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Worse than nothing

January 12th, 2006

It’s pretty clear that the “Asia-Pacific partnership on clean development” is simply a front for inaction. Apart from Howard’s promise of $20 million a year for research (apparently the meeting itself cost about as much as the first year’s budget) none of the participants made any concrete commitment. The US representative took the opportunity to plug nuclear energy, rather laughably since the US hasn’t commissioned a new reactor since 1978, the year before Three Mile Island. Some recent initiatives might lead to a handful of plants being constructed in the next decade or so, but even this is far from settled.

This farcical episode was a demonstration that, as far as responses to global warming are concerned, Kyoto is the only game in town.

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  1. Terje Petersen
    January 12th, 2006 at 21:58 | #1

    I just finished reading Tim Flannery’s book “The Weather Makers”. It is very readable for anybody interested and the pace is just right. He has obviously added some spin to the climate story however I would hardly expect otherwise. I wonder if he will be criticised for cherry picking his data like Bjorn Lomborg, because all his facts and figures appear to support his basic thesis (shock horror).

    If CO2 is a problem then emissions trading in a pollution market seems to be the best way to address it. Which is what Kyoto is about. If you want to reduce CO2 then I think Kyoto is a good way to do it. I was a fan of the previous pollution trading schemes on which it is based. So a big tick for choosing a great economic approach to a perceived collective problem.

    However I still have concerns about Kyoto. We are repeatedly told that implementing Kyoto will not cost us that much. However we are also told that it won’t provide much benefit. So assuming that Kyoto is adjusted so as to actual deliver a significant benefit, then what will the costs be? And what will be the consequence of this cost? And of course likewise what will be the consequence of not bearing this cost?

    Regards,
    Terje.

    P.S. And besides those climate models still concern me.

    P.P.S. I don’t much like Nuclear as an energy option. I am still hoping that enviromission can deliver the goods:-

    http://www.enviromission.com.au/

  2. Ian Gould
    January 12th, 2006 at 22:30 | #2

    >However I still have concerns about Kyoto. We are repeatedly told that implementing Kyoto will not cost us that much. However we are also told that it won’t provide much benefit. So assuming that Kyoto is adjusted so as to actual deliver a significant benefit, then what will the costs be?

    The point of the first commital period 2008-2012 is supposed to be to test the mechanisms and get a better idea of likely future costs based on actual data. Of course, if the US hadn’t reneged on its commitment it woudl have achieved considerably more.

    I posted on the other global warming thread what I see as the basic parameters for Australia: we emit around 850 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year. To achieve the long-term objective of a 70% reduction we’d need to offset or eliminate the equivalent of around 550 million tonnes.

    The current market cost of a one-tonne reduction credit on the European market is around 10-20 dollars.

    So to achieve that ultimate long-term objective we’re talking in the vicinity of $10 billion per year – with subsequent years costs increasing in lien with emissions.

    To be conservative I’d suggest doubling that figure to $20 billion. That’s around 0.3% of current GDP. Assuming near-current levels of economic growth over the 30-40 years before we need to reach that level it’d be more like 0.1% of GDP in 2040.

    Of course this ignores the economic impact of divertign investment from other areas but it also ignores any benefits.

    For example, if we displaced some of our current petrol imports with domestically-produced ethanol, it’d reduce our current account deficit and could lead to lower interest rates.

  3. Ian Gould
    January 12th, 2006 at 22:56 | #3

    From the ABC:

    Carbon trading scheme on the cards, Minister says

    Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell says a carbon trading scheme is inevitable but far from a reality.

    Business groups attending the Asia-Pacific climate talks that concluded today in Sydney have suggested the six-member countries of the pact could form a trading bloc.

    Senator Campbell has told ABC TV’s The 730 Report the focus of the group now is on technology.

    “Bringing this technology up there with “push” is just as important as getting the “pull” policies right,” he said.

    “The incentive systems right, the market systems right.

    “The reality of trying to get that spread across our six partners is just not there at the moment – it’s a bridge too far at the moment but it certainly is something I see as being the right answer down the track.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200601/s1546728.htm

    So we’re now talking about a carbon trading market covering the US, Australia, Japan, China, India and South Korea – with the last four of those also being participants in the Kyoto trading market (as suppliers mainly, via the Clean Development Mechanism).

    So we’ll have two separate markets with overlapping membership but (probably) different trading mechanisms and rules.

    That sounds like an economically efficient outcome.

  4. Steve Munn
    January 12th, 2006 at 23:17 | #4

    Terje, I am about 80% of the way through Tim Flannery’s “The Weather Makers”. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in the gobal warming issue.

    I agree thoroughly with PrQ re the “Asia Pacific Partnership”.

  5. Terje Petersen
    January 12th, 2006 at 23:21 | #5

    The current market cost of a one-tonne reduction credit on the European market is around 10-20 dollars.

    I would expect the price of low hanging fruit to be substantially less than high hanging fruit. So the 10-20 dollar price is surely too low if you want a 70% reduction.

  6. Terje Petersen
    January 12th, 2006 at 23:24 | #6

    I am sure this is not new however I thought it made for good reading:-

    http://www.clearlight.com/~mhieb/WVFossils/greenhouse_data.html

    The following is new but also worth reading:-

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4604332.stm

  7. Ian Gould
    January 12th, 2006 at 23:32 | #7

    Terje – well did take the high end of that range and double it.

