Blogospheric opinion has divided on predictable lines over the Queensland Land and Resources Tribunal’s rejection of objections to a new coal mine by environmental groups who wanted offsets for the carbon emissions of the mine. Brickbats have come from Andrew Bartlett, Tim Lambert and Robert Merkel, while Jennifer Marohasy and Andrew Bolt have cheered the Tribunal and its presiding member, President Koppenol.
But this looks awfully like an own goal for the denialists to me.
The environmental groups relied on the IPCC and Stern reports, but the Presiding Member did a little digging on the Internet and came up with the responses recently published in World Economics. These were two papers, one on the science of global warming and one on the economics (there was also a separate piece by Tol and Yohe, to which the comments below do not apply).
I plan a full-length response when I get some free time, but for present purposes its sufficient to observe that the list of authors coincides pretty closely with the promoters of, and witnesses at, the bogus House of Lords inquiry, set up and run by Nigel Lawson, Chancellor of the Exchequer under Margaret Thatcher.
This effort seemed like a modest success at the time, since it was one of the few occasions when a body with an impressive sounding title came down in support of denialism, but it turned out to be a massive strategic error, since it led directly to the establishment of the Stern Review, which not only discredited the climate science denialism being promoted by Lawson, but also challenged the view, supported by a number of prominent economic modellers in the field, that policy responses should incorporate a large preference for current over future generations, and therefore a strong bias against short-term action. Debate over this is continuing, but (in my view at least) the advocates of immediate action have gained the ascendancy.
Having been prosecutor, judge and jury in the case against climate science, Lawson is now appearing as a witness in the appeal against the judgement of the Stern Review. His already weak position is undermined by the inclusion of well-known hacks like Ross McKitrick of the Fraser Institute in the team.
Coming back to the Land and Resources Tribunal, a judge in an ordinary court who made a decision based on stuff he found on the Internet, which had not even been led in evidence, would be lucky to get off with a stern talking to from the Court of Appeal. Certainly, no such judgement could stand, even if the material on which the judge relied stood up to critical scrutiny, as the Lawson-McKitrick piece most certainly does not.
The Tribunal is not a court, but I imagine there must be some sort of review process to respond to such an obvious breach of standard procedure. Even if this decision stands, the reliance of the Tribunal on such a weak reed is hugely problematic for the denialists. The weight of evidence is so strong that future cases fought on the same ground will inevitably be won by environmentalists. A far worse result for environmentalists would have been one that ruled climate change considerations out of court on statutory or procedural grounds.
I’m not convinced that legal actions like this are necessarily the best way to go in achieving a coherent national and global response to climate change. But I’m confident that this will turn out to be a Pyhrric victory for denialism.
Update An interesting aside is that Greg Koppenol’s bio reports that he “appeared as counsel in a large number of cases including some of the most important in Australiaâ€™s history â€“ Mabo (No. 2) and Wik.” I was of course interested to find out what role he played in those cases, and unsurprised to find that he appeared for the state of Queensland against both Eddie Mabo and the Wik people.
The legal tactics employed by the state government throughout the Mabo case were deplorable, including personal attacks on Mabo that were irrelevant to the main legal points at issue, but relied on fomenting division among potential claimants. As we have seen in numerous recent cases, the Queensland legal establishment protects its own, and it’s not surprising to see that Koppenol’s career hasn’t suffered in the slightest from this episode.