Revising my priors

Looking at the desperation with which opponents of climate science, and of sensible policy responses such as Kyoto, are holding on to positions that have clearly become untenable, has prompted me to think about my own views on a range of issues, to see whether I am holding on to beliefs that can’t be sustained in the light of accumulating evidence.

The most obvious problem for me is that of continued macroeconomic stability in the face of trade and current account deficits driven (or so it seems) by speculative asset price booms. I’ve long argued that such deficits can’t be sustained and that neither Australia nor the US is on a path to a smooth adjustment. However, while deficits have continued and, in the case of the US, grown steadily, evidence of anything but smooth adjustment is certainly thin on the ground.

The rapid growth of China, and the apparent willingness of the Chinese government (and maybe also the public) to hold low-return $US assets and to buy large quantities of commodity exports from Australia has rendered previous projections largely irrelevant. While the “Bretton Woods II” story that emerged a couple of years ago seemed implausible to me, it has held up pretty well so far.

While I’m not ready to join the optimists just yet, it’s clearly necessary to rethink the implications of a Chinese economy that is already a substantial part of the global total, and growing rapidly.
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RSMG back on air

Things have been pretty frantic at the Risk and Sustainable Management Group (my research team at UQ, focusing on the Murray-Darling and related issues) as we raced to prepare five papers for the Australian Agricultural and Resource Economics Society meeting in Queenstown NZ last week. There’s lots of news about this at the RSMG blog.

We’ve also had a complete redesign of our website, which is now located here. We’ll be updating Working Papers and adding lots of publications in the near future.

I plan to write more about water and climate at this blog in future. Discussion much encouraged.

Revising my priors

Looking at the desperation with which opponents of climate science, and of sensible policy responses such as Kyoto, are holding on to positions that have clearly become untenable, has prompted me to think about my own views on a range of issues, to see whether I am holding on to beliefs that can’t be sustained in the light of accumulating evidence.

The most obvious problem for me is that of continued macroeconomic stability in the face of trade and current account deficits driven (or so it seems) by speculative asset price booms. I’ve long argued that such deficits can’t be sustained and that neither Australia nor the US is on a path to a smooth adjustment. However, while deficits have continued and, in the case of the US, grown steadily, evidence of anything but smooth adjustment is certainly thin on the ground.

The rapid growth of China, and the apparent willingness of the Chinese government (and maybe also the public) to hold low-return $US assets and to buy large quantities of commodity exports from Australia has rendered previous projections largely irrelevant. While the “Bretton Woods II” story that emerged a couple of years ago seemed implausible to me, it has held up pretty well so far.

While I’m not ready to join the optimists just yet, it’s clearly necessary to rethink the implications of a Chinese economy that is already a substantial part of the global total, and growing rapidly.
Read More »

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.
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Dead zones

Another of many alarming reports about environmental damage that may be linked to climate change. In this case, the result is the emergence of dead zones in the ocean, the immediate cause being changes in currents.

Examples like this emphasise the point that uncertainty about global warming is not a reason for doing less, but a reason for doing more. The known (but uncertain) possible consequences of doing nothing add a lot more to the expected costs than do the known (but uncertain) possibilities of adaptation and so on producing lower-than-expected costs. Even more important, the ‘unknown unknowns’, that is, the possible consequences of which we are not yet aware, are dominated by nasty surprises that await us if we continue changing the climate rapidly.

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Hicks and treason

Peter Costello makes the plausible point that, if the charges against David Hicks are true, he could have killed Australian soldiers. But the same story in the SMH goes on to say

Australia has steadfastly refused to ask for Hicks to be released from Guantanamo because he could not be tried for his alleged crimes in Australia.

How can this be true? Under the Australian Criminal Code,

“A person commits an offence, called treason, if the person:

….
(e) engages in conduct that assists by any means whatever, with intent to assist, an enemy:
(i) at war with the Commonwealth, whether or not the existence of a state of war has been declared; and
(ii) specified by Proclamation made for the purpose of this paragraph to be an enemy at war with the Commonwealth; or
(f) engages in conduct that assists by any means whatever, with intent to assist:
(i) another country; or
(ii) an organisation;
that is engaged in armed hostilities against the Australian Defence Force; or

I can’t see how the alleged crimes for which Hicks is to be tried in the US are not covered by this crime (note, by contrast, that it is not necessarily a crime for an Australian to fight against the US, which explains the constantly shifting charges brought against Hicks there).

This has been tightened up a bit since 2001, when the relevant section of the Crimes Act read

(d) assists by any means whatever, with intent to assist, an enemy:

(i) at war with the Commonwealth, whether or not the existence of a state of war has been declared; and

(ii) specified by proclamation made for the purpose of this paragraph to be an enemy at war with the Commonwealth;

….

(f) forms an intention to do any act referred to in a preceding paragraph and manifests that intention by an overt act;

but it seems clear that if Hicks agreed to fight with the Taliban against a Coalition including Australia, as claimed in the charges against him, he’s guilty of treason.

The only meaning I can impute to the government’s position is that Hicks could not be convicted of treason because the evidence the American prosecutors plan to use (confessions extracted under torture, hearsay and so on) would be thrown out of an Australian court.

Phoenix or ashes?

It’s not that long ago that people like Alan Gilbert (then Vice-Chancellor at Melbourne, and now at Manchester) were presenting the for-profit University of Phoenix as the future of education, and its critics as Luddite equivalents of the 19th century handloom weavers. It was obvious even at the time that U Phoenix was little more than a grandiosely titled trade school, occupying one of the relatively limited educational niches where for-profit firms have traditionally played a role. But even here it seems, there are pretty big problems, with a graduation rate of only 16 per cent for students without previous college experience. However hard you spin it,* this is an unimpressive result.
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Charlie Brown and the football

I’ve been struck, if not surprised by the eagerness of the usual crowd to jump on the latest story casting doubt on the reality of anthropogenic global warming, in this case the cosmic ray story being pushed by Svensmark and Calder. You would think after so many previous hopes (urban heat islands, satellite data, the adaptive iris, attacks on the hockey stick and so on) have come to nothing, and with the public debate lost beyond any real hope of salvage, that sensible rightwingers would at least wait and see before running their usual boilerplate on stories like this.

At the very least, in this age of Google, you’d think they might check whether the story is actually a new one. In fact, like most such claims, the cosmic ray idea has been around for quite a while. It’s been taken to pieces many times (William Connolley covers the story as Revenge of the killer cosmic rays from hell). It even got batted about on Oz blogs a few years back. Of course, the cosmic ray theory might pan out, but looking at the mountain of evidence pointing the other way, and the failure of so many previous efforts in this direction, you wouldn’t want to bet your credibility on it, assuming you had any.

At this point, I can’t help but be reminded of the running joke in Peanuts where Lucy promises to hold the football so Charlie Brown can kick it. Every time, she tells him, it will be different from all the previous times. Every time, Charlie falls for it. And every time, she pulls the ball away at the last minute.

(Corrected thanks to Paul G Brown).