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Weekend reflections

September 28th, 2013

It’s time for another weekend reflections, which makes space for longer than usual comments on any topic. Side discussions to sandpits, please.

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  1. Ikonoclast
    September 28th, 2013 at 22:30 | #1

    Re: AGW.

    Why the 5% Uncertainty?

    The IPCC says; “There is now a 95 per cent probability that humans are responsible for global warming.” I have to ask. Where is the 5% uncertainty? I submit that this is a politicised number not a scientific number and that the degree of uncertainty is much less than 5%.

    1. It is 99.9999% certain (or better) that CO2e has risen from the AD 1750 concentration of approx. 278 ppmv to 508.8 ppmv for averaged 2012 data.
    2. It is 99.9999% certain (or better) that human activity emissions have caused this rise.
    3. It is 99.9999% certain (or better) that the general theoretical forcing (greenhouse) theory based on thermodynamics is correct.

    Where is the 5% uncertainty? What other mechanism other than human emissions could be forcing the climate change? Insolation is not a cause. We are currently in an insolation minimum. The El Nino cycle is not a cause. We are currently in a cooling phase of that also. Volcanism, earthquakes, tectonics etc. are not quoted as possible causes in any reliable literature. Is thermodynamic theory itself substantially incomplete? It does not appear so. Certainly a Nobel Prize awaits the person who can prove another forcing mechanism. In the absence of this discovery and consequent Nobel Prize, I adhere to the position that it is even now scientifically certain (99.9999% or better) that human activity is the cause of current global warming.

    If I am wrong, what is the alternative forcing mechanism?

  2. Will
    September 29th, 2013 at 00:15 | #2


    I would bet dollars to doughnuts that it’s nothing more than the uncertainty of dealing with a very noisy series with a relatively small number of data points. There is nothing underhanded going on.

  3. Ikonoclast
    September 29th, 2013 at 06:51 | #3

    Perhaps my claim the number is “politicised” was a mistake as it detracts from my point.

    1. It is certain that global warming is happening.
    2. It is certain that CO2 is rising.
    3. It is certain that human activity has caused the CO2 to rise.

    Therefore, if CO2 is a greenhouse gas, then it is certain that humans are causing this global warming event. This holds true UNLESS the effects of CO2 are highly complex and thus ambiguous AND there is instead another as yet unknown forcing event or phenomenon. I am asking what is this unknown forcing event or events which is being assigned 5% probability (by default) of being the cause of global warming?This unknown forcing event must be adding heat by greater input and/or less escape of heat to/from the biosphere. This is a thermodynamic certainty. Where is this effect coming from?

    It is not;

    1. Increased solar activity (ruled out by IPCC).
    2. La Nina – El Nino weather cycle (ruled out by IPCC).
    3. Long cycle orbital change (currently ruled out by IPCC).

    It is not to my knowledge seriously claimed that the extra heat is from;

    1. Increased volcanism, earhtquakes or plate tectonics; or
    2. Decay of the moons orbit (for example).

    Note, the moon adds energy to the earth system by dragging the tides around the world and the moon’s orbit slowly decays as a result, However, this effect is not new and I believe is miniscule as a heat forcing event for the biosphere.

    So, if all these are ruled out what is the possible mechanism that is being assigned 5% probability of causing global warming? The number of possible causes are not all that great and seemingly all can be studied and ruled out or in. Many are already ruled out. So, I remain unconvinced that there is even 5% uncertainty that current global warming is human generated. I remain of the opinion that the certainty that we are causing it is really of the order of 99.9999%.

    Governments do consult with the IPCC before the final consensus report. It is my belief that pressure from these quarters has turned 99.9999% into 95%. It is a tribute to the integrity of the scientists that they held fast at 95% against immense political and oligopolist pressure. I mean that very honestly and without any irony.

  4. Ken Fabian
    September 29th, 2013 at 08:30 | #4

    Ikonoclast, I agree it’s probably an overly “conservative” response, probably at the insistence of overly conservative governments that are unwilling to sign off unless uncertainties, no matter how inconsequential, are given maximum prominence.

    Closer to home the IPCC report has not prompted our media to ask much in the way of pointed questions of the new Prime Minister and government; in the face of consistent warnings of highly likely damaging harms it seems like failure to take them seriously fails to even be considered news. It seems like actually taking it seriously is what our media is determined to attack as outrageously irresponsible.