    However there are essentially two processes under way here – in the first instance there will be a “stock” if you will of abatement and sequestration opportunities.

    So yes the cheapest options (like making solar hot water systems mandatory for new houses in Queensland) will presumably get used up first.

    But the second process is the ongoing technological improvement in areas such as renewable energy and insulation.

    I tend to think that if you get the price signals right, the market will take care of the problem.

    In an earlier thread I posted data on the US sulphur dioxide trading scheme, for the decade or so of its existence prices have been stable or declining almost continuously. I suspect the experience with GHGs will be similar.

  8. Terje Petersen
    January 12th, 2006 at 23:52 | #8

    Ian,

    If you mandated a 70% reduction within ten years I would guess the cost of those “one-tonne reduction credits” might increase by a factor of 10-100. Timeframe would be important. You indicate a period of 30-40 years so I think your guestimate may be okay.

    The solar chimney is supposed to provide energy cheaper than coal so long as the long term interest rate on capital is cheaper than 8%pa and so long as you build on a big enough scale. Supposedly you can build a 200MW solar chimney for about A$1 billion. So if you build one or two a year for 25 years then you may in fact achieve your 70% target at much lest cost than you estimate.

    It would be good if there were some more detailed cost/benefit analysis that looked at scenerios like a 70% reduction over 40 years.

    Regards,
    Terje.

    P.S. Energy cost for solar chimney:-

    http://www.sbp.de/de/html/projects/solar/aufwind/pages_auf/enprocos.htm

  9. Imogen (sock puppet for “Pablo”)
    January 13th, 2006 at 03:20 | #9

    Oh snap, the timing is amazing:

    “LABOR’S left-wing powerbroker Martin Ferguson has urged the party to renounce the Greens and support the Howard Government’s Asia-Pacific climate partnership.

    The Opposition resources spokesman said it was time to abandon the “political correctness” of the environmental movement and recognise the role of Australian business in providing jobs.

    “It is extraordinary that the Greens could place the economic security and jobs of their constituents at risk,” Mr Ferguson said. “Let’s be real – without getting business on board we cannot achieve anything.”

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,17808347%255E601,00.html

  10. Imogen (sock puppet for “Pablo”)
    January 13th, 2006 at 03:25 | #10

    Mr Quiggin, after elements within the ALP of all parties also now decry the Kyoto plan as an economic threat to Australian jobs, will you now stand as an economist or an environmentalist? Couldn’t you have your cake and eat it too if you supported the new Asia Pacific partnership?

  11. January 13th, 2006 at 08:42 | #11

    Kyoto is stacked with problems. Turning a lemon into an orange takes a lot of sugar. (see NZ and its carbon tax, http://weekbyweek7.blogspot.com/2005/12/nz-dumping-carbon-tax-overboard.html#links)

    Surely the AP6 framework is worth considering, given the pragmatic political framework ‘politicians’ are working in. The Fact that Martin Ferguson (ALP Left) is prepared to split the ALP Left on this issue is a sign that AP6 does have ‘political’ merits.

  12. stephen bartos
    January 13th, 2006 at 08:47 | #12

    Has anyone else been puzzled by what appears to be the logic behind recent statements by the environment Minister that go along the following lines: we accept that global warming is happening, and that CO2 emissions are a major contributor; Kyoto does not go far enough in addressing this problem; we therefore won’t join Kyoto and will pursue our APCD initiative instead. If you are dying of thrist in the desert and someone offers you a half glass of water, should you reject it on the grounds that a full glass would be better? If Kyoto’s problem is that it is not tough enough, what loss is there to Australia in joining up AND pursuing further initiatives as well? or can’t we walk and chew gum at the same time?

  13. Paul Norton
    January 13th, 2006 at 08:48 | #13

    The Elephant Man’s column in the Australian is the stock in trade of the New Right’s anti-environment fifth column in the ALP – avoidable ignorance, revanchist animus, baseless arm-waving abuse and economic illiteracy about the actual economic and employment opportunities of environmental protection measures.

    Apart from anything else, Ferguson has clearly not done the sums (or talked to someone who has done the sums) which show that geosequestration won’t produce GHG emission reductions for some decades to come, and that an expansion of nuclear energy will increase emissions for some decades to come before it contributes to a reduction.

    It is becoming tiresome to have to repeat this, but the developed world has almost forty years experience with environmental protection and pollution reduction policies. We know what their actual economic and employment impact has been. The OECD has found that they have actually led to a slight increase in economic growth and employment. Eban Goodstein has shown that all the economic models predicting massive job losses and economic costs from new environmental laws in the US over the past thirty years have been consistently wrong, basically because of obtuse assumptions in the models – obtuse assumptions which continue to be used in models of the economic effects of GHG reduction measures.

    One of the rich ironies of the recent love-in in Sydney is that our ostensibly neo-liberal Federal government has refused to support the impeccably neo-liberal concept of emissions trading (as provided for under the Kyoto Protocol) yet continues to support industry welfare for the aluminium sector, whose existence on its present, massively subsidised basis in Australia would come into serious question if it were ever subjected to a proper cost-benefit analysis.

    Interestingly, Warwick McKibbin (who is far from being an orthodox greenie on this matter) had this to say in response to a ABARE report claiming that the Asia-Pacific climate pact could reduce greenhouse emissions:

    ‘”Australian National University economist and Reserve Bank board member Warwick McKibbin said the report lacked an empirical basis for its findings and relied on the assumption that the partnership would actually deliver serious changes in technology and energy efficiency. “It’s a very nice analysis of possibilities but there’s no empirical basis that any of these technologies will do what it proposes,” Professor McKibbin said yesterday.

