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The Day after Tomorrow

November 23rd, 2007

Reference to The Day After Tomorrow in the write-off and the subeditor’s choice of headline “Our world really will end”, made my latest contribution to the Financial Review a little more apocalyptic than I intended, but I suppose two days before an election is not the time for subtlety. And it’s very likely that unless we act soon to stop it, climate change will mean the end for large parts of the biosphere, including coral reefs, the Australian Alps, the Arctic, and a large proportion of all animal and plant species now alive.

You can read it over the fold. As I note at the end, I’ve also done a ACF report (Word doc) for ACF connecting the (fairly obvious) dots between climate change, more severe droughts and higher food prices.

Our world really will end

After a months-long pre-election buildup, a mostly soporific campaign and billions of dollars worth of me-too promises from both sides, a lot of voters might well be asking why they should bother to prefer one side over the other. The release, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of its fourth assessment report summary, Risks And Rewards Of Combating Climate Change, might help to answer this question.

As befits a document produced by a consensus of experts nominated by the governments of the world, including those of the US and Australia, the IPCC report is cautious and conservative. On many issues, such as the contribution of melting ice sheets to sea level rise, the report takes a view that the evidence is not firm enough to venture an estimate.

But it is that very conservatism that makes the report so alarming. Its projections suggest a range of consequences, from more extreme climate events to lower food production and higher food prices, if we continue with the ‘business as usual’ approach we have followed so far.

Humans will be able to adapt to many of these consequences, though the costs will be significant. Vulnerable coastal settlements can be moved. Agriculture can be relocated as rainfall and temperature patterns change.

Natural ecosystems can’t adapt at the required pace and will suffer catastrophic damage from uncontrolled climate change. The most vulnerable, such as coral reefs, are already experiencing severe damage. Scientists from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies recently warned that ‘Without targeted reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the ongoing damage to coral reefs from global warming will soon be irreversible …The world has a narrow window of opportunity to save coral reefs from the destruction of extreme climate change. Substantial global reductions of greenhouse gasses must be initiated immediately, not in 10, 20 or 50 years.’

The destruction of coral reefs is a precursor to a potential mass extinction. The IPCC states that ‘as global average temperature increase exceeds about 3.5 degrees C, model projections suggest significant extinctions (40-70% of species assessed) around the globe.’

Labor’s policy response to climate change, while lacking in some details, is straightforward. By ratifying Kyoto, Labor will bring Australia back into the policy mainstream. Although the formal process of ratification will take time, the effect will be immediate, allowing us to participate fully in the negotation of a successor, beginning at Bali in December.

By contrast, the government has something for everyone, from diehard rejectionists to mainstream supporters of Kyoto.

The best-known Liberal ‘sceptics’, Nick Minchin and Ian Macfarlane, have been pretty quiet for some time now. But even after the election was announced, National Party leader Mark Vaile couldn’t resist saying there was conflicting scientific evidence on the issue. As with his subsequent attacks on the Reserve Bank and the Auditor-General, Vaile backed down, but the cat was already out of the bag.

At the other end of the spectrum, a judicious leak revealed that Malcolm Turnbull had pushed the government to neutralise the issue by ratifying the Kyoto protocol before the election. This would have made obvious political sense but apparently the fear of a clash with the Bush Administration overrode Howard’s normally finely-tuned survival instinct.

A rather more surprising intervention in support of Kyoto was that of former NSW Opposition leader Peter Debnam, generally regarded as a hardline conservative. Debnam owes John Howard no favours, and he’s in a position to speak his mind freely, with no need to pander to the strident anti-scientific orthodoxy that dominates the right-wing commentariat and keeps most conservatives in line. His statement suggests that the Australian public’s strong support for Kyoto extends into the conservative heartland.

The government itself has charted an erratic course. On the crucial issue of binding emissions targets, the government has shifted from outright opposition, to endorsement of targets in principle, to the Shergold Committee’s safety valve, and now back to ‘aspirational’ targets. (If the defeat of the Howard government brings an end to the use of this all-purpose weasel word, that will be a small victory for the language.)

