Home > Boneheaded stupidity, Environment > Ignoring the elephant

Ignoring the elephant

February 3rd, 2010

My piece in Thursday’s Fin noted the prevalence of delusional conspiracy theories about climate change on the political right, pointing in particular to Lord Monckton, Nick Minchin and the Lavoisier Institute as sources for the claim that the whole thing was a plot to destroy the economy and bring in a communist world government. Among other points on the silliness of this claim, I observed that all credible economists agreed that the cost of measures to stabilise global climate (less than 5 per cent of GDP) on all estimates, did not appear sufficient for the catastrophic destruction required by the conspiracy theorists.

The piece attracted a couple of responses, one from the Lavoisier Institute and one from Sinclair Davidson (who has given Monckton plenty of favorable treatment on his blog, and his pushed conspiracy-theoretic views of the IPCC). Curiously, neither of them mentioned the conspiracy theories that were the main subject of the piece, and which Lavoisier has pushed for years.

Rather they cavilled at the point that the economic costs of an ETS or carbon tax would be marginal. Lavoisier’s Ray Evans did not offer a counterargument, but simply claimed that economists had been wrong when they said the effects of Thatcher’s 1981 Budget would be disastrous. Davidson accepted the standard estimates, but said that, if you converted them into present values at a low discount rate, they looked really big. He also made a spurious personal attack on me (reply over the fold).

This is just silly. Although Australia got off relatively lightly from the GFC, our national income is several percentage points below where it would have been in the absence of the crisis and is likely to remain below trend for some years to come. Has anyone noticed the collapse of civilisation as we know it? Even in countries like the UK, where the impact of the GFC has been many times the size of the maximum estimates put forward by economists for the cost of climate stabilization, many observers believe that the threat of imminent communist dictatorship and a return to the Dark Ages may yet be staved off.

As I said in my original piece, it is tempting to dismiss all this as mere hyperbole. But, for delusionists, the only alternative to crazy conspiracy theories is the claim that thousands of professional scientists have fallen prey to errors that can easily be discerned by the average (scientifically untrained, innumerate, information derived from blogs) rightwing pundit. Now that’s really crazy.

My response to Sinclair Davidson’s letter (which is republished here)

Sinclair Davidson claims (Letters, 2 Feb) that I was unable to summon the courage to debate Monckton face-to-face when invited to do so by the prestigious Brisbane Institute. This claim is false, as Davidson knows. As I indicated in the reports on which Davidson relies, I received an invitation from the Brisbane Institute on 12 January. I responded, seeking to determine conditions under which this debate could focus on Monckton’s conspiracy-theoretic claims, rather on scientific questions on which neither of us have any expertise. I also mentioned the invitation on my blog, observing that debates with dishonest antagonists don’t add much to the sum of human knowledge. I then discovered that, on 13 January, and without advising me, the Institute had invited another speaker, who had accepted. This fact was reported on my blog and in Crikey. Davidson has publicly acknowledged that he was aware of it when writing his letter.

Davidson’s dishonesty in this matter only goes to confirm the point made in my article. No credible economist suggests the economic impact of the CPRS will be more than marginal.

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  1. paul walter
    February 5th, 2010 at 00:12 | #1

    Thanks for considered, constructive reply BilB.
    I reckon its the same game with economics and pol economy- slippage thru emphasis on elastic and elusive key terms. Or its because people like Sinclair Davidson know full well what’s being asked, when a person asks “what is the environment?” or “what is the economy?”.
    That’s why I support Alice’s questioning of Davidsons motives, if he be as well-educated as some say. After all, these life and issues are surely treated in good faith, aren’t they?

    Back to the ErnestineGross question asked at#39, “what is the elephant that is ignored?”.
    My answer would be to suggest, the elephant facing you rather than the other way…

  2. Grim
    February 5th, 2010 at 00:31 | #2

    Does it matter, just for the sake of accuracy, that two liberal senators – Judith Troeth and Sue Boyce – did actually cross the floor in the Senate vote on the ETS on 2nd Dec 2009, and that therefore, had the Greens supported the legislation it would have already been passed ?