    ‘”It says that if in fact you can reduce energy with this technology and increase efficiency, this is the effect it will have and I’m sure the numbers are plausible but is that what this will deliver?”

    ‘Professor McKibbin said he believed the study also “fundamentally misunderstood the issue of how innovations occur” by maintaining that no market mechanism was required to push new technologies.’

    The link is:

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,17808523%255E601,00.html

    Another interesting comment comes from an executive of Rio Rinto:

    ‘Mr Chiaro said that after years of denial, the coal industry as a whole accepted that man-made carbon dioxide was contributing to global warming, and was actively working to develop the technologies needed to dramatically cut emissions… he warned that it could be 10 years or more before technologies to cut fossil fuel emissions become commercially available. “We have to avoid creating false expectations that we can solve this problem immediately.”‘

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,17808493%255E601,00.html

  14. Terje Petersen
    January 13th, 2006 at 08:56 | #14

    Eban Goodstein has shown that all the economic models predicting massive job losses and economic costs from new environmental laws in the US over the past thirty years have been consistently wrong, basically because of obtuse assumptions in the models – obtuse assumptions which continue to be used in models of the economic effects of GHG reduction measures.

    People have been studying economics in detail for centuries. If they can’t run a decent computer model of the economy what hope is there for a decent computer model of the climate.

  15. Michael H.
    January 13th, 2006 at 09:19 | #15

    The main problem with the limp AP Partnership is that it promises to do almost nothing. Howards claim of reduction in emissions is based on the ABARE report which doesn’t actually predict reductions on present levels, but on future levels. Howards way is to aim for a 20% reduction of a future doubling of emissions. Talk about aiming low.

    It seems clear that the main purpose of this particualr ‘talk-fest’ was to produce an image of action.

    Should we at least take heart in this? – that the ‘do-nothing’ crowd now acknowledge that being seen to do nothing is unacceptable.

  16. Ken Miles
    January 13th, 2006 at 09:20 | #16

    People have been studying economics in detail for centuries. If they can’t run a decent computer model of the economy what hope is there for a decent computer model of the climate.

    Ironically, the biggest source of uncertainty in predictions of future climate change comes from future projections of the global economy.

    I suspect that there are good reasons as to why it’s easier to successfully model climate over an economy… more data…. obeys physical laws… paleoclimate data provides constraints… no humans going off on an expected tangent… lots more opportunities for repeatable tests…

  17. Ken Miles
    January 13th, 2006 at 09:21 | #17

    Opps… that should read “no humans going off on an unexpected tangent…”

  18. Ian Gould
    January 13th, 2006 at 09:23 | #18

    >If you are dying of thrist in the desert and someone offers you a half glass of water, should you reject it on the grounds that a full glass would be better?

    Yes and then you should accept the promise of a smaller half-glass of brackish water at some indefinite point in the future as a superior offer.

    Or in Australia’s case you should refuse a full glass of water because your buddy America wants a larger glass.

  19. Ian Gould
    January 13th, 2006 at 09:46 | #19

    >People have been studying economics in detail for centuries. If they can’t run a decent computer model of the economy what hope is there for a decent computer model of the climate.

    1.Actually quantitative economics is much more recent than you probably think.

    We have temperature and rainfall data of reasonable accuracy for some countries going back centuries, we only have GDP data since the 1940′s.

    2. The physical laws behind climatic phenomena are highly complex but they are universally applicable, mathematically precise and can be reproduced in the laboratory for controlled experiments. The “laws” of economice are now of these things.

    An identical raincloud in France and the US (given the same ambient temperature and air pressure) will produce the same amount of rain. An identical economic stimulus in France and the US will produce different economic effects because of, for example, different savings rates and different propensity to invest in real estate.

    3. Economic models of the economy make a series of simplifying assumptions, one of these is that economy is at pareto-efficiency at the start of the modeling run. (Pareto efficency describes a state of optimum economic output where all resoruces are used to their best economic effect.)

    Obviously real economies are never at pareto-efficiency. Econometric models assume that any change from the current economic arrangements is a departure from pareto efficiency. Therefore the models have a downward bias, they tend to overstate the costs of any policy change.

    If this is recognised up front it doesn’t have to be a serious problem. Fro example you can compare two different possible policies and maker a comparison between their effects. The absolute size of the changes may be wrong but the relaitonship is likely to be correct. (i.e. if Policy A increases GDP more than Policy B in the model it will probably have a more positive impact in reality even if the number is imprecise.

    4. Economic models rely on a huge volume of data which contains uncertainties, many of which aren’t even known for certain. (For example, payroll data depends primarily on the quarterly statistical reports from businesses. How accurate these reports are is open to question. Unemployment figures include some people working in the informal economy and so on.)

    Economic modelling and public policy would probably be improved considerably if modellers and politicians regularly reported the uncertainty involved in their results (i.e. “The US/Australia FTA will probably result in a change in Australian GDP of between -0.2 and +1.3% over the first 10 years with a probable effect of approximately +0.5%” not “The FTA will increase Australia’s GDP by 0.5% per annum over the first 10 years”).

