The misguided and the misled…

23 Apr

Hard choices imply trade-offs. When these are ignored, when ideology takes over, that’s when costly mistakes are made. It’s when unintended consequences multiply. Why do I dwell on this? Because my political opponent pretends to have discovered a different brand of politics ™ – a politics without hard choices ™, without trade-offs and without unintended consequences. A politics of gestures and good intentions ™ and little else.

Mr Rudd argues that in this world Australians face one overriding moral challenge – climate change. I’ll talk more about this challenge in a moment, but let me say where I stand on priorities, on decision-making and on the moral challenge of our time.

Climate change is a serious policy challenge and a major priority of the Government. At the same time, we know independent action by Australia will not materially affect our climate. No-one – not the IPCC, not Sir Nicholas Stern, not even Al Gore* – makes this argument. Australia emits less greenhouse gases in a year than the United States or China emit in a month.

Do we need to lower carbon emissions over time? Of course we do.

But to say that climate change is the overwhelming moral challenge for this generation of Australians is misguided at best; misleading at worst.

It de-legitimises other challenges over which we do have significant control.** Other challenges with moral dimensions just as real and pressing as those that surround climate change.

It also obscures the need for balance ™ in government decision-making. It feeds ideological demands ™ for knee-jerk policy reactions ™ that would destroy jobs and the living standards ™ of ordinary Australians ™.

To me, the moral challenge of our time is not vastly different from the challenge earlier generations faced. It’s to build a prosperous, secure and fair Australia – a confident nation ™ at ease with the world and with itself.

*Nor, as far as I can see, does Kevin Rudd — straw man argument, I believe?

** John can’t chew gum and walk at the same time, it seems.

John Howard in Brisbane today.

Misguided dolt # 1: David Attenborough

I was sceptical about climate change. I was cautious about crying wolf. I am always cautious about crying wolf. I think conservationists have to be careful in saying things are catastrophic when, in fact, they are less than catastrophic.

I have seen my job at the BBC as a presenter to produce programmes about natural history, just as the Natural History Museum would be interested in showing a range of birds of paradise – that’s the sort of thing I’ve been doing. And in almost every big series I’ve made, the most recent one being Planet Earth, I’ve ended up by talking about the future, and possible dangers. But, with climate change, I was sceptical. That is true.

Also, I’m not a chemist or a climatologist or a meteorologist; it isn’t for me to suddenly stand up and say I have decided the climate is changing. That’s not my expertise. The television gives you an unfair and unjustified prominence but just because your face is on the telly doesn’t mean you’re an expert on meteorology.

But I’m no longer sceptical. Now I do not have any doubt at all. I think climate change is the major challenge facing the world….

More misguided fools:

“The science is in. The facts are there that we have created, man has, a self-inflicted wound that man has created through global warming.” — Arnold Schwarzenegger

“Global warming is too serious for the world any longer to ignore its danger or split into opposing factions on it.” — Tony Blair

Another dolt: James Hansen (from “Meltdown: Running out of time on global warming” by Bill McKibben, Christian Century, February 20, 2007.)

The bottom line: we have much less time to act than we thought, and that action has to be dramatic. James Hansen is the country’s foremost climatologist, a man who will doubtless win the Nobel Prize for his decades as a NASA researcher running the most powerful computer model of the climate, and he said last year that we have a decade to reverse the flow of carbon into the atmosphere or else we will live—his words—on a “totally different planet.” There’s enough theology in that phrase for a month of sermons, but let me concentrate on the politics. It means that the changes we make in our homes and churches as individuals and congregations, vital as they are, can’t deliver the speed or magnitude of change that will slow climate change. It means that we need to change light bulbs—but we also need to change laws. It means that Washington, after two decades of a very successful bipartisan effort to do nothing, needs to spin on a dime.

It would be easier, nicer and in many ways more reasonable to put in effect the kind of tepid and gradual program envisioned a few years ago by politicians like John McCain. But “politically realistic” turns out, with what we now know, to be scientifically unrealistic. By Hansen’s calculation, and that of many other scientists, we need to be reducing carbon emissions more than 2 percent a year in this country to have any chance of staying on the right side of catastrophe. We need—at the very least—a federal commitment to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

That’s a hard target, but by no means an impossible one. New technologies are steadily appearing—second- and third-generation solar and wind systems, ever-better hybrid cars. We understand how to make appliances far more efficient than the ones we use today, and how to change building codes so that new construction stops wasting energy and indeed begins to produce it. And, of course, we know how to build trains and buses, how to grow some of our food closer to home. We don’t lack for science or engineering, nor indeed for economic mechanisms to make a transition more efficient, or policy proposals to guide our work. What we lack is simply political will…

Yet another dolt: John Houghton

“John Houghton … has been deeply involved with the subject of human-induced climate change for some years. He was professor in atmospheric physics in Oxford, then was Director General of the UK Met Office from where he became involved in the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the first chairman of the IPCC’s scientific assessment.”

Of special interest: a critique of The Great Global Warming Swindle by Martin Durkin on Channel 4 (UK) on Thursday 8 March 2007. Here are Houghton’s main points, stripped of his supporting arguments, just so you can see their relevance. You may explore the details for yourselves.

1. First, it is important to note that the main lines of evidence for human-induced climate change not addressed in the programme were:

* growth of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere mainly due to fossil fuel burning to a level greater than for at least 600,000 years;
* observations of global warming at the earth’s surface (in magnitude and pattern) consistent with the increase in greenhouse gases, the basic science of which has been known and understood for over 200 years.

2. Climate is always changing – TRUE. However, the programme also argued that changes in global average temperature over the last 50 years and as projected for the 21st century are within the range of natural climate variability as observed over the last few millennia – NOT TRUE.

