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Both barrels

November 8th, 2009
That’s what Kevin Rudd gave Australian delusionists in this speech to the Lowy Institute, . I agree with him that there is no point in being polite about this. Those who reject action to address climate change are doing so on the basis of lies propounded by tobacco hacks like Steve Milloy, bought-and-paid-for thinktanks like the IPA, loony world-government conspiracy theorists like Lord Monckton, intellectual cardsharps like Bjorn Lomborg and reflexive contrarians like Richard (‘the dangers of smoking have been much exaggerated’) Lindzen. In years following this debate I have seen no-one (literally and without exception) on the delusionist side separate themselves from these hacks and cranks and present a coherent case. That’s because it is impossible for an intelligent person to reach  delusionist conclusions on this issue while retaining their intellectual honesty.

All that said (and I’ve said it many times before) I was surprised to see Rudd, who is normally pretty cautious, going all out like this. My immediate conclusion is that he doesn’t expect the Liberals to support an amended ETS and is preparing the ground for a double dissolution.
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  1. Fran Barlow
    November 10th, 2009 at 07:51 | #1

    Post 50 to kick it over

  2. Fran Barlow
    November 10th, 2009 at 08:19 | #2

    @JohnL

    The only logical reason for the coal polluters to spend million on this exercise is that they see the ETS as against their interest even with the concessions.

    Arguably so but misleading. It could be that in the longer run they see this as the thin end of the wedge, meaning that while they could live with it in the short term it is in their opinion contrary to their longer run interests. They could also fancy their chances of securing even more concessions from the government and in effect other electricity users by running this campaign hard.

    It should be noted though that

    a) the coal polluters could be wrong, and that the ETS as currently configured does not prejudice their longer term interests — and that this is simply an uncosted and unknowable risk
    b) Even if the ETS really will prejudice the interests of coal polluters in the longer term, it’s the short term effects of extending resort to coal pollution that are key. People are being harmed right now. The fact that the ETS might author procersses that in 30 years time made coal unviable for energy obviously isn’t going to help reduce coal pollution and CO2 emissions more generally over the next 20 years very much. In the next 20 years, the people we care most about lose and after that the coal producers lose. Not a good policy result.
    c) If the ETS configuration buttresses coal polluters by forcing consumers of other electricity to subsidise them then this undermines the case for CO2 emissions reductions measures as these can be presented as merely a cover for feather-bedding. It also pushes up the net cost of each ton of reductions and transfers it to people less responsible for the emissions than coal polluters. It also sets a benchmark for other countries reliant on coal-fired electricity — i.e. most countries.

    In short, a poor ETS is subversive of good outcomes nationally and internationally. This is not about ‘purity’ but about pragmatism. Consider this: even Ian McFarlane has abandoned the spruiking for so-called ‘clean coal’. Yet the government is involved in an international porkbarrelling effort to buttress a technology that is far less probable than almost any existing technology to reliably reduce emissions on an industrial scale. Why do this?

    The answer is simple. Politically, the government doesn’t want to be seen as abandoning the coal industry, and of course, without the frippery around clean coal, coal assets would decline in value. Also importantly, this allows the government to duck the nuclear power question. In Britain, Miliband has proposed ramping up the UKs installed nuclear capacity and said that no new coal plants that cannot use CC&S will be licenced. In effect, that means no new coal plants because these will not occur before 2030 and nobody but the state is going to fund a plant that may never be built.

    As people know, I’m in favour of nuclear power here in Australia, but if, for politicval reasons, we can’t have that then NG is still far better than coal in any configuration. Under an amended ETS in which, for example, NG had to fully offset its emissions by doing revegetation or something else equivalent here it would still be a lot cheaper than ‘clean coal’.

  3. iain
    November 10th, 2009 at 09:13 | #3

    JohnL – if you are not trying to silence dissent by making (ridiculous) statements such as “It’s such a good feeling to wallow in self-proclaimed purity while sharing the same goal as polluters” then I guess I just fail to see you’re point.

    Do polluters share the same goal and view that what is required is effective legislation (and subsequent effective regulations) to reduce CO2-e emissions? No.

    Do polluters share the same goal and view that the CPRS does not provide effective and low cost administration (and hence may invalidate Coase’s Thereom). Maybe, but this isn’t their main point.

    Do polluters share the same goal and view that a secondary market will create further inefficiency and failure points including; permit allocation numbers may be subject to vested interests, and not all relevant “buyers” and “sellers” may be included (indeed, you often leave many of them out by ignoring agriculture). Even auction systems are subject to interest, influence and failure points.

    Do polluters share the same goal and view that a tax is a more efficient and effective means of abatement provided rate of change of marginal damage costs is less than rate of change of abatement costs? No.

    To the extent that the CPRS gets people like yourself thinking about why emissions trading scheme aren’t working particularly well (and may, potentially, be unlikely to) – then they have obvious and undoubted benefits.