  20. January 13th, 2006 at 10:04 | #20

    I am amazed that the solution is that we have to stop climate change and make a profit as well. In embracing coal as the only solution,

    “The climate summit has wrapped up in Sydney, affirming the central role of fossil fuels in regional development and announcing a plan for reducing emissions.”

    the climate summit is confirming that the major players have to make money or the whole greenhouse gas reduction thing is off the table.

    What sort of crisis is going to be happen before reduction of greenhouse gases becomes a greater priority that corporate profits?

    Why should we need such a crisis?

    To reduce greenhouse emissions by the required 70% some corporations are going to miss out especially the ones committed to 19th century technology. Also economic growth will be hurt a bit to achieve this. I do not see another way meaningful cuts are going to be acheived. Without preset targets or commitments with teeth the major emitters can just set any target they like and if they do not meet it – so what – there is no penalty.

    One day we have to put the climate before economic growth – I just wish this could happen without a crisis – but we are only human really.

  21. January 13th, 2006 at 11:13 | #21

    With regards to the US’s comments, China is currently building a number of new nuclear reactors and has recently started operating a number of others- and, no, it’s not for extending their nuclear arsenal, as the ones they’re putting in are hardly the optimal type for making plutonium-239.

    They’re going to displace a hell of a lot of carbon emissions over the next few decades, and I don’t see any practical alternative available right now (even given best-practice efficiencies their energy usage is going to go up as their economies grow). So, while I think the US has plenty to answer for on greenhouse emissions, they do have a point on nuclear.

  22. Bill Posters
    January 13th, 2006 at 11:16 | #22

    Mr Quiggin, after elements within the ALP of all parties also now decry the Kyoto plan as an economic threat to Australian jobs, will you now stand as an economist or an environmentalist

    Mar’n's spray has more to do with beating up on the Greens than anything else. And it’s certainly not binding on anyone else.

  23. Will De Vere
    January 13th, 2006 at 11:40 | #23

    Robert Merkel has said ‘With regards to the US’s comments, China is currently building a number of new nuclear reactors and has recently started operating a number of others’

    Pakistan is currently negotiating to buy about 7 or 8 of them, too.

    Even some airborne Plutonium might be preferable to the dense white haze that currently covers much of northern China.

    I was encouraged to read that most of the Chinese tourists who were interviewed in yesterday’s Age said that they were very impressed by our environment. There are many thousands of them and they’ll inevitably put pressure on their local or national governments for environmental improvement.

  24. Simonjm
    January 13th, 2006 at 11:44 | #24

    Still no energy or resource efficiency drive and I won’t hold my breadth for one. A commitment to a techno solution but only if its dirty- not the pissy little amount for renewables- even the US treat is as a joke even less money than us. If they were serious about a techno solution they could easily mandate energy/resource drives efficiency and greater uptake of renewable but as we have seen jobs only count if from the dirty industry base.

    My take is do as little as possible for PR/lip service, wait till things get noticeably worse then ram through nuclear as the only option for here and the US.(even though it would take approx 15 years to come online, which I hear is about the same time frame for realistic carbon sequestration with large subsides for both )

    Another observation with the high price of oil coal to oil and tar sands to oil now become economically feasible delaying the post oil economy and any real incentive to change until the climate change forces change

  25. Bill O’Slatter
    January 13th, 2006 at 11:54 | #25

    The representatives of the fossil fuel industry are saying that the rest of you can go and get stuffed : and don’t get in the way of our profits. This is a classic example of market failure where externalities are pushed out into future generations. One probable disaster scenario is massive crop failutes in second world countries ( China and India ) at a time when global food stocks are low

  26. Paul Norton
    January 13th, 2006 at 12:03 | #26

    Meanwhile, in Sweden. . .

    http://www.gpisd.net/resource.html?Id=190

  27. January 13th, 2006 at 12:47 | #27

    Simon, would that it were so simple. If you look at Australia’s emissions, a fair whack of them come from the agricultural and transport sectors, and nuclear power on its own (or for that matter wind power) can’t make much of difference to those – we could electrify some of our intercity rail lines, but that’s about it. In any case, some fraction of the power required to run an electricity grid is peaking power, which can’t be supplied by nuclear power anyway.

    You’re right about coal to oil, which is a real greenhouse nightmare if we start using a lot of it and don’t sequester the CO2 produced in the conversion process…

  28. wilful
    January 13th, 2006 at 13:23 | #28

    We are repeatedly told that implementing Kyoto will not cost us that much. However we are also told that it won’t provide much benefit.

    What makes it even more absurd is that we’re told we’ll meet our Kyoto committments anyway!

  29. SimonJm
    January 13th, 2006 at 15:39 | #29

    Robert yes but all the focus from the gov seems to be only about making coal clean and trying to get nuclear back on the agenda.

    No efficiency drive, no incentive to use public transport or encourage a faster take up of hybrids, lip service to renewables, no comprehensive national mandates for better designed houses or larger rebates for solar and little in the way of a coordinated approach to sustainable agriculture.

    It like the desalination plant, tunnel vision regardless to what may be the best option. Throw in the spin and the voluntary approach favoured by this lot and nothing gets down.

    I’m all for a debate including nuclear but I want an independent all options study not the back of a envelope stuff we get at the moment.

  30. Hermit
    January 13th, 2006 at 16:44 | #30

    In their unguarded moments I’m sensing even the coal industry sees carbon trading as inevitable. They may see it as ‘conscience money’. The EU scheme has underperformed perhaps due to overgenerous allocations but at least it works sorta. If China and India can be persuaded to join a world wide ‘soft start’ scheme then a recalcitrant USA would be isolated. Carbon trading could be a kind of subsidy-in-lieu for ethanol and wind farms by penalising GHG intensive energy sources like shale oil. However I think the spot price would have to be astronomical to make geosequestration viable.

