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Parish backs Kyoto

May 27th, 2004

Hot on the heels of Vladimir Putin, Ken Parish throws his weight behind Kyoto. As Ken says, the evidence of the last few years leads to a very strong presumption that the world is warming, at least at the surface[1].

There are still a lot of uncertainties to be resolved. But it’s better to take the low-cost measures required by Kyoto now, and prepare for more substantive action if current trends continue, than to do nothing and hope that things will turn out to be better than we now expect.

Since Ken and I are now in fairly close agreement, our long debate on this issue seems to be at an end. I enjoyed it and learnt a lot, and, although we both got bad-tempered on occasion, I think this was, in general, an example where blog debate worked the way we might hope. Certainly Ken has shown the kind of willingness to change his mind in response to new evidence that we should all seek to emulate.

fn1. In addition to climatic evidence, Ken cites superstitious fear as a reason for his change in position.

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  1. Ken Parish
    May 27th, 2004 at 10:30 | #1

    Believe it or not, the superstitious fear was intended as a joke, or at least a rhetorical/literary device to give the piece a bit of general interest by linking (however tenuously) the death of a global warming sceptic with the global warming debate itself.

  2. May 27th, 2004 at 11:11 | #2

    Here is a question for Pr Q:
    Has he, a fairly salty Left winger on most issues, ever had cause to shift to the Right as a result of a blog debate?
    Just wondering if anything has ever switched ideological valency:
    reduced his faith in government in the economy
    increased his faith in government for the polity
    ie call for a tax-cut, expenditure slash, aggressive foreign, repressive civil, lax environmental
    The only one that I can think of is his support for the Aust, military occupation of Timor, and that is surely the exception that proves the rule.
    Its just that Pr Q is a tenacious defender of most Leftist policies and one wonders what it would take to budge him off his pink-hued post.

  3. John Quiggin
    May 27th, 2004 at 13:00 | #3

    Actually Jack, I’m much more supportive of interventionist foreign policies than you suggest. As well as East Timor, I supported intervention in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan and the threat of intervention in Iraq (until Saddam complied with 1441 by readmitting UNSCOM). In the post just below this one I’m canvassing intervention in Sudan, though my ignorance of the topic means that I have no real idea if it is feasible or what form it should take.

    As regards blog debate changing my mind, I’ve spent thirty years or more formulating my views on government and public expenditure, and debating them with highly intelligent people, so I don’t expect to make radical changes in my world-view as a result of blog debate. On the other hand, blog debate has helped me to refine and adjust these views.

    More significantly, perhaps, the way I think about new issues, such as Iraq and Sudan is very much affected by blog discussion.

  4. Dave Ricardo
    May 27th, 2004 at 13:35 | #4

    Maybe Ken has seen a sneak preview of The Day After Tomorrow.

    I predict this film will do to greenhouse scepticism what Midnight Express did for tourism in Turkey.

  5. John Quiggin
    May 27th, 2004 at 14:15 | #5

    As an example of an issue on which my views have shifted in a direction that could broadly be classed as Rightwards, I’d nominate crime

  6. Observa
    May 27th, 2004 at 15:27 | #6

    Maybe Ken watched Lateline last night and the new info coming to light on North Atlantic ocean currents as conveyors?

  7. Mark Upcher
    May 27th, 2004 at 17:19 | #7

    So now Ken Parish joins John Quiggin and Bjorn Lomborg in accepting that global warming is occurring.

    But just because you accept global warming doesn’t mean that Kyoto is a sensible response to the problem. In that regard I find myself more in agreement with Warwick MacKibbin in this Tuesday’s AFR (subscription required).

  8. John Quiggin
    May 27th, 2004 at 17:32 | #8

    I’m interested in this claim Mark. A central feature of McKibbin’s case for his alternative is that it would be more politically acceptable than Kyoto, most obviously to the holdout governments of the US and Australia.

    Thanks to Putin’s vacillation, he’s had plenty of time to sell it to the US and Australian governments and, particularly in Australia, he has the high-level access needed to push his ideas. But, as he McKibbin himself concedes in his AFR piece, there’s been no interest whatsoever and, as a result, the case for any alternative to Kyoto has been gravely (I would say fatally) weakened.

    What leads you to think that McKibbin’s approach is preferable to Kyoto?

  9. Ken Parish
    May 27th, 2004 at 18:56 | #9

    Observa and Dave R,

    In fact the bloke on last night’s Lateline suggested that stopping or slowing down of the “conveyor” was extremely unlikely unless CO2-induced warming reaches 6 degrees C or more (which is very unlikely even on the most pessimistic doomsday scenarios). His opinion coincides with nearly all current scientific research as far as I know.

