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Inconvenient truths and awkward untruths

September 6th, 2006

Al Gore’s documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth is set for Australian release on 14 Septembe. I’ve already missed a couple of opportunities to see it, first at the Australian Leadership Retreat on Hayman Island a couple of weeks ago (I went on the sunset cruise instead) and then today at RiverSymposium in Brisbane (it clashed with my presentation).

In addition to the commercial release, ACF is putting on special screenings around the country, and the Brisbane event is on Friday September 15th, 7pm sharp, film starts 7.20pm, Palace Centro, 39 James St, Fortitude Valley. For all enquires email [email protected] or call toll-free on 1800 332 510.

And even the Howard government is getting in on the act. Andrew Bartlett reports a screening in Parliament House put on by Greg Hunt, who is the government’s Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment.

With the denialist position in tatters, the deplorable performance of our alleged national newspaper is in sharper relief than ever, and the Oz finally seems to be copping the criticism it deserves. Andrew Bartlett mentions it, as do Ben Oquist, Grant Young , Tim Lambert and Tim Dunlop (who focuses more on the coverage of Iraq, which is also poor).

The Oz has even attracted international attention. As Crikey reports, the Scientific American has slammed it, while the reliably silly Arts and Letters Daily gives a favorable link, as does Matt Drudge. For a comprehensive demolition, you can’t go past Real Climate.

If the Australian wants to salvage any credibility as a newspaper, it needs to correct its errors on this topic fast, and acknowledge the lapse in journalistic standards represented by its reporting and editorial comment.

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  1. September 6th, 2006 at 18:29 | #1

    Prof Q
    I wonder whether the Oz’s lapse in journalistic standards is simply that: a lapse, which could be explained by carelessness, innatention to detail, jumping to conclusions and the like, or whether it is more the product of a particular ideological position. If it is the latter should the paper publish its position by way of editorial or the like?

  2. September 6th, 2006 at 18:49 | #2

    Gore will be in Australia this weekend. He will be at the premiere on Sunday, he’s doing the Enough Rope on Monday (I’ll be in the studio audience — woo hoo!) and the Daily Terror is running a competition for high school kids where the winner ‘will have the opportunity to pose a question to the former Vice President’.

  3. Mark U
    September 6th, 2006 at 19:26 | #3

    I saw the documentary on Sunday evening. While agreeing with the broad thesis of human induced global warming and the need to take action now rather than later, I must say that the film left me feeling a bit uneasy.

    Without being familiar with all the massive literature on global warming, it was hard to tell whether some of his scenarios were being unduly alarmist (eg. his chart on implied temperature increase seemed to me to be far greater than the IPCC levels and his rise in ocean levels similarly seemed to be overstated, althoogh in both cases there seemed to be no clear indication of the timeframe he was talking about). If the movie contains any exaggerations, the sceptics/denialists will coninually harp on these and this will divert attention away from the central message.

  4. September 6th, 2006 at 20:02 | #4

    Mark U – “Without being familiar with all the massive literature on global warming, it was hard to tell whether some of his scenarios were being unduly alarmist”

    For the best round up of the movie have a read of this from RealClimate:

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/05/al-gores-movie/

    As this is written by climate scientists it is likely to be a quite accurate critique.

    “How well does the film handle the science? Admirably, I thought. It is remarkably up to date, with reference to some of the very latest research. Discussion of recent changes in Antarctica and Greenland are expertly laid out. He also does a very good job in talking about the relationship between sea surface temperature and hurricane intensity. As one might expect, he uses the Katrina disaster to underscore the point that climate change may have serious impacts on society, but he doesn’t highlight the connection any more than is appropriate (see our post on this, here).”

  5. September 6th, 2006 at 20:13 | #5

    Al Gore will be in Australia this weekend. He’ll be at the premiere of AIT on Sunday, he’s doing the Enough Rope on Monday, and the Daily Terror is running a competition for high school kids where the winner will ‘have the opportunity to pose a question to the former Vice President’.

  6. taust
    September 6th, 2006 at 20:21 | #6

    Lets accept the high the high probability of climate change.
    Now lets discuss what can we do about it.
    Lets also assess the human cost of our actions.
    Lets also compare doing something about the climate change to doing something to adapt to climate change.
    I would like to ponder the effect a probable temporary increase in oil prices (only one form of energy) is having or could have on economic activity.
    In other words lets start assessing the issue in a rational fact based manner rather than as a belief system.

  7. Brian Bahnisch
    September 6th, 2006 at 21:03 | #7

    There is a trailer of Gore’s film here. Pretty spectacular, I thought.

  8. jquiggin
    September 6th, 2006 at 21:04 | #8

    “In other words lets start assessing the issue in a rational fact based manner rather than as a belief system. ”

    I agree, but there seems to be an implied suggestion that the mainstream analysis of the topic has not been undertaken in a rational fact-based manner. On the contrary, it’s the denialists and advocates of inaction who have approached this on the basis of a belief system, namely that any truth that is inconvenient for business or necessitates government action thereby ceases to be true.

    Admittedly, there’s also a segment of the environmental movement who want to use global warming to support preconceived beliefs about the need for a radical shift away from technological society, but, unlike the denialists, their influence is neglible.

