Sandpit

A new sandpit for long side discussions, idees fixes and so on. Unless directly responding to the OP, all discussions of nuclear power, MMT and conspiracy theories should be directed to sandpits (or, if none is open, message boards).

16 thoughts on “Sandpit

  1. In view of the furor over the UWA acceptance of $4 million of Federal (taxpayer) funds to establish a “Consensus Centre” at the University under Bjorn Lomborg, a noted climate contrarian from Denmark, I reproduce a comment from today’s Guardian Australia on the situation:

    For those who want some background on the Lomborg “Consensus Centre” the blog site of Professor John Quiggin is worth reading. Professor Quiggin is an economist and a Laureate Fellow of the Australian Research Council (which means that he is a pretty respectable academic, unlike Dr Bjorn Lomborg). He is also the author of “Zombie Economics: How dead ideas still walk among us”.

    Quiggin claims to have been “conned” by Lomborg and he has applied his expert knowledge to the review of how the Lomborg Consensus Centre undertakes its work.

    According to Quiggin the process is flawed, because of the way in which the people are selected who do the research and reviews to reach the final “consensus”.

    The Copenhagen Review, published in January 2005 is particularly informative. It explains in detail the process followed by the Lomborg centre and asks questions about its efficacy and objectivity.

    Even though he acknowledges that the people engaged by Lomborg for the research and reviews were doing their best to approach the work in “a serious and fair minded way”, the process of what got included and who was selected to review it was biased towards a given outcome.

    Quiggin accuses the Copenhagen Consensus Centre of being little more than a “political stunt”:

    In summary, the Copenhagen Consensus project was created as a political stunt. It was designed, in every detail, to produce a predetermined outcome. Having got the desired outcome, the organiser has shown little or no interest in pursuing any of the other issues raised by the project.

    So now we have the federal government putting $4 million worth of Aussie taxpayer money into UWA for what is essentially a political think tank designed to produce findings (wrapped in the gold leaf of a few hand picked Nobel Laureates) that will support the government’s agenda. The focus of the centre will be on foreign aid and the UN millennium goals, but more importantly the way that Australian government policy should be shaped around infrastructure, immigration, education, health, environment, innovation and taxation.

    The entire deal seems to have been concocted by Andrew Robb, Julie Bishop, Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott. As explained in the Sydney Morning Herald, Robb and Bishop met Lomborg in Peru during their joint visit for the climate change convention. We all thought Robb went to keep an eye on Bishop but he was there to meet Lomborg.

    Lomborg was talking there under the sponsorship of Peabody Coal, promoting the sale of coal to the third world (e.g. India) to help them alleviate poverty etc. Bishop later appointed him as an adviser for her Foreign Aid Policy work and that is perhaps how UWA got the $4 million due to Bishop being a West Australian. We also need to note that Tony Abbott mentioned Lomborg’s work in his 2009 book “Battlelines” where it helped him to justify why action on climate change was not worth the cost-benefit.

    The money to this UWA centre is substantial but underwent no competitive process for how research money is distributed. The Vice Chancellor of UWA can claim this is a serious research centre but if it were the process for allocating the money would have gone via the Australian Research Council.

    This is little more than a political think tank designed to help the Abbott government put up a smoke screen of apparently credible “research” reviewed by Nobel Laureates, but really only providing a support to the policies of the LNP and their corporate conservative backers.

    This reflects very poorly on UWA. What’s next? An endowed chair for “Lord” Monckton? I wonder how Prof. Q would feel if this were happening at UQ?

  2. You can’t expect any sensible policy on climate change from the LNP. Why are we continually acting as though one day they’ll see the light? Every step they take is about managing the politics of it while doing a good deal of fossil fuel business’s lobbying—while members of parliament! Andrew Robb’s climate mission was to meet Lomborg in Lima and to sort out the details. Robb is a one man messing machine, that’s what he does. He prides himself on stuffing up the greenies, the lefties, the nimby, and a good slab of his own party. He’ll go to his grave believing AGW is a myth. Abbott is cut of that cloth too.

  3. I am now of an age where this survey becomes relevant 😦

    Jokes aside, age discrimination is apparent in the hiring patterns, but particularly so in the firing patterns of organisations. I’ve been witness to this myself. The simple fact is that when organisations are forced to cut staff numbers (such as the Great Purge of 2013), who do they cut first? The expensive staff, typically the more experienced, and by implication, the older staff.

