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The end of the global warming debate

January 4th, 2006

The news that 2005 was the warmest year ever recorded in Australia comes at the end of a year in which, to the extent that facts can settle anything, the debate over human-caused global warming has been settled. Worldwide, 2005 was equal (to within the margin of error of the stats) with 1998 as the warmest year in at least the past millennium.

More significantly, perhaps, 2005 saw the final nail hammered into the arguments climate change contrarians have been pushing for years. The few remaining legitimate sceptics, along with some of the smarter ideological contrarians, have looked at the evidence and conceded the reality of human-caused global warming.

Ten years or so ago, the divergence between satellite and ground-based measurements of temperature was a big problem – the ground based measurements showed warming in line with climate models but the satellites showed a cooling trend. The combination of new data and improved calibration has gradually resolved the discrepancy, in favour of the ground-based measurements and the climate models.

Another set of arguments concerned short-term climate cycles like El Nino. The late John Daly attributed the high temperatures of the late 1990s to the combination of El Nino and solar cycles, and predicted a big drop, bottoming out in 2005 and 2006. Obviously the reverse has happened. Despite the absence of the El Nino or solar effects that contributed to the 1998 record, the long-term warming trend has dominated.

Finally, there’s water vapour. The most credible of the contrarians, Richard Lindzen, has relied primarily on arguments that the feedback from water vapour, which plays a central role in climate models, might actually be zero or even negative. Recent evidence has run strongly against this claim. Lindzen’s related idea of an adaptive iris has been similarly unsuccessful.

Finally, the evidence has mounted up that, with a handful of exceptions, “sceptics” are not, as they claim, fearless seekers after scientific truth, but ideological partisans and paid advocates, presenting dishonest arguments for a predetermined party-line conclusion. Even three years ago, sites like Tech Central Station, and writers like Ross McKitrick were taken seriously by many. Now, anyone with access to Google can discover that they have no credibility. Chris Mooney’s Republican War on Science which I plan to review soon, gives chapter and verse and the whole network of thinktanks, politicians and tame scientists who have popularised GW contrarianism, Intelligent Design and so on.

A couple of thoughts on all this.

First, in the course of the debate, a lot of nasty things were said about the IPCC, including some by people who should have known better. Now that it’s clear that the IPCC has been pretty much spot-on in its assessment (and conservative in terms of its caution about reaching definite conclusions), it would be nice to see some apologies.

Second, now that the scientific phase of the debate is over, attention will move to the question of the costs and benefits of mitigation options. There are legitimate issues to be debated here. But having seen the disregard for truth exhibited by anti-environmental think tanks in the first phase of the debate, we shouldn’t give them a free pass in the second. Any analysis on this issue coming out of a think tank that has engaged in global warming contrarianism must be regarded as valueless unless its results have been reproduced independently, after taking account of possible data mining and cherry picking. That disqualifies virtually all the major right-wing think tanks, both here and in the US. Their performance on this and other scientific issues has been a disgrace.

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  1. Terje Petersen
    January 4th, 2006 at 23:01 | #1

    Second, now that the scientific phase of the debate is over, attention will move to the question of the costs and benefits of mitigation options.

    Kyoto protocol seems to have little benefit. Any idea what it might cost?

  2. Steve chidio
    January 4th, 2006 at 23:20 | #2

    I agree entirely John, those right wing extremist “think tanks� ought to be closed immediately for impersonating real think tanks that speak to power.
    Unlike our left wing think tanks, right wingers only know one thing these days -that’s sucking up to the neo-con cabal in both Washington and Canberra.

    Of course, global warming is not the only thing the right wing neo-con cabal have missed and its to your sense of fairness that you didn’t make mention while you have them on the ropes over this issue. However, I think it is a mistake, John, as we need to expose these right-wing neo-con think tank imposters for the dishonest bunch they are.

    We have known for several years now that Kyoto is the only treaty that would stop the enormous build up of pollutants in the southern hemisphere. After all, the ozone hole did not suddenly just appear, did it? The countries who have signed up to the treaty seem to be the only nations with a positive sense of long-term economic sustainability. France is a perfect example of a nation with a strong sense of destiny that knows Kyoto only brings growth and prosperity to its people as they move to more efficient technologies. While the cabal is busy in Iraq, France and Germany are busy building their economies without green house gas emissions. Now, as these countries move into a post industrial age we can be sure they will surpass the non-signers in such way that will only create envy- a permanent leisure class.

    It’s not surprising 05 was the warmest year ever recorded- at least while neo-con Howard remains in power. Not only does he suck up to his Washington power base, he avoids the obvious s when the facts are presented to him. Not content with destroying work place harmony he now wants to destroy our environment by not signing up to Kyoto in the face of the evidence.

    Thanks John for bringing this matter up.

    Note: The comment above is intended as satire. It doesn’t work for me, but YMMV – JQ

  3. January 4th, 2006 at 23:36 | #3

    The right wing think tanks have now declared war on political correctness, having virtually to abandon their long time left bashing global warming stick.

    Now all i hear about on redneck radio 4bc and dumb and dumber today tonight is political correctness.

    As if calling an aboriginal a “nigger” is going to solve the problems in dubbo.
    A Scape goat like none other for those with no answers – too busy pushing their conservative party lines….

  4. January 4th, 2006 at 23:57 | #4

    Good post, John. I look forward to your review of Mooney’s book.

  5. jquiggin
    January 5th, 2006 at 04:55 | #5

    Steve Chidio, I’m getting tired of your trolling. Please either start making constructive contributions or go elsewhere.

  6. January 5th, 2006 at 07:36 | #6

    Not surprising that you should jump on the bandwagon, JQ, but disappointing all the same for you to draw premature conclusions, once again.

    I knew it was only a matter of time before the “See! I told you!” brigade leapt on the 2005 temperature data as proof positive of imminent immolation. The ABC did a particularly good beatup (with a CSIRO talking head, no less) the other night.

    You did, at least, have the decency to point to some real science (i.e. on water vapour) rather than just harping on anecdotally about one year of temperature data and “increased bushfire risk”.

    We already know the earth has warmed in the last few decades – the evidence is too good to dispute, as you’ve noted previously. Whether this is anthropogenic or not is the key question, and I dispute your assertion that it is settled. Lindzen’s hypothesis on the negative feedback of water vapour is one theory suggesting that future warming will not be as severe as some models predict. Disproving that theory would not prove that existing warming is anthropogenic, or that existing projections of temperature increase are accurate.

    I’ll state for the record, for those putative inquisitors out there who don’t know my position, that I am a AGW skeptic in the true sense, i.e. I don’t know what the f#ck is going on, and I don’t think the scientists do either…yet. More science, more research, please, and less jumping the gun on Kyoto to the nth degree.

    Oh, and a big wet raspberry to the first person who calls me a creationist/astroturfer/ostrich/etc.

  7. Ken
    January 5th, 2006 at 07:43 | #7

    As the science gets more solid, the debate about mitigation is probably going to get more partisan as those with a big stake in free CO2 dumping pull out all stops to prevent regulation. I don’t know how much revenue our gov’ts derive from coal, gas and oil but it has to be a lot and there’s bound to be a reluctance to do anything that affects that revenue stream. When the most cashed up industries start lobbying in ernest and play the fear-of-economic-ruin card with all their might that reluctance will be likely to harden.

    I really think it’s a technolgical challenge that’s within our power to meet. Here in sunny Australia solar power has enormous potential and ought to be pursued with real intent, rather than with political promises and feel good pronouncements. Multi-layered sheets with patterns printed on them over and over again, with no moving parts – once perfected photovoltaics will be very amenable to mass production, and with nano technology finding it’s stride it’s likely to be better and cheaper when it is. The same goes for better batteries, which would have remarkable benefits besides making solar,wind and other intermittent yet abundant energy sources much more consistently available.

    When we have governments that put more effort into developing and deploying new clean energy technologies than they put into promoting and protecting existing energy industies we can see a real shift that might make a positive difference.

    Peel and Stick solar sheeting, roads paved with solar cells and batteries that can power trucks and ships and planes – these are what the world needs. I haven’t heard that they are beyond our capabilities to produce.

  8. jquiggin
    January 5th, 2006 at 07:44 | #8

    “Lindzen’s hypothesis on the negative feedback of water vapour is one theory suggesting that future warming will not be as severe as some models predict. Disproving that theory would not prove that existing warming is anthropogenic, or that existing projections of temperature increase are accurate.”

    Well, what would prove it? Doing nothing and waiting to see what happens would work. But that’s a rather self-defeating standard of proof.

    The basic physics of AGW theory is straightforward, it fits the data, and standard models predict well out of sample, unlike alternative explanations of late-90s warming based on El Nino and solar cycles. The credible objections (AFAIK) have all been resolved in favour of the mainstream model – the satellite data was the most serious. There is (again AFAIK) no credible alternative left in the field.

  9. Terje
    January 5th, 2006 at 08:02 | #9

    For grid storage applications we already have good batteries.

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pumped-storage_hydroelectricity

  10. Paul Norton
    January 5th, 2006 at 08:10 | #10

    Terje wrote:

    “Kyoto protocol seems to have little benefit. Any idea what it might cost?”