    If journalists cannot bring themselves to ask questions, can ordinary citizens circumvent them and ask the questions directly? I seem to recall that MPs are expected to reply and the questions from their constituents – although I’ve gotten replies that came with warnings that they are not to be copied or disseminated in any way. TheConversation had a “Ten questions to ask your MP” article. I liked the idea but thought the questions should be less about challenging their knowledge of the climate problem and more about challenging them on their ethical responsibility to be as well informed as possible on behalf of their constituents on an issue of this magnitude and importance. And that it is a responsibility that they should be reminded should not be passed over to a party machine that has no requirement to be well informed or to be honest about it.

    CONSCIENCE VOTES ON CLIMATE PLEASE !! Party politics and MP’s putting loyalty to party ahead of their personal responsibilities is preventing Parliament acting responsibly.

  5. Ikonoclast
    September 29th, 2013 at 09:04 | #5

    Well, I am firmly of the opinion that actions count not words when it comes to ethical, social and political issues. I am also a materialist and empiricist. Real quantities of mass and energy are what counts in the final analysis. The rest is bumpf.

    So what counts if where the CO2 count is going. And it is going up and up. Every year we hit a new high in emissions except maybe for years of large economic downturn like the GFC. So, nothing will stop CO2 rises except an economy crash or the exhaustion of fossil fuels. This crash is coming via limits to growth and resource limits but probably not soon enough to stop serious, damaging climate change which is already underway.

    I assign a 0.0001% probability to the chances of humans avoiding global civilizational collapse (due to resource depletion and climate change) in the next 100 years.

  6. Donald Oats
    September 29th, 2013 at 09:25 | #6

    The uncertainty reflects a range of factors, not any particular one. Some scientists dispute aspects of the general theory that leads to the conclusion that humanity is the largest attributive factor to AGW, via our GHG emissions, land use, agriculture, urbanising the environment, causing plant and animal extinctions, etc. Idiosyncratic aspects of the highly nonlinear climate system make it difficult to claim with certainty that the sole cause of AGW as observed, is due only to the causes we’ve identified so far.

    Your point is well taken though: given what we believe we know about the climate system to date, it is exceedingly difficult to be anything but virtually certain of the GHG, the increases of atmospheric and oceanic CO2 (since 1750 at least) being overwhelmingly due to humanity’s actions, and on how the system responds over the long term to such changes.

    It is also virtually certain that changes in solar power output can be eliminated from being an actual cause of AGW over the modern industrial period, and since solar output has declined to a relative minimum over the last several years, it is not an immediate contributor to any higher than usual annual temperaturres of the previous decade or so.

    Finally, it is virtually certain that the oceans absorb a considerable amount of heat energy, and may return it in bursts to the atmosphere, via such effects as el Nino. The main questions still being resolved centre around just how much of the ocean is active as a heat reservoir on a given time scale. On short time scales, there is a limit as to how deep an influx of heat can penetrate; on longer time scales, heat can in principle penetrate much further down, but how much and by what mechanisms (mixing of water layers, conductive processes, convective processes, density changes, etc) is yet to be completely established.

    In short, apart from a handful of actual climate scientists, the only real disputes about uncertainty come from those whose brief is to sow confusion among the public. Since they are paid to do this, and aren’t active contributors to the research on climate science, they are immaterial to quantifying the level of uncertainty.

    If a poll is taken as to how climate scientists see it, the level of uncertainty on the points you raise, Ikonoclast, is as you point out, much less than 5%. Of course, explaining that the scientists are providing what is in effect a Bayesian probability, isn’t going to convince the public that a poll is in any sense “scientific”, but it does establish what the experts think of the available evidence, one way or another.

    Judith Curry is worth mentioning, if only to say that she is quoted in the media a lot, mainly because she argues that the scientists are under-estimating the level of uncertainty because they have a bias towards believing AGW to be true. Trouble is, Curry is guilty there of not disentangling cause and effect: assuming that AGW is true, what would you expect a climate scientist to believe when confronted with the data? Well, you would expect them to be damn sure that the data was demonstrating the effect, once sufficient data and theory have been developed. In other words, if something is true, and the evidence is exceptionally strong in supporting that it is true, a scientist studying that phenomenon is very likely to conclude it is true.

    What Curry is arguing is that if we assume that scientists think AGW is true then the fact that so many scientists rate the likelihood of it as 95% or higher, is evidence that scientists are biased.

    The full statement should be “If we assume that scientists think AGW is true given that they think the evidence supports it then the fact that so many scientists rate the likelihood of it as 95% or higher, is evidence that scientists are biased.”