  9. Jonno
    September 6th, 2006 at 21:23 | #9

    The Oz is rather like the curate’s egg – particularly where ideology shines through. Under Paul Kelly it was outstanding but it has rather lost its way.

  10. R J Stove
    September 6th, 2006 at 22:11 | #10

    Hmmm, it certainly does seem, on the evidence provided here, as if The Oz needs to get – shall we say – a features editor. It most certainly doesn’t have anyone doing the job, as opposed to holding the title, right now.

    But if a new broom did sweep clean, and if The Oz did vow to cease being an international joke, then one shudders to think of what outcomes might occur. Why, Red Rupert’s minions might even decide to pension off Greg Sheridan, who for the better part of 20 years has been giving every indication of believing that Australia’s capital is Jakarta! They might even check out potential feature-writers’ backgrounds for evidence of serial plagiarism, before those feature-writers have their work accepted. (We all know who they are, despite, or because of, their tendency to respond to criticism by hiding behind threatening letters from their solicitors.)

    But all that isn’t likely. The poor old Oz has only today demonstrated that it can’t even put together a literary magazine which anyone except the most parochial masochist would want to read. So what price its ability to do anything more ambitious?

    A pity. I’m old enough to remember the years when Oz bosses had genuine intelligence.

  11. chrisl
    September 6th, 2006 at 22:15 | #11

    I think the IPCC has left itself wide open by producing computer driven doomsday scenarios and temperature graphs that go through the roof.
    If “better science” means they have to revise their predictions then their credibility is gone. As is the credibility of those that quote their reports, chapter and verse(not to mention the obligatory link)

  12. A P Parker
    September 6th, 2006 at 22:54 | #12

    The real problem here is that for large swathes of Australia their only access to printed news is via what passes for media diversity in Australia. When you have a federal government which still fails to acknowledge that AGW is a real issue (witness the PM’s comments recently on 4 Corners) and a media machine which also fails to adequately debate the issue, it is no wonder that Australian’s are not concerned about this issue.

    I am currently in the UK and the differences in attitude on this issue are astounding. Media reports here offer a broader range of opinions and debate on this matter, including recent debated on the impact on the debate of ‘climate change porn’ – where media outlets focus on the potential devastation resulting from AGW, rather than some of the more subtle nuances. The level of media debate then appears to be reflected in the political rumblings of both the incumbents and opposition.

  13. The Lithophyte
    September 7th, 2006 at 01:03 | #13

    Cpl – the Oz’s stance on climate change has been abysmal for at least a decade. However, there were signs of a shift when the editorial writers and news journos went quiet a year or two ago and left the fomenting to the columnists (remember McCrann’s six horsemen of the apocalypse (capitalists showing self interest – omigod!!), Pearson’s endorsement of the hard rock geological fringe (Carter, Plimer) and Woods not seeing the forest for the trees?). The latest showing, while still abysmal, is a different abysmal, and marks the shift they were indicating by their lack of push in the last while.

    That said, Jonno, Paul Kelly was part of the putsch against climate change before they went quiet.

    More generally, there’s bias and there’s bias. The Oz’s part in the culture wars (the history we had to have, relational science http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/dailydose/index.html?uc_full_date=20060305 ) has shown that they engage not in reflective bias, only reporting one aspect of the news, but in active bias, where they push and campaign on specific views that have no basis in truth. This is far worse than anything the ABC has ever been accused of – reporting one side of a story is better than one side of no story. Like the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, sold out for ideas worth less than trinkets.

  14. taust
    September 7th, 2006 at 09:11 | #14

    JQ
    I do not mind you setting me up as a straw woman that you can misuse. Lumping the denialists and the adaptionists together is not a usful cojoining in discussion,

    You however seem to accept the basis of my agenda for a discussion

    So given that climate change is ocurring and that the best current estimate of the effect is given by the range of the IPCC when that is revealed in good time (I understand that the IPCC understand FOI rather like Costello does. Only goes to show scientists can become good public servants ).

    What actions can Australia take that will have anything more than a publicity stunt effect on the extent or timing of climate change?

    As an economist if the price of all energy sources in the world were doubled what would be the effect on the world economy?

    For example would the net effect be that more human labour would be used rather than artificial energy sources ie the navvy would come back into favour. (This would have an economic advantage in that we could wear human beings out by hard physical labour and knock ten years off their life span ).

  15. jquiggin
    September 7th, 2006 at 09:31 | #15

    “What actions can Australia take that will have anything more than a publicity stunt effect on the extent or timing of climate change?”

    This is a fallacy of composition. No one individual or small country can have much effect on anything.

    “As an economist if the price of all energy sources in the world were doubled what would be the effect on the world economy?”

    Very modest, as I’ve discussed in previous posts, and as estimates like those of ABARE (except for the bogus ring-in scenario D) indicate. Likely order of magnitude is a 3 per cent reduction in GDP relative to trend to 2050, that is, a loss of about one year’s growth over that period.

