatever side of the spectrum they argue.

PKD said...

Yes I tend to agree with you on that one.
Some are better than others though!