    With the added clause, it is obvious that this can only be very weak evidence of bias, if it is evidence at all. People who have good reason to think something is true, generally think that it is true! Given everyone you’ll meet will expect the sun to rise tomorrow—for good reason—we don’t conclude that they suffer from confirmation bias, do we? Or, to be more specific, if we do recognise confirmation bias, it is of a trivial kind, in the sense that the evidence of the sun rising tomorrow is so compelling, any level of confirmation bias has little actual impact upon a scientist’s assessment that the sun will rise tomorrow.

    Judith Curry’s latest opinions in The Australian are simply the “U” in “FUD.”

  7. Donald Oats
    September 29th, 2013 at 09:28 | #7

    Er, I forgot to link the previous comment to Ikonoclast’s.
    Apologies, if that makes it a bit confusing, out of context.

  8. Donald Oats
    September 29th, 2013 at 10:01 | #8

    Because I move around a bit, I use a mobile as my internet connection. At my current premises in the CBD, it runs quite slow at times. When it’s running slow like now, if I look at the networks detectable nearby, it numbers roughly 30 at this moment in time. We are awash with wireless network connections.

    If the plan to relieve us of FTTP goes through, it is predictable that even more wireless networks will pop up—even with a new gen of mobile network, will wireless in the cities cope with the demand, or will people effectivley be throttled back from what they really want to use? Certainly, I am being throttled now, but have no other connection option.

  9. Hermit
    September 29th, 2013 at 11:08 | #9

    I see Bill Shorten wants to increase the number of gays and lesbians in parliament. I’d make it gays, lesbians, CGLs and that other oppressed minority left handed stamp collectors. CGL? Can’t-get-laid. Given the incumbent mob I’d like to see a new category of politician… those addressing relevant issues.

  10. Will
    September 29th, 2013 at 11:59 | #10

    Hermit :
    I see Bill Shorten wants to increase the number of gays and lesbians in parliament. I’d make it gays, lesbians, CGLs and that other oppressed minority left handed stamp collectors. CGL? Can’t-get-laid. Given the incumbent mob I’d like to see a new category of politician… those addressing relevant issues.

    I’m all for encouraging the proportion of “left-handed stamp collectors” in politics, but I can’t seem to find any instance in which a LHSC was victimised to the degree of abduction, rape, being beaten to death and left hanging on a fence. Or maybe they were chained to a car and driven around to be dragged to death on the road?

    Don’t be such a prick.

  11. Felix Alexander
    September 29th, 2013 at 12:07 | #11

    My understanding is that in the 2007 report the level of certainty was 90 per cent. What happened in the past six years that halved the level of uncertainty? These numbers really do seem like they’ve been pulled out of someone’s behind to fulfil some need other than an accurate representation of the truth.

    However at the point I’m quite convinced that anyone who’s looking at government to be constructive problem solvers is deluded (in this or any other matter); it’s unlikely they’ll ever have both the power and inclination to do anything. Consequently we need to focus our attention on getting them not to stand in the way, and not to actively and irresponsibly subsidise problematic industries, development patterns etc.

  12. September 29th, 2013 at 12:59 | #12

    Once upon a time the police in a city noticed that the murder rate was increasing and they also noticed that murders appeared to be correlated with a man called Mack the Knife visting the city. At first they weren’t sure if he was responsible or not, after all the data was noisy and it could just be chance that more murders happened when he was in town. So the police sat back and did nothing other than gather more information for a statistical analysis. Eventually, in time, they became more than 95% certain that Mack the Knife was responsible for most or all of the increase in the murder rate.

    And in addition to the statisical analysis that was performed there were also hundreds of eye witnesses who saw Mack the Knife stab, shoot, strangle, and blow up people, a vast quantity of forensic evidence tying Mack the knife to murders, and video footage of Mack the Knife appearing on national TV and saying, “Haha! I kill people and no one does anything about it!” But all of this was not relevent to a proper statistical analysis. Now it might seem like to would make sense to take into account all this additional evidence, but if they had Mack’s lawyers and friends and family would never have shut up about it.

