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Delusionist diehards

August 14th, 2007

Between the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, the on-air demolition of Martin Durkin and, most significantly, John Howard’s self-proclaimed conversion from ‘sceptic’ to ‘realist’ on climate change, I had the impression that delusionism was finally a spent force within the government. It was known that a couple of senior ministers, most notably Ian MacFarlane and Nick Minchin, remained unconvinced, but they seemed willing to keep quiet most of the time. Even the commentariat seemed to be cautiously backing away.

The report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Science and Innovation suggests all this was premature. Four of the six government members of the committee (Dennis Jensen Jackie Kelly, Danna Vale and David Tollner) signed a dissenting report denying that human activities are disturbing the climate in dangerous ways, and describing those who accept the mainstream view as “fanatics�. If this is the view of government members who have chosen to serve on a committee devoted to science, one can only guess at how widespread such ideas are within the government.

I plan a piece for Thursday’s Fin looking at all this. Of course, I’m not going to bother with silly talking points about climate change on Triton. The real question here is how such beliefs can maintain a hold, long after the corporate push behind them has evaporated and at a time when they are so obviously a political albatross for the Howard government and for the political right as a whole. The right (at least in Australia and the US) has entered the kind of self-reinforcing pattern of disconnection from reality that long characterised the Marxist left.

Update This report has really hit the big time, making it into the Washington Post. Too much blog comment to list everything, but don’t miss Trevor Cook.

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  1. mugwump
    August 15th, 2007 at 23:45 | #1

    There is a great deal that can be done now and done cheaply (or even better, with efficiency dividends). If you’re right, and it’s everyone else who’s out of step and wrong, then what’s the big deal about doing stuff cheaply now?

    HAL9000, I have no problem with cheap “solutions”. Given the claimed overwhelming public support for action on climate change, you should have no problem obtaining such cheap reductions voluntarily.

    However, mandated 60% global reductions in the next 40 years is going to be anything but cheap.

  2. observa
    August 16th, 2007 at 00:29 | #2

    Too easy mugwump. You do what Stan Hope in the ACT does. He’s got a moral badge, mission statement to reduce GG emissions by 60% by 2050, but an actual goal of 10% reductions by 2025. Hasn’t the turkey heard of the law of diminishing returns and seen the signs in the paddocks on the approaches to Canberra- ‘This is a wind turbine free zone’
    On second thoughts maybe he has.

    Any way we were talking about revisions to the temperature record and such and a revision of 1998 to 1934 is significant. Here’s a typical report
    http://www.news.com.au/story/0,10117,22221359-401,00.html?from=public_rss

    Notice the first couple of paragraphs-

    ‘NATURAL weather variations have offset the effects of global warming for the past couple of years and will continue to keep temperatures flat through 2008, a new study shows

    But global warming will begin in earnest in 2009, and a couple of the years between 2009 and 2014 will eclipse 1998, the warmest year on record to date, in the heat stakes, British meteorologists said today.’

    It doesn’t read quite the same substituting 1934 for 1998 now does it?
    Notice the next sentence too-

    ‘Existing global climate computer models tend to underestimate the effects of natural forces on climate change..’

    Oh do they just? That’s not the impression you get from listening to Al Gore fans. This sort of report is bobbing up more and more frequently, along with that maxm temp revision and I’m certainly not going out of my way to look for them and post them here. They bob up in the day to day News reports and indicate the complexity and inexactness of climate science and increasingly the reasonable doubts of scientists themselves. I get the impression more and more scientists are beginning to step back and look harder at the facts, rather than being swept along in the political emotion of GW. That might be well overdue.

  3. mugwump
    August 16th, 2007 at 00:44 | #3

    Any way we were talking about revisions to the temperature record and such and a revision of 1998 to 1934 is significant.

    Politically significant? Absolutely.

    Scientifically significant? No – the adjustment is in the noise. (however, overall the adjustments are scientifically significant, even though the 1998 1934 swap is not).