    Here’s a spare thought; if Brits now realises they flogged off too much North Sea gas, will Australians realise they should be keeping some uranium for domestic use?

  31. Ian Gould
    January 13th, 2006 at 17:05 | #31

    For peopel intetrested in market-based (sort of) alternatives to Kyoto, Warwick McKibbin has been pushing his own alternative plan for years.

    Essentially he proposes that each country should issue permits to authorise CO2 emissions.

    The price of permtis would be fixed for a set period (say a year) and unused permtis could be carried forward into future periods.

    Permits would be tradeable.

    An unlimited number of permits would be issued. If emissions were rising (or weren’t declining fast enough) the price for the next period would go up.

    The idea is to limit the uncertainty associated with emission reduction costs.

    Obvious questions arise regarding what use you make of the revenue raised, how you stop government viewing this primarily as a revenue-rasiing exercise and conversely how you prevent some countries from settign artificially low prices in order ot give their companies an advantage in export markets.

  32. Steve Munn
    January 13th, 2006 at 17:42 | #32

    Terje says: “People have been studying economics in detail for centuries. If they can’t run a decent computer model of the economy what hope is there for a decent computer model of the climate.”

    Economics involves people and is a social science rather than a “hard science”. Your comparison is therefore specious.

  33. Andrew Reynolds
    January 13th, 2006 at 18:21 | #33

    Steve,
    I would have thought ‘specious’ a bit harsh. Given the number of variables, their uncertainty and the impossibility of running multiple scenarios under precisely the same initial conditions, I would have thought ‘accurate’ to be more correct.

  34. Bob Foster
    January 13th, 2006 at 19:21 | #34

    The Sun drives our ever-changing climate. If you believe that ‘doing the right thing about burning fossil fuels’ will return us to the benign (and mythical) stability of pre-industrial Arcadia, you will believe anything.

    Actually ‘Sun’ is shorthand for a complex of solar/planetary influences. But the message is clear: Earth is not autonomous, and neither is climate. A ‘people driven climate’ is at most a second-order effect. Our climate is extra-terrestrially-driven from the multimillennial scale right down to what might be better called “weather”.

    The beauty of this knowledge is that forecasts – as distinct from IPCC’s ‘projections’ – are feasible. If the Sun keeps playing by the rules, a cooling trend should be detectable by the end of the decade, and the next Little Ice Age cold period (Landscheidt Minimum) will have developed by 2030.

  35. January 13th, 2006 at 20:13 | #35

    Bob – so the sun was responsible the Eocene Thermal event and the Younger Dryas and all the other climate anomolies?

    The solar variations are one of the drivers of the climate. At the moment anthropogenic greenhouse gases are a larger forcing that solar variations.

  36. Mike
    January 13th, 2006 at 20:44 | #36

    The said conference produced exactly what I expected, zilch (see previous Climate Blog this site). Boys and Girls, the climate has changed, it will get worse not better, get used to it. Corporate capitalism has primacy over the enviroment, the machine over man – welcome to the sixth extinction, you are now living through the beginnings. Naturally inspired climate anomalies have knocked off many a grand civilisation in the past as has man made ecological folly, we are no exception. Pity is it not, all it really required was a little more personal sacrifice, bettter house design, open the windows not turn on or install the aircon, drive a small car, good rail and mass transport systems, use less plastic, recycle, capture and store a little bit of rain water, the list goes on. Then we are all attracted to the grand solution instead of the obvious. Footnote – given the history of WTO talks on agricultural subsidies, third world debt discussions if you think even Kyoto would amound to something substantial basically your dreaming. Cheers.

  37. January 14th, 2006 at 00:54 | #37

    Hermit, if we ever run short of uranium we’ll start using fast breeder reactors, or breeding U-233 from thorium. There’s lots of thorium, and if you use FBR’s you can get about 60 times more energy out of uranium than with present reactor technology. FBR’s are not used much currently because uranium’s not expensive enough to make the extra construction and running costs worthwhile. You don’t even need to get rid of your existing plants – they can run on the processed output of the FBR.

    There are real issues with regards to nuclear, but fuel supply isn’t one of them.

  38. Hermit
    January 14th, 2006 at 04:56 | #38

    RM I don’t disagree, there’s plenty of uranium. Perhaps the real point concerns value adding. Australia digs holes in the ground, extracts yellowcake and sells it at a modest price. China turns the energy from that yellowcake into higher value manufactured goods which we will then import. Even with higher wages China retains the advantage. We help others get rich while we just get by. Meanwhile our coal dependence will continue until a crisis puts a spanner in the works. SA and NT rake in uranium royalties while hypocritically opposing nuclear power. The Chinese must quietly think we are a bunch of ninnies.

  39. Steve Munn
    January 14th, 2006 at 09:46 | #39

    Andrew Reynolds says: “Steve,
    I would have thought ’specious’ a bit harsh. Given the number of variables, their uncertainty and the impossibility of running multiple scenarios under precisely the same initial conditions, I would have thought ‘accurate’ to be more correct. ”

    Climate Models have been successful in replicating past climate change, which I think is a good indication of their accuracy. Converesely, to my knowledge, there is no reputable Economic Model that can replicate the Great Depression or in any other major economic event. It is also a cliche that 10 economists with give you 10 different forecasts on future events.

