In Gore’s commencement speech at Hamilton College:
“Similarly today, we have a debate in our nation about whether our climate crisis is real,” Gore said. “Mother Nature has weighed in if you will think about the events in the last 12 months.”
He said in the last year, Pakistan and Australia have seen massive flooding, Texas and Russia have endured wide-scale drought and fires, and the Mississippi River is facing the largest floods in recorded history.
“These events have been just in the past 12 months, and the scientists are now in a shift in their rhetoric saying that if you ask the question, ‘Would these events happened in the absence of man-made global warming?’, the answer is almost certainly no.”
Really? BBC on the Pakistan floods in 2010 — global warming or bad river management?
Climate change may not be the only cause of Pakistan’s woes. There is also a sense that the current floods have been exacerbated by the way the Indus has been managed.
In the UK, flood risk is reduced by building levees (embankments) along vulnerable part of rivers. These barriers prevent them from bursting their banks in extreme floods. It is a system that has served well for generations.
But Pakistan’s rivers are different.
UK rivers carry very little sand and mud. In contrast, the Indus is choked with sediment eroding off the Himalayas. Building levees causes the river channel to silt up.
This has the unexpected effect of making Pakistan’s rivers prone to even bigger floods when the levees eventually break.
“What we’ve done is apply a system from the West that just doesn’t work [in South Asia],” said Professor Sinha.
Christian Science Monitor on Australia’s floods — global warming or nature or we’re not really sure?
What’s the primary cause of the Australia flooding, which now covers an area the size of France and Germany combined and has caused an estimated $6 billion in economic damage? The La Niña ocean-atmosphere phenomenon in the Pacific....
Both El Niño and La Niña are naturally occurring events that represent extremes in weather and occasionally wreak havoc on human population centers. Australia and Indonesia often see drought during El Niño, while La Niña typically causes higher rainfall there.
“In a general climatological sense, La Niña is always associated with very active rainfall conditions,” Dr. Kolli, chief of the World Climate Applications and Services Division, says in a telephone interview from Geneva. “But it won’t tell you exactly at what time of the season there will be very heavy rainfall. It helps people at being prepared, but you cannot use that information to take specific action in terms of a specific flood event.”
Moreover, he says, La Niña is only one of the many contributors to the heavy rain now hitting eastern Australia.
“The severity of the impact can be different,” he says. “La Niña is not the only factor that causes the active rainfall conditions. We need to investigate with more detailed data on exactly what happened [in Australia].”
Physorg.com on the Texas wildfires — global warming or too much rain last year?
Dylan Schwilk, an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, researches plants and fire. He’s studied the effects of wildfires in places such as the California, South Africa, Australia and Texas.
The current fire problem in West Texas is being fed by dormant, warm-season perennial grasses throughout the high and rolling plains area he said. Last year’s El Niño event helped these grasses grow thick. After going dormant for the winter, and because of this year’s La Niña drought, it’s left plentiful fuel lying on the ground.
“Here in West Texas, we get these powerful, low-humidity winds,” he said. “It’s amazing what fire will carry through out here. Even in heavily grazed areas, the winds lay fires flat. It’s very likely the relatively good rain we received last year contributed to higher fuel loads.”
Though recent fires make the landscape look devastated, almost all parts of the plants will survive the fires because grasses are still dormant and have very little living tissue above ground at this time of year, Schwilk said.
Most native woody plants, such as oaks, mesquite and other shrubs, will build new shoots from below-ground tissues even if partially or wholly burned. Also, some oaks have protective bark that shield the plant from fire.
Since the late-Miocene Period about 8 million years ago, fires have actually helped the spread of warm-season grasslands in Texas, such as those in the Southern High Plains. The grassfires burn hot, move very quickly, but they mainly burn upward. Grasses resprout because temperatures at the soil level don’t get hot enough to kill the root system.
The AFP on Russia — global warming or stupid Soviets?
This month, forest fires are already raging in Siberia, the Urals, and far eastern Russia, while peat bogs are smouldering in central Russia, Yaroshenko said.
“In a week’s time, the situation risks escalating in a catastrophic manner… and we will have a repeat of last year’s situation,” he said.