    Measures to reduce pollution and protect the environment over the past thirty-odd years have actually yielded a slight economic benefit, according to the OECD. Economic models predicting large economic costs from such measures in the US have been found to be consistently wrong – see Eban Goodstein’s The Trade-Off Myth for details. Reducing emissions by using energy more efficiently (thereby getting more bang for your buck) are economically beneficial. Try turning off your TV and computer at the wall instead of leaving them on standby, and try hanging your washing out on the line instead of using a dryer, and see how much more money you have left after paying your power bill. Try walking or cycling to the shop, or to work, and see how much money you save on petrol.

  11. January 5th, 2006 at 08:15 | #11

    JQ,

    The AGW is one hypothesis potentially explaining why the Earth has warmed in recent decades. Like most scientific hypotheses, it remains contingent. It fits the data in recent history, but does not explain significant temperature variation in earlier recorded history. The absence of a superior hypotheses does not make AGW conclusive or correct. It is just the best, albeit flawed, hypothesis we have available. The fact that is the only answer does not necessarily make it THE answer, particularly with a system we know to be so incredibly complex.

  12. Chris C
    January 5th, 2006 at 08:24 | #12

    “We already know the earth has warmed in the last few decades – the evidence is too good to dispute, as you’ve noted previously. Whether this is anthropogenic or not is the key question, and I dispute your assertion that it is settled.”

    Fyodor, is that really the key question? As far as I see it (not knowing much about any of this), the bottom line is that global warming is happening really quickly, and this will have significant effects on human welfare if sustained. As an unabashed ‘species-ist’, this concerns me, and I think that we should make significant sacrifices to preserve our way of life as best we can. What does it matter whether the warming is anthropogenic or not? Reducing man-made carbon emissions is the only instrument humanity has to use against climate change, so lets start pushing on that string I say! Unless your argument is: well its natural, the climate will self-correct (with or without humanity extant) so lets just sit back and cop it sweet?

  13. January 5th, 2006 at 08:37 | #13

    The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

    “What does it matter whether the warming is anthropogenic or not?”

    Well, for one thing, if it’s not anthropogenic, then “reducing man-made carbon emissions” will do SFA for our chances, except potentially reducing our capacity (e.g. by lowering economic growth) to manage climate change.

    That’s why getting the science right is important. First, identify the problem, then find the solution. You seem to prefer leaping at a solution without really understanding the problem. I don’t agree.

    “Unless your argument is: well its natural, the climate will self-correct (with or without humanity extant) so lets just sit back and cop it sweet?”

    This may actually be the case, though I’d suggest we should be planning for mitigation (e.g. reviewing agricultural practices and water distribution in already dry areas, reviewing coastal settlement, etc.) no matter what the cause of warming. It’s worth pointing out that even the most extreme projections for global warming do not anticipate the extinction of humanity. Don’t hit the panic button just yet, Chris.

  14. jquiggin
    January 5th, 2006 at 08:38 | #14

    Fyodor, if all you mean is that climate science, like evolution, quantum physics and most other scientific theories is contingent and subject to revision, then fine, but it seems odd to present this as “I don’t know what the … is going on and neither do the scientists”, and to criticise ABC TV for not including a guide to Hume every time science is mentioned.

    I’m not sure what you mean about not explaining earlier fluctuations. There are good climate science explanations for these, obviously not anthropogenic ones. The comparison between historical and recent changes is an important part of the evidence supporting AGW – hence the ferocity of attacks on the “hockey stick” by people like McKitrick.

    We make decisions on the basis of the best scientific evidence we have – we can never attain absolute certainty.

  15. January 5th, 2006 at 08:50 | #15

    JQ,

    I criticised the ABC (and you, for that matter) for taking one year of anecdotal data and presenting it as conclusive evidence “proving” the AGW hypothesis. No inhumeation required – just a decent handle on science, free from hyperbole.

    Would you like to provide the “good climate science explanations” for past climatic changes, e.g. the Medieval Warm Period, or Little Ice Age? My understanding is that they are NOT well explained. There is little consensus on the causes of these events, because we don’t understand natural climate change well enough to know.

    “We make decisions on the basis of the best scientific evidence we have – we can never attain absolute certainty.”

    Absolutely, in a relative sense. You believe we have “the best scientific evidence we have”. But that ‘s not true: we’re evidently learning all the time, and the longer we wait, the better the evidence. Personally, I’m willing to trade more time for more evidence, particularly if it helps us avoid a major economic mistake.

  16. jquiggin
    January 5th, 2006 at 09:19 | #16

    “Would you like to provide the “good climate science explanationsâ€? for past climatic changes, e.g. the Medieval Warm Period, or Little Ice Age? My understanding is that they are NOT well explained. There is little consensus on the causes of these events, because we don’t understand natural climate change well enough to know.”

    I think you’ve been reading too much McKitrick here.The Medieval Warm period and Little Ice Age were local European events. Claims to the contrary are not taken seriously outside contrarian circles. Wikipedia is, as usual, a handy reference.

    Again, no one knows exactly how the eye evolved, or how to reconcile quantum theory and general relativity.

    Finally, the phrase “anecdotal data” is a new one on me. We’re looking at over 100 years of data accumulated at thousands of sites and seeing (as you agree) an upward trend in recent decades. We can go back 1000 years and find that this trend is unprecedented in recent history.

  17. Ian Gould
    January 5th, 2006 at 09:23 | #17

    The Global Warming debate will never end – much like the geocentricism and evolution debates.

  18. Ian Gould
    January 5th, 2006 at 09:29 | #18

    Terje: Warwick McKibbin, an eminent economic modeller and a critic of Kyoto, provides his estimates of Kyoto costs here: http://www.brookings.edu/views/papers/20040215_bdpie159.pdf

    I just had an urgent phonecall and have to go. I haven’t read the paper yey myself and probably won;t until some tiem this evening.

    Warwick McKibbin is usually good value though.

  19. Ken Miles
    January 5th, 2006 at 09:43 | #19

    There is some evidence that global temperatures were slightly higher in the MWP, and slightly lower in the LIA, but these are easily explained by changes in solar and volcanic activity.

    Only in peusdoscience la-la land are they are problem for climate scientists.

  20. Katz
    January 5th, 2006 at 10:01 | #20

    Proponents of AGW base their conclusions on the positive correlation between the now almost universally acknowledged observation that global temperatures are rising quickly and the almost univerally acknowledged observation of increases in the by-products of human activities, notably greenhouse gasses.

    More controversial is the causal relationship. Now, it appears, a positive feedback loop may be causing naturally created methane and CO2 to be released into the atmosphere.

    Rather than proponents of both positions taking potshots at each other from prepared defences, as an interested and sceptical observer of this debate I’d like to read something slightly different.

    That is: what evidence would proponents of both sides accept as falsification of their position? This Popperian test may help to winnow sound scientific thinking from prejudice.

    Any takers?

  21. Hal9000
    January 5th, 2006 at 10:07 | #21

    “…it would be nice to see some apologies”

    Prof Q, surely you know that writing for Rupert[1] means never having to say you’re sorry! Cf Greg Sheridan’s fawning panegyrics over three decades of the butcher Suharto’s tyranny and his contemptuous dismissal of the East Timor independence movement.

    [1] Climate change deniers Janet Albrechtsen, P P McGuinness, Ian Plimer, Frank Divine etc etc.

  22. Dogz
    January 5th, 2006 at 10:09 | #22

    Any analysis on this issue coming out of a think tank that has engaged in global warming contrarianism must be regarded as valueless unless its results have been reproduced independently.

    Their performance on this and other scientific issues has been a disgrace.

    In many cases far less disgraceful than the performance of nearly every pro-environmental think-tank, environmental NGO, most individual environmentalists and many climatologists. I can’t count the number of times in the last 10 years Greenpeace have attributed a major climate event to global warming. The latest example: here in SA we’re currently being deluged with taxpayer-funded ads featuring Tim [I'm-a-zoologist-not-a-metereologist] Flannery exhorting us to turn off our 60W light globes as if that is going to somehow reverse global warming.

    If we’re to have a Stalinist purge then lets at least be impartial.

  23. January 5th, 2006 at 10:10 | #23

    JQ and Ken,

    The global nature of the MWP and LIA are disputed, as are their causes. They are not “easily explained” by changes in solar and volcanic activity. It is generally assumed that they played a role, simply because they are known major causes of natural climate change. HOW they affected temperatures, whether regionally or globally, is not well understood. Furthermore, JQ, reread the wikipedia entries. MWP and LIA events have been found outside of the North Atlantic basin.

    JQ, your dog-whistling reference to the evolution of the eye is sly, but still insulting. I am not a creationist or IDer.

    The anecdotal data referred to is the 2005 Australian temperature record recently released by the BoM and referred to by both the ABC and yourself. “The End of the Global Warming Debate” indeed. The debate is very far from over.

  24. January 5th, 2006 at 10:15 | #24

    Fyodor – I agree that taking one year and saying that the debate is over is a bit premature however this is not the only evidence that global warming is happening and is anthropogenic. Certainly the high average temperature of 2005 in the absence of an El-Nino is very significant. The last high average was 1998 when there was a strong El-Nino contributing to that years high temperatures.

    It should set some alarm bells ringing. While it is not correct to say the sky is falling providing early warning is not alarmist if the action to contain the problem has to be started many years before the actual event.

    I also do not agree that is it sufficient to say that just because there were warming and cooling events in the past where there were no humans that this present warming is also natural. The big difference now is anthropogenic greenhouse gases which is driving THIS warming event. In the past there were others triggers or drivers however this time it is us.