3. That carbon dioxide content and temperature correlate so closely during the last ice age is not evidence of carbon dioxide driving the temperature but rather the other way round – TRUE. The programme went on to state that this correlation has been presented as the main evidence for global warming by the IPCC – NOT TRUE.

4. The troposphere is warming less than the surface – NOT TRUE.

5. Volcanic eruptions emit more carbon dioxide than fossil fuel burning – NOT TRUE.

6. Changes in the sun influence climate – TRUE. They cited the Maunder Minimum in the 17th century when no sunspots were observed, as a probable example. Solar influences are the main driver of global average temperature in the 20th century – NOT TRUE.

7. Climate models are too complex and uncertain to provide useful projections of climate change – NOT TRUE.

8. The IPCC process stifles debate and is used by scientists to further their own self interest – NOT TRUE.

9. Action on climate change by developed countries may have a negative influence on development of the world’s poorer countries – POSSIBLY TRUE.

More misguided people than you can poke a stick at.

Poll Finds Worldwide Agreement That Climate Change Is A Threat — World Public Opinion March 13, 2007

The survey also finds that world publics are very concerned about the global environment in general. Seven countries were asked to rate the importance of a number of foreign policy goals, including “improving the global environment.” Overwhelming majorities in all seven countries rate improving the global environment as at least an “important” goal and majorities in all call it a “very important” one: Australia, 99 percent (very 88%); South Korea, 96 percent (very 60%); the United States 93 percent (very 54%), Armenia 86 percent (very 54%), China, 85 percent (very 54%); Thailand, 83 percent (very 61%); and India, 79 percent (very 51%).

Respondents were also asked whether “international trade agreements should or should not be required to maintain minimum standards for protection of the environment.” In ten of the 11 countries where this question was asked, very large majorities believe such standards should be required while in one country views are divided. Those in favor of standards include developing countries, whose governments have sometimes resisted environmental regulations, arguing that implementing such costly rules would put their economies at a competitive disadvantage. In Asia, the Chinese support environmental standards by an overwhelming 85 percent. Seven in ten Thais (69%) also favor such standards as do six in ten Indians (60%). Filipinos are evenly divided (48% in favor, 49% opposed).

In Latin America, an overwhelming majority of Argentines (90%) say such standards should be required. There is also strong support in Mexico (76%), where the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has required the government to enact certain environmental measures. In Eastern Europe, environmental measures are favored in Poland (90%), Ukraine (88%) and Armenia (82%), both of which suffer from severe air and water pollution as well as deforestation dating from the Soviet era. Support for environmental standards is also strong among the relatively wealthy publics of Israel (93%) and the United States (91%).

Read many more articles and reports at General Analysis on Climate Change — Social and Economic Policy (Global Policy Forum).

Go to the nonpartisan US Council on Foreign Relations and download Climate Change: Debating America’s Policy Options (2004) by David G. Victor and Nuclear Energy: Balancing Benefits and Risks (April 2007) by Charles D. Ferguson.

… Dr. Ferguson argues that nuclear energy, despite its attributes, is unlikely to play a major role in the coming decades in strengthening energy security or in countering the harmful effects of climate change. In particular, the rapid rate of nuclear reactor expansion required to make even a modest reduction in global warming would drive up construction costs and create shortages in building materials, trained personnel, and safety controls. There are also lingering questions over nuclear waste, as well as continued political opposition to siting new plants. Nonetheless, the report points out steps the United States could take—such as imposing a fee on greenhouse gas emissions—to level the economic playing field for all energy sectors, which over the long run would encourage the construction of new nuclear reactors (if only to replace existing ones that will need to be retired) and help reduce global warming.

Dr. Ferguson has written a fair and balanced report that brings the nuclear energy debate down from one of preferences and ideologies to one of reality…

NOTE: This post — and Howard’s speech — should be read in conjunction with this post from March 2007: Climate change — too important for conventional politics.

My frustration with the Howard “style” is partly that I resent his appropriation of the word “reform” to a whole range of measures that have not necessarily been “reforms” at all: “changes” yes, even in some cases “acts of vandalism”. Second, why can’t he bring himself to agree that we may well be facing, along with the rest of the planet, a very great moral challenge? (Big Arnie seems to manage to do so in California, and still a Republican too…) Why does this, like so many other so-called “symbolic” positions, so stick in his craw? Is he indeed a moral vacuum, as his detractors sometimes suggest? There is no contradiction between acknowledging a moral challenge and being realistic about solutions. Howard constantly seems to think there is. I call that failure of leadership.

On the other hand the Greens do not emerge well from tonight’s Lateline: Tony Jones speaks with Senator Christine Milne.

…TONY JONES: Alright, now you propose to cut Australian carbon emissions 30 per cent by 2020. That’s actually a 10 points jump in what your previous policy was as I understand it.

As well as that you want to cut 80 per cent by 2050, but once again no indication at all as to what this would cost the Australian economy.

Would you care to guess?

CHRISTINE MILNE: I don’t think this is about a guessing game and I think a political football is not a good idea when it comes to climate change and oil depletion…

Not really good enough.

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2 responses to “The misguided and the misled…

  1. Daniel

    April 24, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    Profits before pollution is the mantra of the deranged! That Howard is trying to throw the unemployment bogeyman into the global warming argument is testament to his stupidity and immorality.

    Profits won’t be important if the world becomes uninhabitable. Even a politician should understand that!

  2. ninglun

    April 25, 2007 at 11:59 am

    Thanks, Daniel. I have found a sensible alternative approach to these matters at the Climate Institute Australia.

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