The noxious smoke could veil Moscow a month earlier than last year, in July, he warned.
Peat bogs were drained in Soviet times to extract fuel for experimental power stations. Once alight, the fires are particularly hard to put out because they continue to burn underground.
Peat fires are easier to extinguish at an early stage, but the emergency situations ministry “prefers to hide rather than react to warnings,” said Grigory Kuksin, head of Greenpeace Russia’s firefighting programme.
And finally, ABC News on the Mississippi floods — global warming or bad river management and incorrect estimates from the Army Corps of Engineers?
“If the rainfall increased in a forest the forest is going to suck up 90 percent of that rainfall. But if it happens in a urban area the pavement and roofs aren’t going to suck up anything,” Bosworth told ABC News.
The affect is multiplied on the mighty Mississippi because rivers in 31 states drain into it or its tributaries.
“The rivers need some room and we are getting that message explained very clearly to us year after year. It’s time we smelled the coffee,” said Robert Criss, professor of earth and planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. “There is a lot of evidence that floods are not only getting deeper and more severe, but also more frequent.”
Criss attributes the rise in devastating floods to the continued constriction of the waterways and increased building in vulnerable areas. He says that as levees continue to be built higher it creates water that has enough power to tear through a landscape like a tsunami if the levee is breached, destroying everything in its path.
“What we need instead is a more thoughtful system where we have gates within levees and when we require flood water storage these gates are opened,” said Criss. “This will save levees, save farms and rejuvenate soil.”
Criss says that when water is released at a massive rate like in Cairo, Ill., when the Corps blasted the levees to flood farm land and save homes, it is a destructive process and the land is often not salvageable.
Both Criss and Bosworth agree that part of the problem is inaccurate assessments by the Corps.
Here some advice for the graduates of 2011: Don’t believe what comes out of Al Gore’s mouth.
SOURCE (See the original for links)
Lighting Specialists Stockpiling Incandescent Bulbs
Via The New York Times
Unsurprisingly, the article takes a holier-than-thou tone towards those Americans who (*GASP*) won’t just roll over and let Washington bureaucrats tell us what’s best, and those who don’t feel that it is the government’s business to tell them what kind of lighting they can use in their home.
However, this attack on us mere commoners who actually appreciate consumer freedom runs into a problem: many hotshot interior decorators and lighting specialists also like the incandescent bulbs, thus the stockpiling. It’s an interesting contrast — it is okay for experts who appreciate light to stockpile incandescent bulbs but everyone else is overreacting, possibly succumbing to the right-wing media machine:
It should be noted that, like most decorators, Ms. Williams is extremely precise about light. The other day, she reported, she spent six hours fine-tuning the lighting plan of a project, tweaking the mix of ambient, directional and overhead light she had designed, and returning to the house after dusk to add wattage and switch out lamps like a chef adjusting the flavors in a complicated bouillabaisse.
She is aware that there is legislation that is going to affect the manufacture of incandescent bulbs, but she’s not clear on the details, and she wants to make sure she has what she needs when she needs it.
So does John Warner, a restaurateur in Washington whose new bistro, Le Zinc, will open next month on Wisconsin Avenue. He has signed a 15-year lease on the place, which is layered in warm woods, with lots of art and photographs and 50 light fixtures, 16 of them designed to hold a 40-watt soft-white G.E. incandescent bulb. By estimating that his lights will be on for 15 hours a day, and factoring in the package’s promise of a 2,000-hour life span per bulb, Mr. Warner has calculated that he will need 600 of these bulbs to last through his lease.
“I have a light-enough carbon footprint in the other aspects of the design,” he said, “so I can allow myself a lighting splurge.”
Compare that to this:
Nonetheless, as the deadline for the first phase of the legislation looms, light bulb confusion — even profound light bulb anxiety — is roiling the minds of many. The other day, Ken Henderlong, a sales associate at Oriental Lamp Shade Company on Lexington Avenue, said that his customers “say they want to stockpile incandescent bulbs, but they are not sure when to start. No one knows when the rules go into effect or what the rules are.”