Nothing sums up the government’s position better than Howard’s response to the IPCC report. After noting the serious of the challenge, Howard observed that ‘the world is not coming to an end tomorrow’. Indeed not, but Australian voters might prefer a leader who can look a little way beyond tomorrow.

John Quiggin is an ARC Federation Fellow in Economics and Political Science at the University of Queensland. He is the author of a recent report for the Australian Conservation Foundation on Drought, Climate Change and Food Prices in Australia.

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  1. John Bignucolo
    November 23rd, 2007 at 14:05 | #1

    Can please stop using the term sceptic, in quotes or otherwise, for the likes of Nick Minchin and Ian MacFarlane. Instead we should use the correct term instead: denier.

    Somewhere along the way, by using the framing techniques of Republican Party pollster Frank Luntz, (anthropogenic) global warming deniers succeeded in reframing their position as representing principled scepticism in the face of unthinking, bullying orthodoxy.

    The converse is true: Nick Minchin and Ian MacFarlane are movement conservatives, closed-minded ideologues who in other times would have been the ones happily burning sceptics at the stake, or damning Renaiassance and Enlightment scholars for daring to suggest reason and the scientific method trumps faith, biblical literalism, and “common sense”.

    Eppure si muove.

  2. crocodile
    November 23rd, 2007 at 14:16 | #2

    John Bignucolo,

    Is that big knuckles. In the late eighties I worked for a company in Sydney with a John Bignucolo. It’s an unusual name. Just wondering if is the same fellow. If I remember, a quietly spoken softie with spectacles. I hope JQ doesn’t mind me posting this on an open forum. No offence if it is deleted.

  3. John Bignucolo
    November 23rd, 2007 at 14:33 | #3

    …wiping the spittle from the screen…

    If, and it’s still a big if, the Liberal Party loses on Saturday, one would hope that they would look to the British Conservative Party for policy prescriptions rather than the anti-science Republican Party.

    It’s taken more than ten years in opposition and three election defeats for the British Conservatives to choose a leader in David Cameron who actually believes that global warming is real and measures need to be adopted to deal with it, right now, not in 2050, when according to Peter Costello, we’ll all be dead anyway.

    There are sane (reality-based) voices within the Liberal Party, such as Mal Washer and Judith Troeth. One can only they’ll still be in the Parliament to balance the hard right movement conservatives and christianists in safe seats.

  4. jquiggin
    November 23rd, 2007 at 15:01 | #4

    JB, I actually prefer “delusionist”, and generally use it here on the blog but I didn’t think the Fin would come at that, so I stuck to scare quotes.

  5. brian
    November 23rd, 2007 at 15:11 | #5

    Day After Tommorrow is a much better and more accurate film than many have been led to expect. Trashed for its outlook about ice melting leading to a new ice age, in fact more recently its view have found strange resonence among some scientists:

    ‘But first things first. Isn’t the earth actually warming?

    Indeed it is, says Joyce. In his cluttered office, full of soft light from the foggy Cape Cod morning, he explains how such warming could actually be the surprising culprit of the next mini-ice age. The paradox is a result of the appearance over the past 30 years in the North Atlantic of huge rivers of freshwater—the equivalent of a 10-foot-thick layer—mixed into the salty sea. No one is certain where the fresh torrents are coming from, but a prime suspect is melting Arctic ice, caused by a buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that traps solar energy.

    The freshwater trend is major news in ocean-science circles. Bob Dickson, a British oceanographer who sounded an alarm at a February conference in Honolulu, has termed the drop in salinity and temperature in the Labrador Sea—a body of water between northeastern Canada and Greenland that adjoins the Atlantic—“arguably the largest full-depth changes observed in the modern instrumental oceanographic record.�

    The trend could cause a little ice age by subverting the northern penetration of Gulf Stream waters. Normally, the Gulf Stream, laden with heat soaked up in the tropics, meanders up the east coasts of the United States and Canada. As it flows northward, the stream surrenders heat to the air. Because the prevailing North Atlantic winds blow eastward, a lot of the heat wafts to Europe. That’s why many scientists believe winter temperatures on the Continent are as much as 36 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than those in North America at the same latitude. Frigid Boston, for example, lies at almost precisely the same latitude as balmy Rome. And some scientists say the heat also warms Americans and Canadians. “It’s a real mistake to think of this solely as a European phenomenon,� says Joyce.

