Posted tagged ‘The Australian’

Translation 58. Media Ignorance of the Role of Translators and Interpreters. Again.

24 July 2017

The Western world is at present mesmerised and traumatised by a constant hourly bombardment of media reports on the antics of a strange US President. This could last 4 years, or more. So be it.

But the latest Sunday Times (London) inclusion of an official Russian interpreter, Anatoli Samochornov (labelled by the journalist as a translator) as another of the growing number of “suspects” in  meetings between Trump people  and “meddling” Russians in 2016 and 2017 is really CRASS. (Josh Glancy, Washington, ‘President’s Red Line for Russia Investigations’, reproduced  in The Australian, 24 July, 2017)

But the truth is so simple. A translator’s paid job is to translate documents, usually in written form. A professional interpreter is paid to interpret (i.e. he or she orally translates) SPEECH by one or more persons.

If that is too difficult for some media operators to understand, try this clearer version.

But distinguish between the two professions and stop blaming interpreters (or real translators) for doing their legitimate job.


The Australian’s Interest in Contemporary India. Part 2

16 February 2012

Octogenarian Mr Rupert Murdoch is a global media magnate of Australian birth and adopted American nationality. Since taking over News Limited from his father, Sir Keith Murdoch, he has devoted almost six decades to building up the huge media and publishing empire now known as News Corporation or News Corp. His first major farsighted venture was the creation of Australia’s first national broadsheet newspaper in 1964. The Australian has become the most lavishly staffed, most informative, most prestigious, powerful, and, not infrequently, the most controversial, newspaper in Australia. However, Mr Murdoch’s media interests have multiplied exponentially and the income of this newspaper – like many others in the News Corp stable – is not a significant contributor to the Corporation’s income. (See List of assets owned by News Corporation, on Wikipedia.)

Nevertheless, The Australian, which has a daily circulation of only 150,000 (and 300,000 for the Weekend edition) employs a vast staff of journalists, who produce a very broad variety of quality news and views in all the usual national and international fields. Because the journalists are further indulged by the scope they are given to pursue approved topics, often over long periods of time, The Australian exerts a strong influence on Australian public opinion. In some cases, the newspaper puts both points of view on a controversial topic, although, as in the case of the Climate Change Debate, the balance of its opinion is always on the side of the discussion favoured by the Editor. As an example of the firepower and tenacity of this media organ, in 2007, the Australian government’s (and the Federal Police’s) outrageously unfair treatment of the young Indian doctor, Mohamed Haneef, was vigorously researched and thoroughly reported on by the newspaper, with ultimate success.

For the past eight years (at least), India, as the “up-and-coming giant” and a “very good prospect” for Australia (and the Pacific), appears to have been accorded similar special treatment, with the number and variety of news and views pieces multiplying over the past eight years, and becoming particularly numerous in 2010 and 2011. As with other important topics, the coverage has been reinforced by syndicated republication of essays and op-ed pieces from other “Murdoch” newspapers, such as The British Times and Sunday Times and, more recently the American Wall Street Journal. (The reader is the beneficiary of such unusual largesse.)

In the case of Indian coverage by The Australian, I have cuttings going back to 2004. Between that year and about 2007, there were occasional short articles on India but the major pieces were written by the newspaper’s Foreign Editor, Greg Sheridan. Mr Sheridan is probably the most experienced foreign and geopolitical correspondent in Australia, with several books to his name and a BlackBerry full of important overseas contacts and colleagues, notably in USA and Asia. He is a firm supporter of US geopolitical doctrines and, with India’s rapid evolution, he has strongly advocated its special importance to Australia, as the following articles from The Australian indicate. These are in addition to his other frequent articles and essays on geopolitical matters.

14 February 2004: ‘An Indian Summer’
A 2,500 word essay based on a visit at pre-election time and interviews with prominent Indians. Sheridan’s essay is an enthusiastic recommendation (and plea) for more official Australian action to increase trade and contacts with India at this important phase of its steady development, which he compares to that of China fifteen years previously. He fills in the background history of Indian development, mentions the Indian diaspora of 20 million (with a claimed 150,000 in Australia) and lists important existing contacts in education.
His list of Indian contacts is impressive. (Interestingly, with hindsight, Sheridan informs readers that the favourite to win the 2004 election was Atal Bihari Vajpayee (“a figure of moderation”) and the BJP Coalition, but that general expectation was not fulfilled. Sheridan offers as India’s two main problems Pakistan and Hindu-Muslim hostility.


