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Global warming and careerism

February 14th, 2006

ABC Four Corners ran an interesting show last night on the anti-science interest groups who dominate the formulation and official discussion of policy on global warming in Australia. Transcript here, along with discussion from Tim Lambert and Larvatus Prodeo.

What particularly interested me was the number of scientists who had been pushed out of CSIRO, or had left of their own volition, after being tightly censored in what they could say about global warming, and the emissions reductions that would be needed to stabilise the climate (the latter point is particularly sensitive since any actual number implies a target and government policy is opposed to targets).

In particular, I was struck by the fact that global warming contrarians commonly explain the overwhelming support of climate scientists for the consensus view on anthropogenic global warming in terms of careerism. The contrarians say that if the scientists deviated from the dominant consensus, they would lose their jobs or their grant funding.

THe Four Corners report made it clear that, in Australia (as also in the US) the exact opposite is the truth. Speaking out in support of science on global warming is a very bad career move, at least for anyone employed by the government. In climate science, where the big organisations have been CSIRO and the Met Bureau, that constraint applies to most people working in the field.

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  1. February 27th, 2006 at 11:44 | #1


    I will try, but SJ asked for this response:
    SJ Says:

    February 26th, 2006 at 10:19 pm

    … answer the question Ian posed to you, which was quite obviously about dollar cost per kWh generated.

    I say:

    1. Cost of electricity generated by nuclear energy vary by plant depending on age and type and discount rate for valuing the capital cost component. The most expensive of 14 nuclear power plants for which I have data is one in Japan, at US$70 per kWh with a discount rate of 10%; One in Canada comes in at less than US$40, and there’s one in Korea at US$30. The fuel costs are much less of course, as little as US$3 per MWh in the Korean case. The OECD’s NEA paper by Bertel and Morrison (“Nuclear Energy Economics in a sustainable development perspective”) that I have cited at least twice previously confirms these data, but also shows that at a 5% discount rate the all-in generating cost falls to as little as US$25 per MWh for the Canadian plant for which the fuel cost is US$9.

    Lecture notes by Dan Kammen at UCLA include data (from US Utility Data Institute) on nuclear energy costs from 1981 to 1999 in a range between US$20 and US$30 per MWh, by 1999 just below the comparable cost of coal fired power, and well below oil and gas, in constant 1999 US$.

    Australia’s NEMMCO publishes average electricity prices which can fluctuate widely in the course of a week, eg first week in February, from as little as A$15 per MWh at weekends (US$11) to as much as A$57.48 (US$42) on weekdays (NSW, 1st Feb 06). Other things equal, it would appear that nuclear power could well be competitive even with coal in Australia.

    2. Nuclear and Kyoto. I still find it staggeringly dishonest and hypocritical of the Kyoto Protocol not to allow credit for switches to nuclear under the CDM etc. Without existing nuclear power in the OECD, total power plant emissions of CO2 would be about 33% more than they are now. Existing nuclear plants produce an “annual saving of 1,200 million tonnes of CO2, or about 10% of total emissions from all sources”. That amount is more than the total Kyoto target for reductions of 700 million tonnes by 2008-2012. Thus the Kyoto target will swamped by the increases if the Greens as in Sweden and Germany succeed in closing down all nuclear energy around the world, as windmills and the like have no chance of plugging the gap at the same price of power. My source? OECD, “Nuclear Energy and the Kyoto Protocol”.

    No more from me unless specifically requested.

  2. Terje
    March 2nd, 2006 at 10:44 | #2

    Tim Flannery has become something of a picture boy for the pro Kyoto lobby since he published “The Weather Makers”. I have read the book and he certainly tells the story in a captivating way.

    Recently Tim Flannery started selling himself to advertisers. Apparently in return for “a donation” the “Solar Shop” in Adelaide has been able to obtain the services of Tim Flannery to appear in a commericial promoting its product. No doubt he might gain some profile from air time also.

    Now I have been pretty quick to point out before that a conflict of interest should not exclude somebody from a debate. Others feel differently about such things. As such I am surprised that Tim Flannery has been willing to raise eyebrows in this way. However I suppose a mans has got to eat.

  3. Dogz
    March 2nd, 2006 at 11:46 | #3

    The man already receives a substantial salary courtesy of the Australian taxpayer as Director of The South Australian Museum. Good to see we’re also funding his moonlighting activities. Flannery is a rather adept self-promoting charlatan. He has no climatology credentials whatsoever.

