Three universes collide!

I’ve been very busy with asset sales, the problems of the Murray-Darling Basin, my still-in-progress book and other commitments too numerous to list, with the result that I’ve had no time to comment on the spectacular events in the climate change debate. But it’s finally too much to ignore.

I’ve long pointed out the “parallel universe” nature of the discussion that goes on under the name of “scepticism”. Over the last couple of days, that parallel universe has collided with the universe of Australian practical politics, with catastrophic results for Malcolm Turnbull in particular.

The timing is particularly galling for the delusionists who are uniformly convinced that the University of East Anglia emails they have stolen and promulgated prove beyond doubt … well, something sinister. Surely, they think, this will persuade the weak-kneed Liberals to stop while we hold a full inquiry. Following the analogy of Newtongate it’s as if, just as the vorticists had found the crucial ‘smoking gun’, a letter exposing Newton’s use of hired thugs to beat up Cartesian critics, they looked out from their shiny new antigravity machine and realised that some very hard ground was approaching them at a speed of hundreds of metres per second.

For Kevin Rudd, the effect is a free gift of Master of the (Australian political) universe. Counting Costello, Turnbull is the fourth Liberal leader he’s destroyed in the space of exactly two years. It’s hard to imagine a better outcome than facing an opponent who could barely beat “None of the above” in a ballot of his own party and is in place only because no one else wants the job. And when Turnbull finally goes, the likelihood that either Joe Hockey or Tony Abbott is going to provide a serious challenge seems close to zero. Whether as supporters or opponents of the leaders, the fruit loops are running wild now, and unlikely to be reined in.

But in the actual physical universe the results aren’t so good for the Australian public or for out contribution to stabilizing the global climate. The combined efforts of rentseekers and delusionists have ensured that, assuming the Senate finally ratifies the Rudd-Turnbull deal, we’ll have a CPRS that is both far more expensive and far less effective than it should have been. It’s still, I think better than nothing, but it’s a deplorable outcome to an unedifying process.

96 thoughts on “Three universes collide!

  1. “@sHx I was alluding to Descartes’ vortex theory of planetary motion, displaced by notorious scientist Isaac Newton’s theory of gravity.”

    John, this is a bad analogy. Today’s collaborative scientific practice is much more open and honest -so, we hope- than the lone, scientific genious of Newton’s era. Phil Jones is not Isaac Newton, and neither does he dabble in -so we hope again!- any ‘delusionist’ scientific experiments like Newton did. Newton’s theory displaced Descartes’ not by public brawl or government action, but by better science. It was Halley’s Comet, returning 70 years after the publication of ‘Principia’, that became the first nail in ‘vorticists’ coffin.

    I am no scientist, but from what I have learned studying some history and philosophy of science is that, in science, it pays off to be cautious. This is not the case with climate science. Climate science is in a state of frenzy and hyperbole. It’s output is full of doom and gloom calling for immediate action. Why isn’t there a time-out on this, a cooling-off period, so to speak? A chance for a new generation of scientists to collect more data, develop better models, and test the old ones. Just what kind of damage could we have done to the world’s atmosphere in the last 150 years that cannot be undone in the next 150 years? Are we really so helpless? Climate scientists of Phil Jones and Micheal Mann’s generation will get to see the entire transformation of world economy, based on their science, between their graduation and retirement. This is too short a period of time for anyone seeking historical analogies to the AGW theory.

  2. Must admit being introduced to the Liebniz Clarke (Newton proxy) debate and am still trying to work out all the implicatons of that.
    Thank god Kant turned up.

  3. Tim,

    The environment counts all emissions.

    And Australia is fully responsible for its scope 3 emissions.

    If we continue to import high carbon intensive products – but reduce our own emissions on our own soil – then we are kidding ourselves that we have an effective carbon “reduction” scheme going on.

    I agree – there is, indeed, a sleight of hand going on.