  13. Peter T
    September 29th, 2013 at 21:20 | #13

    If I understand the matter correctly, scientists usually give levels of certainty in 5% increments. Where the series is noisy and the signal (though constant) relatively small, it takes a longish run of date to be sure that any effect is not due to chance. In climate science, 30 years is thought enough to validate a trend. So the first IPCC said, roughly, given the physics and our understanding of the system, we are 90% confident that the observed rise is not due to chance. Now, after 30 years, they are saying – our confidence level has risen, to above 95% (note – it could be 99% – there is always some possibility that any long trend is due to chance – just as there is a chance that a coin will land heads 100 times in a row). Of course, as the system moves further outside the parameters of the last 10,000 years, the possibility of pure chance diminishes rapidly. No doubt as the sea closes over them the last deniers will reluctantly concede that it was not just a run of bad luck.

  14. James
    September 29th, 2013 at 23:40 | #14

    Unfortunately the $85billion per month succour line for the 1%, the dole for the banks comes under the Federal Reserve’s ambit and will not be affected by the looming US federal shutdown. How’s that for a fortuitous non-conspiracy, the rich get to keep their unearned windfall, and the 99% get shafted. Only in the US.

  15. BilB
    September 30th, 2013 at 11:22 | #15

    I’d like someone to point out the 5% uncertainty here:


    and here:

  16. BilB
    September 30th, 2013 at 11:25 | #16

    And here for my personal favourite piece of highly doubtfull data:

  17. BilB
    September 30th, 2013 at 11:35 | #17

    Here is an (exaggerated) advertisement for RockWare Products but I am left wondering in what year TerjeP’s house joins the Venise set:

  18. Nathan
    September 30th, 2013 at 14:09 | #18

    What the IPCC actually said was that there is now a 95 per cent probability that humans are responsible for more than half of the observed global warming. In other words the number is the confidence that human carbon emissions are responsible for more than half of the warming we have seen. Nonetheless this of course means that there’s still quite a large probability that we are responsible for basically all the observed warming. It’s quite accessibly explained in the report itself.

  19. Will
    October 1st, 2013 at 09:46 | #19

    Congratulations to the economic terrorists Republican Party who decided that the best way to foster economic growth was to………………threaten to renege on the governments debt! What a totally brilliant strategy! I’m sure that literally millions of people who don’t know if they will receive an ongoing paycheque will be vibrant, healthy consumers and investors!1!!!!!!!!!!111!

  20. BilB
    October 1st, 2013 at 09:54 | #20

    A couple of interesting articles from the last days of The Oil Drum



  21. Hermit
    October 1st, 2013 at 13:59 | #21

    Apparently Shorto wants increased immigration. You’d think last year’s intake supposedly of 400,000 on top of 23m was plenty for a country with a fragile environment. We’re not told what Albo thinks but we know he doesn’t like nuclear power. Recall that Rudd was a Big Australia person. I suspect that remark may have been one of the triggers for the original Gillard coup. Gillard if I recall said something to the effect Australia had enough people and I suspect 700,000 unemployed agree. To recap the numbers population 23.2m, annual immigration 0.4m, job seeking 0.7m. My inclination would be to find jobs for most of the .7 and work out how to be less coal dependent before taking on any more.

  22. Tim Macknay
    October 1st, 2013 at 14:01 | #22

    Jerome a Paris was one of the more worthwhile commentators on The Oil Drum. Nate Hagens, not so much.

  23. Jim Rose
    October 1st, 2013 at 18:00 | #23

    Large numbers of British job stayers experience nominal wage cuts, from a low of 5% in 1979 to a high of 24% in 2009 based on payroll records collected in the new earnings survey.

    From 1993, when the inflation rate has been about 3 percent), the nominal wage cuts are in the neighbourhood of 20 percent of workers in the same job 12-months ago.
    From http://www.frbatlanta.org/documents/news/conferences/13employment_elsby.pdf

    these outcomes are strictly forbidden by old keynesian macroeconomics, if it is to work.

  24. Donald Oats
    October 2nd, 2013 at 00:20 | #24


    They really don’t get it, when it comes to immigration. Why on Earth are we intent on massively increasing our population each year? All it does is drive house prices out of range of the workers that Labor supposedly represent. Good strategy, that.

  25. Fran Barlow
    October 2nd, 2013 at 06:56 | #25

    @Donald Oats

    Why on Earth are we intent on massively increasing our population each year?

    Cite? I’ve not heard of anyone asserting that.

    All it does is drive house prices out of range of the workers that Labor supposedly represent. Good strategy, that.

    It need not, even were Australia massively increasing its population each year. You just need to build more housing.

    Compelling tighter ratios between equity and loans and borrowing to income would cap real increases as well.