    Having given up its heat to the air, the now-cooler water becomes denser and sinks into the North Atlantic by a mile or more in a process oceanographers call thermohaline circulation. This massive column of cascading cold is the main engine powering a deepwater current called the Great Ocean Conveyor that snakes through all the world’s oceans. But as the North Atlantic fills with freshwater, it grows less dense, making the waters carried northward by the Gulf Stream less able to sink. The new mass of relatively fresh water sits on top of the ocean like a big thermal blanket, threatening the thermohaline circulation. That in turn could make the Gulf Stream slow or veer southward. At some point, the whole system could simply shut down, and do so quickly. “There is increasing evidence that we are getting closer to a transition point, from which we can jump to a new state. Small changes, such as a couple of years of heavy precipitation or melting ice at high latitudes, could yield a big response,� says Joyce.

    Photograph by Greg Miller

    “The physics of El Niño are simple compared to the physics of this climate change,” says Terrence Joyce, chairman of the Woods Hole Department of Physical Oceanography, with Ruth Curry, one of the lead researchers.

    In her sunny office down the hall, oceanographer Ruth Curry shows just how extensive the changes have already become. “Look at this,� she says, pointing to maps laid out on her lab table. “Orange and yellow mean warmer and saltier. Green and blue mean colder and fresher.� The four-map array shows the North Atlantic each decade since the 1960s. With each subsequent map, green and blue spread farther; even to the untrained eye, there’s clearly something awry. “It’s not just in the Labrador Sea,� she says. “This cold, freshening area is now invading the deep waters of the entire subtropical Atlantic.�

    “You have all this freshwater sitting at high latitudes, and it can literally take hundreds of years to get rid of it,� Joyce says. So while the globe as a whole gets warmer by tiny fractions of 1 degree Fahrenheit annually, the North Atlantic region could, in a decade, get up to 10 degrees colder. What worries researchers at Woods Hole is that history is on the side of rapid shutdown. They know it has happened before.
    etc
    http://discovermagazine.com/2004/may/a-new-ice-age-day-after-tomorrow

  6. gerard
    November 23rd, 2007 at 15:16 | #6

    Have the Fin editors (who have just come out backing Howard for Saturday) often had problems with what you write? I’m surprised that they gave you a column in the first place, how did it happen?

  7. jquiggin
    November 23rd, 2007 at 15:53 | #7

    I’ve had a very free hand at the Fin, with quite a few different editors, and have never had a column censored. On a couple of occasions the editors have suggested that I’ve said enough on one of my pet topics, but that’s usually been good advice. Part of the implicit deal is that I write well-argued pieces without a lot of heated rhetoric.

    It took a lot of work to get the slot, starting out freelance, then semi-regular and now fortnightly. I like to think that doing a professional job and writing a readable column outweigh ideological disagreements.

  8. John Bignucolo
    November 23rd, 2007 at 15:54 | #8

    I actually prefer “delusionist�, and generally use it here on the blog but I didn’t think the Fin would come at that, so I stuck to scare quotes.

    Agreed, “delusionistâ€? is probably the most apt term these days. Since their position is founded on ideological intransigence instead of informed reason, and their industry financiers will eventually move on, the denialist camp followers will end up sharing a back office with the “Intelligent Design” and “Moon Landings were Faked” crowd.

    I noticed on “Difference of Opinion” last night that John Roskam, your fellow columnist at the Fin. Review and a conservative true believer, was arguing for the Howard government’s position on global warming, amongst others.

    However, I thought the following claim of only one side being allowed into the public debate on global warming, and it isn’t his, was extremely disingenuous given the Howard government’s reflexive dismissal to the Stern Review and Peter Costello’s refusal/lack of interest in having Treasury undertake equivalent financial modeling.