  4. Iain
    November 10th, 2009 at 10:02 | #4

    Maybe it’ the man made climate change proponents who are deluded? I resent these sort of comments in this blog eg. (Those who reject action to address climate change are doing so on the basis of lies propounded by… etc). Simple complex adaptive system theory can be used to argue the case that complex systems oscillate (the world gets colder and holder in cycles). That’s one train of thought that makes me think that man made climate change requiring complex social political and economic changes is a lot of nonsense. There is plenty more but I am satisfied at the moment that my position is backed by some sound thinking (apart from all the other evidence railed against it). Or does John Quiggin think I am a hack/crank also? The sort of intellectually thin and insulting comments displayed in the blog entry we are commenting on are lazy and the sign of underdeveloped thought. I would think the general public will react more against smug and elitist posturing by man made climate change proponents than the actual arguments for man made climate change themselves.

  5. nanks
    November 10th, 2009 at 10:25 | #5

    @Iain
    “Simple complex adaptive system theory can be used to argue the case that complex systems oscillate (the world gets colder and holder in cycles)”
    Do you mean climate dynamics are limited to a stable limit cycle Iain?

  6. Freelander
    November 10th, 2009 at 12:23 | #6

    @Iain

    Of course you are a ‘hack/crank also’. You are also somewhat arrogant and talk pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo. ‘Simple complex adaptive system theory can be used to argue…’ Well use it then and get the argument published in a serious peer reviewed scientific journal instead of casting your pearls before us. Clearly we are no clever enough to appreciate you.

  7. nanks
    November 10th, 2009 at 12:40 | #7

    actually Freelander I have a background in complex systems – been out of it for a few years but a lot of my PhD was in analysing brain dynamics – that’s what keeps me unemployed I guess :)
    But Iain’s comment is fairly meaningless – as ‘simple complex adaptive system theory’ can be used to explain all sorts of things including the opposite of Iain’s point

  8. Donald Oats
    November 10th, 2009 at 12:53 | #8

    There are cycles internally driven on a regional scale to oceanic scale, but take care to differentiate between spatial cycles such as Hadley cells, and time cycles such as heating and cooling of a given region, say by the PDO. Then there are cycles driven by external (to the Earth that is) variables, such as the eccentricity of orbit, nutation, precession etc, solar cycles, and other factors.

    While there are clearly long term cycles of climate, driven in large part by orbital changes of the type mentioned about, there are internal variables on Earth that affect its response at different times in its geologic history. For example, while it is widely quoted by various people that CO2 was at much higher levels in the past (say 500 million years ago), they fail to mention that our current understanding of the sun is that it was substantially cooler then. Indeed, one well supported estimate at the moment is of the order of a 30% increase over the last 4 billion years.

    Another important contributor to climate is the location and number of continents at the time of interest. Both field studies and theoretic studies have demonstrated that plate tectonics may have a major effect upon the possible climate behaviour, eg by closing off seas that once were present, preventing easy movement of warm and cold water between low, equitorial latitudes and high, sub-polar latitudes.

    In some eras it seems that the oceans were anoxic and toxic to most of life. There is quite some supportive evidence that an initial change in climate conditions shifted the environment to suit one type of krill over another; the more viable krill could survive in anoxic water, but also spewed great quantities of toxic gases into the atmosphere. Once CO2 expelling creatures died off, the high levels of CO2 could slowly be reabsorbed into carbonate form, and through other chemical reactions. Of course, we are talking millions of years for the reabsorption of CO2.

    The difference in the current time is that humans are expelling CO2 (and other GHGs, of course) at huge rates, and in recent times, at accelerating rates. Purely statistical techniques are probably unable to really resolve the functional connection between atmospheric CO2 and global temperature, especially where sometimes increasing CO2 seemingly leads temperature increase, yet more usually increasing CO2 seemingly lags temperature increases. Part of the difficulty is that it depends upon other idiosyncratic factors, such as how much water is already ice-locked (since CO2 needs liquid water to dissolve in, and glaciers reflect most incoming light rather than absorbing it, etc), whether CO2 breathing life forms are present in numbers, possibly the location and shape of the continents, etc.

    Once geo-chemo-physical models are introduced, and once ecological factors are incorporated, then statistical methods may assist in determining just how well such models capture climatic behaviour. Statistical methods can never provide certainty however. All indications is that we have most important variables basically right, in that the most significant relationships and equations have been identified and examined. There is still plenty of refinement to do though.

    Humman’s recent contributions to atmospheric GHGs may push the climate in the direction of significantly changed annual seasons, and swiftly shifting regional climates. If climatic change is too swift we may be unable to adapt well enough given the population of the time.

    When climate scientists show concern about “tipping points” one concern is that while tipping points are likely to exist – indeed, mechanisms for some tipping points have been identified, if not fully understood yet – noone can predict if and when such tipping points are reached. What can be quantified by use of climate models, is the new “equilibrium” climate conditions around the globe, after CO2 has stabilised at some value.
    So, while predicting when a tipping point will be broached is subject to large uncertainty, the end state of relevance to humans can be projected with less uncertainty than the tipping points which led to it. The state of the art projections by different climate models provide a range of possible end states given the same final CO2. This range may be used to create an empirical probability distribution of possible end states, given a specific increase in CO2.

