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The Stern review -first impressions

November 1st, 2006

The Stern review report is big, and I haven’t had time to digest more than a little bit so far. One point to make is that the apocalyptic numbers that have dominated early reporting represent the worst-case outcomes for 2100 under business-as-usual policies. But even looking at the less dramatic cases, the same basic messages emerge.

  • We can stabilise CO2 levels over the next fifty years at very low costs of around 1 per cent of GDP.
  • The costs of doing nothing are large and unpredictable
  • The costs of stabilisation will be greater the longer we delay
  • Poor countries will be worst affected

More on all these points soon.

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  1. November 5th, 2006 at 15:05 | #1

    PrQ,
    I would be interested to see your response to Lomborg’s critique of the Stern report. Are the figures we are seeing in the headlines the worst case or are they the central case?

  2. November 6th, 2006 at 08:34 | #2

    Whilst the Stern Report has done some good and opened up debate, it makes the point we should stabilise CO2 levels to 550/600ppm (parts per million). The climate is already going belly up at 380 ppm, a ‘mere’ increase of 100 ppm since pre-industrial day. What’s it likely to do with a further 200ppm? My gut feeling is, god help us if we allow this to happen. We need to stop it all NOW. Will it happen? Of course not. Greed rules.

    As for Lomborg, who cares what he thinks? He’s a statistician, and we all know ho they lie through their sliderules……

  3. November 6th, 2006 at 08:43 | #3

    Andrew,

    Based on what I know about the media I would guess that they are reporting the worst case. Bad news sells. Really bad news sells even better.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  4. jquiggin
    November 6th, 2006 at 09:13 | #4

    A response coming Real Soon Now.

  5. proust
    November 6th, 2006 at 09:14 | #5

    Even worse, the media tends to report the worst-case as the expected case. This morning we had the worst-case from the latest CSIRO analysis reported as the expected case by Sunrise.

    The scientists (and economists) can no longer plead innocence; they must know by now how these things get reported.

  6. November 6th, 2006 at 10:50 | #6

    Mike,
    With respect – play the ball, not the man. That was a weak response even from an ad hominen perspective. If you cannot come up with a better reponse than “he’s lying” then I would tend to give your reponse very little weight – if any.

  7. jquiggin
    November 6th, 2006 at 11:14 | #7

    AR, Lomborg isn’t presenting anything we can assess for ourselves. He’s asking us to accept his summary of the evidence. So the fact that he’s a con artist is relevant in judging how much weight we should place on his claims – none, in my view.

    I will however, be responding to the Stern Report and to more substantive criticisms than Lomborg’s.

  8. November 6th, 2006 at 11:37 | #8

    PrQ,
    I found Mike’s generalisation on all statisticians to be particularly weak.

  9. jquiggin
    November 6th, 2006 at 11:53 | #9

    Agreed, especially since Lomborg is not a statistician.

  10. November 6th, 2006 at 13:08 | #10

    I have a degree in Engineering. However lots and lots and lots of people call themselves an Engineer without having a degree in anything. Lots and lots and lots of companies print business cards for such people and include the word Engineer in the persons job title. Are they all liars? Is it the case that these people are not Engineers?

    Out of interest did you know that Peter Costello is not a politician? It turns out that he only has a degree in arts law.

    I find the suggestion that “Lomborg is not a statistician” very quaint. It kind of reveals a particular worldview that is far from universal.

  11. Simonjm
    November 6th, 2006 at 14:59 | #11

    Terje from the below i would include the bad news but also give a list of positive actions that could also be done to make a difference. There are win wins if only people would look, but our jonny will just hold out and look to push nuc’s.

    http://www.scienceblog.com/cms/you-cant-scare-people-into-getting-fit-or-going-green-11586.html

  12. November 6th, 2006 at 15:12 | #12

    Simon,

    I read the article. Would you like our Jonny to use fear, guilt or regret? As I see it they are the only real strategies that governments have in their bag of tricks.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  13. proust
    November 6th, 2006 at 16:27 | #13

    These right-wing skeptic nutcases just won’t give up.

    FTA:

    The Exeter conference of February 2005 on “Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change” served the government’s purposes of softening-up the G8 Gleneagles summit through a frenzied week of “climate change is worse than we thought” news reporting and group-think.

    By stage-managing the new language of catastrophe, the conference itself became a tipping point in the way that climate change is discussed in public.

