Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Now that the Australian government has released its detailed carbon-control policies, there is a huge debate ongoing in Australia's newspapers. Most writers approve of the very limited nature of the proposals but the Greens have turned purple with rage. From the big spate of articles, I have chosen to put up below three surprisingly skeptical articles from the "Canberra Times", the newspaper of Australia's capital city -- usually thought to be rather Left-leaning. I then add a short overview article.

Who's afraid of a war on carbon?

The last thing that Kevin Rudd needs in his War on Carbon is for the underlying rationale to be undermined by global-warming sceptics. But in the sceptic community there is a growing confidence that the scientific consensus is weakening, amidst an increasing number of questions about the evidence for human-induced global warming.

"The sceptics are growing in confidence and becoming emboldened," says Ray Evans, secretary of the sceptic organisation The Lavoisier Group. "In terms of morale, the atmosphere in the blogosphere is very cocky. The chief weapon brandished by tile sceptics is the raw temperature measurements from the British Government's Hadley Centre, which shows that global temperatures peaked in 1998 and have been cooler ever since. Climate change believers hate this evidence, saying that it is misleading and are urging people to concentrate on the longer-term trend where the evidence of warming is stronger.

The newly elected centre-right Government of New Zealand has angered environmentalists by announcing a review of "the scientific aspects of climate change", including an examination of "the quality and impartiality of official advice". The stakes on the science being right could not be higher. With governments around the world set to make multi-trillion dollar economy-changing policy decisions, and with businesses already pouring billions into addressing the issue, the rationale for these decisions is, one would hope, based on solid ground. The major scientific organisations in Australia such as the CSTRO, Bureau of Meteorology and Chief Scientist, and the major scientific organisations overseas, such as the Royal Society, NASA, the United Stltes National Academy of 5ciences, and so on, all concur with the general thesis of global warming.

But if it does turn out that human induced global warming was all a false theory, it would represent the greatest scientific embarrassment in history. The confidence and conformity with which the institutional scientific community has pronounced on the issue will be seen as a shockingly black mark against the professionalism an integrity of a generation of scientists.

Unanimity of views can he highly costly, as recent history has shown. The unanimity of views on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the politicians' rush to build on that consensus shows us the risks involved. Sceptics believe that climate scientists will eventually be forced to apologise for their own "slam dunk" evidence, while political leaders will be humiliated for having declared a war on carbon based on sexed-up" intelligence. The difficulty for the sceptics, however, is that the so-called scientific consensus has not collapsed yet, and is unlikely to in a hurry, and indeed may never fall over at all.

If the consensus amongst institutions did start to crumble, that would immediately present a major challenge to supporters of action on climate change, but to date the institutions remain solid. The sceptics remain a group of interested and sometimes clamorous individuals, and whilst some are highly qualified, they lack the heft required to truly change the debate.

Governments are by and large obliged to act on the evidence of their most authoritative scientific advisers, and it would be a courageous leader that overrode their advice, relying on other sources. That said, there is a strong case to be made, given the magnitude of the changes that the Government is set to embark upon, for a New Zealand style select Parliamentary enquiry into climate science in Australia. Much would be learnt, the public would be enthralled. Surely there is nothing to lose?

The above article appeared in the "Canberra Times" on 13th but does not appear to be online there

Climate scepticism is good

"I am not a climate sceptic," said Senator Nick Xenophon in a recent ABC interview, and went on to explain why. He said he found the case for human-induced global warming generally convincing, though far from certain, and believed governments should take action to reduce greenhouse emissions because of the greater risk of doing nothing.

On most everyday understandings of the term ''scepticism'', the senator was in fact displaying a sceptical attitude towards the issue: he denied that the evidence about global warming was certain and was prepared to entertain doubts about the degree of probability for global warming. His refusal to be labelled a ''climate sceptic'', however, shows how the term has become hijacked in public debate.

''Climate scepticism'' now stands for a policy stance, opposition to the case for emission reduction. It has become detached from its normal sense of reasonable doubt about the science. The confusion is important and reflects a dangerous misunderstanding of how far policy can be based on robust evidence.