    Finally, what is continually surprising climate scientists (although they are becoming more used to it now) is the speed of some of the current changes. A number of predicted changes have started occurring decade(s) before they were expected to. In other words, some of the predicted changes have rapid transition dynamics.

  9. Freelander
    November 10th, 2009 at 15:15 | #9

    @Donald Oats

    All of which suggests that the scientists have, if anything, been cautious in their predictions of the consequences of anthropogenic contributions to greenhouse gases. This also suggests that we should start to do something serious about the problem, fast.

  10. Donald Oats
    November 10th, 2009 at 15:48 | #10

    Exactly, Freelander, couldn’t agreee more.

    Generally speaking, most scientists are rather circumspect in stating their results; language is nuanced rather than definitive, and they tend to identify the so-called known-unknowns that may affect their conclusions. Rarely do they come out with a definite “We know X for a fact.” X would have to be something readily measurable with excellent, accurate, and reliable data sources, and with a solid body of field work behind it, in order to be given such a definite statement.

    On occasion this doesn’t happen in the scientific articles. More usually though, the nuances and some of the qualifiers drop out in the public relations media release for the relevant university. The bulk of the remaining qualifiers and most of the context disappear between media release and the first journalist story about it. From there, every journalist and their dog picks up on it and cut-n-paste either from the PR media release, or more likely, from the already successfully published news article.

    That’s one way in which we go from the scientific:

    “X seems well supported by the processed data, although the recently discovered error in measurement tool T adds a very small statistical bias to the data. The recently submitted paper by ABC [ABC 2009] makes the appropriate statistical correction to the data; they have very kindly allowed the authors to use their bias-corrected data set. The newer statistical results from the ABC data are qualitatively in agreement with our data, and the results of the two analyses are in very close agreement (at 2.5% level). On balance, the authors believe that their results concerning X are sufficiently robust to warrant their conclusions.”

    to the MSM:

    “Boffins make breakthrough on Y!” fn^1

    Footnotes:
    fn^1 : The relationship between X and Y seems to revolve around the extra leg that X has to stand on. But that’s journalism in the Climate Science domain, with a few notable exceptions.

    Regards all,

    Don.

    PS: Love the warm spring days, reminds me of summer.

  11. Ken
    November 11th, 2009 at 16:20 | #11

    It might be good rhetoric from Rudd but I’m not convinced; more like kicking the opposition in it’s most vulnerable location for purely short term political gain. Sure, Rudd’s movement is in the right direction, but it’s a step towards the rear of a runaway train accelerating downhill. Sigh. I think we’ll have a long wait before the rhetoric is matched by effective policy. If CCS is the cornerstone of Australia’s energy future – and it looks like that’s the ALP position – it’s empty rhetoric.

  12. Michael of Summer Hill
    November 14th, 2009 at 09:32 | #12

    John, according to Robert Goodland, formerly of the World Bank, livestock account for 51% of all global greenhouse gases. That would mean the sceptics within the Coalition who have been pushing a wheel barrow full of dung uphill for a very long time have been disingenuous and not telling the truth when it comes to global warming and climate change.

  13. Keith
    November 16th, 2009 at 22:22 | #13

    @Michael of Summer Hill
    Hmm, exactly where does dung come from ? And livestock methane ? And cow breath ? Ever wondered ? You should visit a farm. It comes from grasses and cereals. Livestock are unable to spontaneously create this stuff, they are simply processing their food, just like any vegan would. Crops are renewable sources, and guess what – if you want more cattle, you have to plant more crops to feed them. Last time I checked, crops use up CO2 (and dung) in order to grow. Quite renewable really. But let’s tax this process anyway, food is so overrated.

    As to Rudd’s childish tantrum, I can only say I expect more from a national leader, than attempting to provoke responses (from either side) that are less than supportive to a healthy debate. I am afraid Mr Rudd sees his opportunity to grab more money from the productive sectors slipping away. His credibility is in shreds after such a shallow attempt demonize those whose only “crime” is to disagree with him. In the speech Mr Rudd labeled anyone disagreeing with him as a denier, a conservative, and a radical – all in one speech. The level of hysteria and vitriol on display was a national disgrace. His now famous line : “the debate is over” is particularly precious, coming from a politician. Mr Rudd is contemptuous of facts. If Mr Rudd were willing to fact check he would find that there there are just 2900 IPCC scientists, of whom only 60 have specifically endorsed the claim that humans are heating the planet to dangerous levels. Other IPCC scientists say there’s no proof of this at all. Mr Rudd claimed 4000 IPCC scientists endorsed the IPCC report. Mr Rudd apparently knows nothing of the many thousands of scientists that have identified with the skeptical side of this issue, but chooses to minimize their contributions with aspersions of “vested interest”. This is so weak in a leader.
    Of course science doesn’t care about any kind of political numbers game. Even one verified observation should cause scientists to revisit their theories and models. Hard data always wins.

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