    I reckon it would be quite illuminating to look at the age distributions of public service areas affected by the Abbott Axe to the head, and see if the age distributions have altered significantly towards favouring younger staff members. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’d love to see the data.

  4. @Megan

    “Coal Seam Gas – Centre for Sustainable minerals” (sic).

    What a black farce. CSG is a sustainable mineral apparently! Don’t worry that it is finite, polluting of ground, water and air and that it contributes to already very concerning and soon to be very dangerous climate change. Ahhh no, it’s sustainable. These liars woould call black, white. Indeed they do call black, white and lies, truth.

  5. @Ikonoclast

    Yes, it is funny (in a very dark way). A bit like “Clean Coal”, but not as funny because it isn’t as original as that one was.

    One imagines their nemesis over at some other uni: “The Centre for Unsustainable Minerals” working away earnestly making their case.

  6. @Donald Oats

    When you write ‘Why are we continually acting as though one day they’ll see the light?’, who is the ‘we’? Which people (and which of their actions) are you referring to?

  7. @J-D
    The `we’ is a notional `we’, oft used in rhetoric, when one is making a point. It’s a bit like someone saying “the average family”, which, if interpreted strictly, would amount to 2.1 children, 1.7 parents, etc (okay, I made the numbers up, but the point remains), which cannot be true of any family.

    It’s fair enough for you to call me on it, so to be a bit more specific, without revealing identities, there are quite a few academics who do research in the area of climate science, or in economics and the interaction between economics and climate science. These individuals are fairly polite, and attempt to be even-handed when discussing the implications of their research with the political class, or in a public forum, a TV interview for instance. Being even-handed is all well and good, but if it conveys a sense of equivocation where none is truly present, the political class flay you for it. I consider, in this characterisation, the political class to extend to the MSM reporting on, and often leaking on behalf of, the politicians and their offices.

    A few researchers need to band together and to butt heads with our governmental representatives, and to butt them frequently enough to goad them to changing their policies with respect to climate change.

    As the current barney over Bjorn Lomborg’s new centre with UWA in Perth (WA) shows, if our researchers try being even-handed when the results are so unequivocal, they’ll get steam-rolled by the political machinations of the day. Politically motivated interference with academic processes is just one kind of steam-rolling which can occur. Digging through a person’s private life and making mistakes public is another political trick for cutting your opponents down to size, without actually addressing the policy issue itself.

    There are clear risks to academics if they speak up in this manner and depart from the usual scientifically essential um’s and ah’s which make up scientific discourse—i.e. the wriggle room which resides in the variability of what is being measured—and that risk has been realised in the past, when several CSIRO climate scientists spoke out on TV, and duly got their wings clipped (under the Howard government policy of shoot-the-messenger). Thing is, those scientists were pretty darn eminent, and deserved (much) more support from the scientific community than they received. Too little, too late.

    So, the short answer to your question as to the `we’, I am referring to anyone who watches the politics of this from the sidelines, or engages in a way which is virtually doomed to fail politically, i.e. fails to change minds on policy, because of a polite notion of giving some credit to your opponents’ point of view, or of being even-handed when there isn’t really anything to be conceding in the first place.

    As an example of stuffing up the message: for several years, scientists and others have been supporting the idea of staying below the 2C `target’; it is only in recent times that the rest of the picture has been revealed openly in the MSM, i.e. that the 2C target is a 50/50 target, meaning that if we stabilise CO2-e at (whatever the magic number is) ppm, there is still a 50% chance that the temperature increase could exceed 2C, and even a quite significant probability of being considerably larger than 2C. Now, recent discussions, on Lateline with Tim Flannery for instance, it is clear that researchers knowledgable in this area have always understood the 2C to be a 50/50 proposition at best; it is everybody else who didn’t get to hear the full message. Once it sinks in that the upper limit is a 50/50 chance, I’m sure most people would want to see greater effort to ensure we don’t get anywhere near emitting enough GHGs to hit that limit. And yet the message that comes out of the MSM is this really soft message instead. Why was that?

  8. To parody JD, I’ll ask a meaninglessly pointless question without ever intending to make, or actually ever making, a point:

    …if we stabilise CO2-e at (whatever the magic number is) ppm…

    “who is the ‘we’? Which people (and which of their actions) are you referring to?”

    Sorry, just making light!