  16. taust
    September 7th, 2006 at 10:52 | #16

    To the Real Climate link that JQ gave earlier (which is a good link on the climate science aspects of climate change) I would add this link that gives a history of the science relating to greenhouse gas induced climate change:

    http://www.aip.org/history/climate/index.html

  17. taust
    September 7th, 2006 at 11:03 | #17

    JQ

    So Australia can do little on its own to affect the climate change.

    What is the probability of the major energy emitters achieving a significant reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions over the next 20 years?

    Given Australia can do little on its own is it not a good strategy to give a lot of effort to adapting to climate change? Is it not rational to behave as an adapter?

    Also and its a real question not a point scoring one. Why does an oil price rise appear to have such negative effect on the world’s economy when energy price rises to counter climate change are forecast to have little effect? What is the balancing effect that cuts in in the medium term?

  18. taust
    September 7th, 2006 at 11:11 | #18

    JQ
    another real question. I accepted the economic forecast, that turned out to be true, that the COAG reforms would increase Australia’s economic wealth.

    What I did not pick up at the time was that although we would in aggragate be better off in the mean time we would put half a generation of 15 to 20 year olds and half a generation of 50+ year olds on the scrap heap.

    Who is going to suffer in the changes required to moderate climate change?

  19. September 7th, 2006 at 11:31 | #19

    taust – “(I understand that the IPCC understand FOI rather like Costello does. Only goes to show scientists can become good public servants ).”

    The IPCC report is still in draft. It was leaked while it was embargoed. While it is draft some of it could change before the final report is released. And yes the nature of producing a report for polititians and policy makers does involve the scientists being public servant like. It is the nature of the beast.

  20. Roger Jones
    September 7th, 2006 at 11:45 | #20

    taust,

    re your comment on the IPCC and FOI. This is a cheap shot – with the IPCC there is full transparency but only after the report is finally reviewed by experts and policy makers and approved by member governments (full word by word approval is required for the summary for policymakers and close scrutiny for the technical summaries). There is disagreement over the boundary between policy relevant, which the IPCC should be, and policy prescriptive, which it is not, so you can image the process can become politically controversial. It did in the Third Assessment Report. So the IPCC is not perfect, but it’s not a mushroom farming operation, either.

    This care is warranted because of the potential for mis-use (The Australian being a prime example of this mis-use) and the fact that uncertainty and confidence need to be carefully framed and communicated. Protocols and rules can be obtained from the ipcc website http://www.ipcc.ch

    Re whether Australia can or not do little on its own. In terms of CO2 produced perhaps not. However, when approaching a critical threshold, the last tonne of CO2 can be critical. In terms of ideas, technology and innovation perhaps we could contribute a great deal. The question could be framed as do we want to be producers of the future or consumers of the future?

    It is rational to behave as an adaptor what ever happens because some climate change is inevitable. We are already committed to 0.5 to 1.0 degree above 1990 levels. But there are limits to adaptation. For our land-based industries this is very dependent on the direction of rainfall change. If rainfall decreases significantly, these limits will be sorely tested. However, we also have a range of impacts that have low adaptive capacity. Endemic species, coral reefs and alpine ecosystems are example. If we wish to avoid serious and irreversible impacts, signficant cuts in emission will be required.
    Indigenous people are vulnerable and the capacity of many is already limited. People are dying of exposure now. More information can be obtained here http://www.businessroundtable.com.au/html/documents.html

    Reference emission greenhouse gas scenarios such as those produced by ABARE follow IEA energy projections faily closely and by 2100 result in temperatures in the upper half of the IPCC Third Assessment Report range.
    This is likely to result in a series of significant impacts that a jury of peers may well determine constitutes dangerous climate change (This has been the case where public juries have examined the issue). See Barrie Pittock’s latest contribution to Ockam’s Razor for an update on recently updated vulnerabilties http://www.abc.net.au/rn/ockhamsrazor/stories/2006/1729927.htm

    Mitigation and adaptation is not an either or choice. It’s how do we get both as cost effectively, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable as possible.

  21. taust
    September 7th, 2006 at 13:21 | #21

    Roger;
    great posting
    thanks

  22. September 7th, 2006 at 18:12 | #22

    Taust, the oil prices rises have occurred over a short period of time, and are unpredictable. Changes in energy costs as a result of greenhouse mitigation schemes will occur gradually and predictably over decades, giving the economy lots of time to adjust.

  23. taust
    September 7th, 2006 at 21:05 | #23

    Robert M

    As energy use is nearly as all pervasive in the economy as labour why would a steadily increasing price with no or falling productivity per unit of energy not cause inflation paricularly as the increase is forecast well ahead of time?

    Should I be borrowing up to the hilt in anticipation of a dose of inflation?

  24. SimonC
    September 8th, 2006 at 13:47 | #24

    Taust, why do you think that there will be no or falling productivity per unit energy? I would think that is the price of energy was to increase then businesses would be looking to produce the same products but with less energy.

  25. September 8th, 2006 at 13:54 | #25

    SimonC – this has in fact happened. The US, for example, is now using half the oil per unit of output that it was in the 1970s, before the first oil crisis.

  26. Hans Erren
    September 8th, 2006 at 20:07 | #26

    “The IPCC report is still in draft. It was leaked while it was embargoed.”

    any anonymous could download the draft. I said “do not cite or quote”. Which is pretty absurd considering it is in the public domain already.