Probably this is because articles about light bulb legislation are incredibly boring, and articles about the end of the light bulb as we know it are less so. Certainly they stick in the mind longer.
For years, Glenn Beck, among other conservative pundits and personalities, has proclaimed the death of the incandescent light bulb as a casualty of the “nanny state” (never mind that the light bulb legislation is a Bush-era act), and he has been exhorting his listeners to hoard 100-watt light bulbs (along with gold and canned food). This year, conservative politicians took a leaf from his playbook, introducing bills like the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, courtesy of Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman, that would repeal the 2007 legislation.
Dear New York Times: Conservatives are capable of passing legislation that angers other conservatives. Similar phenomena occurs on the left. Please note for future articles.
The article also pushes the misleading claim that incandescent bulbs aren’t being banned. They are being forced to meet efficiency requirements which traditional bulbs cannot meet: thus, the bulb that American’s know will be banned. Halogen incandescents (which are still extremely costly) will be able to be purchased. Thus, people understandably get anxious when they see that they might need to purchase $50 LED bulbs:
Last week, for example, in the middle of Lightfair, an annual trade show for the lighting industry, Philips unveiled a winged LED bulb with a promised life span of 25,000 hours and a price tag of $40 to $50. The Associated Press reported its cost as $50, and Fox News ran the story with the headline “As Government Bans Regular Light Bulbs, LED Replacements Will Cost $50 Each.” Mr. Beck, Rush Limbaugh and conservative bloggers around the country gleefully pounced on the story, once again urging the stockpiling of light bulbs.
I previously wrote about the $50 light bulb here (a gleeful pounce indeed, though I haven’t urged anyone to stockpile the light bulbs). Fear not America, the New York Times has spoken, and they’ve asked you to sit down, shut up, and enjoy the ride.
REDD FACES ALL ROUND
A GLOBAL scheme to reward poorer rain-forested countries for halting deforestation has led to plans for more commercial logging, a blind eye being turned to illegal logging and the displacement of forest people – all helped by McKinsey consultants funded by British and Norwegian taxpayers.
The Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) scheme aims to allow richer countries to buy “avoided deforestation” as part of carbon trading. This depends on calculating how much forest would have been chopped down and then preventing some of it (at as little cost to the economy as possible).
Not surprisingly, countries have already been accused of overestimating the amount of logging that might have happened without REDD… so when the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) environment minister announced in January that the country was to lift its moratorium on new logging concessions, this could still somehow be spun as a reduction in deforestation.
There’s funding available from the World Bank to help countries draw up REDD plans, as well as assistance from some enthusiastic European nations. Most of this REDD-readiness money is ending up in the pockets of international consulting firms – and McKinsey has established itself as the market leader.
For instance, the UK’s Department for International Development paid McKinsey £313,000 for work on REDD in Guyana, while Norway and the UK paid the firm for its work in DRC. McKinsey’s advice to Guyana even included weakening environmental laws, as a “more permissive regulatory regime” would ultimately allow them to make more money from REDD.
‘Blame the poor’
In an editorial last month, ahead of an upcoming meeting in Oslo of scientists, REDD-funders and international organisations, Nature magazine called on these funders to “finalize standards and safeguards” governing human rights before handing out more cash.
McKinsey became first pick for REDD work after developing a methodology it calls the “greenhouse gas abatement cost-curve” to estimate potential emissions reductions. A new study by charity the Forest People’s Programme (FPP) looked at the plans devised so far and concluded: “Abatement cost-curves, which aim to determine the least-cost option for the greatest emissions reduction potential, will almost always result in blaming the rural poor for deforestation, as implementing measures to halt small-scale and subsistence agriculture carries an economically lower price than halting industrial logging or even addressing illegal logging.”
The consultancy itself even admitted last month, in a statement responding to various international campaign groups, that: “The abatement costs shown in the cost curve across a range of emissions reductions initiatives do not necessarily reflect the full costs of implementing those initiatives.” For instance, it says, halting subsistence agriculture “could be significantly more expensive than suggested by the cost curve” when attempting to work with millions of farmers across a large country.