In principle, all scientific theories are open to falsification by new evidence and therefore no science can ever be entirely certain. In practice, however, many areas of science are sufficiently well grounded in reliable evidence to be accepted beyond reasonable doubt. But climate science is not among them.

Everyone knows the limitations of short-term weather forecasting. Climate scientists confirm that the large number of independent factors influencing climatic events rules out precise explanation or prediction. With climate change, uncertainty is compounded by the lack of reliable historical data from before the modern period. This does not mean that nothing can be known about climate change or that no predictions are worth making. But it does mean nothing can be known for certain or even with the degree of certainty that can apply in aspects of other sciences, such as physics or chemistry.

Uncertainty pervades the entire field of climate change. Scepticism should therefore be the natural attitude of any intelligent student of the topic. Proponents of emission reduction policy do their case a disservice by disowning scepticism and reserving ''climate sceptic'' as a term for those who reject their policy. To cast the debate as one between believers and sceptics implies that some sort of faith or belief is needed in order to accept climate change policy. It rules out the more reasoned, sceptical approach that recognises doubts about the evidence for global warming yet decides, on balance, that the risks of inaction are higher than those of inaction.

The faith-versus-scepticism dichotomy also hands an easy propaganda victory to the opponents of climate change policy. Any doubts about the science can be claimed as automatically strengthening the case for inaction. Conversely, supporters of climate change policy are forced into dismissing and disparaging any sceptical voices. But, once the debate is seen to be between various levels of climate scepticism and risk assessment, any new challenge on a point of evidence is simply one more element in the assessment, not a knock-down refutation.

Many proponents of climate change policy are obviously uneasy about admitting the level of doubt that surrounds the science. The recent conclusions of the International Panel on Climate Change, that evidence of climate change is unequivocal and that greenhouse gases are ''very likely'' (90per cent or more probability) to be the cause of such warming, surely overstate the case. The experts clearly fear that no action will be taken unless public opinion believes in the certainty of human-induced global warming.

But hoping for certainty sets the bar for action too high. It also reflects a misunderstanding of the role of knowledge in policy-making. Good policy needs to be informed, where possible, by robust, relevant evidence. But policymakers often have to act without knowing what is happening or what will work. In the current financial crisis, for example, governments find themselves in uncharted waters but cannot afford to delay decisions. No one is requiring certainty before acting or equating uncertainty with inaction.

The same should apply to climate change and environmental policy generally. To look for certainty or near-certainty leads experts into professional dishonesty, forcing them to hide their doubts and the limitations of their evidence. It also encourages ideological thinking, where public debate becomes polarised between opposing camps unable to admit any contrary evidence that might unsettle their convictions and weaken their advocacy. Climate change policy, like most major policy, is not a matter of conviction or cast-iron proof but of assessing risks in the context of uncertainty.


Does Kevin Rudd believe Kevin Rudd?

The Prime Minister's actions don't remotely match his words

Is Kevin Rudd wilting under the heat of global warming? Only last year the Labor leader was brimming with evangelical fervour as he pronounced climate change as ''the greatest moral challenge of our time''. Climate change, the Prime Minister said, ''threatens the security and stability of us all'', and a failure to act would be judged harshly by future generations.

But now we see the Government's moral resolve melting away before our eyes. After the initial symbolic act of signing Kyoto, the Government has been slowly but steadily downsizing its rhetoric and expectations. The cooling-off from the pre-election passion began immediately after signing the Kyoto Protocol at the Bali climate conference, when the Prime Minister shocked environmental supporters by distancing himself from tougher short-term targets being agreed to by other countries. Those targets of between 25 and 40per cent reductions by 2020 were said by scientists from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be necessary to limit global warming to acceptably low levels. Fast-forward to the present, and the Government's emissions targets, set to be announced on Monday, are reported to be as low as a 5 to 15 per cent reduction in emissions by 2020.

The weakening is even more pronounced when you take into account that the 5 to 15 per cent target is based on a baseline of emissions in 2000, where the United Nations uses the tougher baseline of emissions in 1990. The Prime Minister, who regularly invoked former US vice-president Al Gore and British economist Nicholas Stern as climate change authorities, is now being directly urged by them to stop dragging the chain. Prior to the election, the rhetoric was all about the need to act now, or even yesterday, while this year the urgency has diminished to the point where the Prime Minister this week pointed to a ''very gradual'' introduction of the emissions trading scheme.