    This is a standard pattern from the AGW zealots: propagate alarmist nonsense dressed as science (eg hockeystick, 1998 is warmest year in the last millenium, etc). Then when the truth is finally uncovered a few years later, claim that the debate has “moved on”.

  4. jquiggin
    August 16th, 2007 at 06:30 | #4

    Umm, mugwump, 1998 was easily the warmest year in the last century. This fact has is now being denied by US rightwingers who can’t read or are subject to extreme parochialism along with their other delusions. It has not, as you seem to claim been invalidated by data revisions.

    It seems as if you have been sucked in along with the rest of the delusionists. Or maybe you know the correct position and are pushing delusions yourself.

  5. Hal9000
    August 16th, 2007 at 07:43 | #5

    mugwump, most people are convinced of the safety value of driving below 60 km/h in a built-up area, so you’d be in favour of replacing the current mandatory regime with a voluntary setup?

    Seriously though, have a gander at the still-unfolding history of water efficiencies and regulation in south-east Queensland. It’s only when the heavy hand of the state intervenes you actually get real reductions in usage. The reasons for this are pretty obvious – no-one is going to deprive their own garden of water while the next door neighbour has the hose running 24 hours a day. So it is with the things that have to be done to reduce emissions – even though most people would concede we’ll all benefit. On water, even though actual compliance enforcement is patchy and the penalties are light, Brisbane households have the lowest water consumption in the developed world. Quod erat demonstrandum.

  6. August 16th, 2007 at 07:44 | #6

    mugwump – “As for your ranking, what’s your point? That years surrounding a peak in 5 year mean are also warm? That goes without saying. And don’t get too excited about those 1930s values: they’ve been the subject of systematic manual downward revision by NOAA for the last 7 years or so. The 1930s used to be much warmer. Why? Who knows – you’ll have to ask Hansen.”

    So lacking any real data you now invoke a conspiracy theory – nice work! The point is the the 5 year means top 10 contain mostly the recent decades which shows that the US is warming in line with the global temperatures.

    One error in marrying together 2 data sets does not mean all climate science is wrong. McIntyre found an error in the data because that is all he can do – go over the figures and find little mistakes. Producing the data and/or interpreting it in peer reviewed science is beyond him and the real climate science is done by others.

  7. mugwump
    August 16th, 2007 at 09:53 | #7

    Umm, mugwump, 1998 was easily the warmest year in the last century.

    Not, as it now transpires, in the US. As McIntyre points out: when they showed problems in the record in Colorado, Hansen responded with “you’ve failed to show a systematic problem with the US record”. Now that he has shown systematic errors in the US record, the response is: “you’ve failed to show problems with the global record.” What next? Mars? Rather than making excuses, good scientists would dig deeper to see if there are any other surprises lurking in the data.

    mugwump, most people are convinced of the safety value of driving below 60 km/h in a built-up area, so you’d be in favour of replacing the current mandatory regime with a voluntary setup?

    No Hal. But I am more than happy if you want to use the same standard of proof. When AGW and it’s murderous effects are as well established as death by speeding in built-up areas, I’ll be more than happy to advocate mandatory CO2 reductions.

    The point is the the 5 year means top 10 contain mostly the recent decades which shows that the US is warming in line with the global temperatures.

    Umm, those “decades” are but two: 1997-2007, and the 30′s. We’re told the 30′s were just natural variation. But the noughties? Global Warming, silly.

  8. wilful
    August 16th, 2007 at 10:02 | #8

    “you’ve failed to show a systematic problem with the US record�. Now that he has shown systematic errors in the US record,

    Actually he’s still correct. There was a systematic error (resulting in a trivial correction), but there wasn’t a systematic problem (the error was corrected, and the trend towards warming is still acutely clear).