(On 25 May 2005 The Australian’s Emeritus ‘Editor-at large’, Paul Kelly published an article on ‘[G.W.] Bush’s Indian gambit’, referring to important new US initiatives which were nearing fruition, with India being wooed despite the reservations of some Indians. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met G.W. Bush in Moscow, Condoleezza Rice visited India in March, bringing a draft of a wider strategic relationship “to help India become a major world power in the 21st century.” Manmohan Singh was due to visit Washington in July. In other words, the US was ready to help India achieve its global ambitions, with the subtext of strengthening US strategic power.

23 July: ‘India, US make a tectonic move’
This essay by Sheridan highlighted the significance of the meetings between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and George W. Bush, which Sheridan likens to “one of those moments when you can feel the tectonic plates of geo-strategic power shifting”. In his final sentence Sheridan hopes Australia will be able “to take advantage of the new US-India entente”.
(Related to this important event is Sheridan’s article describing his interview with P.M. Manmohan Singh, ‘East meets East: the Sino-Indian rivalry’, published in The National Interest in 2006 and available here.)

11 March: ‘In our interest to support India’s rise’.
A short piece describing Sheridan’s interview with Dr Manmohan Singh just before Prime Minister Howard’s visit to India. It refers again to the important geopolitical changes indicated by India’s negotiations on nuclear matters. The author highlights India’s strong need for Australian uranium and Howard’s refusal to reconsider the current ban on exporting it to India.

6 October: ‘Powerful dash of new spice’
A long essay introducing the vastness of India, the sheer numbers of its people, and the disadvantages and challenges posed by these, and by the contrasts between rich and poor. Sheridan adds to the impressive economic development story the country’s important ‘soft power’: its democracy, the prosperous diaspora, especially noticeable in USA and UK and the other attractions for foreigners like its “huge cultural presence in the Western imagination” and common denominators like cricket and Bollywood. (He could have added the major plus factor of the widespread use of the English language in middle class Indian life and in business.)

22 October: ‘India’s absence a serious failure’
“Closer ties with the subcontinent are essential to our regional security.”
The reference is to the forthcoming meeting of CHOGM in Perth.
The day before, one of the Australian editorials had been: ‘The Next Big thing. China may be important but is India the better bet?’

Several more of Greg Sheridan’s essays and articles on Indian-Australian relations were to follow in the coming five years. To back up its growing interest in India, The Australian appointed a Correspondent for South Asia in 2006 or 2007, with responsibility for covering news in the vast area of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Nepal and the Maldives. The first journalist appointed was Australian veteran Bruce Loudon who reported in 2007 and 2008. In early 2009 the post was taken up by Amanda Hodge, the present incumbent. She has kept up a regular supply of short background and topical articles on India (mainly) and the other countries within her ‘portfolio’. In the last two dramatic and difficult years for India (2010-2011), the frequency of her valuable locally-based reports has increased. (Her less frequent posts about the other countries in the region, notably Pakistan, appear to be very well informed.)


This busy but disastrous year for India is reflected in coverage by The Australian. The year destined to be so globally triumphant with the hosting of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in September attracted a small army of Commonwealth reporters to India from January onward. These journalists, left to roam freely around India (where language is not a barrier to them), tracked down a succession of negative pieces of news, beginning early in the year, with reports on the unreadiness of the CWG installations and a skyrocketing budget for the Games. From there the stories moved on to possible graft and corruption among the authorities. The very worst story from an Australian point of view was that of several Australian entrepreneurs who were not paid for their work, That controversy is, unfortunately, ongoing.

Coverage in The Australian was very broad. In addition to its many other reports on business and political matters, its resident correspondent, Amanda Hodge, filed frequently. The following short pieces by her were published in April alone:
2 April, Shortage of girls in India
9 April, Superbug rampant in Delhi hospitals
18 April, Delhi denies water dangers
23 April, Human rights abuse (in the small state of Chattisgarh)
30 April, Caste killing

Other reports by Hodge deal with the spate of CWG shortcomings and crises. On 21 September she reported on the use of Gandhi-like public fasting by popular gurus Swami Ramdev and Anna Hazare and by the ascetic Chief Minister of Gujarat State, Narendra Modi, as a form of political protest and pressure.