    JOHN ROSKAM: It’s very hard to have a debate about climate change, and Jennifer’s right – it’s been one of the key issues of this debate. But it’s very hard to have a debate about climate change when you’ve only got one side. And when people who want to argue the economics and politics of climate change, or nuclear power, are labelled deniers…

    BRUCE HAWKER: Well, have a go.

    JOHN ROSKAM: ..we can’t have much of a democratic discussion.

    The full transcript is worth reading as a window into the conservative mindset on climate change:

    JOHN ROSKAM: But they’re giving it to the community. But the other point that I want to make, Jeff, before we leave this is to talk some common sense on climate change. We’ve heard a lot of debate about climate change. Climate change in relation to Australia’s emissions is that we produce 1%, Australia produces 1% of the world’s global emissions. Now, any impact by signing Kyoto or the next wave of international agreements will affect Australia disproportionately because we don’t have nuclear power. So when we compare ourselves to the Europeans or to someone else, unless we have a deal with China and India and the rest of the growing Asian nations then Australia will be doing something purely symbolic. We can have that debate but let’s understand what it is.

    JEFF McMULLEN: Ross Gittins if we are going to address the challenges of climate change we need the educational basis to understand and deal with it. When you evaluate Rudd’s proposed revolution for education against the Coalition’s offering of a rebate for school fees and, in some ways, an emphasis on the three Rs what can you say to voters tonight that what is the choice in education to affect the children and those going through university at the moment? What difference does it make to vote for either side?

    ROSS GITTINS: I think it’s clear that Kevin Rudd has got a commitment to spend a lot more on education at every level from early childhood development right through to universities. At the moment he’s offered to spend virtually no extra on universities and the problem with his grand education revolution is that he had an opportunity to spend a lot of money getting us up to speed on education but he preferred to match the Government with its tax cut. So he’s not looking too flash on his education revolution. But getting back to that point about climate change which I can’t let pass – it’s true that Australia only contributes about 1% of global emissions. It’s also true that if we and the other rich countries, starting with our mates in America, go round saying “We’re not signing anything until the really poor countries sign up,” then no-one will sign anything and nothing will happen. What you’re advocating is and – possibly quite deliberately – is a Mexican stand-off. The only way the world will do what is needed on global change is for the rich countries to go first and to do what you call symbolism, it’s not symbolism, it will have economic costs, but until the poor countries see the rich countries putting their dollars on the line don’t expect poor countries to come along and say, “We’ll solve your problems”.

    JEFF McMULLEN: We’re going to bring the audience in here. I would like to hear you rate the differences between the major parties. Yes, the young lady in the front row.

    WOMAN: I wanted to ask, why has John Howard and his Government not had the foresight to invest in renewable energies and public transport instead of fossil fuels and nuclear, the logging and woodchip industry and roads?

    JEFF McMULLEN: John?

    JOHN ROSKAM: I’m not going to speak for the Howard Government. But what the Howard Government has done is it has delivered jobs. Ross’s point is correct that until the rich countries sign up to Kyoto or some agreement there won’t be any agreement, but as I said, Australia is 1%. If we really are going to cut emissions let’s not concentrate on symbolism and let’s work on better technologies to help China and India. The poor people of those countries are going to be the ones affected if we are dramatically cutting reductions.

    WOMAN: We’re the highest emitters per capita in the world.

    JOHN ROSKAM: That’s because we don’t have nuclear energy.

    MARGO KINGSTON: How can we have nuclear energy tomorrow? Doesn’t it take 15 years to build?

    JEFF McMULLEN: Let’s pause for democracy. Another comment from the front.

    WOMAN #2: I’d like to ask the panel – if the Coalition is returned at the weekend election, will the Prime Minister and the Coalition have a mandate to start dismantling the barriers to nuclear power in this country because it is not featured in the debate. I think we all need to know before we go to the polls on Saturday if the Coalition is going to steam ahead with nuclear power for Australia.

    BRUCE HAWKER: John Howard has made it quite clear that’s an agenda item for the next term. He’s said that.