But while McKinsey boasts that its cost-curves have been used by more than 25 countries to “inform” decision making, it washes its hands of any ill-effects, adding that the cost-curve is not meant to “determine or generate” policy. Not that developing countries will have any funding left to pay for other policy work once they’ve bought their McKinsey report.
Documents revealed by a Papua New Guinean blog last year showed McKinsey asking for $2.2m (“50% below our usual fees”) to prepare a national REDD plan in 2009. The documents also suggested that they seek to cover the budget for the process “from external sources... eg. Australia, Japan, Germany, UK”.
Is NOAA Smarter Than Fifth Graders? Think-Tank Says, "Don't Bet on It"
Fifth Graders Challenge NOAA's Hurricane Prediction with One of Their Own
The same organization that challenged NOAA to bragging rights for the best hurricane forecast last year using a trained chimp armed only with a pair of dice and a craps table is challenging the agency again: This time by putting two fifth graders up against the multi-billion dollar federal agency.
"NOAA may have beaten our trained chimp, Dr. Hansimian, last year," said David Ridenour, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research. "But he was really only our second banana. Let's see how NOAA can do against opponents with opposable thumbs."
Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, released its annual May forecast of Atlantic hurricanes. NOAA forecast 6-10 hurricanes for 2011, a range suggesting anywhere from a "normal" hurricane season to an "above normal" one.
"NOAA's forecast was on target last year, but it was only the second time in seven years the agency got it right. This may help explain why its forecasts the past two years have had such enormous ranges," said Ridenour. "Is NOAA smarter than two fifth graders? Given its less than 29% success rate the past seven years, we sincerely doubt it.
To find out for sure, we've commissioned two fifth graders to calculate the number of Atlantic hurricanes using a methodology that 5th graders use to resolve most of life's most vexing challenges."
Filmmakers Steven Crowder and Jordan Crowder co-produced a video of the fifth graders, Kate and Chris, demonstrating their methodology. The three-minute video can be found here It was co-written by David Ridenour and Steven Crowder.
The video isn't being released to question the professionalism or dedication of NOAA experts, but to remind Americans that forecasts based on science that is still evolving is unreliable and shouldn't be used to determine public policy.
"Forecasts are just that: forecasts. All that matters is what actually happens," said Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research. "We should keep this in mind as we consider whether to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Past forecasts of rising temperatures, sea levels, and droughts and other extreme weather events due to rising concentrations of carbon haven't proven any more reliable that NOAA's annual hurricane forecast. Until their reliability improves, it would be irresponsible to base policy on them."
Along with the fifth graders' forecast, the National Center for Public Policy Research is issuing a challenge to NOAA. "If at the end of the hurricane season, Kate's and Chris's forecast turns out to be more accurate than NOAA's, we challenge the agency to send a representative to their class to acknowledge their superior hurricane prognostication skills and to provide a presentation about NOAA's hurricane research," said David Ridenour. "In return, should NOAA prove more accurate, Kate and Chris will be more than happy to visit NOAA, acknowledge NOAA's superior hurricane forecasting skills, and provide a briefing on what their class is doing."
June 1 is the official start of the 2011 hurricane season.
Putting humanity in a kangaroo court
When Nobel laureates staged a mock eco-trial in Stockholm last week, they were really demanding to rule the world
You may not have noticed, but last week you were a co-defendant in a court case. In Stockholm, the Third Nobel Laureate Symposium on Global Sustainability met at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The event website proclaimed that ‘hjumanity [sic] will be on trial as the Third Nobel Laureate Symposium brings together almost 20 Nobel Laureates, a number of leading policy makers and some of the world’s most renowned thinkers and experts on global sustainability.’
The charge against us, humanity, was that ‘our vast imprint on the planet’s environment has shifted the Earth into a new geological period labelled the “Anthropocene” – the Age of Man’. But this was a showtrial. The guilty verdict had been written before the court had even assembled. ‘The prosecution will therefore maintain that humanity must work towards global stewardship around the planet’s intrinsic boundaries, a scientifically defined space within which we can continue to develop’, claimed Professor Will Steffen, showtrial ‘prosecutor’ and executive director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University. The website and literature accompanying the symposium made no mention of the defence’s argument. Indeed, why would a Symposium on Global Sustainability invite a defence that challenged the premises it intended to promote?