The past insistence that the targets should be dictated by the science has now changed into a formulation which says that the targets should be ''guided'' by the science. ''Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth and is more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than any other industrialised nation,'' Rudd said early this year, but the Government's actions have not matched the rhetoric.

If the Government really believes that Australia will be the worst-affected of any developed nation, then why is it not leading the world in advocating a comprehensive global solution? Why has Australia's international diplomacy been so weak? If we are the country with the most to lose, why has the Government not been campaigning furiously, vocally, and with greater resources to maximise the chances of an effective solution? The key principle to a successful reduction in emissions is to share the burden as widely as possible; the more countries that participate in a meaningful way, the lighter the burden on all. If Australia is to convince others of the need for serious emissions cuts, it would need to show that it is willing to support serious cuts itself, and so far it has not done that....

There is one issue that illustrates the increasingly blase attitude of the Government towards the environment, and that is the fact that it is prepared to countenance the loss of the Great Barrier Reef in setting targets. The Government's chief climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut, has said that if CO2 levels reach 550 parts per million then this ''would be expected to lead to the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef''. Yet Professor Garnaut has ''reluctantly'' concluded that because tougher targets are unrealistic, Australia should attempt to secure a global agreement with 550ppm as the official target, and then down the track encourage countries on to a lower-emissions path. In other words, the Government's chief adviser is settled on an official global target that sees the end of the reef, in the hope that the world might lift its game at some point in the future....

Why is the Government countenancing the elimination of the Great Barrier Reef at all? Could it be possible that an Australian Prime Minister, from Queensland, would support a global target entailing the reef's destruction? ''Australia's greatest natural asset'', was how Rudd described the reef during the election campaign last year, ''generating more than $6billion in GDP each year and employing more than 63,000 people.'' But this year the Government refuses to even answer questions about whether the reef is worth saving.

The Opposition is no different, with its environment spokesperson, Greg Hunt, saying that, ''Our goal is to not wave the white flag on the Great Barrier Reef'', leaving the gate wide open for its demise. The only senior politician to have made a concrete statement is Peter Costello, who has said that no prime minister could pursue a policy allowing the destruction of the reef.

The reason that the Government will not answer questions about the reef is simply that it fears the potential economic costs, or more specifically the political backlash from the potential economic costs, of locking in to reef-saving targets. How well-founded are these fears? The Treasury modelling found that in the toughest option, a 25 per cent cut in emissions by 2020 off a baseline of emissions in 2000, average annual GNP growth per capita would be 1.1 per cent rather than 1.2per cent. Treasury's conclusion was that ''Even ambitious emission-reduction goals have little impact on growth in Australia's economy and in household incomes.''

The boiled-down big picture confronting the Government now is this. Its scientific advisers say that Australia stands to lose more than any other country if serious emissions cuts are not made, and its economic advisers say that ambitious reductions will have little impact on Australia's economy. So why is the Government baulking?

More here

Lefties hit by reality

All social democratic governments face the moment Kevin Rudd confronted yesterday when starry-eyed supporters to the Left are mugged by reality. The Hawke government faced just such a moment in 1984 when it approved an expansion of Australia's uranium industry. Party members burnt their ALP tickets and marched in the streets. Greens leader Bob Brown fronted the television cameras after Rudd announced his emissions trading scheme and found it difficult to go beyond the words "dismal" and "disappointing".

This represents a fundamental breach between the Government and the Greens and could prove difficult for Rudd in the Senate - not so much on this package, which will clearly pass with at least Liberal support. It will be a problem if the Greens use their opposition to the ETS to block other legislation.

The scheme itself has hit the target that Rudd and his ministers wanted. It is being opposed vigorously by those on the Left and has been criticised to varying degrees by some business groups and those who do not believe climate change is a problem deserving of this response. This allows Rudd to position himself in the mainstream middle, which is where the Government hopes general public sentiment lies.