    The global warming debate will end. Unike evolution, which would need a time machine to settle conclusively, in 20 or 30 years we will know what this grand experiment will bring one way or the other. I hope that the skeptics are correct and nothing severe happens however I do not think that this is likely.

  25. Ken Miles
    January 5th, 2006 at 10:34 | #25

    The global nature of the MWP and LIA are disputed, as are their causes. They are not “easily explained� by changes in solar and volcanic activity. It is generally assumed that they played a role, simply because they are known major causes of natural climate change. HOW they affected temperatures, whether regionally or globally, is not well understood.

    The evidence for this is much much stronger than what your comment implies. It isn’t just assumed that they played a role. Rather we have proxy measurements of both past solar and volcanic activity. These proxy measurements correlate well with past temperature reconstructions.

  26. Terje Petersen
    January 5th, 2006 at 10:38 | #26

    Paul and Ian,

    My question about costs was somewhat sarcastic, however thanks for the cost references. My main point was not that the costs of Kyoto might be tolerable but rather that there don’t seem to be many benefits to Kyoto.

    If my energy costs (electricity and petrol) double tomorrow I think I will still have a good lifestyle. However if my energy costs double and my we still cook then I will be somewhat annoyed. Most of the IPCC models seemed to suggest that Kyoto would provide little benefit.

    Regards,
    Terje.

    P.S. If all the Left Wing think tanks apply themselves to the problem and eventually decide that we need to implement a carbon tax then can we use the revenue to abolish income tax? Or do we have to spend the revenue like left wingers also.

  27. Steve chidio
    January 5th, 2006 at 10:40 | #27

    JQ

    John,
    The comment above was not meant to be a satire. You castigate a real supporter of yours and yet you let that Fydor character spew his venomous skepticism on your site. Attack him, not me, as he has the temerity to suggest that he doesn’t know AGW is happening.

    Please, John , you should be asking Fydor to take his nonsense elsewhere. Maybe Blair would accept it, but not here. Not at a Social Democratic site. We don’t need that kind of thing.

  28. Ken Miles
    January 5th, 2006 at 10:45 | #28

    Katz,

    I’ll bite.

    I would consider the science of global warming to be falsified if there was a future temperature trend which defied our understanding of how climate variability works. For example, if global temperatures start to fall significantly, while climate forcings (greenhouse gases, solar effects etc) keep on rising, I would accept this as a falsification of the theory.

  29. Paul
    January 5th, 2006 at 10:49 | #29

    Terje, the Kyoto proposal as it stands would not provide much benefit. I think of it as the first step in the right direction.

  30. jquiggin
    January 5th, 2006 at 10:53 | #30

    Katz, I agree with Ken. I asked the same of Fyodor way upthread.

  31. jquiggin
    January 5th, 2006 at 10:54 | #31

    Terje, the most promising proposal for carbon tax revenue is to use it to fund the abolition of payroll tax.

  32. Ken Miles
    January 5th, 2006 at 10:58 | #32

    If all the Left Wing think tanks apply themselves to the problem and eventually decide that we need to implement a carbon tax then can we use the revenue to abolish income tax? Or do we have to spend the revenue like left wingers also.

    I’m not a left-wing think tank, but I advocated this carbon tax + reductions in tax rate at Troppo a while back. http://troppoarmadillo.ubersportingpundit.com/archives/009575.html

  33. Ken Miles
    January 5th, 2006 at 11:02 | #33

    Terje, the Kyoto proposal as it stands would not provide much benefit. I think of it as the first step in the right direction.

    I see Kyoto’s biggest advantage that it stimulate more R&D into reduction of carbon emissions. Which will (long term) play a much bigger role than any short term reduction in emissions.

  34. Terje Petersen
    January 5th, 2006 at 11:04 | #34

    Paul,

    It seems to me that it is like saying it would be good to have a bridge from Tasmania to the mainland, justifying it through a cost benefit analysis and then deciding to save money by building just the first half of the bridge. If we are going to do a cost benefit analysis then lets analyse a proposal with all the benefits and all the costs. Or at least something with substancial benefits. Asking people to sign on for an incremental bridge building project seems somewhat wishful. Actually signing up seems pretty naive.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  35. Terje Petersen
    January 5th, 2006 at 11:08 | #35

    John,

    I am all for getting rid of payroll tax. Except that it is one of the few taxes that remains decentralised (ie state based).

    If we are to have a carbon tax and it merely elliminates payroll tax then it would seem to be a quite modest tax. Will there be much benefit for such a modest tax in terms of changes to global warming?

    I assume that in practice a carbon tax would be levied on power stations and petrol retailers. Given the politics of petrol taxes do you think it is likely to happen any time soon.

    Do you personally think carbon taxes is the way to go?

    Regards,
    Terje.

  36. Katz
    January 5th, 2006 at 11:50 | #36

    “I would consider the science of global warming to be falsified if there was a future temperature trend which defied our understanding of how climate variability works. For example, if global temperatures start to fall significantly, while climate forcings (greenhouse gases, solar effects etc) keep on rising, I would accept this as a falsification of the theory. ”

    Thanks Ken.

    What in your opinion is the minimum credible timeframe which would allow for the possibility that non-anthropogenic factors may be causing the hypothesised observed significant fall in global temperatures despite continuation of production of high levels of greenhouse gasses and solar effects etc.?

    (Are there no AGW sceptics out there willing to be as explicit as Ken?)

  37. Dano
    January 5th, 2006 at 12:12 | #37

    I’m a little late to the party, but Fyodor said:

    Like most scientific hypotheses, it remains contingent. It fits the data in recent history, but does not explain significant temperature variation in earlier recorded history.

    This looks like a Googler argument – it’s all cockeyed, an indication the Google results are not well-understood. It would help if the ‘earlier recorded history’ were defined, but then we’d have something to pin you down on, eh?

    If Fyodor means the cooling in the mid-20th C, perhaps the websites he reads have ‘forgotten’ to include cooling effects of landcover changes and other albedo changing events, like air pollution. The ocean can absorb heat, too; these are promising lines of research as to how much and when.

    Certainly the physics is clear: raise the CO2 content of the atmosphere and the temp will rise.

    I see no septic hypothesis that explains away the little problem of increased CO2, and Lindzen’s infrared iris hasn’t stood up to scrutiny in the literature (despite the occasional trumpeting on the Internets).

    The septics, simply, don’t have an answer, model, theory, idea, .pdf. or clue as to the question: why wouldn’t temps rise with an increase in CO2? Of course they would, so we must distract, atomistically quibble, tap dance, prevaricate, and/or mendacicize.

    Thus, maybe we have to modify John’s assertion: the scientific debate is nearly over.

    The denialist/contrascientist debate is, as Fyodor says, far from over, sadly. Or not sadly, if you gain entertainment from the display.

    Best,

    D

    P.S.: Nice comment utility, John. I’ve been away from here for awhile & missed the upgrade. -D-

  38. Dano
    January 5th, 2006 at 12:14 | #38

    Correction to the P.S.: nice preview utility, John. The comments themselves don’t seem to have the same HTML functionality as preview…

    D

  39. Dogz
    January 5th, 2006 at 12:28 | #39

    If 2005 being the hottest Australian year since 1910 means the global warming debate is over, what does the fact that Perth had the coldest December on record mean?

    http://www.bom.gov.au/announcements/media_releases/wa/20060103.shtml

    Which climate events entitle one to terminate the debate?

  40. Ian Gould
    January 5th, 2006 at 12:28 | #40

    >If all the Left Wing think tanks apply themselves to the problem and eventually decide that we need to implement a carbon tax then can we use the revenue to abolish income tax?

    I doubt it’d come close to replacing the money raised from the incoem tax.

    A possible alternative to eliminating the payroll tax would be to significantly raise the level at which busiensses have to register fo the GST from the current $50,000 to, say, $2,000,000.

    The compliance costs for small busiensses in paying GST are extremely high as a proportion of the revenue raised making it a very inefficient tax.

    In the US you could argue that paying down the national debt is a higher priority than tax cuts.

  41. Ken Miles
    January 5th, 2006 at 12:40 | #41

    Hi Katz, that’s a hard question to give a definate answer to, because, there are still uncertainities in what drives climate (we can explain a large part of observed climate variability by greenhouse gases, solar, volcanic, ozone and atmospheric particle forcing, but not all of it). Personally, I would like to see between five and ten years of measurements, however, if the difference between theory and observation was extremely large, a shorter time frame would do.

  42. e sciaroni
    January 5th, 2006 at 12:47 | #42

    The point is that global warming IS happening so;
    What’s to be done about it?

    My ideas on mitigation run more toward adaptions to the new climates that have been created. In the subarctic there are vast tracts of land that might be opened to agriculture. Increased violent storms may require some coastal cities to be abandoned.

    If we had controlled our carbon usage we might have avoided this situation. We didn’t. It’s time to do what people have always done;
    adapt and survive.

  43. Terje
    January 5th, 2006 at 12:55 | #43

    The compliance costs for small busiensses in paying GST are extremely high as a proportion of the revenue raised making it a very inefficient tax.

    I run a small business with a turnover near the million dollar mark. I don’t find GST anywhere near as painful to administer as PAYG or payroll tax.

    My ideas on mitigation run more toward adaptions to the new climates that have been created. In the subarctic there are vast tracts of land that might be opened to agriculture.

    All fine so long as change is gradual and limited. If we hit a climatic tipping point then mitigation may seem wishful.