    Similarly, and for that reason, he debunked the Day After Tomorrow movie as typical Hollywood fantasy nonsense (as it is). No serious scientist suggests that sort of doomsday scenario is even remotely on the cards, but that isn’t to say that the real world, quite likely consequences of warming around 2-3 degrees C over the next century aren’t serious enough in themselves.

    The Lateline expert (Wally something or other) thought that maybe the movie, despite its absurd exaggerations, might serve a useful purpose because at least it gets people talking about the problem. Personally, I think this movie will merely contribute to ignorance and hysteria and potentially has a negative effect, in the same sense that absurdly exaggerated US propaganda against marijuana is counter-productive because young people who discover that the propaganda is garbage may automatically assume that similar propaganda about heroin etc is equally exaggerated.

  10. Dave Ricardo
    May 27th, 2004 at 19:11 | #10

    The marijuana analogy doesn’t work. People can immediately discover whether marijuana has the claimed consequences by trying it themselves. But the effects of global warming won’t kick in till the end of this century, by which time most of us will dead anyway, so no one will have anything actually demonstrated to them, in real life. They may well believe that Day After Tomorrow scenarios will happen, just as they believe that the second coming will happen.

    Plus, well made bullshit movies with a political subtext tend to have their intended effect. Look at “Rambo”, which was bullshit of the highest order, but gave a very nice kick along to the Reagan view of the world and associated foreign policy.

  11. John Quiggin
    May 27th, 2004 at 19:15 | #11

    From what I hear, the movie is so OTT that (hardly) anyone will take it seriously. The science in say, Jurassic Park, was much closer to reality and that didn’t seem to have much effect on public thinking about genetic engineering.

  12. Dave Ricardo
    May 27th, 2004 at 19:31 | #12

    John, the analogy doesn’t work.

    No one was claiming in real life that they could or would bring back dinosaurs, so Jurassic Park was pure fantasy. DAT is about something that most people agree is actually happening – not to the extent shown in the movie, but that is a 2nd order issue.

    Plus, Jurassic Park had a happy ending, so people left the multiplexes unworried.

  13. Mark Upcher
    May 27th, 2004 at 22:56 | #13

    John – I will concede that you are far more familiar with the literature than I am. For that reason I still have a fairly open mind on the whole issue. I would be interested to hear your views on why from an economics standpoint Kyoto is preferable to the McKibbin proposal.

    The main problem I see with Kyoto is that it is imposing targets without establishing a good idea of the total costs and benefits of achieving the targets. As a result, it is no closer to implemenation now than seven years ago. Also, my impression is that benefit-cost ratios for implemenation of Kyoto are subject to great deal of uncertainty, but in some cases are pretty bad – to the point that doing nothing could well be a better option than Kyoto. That does not mean we should do nothing about climate change. Instead, it may be better to put some energy into seeking better solutions.

    McKibbin can probably advocate his proposal better than I can, but from what I have seen he puts forward a wide range of advantages for what he is proposing over Kyoto and argues that his proposal takes better account of the major problem of uncertainty of costs and benefits of climate change.

    Unfortunately, international politics, and an environmental lobby that is usually antipathetic to suggestions from economists, has meant that all our eggs have been put in the Kyoto basket and little credence is given to looking for alternatives.

  14. John Quiggin
    May 28th, 2004 at 09:04 | #14

    Mark, in my view McKibbin’s arguments for using a price rather than a quantity target are reasonable enough in the abstract. But the targets involved in Kyoto are so modest and the costs so small that there isn’t much danger of doing too much mitigation.

    So the time when a mechanism like the one McKibbin is proposing would be useful is post-Kyoto when, if the evidence continues to pile up, we will have to look at really substantial and expensive cuts in emissions.

    Unfortunately, by lining up with the wreckers in relation to Kyoto, McKibbin is reducing the chances that his ideas will be taken seriously in the future.

  15. May 28th, 2004 at 18:41 | #15

    It’s nit picking I know but I seem to recall that compliance with UNSC Resolution 1441 required somewhat more than just readmitting UNSCOM.

  16. May 28th, 2004 at 18:48 | #16

    As to The Day After Tomorrow (it’s Earthquake for the noughties) and the effect it may or may not have… how much pressure was generated by the public after Armageddon and Deep Impact to have extra funding funnelled into Asteroid Watch programs? A flurry of fluff pieces in the media afterwards and that was about it. I seem to recall something similar after Twister as well.

    On second thoughts, maybe it’s closer to The Poseidon Adventure

    (but we’ll still see it)

  17. Mark Upcher
    May 29th, 2004 at 00:07 | #17

    John – You seem to be implying that Kyoto is purely symbolic. That is, it doesn’t matter whether the costs and the benefits are both relatively small because it is more important to be seen to be doing something rather than nothing.