  26. rog
    October 2nd, 2013 at 07:10 | #26

    Records for Maitland indicate that September was the hottest, by 2 degrees

    Anthony Cornelius from Weather Watch said the increase in temperature had been out of the ordinary.

    “To be two above the old mark is certainly a lot,” he said.

    “Usually when the hottest and coldest months are reached it is by 0.1 of a degree, so to be an entire two degrees is quite ­substantial.

    In an online poll >60% of readers said that this was not caused by climate change.

  27. Hermit
    October 2nd, 2013 at 07:49 | #27

    In my opinion both Indonesia and Australia are environmental grubs seemingly in a race to outdo each other. The Indos are major coal user/exporters like us but their land clearing is far worse, now to be spread to West Papua. Having developed a taste for dirty energy they now apparently need our land to supply them red meat.

    I am a bit unnerved by Abbott’s suggestion that the ABC inflamed relations by broadcasting the animal cruelty story. Recall abattoir workers flailing chains in the faces of live animals and slashing their leg tendons to make them more manageable. Abbott seems to agree with those who think Australia must apologise for even mentioning it. I detect other hints of a desire to hobble the ABC. Perhaps News Ltd could get the contract as the national brooadcaster. This is all heading in the wrong direction.

  28. October 2nd, 2013 at 08:23 | #28

    @Tim Macknay

    What’s your complaint with Nate Hagens?

    I always liked his writing and thought that last post was compelling.

  29. Tim Macknay
    October 2nd, 2013 at 11:01 | #29

    Megan, I always found Hagens’ work, like Gail Tverberg’s, tended to come across more as professions of faith rather than as analysis. As an escapee from the world of finance, Hagens’ efforts had the feel of those of a religious convert. The article linked by BilB has the same characteristics, with its emphasis on the notions that wealth is really energy and that technology is irrelevant, and its apparent blindness to non-fossil fuel sources of energy.

  30. October 2nd, 2013 at 12:28 | #30

    I think that characterisation is an oversimplification of the (admittedly long) essay.

    Surely he is correct (or mostly correct) on energy:

    Our trajectory from using sources like biomass and draft animals, to wind and water power, to fossil fuels and electricity has enabled large increases in per capita output because of increases in the quantity of fuel available to produce non-energy goods. This transition to higher energy gain fuels also enabled social and economic diversification as less of our available energy was needed for the energy securing process, thereby diverting more energy towards non-extractive activities. The bottom of the human trophic pyramid is energy, about 90% of which is currently in the form of fossil carbon. Every single good, service or transaction that contributes to our GDP requires some energy input as a prerequisite. There are no exceptions.

    And on technology:

    Technology acts as an enabler, both by inventing new and creative ways to convert primary energy into (useful?) activities and goods for human consumption and, occasionally, by making us use or extract primary energy in more efficient ways.

    On money/credit/debt/’wealth’:

    But in the long run, accelerating credit creation obscures the engine of the whole enterprise – the ‘burning of the energy’. Credit cannot create energy, but it does allow continued energy extraction and much (needed) higher prices than were credit unavailable. At some point in the past 40 years we crossed a threshold of ‘not enough money’ in the system to ‘not enough cheap energy’ in the system, which in turn necessitated even more money. After this point, new credit increasingly added gross energy masking declines in our true cost of capital (net energy/EROI).

    And the tie-in between it all:

    Some resource economists have claimed that the relationship between energy and the economy decoupled starting in the 1970s, but what happened was just an outsourcing of the ‘heavy lifting’ of industrial processes to cheaper locations. If one includes energy transfers embedded in finished goods and imports there isn’t a single country in the world that shows a disconnect between energy use and GDP. Energy it turns out, not dollars, is what we have to budget and spend. Quite simply, energy is the ability to do work.

    I’ve just cut small bits out of his 6000+ word (half) essay but I think he’s pretty right.

    I wasn’t so keen on Gail’s stuff, either, but maybe for slightly different reasons.

  31. Tim Macknay
    October 2nd, 2013 at 13:42 | #31

    I’m not particularly inclined to get into a discussion about specific aspects of Hagens’ article. Certainly there are some observations in it that are true and others that are very dubious. The view that wealth is really energy (which is expressed in your last quote) is, IMHO, a dogma that doesn’t withstand serious analysis. That reinforces my overall impression of Hagens’ articles on The Oil Drum.

    But we already knew that you and I disagree about the significance of peak oil, so it’s not surprising that we have different views of Hagens.