  9. Ken Miles
    August 16th, 2007 at 10:32 | #9

    Umm, those “decades� are but two: 1997-2007, and the 30’s. We’re told the 30’s were just natural variation. But the noughties? Global Warming, silly.

    The warming in 1934 occurred for a brief period of time in a small geographical area. It was a natural variation on top of the overall rising global temperatures.

  10. Ken Miles
    August 16th, 2007 at 10:36 | #10

    Freeman Dyson writes:

    The biosphere is the most complicated of all the things we humans have to deal with. The science of planetary ecology is still young and undeveloped.

    The obvious conclusion is that if we are significantly changing how the planet atmosphere absorbs radiation and we don’t have a clue about the effects, then we should be very afraid.

  11. mugwump
    August 16th, 2007 at 10:40 | #11

    wilful, the US “trend towards warming” is not “acutely clear” (there are two bumps, one in the 30s, and we’re in the middle of the second one). But rather than argue, I’ll quote McIntyre (a.k.a “The Mad Canadian”) on the significance of his adjustments:

    In addition, while Schmidt describes the changes atop the leader board as “very minor re-arrangements�, many followers of the climate debate are aware of intense battles over 0.1 or 0.2 degree (consider the satellite battles.) Readers might perform a little thought experiment: suppose that Spencer and Christy had published a temperature history in which they claimed that 1934 was the warmest U.S. year on record and then it turned out that they had been a computer programming error opposite to the one that Hansen made, that Wentz and Mears discovered there was an error of 0.15 deg C in the Spencer and Christy results and, after fiixing this error, it turned out that 2006 was the warmest year on record. Would realclimate simply describe this as a “very minor re-arrangement�?

    So while the Hansen error did not have a material impact on world temperatures, it did have a very substantial impact on U.S. station data and a “significantâ€? impact on the U.S. average. Both of these surely “matterâ€?…

  12. snuh
    August 16th, 2007 at 10:46 | #12

    This is a standard pattern from the AGW zealots: propagate alarmist nonsense dressed as science (eg hockeystick, 1998 is warmest year in the last millenium, etc). Then when the truth is finally uncovered a few years later, claim that the debate has “moved on�.

    so why exactly was 1934 the hottest year on record in the US? well, funnily enough, because of human activity. this is of course proof that anthropogenic global warming zealots are all dishonest propagandists.

  13. August 16th, 2007 at 10:51 | #13

    Hey people, just ignore them. Observa may have a point on the cynical political response to GW, but the denialist rhetoric is best ignored.

    Talking of political responses to GW, how will history judge the Howard government? I believe in 20 years time Howard will be remembered for one thing and one thing only: Energy policy.

  14. jquiggin
    August 16th, 2007 at 10:52 | #14

    OK mugwump you’ve convinced me. Like McIntyre, you’re selling delusions, not suffering from them. That’s unlike the many on the right who imagined either that
    (i) the data revisions affected the global temperature record
    (ii) anyone, prior to this, had made anything of the significance of 1998 as regards the continental US.
    You know that both of these claims are false, but you keep pumping the significance of the story, secure in the knowledge that most people on your side of politics are either too lazy or too ignorant to tell the difference.

    Keep up the good work. You are helping to provide empirical support for the proposition that rightwingers are utterly insulated from reality.

  15. gordon
    August 16th, 2007 at 11:12 | #15

    Mugwump, I’m not advocating medieval methods of production. I am advocating renewable, carbon-efficient ones.

  16. gordon
    August 16th, 2007 at 11:32 | #16

    And while I’m still logged in, it’s interesting to note the confusion (see this thread) about exactly why US subprime mortgages, securitised, repackaged and leveraged, are causing such problems in financial markets. There you have a complex, imperfectly understood system which is behaving in unexpected ways. It’s clear that, if there are really going to be severe consequences from a breakdown of this sytem, many people will find themselves broke without clearly knowing why – and that is a purely man-made system. How much more dangerous is it to fiddle on a large scale with a natural system which we didn’t make and understand much less?