    It is a short step from claiming these catastrophic risks have physical reality, saliency and are imminent, to implying that one more “big push” of funding will allow science to quantify them objectively.

    What, the funding process is being manipulated? Alarmists are frightening the public to suit their own political goals? Paranoid fool. Doesn’t he know the debate is over?

    Quiggin: you need to put him right. Please, for the sake of the planet. Here’s his full details:

    Professor Mike Hulme
    Director, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
    E-mail: [email protected]

    [Pfft. "Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research". Who is he kidding? Everyone knows that's just an Exxon front.]

  14. Simonjm
    November 6th, 2006 at 16:56 | #14

    Terje none of the above. Basically i’d use the UK approach which is to tie in eco-social-sustainable all under the one banner of living ethically.

    Show the facts/consequences, show the solutions-many of which are of the low hanging fruit variety- involve the public, make them think about how they live and how it effects others.

    Many of the lifestyle changes like walking instead of driving to the corner shop, eating locally, turning of vampire electrical devices are all beneficial either health wise or the hip pocket.

    Jonny has survived for so long on just spin he knows no other way but to give lip service to eco matters and then sell the solution coming from his business lobby mates. A sincere open debate is beyond him or hgis crew.

    Noticed that with interests rates going up those that bought his BS are starting to wake up. Bring on the next rate rise!

    proust saw that one worth a read at least he has some credibility still backing the need for cuts and science of AGW. More to do with the language and PR though some in fact argue that business as usual will be catastrophic which if you look at the numbers both in financial and number of people put at risk, it is justifiable.

  15. Roger Jones
    November 6th, 2006 at 17:42 | #15

    Mike Hulme is correct. He says:

    The IPCC scenarios of future climate change – warming somewhere between 1.4 and 5.8 Celsius by 2100 – are significant enough without invoking catastrophe and chaos as unguided weapons with which forlornly to threaten society into behavioural change.

    True enough. I’m reliably informed that audiences at seminars where careful descriptions of the current state of knowledge are delivered find the conclusions scary enough. They also like to hear practical solutions for how climate risks can be managed, delivered with some optimism.

    Mike also warns against the retrenchment of science budgets. Knowledge is the only way to maintain a clear head on this issue.

    However, I would not like to see the language suffer one way or the other. Irreversible is a fundamental trait of complex systems, so are thresholds, and criticality is the legitimate language of risks. I’ve written papers defining the use of such terms in a scholarly context. Likewise Mike Hulme, who I consider a well-liked and respected colleague, has written about dangerous climate change, so he is on no revisionist campaign. Catastrophe is fine if you know what it means. These terms must be correctly framed in sober discourse.

    Don Watson wrote about the death of language. Mike is writing about the same, calling for clarity of meaning, not its further distortion.

  16. proust
    November 6th, 2006 at 18:25 | #16

    Roger, I have no idea what you are talking about.

    However, this fellow has some interesting things to say. My prior was somewhat negative (he signs himself “Monckton of Benchley”, which, even if I was “of Benchley” I personally would not do). Nevertheless, his analysis seems quite above-board.

  17. November 6th, 2006 at 18:31 | #17

    Roger,
    I think proust was using sarcasm to make his (her?) point at comment 13.

  18. jquiggin
    November 6th, 2006 at 20:05 | #18

    Proust, I’ll look forward with interest to your defence of 1421 on which Monckton of Benchley relies. See current top post. If you want to deal with his less amusing errors, visit Tim Lambert who will set you straight.

    AR, I think Roger got the point. Proust was misrepresenting Hulme as a sceptic, and Roger corrected him/her.

  19. proust
    November 6th, 2006 at 20:41 | #19

    Difficult how you can read Hulme as anything but skeptical of the alarmist industry, but political bias does funny things…

    I’d hardly take Lambert as an authority on climate science. He reads as vindication a report saying Mann was dead wrong for 600 out of 1000 years of his hockey stick graph and then only partially correct for the remaining 400 years.

    But he certainly is a state-supported lefty, and hence has the same vested political bias in seeing this whole global warming scenario blown out of proportion.

  20. Brian Bahnisch
    November 6th, 2006 at 22:46 | #20

    proust, I think you’ll find that what Mike Hulme is on about is the idea that sensationalist media reportage has more impact on government policy than scientists.

