Another own goal for the denialists?

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 Australia’s history – 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.

141 thoughts on “Another own goal for the denialists?

  1. John Q: The stations that the IPCC talks about were either homogenous or homogenized — that is, they either did not show an urban heat island effect, or the urban heat island effect was removed from the series before they entered into the database.

    As I said, I worked with these data and the people who prepared them.

    It is quite wrong to conclude from the above that there is no urban heat island effect. Your quote supports the assertion that the urban heat island effect is no explanation for the observed global warming.

  2. Well, we seem to have reached agreement somehow, since my opening statement on the topic (at #102) was

    The urban heat island effect is well known, but the claim that it generates biases in measured global warming is false.

  3. Heads Up Denialists Fight Back

    The Great Global Warming Swindle!!

    UK’s Channel Four looking to do shock jock anti-science -rating must be falling-& will probably do a deal with Fox News for fair and balanced news in near future.

    http://www.celsias.com/blog/2007/03/11/the-great-global-warming-swindle/

    You can watch it on http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=9005566792811497638

    Looks like same old same old but with packaging
    Maybe they can have a go at claiming the 10 grand from Exxon

  4. Richard Tol: “Chris O: For the actual message, see #117. John Q just tried to distract attention from this inconvenient fact” in #102.

    He must be prescient.

  5. Professor Richard Tol,

    Back on planet earth, this is what Tim Curtain actually said: due to its assertion of an urban heat island effect, the paper in Nature can be ignored, because, according to Professor Quiggin, there is no such thing and, also according to him, one error means you can ignore the paper (except in that his was notable in its tedious intonation).

    In other words, he made an unequivocally false, asinine and alltogether characteristic statement. So naturally I am astounded by powers of revisionism that go so far as having JQ ‘ducking’ the eminent Curtain’s point. Seeing as we’ve finally touched on your area of expertise, I figure you could ‘explain’ to me what Tim meant by this letter to the FT which is proudly posted to his website:

    LETTER TO THE EDITOR – Net change in emissions after ‘successful’ trade: zero.
    16 June 2006

    Sir, Stavros Dimas, the European commissioner for the environment, was, as to be expected, unctuously bland when he claimed that trading volume in the European Union’s emissions trading scheme in 2005, at Euros 5bn, demonstrates “success” (“Europe’s emissions trading is a model for the world”, June 8). But apparently a full column of the Financial Times left him no space to inform us of how large a reduction in CO emissions this produced.

    Anyone with knowledge of stock exchange trading knows that for every buyer there has to be a seller, and that therefore Mr Dimas’ statistic means no more than that Euros 2.5bn of emissions were saved and sold, and that an extra Euros 2.5bn of emissions were allowed from that saving, for a net change in emissions of precisely zero.

    Tim Curtin
    Emeritus Faculty
    Australian National University

    I was as embarrassed reading that as I am watching anyone publicly make a fool of themselves, but at least relieved that America isn’t the only country in possession of economics faculty that don’t know a thing about economics. But perhaps I’m missing the underlying subtlety? Have at it Doc.

  6. Majorajam, my anonymous friend, trade value does not define environmental success, or does it? Dimas could have said how much emissions were saved, but that is embarrassingly close to zero, or he could have said how much money was saved by emissions trade, but the Commission does not have a clue, so Dimas opts for a meaningless statement instead. Not that this has anything to do with the urban heat island effect.

  7. You’ve outdone yourself there Tol. Indeed, Dimas makes a largely meaningless statement (except in that a market for carbon emissions is a necessary milestone along the road to climate friendly policy, albeit the easiest). He would probably prefer to make a more meaningful statement about the economic impact of the trading except that, well, it appears he’s not given to making false statements, (or perhaps just insufficiently ignorant). Tim on the other hand knows no such boundary, (on either count), so his is meaningful and meaningfully false statement. Little wonder then that you’re so enamored of the man.

  8. Majorajam, earlier, you admitted to being a US politician, and then immediately withdrew that admission. I am fairly certain now that you are a politician. Only a politician would claim that politicians are not given to making false statement.