  3. TerjeP (say tay-a)
    February 5th, 2010 at 07:49 | #3

    Fran – I was not being snide. Others have suggested that John Quiggin was avoiding debate because he was afraid and I was commenting on this. You perhaps missed this context because you have not read the corresponding Catallaxy articles.

    For what it is worth I have not formed the view that John Quiggin was afraid to engage in debate. His reasons for not being in the debate seem perfectly reasonable to me. On the other hand the debating tactics he proposed suggest to me he would not have been a particularily worthwhile choice.

  4. Michael
    February 5th, 2010 at 08:01 | #4

    TerjeP (say tay-a) :
    On the other hand the debating tactics he proposed suggest to me he would not have been a particularily worthwhile choice.

    Some might say the TerjeP doesn’t like the admit when he is wrong. I however I doubt this is try, even though he might drop in a phrase like the one above without elaborating.

  5. Michael
    February 5th, 2010 at 08:03 | #5

    TerjeP (say tay-a) :
    On the other hand the debating tactics he proposed suggest to me he would not have been a particularily worthwhile choice.

    OMG…. lets try that again whilst not trying to do three things at once….
    Some might say that TerjeP doesn’t like to admit when he is wrong. I however doubt this is true, even though he might drop in a phrase like the one above without elaborating.

  6. February 5th, 2010 at 10:52 | #6

    @Alice
    “RMIT isnt exactly known as one of the best universities in this country (where Sinclair davidson got his phd)”

    Third in Victoria, tenth in Australia.

    @Freelander
    “Well they do, you know.”

    What’s your professorship in, then? And where’s mine? Although I understand there has been some degree/title inflation over recent years.

  7. wilful
    February 5th, 2010 at 11:20 | #7

    Alice :
    @wilful
    Wilful – I found your dummy on the floor. Would you like it back? Ernestines posts I find perfectly reasonable.

    Precisely the non-contribution that I anticipated from you Alice. Far more interested in the personalities than the ideas, you are.

  8. Jim Birch
    February 5th, 2010 at 14:44 | #8

    @TerjeP (say tay-a)
    FWIW your comment was clear to me. I wouldn’t have expected you to use the term “scared cat” without irony.

  9. jquiggin
    February 5th, 2010 at 17:02 | #9

    Alice, you are derailing the threads. Please take a break for a week.

  10. John Coochey
    February 5th, 2010 at 17:24 | #10

    So, given the opportunity under a sensibly moderator. will you face him? Yes or no?

  11. John Coochey
    February 5th, 2010 at 17:25 | #11

    Sorry did I miss the Lavoisier response? Where is it?

  12. jquiggin
    February 5th, 2010 at 17:44 | #12

    @John Coochey
    I said, quite some time ago, that I’m happy to debate Monckton’s conspiracy theories, including the latest claim that NASA sabotaged their own satellite. If it’s too late for Monckton, I’m equally happy to debate Plimer on the same points.

    Lavoisier was in the Fin, last Friday I think.

  13. Tony G
    February 5th, 2010 at 18:36 | #13

    JQ Said;

    “Calm down everyone, and don’t feed trolls like Louis Hissink”

    John, with respect, the bulk of your posts are either an exercise in trolling or propaganda for the politburo. It is the custom of such bureaus not to want opposing ideologies promoted. Accordingly, can you spell out this policy of yours more clearly by updating the ‘discussion policy’ to include ‘that no opposing views will be tolerated’.

  14. paul walter
    February 5th, 2010 at 18:41 | #14

    Look, you are all missing the point as to Davidson and his ilk.
    Its not his education that is the issue, as I said above, but its the betrayal in spirit and praxis of that education anf its philosophy, pointing to a credibility damaging character deficiency, that critics like Alice have examined.
    Thinking on it, very much like Socrates against the Sophists
    But had better not comment too much further, esp my feisty friend Alice, but instead in flight recall Aristotle’s flight from Athens, lest it “sin twice against philosophy” (given what had happened to Socrates).