  32. October 2nd, 2013 at 14:51 | #32

    @Tim Macknay

    That’s fine, I was interested to hear why you didn’t think much of his writing.

    I’m not sure he argues “wealth is really energy”. “Wealth” is obviously money.

    As you note, it seems we disagree about the significance of the situation.

  33. Tim Macknay
    October 2nd, 2013 at 15:49 | #33


    I’m not sure he argues “wealth is really energy”.

    I agree he doesn’t argue it, per se, but I think it’s an implicit assumption he makes.

  34. October 2nd, 2013 at 17:29 | #34

    @Tim Macknay

    He does link “money” (credit/debt etc..) to “energy”, such as:

    Of the broad aggregate money in existence in the US of around $60 trillion, only about $1 trillion is physical currency. The rest can be considered, ‘debt’, a claim of some sort (corporate, household, municipal, government, etc.) If cash is a claim on energy and resources, adding debt (from a position of no debt) becomes a claim on future energy and resources.

    It seems we are at odds as to whether he means “wealth is really energy”.

    I’d be genuinely interested in anyone else’s take on the essay (link at BilB’s comment above).

  35. Tim Macknay
    October 2nd, 2013 at 18:52 | #35


    It seems we are at odds as to whether he means “wealth is really energy”.

    Well, since you said (implying that Hagens meant) ” ‘wealth’ is obviously money”, and then went on to say “he does link ‘money’ (credit/debt etc..) to ‘energy’ ” and included a quote where Hagens says “if cash is a claim on energy and resources…”, it kinds of seems that you do agree that he means “wealth is really energy”. But I admit I’m playing games a bit here. 🙂

    I do think that assumption is implicit in the writings of Hagens and a number of other writers on The Oil Drum though. It’s a sort of variation on the old labour theory of value from classical economics, substituting “energy” for “labour”.

    I, too, would welcome other perspectives on it.

  36. October 2nd, 2013 at 19:48 | #36

    @Tim Macknay

    I don’t think he mentions “wealth”.

    That quote: “‘wealth’ is obviously money” was simply my observation, I didn’t mean to attribute it to him.

    I was trying to be clear that I see a difference between the idea: “wealth is really energy”, and his points about “money/debt/credit”, “energy” and “technology”.

  37. rog
    October 2nd, 2013 at 20:55 | #37

    BOM announce that the nation was +2degrees hotter than average for September. For the time being BOM use the phrase “climate change”

  38. October 2nd, 2013 at 21:51 | #38

    @Tim Macknay

    Maybe you could attack it from another angle.

    Leaving aside definitions of terms like value, money, credit, debt and wealth: Do you hold that energy is irrelevant? Or is your argument with Hagens ideas more nuanced than that?

  39. Tim Macknay
    October 2nd, 2013 at 21:52 | #39

    Sorry. Misinterpretation on my part.

  40. Tim Macknay
    October 2nd, 2013 at 21:56 | #40

    No, I don’t think energy is irrelevant. I hope nothing I said gave that impression.

  41. Tim Macknay
    October 2nd, 2013 at 21:57 | #41

    Presumably Andrew Bolt will shortly call for BOM to be defunded or ideologically cleansed.

  42. jon frankis
    October 2nd, 2013 at 22:03 | #42

    Rog, that BoM page on the number of extreme temp records breaking across Australia since last year is statistically stunning.

  43. Ikonoclast
    October 3rd, 2013 at 07:19 | #43

    Re the debate about energy and economics. I think it is a very useful exercise in the analysis of modern political economy and economics to ignore all pronouncements by humans (be they idelogical or theoretical) and simply measure physical quantities of matter and energy and see where the trends are going.

    For example, the enormous amount of debate and the endless “agreements” about greenhouse gas emissions, emissions trading and so on can all be ignored. Measure the physical quantities of CO2 emissions and see what is happening. They are going up and up still. Thus all the debate, all the ideals, all the good intentions, all the clever schemes of abatement mean exactly and precisely nothing. The real quantities keep on going up.

    Similarly for energy consumption, as our economy has grown and our “wealth” has grown this has been tied to an exponential increase in energy use and other material resource use. Materials substitution (e.g. glass or plastic optical fibre for copper for transmitting data) can occur as can improvements in energy efficiency. However, the Jevons effect or Jevons Paradox (an empirically obervable phenomenon) ensures that efficiency improvements only lead to increased consumption in any case. This appears to be a “law” of both biological and capitalistic origin.