The key difference between the July Green Paper and the December White Paper is that the same amount of money is being raised and distributed for compensation on the basis of a much more modest and cautious scheme. This allows the Government to be more generous and spread its safety net - especially for business - much wider.

Two things have driven this shrinking of ambition. First, it's the economy and the global recession that's enveloping just about all nations. Rudd seeks to use some semantic and accounting tricks to sell his 5 per cent bottom line as being bolder than it is, especially the suggestion that when population growth is considered Australia is being as ambitious as the European target of 20 per cent (which is still rubbery) agreed last week. This argument is not going to wash with other countries.

But Rudd's own language exposes his timid approach. When dealing with the economic crisis, the Prime Minister always talks about "bold and decisive" action. Yesterday he described the design of his emissions trading scheme as "reasonable and responsible action".



President-elect Barack Obama recently declared his intention to mitigate global warming by enacting a cap-and-trade policy that would reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by the year 2050. But the last two years of global cooling have nearly erased 30 years of temperature increase. To the extent that global warming ever existed, it is now officially over, says David Deming, a geophysicist and adjunct scholar with the National Center for Policy Analysis. In fact, there is worldwide evidence of the end of global warming, says Deming:
* By the end of January 2008, blizzards and cold temperatures in China killed 60 people, caused millions to lose electric service, damaged nearly a million buildings, airports had to close and Hong Kong had the second-longest cold spell since 1885.

* In February, cold in the northern half of Vietnam wiped out 40 percent of the rice crop and killed 33,000 head of livestock, and the city of Mumbai, India recorded the lowest temperatures of the last 40 years.

* In the United States, the city of International Falls, Minn., set a new record low temperature of minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking the old record of minus 37 (1967); in Reading, Pa., the temperature stayed below 40 degrees for 6 consecutive days and for the first time since the 18th century, Alaskan glaciers grew.

These cold weather events are not abnormal or isolated incidents; global measures of climatic conditions indicate significant cooling. Moreover, NASA reports that oceans have been cooling for the last five years, sea level has stopped rising and Northern Hemisphere cyclone and hurricane activity is at a 24-year low.

But even though global warming is over, politicians are still trying to enact solutions to a non-existent problem. Instead, we must recognize that weather and climate change are natural processes beyond human control. To argue otherwise is to deny the factual evidence, says Deming.


Defying Predictions, Sea Level Rise Begins to Slow

World's oceans rise slower since 2005, fail to display predicted accelerating trend

Satellite altimetry data indicates that the rate at which the world's oceans are rising has slowed significantly since 2005. Before the decrease, sea level had been rising by more than 3mm/year, which corresponds to an increase of about one foot per century. Since 2005, however, the rate has been closer to 2mm/year.

The decrease is significant as global climate models predict sea level rise to accelerate as atmospheric CO2 continues to increase. In the 1990s, when such acceleration appeared to be occurring, some scientists pointed to it as confirmation the models were operating correctly.

Sea level rise was calculated from altimetry data from the TOPEX/Poseidon and Jason-1 satellite missions, published by the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Dr. James Choe, a research associate with the University of Colorado, says the decrease is temporary. "Interannual variations often cause the rate to rise or fall", he says. Choe believes an accelerating trend will reappear within the next few years. Oceanographer Gary Mitchum of the University of South Florida, says making any judgement from the limited data available is "statistically so uncertain as to be meaningless".

Others disagree. Dr. Vincent Gray, a New Zealand based climatologist and expert reviewer for the IPCC, believes that the accelerated trends seen earlier were simply an artifact of poor measurements. "The satellite system has undoubtedly shown a rise since 1992, but it has leveled off", he tells DailyTech. "They had some bad calibration errors at the beginning." Gray points to a study done by Flanders University using tide gauges which, he says, measured no perceptible increase in sea level over its entire 15 year period.

Sea level has been rising since the end of the last ice age, some 20,000 years ago. During an episode known as "Meltwater Pulse 1A", the world's oceans rose by more than 5 meters per century, a rate about 20 times faster than the current increase.

TOPEX/Poseidon was launched by NASA in 1992, and collected data until 2005. In 2001, NASA and France's Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) launched its follow-up mission, Jason-1. Jason-2 was launched in June of this year.



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