    I strongly recommend anyone with a serious interest in Global Warming visit the http://www.realclimate.org website. The website is run by 11 practising climate scientists, including the Climate Modeller Michael Mann.

    By the way, is “Bob Foster” a spoof or a candiate for retrospective abortion? Where do these people come from?

  40. Ian Gould
    January 14th, 2006 at 13:18 | #40

    Hermit: “Meanwhile our coal dependence will continue until a crisis puts a spanner in the works.”

    We have approximately 800 years of proven conomically extractable coal reserves at current extraction rates. If a crisis comes it certainly won’t be on the supply side.

  41. Bob Foster
    January 14th, 2006 at 13:31 | #41

    Earth is not autonomous, and neither is its climate. There are a number of known extra-terrestrial drivers, and doubtless others as yet unrecognised. I here give but one reason why IPCC’s hypothesis of a people-driven climate needs massive revision.

    The International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project finds increasing global cloud cover from the beginning of the record in 1983, through 1987, reducing cloudiness to 2000, and increasing cover to 2004. During the decade or so of brightening from the second half of the 80s to the end of the 90s, the solar warming (assuming an invariate Sun) at Earth’s surface increased by 6-10 W/m2. This is a phenomenal amount, when compared to IPCC’s calculation that the extra solar warmth retained on Earth by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions has only grown by 2.4 W/m2 since 1750.

    Brightening/dimming has a big impact on climate. Earth brightened across sunspot cycle 22, and to the extent they are included in the record, dimmed during the adjacent cycles. Why would Earth’s cloudiness shrink or grow from one solar cycle to the next? A plausible hypothesis is that the alternation is related to the Sun’s magnetic polarity, which reverses for every cycle.

    During one sunspot cycle, the solar wind of magnetised plasma might tend to inflate Earth’s protective magnetosphere. But during the next, the reversed polarity (as a consequence of reconnections) might tend to deflate it. Thus, less or more ionising cosmic rays can penetrate during alternate sunspot cycles – resulting in less or more cloud, and more or less insolation reaching Earth’s surface.

    Reliance on “consensus” is a cop-out. The advancement of scientific understanding is not a matter of voting.

  42. Steve Munn
    January 14th, 2006 at 14:14 | #42

    Bob Foster says: “During one sunspot cycle, the solar wind of magnetised plasma might tend to inflate Earth’s protective magnetosphere. But during the next, the reversed polarity (as a consequence of reconnections) might tend to deflate it. Thus, less or more ionising cosmic rays can penetrate during alternate sunspot cycles – resulting in less or more cloud, and more or less insolation reaching Earth’s surface.”

    My guess is our “Bob Foster” is the Bob Foster who belongs to the Lavoisier Group, a group which is a Dad’s Army collective of global warming septics, many of whom have worked in the fossil fuel or mining industries. see http://www.lavoisier.com.au

    I think Bob may have been exposed to too many cosmic rays during his excursions into the magnetosphere. This explains the sunspot on his brain and the resultant propensity to spout waffle which makes no sense to anyone, including himself.

  43. Ian Gould
    January 14th, 2006 at 14:28 | #43

    Im still puzzled by the refusal of Bob Foster et al to condemn John Howard’s waste of public money via the Asia-Pacific Partnership.

    One might almost suspect their views were colored by political bias.

  44. jquiggin
    January 14th, 2006 at 17:05 | #44

    I’m always impressed by the contrarian line that “truth isn’t decided by majority vote”. The obvious alternative to majority voting is finding the best available experts (in this case the IPCC) and asking them to make a judgement.

    But according to the contrarians, the best thing to do is to listen to a bunch of unqualified hacks with an obvious axe (or several) to grind.

  45. Hermit
    January 14th, 2006 at 17:10 | #45

    Ian here’s an example of a ‘crisis’. It is year 2010, petrol with 30% ethanol is $2.80 a litre and is rationed. Sydney has had a week of 40+ degree temperatures. No watering is allowed, even public parks. The tourism industry depends on well heeled Chinese to keep going. Due to a weak economy things are falling apart, like the health system. Clean coal, like the hydrogen car, has not become a commercial reality. Due to federal indifference renewables will meet barely 10% of electricity demand.

    Rightly or wrongly people will attribute their woes to fossil fuels. Nuclear misgivings will evaporate. Trouble is it will be more than a decade before the first reactor is built.

  46. Will De Vere
    January 14th, 2006 at 17:33 | #46

    Hermit has said ‘Ian here’s an example of a ‘crisis’. It is year 2010, petrol with 30% ethanol is $2.80 a litre and is rationed.’

    Paradise! And Sydney is already a bleak and ugly city, because of its dependence on cars.

    In an earlier comment, I noted how so many Chinese tourists (quoted in yesterday’s ‘Age’) loved our environment: they’ll be a pressure group for better environmental regulation in China. Tourism, despite its manifest weirdness to natives, is also educational.

  47. Seeker
    January 14th, 2006 at 21:01 | #47

    I am also (not) impressed by the contrarians who describe the IPCC judgements as a merely some form of pseudo-scientific environmental bandwagon consensus, yet who seem to think the alternative is to find a handful of naysayers and uncritically grant them superior status.