    Thus, no matter what we attempt politically or say or promise, our economy keeps growing exponentially as does the damage it is doing to the environment. So everything humans say and promise and agree to do is worthless data of zero predictive value. What they actually do materially and are doing to the world materially is the only data worth analysing. The “laws” of biology and of capitalism, if I can call them that, do and will operate inexorably.

    A fundamental law of the life of reproducing populations is the tendency to exponential growth in the absence of external constraints. Capitalism has also been constructed as an endless growth system. Clearly, earlier systems such as Feudalism were also essentially endless growth systems until checked or terminated by external factors (e.g. checked by the plague or lack of new land) or transformed by revolution into some new endless growth system. The endless growth character of all economic systems to date is a secondary, dependent characteristic. The primary, determining characteristic is the biological drive for endless growth of population.

    Human intelligence and conscious (good) intention are real actors, or perhaps I should say real agents, but they are weak compared to our primary drives. Our primary drives control most of our behaviour and most individual and collective outcomes. Intelligence arrives late on the scene of the accident or crime and tries to make sense of what happened.

    What we are doing to the biosphere is both an accident and a crime.

  44. Hermit
    October 3rd, 2013 at 07:59 | #44

    We have a snowball’s chance of reducing emissions while our population growth remains as strong. It turns out recent immigration has been about 200,000 a year for permanent settlers and double or more that of temporaries such as students and s457. According to Bob Birrell up to 40% of temporaries settle then bring out family members. Our politicians who no doubt want to be the captain of a big ship think this is all great. If each new citizen causes 20 tonnes of emissions, needs 0.9 megalitres of water plus health services, housing, education, roads etc then we are in a permanent struggle to cope.

    Abbott is strangely silent on this. We know Shorten wants more people and I think we can assume the Palmer United Party newbies believe in perpetual growth taking their cues from the boss. Whenever this is discussed the result is inconclusive but the numbers keep growing regardless.

  45. Ikonoclast
    October 3rd, 2013 at 08:15 | #45


    It is pretty much an inexorable biological law as I said. The one ray of hope was the emergent phenomenon of low birth rates correlating with the education and emancipation of women. I say “was” because it is now too late for this phenomenon to take hold on a world wide basis. It is too late because there are too few resources left to complete the transitions necessary to enable the education and emancipation of all women globally, at least on the capitalistic model. This is not to say that such emancipation could not occur in another way but even if it did now, it is already too late. Irreparable damage has already been to the biosphere. I mean irreparable damage on any human civilizational timsecale. The biosphere may self-repair and correct on a much longer timescale but by the time it does the species homo sapiens will be long extinct.

  46. Donald Oats
    October 3rd, 2013 at 12:59 | #46

    @Fran Barlow
    During 2010, Kevin Rudd was interviewed by Kerry O’Brien about his notion of a “big Australia”, and while Rudd was not explicitly endorsing it, he believed that current projections, based on current and historical immigration rates and fertility rates, would imply a population of 36 million within 40 years. At the time of the speech, Rudd quoted the current population of Australia as 21 million. Since then, it has reached 23.24 million.

    The Australian Bureau of Statistics “Population Clock” feature has the following information:

    Population clock

    On 3 October 2013 at 12:46:09 PM (Canberra time), the resident population of Australia is projected to be: 23,234,637

    This projection is based on the estimated resident population at 31 March 2013 and assumes growth since then of:
    one birth every 1 minute and 42 seconds,
    one death every 3 minutes and 31 seconds ,
    a net gain of one international migration every 2 minutes and 12 seconds, leading to
    an overall total population increase of one person every 1 minute and 19 seconds .

    In that same interview, they discuss property developer’s wishes:

    But we featured a developer named Harry Triguboff who was one of Australia’s of not Australia’s biggest apartment builders – developers. It’s pretty clear to see where he’s coming from. He wants 100 million people in this country.

    It is worth reading the transcript of the interview with Harry and others, from 2010.

    There are plenty of people who want a “big Australia”, or who for various reasons, think we should have rapid population growth. Now, it is obviously a matter of opinion as to what is rapid and what is not, but personally, a growth rate of 250,000 to 500,000 people per annum is way too large, in my opinion. Howard’s baby bonus also saw a jump in the birth rate, so it is arguable that he also supported higher growth rates for Australia.

  47. Mel
    October 3rd, 2013 at 15:43 | #47


    Where is the 5% uncertainty?

    Come on mate, this is elementary stuff- unknown unknowns. Look at the lit on risk assessment.. Plus the AGW theory depends on a cascade of positive feedbacks.