  4. Pr Q says:

    But in the actual physical universe the results aren’t so good for the Australian public or for out contribution to stabilizing the global climate. The combined efforts of rentseekers and delusionists have ensured that, assuming the Senate finally ratifies the Rudd-Turnbull deal, we’ll have a CPRS that is both far more expensive and far less effective than it should have been. It’s still, I think better than nothing, but it’s a deplorable outcome to an unedifying process.

    I’m sure that Pr Q’s indignant reaction at the “rent-seekers and delusionists” is genuine. But I’m not sure it should have come as a such a great shock to him.

    I have predicted from the get-go (2007) that a practical ETS in the AUS context is will turn into a “Potemkin Village carbon trading scheme”. The rorts, rackets and exemptions that Pr Q rails against are not bugs that could have been ironed out by a sane political system. They are features that were always intended by the major political players, particularly major mineral and agricultural interests who stand to lose the most from true carbon costing.

    For once it gives me no pleasure to say “I was right”.

    Its depressing for a number of reasons to see the LP riven with conflict over the ETS. On the whole it is a good party which provides much needed political balance and ballast to the anthropological delusionism of Left-wing cultural elites. But it is not doing much of a service to the nation by catering to ecological delusionism in its own Right-wing rural and regional base.

    And from the nation’s point of view the spectacle of the LP being riven by delusionists is not a pretty one, even if reason and sanity prevailed at the end. Especially when it happens on the same day as a report predicting 4 deg C warming by 2065 with a BAU scenario. That would cause havoc for the children and grand-children of the current LP party room.

    I will indulge in some reckless optimism contrarianism and suggest that this is the nadir of the LP and that from here on they will recover, both in policy and in politics.

  5. “That would cause havoc for the children and grand-children of the current LP party room.” – Jack.

    I do find it somewhat odd and amusing that climate change is often presented as an issue of morality and intergenerational equity. That is, there is a moral obligation on today’s people to preserve the planet and its resources for those who will still be around in future.

    And yet the people who run this argument, by and large, are those who generally don’t care about questions of intergenerational equity when it comes to other policies like increasing government debt or higher public spending geared towards retirees and the elderly. Suddenly it is okay to allow people to help themselves to more goodies and stuff the consequences for those who will still be around in future.

    It seems that climate change is the only issue that ever gets framed as a moral or philosophical issue. Everything else exists in the absence of the bigger picture and in an environment of short-term opportunism.

  6. Monkey’s Uncle:

    That is, there is a moral obligation on today’s people to preserve the planet and its resources for those who will still be around in future.

    And yet the people who run this argument, by and large, are those who generally don’t care about questions of intergenerational equity when it comes to other policies like increasing government debt

    Maybe they actually do care about intergenerational equity but they believe there is something more important than government debt at stake, e.g. education.

    or higher public spending geared towards retirees and the elderly.

    You’ll have to refresh my memory as to who you’re referring to.

    It seems that climate change is the only issue that ever gets framed as a moral or philosophical issue.

    You haven’t thought very much about this. There are other issues with a moral component involved e.g. education, health and welfare in general.

  7. Unfortunately, have to concur with salvage of Tories, the whole ramshackle system is under threat from these irresponsible moral delinquents, but a proper opposition is necessary for it to work. While Turnbull remains there is still a faint hope they can be dragged out of the Dark Ages and have their attention recollected to the job the public renumerates them for in such a generous way, as an opposition responsible for objective review of government policies involving real world issues.
    I’m as much amused of these people ( Tuckey, etc ) as I would be if forced to witness the tantrums of a small child on a supermarket floor.

  8. @Jack Strocchi
    I hope you are right Jack (nadir of LP) because they have a long way to improve to get out of the well of all the wholesale ideologies they have been adopting and starting actually thinking again.

  9. What “sus”?
    It all genuinely nauseates me.
    Watching last night’s house of reps didn’t help, either.

  10. Apparently Rudd plans to guillotine debate on the ETS in order to force it through while Turnbull is still leader. Which will mean he will fully own it, and the Libs can deflect some of the electoral backlash once the voters notice their economic welfare going down the gurgler.