  44. Dogz
    January 5th, 2006 at 12:56 | #44

    Can one apply for pastoral leases in the Australian Antarctic Territory?

  45. e sciaroni
    January 5th, 2006 at 13:05 | #45

    WHEN we hit the climatic tipping point then mitigation will be absolutely necessary.

  46. Chris O’Neill
    January 5th, 2006 at 13:06 | #46

    Some people have the erroneous idea that the greenhouse effect is nothing more than a hypothesis that is yet to be tested thoroughly enough to be able to be relied upon. These people ignore the fact that basic physics (which are no longer considered to be mere hypotheses) says there will be some warming unless by some incredibly lucky fluke the climate system just happens to produce forever-lasting weather events that counteract the effects of basic physics.

    It’s relatively easy to work out using the laws of physics how much warming there would be with simple models of the earth and atmosphere. e.g. you could model the atmosphere as having a particular fixed cloud reflectivity, water vapour content, etc. and the earth’s surface as having a particular fixed albedo. The point is that nomatter what set of paramter values you choose from the range that exists on the earth, the laws of physics say that increasing CO2 and leaving every other independent variable the same always increases the temperature at the surface. This is a consequence of the laws of physics. It is not a hypothesis.

    Now of course the earth’s atmosphere and surface are not uniform and static and these aspects lead to the climate and weather being very complicated and the dynamic nature to global temperature varying simply because of changes in the weather. e.g. if the global weather happens to be causing a lower-than-normal transfer of heat from the equator towards the poles then the equator will be hotter and the poles colder than normal and this would cause the global average temperature to become lower than normal because of the non-linearity of the Stefan-Boltzman equation that relates radiation to temperature.

    The point is that even though global weather may produce variations in global average temperture (and these are probably always limited in duration and effect, unlike a lot of the anthropogenic CO2 which will stay in the atmosphere on average for many thousands of years) they don’t alter the basic physics and the global warming we expect in basic physical models. If someone says they want to wait until complex dynamic models show that by some amazing fluke of nature the actual global warming is much less than it would be in a world that was uniform and unchanging then they’re effectively praying for a miracle. They’ve got to ask themselves, “Do I feel lucky today, well do I?”

  47. Ian Gould
    January 5th, 2006 at 13:07 | #47

    It should be remembered that according tio the Australian government, Australia is on track to meet its Kyoto targets.

    So the additional cost of signing Kyoto would appear to be zero.

    Refusing to sign has, however , probably created additional costs for Australia (since we can’t sell credits into the Kyoto markets) and deterred some investment into Australia.

  48. Terje Petersen
    January 5th, 2006 at 13:22 | #48

    Chris,

    Tossing a coin is an exercise in basic physics. A mass of known size and shape has a force applied and follows a trajectory. However few scientists can accurately predict the outcome.

    To call the greenhouse effect as it applies to the earths climatic trends an exercise in basic physics is misleading. Calculating the trajectory of a single cannon ball in zero atmospheric conditions under the influence of gravity is basic physics. The atmospheric and climatic systems of the planet are very complex.

    Of course the notion that the atmosphere is mostly transparent to short wave radiation from the sun and somewhat opaque to long wave radiation re-radiated from the earth has been understood for a very long time. However calling the topic basic is IMHO a poor characterisation.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  49. January 5th, 2006 at 13:30 | #49

    Chris – where skeptics get their wedges from are the mistakes and missteps taken on the road to what you accurately say is “These people ignore the fact that basic physics (which are no longer considered to be mere hypotheses) says there will be some warming”. They use the media and public distrust of science to cloud the issue. I agree that the science of warming is fully based on facts.

    The devil is in the details. Our chaotic atmosphere reacts in unpredictable ways to this warming – this is what cannot be predicted. Unfortunatly there is no scientific test or experiment that can conclusively prove AGW induced climate change before it happens. Until then the fossil fuel industry can go on as normal happily saying “Prove it and we will take action” or “technological breakthroughs are needed to combat climate change”.

  50. e sciaroni
    January 5th, 2006 at 13:39 | #50

    “…anthropogenic CO2 which will stay in the atmosphere on average for many thousands of years”

    This is just not the case. All the CO2 in the atmoshere is part of the carbon cycle. Thankfully, the human generated CO2 is only a fraction of the total. The Earth will take care of this imbalance as soon as we run out of fossil fuels. Unfortunately there are other gases (CFCs eg.) which are not naturally occuring and might continue to accumulate. These “exotic” gases are the real long term problem.

  51. Ian Gould
    January 5th, 2006 at 13:51 | #51

    Let’s put some figures around the question of Kyoto costs and carbon taxes as they apply to Australia.

    http://www.greenhouse.gov.au/projections/pubs/tracking2005.pdf

    Australia’s current emissions are around 585 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year.

    Assuming there was no incentive to reduce emissions as a result of a tax, a $10 per tonne charge would raise $6 billion.

    (Costs of carbon emission credits in the European market have been between roughly 8 and 12 Euroes per ton of CO2 for the past year – approximately A$13-$19).

    Let’s look at if from another perspective – assume a carbon tax was used to purchase reduction credits.

    Credits eqivalent to 10% of Australia’s current emissions would cost between $600 million and $1.2 billion (valued at A$10-20.) A carbon tax to raise that amount would need to be set at $1-2per tonne of CO2.

    Credits equivalent to 30% of current emissions would cost A$1.75-3.5 billion, equivalent to a carbon tax of $3-6 per tonne of CO2.

    The long-term target recommended by scientists is a 70% reduction in emissions. Purchasing credits equivalent to 70% of current emissions would cost $4-8 billion per year equivalent to a carbon tax of $7-14 per tonne of CO2.

    (the estimated cost for purchasing reduction credits is a gross figure. Assuming some proportion of the reductions were undertaken in Australia, it woudl lead to increased employment and profit, reducing the net cost ot the Australian government.)

    That $8 billion is equivalent to around $400 per Australian. That isn’t to meet our initial Kyoto target, that’s to reduce our net emissions by 70%.

    Let’s double that and then assume that the governemnt will compensate people not in the workforce (e.g. children and pensioners). The 8,000,000
    or so Australian taxpayers would have to pay approximately $2,000 per year. (This also assumes that the current government surplus is maintained.)

  52. Terje Petersen
    January 5th, 2006 at 13:57 | #52

    …anthropogenic CO2 which will stay in the atmosphere on average for many thousands of years

    I am currently reading “The Weather Makers” by Tim Flannery. From page 28:-

    … CO2 is very long-lived in the atmosphere: around 56 per cent of all the CO2 that humans have liberated by burning fossil fuel is still aloft…

    So it doesn’t stay up there forever but it doesn’t fall down real quick either.

    Thankfully, the human generated CO2 is only a fraction of the total.

    (370ppm – 280 ppm) / (370ppm) = 0.24

    So human generated CO2 represents about one quarter of the current total.

  53. Katz
    January 5th, 2006 at 13:57 | #53

    Thanks Ken.

    (Still no offerings from the AGW sceptics).

  54. jquiggin
    January 5th, 2006 at 14:05 | #54

    “Steve chidio”

    Sadly, someone posing as you has posted over at Steve at the Pub’s site, claiming to be trolling to see how long it would take him to get kicked off. When I get around to it, I’ll ask Steve to send me the IP of the putative impostor and we’ll get it all sorted out.

    In the meantime, it’s apparent that everyone here regards your comments as being
    (a) intended in jest
    (b) not very funny
    so I think you need to work on your style if you are going to be effective.

  55. January 5th, 2006 at 14:14 | #55

    On the issue of carbon sinks – especially plantations – a Dr Frank Nicklason
    on
    http://tasmaniantimes.com

    is claiming a report has been produced inclusive of CSIRO input critical of the benefits of plantations sinks.

    If true, how do plantations then play into the Kyoto protocol requirments?

    __________________________________

    Nicklason writes:

    Continuation of the current pattern of increased frequency of extreme weather events as a consequence of global environmental change is amongst the challenges we will all face in coming years.

    Carbon sequestration in tree plantations is included in the toolkit of tactics which has been opened to help reduce the impact of so-called ‘greenhouse gases’ produced (amongst other things) by human activities, in particular the burning of fossil fuels.

    Just before Christmas an international group of scientists,including some from our own CSIRO, published a paper in the prestigious journal Science which provides a warning of detrimental environmental effects of largescale (particularly monoculture) tree plantations.

    Monoculture plantations such, as are being widely established in Australia, maximise carbon storage but have been demonstrated by these studies to have negative effects on water quality and yield.

    The authors of this paper concluded by stating:”We believe that decreased stream flow and changes in soil and water quality are likely as plantations are increasingly grown for biological carbon sequestrationâ€?.

    This work agrees with the research findings of Tasmanian geo-hydrologist Dr David Leaman and the observations of many of our own farmers and rural community members.

    The scientists caution that new carbon trading schemes will need to take a comprehensive view of both negative and positive effects of plantations.
    It is time for Treasury to review the conditions for tax concessions available for tree farm developments.

    Dr Frank Nicklason
    West Hobart

  56. Dogz
    January 5th, 2006 at 14:20 | #56

    Katz,

    I am an AGW sceptic. I am sceptical because the models are extremely complex (despite claims to the contrary upthread), contain large numbers of adjustable parameters that are not based on physical measurements, and are quite sensitive to small variations in those parameters (eg, check out http://www.climateprediction.net).