    It is strictly true that just because the vast majority of scientists believe that the evidence supports x interpretation, it doesn’t automatically make x true. But an overwhelming scientific consensus does mean the onus is firmly on the naysayers to soundly rebut the consensus view and describe a scientifically rigorous and superior alternative. In the case of GW it should preferably be one that doesn’t involve the let’s-just-wait-and-see approach, because by the time such an approach gives us firm answers it may be too late.

    We often have to individually and collectively make tough decisions based on insufficient data and understanding, that’s unfortunate but it is also real life. I would rather err on the side of caution with this potentially extremely serious issue.

    As to leaving it largely or entirely up to business and the market to properly assess and address this issue, I will just say that, while they certainly have a substantial and legitimate stake and need to be included in the process and solution, I remain firmly unconvinced that they should lead and determine the agenda.

  48. January 14th, 2006 at 22:45 | #48

    Ian – “We have approximately 800 years of proven conomically extractable coal reserves at current extraction rates. If a crisis comes it certainly won’t be on the supply side.”

    I think that our coal reserves have been a bit overstated. Australia may have plenty of coal and low extraction rates however if you consider the world reserves of 1000 billion tons it is suprising how easily this enormous reserve is overwhelmed by small rises in demand.

    If coal to liquids is used to prop up depleting oil reserves, and no effort is made to conserve or slow demand, then we could get through half the URR of coal by 2046.

    I did a crude spreadsheet of this at http://stevegloor.typepad.com/sgloor/2005/12/coal_reserves.html

  49. Terje Petersen
    January 15th, 2006 at 09:39 | #49

    As for a democractic approach to the issue of global warming we seem to repeatedly elect naysayers.

  50. Ian Gould
    January 15th, 2006 at 10:34 | #50

    Hermit: people will respond to a shortage of liquid fuels by demanding new electricity capacity that won’t come on line for a decade or more?

  51. Ian Gould
    January 15th, 2006 at 10:43 | #51

    >As for a democractic approach to the issue of global warming we seem to repeatedly elect naysayers.

    People regularly elect governments which enact policies which the majority of electorate disagree with.

    If the Australian government acted asolely ccording to the popular will we’d immediately decriminalise marijuana and reinstate the death penalty.

    You also need to qualify “naysayers” – the position of both the Bush and howard governments is that AGW is real and requires a response from government. They are more accurately described as Kyoto naysayers than global warming naysayers.

  52. Michael H
    January 15th, 2006 at 11:28 | #52

    Ian,

    Is their position really that AGW is real?

    They advocate doing not much, and not doing it with much sense of urgency. The overall plan of the AP Partnership, is to let GG emisions continue to rise, with some small reduction in future increases dependant primarily on the convenience of business.

  53. Simonjm
    January 15th, 2006 at 13:05 | #53

    Terje Petersen “As for a democractic approach to the issue of global warming we seem to repeatedly elect naysayers.”

    That’s what you get from democracy short term expediency over long term vision. Great during the good times any mediocrity will do, but throw in a long term crisis beyond the short term electoral cycle with spin, bias, denial and unaccountability and the electorate will do nothing.(doesn’t help to have a piss poor opposition)

    Just like the health system in this country-more so for mental- politicians can still get away with doing nothing if the media and the electorate allow them to do so.

    When the shit hits the fan over AGW and the climate refugees start sailing up to our shores we as a nation deserve everything we cop. You will guess which side of the political divide will welcome them due to our nations GW stance and which one will want to turn them away.

    I was more proactive on eco matters some years back but dropped out –other family reasons as well- when I knew until we hit the wall there won’t be any substantial movement on the environment. So whether the sceptics like it or not they will live a eco lifestyle in the future whether they want to or not.

  54. Bob Foster
    January 15th, 2006 at 19:56 | #54

    Of course I am a hack – as my wife tells me from time to time. But with a sheep-like cough of dissent, let me say (without having done the numbers) that not all hacks have published in “Nature” on palaeoclimatology; and of those who have, not all have published single-author papers. We are talking science here – the mesage, not the medium – remember. Happily, in science, my signal lack of personal qualities is irrelevant.

    What I am saying is that, climate-wise, Earth is not autonomous. What follows is not about ethics; it is about science. I will leave ethics to those more expert in that field than I.

    Let’s take another example contrarian (some might say, Lavoisian) to IPCC’s people-driven climate. Changes in the trend of rate-of-change of length-of-day (LOD) are inertially-related. Angular momentum must be preserved – so that if LOD changes, something else also changes. Several factors spring to mind: minor changes in Earth’s axis of rotation, launching of continental ice into the sea (nowadays, particularly from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet), or an interchange of momentum between lithosphere and mobile overcoat of ocean/atmosphere.

    The trend in change of LOD reversed in about 1870, 1905, 1940 and 1970. One interesting correlation is with variable upwelling of cold deep water in the equatorial eastern Pacific. Within a few years of 1940, upwelling increased, and Earth began 3 decades of (modest) cooling. Then, within a few years of 1970, upwelling abruptly reduced and Earth experienced the most prominent climatic event of the 20th Century – the Great Pacific Climate Shift. This warm-climate regime continues to today.

    The REALLY interesting thing is that reversals of LOD trend coincide with zero phases in the Sun’s variable motion around the solar system’s centre-of-mass (barycentre). It is much more likely that Sun is influencing Earth than vice versa. Hence, we have here further evidence for a variable Sun-Earth connection – so vehemently denied by the Great, the Good, and the Wise.