    Still, no pain, no gain.

    Has anyone got a concise list of the benefits of an Australian ETS? There must be some.

    I’m afraid the Garnaut link didn’t contain such a summary. As the consensus (ha ha) here seems to be that an ETS would be a good thing, I’m sure you would have discussed the benefits somewhere?

  11. Concise list of benefits:

    Provides (minor) momentum to Copenhagen discussion (if passed in time),

    Provides working framework for a secondary market for CO2 emission suppliers,

    Can be scaled and integrated with other similar frameworks (eg EU ETS),

    5% reduction in scope 1 and 2 emissions that the government bothers to measure (at best),

    Mid level price signal over the short term ($20-30/tonne) for emissions that the government bothered to include in the deal,

  12. The environment counts all emissions.

    And Australia is fully responsible for its scope 3 emissions.

    Iain, this is just tosh and you know it. The first sentence is true but irrelevant for the purposes of allocating responsibility. And the second – do you seriously believe that Australia is “fully responsible” for Japanese and Korean scope 1 emissions ? Presumably then, only fossil fuel exporting countries have a responsibility to reduce emissions, and the others (including the United States) are as innocent as babies. Is Saudi Arabia “fully responsible” for American SUV driving habits? I seriously doubt that this is your intention. Do you really think an Australian ETS should require the reduction of Australia’s scope 3 emissions in the absence of a global carbon price? Presumably you realise that this would entail some kind of embargo on energy exports to our major trading partners. Honestly, how effective do you think such a policy would be in bringing down global emissions? Come off it! The CPRS has enough flaws to criticise it without bringing in irrelevant distractions.

  13. iain, I was thinking more along the lines of what value the ordinary Australian would receive for the extra money they will pay out.

    It is fairly obvious that an ETS will be a bonanza for legislators, bureaucrats and speculators.

    The ordinary voter might expect a bit more for the $1100 per household the ETS will add to their expenses, which is marginally up from Kevin Rudd’s pre-election estimate of $1 per person.

  14. Paul. I will double your $1100 and see you $1100
    If an agreement in Copenhagen is ratified the 5% target becomes 20%, so presumably the $1100 becomes $4400.
    And we need 60% reduction by 2020
    $1100 here, $4400 there, pretty soon you are talking real money!

  15. @chrisl
    No doubt the money will be well spent. (What could possibly go wrong?)

    But on what?

    The voters would probably like to know.

    It is quite difficult to get anyone to list the benefits, including my local Liberal member, who supports the Turnbull/Rudd/Wong position.

    Imagine setting up a stall at the local market, selling carbon credits, $1100 for a years worth, wife and kids included. It’d be easier to sell rat on a stick!

  16. The main benefit in taking action is in reducing the future adverse consequences that arise from human induced climate change. These may include avoiding drastic reduction of agricultural output, the loss of low lying land and reduced costs for levees or other “fixes”. Probably too late for the Great Barrier Reef and a lot of ecosystem damage even if true, vigorous policy action was implemented. Then there’s the problem of climate change refugees and security issues arising from famines, dislocation and sanctions or possibly even military actions against recalcitrant nations that feel that they should be entitled to continue increasing or refusing to reduce emissions.

    Whether the ETS is the best or sufficient action for Australia’s portion of responsibility – which is more than most nations unless you truly believe profiting from the supply of products with known harmful long term consequences is an inalienable right – is debatable but angling to do no more than the least that the most recalcitrant of other nations do and treating our current highest per capita emissions as reason to make less reductions rather than more do look like evidence of denial of responsibility for our own actions.

    When the extravagant wastefulness we currently take as our right comes at the expense of future prosperity and we deny all responsibility for those costs and consequences we will not be seen as decent and noble by the billions in developing nations that will bear the brunt of those costs.

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