To the chagrin of the Indian Government and people, foreign journalists were digging deeper into the chaotic final preparations for the Games and the growing hints of graft and corruption. In October come the first reports of action by a highly embarrassed Indian Government. Amanda Hodge filed: ‘Ex-minister charged with graft’ (18 October).

Foreign Editor Sheridan was quiet during these 2010 distractions and during much of 2011, when old and new scandals about rampant corruption and growing public protest by the long-suffering Indian public were the main journalistic and public concern. However, The Australian continued to publish useful reports and comments. For example, on 15 February, a syndicated article from The Times by Rhys Blakely, ‘India corruption scandal deters investors’. Blakely describes how the massive inflow of foreign investment of 2010 has been hit by substantial withdrawals following charges brought against the former Telecoms Minister. (The infamous Y2G Spectrum scandal)

On 27 April, an Australian editorial, ‘Making a start in India’, explains that “There needs to be a wider crackdown on corruption” and sternly lectures that “there needs to be a far wider crackdown to change age-old national habits before India can be accorded the place it believes it deserves in the global market.”

Correspondent Amanda Hodge, meanwhile, was very busy during the whole of 2011, filing articles on the protest fasts by the gurus (6 June and 21 September) and in the final months of the year describing the Government’s embarrassing failure to pass the Lokpaal (Ombudman) Bill and the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Bill, designed to fast forward the growth of foreign-run supermarkets. Following the Australian Government’s belated agreement to supply India with uranium, Hodge published two articles in one day (26 November) on popular protests in two regions by locals opposed to new nuclear plants:
‘Heat rises beyond the smog’ and ‘India’s nuclear ambitions face people power’.
“The nuclear debate in India has never been fiercer.”

By the end of 2011, Greg Sheridan returned to the scene with a short warning and then a short series of major articles. While maintaining his basically optimistic outlook, he signalled the existence of important problems and obstacles.

22 October, ‘India’s absence a serious failure’.
The reference is to India’s non-appearance at the Perth CHOGM Meeting, which was taken to be a sign of displeasure that Australia had still not agreed to supply uranium to India.
(The Labor Government finally agreed to do so at a pre-scheduled party meeting in November.)

10 December, ‘India’s Rise as a Superpower has China on edge’. [Dealt with in Part 1]
Sheridan gives an account of his latest visit to India, to attend a conference in Kolkata on the Asian Century, sponsored by the University of Melbourne’s Australia India Institute. In a blunt 1500 word article with a blunt title, Sheridan proceeds to relay many known but still worrisome revelations by four prominent spokesmen on Indian strategic affairs.

In the following six days Sheridan published two more articles based on his recent visit to India:

15 December 2011, ‘India’s emissions are set to soar’
To highlight the shallow agreement signed by so many countries at the recent Durban conference on Climate Change action, Sheridan describes the lifestyle of the burgeoning Indian middle class(es) and the inevitability of a large increase in Indian emissions to maintain the momentum of development and Indian aspirations.

17 December 2011, ‘India on Highway to Prosperity’
“The country has one of the world’s most impressive economic success stories.”
While pointing to a recent slowing in Indian growth, Sheridan is optimistic about the future, especially because of India’s overwhelming expertise in the field of IT. Nevertheless, he relays the warning of one of his many well-placed Indian informants (interviewees) that “the two greatest reforms India needs are a simpler set of labour laws and more effective anti-corruption laws. These are part of what discourages foreign investment.”

Since the current State elections in a few Indian States are expected to give an idea of the possible outcome of crucial national elections in 2014, further reports from both Foreign Editor Sheridan and on-the-spot Hodge and others at The Australian (or in its stable), should keep us well informed on India as it endeavours to cope with its problems and maintain and consolidate its progress since 1991.