  27. Louis Hissink
    September 8th, 2006 at 21:59 | #27

    AAAAAHHHmen

    As the Church instructs its ……..

  28. taust
    September 9th, 2006 at 11:02 | #28

    Andrew;
    I am a little skeptical about the improvements productivity per unit of energy. In my opinion (ie have not done the hard yards to pin the facts down) the change in composition of the economy confounds the statistics too much.

    I must do a Google search to see whether the total world economy is improving its productivity per unit of energy. At least that statistic might correect for USA and Europe exporting its CO2 producing industries to India and China.

  29. taust
    September 9th, 2006 at 15:35 | #29

    Having read and in one case re-read the papers in Roger Jones excellent overview blog I think he and I are working in the same discussion space but view different sides of the mountain.

    My view is that significant climate change is inevitable.

    That there is a low probability that there will be a concerted world wide action to limit climate change.

    Given that view two sets of actions come into focus:

    1. Stop spending significant sums of money and time on promoting mitigating climate change. Stop imposing costs on the people of Australia that have negligible impact on climate change and have no other clear benefits
    eg subsidising renewable power;

    2 Commence investigations to develop and promulgating to well informed Australian people as to the likely adaptations that will be needed eg CSIRO develops more effective tropical agricultural practices; CSIRO develops a more reliable regional climate change model that can be useful for people taking real decisions.

    RJ I do not think your last straw argument is up to the standard of the rest of your discussion

    Re the ABARE model
    I do not understand how Australia can give up its competitive advantage of cheap energy compared to its trading partners (roughly half the cost) and yet not suffer significant economic loss relative to keeping that advantage.

  30. September 9th, 2006 at 16:29 | #30

    taust – “2 Commence investigations to develop and promulgating to well informed Australian people as to the likely adaptations that will be needed eg CSIRO develops more effective tropical agricultural practices;”

    What if one of the outcomes is that Australia is rendered uninhabitable? We do not know what will happen from climate change. The tropics could be unihabitable due to extreme climate. You cannot grow crops when hurricanes strike every couple of weeks.

    “CSIRO develops a more reliable regional climate change model that can be useful for people taking real decisions.”

    Does that mean one that puts out answers that you like. I can do that now if you like – you do not need the CSIRO. The ones they have now are sufficiently accurate for decision making.

  31. September 9th, 2006 at 17:15 | #31

    Ender I don’t know why you bother answering taust’s posts.

    FYI: The Age showed An Inconvenient Truth to seven climate scientists and asked them to rate the movie:
    An Inconvenient Truth or Gore’s opportunism? You decide

  32. taust
    September 9th, 2006 at 18:36 | #32

    Enders

    The al climate models do not appear in general to predict uninhabitable tropics. They appear to predict a widening of the region ‘tropical’ but this may not be true on a regional scale.

    My understanding is that regional models are considerably more uncertain than global models and that they were not yet at the level of uncertainty to be good indicators of sub-regional decisions. If you have a reference to a different answer I would appreciate it.

    Against that view of the regional models is that in general a number of adaptive actions can be assessed using global model data. As an example the shift north of the wheat and other grains growing regions in Canada Russia etc etc

    I suppose I have a vision of the adaptists being the first movers to a new future.Leaving the mitigators living in regions growing poorer.

    If I turn out to be right I promise I will come touring in your living museums and wax lyrical how your art is wonderful. I suppose we will have to cede from the Commonwealth to prevent advantage being taken of our wealth.

    It would be a reversal of the idea from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where all what one could call the caffe latte drinking elite were sent away on the first set of space colonisation vehicles and the real people were left to Earth.

    I think the real world is showing what really would have happened. The caffe drinking elites would only do things that do not change, that have charm, but are basically useless, (admiring the art in dirty bed sheets hanging up) they would have never got into the space ships.

    The future is for those who adapt.

    Ad We would not rip you off for providing the technology for your suitable power stations and would be pleased to take your nuclear waste for a reasonable price.

  33. Louis Hissink
    September 9th, 2006 at 18:39 | #33

    carbonsink – I count 3 climate scientists if the picture in the url you gave is correct.

  34. September 9th, 2006 at 20:55 | #34

    taust – “The al climate models do not appear in general to predict uninhabitable tropics. They appear to predict a widening of the region ‘tropical’ but this may not be true on a regional scale.”

    Yes but you do not know how accurate they are. Most climate scientist fear the most they they are understating climate change. You are in the position, as I have said before, of preparing for the best and hoping for the best. If the worse happens you are stuffed without a plan.

    “I suppose I have a vision of the adaptists being the first movers to a new future.Leaving the mitigators living in regions growing poorer.”

    Again you are making the huge assumption that you can move into the areas that win from climate change and you are assuming without data that there will be enough winners to house the people that want to adapt. Also you are leaving, like what happened in New Orleans, the poor people that do not have the resources to adapt to die.

    Your position can be summed up a “I’m alright Jack – stuff the rest” which is fine as long as you are the one that is fortunate enough to adapt.

  35. September 9th, 2006 at 22:47 | #35

    Louis Hissink wrote:

    carbonsink – I count 3 climate scientists if the picture in the url you gave is correct.