  4. Steve Munn
    March 2nd, 2006 at 13:48 | #4

    I have also read Flannery’s book. He doesn’t pretend to be a climatologist. He is very clear about this in the book. Nonetheless he had the book reviewed by a number of climatologists before having it published.

    Do you have any evidence to support your claim that Flannery is a charlatan Dogz or are you simply barking false accusations?

    By the way, I thought you had retired from the blog world? Good to see you back.

    Flannery has written a number of very successful books and I have three of them. I doubt this bloke is short of a quid.

  5. Chris O’Neill
    March 2nd, 2006 at 15:32 | #5

    Terje says

    “Apparently in return for “a donationâ€? the “Solar Shopâ€? in Adelaide has been able to obtain the services of Tim Flannery to appear in a commericial promoting its product.”

    And this commercial didn’t get very far because of blatant political interference.

  6. Paul Williams
    March 6th, 2006 at 15:06 | #6

    The commercial is now being shown, the blatant political interference having been overthrown. Obviously it’s ok to mislead the public when you’re on a mission to save humanity.

    It’s great to know I can avert “the greatest threat facing humanity” just by buying a solar panel. Who knew it would be so easy?

  7. March 6th, 2006 at 15:10 | #7

    Just goes to show that you can’t save the world unless you make a profit.

  8. Steve Munn
    March 8th, 2006 at 00:05 | #8

    I can’t wait to read Paul Williams’s stunning exposé on hyperbole in breakfast cereal commercials.

    Go get ‘em tiger!

  9. Chris O’Neill
    March 8th, 2006 at 12:44 | #9

    According to Paul Williams “it’s ok to mislead the public”

    Thank you for your opinion.

  10. Paul Williams
    March 9th, 2006 at 14:57 | #10

    Steve, I agree with your unspoken premise that climate change advocacy is hard to differentiate from the worst excesses of the advertising industry.

    Chris, thanks for enlightening us about your character.

  11. Chris O’Neill
    March 10th, 2006 at 00:25 | #11

    “Chris, thanks for enlightening us about your character.”

    What’s the problem? Don’t you like it when someone writes a corrupt statement like, for example, “it’s ok to mislead the public when you’re on a mission to save humanity” with the presumption that the intention is to mislead.

  12. Ian Gould
    March 10th, 2006 at 17:16 | #12

    The term “donation” suggests that Flannery is donating his fee for appearing in the ad to a charity of soem osrt.

    Is there no end to the man’s evil?

    Can I just say how wonderful it is that when rightwingers have money it’s proof of their industry, virtue and keen understanding of how the real world works and how when leftwingers have money it’s proof of their venality and corruption.

  13. Terje Petersen
    March 10th, 2006 at 22:24 | #13

    My understanding is that the donation was to the Museum that he runs.

    For what it is worth I think it is great that Tim Flannery makes a buck promoting solar cells. I don’t think it is evil. I merely raised the point to see if there is consistency in the view (held by JQ and others) that those that make a buck from expressing a particular view should be treated as suspect in any debate.

  14. April 2nd, 2006 at 13:06 | #14

    The first Ice Age had a combination of buddy bonding and a little bit of danger. Remember the Sabre pack constantly harassing Diego and pushing him to get the child? Since we werent sure what he would do we were all rooting for his bond with Manny and Sid to triumph. Less of that here.

    In the sequel we are catching up with the trio in some sort of wildlife sanctuary in a valley lined with ice walls. Politics come on early with the mention of global warming leading to the impending melt and the ultimate collapse of the ice walls that hold back enormous amounts of water. So our friends and all the other animals embark on a trek to reach a boat (read giant log) at the far end of the valley in order to save them from the impending flood. Insert Biblical reference here.

    As in the first movie, the antagonist here again is the weather. The secondary antagonist (keenly written in the first movie for the Sabre pride) has been reduced to a couple of characterless crocadilian-fish that seem to have a particular taste for migrating mammals. Decent concept, given the flood, but the movie gave them no teeth. I think this is the missing link to making this movie work. Too bad because overall its a pleasing way to spend an hour and a half. Mannies love interest subplot is ok. The concept of Ellie thinking that she is a possum and only realizing that she is in fact a mammoth after she stumbles across the place she was found by her possum mother and the subsequent flashback, makes you thinks that Mannys comment about Ellies …tree not going all the way to the top…, can be applied to the writers.

    If nothing else Scrat is reason enough to go see this. He is no longer just an aside as in the first film as he actually gets into the plot here. Albeit, his role in the plot is an overly easy (and early) seque to the films resolution.

    Kids will love it. Adults that liked the first one, will be dissapointed.

  15. April 26th, 2006 at 20:19 | #15
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