    On the non-scientific front, there are too many in the pro-AGW camp (I suspect including JQ himself) who _hope_ that AGW is true because it gives justification for their political views, including large state-intervention in the economy, and stagnationist anti-development environmentalist philosophy. Thus, I am deeply sceptical of the motives of many in the pro-AGW camp.

    My scientific scepticism will be reduced by reducing the number of free parameters in the climate models, improving the models so that they are less sensitive to the settings of any remaining free parameters, and demonstrating a fit between the model predictions and the actual values of global aggregate climate numbers such as mean temperature.

  57. Tom N.
    January 5th, 2006 at 14:29 | #57

    IPCC vs CASTLES & HENDERSON

    Q said “in the course of the debate, a lot of nasty things were said about the IPCC, including some by people who should have known better. Now that it’s clear that the IPCC has been pretty much spot-on in its assessment (and conservative in terms of its caution about reaching definite conclusions), it would be nice to see some apologies.”

    I presume that Q is referring to the Castles/Henderson critique here. My earlier reading of the C/H critique and the IPCC response was that the latter was all at sea. However, perhaps there have been some more recent developments that have revealed a serious flaw(s) in the C/H position. If so, can someone update me on the latest on this matter.

    Thanks, Tom

  58. Patrick Caldon
    January 5th, 2006 at 14:35 | #58

    Terje,

    Your bridge analogy in reply to Paul is flawed. One gets zero benefit for half a bridge. For GH emmissions, the benefit is to some extent proportional to the quantity of emmissions avoided.

    I’d suggest that there’s substantial, but not yet entirely convincing evidence for the AGW hypothesis. The rational course of action seems to be to draw up a list of “things that would help”, and rank them in order of economic costs. Those things which are postive for the economy, implement now. Those things roughly neutral or mildly negative, put in the plannign pipeline for implementation in 5-10 years time. Very expensive things we do last.

    There are a range of actions for AGW which will assist – some are cheap or indeed cost positive, and some are very expensive. For instance, currrrently the government is putting in regulations to reduce the “standby” currant use fo electrical devices. Apparently 11.6% of residential electricity used goes into devices on “standby” but this (they estimate) can be halved, essentially for zero cost for new devices, which will ultimately give us a few percent less GHG emmissions and have a positve effect on the economy (as these resources are now freed up to be used elsewhere). SImilar effects could be reached by limiting/taxing high capacity engines in new cars and tax breaks for zero emmisions vehicles (as they tend to be more fuel-efficient); the vehicle fleet effectively gets turned over every 10-15 years, so we’d be substantially low/zero emissions based in 10 years. Similarly ban tungsten light globes. Setting up a decent nuclear regulation system costs nothing, and has the potential for huge gas savings if we decide to build plants.

    Kyoto now, progressing to something stronger later (when the evidence is more substantial) fits in well with this strategy.

  59. January 5th, 2006 at 14:47 | #59

    Dogz – “On the non-scientific front, there are too many in the pro-AGW camp (I suspect including JQ himself) who _hope_ that AGW is true because it gives justification for their political views,..”

    Speaking for myself this could not be further from the truth. While I do not admire the totally free market economy and consider that some corporations could do with some more controls I would like nothing more than the skeptics to be 100% correct. This is the best outcome possible and would be a wonderful thing.

    I fervently hope that I am wrong and AGW is wrong is there is no damaging climate change. I am sure that I most AGW proponents are much the same. The problem is that the physical evidence coupled with experiments in computers, research into the atmospheric climate systems, and the instrument record all tell the same story – AGW is happening will cause some degree of climate change in the future.

  60. jquiggin
    January 5th, 2006 at 14:49 | #60

    Tom, I wasn’t particularly thinking of Castles and Henderson. Google IPCC along with any negative word you care to think of and you’ll see what I mean.

    That said, I think the Castles critique is a complete beatup. Up to a first approximation, it makes no difference, for an exercise like this, whether you use PPP or exchange-rate conversions.

    Look here or search the site for more.

  61. jquiggin
    January 5th, 2006 at 14:53 | #61

    “On the non-scientific front, there are too many in the pro-AGW camp (I suspect including JQ himself) who _hope_ that AGW is true because it gives justification for their political views,..�

    On the contrary, I have an ample supply of areas in which I’d like to promote intervention (schools, hospitals, and so on) without any need to dream up more claims on a limited budget. And it’s obvious that AGW strengthens the case for nuclear power, which I don’t like, though it’s still well down the list of options in terms of cost-effectiveness.

  62. Will De Vere
    January 5th, 2006 at 14:55 | #62

    Patrick Caldon has said:

    ‘For instance, currrrently the government is putting in regulations to reduce the “standbyâ€? currant use fo electrical devices. Apparently 11.6% of residential electricity used goes into devices on “standbyâ€? but this (they estimate) can be halved, essentially for zero cost for new devices…’

    Yes, I’d read that worldwide, the consumption of power for ‘standby’ appliances (TVs, DVDs etc) might be as high as 15 Gigawatts and that in the US it might be at least a Gwatt.

    In the AFR today, it was mentioned that Pakistan has decided to buy up to eight nuclear reactors from China for about 9.6-13.6 billion AUD. That’s an vast order.

    The recent stand-off between Russia and Ukraine about natural gas flows was very worrying. During the 1980s, the Americans opposed West European investment in the Soviet pipeline because (they claimed) it opened Europe to energy blackmail. Plus ca change.

  63. January 5th, 2006 at 15:00 | #63

    Terje wrote : Kyoto protocol seems to have little benefit. Any idea what it might cost?

    Terje, I accept that you weren’t entirely serious when you wrote these words, but can’t you see how ironic it is that so many proponents of neo-liberal capitalism, supposedly our most efficient and perfect economic system ever, have also opposed the adoption of the Kyoto protocols on the basis, as they have argued, that even the most minimal measures required by these protocols would have caused so many terrible far reaching consequences for the world economy?

    Action needed now to minimise harm of global warming

    If worldwide environmental catastrophe can be averted, it can only happen if our global society resolves to marshal whatever social, economic and natural resources it has on hand to combat the global warming menace as well as the even more serious (I believe) threat posed by the looming exhaustion of our fossil energy resources. These resources would be used to embark on projects, similar to US President Roosevelt’s New Deal projects of the 1930′s, which put millions of unemployed Americans to work, except on an even larger scale, and, wherever possible, in every country across the globe.

    Professor Ian Lowe (at the Greenhouse at Woodford in Dec 04) said that he understood that if an area of land the size of India were replanted with trees, it would be sufficient to sequester all of the world’s excess carbon dioxide.

    Another, possibly more effective, way of sequestering carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would be to increase the fertility of our soil. (I don’t understand this very well, but late last year a caller to Radio National’s “Australia Talks Back” program in which GW was discussed, put this to Tim Flannery who was on the program panel, and he agreed that it seemed to him to be a viable solution.)

    Our governments must, as a matter of urgency, undertake serious studies to establish the feasibility, or otherwise, of embarking on such massive projects (and if they don’t, they must be called to account for their continued wanton neglect). And in the meantime, we should all still do whatever we are able to at the local grassroots level in order to begin to put some momentum into the process.

    If it were to be found that such ‘New Deal’ style measures could make a worthwhile difference, they would require much of our economy to be reorganised. As an example, many people now engaged in many largely socially unproductive areas – advertising, property speculation, litigation, finance, stock markets, insurance, construction of high rise buildings, etc – could, instead, be engaged in these programs. Also, many of today’s unemployed, forced early retirees, or working poor would jump at an opportunity to direct their efforts towards such a worthwhile ends.

    We should also abandon, immediately, any large scale building or infrastructure projects which do not help our society to achieve the goal of long term sustainability. These would include the ludicrous North South Bypass Tunnel and related projects in Brisbane, and any new high rise construction projects. All of the resources which are to be wasted on these projects should be redirected towards more worthwhile projects.

    Reduce our exports of fossil fuels

    Our government should also announce our country’s intentions to wind back, as fast as is feasible, the quantity of our exports of non-renewable fossil fuel overseas. Clearly, it won’t be possible, or even desirable, to immediately halt all such exports, and, and for some time to come, it will be necessary to continue with these exports on a large to prevent the outright collapse of the economies to which these resources are now being exported.

    However, from the standpoint of our planet, and of future generations, it is immoral for this society to encourage our trading partners to continue to squander so much of the world’s fossil fuel endowment on throwaway consumables which are currently finding their way into landfill, typically, after a few short years of use, at most.

    Where we do, over a longer period, continue to export fossil fuel, it must be for the purpose of helping overseas societies to establish true long term sustainability. It may also be appropriate to continue to export our fossil fuels to help them to bridge the gap until they are able to establish sustainable food production systems.

    Politicians of all but very few political stripes these days have, and, undoubtedly, will continue to, dismiss these idea as politically unrealistic, but for anyone who has truly grasped the seriousness of the threat, it must be obvious that it is far less realistic to hope for a decent future for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, if we only adopt ineffective tokenistic measures to deal with this threat.

    One other point: Whilst I would not wish to advocate censorship, I wish it were possible to put the content of the contributions made by the global warming deniers elsewhere (perhaps, with brief precises and links on this page). At the moment, I have no more interest in debating global warming deniers, than I do in debating those who uphold the Ptolemaic model of our Solar System, or who wish to deny that cigarette smoking is harmful. It’s time we left these people behind and got on with the job of attempting to fix the problem.