    Let me repeat: the advancement of scientific understanding is not a matter of voting.

  55. Hermit
    January 15th, 2006 at 21:49 | #55

    Ian the connection between high fuel prices and GW is both tangible and intangible. Expensive petrol will compound nagging anxieties over adverse weather events. A similar conflation is the way many Americans still believe Saddam must have been involved in 9/11. The tangible connection is the growing use of GHG intensive fuels, such as coal-to-liquids, as a substitute for dwindling oil. Right now Canadians are in a quandary over tar sands development having signed Kyoto. Before long the public will want a clear path away from the twin problems of peak oil and GW. Since this is a tough call I suspect Howard will retire before it all gets too hard.

  56. Seeker
    January 15th, 2006 at 22:22 | #56

    “Since this is a tough call I suspect Howard will retire before it all gets too hard.”

    And not just with peak oil and GW, there will be some nasty consequences from other Howard policies such as health, industrial relations, anti-terrorism and anti-sedition laws, etc, which he will not wish to deal with. I will be suprised if he contests the next election (though I am not offering bets on that prediction).

  57. Stephen L
    January 19th, 2006 at 11:40 | #57

    Bob Foster, if you are a real person not a sock puppet I challenge you to this bet (for any amount you like up to my ability to stump up the funds).

    I bet that between now and 2010 there will be a continued warming trend (I actually suspect it will accelerate, but I won’t bet on that).

    This bet is on offer only if a reputable third party is willing to hold onto the money (held in term deposits or some similarly low risk investments) and adjudicate.

    If you won’t take the bet, come up with one paper in a peer reviewed journals that back up your claim and has not been shreeded in subsequent feedback.

  58. Crispin Bennett
    January 19th, 2006 at 12:13 | #58

    Bob Foster,

    ‘Consensus’ might be a cop-out for scientists talking about an issue they are competent to judge. But what about the rest of us? What choice to laypeople have other than to rely on some kind of consensus amongst those scientists our most-respected institutions deem ‘experts’.

    The ‘cop-out’ for most lay people (with typical amounts of available time) would actually be to try to follow the science in detail and make their own independent judgement (however much this is the official post-enlightenment doctrine of how the citizenry should act). There’s little serious chance of most people amassing and understanding evidence relating to specialist fields with enough coverage and detail to reliably assess their own prejudices and assumptions. No-one can bear to admit that they’re out of depth on a particular subject, of course, but it’s a daily reality.

    Isn’t it the most rational policy for a non-specialist in a given field to (rather provisionally) accept the consensus of that field’s experts? (obviously we tend not to do only this because there are often conflicts with imperatives other than rationality).

  59. Steve Munn
    January 19th, 2006 at 12:17 | #59

    Stephen L says: “Bob Foster, if you are a real person not a sock puppet…”

    Bob Foster is on of the inmates in the Lavoisier Society old folk’s home. Unfortunately he has gone walkabout.

    Bob, are you there mate? Please come back. Its time for your pills and nappy change.

  60. Ian Gould
    January 21st, 2006 at 07:37 | #60

    Another possible market-based alternative to Kyoto:

    http://socialgoals.com/ieakyototext.html

    “Internationally backed Climate Stability Bonds would be issued by open tender, as at an auction; those who bid the highest price for the limited number of Bonds would be successful in buying them. A fixed number of Bonds would be issued, redeemable for, say, £10 million each, only when climate stability, as certified by objective measurements made by independent scientific bodies, has been achieved and sustained. Once issued, the Bonds will be freely tradeable on the free market.

    What will determine the price of the Bonds? Most obviously, the market’s assessment of how close climate stability is to being achieved. Interest rates on alternative investments will also be a factor. The Bonds would sell for small fractions of their issue price if people thought there were virtually no chance of climate stability being achieved in their lifetime. People will differ in their valuation of the Bonds, and their views will change as events occur that make achievement of a stable climate a more or less remote prospect. They would also change as new information about climate, and about the causes of climate change, is discovered. But the Bonds, once issued, would be transferable at any time. Bondholders, having done their bit to achieve climate stability, could sell their Bonds, realising the capital gain arising from the higher market price of their Bonds. These market prices would be publicly quoted, just like those of ordinary bonds or shares.

    Assume that Climate Stability Bonds, redeemable for £10 million each, have been issued, and that they each sell for £1 million. People, or institutions, now hold an asset that can give them a return of 900 percent once a stable climate has been achieved. It is this prospect of capital gain that gives bondholders a strong interest in bringing about a stable climate, as cost-effectively as possible.”

  61. Will De Vere
    January 21st, 2006 at 16:49 | #61

    Ian Gould has said

    ‘Assume that Climate Stability Bonds, redeemable for £10 million each, have been issued, and that they each sell for £1 million. People, or institutions, now hold an asset that can give them a return of 900 percent once a stable climate has been achieved. It is this prospect of capital gain that gives bondholders a strong interest in bringing about a stable climate, as cost-effectively as possible.â€?’

    God Zooks, Odd Boodkins! They’ve stolen my idea of the ‘gamble’ on Greenhouse Bonds!

    I hereby claim priority on the idea. I’ll see you in court.

  62. Will De Vere
    January 21st, 2006 at 17:03 | #62

    Ooops! I withdraw that! They had a good idea. I only came up with it too late.

    But it’s still my idea…

    %—)

  63. January 30th, 2006 at 14:57 | #63

    I think he is right…

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