  17. mugwump
    August 16th, 2007 at 11:33 | #17

    Oh come on quiggin. Among other things the changes amount to a downward revision of US mean temps by 0.15C post 2000. If you think that is insignificant, you’re beyond reason.

    I never claimed the changes affected the global record. But the discovery of such a simple error certainly doesn’t increase my confidence in the global record. And I explicitly pointed out there was no scientific significance in the 1998/1934 swap (but plenty of political significance).

    Apparently, you’ll see whatever it is you want to see.

    McIntyre’s point is entirely valid: had the shoe been on the other foot, the howls from the pontiff and his cardinals would have been deafening.

  18. mugwump
    August 16th, 2007 at 11:41 | #18

    gordon, unfortunately renewable, carbon efficient methods of production are still on the drawing board. If (when) they become available, they’re unlikely to be affordable by the poorest nations.

    snuh, can you point me to modeling showing the dust bowl caused the increase in US temps (and not vice-versa)?

  19. Ken Miles
    August 16th, 2007 at 11:53 | #19

    In addition, while Schmidt describes the changes atop the leader board as “very minor re-arrangements�, many followers of the climate debate are aware of intense battles over 0.1 or 0.2 degree (consider the satellite battles.) Readers might perform a little thought experiment: suppose that Spencer and Christy had published a temperature history in which they claimed that 1934 was the warmest U.S. year on record and then it turned out that they had been a computer programming error opposite to the one that Hansen made, that Wentz and Mears discovered there was an error of 0.15 deg C in the Spencer and Christy results and, after fiixing this error, it turned out that 2006 was the warmest year on record. Would realclimate simply describe this as a “very minor re-arrangement�?

    This is pretty poor thinking on McIntyre’s part. The corrections to the satellite record made a massive difference to the conclusions which were being drawn from them. Initially, it was suggested that the troposphere was cooling and this was strong evidence against global warming. A change in sign of the temperature trend is a significant result.

    The McIntyre correction made a insignificant difference to the US temperature trend and an even smaller difference to the global temperature trend.

    The McIntyre correction is only important to those who can’t calculate a trend – I’m looking forward to Bob Carter’s next “contribution”.

  20. mugwump
    August 16th, 2007 at 12:11 | #20

    gordon, the financial markets are in the grip of a classic bank run, triggered by US subprime securities getting marked to market, rather than marked to the misleading models of the ratings agencies, which was the basis on which they were originally sold.

    We live in a fractional reserve world, which means if mass hysteria takes hold and everyone tries to redeem their investments simultaneously, the cash runs out pretty quickly. So the banks are holding their cash, and not buying any debt, in the hope of riding out the current storm.

    Of course there are buying opportunities in such a market. Many hedge funds are being forced to sell their best debt (the crappy stuff won’t sell at all) at well-below value in order to meet redemptions. The risk of default on the good stuff is negligible, and the yields are now skyrocketing. So if you can pick up such debt and hold it, you should make out well in the longer term.

    However, most of us mere mortals don’t get to play in those markets, but insurance companies do, and they are about the only ones with cash right now (their redemptions are triggered by natural events, not mass hysteria). So, smart insurance company managers are probably out their soaking up some of the cheap, high-grade debt on the market. So, buy well-managed insurance company stocks, and hold them.

    That’s my theory. Much easier to understand than the biosphere.

  21. gordon
    August 16th, 2007 at 14:57 | #21

    Here, Mugwump, is what looks like a good example of what I mean (from The Independent 15/8/07)):

    ” McCain’s potato chip factory to be run on wind power
    By Karen Attwood
    Published: 15 August 2007

    “McCain Foods is investing £10m to build three wind turbines at the UK’s largest chip factory, which should cut energy bills at the site by up to 60 per cent.

    “The 80m-high turbines will be installed at the company’s plant at Whittlesey, in Cambridgeshire, as part of a drive to lower the company’s carbon footprint and move its operations towards sustainability.