The ‘trial’ was merely a stunt, of course, designed to make a stuffy, pompous and self-serving enterprise such as this more appealing to the media and the hoi polloi it sought to prosecute. It was one of a number of sessions at the event, each intended to qualify the sustainability agenda with the expertise of its participants. But this circle-jerk, show-trial symposium revealed far more about its members and the hollowness of the sustainability agenda than it revealed about humanity.
A trial implies a question mark over the guilt of the accused. A showtrial on the other hand, is a performance designed to serve some agenda or purpose, to make political capital from the trumped-up crimes of the defendant, whose ‘guilt’ has already been established. And so it is with the litany of charges served against humanity: we are ‘influencing critical Earth system processes’, ‘pushing the planet out of the 10,000-year Holocene environment’, causing ‘irreversible and abrupt changes’. These are our transgressions. They were recited in the courtroom melodrama, not to encourage scrutiny of ourselves, of society, or even really our relationship with nature, but to elevate the judges and their agenda. After all, without criminals, there can be no judges.
There is a strange irony to the spectacle of the world’s best thinkers putting humanity on trial. At the same time as they sit in judgement of humanity, those who seemingly best represent its virtues distance themselves from it. This act reflects a disconnect between the world’s elite – the establishment, in other words – and the rest of humanity. It is a practical demonstration of the extent to which contempt for humanity has been absorbed into establishment thinking.
Environmentalists often find it hard to understand why their arguments and actions are taken as a reflection of deep anti-humanism. But the symposium epitomises the degradation of the concept of humanity. It’s not merely the symbolic act of the Great and Good sitting above the rest of us and passing judgement; anti-humanism runs through their discussion. The showtrial diminishes the defendant – humanity – by making the plaintiff the Earth. There are only two ways this can be made sensible: either the Earth has characteristics that qualify it as a ‘person’ deserving of legal status, or humanity does not have characteristics that make it exceptional, distinct from nature. Sure enough, across the bottom of the symposium’s brochure in large print are the words ‘The world is facing a tangle of entwined challenges. It is time to recognize that we are part of nature.’
More depth on this central message of the symposium is given in the outline of its themes: ‘A central challenge for the twenty-first century is to respect the dynamic environmental boundaries that define a safe planetary operating space for humanity and to guide the human enterprise onto trajectories that develop within these boundaries. Collective action, flexible institutions and active stewardship of our globally interconnected social-ecological system is required to ensure a prosperous future for humanity.’ The themes also declare: ‘It is time to fully realize that our societies and economies are integrated parts of the biosphere, and start accounting for and governing natural capital.’
The attack on humanity would not leave such a bad taste in the mouth, were it not so nebulous. What does it mean to ‘respect dynamic environmental boundaries’, let alone identify them? Sustainability advocates claim ground for their argument in science, but the imperative that we ‘respect’ environmental boundaries precedes any real understanding of what these boundaries are, or whether they even exist. ‘Dynamic boundaries’ are in fact goalposts that can shift according to the needs of the sustainability agenda and its advocates, not a fact about the material world. Anything, including a caveman lifestyle, could be deemed ‘unsustainable’. But most importantly, what is forgotten by the symposium’s concatenation of incoherent and pseudo-scientific eco-concepts is the dynamism of humanity.
Instead of seeing humans as creative, and able to respond to ‘a changing world’ without their guidance, the laureates presuppose that we exist within a tightly ‘entwined’ relationship with nature. Our unguided movement within this relationship unsettles the mythological balance that nature’s providence rests on; nature is dynamic, but we are not. Thus we bring disequilibrium into the world at our own peril, like Adam and Eve thrust out of Eden for bringing sin to paradise. Humanity has brought chaos into creation, and we are now burdened with the consequences. And it is from this idea of a perilous relationship with nature that the members of the symposium hope to create a basis for reorganising society, with themselves as its stewards.