  9. @Donald Oats

    You make a set of very good points. The denialists have largely taken the public with them or else lulled them into a false sense of security about climate change and about limits to growth (which I also bang on about).

    Indeed, climate change is an example of limits to growth. It’s both interesting and baffling to me that some people who “get” the climate change issue don’t “get” the limits to growth issue.

  10. Prof. J.Q.,

    I mentioned on another thread I would take the limits to growth argument back to the sandpit. I want to mention an interesting paper by Robert U. Ayres. I say the paper is interesting for the purposes of our debate because Ayres gives rather more support to your side of the argument than mine, though I think he can still be criticised on certain points.

    “Eco-thermodynamics: economics and the second law.” – published in Ecological Economics 26 (1998).

    ftp://131.252.97.79/Transfer/ES_Pubs/ESVal/ecol_econ_thermodyn/ayres_1998_ee_26_p189.pdf

    The scientific part of the basic argument is impeccable so far as I can understand it. My understanding goes most of the way but I cannot scan all the the runes of the formulae. Ayres makes some good points against the arguments of Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Herman Daly. In brief, he pulls them up for some inaccurate arguments on their part derived from the consideration of entropy. He highlights their error in neglecting the very large and continuous exergy flow (energy available for useful work) the earth receives from the sun.

    “The entropy law does not imply that order in the form of artifacts and infrastructure is necessarily being produced at the expense of increasing the entropy (disorder) of the biosphere itself.” – Ayres.

    This point is technically true if the exergy can be wholly derived from solar power and its derivatives like wind power, hydro and photosynthesis.

    Combining the above valid point with arguments about economic substitution and dematerialistion of the economy, Ayres holds that potential economic growth is practically limitless.

    He goes on to say, “… a perfectly acceptable neo-classical answer to their (the LTG advocates) critique, I imagine, would be that in the distant future the economic system need not produce significant amounts of material goods at all. In principle, it could produce final services from very long-lived capital goods, with very high information content, and non-scarce renewable sources of energy, such as sunlight.”

    I agree that this argument is acceptable to a considerable degree. However, Ayer’s arguments about substitution possibilities and “dematerialisation” possibilities are taken too far. For example, Ayers does give a nod to the fact that the food and potable water needs for humans cannot be be dematerialised. This fact needs more than a nod. A quite considerable set of production, infrastructure and transportation systems (all material systems) are needed to keep 7 billion or 10 billion (soon to be?) humans in food and water and to deal with their wastes. The same holds true for shelter, power, transport, medical and educational needs (for example). Quite considerable material infrastructures, waste disposal systems and environmental protection and remediation systems are needed for all these functions and their attendent waste stream issues.

    If we can develop a renewable, sustainable economy the limiting issues will be flows rather than stocks. The flow of total exergy from the sun is effectively limitless for human scale purposes but the flow which can be harnessed for human purposes will meet a scalable limit with respect to the total infrastructure size possible globally to harness this flow. As you have commented in the past, the flow of wastes, their treatment and remediation, along with the tolerance levels for disruption of natural cycles like the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles are quite likely to impose limits before potential material and exergy resource flows impose limits. Even Ayers mentions the relative sensitivity of complex environmental systems and services to disruption by industrial scale human activities. The climate is one such system currently progressing to serious disruption.

    The case may be that the limits to growth are further away than I think. However, the case is that the limits to growth will still finally apply on earth. The current disruptions to the climate system, the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous cycles and to biological diversity with a major extinction event occuring, are all strong indicators that our current economic system at least (fossil-fueled, late stage capitalism) is very close to its limits to growth.

    Without a rapid transformation both in political economy terms and in technological-industrial terms we are in serious danger of hitting very painful limits very soon. The signs are clear.

  11. Strangely I agree with Ikon. It is the height of fashion at the moment to assert climate change is the pinnacle of all evils but I think when LtG bites we’ll soon forget. Case in point Galilee Basin coal exports to India. My worry is the decline rate after we hit volumetric Peak Oil. We’ve already gone past peaks in crude oil and net energy after extraction effort. The day will come when Sydney soccer mums can’t put 35L of fuel a week in their Landcruisers. Some say global peak liquid fuels will be in 2018.

    What if there is say 25% less fuel in 2030? Technotopians please explain why we are seeing so little evidence of their preferred solutions such as oil-less cars or renewable energy whenever demanded. In other words we should fear hard times ahead more than bad weather. That’s for the middle class. Those at the bottom will just stay where they are.

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