India (and Indian-Australian relations and commerce) has been well served by The Australian in recent years. It is to be hoped that, when she finally leaves her post as South Asian Correspondent, Amanda Hodge will follow the excellent and enlightening example of other expatriate English-speaking reporters and observers, like Edward Luce, Christopher Kremmer and Patrick French – or the legendary Mark Tully, who has spent most of his life in India – by writing a book about her experiences and interviews.

The Australian’s interest in Contemporary India. Part 1.

12 December 2011

On 10 December 2011, Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor of The Australian and a prominent reporter on Asian affairs of many years standing, gave an account of his latest visit to India where he has attended a conference in Kolkata on ‘The Asian Century’, sponsored by the University of Melbourne’s Australia India Institute.

In a blunt 1500 word article titled, ‘India’s rise as a superpower has China on edge’, Sheridan revisits several troubled aspects of China-India relations, as seen by four prominent spokesmen on Indian strategic matters.

Firstly, Sheridan comments on the two themes of the opening speech by M. K. Narayanan, the Governor of Kolkata (and once India’s national security adviser). “One was that Australia had nothing to be concerned about from India’s rise. […] The second notable theme was more blunt. China, he said, was a nation that did not observe international norms. This statement was neither controversial nor emotive. It was matter-of-fact.”

The second reference comes from his interview with Professor Gopalaswamy Parthasarathy, a former Indian ambassador to Australia and to Pakistan and current advisor to the Indian government on security matters. Sheridan reports that Parthasarathy told him that China is “today the greatest proliferator of nuclear weapons technology and missiles” by supplying Pakistan for forty years with “nuclear weapons designs and equipment for enriching uranium”.

Sheridan then visited two more Indian security experts, Ajai Sahni, editor of the South Asian Intelligence Review and director of the Institute for Conflict Management, and Praveen Swami, a strategic analyst for The Hindu newspaper. He relates the anecdotal responses of both experts to the question of possible Chinese involvement with the Maoist groups active in nine states of eastern India.

Sheridan’s final, and perhaps most important source of evidence of “China’s activities to contain or encircle India” is to be found in a recent book, China and India. Great Power Rivals, by the Hawaiian-based think tank scholar, Mohan Malik, whose thesis, according to Sheridan, is that “China is trying to stymie India’s rise”, not only by the nuclear proliferation but by selling arms to five of India’s largest neighbours and by racheting up its decades-long provocative behaviour on the China-India borders, and beyond.

The article ends with some further brief considerations on the relations between USA, India and Australia.

(Part 2 will examine other aspects of The Australian’s (and Sheridan’s) candid pro-India stance in recent years.)

Contemporary India. 1a. Basic Sources of Information. Catherine Taylor’s Possible Sequel to Sarah Macdonald’s Interpretation of India

29 November 2010

I had never heard of Catherine Taylor until I read the article which I reproduce below (from The Australian, Weekend Magazine, 9 October 2010, at the height of the Commonwealth Games media coverage). Seasoned India watchers will detect the usual strong indications of a successful and balanced interpretation of India by an “expat” (non-Indian) English speaker:
– prolonged residence in India
– journalistic and writing instincts and ambitions
– keen observation and sensitive reactions
– deep understanding and appreciation in the face of gross “provocation”.

If my intuition is correct, we should therefore be seeing the publication of another interesting book on India by this resident visitor in the not too distant future. Here, with due acknowledgement to Ms Taylor (and in anticipation of more of her Indian observations), is the full telltale article which prompts this prediction:
Mad for Mumbai (The Australian, 9 October, 2010).

“Living in India is like having an intense but insane affair, writes expat Catherine Taylor.”

“TONIGHT, as I waved my high heel in the face of a bewildered taxi driver, I thought suddenly: I am absolutely nuts in India. It’s a thought I have often. Someone or something is always going nuts, and quite often it’s me.

“I was trying to get a taxi driver to take me home, a mere 500 metres away, but it was pouring with rain and my shoes were oh-so-high, and it was late. He, of course, was having none of it; no amount of shoe-waving and sad-facing from a wild-haired firangi was changing his mind, when suddenly I remembered the magic trick – pay more than you should. “Arre, bhai sahab, 50 rupees to Altamount Road? Please?” And off we went.