    Did you read the second page of the article? Here are the seven climate scientists and how they rated the movie for scientific merit:
    1. Dr Penny Whetton, CSIRO’s Climate Change Impact and Risk group leader 4.75 out of 5
    2. Dr Michael Coughlan, head of the National Climate Centre, Bureau of Meteorology 4 out of 5
    3. Dr Kevin Hennessy, principal research scientist, CSIRO Climate Impacts and Risk group 4.5 out of 5
    4. Dr Graeme Pearman, former CSIRO Director of Atmospheric Research turned consultant 4 out of 5
    5. Dr David Jones, head of climate analysis, National Climate Centre 4.9 out of 5
    6. Dr Barrie Pittock, former CSIRO Climate Impact group leader 5 out of 5
    7. Dr Kathy McInnes, senior research scientist, CSIRO Climate Impacts and Risk group 4.5 out of 5

    Yep that’s seven, and no they didn’t ask Bob Carter.

  36. September 9th, 2006 at 22:52 | #36

    Louis Hissink – here is the single page URL if you’re still having trouble:
    http://tinyurl.com/n628k
    Scroll down to the bottom to see the scientists ratings.

  37. taust
    September 9th, 2006 at 23:18 | #37

    Would you trust politicians to give an answer on science?
    Would you trust scientists to give an answer on politics?

  38. taust
    September 9th, 2006 at 23:39 | #38

    Enders;

    I am not a person who thinks I can change the world.

    So I am thinking and acting locally i.e. Australia.

    We have plenty of land in the tropics for all our population who would likely be better off by moving there.

    You are putting all your hopes on the world successfully acting to mitigate climate change. I believe that the chance of this happening to any significant extent is close to zero.

    The climate models are the best information on climate change we have. Hopefully they will improve. Nonetheless just as there is overwhelming evidence from the models and reality that climate change is occurring; there is strong evidence from the models and reality as to the main directions of the change.

    Give me a good reason why we spend Australian wealth (both monetary and intellectual) on the very low probability outcome that Australian actions will have a significant moderating effect on climate change.

    Give me good reasons why we should not spend Australian wealth in preparing to and adapting to the climate change.

    Spending wealth to no effect will harm the poor. Spending wealth to an effect will at least create the chance that the poor enjoy some of the benefits of adaptation.

    For example with economic activity in Australia moving north there is the possibility of more aboriginals enjoying a mainstream life and its opportunities.

    I

  39. September 10th, 2006 at 10:31 | #39

    taust – “You are putting all your hopes on the world successfully acting to mitigate climate change. I believe that the chance of this happening to any significant extent is close to zero.”

    Not at all. There is a window of oppurtunity that has not quite closed where a drastic cut in emissions from the major polluters could minimise global warming and avoid some of the more extreme climate change scenerios. The longer we avoid action the worse the warming will be and also the corresponding climate change. So even if we agree to adapt we still need to reduce emissions so the the climate change is adaptable to.

    We also need to change from using the Earths stores to using natures flows like wind and sun and water. All biological systems that have been in existence long term use them. Renewable energy, if implemeted properly, will address 2 issues – Peak Oil and Climate Change. It will deliver a smart distributed energy system that is far more resilient to extreme weather events than the dumb centralised system we have now that is dependant on finite fossil fuels. Renewable energy is the best adaption method we have for the future that now will include sme climate change no matter what we do however that degree of change can be made as small as possible so that the effects are minimised.

    “Give me a good reason why we spend Australian wealth (both monetary and intellectual) on the very low probability outcome that Australian actions will have a significant moderating effect on climate change.”

    OK someone comes to you and says “If you pay me 100 dollars per month I will replace your house if it burns down” No you think why should I spend my wealth paying this joker all this money when only one house in the suburb burnt down last year. A house buring down is described as a low probability – high impact event. Now I am sure you have your house insured (if you own one) as do I. Despite the low probability of my house burning down I still give a company lots of money per year. Also consider the derision you feel toward people that there house has burnt down and they are too dumb to have it insured.

    So here you are balking at spending less than Australians gamble each year to give Australia and the world an insurance policy against climate change. I am sure that future generations (assuming there are any) will look on people such as yourself with the same derision as we feel for uninsured home owners.

    “For example with economic activity in Australia moving north there is the possibility of more aboriginals enjoying a mainstream life and its opportunities.”

    Apart from the fact that moving North is probably the last thing we will be doing in a hotter world some of the aboriginals you describe live where they do to be as far away from us mad whitefellers as possible. I think that they would be underwhelmed by us taking away what land has been grudgingly given to them again.

  40. taust
    September 10th, 2006 at 13:19 | #40

    Enders;
    For you insurance analogy to be acceptable to me you need to take into account not only the risk of my house burning down (low, albeit with high impact), but also the risk of the insurance company being able to make the payment to me (very low).
    Insurance against the costs of climate change by taking action to mitigate climate change does not exist in this world.

    There is already too much CO2 in the atmosphere and even if there was political will world wide, the time scale for effective change is too long to have any effective mitigating effect on climate change. According to some loud voices we are already (at about 1C rise in temperature) seeing the first signs of non-linear disaster effects and I think the scenario for practical mitigation is we finish up somewhere between 3 and 5C temperature rise.