  9. Every man has the right to speak his mind, so I copied Tim Curtin’s words from Deltoid.

    John Quiggin has his own claims to be judged The Most Deluded, not only in regard to his self-estimation, but also on an issue as simple as the well attested urban heat island effect (UHI). He admits now that it exists, but claims that it is of no consequence because when global surface temperature series are adjusted by removing urban temperatures, a rising trend remains. What he cannot seem to grasp is that the same trend evident from rural weather stations when applied to urban areas necessarily applies to a higher base temperature, and so reaches the IPCC “targets” for 2100 much sooner than rural areas will.
    That means that the world’s cities will suffer sooner and more severely from many of the claimed negative effects of global warming, even though life expectancy and all other social indicators tend to be higher – and exposure to diseases like malaria tends to be lower – in urban than in rural areas.
    Quiggin also misses the rather stark policy implications of higher levels of warming in urban areas. As these are due not to CO2 but to the heat generated by economic activity of all kinds, including computers and air conditioners, that heat will not be affected by cuts in CO2 emissions arising from switching to carbon-free power sources, whether nuclear or solar etc. That after all is why Greens like Quiggin do not countenance replacing coal by nuclear, as knowing that neither can be substituted by solar etc for base load, their real motivation is to return us to green contemplation in an energy-free Arcadia.
    Quiggin is additionally deluded when he asserts that the rural and urban warming trends are the same. Studies both in England and Australia show that in fact urban areas are warming faster than the “global” (actually rural temperatures that exclude the urban), for example, the Hadley Centre’s Parker & Horton (August 2004) show that Oxford’s temperature series eventually had to be excluded from its series for central England, as the adjustment needed INCREASED from minus 0.1-0.2 degrees F from 1960 to 1973, to minus 0.2C for 1974-2003.
    Similarly a recent Australian study of temperature trends in three small Victorian towns and Melbourne related the maximum UHI effect at the centre of a town over grass to population via a regression equation. The urban-rural temperature difference was found to increase with increasing population via the equation. (Urban heat island features of southeast Australian towns, Torok, Simon J., Morris, Christopher J.G., Skinner, C., Plummer, N. 2001 , Australian Meteorological Magazine. Vol. 50, no. 1, March 2001. pp. 1-13).
    So sadly, drastic cuts in GHG emissions are not going to have much if any impact on our warming cities, which now account for more than half of the world’s population, but those cuts will very likely, by cooling the countryside, reverse the remarkable gains in agricultural productivity since 1970 that are at least partly due to rural warming (especially in the northern hemisphere).
    Thus Quiggin’s hero Nicholas Stern is also a great delusionist, not least because while a true believer in the greenhouse effect on climate, he goes to great lengths to claim that either (1) there is no greenhouse effect on agricultural yields, or (2) if there is, it has already reached its limits. So why do the Dutch still build greenhouses on such a vast scale?

  10. #135: Still guessing your identity, but your name and language suggest the Indian subcontinent. Earlier, you displayed unfamiliarity with the story of the Wizard of Oz. Now, you got your trolls wrong. Trolls are stupid throughout the western world — with the exception of South Sweden.

  11. Richard (posting stoopid Tim Curtin rant that had been being justifiably ignored at Deltoid)… are you on drugs, or high on life or something?

  12. No, Krusty, I just think it is terribly unfair that someone may be dragged through the mud without the right to speak back. I do not necessarily agree with Tim Curtin, but John Q is wrong to silence him in this way.

  13. Inspector Kluso, I would attribute your ignorance of homonyms to an understandable lack of command of your second language, except that I’ve heard you have these in Dutch too. More probable is that it serves as yet another testament to central tendency, together with your reading of Weitzman and half a dozen other notable gaffes. Smell you later.

  14. Tim Curtin has objected to the fact that his contributions continued to be criticised after I had advised him that he was banned from the site. I offered him a final right of reply before closing the thread, which he has accepted. Any further comment referring to Mr Curtin will be deleted.

    John Quiggin has allowed me to respond to the personal attacks leveled at me on this Blog after he had “blocked� me by his email of 26 February 2007.

    WITHOUT PREJUDICE

    Prof. Quiggin allowed his contributor “Majorajam� to state (at #116 in “Another own goal for the denialists� on 7th March) that I had been banned for making “consistently and unabashedly false statements� amongst other pleasantries. Naturally M’jam provided no proof of his accusation that I consistently make false statements. If publishing “consistently false statements� to the JQ blog were cause for banning, there would be few surviving submitters, not including Majorajam.

    Moreover it is fair to suggest that Majorajam relies on his anonymity when feeling free to make libelous statements about both myself and various other contributors to JQ – yet rarely addresses the substance of their contributions. As most likely an employee of a government agency in the USA, Majorajam may well be obliged to hide his identity, but then he should refrain from personal attacks on those who cannot respond in the same coinage.

    More generally, I suggest that all contributors to the JQ blog should be aware that his server administrator (TextDrive Inc, a Joyent company) has an Acceptable Use Policy that states inter alia (1) “Customer shall not post, transmit, re-transmit or store material on or through any of Company’s Services or Products which, in the sole judgment of the Company is …..(ii) threatening, obscene, indecent, defamatory or that otherwise could adversely affect any individual, group or entity… “ (2) “The Customer is not permitted to post any material that is illegal, libellous, and tortuous…”. Majorajam is of course known to JQ, but would be revealed by subpoena, and while both are hardly worth suing, a joint action against them and TextDrive could well be rewarding, not least because the last has quite deep pockets (as Joe Guttnick found when he successfully sued Dow Jones more profitably than if he had only sued their reporter).