    There is a bloke called Dennis Bray based with Hans von Storch at the Institute of Coastal Research at the GKSS Research Centre in Geesthacht, Germany who also does work at the Tyndall centre on “a quantitative dynamic simulation model of the social construction of a quasi-reality” in the “social construction of the issues of climate change and global warming.”

    I’m usually all in favour of sociologists, but I reckon this bloke ought to find a real job.

    How do I know this? It came out of research I did last year when we were trying to suss out some wierd statements Michael Duffy had made about a survey of scientists and a German conference.

    A major theme of Bray and the Germans was that there was more uncertainty about the science on global warming than you would gather from media reports, and scientists should have more influence on policy. They are not global warming sceptics as such.

  21. Brian Bahnisch
    November 6th, 2006 at 23:20 | #21

    Going back to Mike Stasse’s comment Stern does us all a service in using not CO2 but CO2e as the yardstick. This is useful because there is more than CO2 at work. So by Stern’s count we are at 430ppm CO2e rather than 380ppm CO2.

    His starting point for CO2e and temperature rise is also consistently pre-industrial, ie 1750-1850. Some writers use the present and then talk about increase from there. But he uses 280ppm as his starting point whereas I thought that was just CO2 and not CO2e. So I’m still a bit confused.

    On the increase of another 200ppm it is important to understand that this does not convert in a direct proportion into temperature. I understand that a doubling of CO2 is worth approximately +3C in temperature. Double it again and you get (only) another 3C. This is because the CO2 spreads all over, but the heat is trapped in the lower atmosphere.

    But if you want to stay calm, don’t look at what happens in the plus 3-5C range in the Stern report (see table 3.1) Also don’t read this Mother Jones article about how 12 tipping points interact.

    Consider also that we are currently about plus 1C and there is probably another 1C to come in the next 50 years from what we have already put up there. If we take concerted action we may just limit the rise in 2050-2100 to another plus 1C. It is going to be a close run thing at best.

    If someone can tell me I’m way off the mark I’d be more than pleased, depending which direction.

  22. November 6th, 2006 at 23:29 | #22

    Simon,

    I seem to be living according to the necessary ideal already. What more should I consider doing?

    As for John Howard and the nature of the debate. If you are of the view that government imposed sanctions (ie fear) is not the solution then it is appropriate that he stays out of the debate. We are after all capable of discussing things like adults without his guiding hand.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  23. Simonjm
    November 7th, 2006 at 09:01 | #23

    Terje
    if you have already done everything possible in your personal life house, travel, food, clothing – check out the BBC’s Ethical Man and compare- and made the appropriate lifestyle changes with carbon offsets as a last resort on personal level I think that pretty well covers it.

    “If you are of the view that government imposed sanctions (ie fear)�
    Are you talking about a carbon tax?

    But unfortunately little jonny is the ring master at the moment and government does have a role in debate and the direction our nation takes. As I said I’m more than happy to have nuc’s on the table when ALL other options are included. Too bad this government cannot do the same. But given their history of dishonesty and spin, why should they change now?

    So apart from your own personal lifestyle how you vote will have a big impact. It would seem a little strange to make those lifestyle changes but then back a gov that is pulling in the opposite direction.

  24. Simonjm
    November 7th, 2006 at 09:25 | #24

    ABC Lateline
    Climate change to dominate UK elections
    http://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200611/r114214_359659.asx

    God if the Tories can do this!

  25. Terje
    November 7th, 2006 at 13:29 | #25

    It would seem a little strange to make those lifestyle changes but then back a gov that is pulling in the opposite direction.

    If elections were single issue affairs then it would be more simple. Hypothetically lets say I supported:-

    1. Kyoto Protocol
    2. A deregulated labour market
    3. Telstra being privatised

    And what if the local personalities are real oddballs. Then who do I vote for?

    Everytime I vote it is always for somebody that in some regard is pulling in a different direction on some issue. There are no candidates that represent my belief system in its entirety.

    Regards,
    Terje.

  26. Simonjm
    November 7th, 2006 at 14:56 | #26

    Terje which do you think of these that will have the biggest impact of the future lives of all Australians?

    Yes having a mandate on specific issues is a bit of a joke, I do like the US system of adding initiatives to a ballot.

    Otherwise just seek to introduce friends and neighbours to the lifestyle change, things like sharing items say an electric lawn mower, car pooling etc can all help.

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