    You have also stated before that Kyoto is just a first step and more significant measures will be required. Isn’t it a valid concern that if poor policy is accepted at the start, then when a larger version of Kyoto is required we will just magnify the flaws in Kyoto.

    Just because McKibbin is critical of Kyoto doesn’t mean he “is lining up with the wreckers”. This sounds a bit like a Kyoto version of Bush’s statement “you are either for us or against us” and McKibbin is trying to put forward an alternative.

  18. May 29th, 2004 at 17:44 | #18

    The politics of kyoto remind me that in politics, it is more important to be seen to be doing something than actually doing something. The unacknowleged elephant in the room is that Kyoto will have no measurable impact whatsoever on climate or temperature.

    If we really want to ameliorate CO2 production we could replace our coal-fired powerstations with uranium fired ones -an impossibility in the current australian political climate. Expenive toys like windmills and solar pannels just wont cut it…

  19. John Quiggin
    May 29th, 2004 at 17:57 | #19

    Aaron, the fact that Kyoto is only a first step has been pointed out on this blog and elsewhere many times. I have some discussion of nuclear options in a recent post.

    Although there’s a lot of noise in the data, my analysis suggests that wind power in suitable locations is cheaper than nuclear, and similarly for solar hot water. OTOH, solar photovoltaics are a long way from being cost-competitive. For moderate (less than 100 per cent) increases in current prices, conservation is the cheapest option in most cases.

    But, if we need a really big reduction in fossil fuel use then an expansion of nuclear (fission) is probably at least part of the solution.

  20. Brian Bahnisch
    May 31st, 2004 at 00:47 | #20

    There were a couple of relevant articles in the AFR in the last few days. Geoff Kitney in ‘Global warming back on the agenda’ (AFR 29 May 2004, subscription required) tells us that Tony Blair’s chief scientist told him “that climate change is a bigger world threat than terrorism”.

    Mark Lynas in Maybe not the day after tomorrow but . . . outlines a scenario where a chain reaction may already be in train which will lead to drastic consequences. He also states that the warm water flowing with the Gulf Stream over the banks between the Faroes and Iceland have already slowed 20%. I heard this a couple of years ago on Radio National.

    I’d really like to know what experts more clued up than I think about these two articles. It seems to me that it is well and truly time the precautionary principle came into play and we got our collective finger out.

  21. June 3rd, 2004 at 23:36 | #21

    It may be true that climate change is a bigger world threat than terrorism… but I think the threat of falling down stairs is probably larger than both combined.

    I find the arguments about terrorism and global warming amazingly similar… except that if people believe that action needs to be taken on one, then generally oppose the other. And both positions seemed to be driven by the same fear that has driven government (and stupid behaviour more generally) since the start of human history.

    We humans are nothing if not dramatic.

  22. Brian Bahnisch
    June 4th, 2004 at 01:19 | #22

    John, you could be right. I heard Phillip Adams talking to a terrorism expert the other night who said that international terrorism had killed an average of 360 people per year in recent times. That included Bali and Madrid but I think may have excluded 9/11. He did say that Americans were more likely to meet harm from the weather than from international terrorism.

    On the weather though we do know that the earth has often been less conducive to supporting large populations of humans than at present. In broad terms we know that rain fell for the first time 3.8 billion years ago when the atmosphere fell below boiling point. We know also that we have been in ice ages more often than not for the last 3 million years, so the general trend would seem easy to pick. We know also that the present interglacial has lasted longer than most.

    There is an interesting article by Paul Monk NATURAL HISTORY AND THE APOCALYPSE wherein he writes of Dansgaard-Oescher (D-O) events. He quotes from William H. Calvin’s “A Brain for all Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change” University of Chicago Press 2002, as follows:

    “12,900 years ago, Europe cooled down to Siberian temperatures within a decade…the rainfall likely dropped by half, and fierce winter storms whipped a lot of dust into the atmosphere. Such conditions lasted for over 1,300 years, whereupon things warmed back up, even more suddenly. The dust settled and the warm rains returned, again within a decade.”

    This happened before we got into agriculture and as he says before ‘world history’ began.

    Monk’s interest is predominantly on the impact of climate on human evolution (he says, following Calvin, that we were ‘sculpted’ by the ice ages) and on what kind of thinking we are going to need if we are to survive the next D-O event.

    His concluding paragraphs are, if I might say so, chilling. He writes:

    “And here’s the thing to get. Knowing this [that it could be cold that brings down the clever animal] is neither haughty nor mendacious. What is haughty is thinking that our climatic golden age was intended for us and that our future is assured. What is mendacious is telling ourselves and our children that all is well or all is in the hands of God, or that business as usual will suffice to see us through the next D-O, or that scientists like Wallace Broecker are just making up all these climate stories.”