    Here are my specific rebuttals of Majorajam’s allegations about my “consistently false statements� on the thread in question. I had made the following contributions before I was banned:

    #33. My comment here was on JQ’s diatribe against the Queensland judge who had ruled against an attempt by Queensland Greens to prevent a new coal mine project from proceeding, and pointed out that the mine in question would itself have only a minuscule impact on global CO2 emissions (because mining as such produces very few emissions), and that the Kyoto Protocol places the onus on end-user emitters of CO2, not on the producers of the fuels the end-users choose to burn to produce electricity or other energy. But according to Majorajam, my statements at #33 were “false�, so if he is right Kyoto pace its text places the onus on the producers rather than the users of greenhouse gases. I think my comments were both true and in the public interest.

    #65. My comment here was to the effect that according to the IEA, the EU15 were 3% above the 1990 level of CO2 emissions in 2003, and therefore unlikely to meet their Kyoto targets for reductions from the 1990 level. It also noted that setting targets to be administered by bureaucrats would be a licence for same to enrich themselves, as already evident in Australian states, with their exemptions for major corporations from compliance with their nascent emission reduction schemes. But Majorajam did not rebut the specifics of my assertions, contenting himself with dubbing them “false�. So now we know from Majorajam that when the named States exempt major new industrial coal and aluminium smelter projects from emission reduction targets, they are actually implementing these targets.

    #89. Here I merely reported Richard Tol’s various affiliations to institutions in Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, and the USA, and their respective climates. So Majorajam by stating that all statements I make are “false� thereby claims that Tol does not have any of these affiliations. Should I choose to proceed with legal action, I shall be glad to call Richard as a witness against Majorajam’s assertion that he has none of these affiliations. I also noted that despite global warming in Australia since 1945, malaria still does not exist here. Presumably this is also one of my “consistently� false statements. It will be incumbent on M’jam, JQ, and his server administrator to prove in court both that malaria will soon be endemic in Australia because of AGW, and that it is not in the public interest for me to assert this is unlikely.

    #102. Here I cited Patz et al in Nature (17 November 2005) to the effect that “On local and regional scales, changes in land cover can sometimes exacerbate the effect of greenhouse-gas-induced warming, or even exert the largest impact on climatic
    conditions. For example, urban ‘heat islands’ result from lowered evaporative
    cooling, increased heat storage and sensible heat flux caused by the lowered
    vegetation cover, increased impervious cover and complex surfaces of the
    cityscape….� However M’jam’s view is that this is another of my “consistently false statements�, so Patz et al never said this. Note to all libraries stocking that issue of Nature: insert slips citing Majorajam’s correction.
    I also added the comment that “We know from JQ that there is no heat island effect at all, and that a single error vitiates a complete paper. This paper must therefore be consigned to the trash can in its entirety�. To this JQ commented editorially: Tim, your unlimited capacity for error never fails to astonish. The urban heat island effect is well known, but the claim that it generates biases in measured global warming is false. Whether or not a single error vitiates a paper, a record of uniformly erroneous statements like yours is a pretty clear indication of the reliability of the person who makes them.
    After banning me, JQ continued to attack my contributions as at #123, March 11.
    #104. My final comment before my ban was (with irony, a scarcity in the blogosphere) “JQ: I apologise, I had forgotten that you can get these clever thermometers that clearly separate urban heat island from ambient effects both at spot and for trends, we have one at Canberra Airport that separates out the impact of increased jet traffic and the new Mall and industrial centre from the JQ warming effect�. That rara avis, an honest contributor to the JQ blog, Richard Tol, later (#136) posted my post on Deltoid citing unimpeachable sources that there is indeed warming at a higher level and with a faster rising trend in urban areas than in the sanitised IPCC series for the non-urban “globe�. But then again, anything I say is “consistently false� (M’jam) or “uniformly erroneous� (JQ). Even if they are right, it could well be in the public interest that my views should get a hearing (under English and arguably also Australian libel law), but alas never again if M’jam and JQ prevail. However, my sources on UHI (including the Hadley Centre which is the main source of the IPCC’s scariest forecasts and whom I would summon as witnesses if necessary) might be surprised to hear that they are “uniformly erroneous� etc.
    On this topic, it is interesting to read JQ’s own citation of Lenin back in 1995 (RBA) that “households everywhere are voting with their feet� (towards warmer climes). Good old VIL, prescient even when embalmed in Red Square, it was not long before JQ’s feet took him from the “bitterly cold climate� of Canberra to the benign rarely less than 20oC of Brisbane’s urban heat island.
    #131, March 13th. Here Majorajam kindly quoted in full my letter to the Financial Times (16 June 2006) ridiculing the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme on the grounds that in each trade, a tonne of CO2 emissions avoided was “sold� to allow a tonne of CO2 to be emitted, for zero net effect on emissions, and stated it was both “asinine� and “a meaningfully false statement� (at #133). My statement has to be true as it is of course a tautology, and it had an underlying serious purpose, to highlight the fallacies in the ETS, now abundantly evident with the price per tonne of traded CO2 having fallen from about 30 Euro a year ago to just one Euro today. The CO2 in the average 600 ml Coke or other carbonated soft drink is worth more than that – which raises the thought that perhaps Coca Cola Inc could apply for carbon credits under Kyoto after the US ratifies it! It seems fair to dub Majorajam the Rosinantes of climate change.

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