    Only God or a fool he thinks he is God would use an estimate of 99.9999% for anything that involves any element of complexity.

  48. Jim Rose
    October 3rd, 2013 at 20:31 | #48

    Where to for the green vote. 80% of their votes are from the ALP. As labor recovers, the green vote well fall furthur.

  49. October 4th, 2013 at 15:07 | #49

    Hermit, you wrote, “We have a snowball’s chance of reducing emissions while our population growth remains as strong.” Actually, Australia has done quite well in reducing emissions from its electricity sector. Greenhouse gas emissions are down over 16% from their 2008 peak:


  50. Hermit
    October 4th, 2013 at 15:29 | #50

    @Ronald Brak
    While SA’s emissions cuts are commendable the flip side is high power prices and a possible manufacturing exodus. The whole country cut power section emissions about 7% in the last measured year and about 1% for all emissions including cement and transport. The Playford station which closed was small compared to behemoths like Hazelwood in Victoria and I note beefed up SA-Vic transmission will enable brown coal power import as well as wind power export.

    All this will be put in the shade when Moomba gas goes to Gladstone Qld not Adelaide. SA uses more than 40% gas fired generation the flexibility of which enables high penetration wind. However once LNG is exported from eastern Australia SA will have to pay export parity price. The website This is Power opines that SA retail power prices will rise 25% but I suspect more like 15%. A year ago SA had the third highest power prices after Denmark and Germany. When Holden skip town it’s hard to see any other big manufacturer moving in.

  51. Tim Macknay
    October 4th, 2013 at 15:53 | #51

    According to the ABS, Australia added 238,300 people to its population in the year to March 2013. If the country managed to reduce overall emissions by 1% during that time, with a pretty modest mix of emissions-reduction policies, then your claim that “we have a snowball’s chance [in Hell] of reducing emissions while our population growth remains as strong” is clearly wrong.

    OTOH, we probably do have a snowball’s chance in hell of reducing emissions while the Abbott government is in power.

  52. October 4th, 2013 at 16:11 | #52

    Hermit, thanks to wind and solar South Australia’s wholesale electricity prices have been decreasing:


  53. Hermit
    October 4th, 2013 at 18:42 | #53

    Re wholesale power prices I speculate any price drop will be less than the subsidy. For windpower the LGC is now around 3.5c per kwh. For example discount 1.5c and still get paid an extra 2c net . It’s the retail price that matters.

    Actually the 1% emissions drop is from 2000-2012 without looking them up I think the numbers were 558 Mt net CO2e and 552 Mt in either year. The 2012 nontrivial emissions drop from the electricity sector may have had several one off contributing factors. These include the closure of Kurri Kurri smelter, the flooding of open cut mines both black and brown coal. the price effect of increased network charges (the biggie) as well as the RET and carbon tax, the increase in wind power and the attractive offers (net capex and FiT) for uptake of residential PV. Some of those factors won’t be replicated easily. Some electricity users may now have cut all they can.

    FWIW I predict Direct Action will never really get of the ground despite Hunt’s unseeming haste to do a wrecking job on the existing policy. Barring recession I think our emissions may flatline or even increase as they have in Germany. Our 1-2% permanent population growth makes it even harder.

  54. Tim Macknay
    October 4th, 2013 at 19:13 | #54

    Actually the 1% emissions drop is from 2000-2012 without looking them up I think the numbers were 558 Mt net CO2e and 552 Mt in either year.

    Although, according to NGGI data, national emissions rose around 5% between 2000 and circa 2006, and have therefore declined by approximately 6% in the last 7 years. It is certainly true that most of this decline can be accounted for by economic factors, including the impacts of the GFC, high fuel prices and the offshoring of manufacturing, rather than emission reduction policies.

    The former Department of Climate Change agreed with your prediction that emissions would flatline or increase – it didn’t expect emissions to get on a downward trajectory until after 2020 (excluding the use of overseas offsets).

    I agree that a growing population makes reducing emissions harder (it makes dealing with every environmental problem harder). I just didn’t agree with the implication that it made it impossible.

  55. Jim Rose
    October 4th, 2013 at 19:15 | #55

    No one over 70 can be sent to prison in italy! Who passed this law?

  56. October 5th, 2013 at 13:01 | #56

    If gas prices are about to go up, Hermit, then it’s very fortunate that South Australia has installed so much wind and solar capacity. And an increase in gas prices will of course result in more wind and solar capacity being built.

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