    JEFF McMULLEN: Do you see it that way, Jennifer?

    JENNIFER HEWETT: No.

    BRUCE HAWKER: Well, he’s said it.

    JENNIFER HEWETT: I think this will a long-term project. I think he will make it possible but in reality nothing will happen for many years. It will cost a lot of money. Another election before anything like that happens.

    JEFF McMULLEN: Margo, it has disappeared from the debate, it has disappeared from the discussion. Why is that?

    BRUCE HAWKER: It’s alive and well in a lot of electorates out there when people start to wonder why…

    JOHN ROSKAM: It’s been a very effective scare campaign.

    BRUCE HAWKER: It was raised by the Government, it was raised by John Howard. It wasn’t raised by anybody else than them. It was meant to be some sort of a lame response to the climate change debate. Now what they haven’t done is get serious about an emissions trading scheme, about even giving us any sort of indication of what the greenhouse reduction level’s going to be. They say they’re going to do it but…

    JENNIFER HEWETT: Neither has the Labor Party.

    MARGO KINGSTON: 20% by 2050.

    BRUCE HAWKER: It’s said, Labor has said – it’s saying on greenhouse gas gases it’s going to be 60% reduction of 2000 levels by 2050. John Howard hasn’t even come out and said what that level’s going to be. He was a climate change denier and he became a climate change sceptic when he saw the opinion polls.

    JENNIFER HEWETT: I do think that the Government has not handled the issue of climate change well. But you’ll now see that both sides are remarkably similar in the approach they’ll be taking when they go – whoever goes to Bali in December will be taking a fairly similar position, which is to say, we will not be signing anything unless we get agreement between all parties. That’s a kind of quite radical change.

    JOHN ROSKAM: It’s very hard to have a debate about climate change, and Jennifer’s right – it’s been one of the key issues of this debate. But it’s very hard to have a debate about climate change when you’ve only got one side. And when people who want to argue the economics and politics of climate change, or nuclear power, are labelled deniers…

    BRUCE HAWKER: Well, have a go.

    JOHN ROSKAM: ..we can’t have much of a democratic discussion.

  9. Hermit
    November 23rd, 2007 at 16:18 | #9

    I wouldn’t get your hopes up with an incumbent federal ALP if resource influences prevail
    http://au.news.yahoo.com/071122/21/151fz.html
    I think for at least the first couple of years there will be inconsequential gabbing about mitigation ideas (eg clean coal) along with creative carbon accounting (eg save the forests) while real emissions creep upwards. If there is no global slowdown the big domestic industries (metals, electrical generation) will join with overseas buyers of coal and LNG to apply huge pressure to keep the good times rolling. What did ‘Pig Iron’ Bob Menzies do in a comparable situation? Take the money of course.

    Expect to be disappointed with the new mob.

  10. November 23rd, 2007 at 16:21 | #10

    I rather prefer denialist to describe the professional spreaders of disinformation that various industrial sponsorships have gifted us with. Delusional describes the camp followers.

  11. November 23rd, 2007 at 18:11 | #11

    Brian, I think you had some kind of blur when you put “Normally, the Gulf Stream, laden with heat soaked up in the tropics, meanders up the east coasts of the United States and Canada” – unless you were thinking of it as being off the east coasts of the United States and Canada as well as over towards the European side of the Atlantic. That’s actually true, sort of, but there is a southward flowing current between the Gulf Stream proper and North America. The very last bits of the Gulf Stream reach Svalbard and the White Sea, but nowhere in North America at all unless you count the part that curls round off Greenland to become that southward flowing current – and it’s not really warm by then.

  12. SJ
    November 23rd, 2007 at 20:14 | #12

    PML Says:

    Brian, I think you had some kind of blur when you put “Normally, the Gulf Stream, laden with heat soaked up in the tropics, meanders up the east coasts of the United States and Canadaâ€? – unless you were thinking…

    He was quoting Brad Lemley from the magazine Discover, Lawrence. Address your complaint to Lemly, not Brian.