    Your emphasis on mitigation can possibly get in the way of effective action on adaptation. I bet all our best atmospheric scientists are working on world climate models rather than improving regional climate models (I may lose my bet because the failure may just be in getting the work published because it is not fashionable.)

    The fact that aboriginals now have limit land rights actually makes the change easier because we will be able to negotiate acceptable re-allocations of rights.

    I am surprised you find the current living conditions for the majority of aboriginals in Australia acceptable. I had you down as a caring human being.

  41. September 10th, 2006 at 13:49 | #41

    taust – “According to some loud voices we are already (at about 1C rise in temperature) seeing the first signs of non-linear disaster effects and I think the scenario for practical mitigation is we finish up somewhere between 3 and 5C temperature rise.”

    However continuing on without reducing emissions could push us beyond this into Eocene Thermal Maximum territory. The 3° and 5° rise that you mention is the climate sensitivity. If we more that double the CO2 then then the warming could be much larger. Additionally the temperature rise could well be much larger in certain areas. The quoted figure is an average. Local temperature rise could be 10 degrees or more depending on local conditions. There is a huge difference between 40° sustained and 50° sustained temperatures. To live in such conditions you would have use masses of energy to run airconditioners. If you take no action to change the way power is generated this will just release more and more CO2 making the problem worse. As I keep repeating adapting is OK as long as you have the energy to adapt with and the climate condition is adaptable to.

    There exists a window now where drastic action would minimise climate change.

    “I am surprised you find the current living conditions for the majority of aboriginals in Australia acceptable. I had you down as a caring human being.”

    I don’t. I am surprised that you think that taking their land off them again will improve their conditions. I am sure that you, like most people, can ignore their problems wherever they are like you do now.

  42. taust
    September 10th, 2006 at 20:59 | #42

    Ender;

    your point in the last paragraph is well taken. I apologise for what I now consider too personal comment re the aboriginals.

    I have checked the IPCC graphs to refresh my memory. I am not a climate scientist, but by my understanding the simulations generally show a world average increase of say up to 5C in the next century.

    This is made up of roughly an increase of 8C in the high Northern latitudes and a large mid band around the equator (and it is this band that Australia is located in) with a temperature increase of 1 to 2C.

    The major problem for Australia (not from the IPCC report) is that it is currently predicted that we will experience a lower rainfall, a change in timing of the rainfall and higher evaporation rates in the Southern band of Australia None of which is good news on average for the southern band of Australia.

    I would be pleased for anyone to correct this very brief summary based on respectable documentation.

    It already makes sense for us to start moving our economic activity north; climate change gives even more reason.

    Although I understand some people would not move to Darwin even if water prices were much higher than now.

    Why is it that we have not learnt how to have sustainable intensive farming in the tropics yet?

  43. September 10th, 2006 at 22:19 | #43

    taust – You are a total nutcase. Your comments are not worthy of a response, but here goes…

    To simply give up and accept climate change as inevitable is not an option. You are saying we should accept mass extinction, devastating loss of habitat, and huge disruption of the biosphere. And for what? So we can have few extra percentage points of GDP?!

    If you hadn’t noticed it is the biosphere that sustains us. For all our technology we still rely on nature for the oxygen we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.

    The reason we don’t intensively farm much of tropical Australia is because the soils are crap and rainfall monsoonal, and that is unlikely to improve with global warming. Tropical Australia is unsuitable for growing the two staple foods that feed 99% of humanity; wheat and rice. About the only place agriculture is possible is coastal FNQ and the Ord River Irrigation Scheme.

    Yes it is possible some parts of the world may benefit from climate change (in that they will become more suitable to argiculture) but that is unlikely to be anywhere in Australia, and don’t think we can move the entire Australian population to Canada or Siberia, do you?

  44. wbb
    September 11th, 2006 at 00:17 | #44

    Gotta say that these people who fetishise GDP growth are out to lunch. How has the idea that GDP must grow become so deeply ingrained in our psyche that we place it before all else? And who’s fault was it that it became so paramount? GDP growth is now part of the problem. Saying that does not place me in the crowd who would have us move back to an agrarian age, but simply as one who sanely recognises the limits to any finite system.

    Hubris will get us in the end.

  45. taust
    September 11th, 2006 at 00:39 | #45

    Carbonsink;

    thank you for your diagnosis of my mental condition. I actually prefer paying for medical advice because free advice often is a measure of its true value.

    What is your assessment of the probability that enough countries take actions that will significantly reduce climate change?
    (1) within the next ten years
    (2) within the next 50 years?

    Secondly given a significant probability that even with significant action and a certainty without significant actions that Australia will need to adapt to climate change why should we not commence to understand what adaptations will be needed?

    Thirdly given a significant probability that effective action will not be taken by other countries and that there is no advantage to a country being a first mover why should the Australian people have costs imposed on them that will not achieve any benefits?

    This is not giving up. It is refusing to take part in a displacement action. It is attempting given the possible catastrophe to maximise the survival of H sapien

    I would point out that nature has in the past shown the ability to survive much greater disasters that climate change.