“I have lived in Mumbai for almost three years. It was my choice to come – I wanted offshore experience in my media career and India was the only country looking to hire – and I wanted a change. I needed something new, exciting, thrilling, terrifying. And India gave that to me in spades. In fact, she turned it all the way up to 11. And then she turned it up a little more.

“To outsiders, living in India has a particular kind of glamour attached to it, a special sparkle that sees people crowding around me at parties. “You live in India? My God, really? I could never do that. What’s it like?” The closest I have come to answering that question is that it’s like being in a very intense, extremely dysfunctional relationship. India and I fight, we scream, we argue, we don’t speak for days on end, but really, deep down, we love each other. She’s a strange beast, this India. She hugs me, so tightly sometimes that I can’t breathe, then she turns and punches me hard in the face, leaving me stunned. Then she hugs me again, and suddenly I know everything will be all right.

“She wonders why I don’t just “know” how things are done, why I argue with her about everything, why I judge, why I rail at injustice and then do nothing about it. She wonders how old I am, how much I earn, why I’m not married. (The poor census man looked at me, stunned, then asked in a faltering voice, “But madam, if you’re not married then… who is the head of your household?”) I wonder how she can stand by when small children are begging on corners, how she can let people foul up the streets so much that they are impossible to walk along, how she can allow such corruption, such injustice, such A LOT OF HONKING.

“But she has taught me things. She has taught me to be brave, bold, independent, sometimes even fierce and terrifying. She has taught me to walk in another man’s chappals, and ask questions a different way when at first the answer is no. She has taught me to accept the things I cannot change. She has taught me that there are always, always, two sides to every argument. And she was kind enough to let me come and stay.

“She didn’t make it easy though (but then, why should she?). The Foreigner Regional Registration Office, banks, mobile phone companies and rental agencies are drowning under piles of carbon paper, photocopies of passports (I always carry a minimum of three) and the soggy tissues of foreigners who fall to pieces in the face of maddening bureaucracy. What costs you 50 rupees one day might be 500 rupees the next, and nobody will tell you why. What you didn’t need to bring yesterday, you suddenly need to bring today. Your signature doesn’t look like your signature. And no, we can’t help you. Come back tomorrow and see.

“It’s not easy being here, although I am spoiled by a maid who cooks for me, and a delivery service from everywhere that ensures I rarely have to wave my shoes at taxi drivers. I buy cheap flowers, trawl for gorgeous antiques, buy incredibly cheap books; I have long, boozy brunches in five-star hotels for the price of a nice bottle of wine at home, I have a very nice roof over my head … on the face of it, it would seem I have little to complain about. But then, I am stared at constantly, I have been spat on, sexually harassed, had my (covered) breasts videotaped as I walked through a market, had my drink spiked, been followed countless times. I have wept more here than I have ever in my life, out of frustration, anger, loneliness, the sheer hugeness of being here. But the longer I stay, the more I seem to relax, let go, let it be.

“But I do often wonder why I’m here, especially when I’m tired, teary and homesick, my phone has been disconnected for the 19th time despite promises it would never happen again, when it’s raining and no taxis will take me home. But then a willing ride always comes along, and we’ll turn a corner and be suddenly in the midst of some banging, crashing mad festival full of colour, where everyone is dancing behind a slow-moving truck, and I won’t have a clue what’s going on but a mum holding a child will dance up to my window and point and smile and laugh, and I breathe out and think, really, my God, this is fantastic. This is India! I live in India! She hugs me, she punches me, and she hugs me again.

“Yet I know won’t ever belong here, not properly. I know this when I listen to girls discussing what colour blouses they should wear to their weddings – she’s Gujarati, he’s from the south, she’s wearing a Keralan sari. I know when my friends give me house-hunting advice: “Look at the names of the people who already live there, then you’ll know what kind of building it is.” (Trouble is, I don’t know my Kapoors from my Kapurs, my Sippys from my Sindhis, my Khans from my Jains). I know this when my lovely fruit man (who also delivers) begs me to taste a strawberry he is holding in his grubby hands and I have to say no, I can’t eat it, I’ll die… I know I will never belong because, as stupid as it sounds, being truly, properly Indian is in your DNA. I marvel at how incredibly well educated so many of them are, how they can all speak at least three languages and think it’s no big deal, how they fit 1000 people into a train carriage meant for 300 and all stand together quite peacefully, how they know the songs from every Hindi film ever made, how they welcome anyone and everyone (even wild-haired, complaining firangis) into their homes for food, and chai, and more food.