    “The turbines, which will be up and running in November, will be the highest on-shore turbines in England, and will power the entire site at certain times of the year. They will provide up to 60 per cent of the annual electrical power required to operate the plant and, when the site is not operating, unused electricity will be put into the National Grid.

    “McCain hopes the turbines will also help to safeguard against future energy price rises. It estimates that the turbines will lead to a reduction of 20,300 tonnes of carbon dioxide greenhouse emissions from the Whittlesey plant.

    “Bill Bartlett, corporate affairs director, said this is “a significant investment”. “We are particularly proud to be the first major food manufacturer to use alternative energy on this scale,” he said. “This demonstrates that a large-scale manufacturing plant can operate efficiently while significantly reducing its carbon footprint.”

    “McCain has introduced a number of environmental initiatives in recent years. This includes investment in a combined heat and power facility at the Whittlesey plant which will run on a renewable energy supply generated by bio-gas from an on-site waste water treatment plant. The company uses potatoes exclusively from the UK for its chips to cut down on food miles, and sources potatoes as close as possible to factories.

    “The latest move follows a lengthy planning application process which included consultations with the local community, English Nature, the RSPB and the local and district council. Mr Bartlett added that the development would be “a landmark manufacturing facility that offers green solutions to big business’s dependency on non-sustainable power”.

    “McCain is privately owned and is part of Canada’s McCain Foods Group, the world’s largest maker of fries.”

  22. wilful
    August 16th, 2007 at 15:52 | #22

    gordon, you do realise that according to certain critics, wind power does not and has not ever generated any electricity?

  23. mugwump
    August 16th, 2007 at 22:16 | #23

    gordon, that’s great for McCain. No doubt they can offset some of the additional expense against their marketing budget.

    But it is a drop in the ocean.

    To get global 60% reductions in CO2 by 2050 you’re going to need China and the rest of the developing world to follow the same route. China alone is each year adding generating capacity equal to that of the whole of Britain.

  24. Chris O’Neill
    August 17th, 2007 at 12:05 | #24

    Interesting to note that Jensen, Kelly, Vale and Tollner have access to a time machine. According to their report they accessed several web pages on “23 August 2007″. You’d think they could reduce the number of out-of-date documents they quote from by making better use of their time machine.

  25. gordon
    August 17th, 2007 at 17:44 | #25

    Mugwump, the ocean started off as just a lot of drops. I can imagine people telling George Stephenson that one railway was just “a drop in the ocean”.

    By the way, I like your interpretation of our current credit crunch. I would add my usual complaint about excessive credit (money) creation in the first place.

    Wilful, I don’t get your point.

  26. gordon
    August 17th, 2007 at 17:57 | #26

    OK, Mugwump, here are another couple of drops. This time from The Age (March 13, 2007), and The SMH (16/10/06):

    “China’s Suntech sees $US180m net for 07
    March 13, 2007 – 5:44PM
    AdvertisementAdvertisement

    “China’s Suntech Power Holdings Co Ltd said on Tuesday it expected net income to surge in 2007 as the solar panel maker ramps up production and captures global market share.

    “The leading maker of photovoltaic (PV) cells and modules will spend up to $100 million this year to boost production to 280 megawatts equivalent, up 75 per cent from 160 MW last year.

    “The spending would almost double over last year and help the company reach 2007 net income of $US180 million ($A229.43 million), a target in line with Reuters Estimates and which represents a 70 per cent rise from the $US106 million ($A135.11 million) last year.

    “‘We are aiming in that direction,’ Shi Zhengrong, the company’s chief executive, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

    “Suntech posted a 276 per cent surge in net income in 2006, a year after it raised $US400 million ($A509.85 million) in a US initial public offering.

    “With global demand rising for its energy efficient products, the company is focusing on taking market share from rivals such as Sunpower Corp.