    However nature does not protect particular chosen species. Hence my conclusion that human beings should look after themselves given the probabilities facing them.

  46. jquiggin
    September 11th, 2006 at 06:26 | #46

    Please avoid comments like “you are a total nutcase”. Show, don’t tell.

  47. September 11th, 2006 at 09:39 | #47

    My apologies ProfQ. I will be better behaved in future.

    In related news The Australian today says there should be more focus on adaption…

    Perhaps the more disappointing aspect of the film is its primary focus on the cause and effects of warming, ignoring the need for, and role of, adaptation. And it rather glibly skates over the other frightening aspect of the debate – the cost of cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the scale needed to actually reduce the impact of global warming.

    Link: Climate horror flick could have been even scarier

    taust – I agree there is significant probablity that we will not a avoid a climate catastrophe, but we are a long way from adaption being our only (or indeed most viable) option. I also agree that in the long term the biosphere will survive AGW, but our civilisation may not survive. It was a unique set of climatic circumstances around 8,000 years ago that allowed our civilisation to develop in the first place.
    Addressing each of your points:
    First, Australia is by no means a “first mover” on climate change, if anything we are moving later (and plan to do less) than any developed country.
    Second, Australia has the potential to make a very significant impact on global GHG emissions because a considerable percentage of the carbon that ends up in the atmosphere was sourced from Aussie coal mines. We are the largest coal exporter in the world.
    Third, your adaption response to climate change assumes there is somewhere on this continent that could support 20 million people in the event of significant climate change. The evidence suggests otherwise. Currently only SE Australia, the SW corner and the coastal strip are suitable for agriculture. If the SE and SW dry out considerably (as climate models suggest) we literally have nowhere to go. Our tropical north doesn’t have the volcanic soils they have in (say) Java that allows 80 million people to live on that island.

  48. September 11th, 2006 at 10:59 | #48

    taust – “This is made up of roughly an increase of 8C in the high Northern latitudes and a large mid band around the equator (and it is this band that Australia is located in) with a temperature increase of 1 to 2C.”

    Yes you are probably correct however none of the models can correctly predict local conditions. We simply do not know what local temperature increases will be or what the new temperature extremes will be. A sustained period of say 55° in summer with colder temperatures in winter would leave the average increase for the year at 3° however in the week or two of 55° thousands of people could die. These sustained high temps also would have a drastic effect on agriculture.

    Also these projections are based on a doubling of CO2 as far as I know. If we continue to emit CO2 at an ever increasing rate then we could easily triple the amount of CO2 by 2100.

    The point is that of course we will have to adapt. Even we drastically reduced emissions now we would still be committed to a couple of degrees of warming so we will have to adapt to it. The answer is to change our society to methods of energy generation that do not produce long lived poisens for someone else to take care of and/or greenhouse gases to change the climate. This will stop the problem becoming worse and position society on sustainable energy that will last the long term rather than a couple of centuries.

    Apart from the temperature increases there is the problem of sea level rise. There is no point moving to the tropics and trying to grow food there if the land that you are using gets flooded a few years later because the Greenland Ice Sheet has melted. As carbonsink has pointed out there is a very good reason that not many people live in the far north and that is because the climate and soil conditions are not suitable for our European food production. Read Guns Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond for a idea of why the European food packet is so important.

    We do have to adapt however if that is our only response to climate change then we will be in serious trouble.

  49. taust
    September 11th, 2006 at 13:21 | #49

    So we must adapt and that means changing the way our society lives.
    A statement I think sums up at least one strand of our discussion.

    Some wish to invest in sustainable energy; OK by me as long as they do not dip into my wallet.

    I want, among other adaptations, to invest in sustainable intensive tropical farming. Thus breaking free of the constraints now put on us by too conservative adherence to our European cultural practices. Now I accept that it would be a radical move to develop Australia in a way that suites Australia.

    I do not want public funds invested in such ventures. However seeing that CSIRO is going to be funded anyway I cannot resist the temptation to go chasing subsidies until others wake up to my rorting.

    Obviously significant numbers of aboriginals know how to live in the Australian tropics. One can but hope that their white advisors will not stop them from profiting from the knowledge they have.

    re Australia stopping all its coal production. To gauge the extent of the impact this would have on climate change :
    (1) see who are the largest producers of coal rather than the largest exporters;
    (2) see the reserves of coal in other countries;
    (3) estimate at what coal price would the former east Germany and Poland etc bring their lignite reserves back into production? (although that would stop Europe getting a free turn in the Kyoto game.).

  50. September 11th, 2006 at 14:43 | #50

    taust – “I want, among other adaptations, to invest in sustainable intensive tropical farming. Thus breaking free of the constraints now put on us by too conservative adherence to our European cultural practices.”

    Again if you read Guns Germs and Steel you would realise that the European food packet is the reason that we invaded this country and not the Aborginals invading England.

    In short the combination of Eurasian domestic animals and food species allowed the rapid expansion of population that allowed the rapid expansion of European culture to this fine land. The application of this regime has left the Australian ecosystem in a quite desperate state. It is not clear that we could just shift this North no matter what the climate.