“I’ve seen terrible things – someone fall under a train, children with sliced-off ears, old, old men sitting in the rain nursing half-limbs while they beg, children covered in flies sleeping on the pavement, beggars with no legs weaving themselves through traffic on trolleys, men in lunghis working with their hands in tiny corridors with no fans in sky-high temperatures. I’ve read heartbreaking things, of gang rapes, corruption, environmental abuse. I’ve smelled smells that have stripped the inside of my nostrils, stepped over open sewers in markets, watched a goat being bled to death.

“I’ve done things of which I am ashamed, things I never thought I would do. I have slapped a starving child away, I have turned my head in annoyance when beggars have tapped repeatedly on my taxi window, I have yelled at grown men in the face. I have been pinched and pinched back, with force. I have slapped, I have hit, I have pushed. I have screamed in anger. I have, at times, not recognised myself.

“I’ve yelled at a man for kicking a dog, and yelled at a woman who pushed into a line ahead of me when I wasn’t at all in a hurry. When a teenage beggar stood at the window of my taxi, saying “F… you madam” over and over, I told him to go f… himself and gave him the finger; once on the train I let a kid keep 100 rupees as change. I am kind and I am cold-hearted, I am fair and I am mean, I am delightful and I am downright rude. I am all of these at once and I distress myself wildly over it, but somehow, India accepts me. She has no time for navel-gazing foreigners; she just shoved everyone along a bit and made room for me. She has no time to dwell on my shortcomings, she just keeps moving along.

“And then, and then. I’ve been to temples where I’ve sung along with old women who had no teeth, I’ve held countless smiling ink-marked babies for photos, I’ve had unknown aunties in saris smile and cup my face with their soft, wrinkled hands, I’ve made street vendors laugh when I’ve choked on their spicy food, I’ve danced through the streets at Ganpati, fervently sung the national anthem (phonetically) in cinemas, had designers make me dresses, I’ve met with CEOs and heads of companies just because I asked if I could. She hugs, she punches, she hugs again.

“In short, I have been among the luckiest of the lucky. She keeps me on my toes, Ms India, and I have been blessed that she let me stay for a while. She wanted me to succeed here and she gave me grand opportunities and endless second chances. She willed me forward like a stern parent. She welcomed me. And when I leave, because I know I will one day, I will weep, because I will miss her terribly. And because I know she won’t even notice that I am gone.”

Given the language barrier and other political factors, it may be a very long time before we get such intimate and revealing pictures of life in China as those of Ms Taylor and the other writers referred to in my previous Indian blog.
Which may be a useful thought to mull over.

The Climate Change Debate: a Third Way?

15 December 2009

In view of the current superheated and confusing political debates in Copenhagen on anthropogenic climate change, today’s op-ed article by veteran researcher and campaigner Bjorn Lomborg, published by The Australian, a News Corporation paper which, to its great credit and in contrast to other major English-language media like the BBC, the Guardian and the Australian ABC, has consistently welcomed and promoted ‘unorthodox’ opinions, is surely worthy of consideration by those whose minds are not yet closed on this issue.

Given the gravity of the situation on the eve of a political decision by the Copenhagen Summit, I take the liberty of reproducing Lomborg’s important appeal in its entirety, with due acknowledgement to the SOURCE .

Forget protocols, cut to the chase. Non-polluting energy sources are (the) key.

Thousands of politicians, bureaucrats and environmental activists have arrived in Copenhagen for the global climate summit with all the bravado and self-regard of a group of commandos convinced that they are about to save the world.
And although the political differences between them remain huge, delegates are nonetheless congratulating themselves for having the answers to global warming.

The blustery language and ostentatious self-confidence that fill the Bella Centre here remind me of a similar scene: Kyoto, 1997. There, world leaders actually signed a legally binding deal to cut carbon emissions, something that will elude the Copenhagen summit-goers. But what did the Kyoto Protocol accomplish? So far, at least, virtually nothing.