  13. jquiggin
    November 23rd, 2007 at 20:35 | #13

    Eli, I regard “delusionist” as encompassing both purveyors and (mostly willing) consumers of delusion.

  14. November 23rd, 2007 at 20:50 | #14

    This is one policy area that the government should have engaged in some belated me-tooism on. It seems on this one, however, they weren’t willing to eat humble pie in order to potentially save their asses.

    Possibly one of the bigger campaign mistakes made by the government this time around.

  15. jack Strocchi
    November 23rd, 2007 at 22:22 | #15

    Ecologics is a sub-set of economics, a fact acknowledged by Darwin himself. Balance in nature between sources and sinks should be reflected in balance sheets.

    Can Pr Q tell us, in a short par of two, the answer to the burning question: will the cost of carbon abatement exceed the cost of carbon adaption?

  16. November 24th, 2007 at 05:48 | #16

    i prefer to reserve the word ‘delusionist’ for people who imagine that the politicians who presided over the drift into looming catastrophe are suddenly going to metamorphize into intelligent, principled philosopher kings.

    if we had citizen initiative now, ‘getup’ would have long ago got oz on the path to salvation.

    still, it’s nice to see all these scary boogers on one page, and read that some of it is in front of the serious people, who can pick up the phone and vote whenever they want to. if kevvie is counting their votes in future, perhaps homo sap will survive. certainly the serious people will.

    as for the mob, voting once in three years doesn’t provide a seat in a life boat. but some can be allowed to cling to the serious people’s boats, if they proclaim they’re “social democrats, but nice ones, house-trained.”

  17. wilful
    November 24th, 2007 at 06:18 | #17

    Ecologics is a sub-set of economics, a fact acknowledged by Darwin himself.

    What? What absolute nonsense you spout on this topic. “Darwin himself” didn’t call it ecology, the word was coined in 1873, only a few years before his death.

    And in what possible relevant sense is ecology a subset of economics? Quite the wrong way round.

    Reason, scientific evidence for what? Quiggin has, quite justifiably, given up on debating the truth or otherwise of ACC. Denialists haven’t made one substantive criticism of AC in almost ten years.

  18. MH
    November 24th, 2007 at 11:07 | #18

    A decade of decreasing median rainfall data (meticulously kept by the previous owners) plus increasing median temperatures on my rural property in NSW charts a very distinctive trend that mirror almost exactly the climate models for the region, except we are ahead on rain decrease and temp increases by about 10%. We are beginning to already see not so subtle shifts in the ecology of flora and fauna. Water comes when it does in very large almost tropical downpours not in the more past evenly spread pattern, this is playing havoc with hydrology and our careful regeneration programs. I guess those who believe political hyperbole and prefer to deny reality will say I’m delusional. My math training and my economic training suggests any trend line that is so distinct is no uncorrelated aberration.

    Go figure human stupidity, we are taking our own solutions to cope and it does not depend on waiting for someone else to actually wake up.

    Finally with petroleum now at US$100 per barrel and increasing month on month using a large amount of energy is not going to solve the issues either.

    While I am no conspiracy theorist the blocks are in place to subdue a very angry populace in the years to come. Work it out for yourselves. We are already on the road to a survivable adaptation. Suburbia does not rate on the risk mitigation process we have in train. Everyone is in for an almighty shock.

  19. MH
    November 24th, 2007 at 11:25 | #19

    A small PS. JQ on a micro level in my area we are already through the baseline increases in temp on your ACF paper in our area, expected and projected. What worries me the most is the exponential rise in temps with the decreasing and erratic rain distribution (increasing variability). This is making planning for working with the natural cycle of plant germination and animal reproduction increasingly problematic. We are now stocking at 10% of past carrying capacity to preserve the underlying land and ecology systems, there is no choice but to do this to protect the property from severe erosion and plant loss.

  20. Peter Wood
    November 24th, 2007 at 12:29 | #20

    The recent droughts make me wonder if the present cost of climate change to Australia’s economy is already greater than what Australia is spending on climate change mitigation. This makes some of the discussion about discount rates seem quite ironic.