  64. Dogz
    January 5th, 2006 at 15:10 | #64

    On the contrary, I have an ample supply of areas in which I’d like to promote intervention (schools, hospitals, and so on)…

    But you don’t have a global threat to humanity to help kick intervention along.

  65. Katz
    January 5th, 2006 at 15:16 | #65

    “My scientific scepticism will be reduced by reducing the number of free parameters in the climate models, improving the models so that they are less sensitive to the settings of any remaining free parameters, and demonstrating a fit between the model predictions and the actual values of global aggregate climate numbers such as mean temperature. ”

    Thanks Dogz.

    What are the more important free parameters are you referring to? When does the excision you recommend become susceptible to the charge of reductionism?

    What would be a credible yardstick against which to mesure the correlation between the model and a credible measure of a rise in global temperature?

  66. Will De Vere
    January 5th, 2006 at 15:19 | #66

    e scarioni has said:

    ‘ “…anthropogenic CO2 which will stay in the atmosphere on average for many thousands of yearsâ€?

    This is just not the case. All the CO2 in the atmoshere is part of the carbon cycle. ‘

    I believe that’s correct. As soon as you plant a tree you are absorbing CO2. If we were able to cover all of Australia with new trees – impossible – we might stop greenhouse warming. If we try to move from coal to methane, we will inevitably have to consider the potent effect of methane as a greenhouse gas. Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2.

    The future should be solar with hydrogen, but I’m not all that worried about nuclear power. Uranium might be better than coal.

    Volcanoes and coal stations pump out dirt-haze that cools the atmosphere. Should we consider artificially blowing sulfur dioxide (or water) haze into the upper atmosphere to slow warming, a synthetic Tambora (1815)?

    Meanwhile, we could ask Brazil to stop rainforest clearance (which causes haze, which is…)

  67. Ken Miles
    January 5th, 2006 at 15:30 | #67

    The future should be solar with hydrogen

    This would only happen if money was free. Solar is the most expensive option, and throwing hydrogen into the mix increases the prices significantly.

  68. Dogz
    January 5th, 2006 at 15:40 | #68

    …CO2 is very long-lived in the atmosphere: around 56 per cent of all the CO2 that humans have liberated by burning fossil fuel is still aloft…

    The second part of that statement does not necessarily support the first part. You also need to know the growth rate of human CO2 production. After all, if all the CO2 we have ever liberated was produced last year, then 56% remaining would indicate a very short half-life.

  69. Dave S.
    January 5th, 2006 at 15:42 | #69

    “Worldwide, 2005 was equal (to within the margin of error of the stats) with 1998 as the warmest year in at least the past millennium.”

    Interesting. What was the worldwide temperature average for 2005? And what was the worldwide temperature average for, say, 1105?

    Ken said:

    “Peel and Stick solar sheeting, roads paved with solar cells and batteries that can power trucks and ships and planes – these are what the world needs. I haven’t heard that they are beyond our capabilities to produce. ”

    Oh, well, then allow me. There isn’t enough energy from solar radiation hitting the Earth to put even a minor dent in our energy needs, even assuming 100% efficient solar panels. As far as batteries go – you realize they are made from finite resources, yes? The trick is not just making them efficient, but also not making them out of materials that will be quickly expended for their production (I expect the knee-jerk response to that will be “Recycle!” As if recycling is energy-cost-free.)

    I know some folks like to think that the big problem is evil greedy rich guys who don’t want to give up their old-energy cash cows, but that assumes the non-existence of evil greedy want-to-be-rich guys who would love to make billions out of solar cells and uber-batteries and what-all. Not a very logical position when you think about it, is it?

  70. Terje Petersen
    January 5th, 2006 at 15:46 | #70

    Terje, I accept that you weren’t entirely serious when you wrote these words, but can’t you see how ironic it is that so many proponents of neo-liberal capitalism, supposedly our most efficient and perfect economic system ever, have also opposed the adoption of the Kyoto protocols on the basis, as they have argued, that even the most minimal measures required by these protocols would have caused so many terrible far reaching consequences for the world economy?

    JS,

    If you believe (as I do) that solutions based on private enterprise and civil society are generally better than solutions based on government force then of course you are likely to be more hesitant to accept the need to deploy government based solutions. It should not surprise anybody that proponents of neo-liberal capitalism are more sceptical than left wing socialists.

    When the Kyoto protocol was announce I personally saw it as a victory for the neo-liberals because it was a market based solution. Intially a lot from the left opposed a market based solution so its ironic that they now appear to be its champion. A sweet irony I would say.

    My more recent opposition (or hesitation) towards the protocol is more to do with its inability to deliver much. I have read more about the lack of benefits than the size of the costs. I don’t claim to have a good grip on the latter.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  71. Will De Vere
    January 5th, 2006 at 15:59 | #71

    I’m not an engineer or a physicist, but I’ve always wondered at the extraordinary solar exposure that Australian roads (and roof tops) receive each day, even during winter. Quantities of petrochemicals went into making all our asphalt roads and footpaths: is it do-able to cover them with tough photovoltaic sheets that could withstand cars, feet etc and feed to local residents?

    Gazing from a suburban house on a summer day, there seems to be much potential for improvement. If we can all have wires that bring us the juice, why not rooftops that feed watts back into the flow? If we can afford n-thousand dollar First Homebuyer grant, why not cough up for some cells? Australia should be a leading solar nation.

  72. Terje Petersen
    January 5th, 2006 at 16:00 | #72

    Your bridge analogy in reply to Paul is flawed. One gets zero benefit for half a bridge. For GH emmissions, the benefit is to some extent proportional to the quantity of emmissions avoided.

    Patrick,

    I have said it before and I will say it again. All metaphors are flawed. That does not stop them from having value.

    My point was not that Kyoto has no benefit like a half built bridge. It was that we can’t assume the benefit of “Kyoto+post Kyoto extras” but only consider the cost of “Kyoto”. If you are going to do a cost/benefit analysis you have to compare apples to apples. The bridge example is an extreme case of halving costs but reducing the benefits by 100%.

    In Sydney a detailed cost benefit analysis was done for the state government with regards to building a new train line from Chatswood to Paramatta. Shortly after construction started the government announced that due to the costs involved they would only build the train line half the distance (ie Chatswood to Epping). No new cost benefit analysis seems to have been prepared. This approach is fine if costs and benefits scale in a linear fashion. However as my bridge example was meant to illustrate they often don’t.

    If Kyoto is insufficient then we would be foolish to do a cost benefit analysis on this basis and then add bits later. We should develop a multiphased plan and properly cost the benefits as well as the costs of each phase. It is not enough to cost the whole and assume that you can get half the benefit for half the cost. Nor is it appropriate to assume that you get twice the benefit for twice the cost.

    To employ another metaphor. The low hanging fruit will be cheaper than the fruit higher up the tree.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  73. Aidan
    January 5th, 2006 at 16:02 | #73

    Not that it matters much, but the CSIRO document “Greenhouse: Questions and Answers” at http://www.cmar.csiro.au/e-print/open/gh_faq.htm#gh10 says

    “How long do the greenhouse gases last in the atmosphere?
    Carbon dioxide persists for more than a century in the air. Methane’s average lifetime is about 11 years.

    Nitrous oxide and some of the CFCs stay in the air for more than a century.”

    btw, in today’s Oz (p8), a geologist, Ian Plimer, reckons a few metres here and there on the sea level won’t matter much anyway. So what is all the fuss about? AND, there were two hurricanes in 1915 just like Katrina and Rita so that PROVES there is no effect on weather (as opposed to climate). At least, I think that’s what he’s saying – it’s all terribly confused.

  74. Dogz
    January 5th, 2006 at 16:07 | #74

    What are the more important free parameters are you referring to? When does the excision you recommend become susceptible to the charge of reductionism?

    I wasn’t advocating excision of those free parameters, just conversion from free to bound (for want of a better word). There are 20 of the most poorly understood parameters listed here: http://www.climateprediction.net/science/parameters.php

    Just looking at the top one: vf1 – ice fall speed through clouds. I don’t know what the valid range for this variable is (you could probably dig it out from the site), but let’s say it is from 5m/s to 20m/s. If the model is sensitive to that parameter, it’s predictions will change dramatically depending upon whether you set it to 6m/s or 12m/s (say). When you multiply that by 20 poorly understood parameters, you get an enormous space of possible parameter settings which leads to a large variability in the model predictions. So if we can go out and measure the value of vf1 and hence reduce its range in the model, we’ll be more confident of the model’s predictions.

    What would be a credible yardstick against which to mesure the correlation between the model and a credible measure of a rise in global temperature?

    Monte Carlo simulation starting from known initial conditions and anticipated boundary conditions. Eg, initialize the model with the climate data from 1990 and evolve it forwards to 2005. Do we get the same kind of warming we have seen? Repeat for many different periods.

  75. Will De Vere
    January 5th, 2006 at 16:15 | #75

    Ken Miles has said, in reponse to my comment about sunlight:

    ‘This would only happen if money was free. Solar is the most expensive option, and throwing hydrogen into the mix increases the prices significantly.’

    That’s unfair, Ken. I’ve never believed that money is free, especially not after certain periods of genteel poverty. If we are discussing options for tackling greenhouse warming, then expensive (or non-cheap options) are important. In the long-term, solar energy is important.