The sentence handed to us by our judges is a series of emergency and longer-term measures that humanity must observe if we are to survive. Many of these demands are familiar noises about ‘avoiding dangerous climate change’, meeting Millennium Development Goals, and increasing the efficiency of productive activity. But more telling is the demand for the ‘strengthening of Earth system governance’, which calls for a range of institutions to be created or given greater power to ‘integrate the climate, biodiversity and development agendas’ and ‘address the legitimate interests of future generations’. There’s also the call to enact a ‘new contract between science and society’, which will launch a ‘research initiative on the Earth system and global sustainability’, and ‘increase scientific literacy’.
At face value, the symposium and the sustainability agenda are about saving the planet. However, the desire for a ‘sustainable’ relationship between society and nature looks much more like nervousness about the establishment’s relationship with the rest of society. The institutional apparatus and power sought by the Nobel laureates through the sustainability agenda is about a search for authority and legitimacy: to overcome the gap that exists between the establishment and the rest of humanity without actually closing it.
We don’t have to stretch our imaginations to get a glimpse of what these new institutions and powers – the object of the sustainability agenda’s ambition – will look like and what they are really about. The mock trial of humanity allowed the laureates to play out their fantasy in which humanity’s guilt is turned into political power. In this intertwined relationship, there is no need of democracy; political power is simply justified on the basis of humanity’s guilt and the inevitability of catastrophe. The laureates imagine themselves in a state administrated by Plato’s philosopher kings. Us mere plebs are deemed incapable of determining things for ourselves. They appoint themselves, in case our base ambitions, desires and needs get the better of us and we send the world into ruin.
It is no more meaningful to try humanity for crimes against nature than it is to try nature for crimes against humanity – disease, flood, famine and so on. In the Middle Ages, all kinds of animals were summoned to courts to be tried. The Enlightenment saw the formulation of a more sophisticated understanding of nature and humanity: we created our own future, and our own history; the antithesis to the idea that we are mystically ‘entwined’ with gods, monsters, and other personalities representing ‘nature’. Those ideas in which humanity was understood as exceptional and apart from nature are now being abandoned by the very group of people who ought to be carrying the legacy of the Enlightenment and the humanism that developed within it.
The idea of a closely intertwined, inflexible relationship with nature that the Laureates prefer creates a prison in which no expression of humanity can be seen as a worthwhile end in itself. Everything must be judged by the imperatives of sustainability and its institutions. ‘Our predicament can only be redressed by reconnecting human development and global sustainability, moving away from the false dichotomy that places them in opposition. [...] In an interconnected and constrained world, in which we have a symbiotic relationship with the planet, environmental sustainability is a precondition for poverty eradication, economic development, and social justice.’
Such is the extent of the anti-humanism of the sustainability agenda that meeting the most basic of human needs is not a ‘good’ unless it has been assessed for its environmental impact. It is not humanity in general, but these sustainability advocates that deserve to be in the dock.
BIG GREENIE ROUNDUP FROM AUSTRALIA
Four articles below
The electronic Dick gets carried away
Dick Smith is rightly one of Australia's most popular people and I agree with his view that Australia should aim for a stable population rather than an expanding one. But he seems to have fallen under the influence of Greenie myths. The idea that a major food exporter like Australia could run out of food is absurd. To gain perspective, consider the case of another major food exporter -- post-Communist China
PLANS to massively boost Australia's population are a bad idea and must be stopped, entrepreneur Dick Smith says.
'The Federal Government favours a "big Australia" and wants to increase the country's headcount from 22 million to 35 million by 2050, largely by immigration.
But Mr Smith said this was ridiculous. "We need to do something about this incredible increase," he said at an Australian of the Year dinner in Parliament House today. "No one is allowed to talk about it ... I am."
Mr Smith said Australia did not have enough water or food to support millions more people. It was crazy that seawater was being desalinated for drinking water to supply a booming population. "I believe in 100 years time people in Australia will be starving to death."
The intake of skilled migrants should be slashed and women should be discouraged from having more than two babies, Mr Smith said. He believes nine out of 10 Australians do not want a population boom.
Mr Smith is working on a documentary on the issue.
The Government wants to increase the population because it means more young taxpayers to pay the rising health and pension costs of the ageing population.