    “The natural world is real, it is the only one there is, and it is not designed by Providence for our use and benefit. There have been mass extinctions before. There is no reason at all to believe that we may not be next… Think about it, clever animal.”

    You will note that these D-O events, of which there have been many since the ice ages began, can come on in the space of a decade. A possible scenario is that an initial warming disrupts the Gulf Stream, the fly-wheel of the world’s weather. This happens through a flush of fresh water in the Northern Atlantic (maybe from extra rain and the melting of glaciers and ice-sheets) which dilutes the salt water which then does not sink and provide the pull factor that brings the warm surface gulf stream up north.

    It seems that the fly-wheel may already be a bit wobbly. I think we should remember the precautionary principle. It’s too late when you’re dead as I dare say many of us would have to be as the earth’s productive capacity is drastically reduced.

  23. June 4th, 2004 at 08:42 | #23

    Ken Parish writes, “No serious scientist suggests that sort of doomsday scenario is even remotely on the cards, but that isn’t to say that the real world, quite likely consequences of warming around 2-3 degrees C over the next century aren’t serious enough in themselves.”

    Who says warming of 2-3 degrees C will occur over the next century?

  24. Brian Bahnisch
    June 5th, 2004 at 00:37 | #24

    Mark, I think I can find you an article or two, but perhaps tomorrow. It’s too late tonight.

    Meanwhile there was a short comment by Frank Muller, Adjunct Professor in the Institute of Environmental Studies, University of NSW on “The day after tomorrow” and global warming on Radio National tonight. Those interested can find the transcript here.

  25. June 5th, 2004 at 03:56 | #25

    Brian Banisch writes, “Meanwhile there was a short comment by Frank Muller, Adjunct Professor in the Institute of Environmental Studies, University of NSW on “The day after tomorrow” and global warming on Radio National tonight. Those interested can find the transcript here.”

    Oy, vey! What pathetic leftist drivel! The professor doesn’t even know whether what he “learned” was true…but he doesn’t care. To him, it doesn’t matter!

    What matters to him is overcoming “an ideological aversion in current politics to Governments leading a reshaping of the economy.” Well, duh, Professor Muller! That “ideological aversion” comes from the fact that MOST of us have learned lessons from history and economics!

    Tell you what, professor Muller, why don’t you fly to Mainland China, and ask them what they think about Chairman Mao’s “Great Leap Forward?”

    Unbelievable!

    P.S. Per this website, what the professor “learned” isn’t true, by the way:

    http://www.uga.edu/srel/ecoview11-18-02.htm

    P.P.S. As I posted elsewhere on this website, I think environmental science has cancer. And professor Muller is a perfect example of what I was writing about.

    Mark Bahner (environmental engineer)

  26. June 5th, 2004 at 03:57 | #26

    Oops, Bahnisch. Sorry Brian.

  27. Brian Bahnisch
    June 5th, 2004 at 16:15 | #27

    Mark, forgive me, but you do rant a bit when you get off the strictly scientific questions. You’ve introduced a bit of static, so let’s deal with that first.

    The frog is just a metaphor and, as with language and communication generally, it depends on every-one assigning the same meanings. So if we’re all wrong about how frogs behave in hot water it doesn’t matter except to the scientific purists, and, may I say, pedants. We all know what he meant, don’t we? He was just trying to liven his presentation up a bit, but, as often happens with such attempts, perhaps succeeded in introducing a distraction.

    Nevertheless there is a problem with how the Prof used his frog metaphor. To me the problem was in implying that there was somewhere outside the bucket, whereas climatalogically speaking the only place outside the bucket is another planet.

    Secondly your notion that right = good and left = bad just doesn’t cut it IMO. Prof Muller wrote as follows:

    “But there’s a deeper problem – an ideological aversion in current politics to Governments leading a reshaping of the economy – even though our future is at stake and even though the technologies, institutions and infrastructure that need changing are themselves the products of earlier nation building led by Governments.”

    I thought that was one of the more cogent statements he made. You will find plenty of thinkers worrying that the American version of capitalism based so strongly on individualism is part of the problem at present. If we don’t sign up to that, then Mao’s China is not the only alternative. I could recommend to you Will Hutton’s The world we’re in as an antidote to the ‘America is best’ syndrome. Hutton argues cogently for the social democratic form of political economy found in Continental Europe as superior to the US and the UK for livability and even in pure economic terms. And before horse laughs break out consider their performance over the past 6 decades as a whole and maybe have another think.

    I would declare myself as a social democrat believing in a mixed economy where the economic serves the social and the possibility of democratically derived government action in the pulic interest remains readily available. What I’m saying to you now is that we could have a discussion about this (maybe) but not in the form of anti-left or anti-right rants.

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