    If everyone in the world woke up tomorrow passionately convinced that the only way to save the planet was to plant billions of eucalypts, then money would grow on trees! %—)

  76. S. Chidio
    January 5th, 2006 at 16:21 | #76

    But John,
    I thought exchanging someone’s IP was considered breaking privacy laws. I guess it doesn’t apply to you just yet.

    I was never trying to be funny. I was trying to articulate like you by using words that would get me into the club (like neo-con and Howard/Hilter etc).

    Trouble is John, as a researcher, you of all people should know 1 year’s worth of data does not make climate. It makes weather. Scaring the shit out of people because the temp on a large unpopulated landmass in the southern hemisphere hit a record doesn’t really deserve serious consideration does it? Sure it is something to look but you certainly don’t make policy as a result….. Unless of course next year is the coldest year and we change accordingly.

    Like Fydor I am awaiting further evidence that this is a real issue…. just like most serious scientists have suggested. If you care to read serious stuff rather than junk passed off as serious on the ABC or SBS. Research should be peer reviewed before it is passed on as meritorious. Most serious science I have read keeps repeating the same mantra, which is we do not know enough yet to make better than long odds guesses.

    This happens for two reasons

    1. We simply need more information and,
    2. Even if the likelihood of climate change is AGW we need to know whether there are large costs associated with it.

    As you are aware we can’t even model an economy to any degree of accuracy let alone weather. To be honest, the models most of these scientists use are fairly rudimentary compared to the mass computing power some institutions use to model economies.

    It is still not warm enough for people to populate Greenland, like they were in the middle ages.

    As the same people involved in terrifying people to death about GM foods are us telling to worry about AGM, I’d prefer to wait. How about you? Or are you on the same wave-length as the GM food Chicken Littles?

    For all those wanting to get a better handle on Kyoto. Take a look at the carbon trading market in Europe. Credits have shot up about 50% from $20 to $32. And the result? They are all going to miss their budgets. Wow! Kyoto is really going to change the way the world works isn’t it. The only thing this market has done is added costs to consumers in the form of another hidden tax. I guess that works doesn’t it.

    I know you would never go for it, but the only way out of a potential problem is to ensure technology is allowed to progress at a faster pace. You can only do that by increasing the savings pool, which means don’t do anything to hinder growth because it’s growth that creates wealth through savings.

    I must say to your credit that you have supported moving towards nuke energy, however most of the people aligned on your side of the fence don’t agree and therefore being a 50/50 nation it won’t go anywhere. However sending large capital input like coal fired generators into retirement has enormous costs associated with it. It would simply cost billions. Would you be prepared to support a policy that reduced welfare to the extent that it paid for the change over? After all, someone has to pay for it; so why should our pockets get picked again.

    Recent numbers coming out of the US EPA shows that the US has met Kyoto like emission standards, which is not a surprise when one considers what Alan Greenspan said in a testimony to Congress. He mentioned that the US economy was as of 2000 3 times bigger than it was in 1970 and 25% lighter. That is if we picked up GDP in 2000 and weighed it, it would be 25% less than 30 years ago. This is an extraordinary change and something the chicken littles of this world ought to consider before throwing away the baby with the bath water.

  77. Ken Miles
    January 5th, 2006 at 16:26 | #77

    There isn’t enough energy from solar radiation hitting the Earth to put even a minor dent in our energy needs, even assuming 100% efficient solar panels.

    It would be hard to be more wrong than you on this point.

    Read up on how much solar energy reaches the ground each day. It’s massive, and completely dwarfs our energy needs.

  78. Ken Miles
    January 5th, 2006 at 16:31 | #78

    Like Fydor I am awaiting further evidence that this is a real issue…. just like most serious scientists have suggested. If you care to read serious stuff rather than junk passed off as serious on the ABC or SBS. Research should be peer reviewed before it is passed on as meritorious. Most serious science I have read keeps repeating the same mantra, which is we do not know enough yet to make better than long odds guesses.

    Judging by that paragraph, you haven’t read any peer reviewed scientific literature on the topic. Here’s a hint, it strongly supports the opposite.

    You were better off sticking to bad satire.

  79. January 5th, 2006 at 16:33 | #79

    Dave S – “Oh, well, then allow me. There isn’t enough energy from solar radiation hitting the Earth to put even a minor dent in our energy needs, even assuming 100% efficient solar panels.”

    Are you sure about this statement? The incident energy from sunlight is approx 750W/m^2. Assuming, as you do, 100% solar cells then the required land area is

    Global electricity in 2002 (est)
    14,280,000,000,000 kWh for a full year is 1,630,136,986Kw for 8760 hours
    Land area required is 1,630,136,986Kw / .75kW = 2,173,515,982 m^2 = 2,173 Km^2 which is a bit less that the area of the earth. Even if you factor in a 30% load factor then you would only need 6000km^2 or so.

    I am not saying that this is a realistic solution as we do not have 100% cells, just that you should be careful about making statements without calculating them first. A recent study showed that there is enough wind power potential offshore the US to power the whole of the USA – you should not underestimate the potential of renewable power just because it looks less solid and reliable than fossil fuels.
    http://www.masstech.org/renewableenergy/press/pr_9_30_05_wind.htm.

    Any renewable solution would include wind solar and biomass. Battery electric cars can be used for grid storage.

    Ref:
    Electricity Consumption http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/rankorder/2042rank.html

  80. Ken Miles
    January 5th, 2006 at 16:37 | #80

    Dogz, one of the results of climateprediction was that fiddling with variables in virtually all cases didn’t lead to exciting new results. It is next to impossible to get a low climate sensitivity. In some rare combinations, it is possible to get a very high climate sensitivity – so if anything, climate scientists are underestimating the effect of CO2 (note: I don’t believe that this is true).

  81. Simon
    January 5th, 2006 at 16:55 | #81

    “There isn’t enough energy from solar radiation hitting the Earth to put even a minor dent in our energy needs, even assuming 100% efficient solar panels.”

    Got some calculations or references to back that up?

  82. Ian Gould
    January 5th, 2006 at 17:04 | #82

    >For all those wanting to get a better handle on Kyoto. Take a look at the carbon trading market in Europe. Credits have shot up about 50% from $20 to $32. And the result? They are all going to miss their budgets. Wow! Kyoto is really going to change the way the world works isn’t it. The only thing this market has done is added costs to consumers in the form of another hidden tax. I guess that works doesn’t it.

    Over what period and according to what source?

    This BBC article shows prices falling from 13 Euroes in January 2004 to around 7 Euroes in January 2005. That’s roughly from A$20 to A$11.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4269021.stm

  83. James Lane
    January 5th, 2006 at 17:13 | #83

    JQ,

    I think you’re way of the mark in suggesting that 2005 has been a good year for the AGW crowd.

    It’s interesting you mention the “hockeystick”. Despite the recent attempts to argue that MBH et al “don’t matter”. I think you and I agree that the paleo-reconstructions matter a lot, because they are the only “record” we have of past climate variability in the mellenial range, Nobody suggests that the earth isn’t warming (although rate and magnitude might be in dispute). The key question is whether this warming is unusual or unprecendted. If Earth’s temperature is natuarally variable, the current warming might not be unusual.

    Sadly, the hockeystick reconstructions pretty much got the stake through the heart in 2005. not just via M&M, but also von Storch and more recently Bürger and Cubasch.

    I’ve been following the climate debate for about six years (ironically perhaps, it was the hockeystick that first got me interested. I’ve gone from an AGW agnostic to a sceptic, and I think 2005 might have been my most sceptical year yet. Cheers.

  84. Ken Miles
    January 5th, 2006 at 17:45 | #84

    James,

    If we assume that all temperature reconstructions aren’t useful, it doesn’t change much. Simply by using the past observed temperature record, the conclusions remain the same.

    There has been no serious scientific study that can explain the past 150 years of observed temperature changes that doesn’t include greenhouse gas forcings. If you have seen a study which contradicts this I’d be very interested. Unless one posits that a very large and undetectable force has been altering our climate (magic perhaps?), then the global warming sceptic position is untenable.

  85. 2dogs
    January 5th, 2006 at 18:34 | #85

    “Despite the absence of the El Nino … effects [in 2005]“.

    The SOI was mostly negative throught 2005. On what basis do you claim that 2005 was not an El Nino year?

  86. Graeme Bond
    January 5th, 2006 at 18:45 | #86

    I would like to know what Prof Q and others make of the piece by Ian Plimer in todays Australian. http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,17729019%255E7583,00.html

    I am not aware of Plimer being a Creationist or a captive of the coal industry or any right wing think tank. Rather Plimer is a Geologist and tends to see time from a Geological perspective. There have indeed been massive fluctuations in temperature, atmospheric composition and sea levels over long periods. Wasn’t Tasmania once joined by land to Australia, within the period of human habitation of Australia?

    Seen in Geological time we may merely be going through a periodic fluctuation where the earth is indeed warming, to be followed by a period of cooling.

    I support a transition to cleaner energy sources and clearly some fossil fuel sources are going to become scarce within the relatively short term of a generation or so. The sun provides a massive amount of energy impacting on our planet and indeed drives the whole weather system including such massive destructive releases of energy as hurricanes which are frequently compared with nuclear weapons in the amount of energy unleashed.

    Solar, wind and other means simply harness such energy without intermediate biological processes.

    Then there are massive geothermal resources to be investigated and harnessed.

  87. January 5th, 2006 at 18:48 | #87

    Graeme,

    Geothermal resources? Good Lord, man, are you made? Have you not seen Doctor Who: Inferno???? Some things in nature were not meant to be tampered with!