But a recent poll showed most people did not like that plan and some green groups have voiced concerns about the environmental costs.
"Climate change" hits South Australia
ADELAIDE shivered through its longest May cold spell in 24 years, weatherzone.com.au says.
The city's temperature failed to reach 15C from Monday to Wednesday - the longest consecutive run since 1987 - before reaching a maximum of 15.5C yesterday.
This was still more than three degrees below the long-term average.
Weatherzone meteorologist Brett Dutschke said southerly winds and low cloud had persisted since last weekend, with cold air lingering much longer than usual.
Mr Dutschke said while the remainder of the week would remain cold, temperatures would warm to near 20C next Tuesday or Wednesday in a brief spell of northerly winds.
Threat of carbon tax blackouts
THE security of electricity supplies would be at risk and power prices would be likely to rise under a carbon price if assistance measures failed to prevent the financial collapse of coal-fired generators, a report has warned.
A tax on carbon emissions could undermine investments in new low-emissions generation, if the viability of generators was undermined, according to a confidential report by investment bank Morgan Stanley.
The report warns that energy retailers could face higher costs and increased financial risks.
It found it was possible that the introduction of a carbon price - given that it was a radical change in the cost structure of the entire generation sector - could result in some unpredictable shifts in electricity prices, as it could alter the behaviour of electricity generators bidding into the national electricity market.
The Morgan Stanley review, which was conducted in 2009 as the government developed its compensation package for Kevin Rudd's carbon pollution reduction scheme, has never before been released because electricity generators threw open their books to the investment bank for the analysis.
A summary of the report, prepared by the Department of Climate Change and obtained by The Australian, was circulated to generators this week for the first time.
The generators had demanded the information as they continued their talks on an adjustment package for Julia Gillard's carbon pricing plan, which is being negotiated with the Greens and the rural independents.
The report is relevant to the current negotiations because the government has made clear the CPRS is being used as the foundation for the new negotiations.
The report will intensify calls from coal-fired power stations, particularly the brown coal-fired Victorian generators, for financial assistance. It underlines the difficulties facing the multi-party climate change committee as it negotiates the final details of the carbon package. The government will need a concession from the Greens, who have opposed providing financial assistance to coal-fired power stations, if it is to be able to offer a package to the coal-fired power stations.
The Morgan Stanley summary emerged as business groups continued to eye a campaign against the carbon tax.
The Australian Coal Association has been sounding out advertising agencies as it examines a potential advertising campaign against the carbon tax.
The Australian understands other business groups are also considering the move.
Electricity generators are due to meet the government again today before the Prime Minister's multi-party climate change committee's weekend of negotiations on the details of the package.
The Morgan Stanley report - which modelled the impact of a carbon price on the Victorian plants of Hazelwood, Yallourn, Loy Yang A, Loy Yang B, South Australia's Flinders and Millmerran in Queensland - identified three primary risks to the operation of energy markets under a carbon pricing regime.
It warned of "physical threats to system security", weakened investor confidence and disruptions to normal operations in energy-contracting markets.
On the threats to the electricity supply, the Morgan Stanley report said "physical supply reliability could be affected by unco-ordinated plans across the market for the withdrawal of large amounts of generation capacity potentially in advance of when new generation capacity might be available".
It said there was potential for a steady decline in reliability if financially distressed power stations reduced maintenance, either because they were in the hands of their lenders or faced with investment difficulties for assets with uncertain economic lives.
The report also warned that significant reductions in asset values in a concentrated sector of the generation market "may make investors less willing and able to invest in new low-emissions generation and dissuade other investors (particularly foreign investors) from providing capital to provide such new investments".
"Such an outcome could jeopardise Australia's medium- to long-term energy security by delaying critical investments," Morgan Stanley found.
The ability of power stations to pass on the carbon cost would depend on whether there was unutilised capacity in the market.
"If this spare capacity is able to be ramped up, then higher-emissions generators would have difficulty passing their full carbon costs through as lower-emissions generators will be able to profitably increase their output," Morgan Stanley found.
Generators might also be unable to pass on carbon costs if demand for power fell because of the higher electricity prices.