  15. paul walter
    February 5th, 2010 at 18:43 | #15

    Tony G, cant you for just once attempt a intelligent, reality-based response to a thread, focussing on the topic, instead of using a given topic to feed your McCarthyite fantasies?

  16. Freelander
    February 5th, 2010 at 18:47 | #16

    Tony G :
    … no opposing views will be tolerated’.

    Explain the toleration of your post(s) then?

  17. Tony G
    February 5th, 2010 at 18:53 | #17

    Paul @ 15 It is “focussing on the topic”

    “many observers believe that the threat of imminent communist dictatorship and a return to the Dark Ages may yet be staved off. ”

    If we do point out the threat it won’t be “staved off. “

  18. Alice
    February 5th, 2010 at 20:34 | #18

    @Tony G

    “If we do point out the threat it won’t be “staved off. “

    A) On communism: whatever threat existed was “staved off” half century ago. Get over it. The only enemy the liberals have these days is their own lunacy and the voters they have turned off.

    You really are an idiot Tony G.

  19. paul walter
    February 5th, 2010 at 20:49 | #19

    Well, Tony G, it will only be “staved off” if Posse Comitatus and Aryan Nation can discover where the hidden Soviet Divisions hidden in the mountains of Montana are discovered.
    BTW, who exactly is the Weet-Bix you appear to be quoting, re “dark ages”?

  20. Tony G
    February 5th, 2010 at 21:46 | #20

    If Australia cuts emissions by 100%, carbon in the atmosphere will still increase by 1.5ppm pa.

    So, if it the ETS isn’t a commie plot what is its objective?

  21. Tony G
    February 5th, 2010 at 21:52 | #21

    “Dark Ages ”

    The ‘Weet-Bix’ is JQ above post; par 4; last line

  22. Alex
    February 5th, 2010 at 22:04 | #22

    @Tony G
    it’s called irony. You’re not really that dim are you?

  23. Stephen L
    February 5th, 2010 at 22:15 | #23

    Melanie (way back at the start). You’re right that the Greens voting for the ETS would have meant it passed, assuming the two Liberals would still have done so if their votes mattered.

    However, if you look at the proposals Senator Milne put up, they’re far more free market than the ETS itself. The main reason the Greens voted against was that the advice they were given was that once passed in the format proposed it would be very hard to improve for at least ten years, including any tightening of targets. Penny Wong denied this in parliament, but I’ve never seen a detailed response refuting it. There were plenty of other reasons the Greens didn’t like it, most notably the huge compensation to big polluters, but I think all of those might possibly have been swallowed if it looked like something that could be improved with time.

  24. John Coochey
    February 9th, 2010 at 16:03 | #24

    Seems someone is prepared to debate the Big M in Melbourne. Here is your chance Johno, last chance for glory if you dare, I note one of the people who faced him, Readfearn, has now resigned from a job he had had for several years. That must have been a hell of a kicking he got but at least he did the right thing, even his own paper said he lost in “three straight sets”.

  25. jquiggin
    February 9th, 2010 at 16:35 | #25

    I already said I’d debate him on his conspiracy theories. I found out that, as soon as they suckered Barry Brook into debating in my place, the Brisbane Institute went back to the rigged format they offered me. No wonder the pro-science side lost. The fact that loons can win debates when the deck is stacked ought to be familiar to Plimer at least – the creationists cleaned the floor with him back in the 1990s.

    But debating skills don’t matter here. Anyone who believes, as Monckton does , that NASA is sabotaging its own satellites to keep secret the truth about the global conspiracy for communist world government is a loon, and anyone who believes him, as you obviously do, is an idiot.

  26. Tony G
    February 9th, 2010 at 16:47 | #26

    Anybody who is proposing a new great big tax on everything and saying it is going to stop carbon increasing in the atmosphere at the rate 1.5ppm per year is lying, a loon and an idiot.

  27. jquiggin
    February 9th, 2010 at 16:53 | #27

    Tony, I think everyone reading your contributions to this and many previous discussions can tell who is an idiot here. I don’t see any value in taking this further, so I’ll declare this thread closed.

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