  88. Monika Pandiangan
    January 5th, 2006 at 18:53 | #88

    Super Volcano?

  89. Ian Gould
    January 5th, 2006 at 18:54 | #89

    From the perspective of Geological Time, global warming is indeed pretty trivial.

    Of course, from the perspective of Geological Time, the Asian Tsunami, the AIDS epidemic, World War II, and for that matter the entirity of human history is pretty trivial.

  90. Graeme Bond
    January 5th, 2006 at 18:59 | #90

    Tim T may not have heard of an area of ‘hot rocks’ in South Australia which holds an enormous amount of energy and is being investigated to find a feasible means of tappint it.

    I would not base my science on Doctor Who, much as I used to enjoy watching with my sons.

  91. Matt
    January 5th, 2006 at 19:12 | #91

    Forgive my lack of knowledge on the details of the arguments, but can anyone sceptical of AGW actually answer the problem of why “greenhouse gases (esp CO2) + land clearing + time = global warming” is wrong in laymens terms? Seems like a straightfoward argument to me.

    Kind of like that 9/11 “truth” doco on last night, a whole pile of proposals for what could have “really” happened, but no explanation as to where a plane full of people disappeared to.

  92. Andrew Reynolds
    January 5th, 2006 at 19:26 | #92

    Matt,
    One possible source of doubt is that the total amount of CO2 produced by humans is dwarfed by that amount produced by natural causes. A fairly small increase in CO2 output from one source does not necessarily lead to catastrophic outcomes. It may, if the system is very finely balanced, but it depends on the system.
    One other source of doubt is that the land clearing may act to counteract the increase in CO2 by reflecting more heat back into space than would otherwise have been the case. The action of clouds could also be the same – and many of the models do not take into consideration the likely increase in cloud cover as the planet warms (if it does) to mitigate the effects of warming. You also need to consider the increases in particulate matter in the atmosphere and many, many other variables.
    In the end, I believe the case is improving that there is a problem, but to call the debate ‘over’ is, IMHO, premature.

  93. am
    January 5th, 2006 at 19:34 | #93

    “China, already enduring its coldest winter in 20 years, is preparing for a cold snap that will see temperatures drop by as much as 16 degrees Centigrade (29 degrees Fahrenheit).”

    ho hum.

    http://www.breitbart.com/news/2006/01/02/060102044332.yp07id4u.html

  94. MarkL
    January 5th, 2006 at 19:40 | #94

    John, you are an economist. Your opinion is your own, but has nothing to enable you the certitude you have expressed. Since the 1970s, the envirodoomscreamers have predicted:

    1. We were all going to die of global cooling. (You remember ‘Global Cooling’ and the imminent ice age due to mankind polluting the planet, don’t you?)
    2. Global famine by 1979, with millions starving even in first world nations, and the end of civilisation.
    3. Civilisation was going to collapse because all the oil would be gone by the early 80s.
    4. Global famine by 1989, with millions starving even in first world nations, and the end of civilisation
    5. Civilisation was going to collapse because all the oil would be gone by the early 90s.
    6. We were all going to die and civilisation would collapse due to global warming.
    7. Global famine by 1999, with millions starving even in first world nations, and the end of civilisation
    8. Civilisation was going to collapse because all the oil would be gone by the early 00s.

    The ‘remedy’ for each of these was the same: changes to the global economy which would amount to abandonment of technological civilisation, etc etc

    The ‘science’ behind it was all the same flavour, too, Joh Bjelke style, ‘don’t you worry about that’, from people making their careers by pandering to the envirodoomscreamers, politicians on the make for votes, and the deluded. Basically, this sort of twaddle is a form of secular religion for folks who enjoy a good bit of doomscreaming. It is a risible hobby, but people seem to like it.

    ‘Global warming’ is just the latest typhoon of BS, hot air, junk science, and pseudo-religious fervour. Pilmer notes:

    ‘For about 80 per cent of the time since its formation, Earth has been a warm, wet, greenhouse planet with no icecaps. When Earth had icecaps, the climate was far more variable, disease depopulated human settlements and extinction rates of other complex organisms were higher. Thriving of life and economic strength occurs during warm times. Could Greenpeace please explain why there was a pre-Industrial Revolution global warming from AD900 to 1300? Why was the sea level higher 6000 years ago than it is at present? Which part of the 120m sea-level rise over the past 15,000 years is human-induced? To attribute a multicomponent, variable natural process such as climate change to human-induced carbon emissions is pseudo-science.’

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,17729019%255E7583,00.html

    I have heard it all before over the past 30 years. It was all junk science and BS then, and nothing has changed now. The planet changes, the climate changes, so what? When the first humans occupied Papua New Guinea forty or fifty millennia ago, the sea level was TWO HUNDRED METRES lower than now.

    been some changes since – and it had nothing to do with humans. But I do not begrudge envirodoomscreamers their fun, just don’t expect anyone who has not heard it all before for decade after decade to regard it as anything but a very tired joke.

    MarkL
    Canberra

  95. Ian Gould
    January 5th, 2006 at 19:45 | #95

    From Plimer’s article:

    “Does it matter if sea level rises a few metres or global temperatures rise a few degrees?”

    I advise anyone who leaves near a beach to drop by during a king tide and mentally add “a few metres” to the water level.

    There are literally hundreds of millions of people around the world who live within “a few metres” of sea-level.

  96. Mike
    January 5th, 2006 at 19:48 | #96

    JQ’s original points about misinformation and down right political and scientific fraud are views I am comfortable with. Only today we have our illustrious ministerial idiot for the environment blathering on about Ozzie miracles for climate change, the usual codswallop about policy settings, measures etc. Were it not so serious it would be pythonesque. This government and those aligned with US and Asian interests are simply a disgrace to humanity and a monument to human folly.

    Curiously half the blogs here are still running down the right wing rabbit hole for the mad hatters tea party to discuss energy replacement, industry survival and disputable science.

    I don’t really care what the scientific niceties are, but in case some of you had’nt noticed, or think you live on another planet to this one then it has been getting hotter and hotter and drier and drier. If you look carefully at the climate models you will see like all changes these are not straight line, so it gets hotter, but some days are normal, its the number of dry days and hot days that increases over time from a small number to a big number. The old frog in boiling water syndrome.

    Apart from being an amateur economist I make my living as an aviator, funny thing but I am in the weather your discussing in many different places at various altitudes, so I get to sample the effects personally from WA to NT to QLD to NSW. For years I have noticed that the meterology I learnt in detail and rely upon was becoming increasing unreliable other than in more general cause and effect, the cloud has increased in some places and decreased in others, in all places the water droplets inside are smaller hence less rain on the ground. The violence of air current movements (wind and cloud air movement) is at times unpredictable others bizarre. So as far as I am concerned I see the proof daily, like farmers do, I do not need some fancy eulogy to convince me we have made some serious and fundemental errors of judgement about our fondness for machines of all description. But really despite the models it comes back to two clear issues, too many people and too few trees, they appear to inversely correlated.

    As for the costs well just continue as we are and see what the cost of doing nothing are, any reputable insurance mathematician has factored them into their costs already and they are still being caught by surprise. As Diamond hypothesised in ‘Collapse’, ‘What did the person who cut down the last tree on Easter Island think they were doing?’

  97. Dogz
    January 5th, 2006 at 19:50 | #97

    can anyone sceptical of AGW actually answer the problem of why “greenhouse gases (esp CO2) + land clearing + time = global warming� is wrong in laymens terms?

    - Greenhouse gases and land use are just two of hundreds of variables that influence the temperature of the planet.

    - The temperature varies nonlinearly as a function of those variables, so knowing the temperature for one configuration of the variables doesn’t necessarily tell you much about neighbouring configurations.

    - The way temperature varies as a function of all the variables is still not all that well understood.

  98. January 5th, 2006 at 20:01 | #98

    If the debate is over, why is John still arguing with people in comments?

  99. S. Chidio
    January 5th, 2006 at 20:28 | #99

    Tim,

    John just wants to end the debate, so it’s over.

  100. Matt
    January 5th, 2006 at 20:29 | #100

    Thanks guys.

    I hate to sound ignorant but I dont see how either of those comments answered my question.

    According to wiki:
    “As of 2004, the earth’s atmosphere is about 0.038% by volume (380 µL/L or ppmv) or 0.053% by weight CO2. This represents about 2.7 × 1012 tonnes of CO2.”

    “Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the atmospheric CO2 concentration has increased by approximately 110 µL/L or about 40%, most of it released since 1945.”

    If these figures are correct, and the co2 concentrations are 40% higher, is that a valid figure to expect from natural ’causes’? Or is there a noticeable human influence in that value? Doesn’t clearing the forests slow the carbon cycle? Doesn’t increasing ocean temperature (particularly at the poles) slow the carbon cycle?

    And even if those are all resolved and the carbon cycle isn’t slowed by the deforestation and increased ocean temps (neither of which are disputed, to my knowledge) Won’t the extra co2 in the atmosphere still contribute to the problem, even if marginally, and couldnt that push be the one that stops the process from reversing as it has in the past, where co2 levels were higher than they currently are?

    I hope that isn’t just a rambling of non-sensical questions and some of them are actually coherent. Is there a better figure for the amount of carbon presently in the atmosphere as a result of human ‘interference’? Or is the whole debate about the credulity of those figures?

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