    “Suntech is forecasting its current 7-8 percent global market share to double by 2010, when its production output capacity will reach 1 gigawatt, or 1,000 MW.

    ‘Our short-term strategy is to increase our market share as much as possible,’ Shi said. “Even if we have to sacrifice our margins.’

    “The company’s gross margin fell to 25 per cent last year, from just over 30 per cent in 2005. Shi reckons margins will continue to erode to around 20 per cent over the next 7-10 years, while his selling price could be halved over the same period.

    “But falling prices will also boost demand. And with the supply of silicon rising, pushing down Suntech’s costs, Shi is confident that profits will continue to rise strongly.

    “‘Companies that can buy silicon at a high price and still make a good profit are the ones that will grow and be the long-term winners,’ he said.

    “Silicon makes up about 70 per cent of costs for Suntech, a key reason it has been locking up supply with long-term deals.

    “The company expects more two-thirds of its silicon this year to come from such long-term contracts.

    “Suntech’s ambitious expansion plans will be funded from internally generated profits, said Shi. The company has no plans to offer shares to the public, he said.

    “Suntech’s sales are determined to a large degree by the subsidies that governments provide for solar energy products, which explains why Europe is the company’s largest market.

    “The company sends 35 per cent of its products to Germany, and another 25 per cent to Spain, while its home market of China takes up only 10 per cent.

    “Shi said China was working hard at all levels of government to form a policy that would boost solar energy use, and was hopeful that something concrete could be announced this year.

    “Green economic growth is a focus for Chinese policy makers worried about rising costs for imported oil and social unrest sparked by pollution. But the mainland still gets 70 per cent of its energy by burning dirty coal.”

    and from the SMH:

    “Australian firms to energise China: govt

    October 16, 2006 – 7:04AM
    AdvertisementAdvertisement

    “Environment Minister Ian Campbell says Australian renewable energy companies are well placed to take advantage of China’s huge demand for energy.

    “Senator Campbell is in China this week to open a $300 million wind farm built by Australian company Roaring Forties.

    “‘The challenge is to see massive increases in energy in China with massively reduced greenhouse gas emissions and the Australian renewable energy industry can play an incredibly transformational role in delivering that outcome,’ Senator Campbell told ABC radio.

    “Labor has long criticised the government for failing to take drastic action in Australia to encourage renewable energy.

    “Roaring Forties cancelled two wind farms in South Australia and Tasmania earlier this year over an alleged lack of government support for renewable energy initiatives.

    “Senator Campbell also blocked a Victorian wind farm because of fears the propellers of the turbines would kill the extremely endangered orange bellied parrot.

    “Labor’s environment spokesman Anthony Albanese says the government needs to increase its renewable energy target.

    “‘It’s very clear that one reason why renewable energy is expanding in China is that they have a 15 per cent renewable energy target compared with our pathetic 2 per cent target,’ Mr Albanese told ABC radio.”

  27. observa
    August 20th, 2007 at 21:58 | #27

    I see the Rann Govt has introduced The Electricity (Feed-In Scheme- Residential Solar Systems) Bill into Parliament
    http://www.greenhouse.sa.gov.au/PDFs/Feed_In_Bill.pdf
    Essentially this is to allow owners of solar electricity systems to be reimbursed at the rate of 44c/kwhr for their surplus electricity fed back into the grid. (one for one now which is around 20c/kwhr summer peak rate). That is apparently double the current commercial rate charged. This would make solar power cost effective coming on top of an $8000 maximum Federal grant for a solar panel system. Spending around $15k ($23k in all before subsidy) and the 44c /kw hr could see a 9.6% return amortised in just over 10 years. However, I see the buyback scheme expires in July 2013, which is a problem for returns. Once you blow out returns over 10 years, most people will lose interest. Still Ranny has to do something to get that 60% GG reduction, mission statement, underway, particularly with more subs to build and BHP Billiton power stations and desal plant for Roxby.

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