  51. taust
    September 11th, 2006 at 16:19 | #51

    We could develop a sustainable tropical agriculture. In a very minor example we imported indian cattle to beef up the cattle industry in the northern cattle country. (sorry I cannot resist a weak and obvious pun they need supporting).

    I’m a believer in the theory that humans do not do anything till they have to. The aborigines courtesy of the swings of the el-nino never increased their numbers to make agriculture worth while. Though I understand modern scholarship supoorts the view that in some areas they were well on the way to developing it.

  52. September 11th, 2006 at 17:17 | #52

    taust – “The aborigines courtesy of the swings of the el-nino never increased their numbers to make agriculture worth while.”

    According to Diamond they did not have access to an easily domesticated animal or plant that yeilded a large amount of protein and carbs. The book is worth a read.

    “We could develop a sustainable tropical agriculture.”

    Yes we could but how do you know we will have enough water to grow them and fertilisers to increase yields?

  53. taust
    September 11th, 2006 at 17:27 | #53

    I read and enjoyed the Diamond book and TV series but why would you domesticate etc if there is no percieved need.

    Despite the greenhouse effect being correctly appreciated over 100 years ago we waited and waited.

    When the aliens very much belatedly arrive (unless of course you believe they are the Hungarians) probably the first thing they are going to say about us is that we never invented X energy source even though it is perfectly obvious how much better it would have made our life.

  54. September 11th, 2006 at 21:15 | #54

    taust – “I read and enjoyed the Diamond book and TV series but why would you domesticate etc if there is no percieved need.’

    Why do you you think the ancestors of the Europeans domesticated animals?

  55. taust
    September 12th, 2006 at 08:01 | #55

    I would guess because they were starving each winter.

    My guess is that the aboriginals did OK day to day until the much less predicatable Australian weather swings linked to the el-ninio exposed them to longer periods of starvation than a season.

    The use of fire to manage the kangaoos etc shows that the aboriginals were developing ways of ‘domesticating’ the kangaroo (or at least making sure the kangaroos were around when the aboriginals needed to kill them.).

    This is not to deny the northerns may have had an easier set of problems to solve. nature is not well known for equity.

  56. September 12th, 2006 at 10:15 | #56

    taust – “I would guess because they were starving each winter.”

    And they had access to easily domesticated animals like the sheep, cow and goat – all native to Eurasia. They also had another incredible stroke of luck that 2 varieties of wild grass hybridised and produced a grain that the seeds did not fall off easily – we call it wheat now.

    “Most tetraploid wheats (e.g. emmer and durum wheat) are derived from wild emmer, T. dicoccoides. Wild emmer is the result of a hybridization between two diploid wild grasses, T. urartu and a wild goatgrass such as Aegilops searsii or Ae. speltoides. The hybridization that formed wild emmer occurred in the wild, long before domestication.[13]”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat

  57. taust
    September 12th, 2006 at 15:39 | #57

    They were not worried about the uncontrollable spread of undesirable genetic components by cultivating such gross genetic modifications.

    Their EU commission wouldnt allow them to take advantage of their luck today. I suppose they are lucky to have such a body to protect from the unknown risks of life.

  58. September 12th, 2006 at 15:45 | #58

    Crikey reports: Rupert’s Sun goes green and admits: we were wrong on global warming

    Only the severity and immediacy of the threat is open to debate. This week The Sun will present the evidence and suggest how every one of us can help.

    This is not just a backflip for Murdoch, it’s a double pike with twist.

    This is fantastic news! How long can the Oz hold out? Will Bolt turn? Akerman? Will Fox News turn green?

    But it looks like Murdoch’s global warming memo got lost at the branch office and never made it to The Oz — today’s editorial, “An inconvenient cost” reads…

    Oh well, perhaps Rupert can spell out the new editorial policy on climate change the next time he’s in the colonies.

  59. tflip
    September 12th, 2006 at 16:52 | #59

    Murdoch regularly sends around a internal news corp newsletter though which, Pravda like, his thoughts are given and the corporation line is thus discerned. It will reach the Oz and percolate through no doubt. However the place has become a hard core neo-liberal and neo-conservative institution and it may require a purge.

    The transcipt of the interview with Gore on Denton is at http://www.abc.net.au/tv/enoughrope/transcripts/s1734175.htm

    His optimism is refreshing and energising

  60. taust
    September 12th, 2006 at 23:13 | #60

    Watching Gore did anyone else see a strong resemblence to the TV evangalists?

    Is he going to visit India and China? Flying proportionally has a huge effect on climate change. Hence why the European mitigators want to destroy cheap airlines.

    Hands up all those willing to invest in a shipping line that is going to offer sailing trips from Australia to Europe.

  61. taust
    September 13th, 2006 at 10:42 | #61

    News from the real world

    Kyoto protocol: Adapt or fry
    09 September 2006
    From New Scientist Print Edition. Subscribe and get 4 free issues.
    IS IT all over for Kyoto? Should we accept that global warming is inevitable and plan accordingly?

    Yes, says Frances Cairncross, president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA) which held its annual festival in Norwich, UK, this week.

  62. Paul Williams
    September 15th, 2006 at 11:26 | #62

    Congratulations, John, on missing two opportunities to see Al Gore’s film. A rare instance of common sense from you.

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