  21. jack Strocchi
    November 24th, 2007 at 19:50 | #21

    wilful Says: 24th, 2007 at 6:18 am

    What? What absolute nonsense you spout on this topic. “Darwin himself� didn’t call it ecology, the word was coined in 1873, only a few years before his death.

    You are ignorant of the facts of intellectual history and biological theory. YOur comment shows that you “spout” more than enough “absolute nonsense” on this topic for the both of us.

    Darwin got the theory of “natural selection” from Malthus, an English political economist. Natural selection in the free ecology is simply an analogy to the industrial selection of the competitive economy. Darwin frequently used the expression “economy of natureâ€? in the Origin.

    wilful says:

    And in what possible relevant sense is ecology a subset of economics? Quite the wrong way round.

    Not from the pov of policy makers and preference revealers. The ministry of environment is an economic portfolio.

    The ecological environment is simply our endowment of natural capital. As such it is a complement to our endowments of artificial capital. Both are part of the human race’s asset base. Both are subject to depletion and depreciation.

    Of course human beings depend on the existence of the environment for our survival. But we can take this more or less for granted since even if we do our worst we are not going to make the planet uninhabitable or even uneconomical.

    I qualify this by saying that some parts of the environment are valuable in themselves, for example cuddly polar bears frolicking on ice floes. These are economic agents, valued for themselves by economic actors and in a sense are pets, members of the household. All cuddly endangered species fall into this class.

  22. James Haughton
    November 26th, 2007 at 10:05 | #22

    Pr Q, I wonder if you saw this research (from UQ apparently) that says that in the near term, the deforestation of Australia has been more responsible for drought than climate change:
    http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2007/10/30/2073363.htm Of course these are interlocking trends which reinforce one another.

    Suggests to me that a carbon offset strategy of native tree planting could have good shorter term as well as long term payoffs.

    Although it’s a bit outside the core topic of your paper, could some of these price increases be mitigated by rich countries lowering their agricultural tariffs, subsidies, etc? Would there be room for a policy tradeoff with the developing world: They’ll lower their CO2 if we (the west generally) lower our trade barriers?

  23. wilful
    November 26th, 2007 at 14:18 | #23

    You are ignorant of the facts of intellectual history and biological theory. YOur comment shows that you “spout� more than enough “absolute nonsense� on this topic for the both of us.

    If so, certainly not proven by you. I would confidently say I know rather a lot about biological theory.

    Darwin got the theory of “natural selection� from Malthus, an English political economist.

    An interesting theory of yours, not one that his biographers would agree with, but do go on…

    Natural selection in the free ecology is simply an analogy to the industrial selection of the competitive economy. Darwin frequently used the expression “economy of nature� in the Origin.

    Simply an analogy. Oh dear, you are out of your depth.

    Not from the pov of policy makers and preference revealers. The ministry of environment is an economic portfolio.

    While environmental economics is an interesting field and I follow it closely, the Department of Environment is not an economic portfolio in most States or the Federal government. Or more simply – WRONG.

    The ecological environment is simply our endowment of natural capital. As such it is a complement to our endowments of artificial capital. Both are part of the human race’s asset base. Both are subject to depletion and depreciation.

    It can be viewed in that manner however that is an extremely limited view, useful in certain arguments and analyses but a very long way from the full story. This is so self-evident, even within central budget agencies that it’s not even discussed, it doesn’t even need to be acknowledged.

    Of course human beings depend on the existence of the environment for our survival. But we can take this more or less for granted since even if we do our worst we are not going to make the planet uninhabitable or even uneconomical.

    Given many examples from history, you’re wrong again. Desertification due to human causes is quite well recorded. Try reading Collapse by Jared Diamond.

    I qualify this by saying that some parts of the environment are valuable in themselves, for example cuddly polar bears frolicking on ice floes. These are economic agents, valued for themselves by economic actors and in a sense are pets, members of the household. All cuddly endangered species fall into this class.

    Your understanding of biology hasn’t been shown for an instant in this thread. You understand some of the basics of willingness-to-pay methodology, but not how it is used by decision-makers and what context it is put in.

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