To be sure, Europe has made some progress towards reducing its carbon-dioxide emissions. But, of the 15 European Union countries represented at the Kyoto summit, 10 have still not met the targets agreed there. Neither will Japan nor Canada. And the US never even ratified the agreement. In all, we are likely to achieve barely 5 per cent of the promised Kyoto reduction.

To put it another way, let’s say we index 1990 global emissions at 100. If there were no Kyoto at all, the 2010 level would have been 142.7. With full Kyoto implementation, it would have been 133. In fact, the actual outcome of Kyoto is likely to be a 2010 level of 142.2 — virtually the same as if we had done nothing at all. Given 12 years of continuous talks and praise for Kyoto, this is not much of an accomplishment.

The Kyoto Protocol did not fail because any one nation let the rest of the world down. It failed because making quick, drastic cuts in carbon emissions is extremely expensive. Whether or not Copenhagen is declared a political victory, that inescapable fact of economic life will once again prevail and grand promises will once again go unfulfilled.

This is why I advocate abandoning the pointless strategy of trying to make governments promise to cut carbon emissions. Instead, the world should be focusing its efforts on making non-polluting energy sources cheaper than fossil fuels.

We should be negotiating an international agreement to increase radically spending on green-energy research and development to a total of 0.2 per cent of global GDP, or $US100 billion a year. Without this kind of concerted effort, alternative technologies simply will not be ready to take up the slack from fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, summit delegates seem to have little appetite for such realism. On the first day of the conference, UN climate change chief Yvo de Boer declared how optimistic he was about continuing the Kyoto approach: “Almost every day, countries announce new targets or plans of action to cut emissions,” he said.

Such statements ignore the fact that most of these promises are almost entirely empty. Either the targets are unachievable or the numbers are fudged. For example, Japan’s pledge of a 25 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020 sounds incredible because it is. There is no way the Japanese could actually deliver on such an ambitious promise.

China, meanwhile, drew plaudits just before the Copenhagen summit by promising to cut its carbon intensity (the amount of CO2 emitted for each dollar of GDP) over the next ten years to just 40-45 per cent of its level in 2005. Based on figures from the International Energy Agency, China was already expected to reduce its carbon intensity by 40 per cent without any new policies.

As its economy develops, China will inevitably shift to less carbon-intensive industries. In other words, China took what was universally expected to happen and, with some creative spin, dressed it up as a new, ambitious policy initiative. Then again, spin always trumps substance at gatherings such as this. Consider how quick the Copenhagen delegates were to dismiss the scandal now known as “Climategate” — the outcry over the release of thousands of disturbing emails and other documents hacked from the computers of a prestigious British climate-research centre.

It would be a mistake not to learn lessons from this mess. Climategate exposed a side of the scientific community most people never get to see. It was not a pretty picture. What the stolen emails revealed was a group of the world’s most influential climatologists arguing, brainstorming and plotting together to enforce what amounts to a party line on climate change. Data that didn’t support their assumptions about global warming was fudged. Experts who disagreed with their conclusions were denigrated as “idiots” and “garbage”. Peer-reviewed journals that dared to publish contrarian articles were threatened with boycotts. Dissent was stifled, facts were suppressed, scrutiny was blocked and the free flow of information was choked off.

Predictably, the text of the more than 3000 purloined emails have been seized on by sceptics of man-made climate change as “proof” that global warming is nothing more than a hoax cooked up by a bunch of pointy-headed intellectuals. And this is the real tragedy of “Climategate.”

Global warming is not a hoax, but at a time when opinion polls reveal rising public scepticism about climate change, this unsavoury glimpse of scientists trying to cook the data could be just the excuse that too many people are waiting for to tune it all out.

What seems to have motivated the scientists involved in Climategate was the arrogant belief that the way to save the world was to conceal or misrepresent ambiguous and contradictory findings about global warming that might “confuse” the public. But substituting spin for scientific rigour is a terrible strategy.

So too is continuing to embrace a response to global warming that has failed for nearly two decades. Instead of papering over the flaws in the Kyoto approach and pretending that grand promises translate into real action, we need to acknowledge that saving the world requires a smarter strategy than the one being pursued so dogmatically in Copenhagen.

(Bjorn_Lomborg is the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre and author of Cool It: The Sceptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming – Knopf. 2007. ISBN 9780307266927.)