More rapid deployment of low-emissions technology would also lead to a lower carbon price pass-through.
And the closure of existing power plants could force up prices, the report said.
"As existing capacity is retired, the balance of supply and demand will tighten, which may lead to higher market prices and higher pass-through factors for the remaining plant for a period of time," it said.
The report said higher gas prices would require higher levels of carbon price to ensure the long-run marginal cost of new gas-fired generation was competitive with the short-run marginal cost of existing coal-fired generation.
Bid to stifle climate debate clouds history of scientific errors
The Climate Change Commission has released its long-awaited report saying the "jury is in" on the science behind man-made climate change. The verdict? "Humans are the problem."
So strong is the consensus, argues the climate ambassador Tim Flannery, that it is time for news media to cease giving space for debate over the science in view of the magnitude of the threat and the inability of non-experts to understand the issues.
With respect, that argument is not going to blow air into my balloon. Our system of government relies on non-experts making judgments. Our cabinet ministers are chosen from the ranks of elected members of Parliament, rather than external experts. Each year the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, has to decide how much the federal government spends on 50 different vaccines to combat the risk of a pandemic. Roxon is not an epidemiologist. Wayne Swan has never had a cent of his own money at risk in a business he was running, yet he makes the judgments as the Treasurer on monetary policy, securities regulation, tax rates and foreign investment. We know that relying on non-experts involves risk but we regard it as the least-worst system, in part because we know how often the experts have made catastrophic errors.
In Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841), Charles Mackay chronicled the human tendency to be swept up in herd behaviour completely at odds with our goal of dispassionate, individual thought. Mackay looks at the great Tulip Bubble, sharemarket frenzies, the burning of witches and failed doomsday prophesies.
The scientific community is not immune. Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) showed it behaving like any other group - with a dominant clique-building and defending their empires , while bullying and ostracising dissenters. Kuhn showed that in case after case, the orthodoxy defends the status quo long after the data shows its underlying thesis must be wrong.
We have seen how that bullying, data manipulation and discrediting of dissenters scandalised East Anglia's climate research unit, which put together the historical temperature data on which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change based its warming scenarios. The most damning revelation was why the manipulation was necessary: because the earth is refusing to warm at the rates the models required.
Flannery trousers $180,000 a year from the Prime Minister to heighten community angst, and her re-election depends on his success. Panasonic, the producer of energy-intensive, carbon-rich electronic goods, sponsors his chair at Macquarie University. While that money does not go to him directly, he has boasted of "carrying the flag for Panasonic in everything . . . I do" before clarifying that "I have not advocated Panasonic as a company in my public engagements as chief commissioner, nor have I done so in my books or TV work." Clear as mud.
The criticism that "money talks" in policy debates about energy-intensive industries ought also to be directed at the academic and scientific establishment. If we were to remove all the scientists whose teaching and research programs derive taxpayer funds to pursue the anthropogenic thesis, I suspect the "consensus" would be weaker. It doesn't mean the thesis is wrong, but the transparency being practised by the scientists falls woefully short of that expected of journalists, politicians and company directors.
An eminent cereal biologist and board member of the then Co-operative Research Centre for Grain Food Products recently told me how he was called to Canberra in the 1970s to join a secret conclave of senior figures in the departments of agriculture and defence from the US, Australia and Britain. Their task was to consider how to ration food in the coming ice age. (In fact, the Earth has had no polar ice for 75 per cent of its 4.5 billion-year history and we are still in an ice age.)
The risks of making predictions about complex systems on the basis of computer models was graphically illustrated by the Club of Rome's famously discredited 1972 work The Limits of Growth, which argued that linear growth in food resources and exponential growth in population would lead to Malthusian famine and war. The model completely failed to account for the subsequent 400 per cent increase in agricultural productivity.
Remember Y2K? In 1999 governments spent millions enriching computer scientists for advice on how to manage the threats to our national security from the millennium bug.
When making decisions about our country's future, we ought not to be dismissive of the wisdom of the traveller on the Bondi tram. While public support for the man-made warming thesis is falling, it will not serve the cause of science to behave like a shock jock with a microphone for himself and a mute button for his callers.
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