Monday, November 12, 2007

What is Wrong with the IPCC?

by Hans Labohm

Summary for Policy Makers

In the international discussion about climate change, which is now going on for almost twenty years, the IPCC has played a questionable role. From its inception, is has almost exclusively focused on the AGW hypothesis, while systematically ignoring alternative hypotheses.

Some main points of criticism of the IPCC include:

- The hypothesis that an increased CO2 concentration in the atmosphere will lead to a rise in temperature has not been proven and is even at odds with the observations.

- Satellite-based temperature measurements show that the earth has warmed a few tenths of a degree Celsius between 1979 and 1998. It is not likely that this is caused by mankind.

- There is still a lack of scientific understanding, required to model all assumed radiative forcings. The most important one, for which there are not sufficient quantitative data to date, is the variable impact of clouds.

- Climate models, which are being used to achieve a better understanding of the climate system, are not suited to serve as basis for predictions. This is, inter alia, related to the stochastic nature of climate.

- The global climate is very much determined by extra-terrestrial phenomena, of which the fluctuation of sun activity is the most important.

- Should there still be global warming in the future, for which there are only model-based indications, then mankind will not be able to do something about it. Moreover, also according the IPCC, a modest additional warming (e.g., of 2 degrees Celsius) will on balance be beneficial for mankind.

- The IPCC has ignored the climate projections of astrophysicists, which suggest global cooling.

The advent of climate alarmism, fuelled by statements of many prominent politicians and the media, has no scientific justification. Many catastrophic consequences of climate change, such as floods and extreme weather events, have been predicted, which are not based on scientific knowledge. Especially the European governments have opted for a climate policy which is completely unrealistic and results in a massive waste of scarce resources.

Finally, one should not discount the possibility that the average global temperature will fall considerably in the near future. This might have harmful implications, as opposed to a modest rise of temperatures, which on balance will have positive effects.

Part 1

IPCC stands for Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is a kind of network/think tank, which operates under the aegis of the UN. It consists of thousands of scientists, many of them climatologists. Once every five years or so, it takes stock of the peer-reviewed scientific literature on climate change. It publishes its findings in a series of comprehensive reports, which serve as the scientific underpinning for policy measures, including the Kyoto Protocol, to counter the `threat' of man-made global warming.

The IPCC was established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Its mission is: `to assess the scientific, technical, and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change.'

Various authors have pointed out that the mandate of the IPCC is too narrow and not purely scientific, since its wording presupposes that there is such a thing as man-made global warming (often referred to as AGW: Anthropogenic Global Warming), which excludes other explanations for the (modest) warming which has taken place over the last century. But at the time, AGW had not been proven - and since then the situation has not changed. However, a prominent Netherlands participant in the IPCC has recently stated that today the IPCC is interpreting its mandate more comprehensively and does also take alternative explanations into consideration. But climate sceptics are not convinced that this is the case.

Yet, the IPCC is generally believed to be the single most authoritative body in the field of climate science and its reports serve as scientific basis for climate policies of governments, which have profound implications for society. As such the panel occupies a monopoly position.

AGW proponents often claim that there is a consensus among scientists about man-made global warming. However, this is contradicted by the facts. A recent opinion poll among 133 German climatologists, by Hans Kepplinger und Senja Post, revealed that 37% of climate researchers adhere tot the AGW hypothesis, whereas 36% remain sceptical. The rest occupies an intermediate position. It is likely that in other countries the outcome would not have been substantially different. By no stretch of imagination this can be construed as a pro AGW consensus.

Nevertheless, opinions which deviate from those of the IPCC are more often than not ignored by politics, even if they come from prominent scientists, who are attached to the most prestigious universities and/or scientific institutions in the world. Apparently politics considers that it can do without a second opinion.

From a technical and logistical point of view, the IPCC is a well-oiled piece of machinery. It displays an exemplary degree of professionalism. Time and again it succeeds to produce reports which comprise thousands of pages. Both AGW adherents and climate sceptics use these reports as standard reference literature.

One of the Netherlands participants of the IPCC has even qualified the IPCC process as 'a triumph of worldwide interdisciplinary and intergovernmental cooperation.'

But outside the official circles there are also opposing views about the IPCC. At the other extreme there is the judgment of Lord Nigel Lawson, former chancellor of the exchequer of the United Kingdom. He told a Washington committee that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change `is so flawed, and the institution ... so closed to reason, that it would be far better to thank it for the work it has done, close it down, and transfer all future international collaboration on the issue of climate change to other world institutions with a better focus on economics.'

This rather strong statement was preceded by some failed attempts to communicate with representatives of the IPCC about the conclusions of an inquiry, published in July 2005, by the Economic Affairs Committee, one of four permanent committees of the House of Lords, on the economics of climate change. This report had been approved by all political parties. But discussions about the outcome of the inquiry with the IPCC stranded in a dialogue des sourds. Moreover, in the latest Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the IPCC, no reference had been made to the results of the inquiry. The Lords were not amused. They were not accustomed to such a treatment. It is also remarkable that the British government has so far dismissed the inquiry of the House of Lords.

Much more here

Why the IPCC should be disbanded

by John McLean


The common perception of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is tone of an impartial organisation that thoroughly reviews the state of climate science and produces reports which are clear, accurate, comprehensive, well substantiated and without bias. One only needs examine some of its procedural documents, its reports and its dealings with reviewers of the report drafts to discover how wrong this impression is.

The IPCC is not and never has been an organisation that examines all aspects of climate change in a neutral and impartial manner. Its internal procedures reinforce that bias; it makes no attempts to clarify its misleading and ambiguous statements. It is very selective about the material included in its reports; its fundamental claims lack evidence. And most importantly, its actions have skewed the entire field of climate science. Over the last 20 years and despite its dominance and manipulation of climate science, the IPCC has failed to provide concrete evidence of a significant human influence on climate. It's time to call a halt to its activities and here are ten reasons for doing so.

1. The IPCC charter emphasises a human influence on climate, not climate in general

The role of the IPCC is defined in item 2 of its document "Principles Governing IPCC Work", (online at The role of the IPCC is to assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant to understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.

This extract makes it clear that the name "Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" is something of a misnomer because the organisation is specifically directed to investigate any human influence on climate. In this context the term "climate change" is analogous to the definition used by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that is "climate change caused by human activity".

The various IPCC reports demonstrate this emphasis on a human influence by their chapter titles and sequence. In the First Assessment Report (1990) the first seven chapters discussed greenhouse gases, aerosols, climate modelling and "greenhouse gas-induced climate change" before chapter 7 had anything to say about climate observations and chapter 8 looked for greenhouse effects in those observations.

The Second Assessment Report (1995) reorganised the chapters but opened with an overview that stressed the greenhouse effect followed by a chapter on radiative forcing, which is how the greenhouse effect operates, prior to a chapter dealing with observations.

In the Third Assessment Report (2001) the chapters were again reorganised with the observations moved to chapter 2, following the overview in chapter 1, and the radiative forcing to chapter 6. In what appears to be a momentary lapse, chapter 1 admitted that the changes in temperature did not necessarily mean that a human influence on climate had been identified and that the changes may be natural.

The acknowledgement of other possible factors did not last long because the Fourth Assessment Report (2007) reorganised its chapters so that chapter 1 contained an overview and chapter 2 discussed changes in atmospheric components and radiative forcing (i.e. greenhouse gas emissions) prior to three chapters dealing with observations.

With each assessment report we've seen discussion of greenhouse effects preceding a discussion about observations. We've also seen each report increasing the probability of a human influence in climate but the quality of evidence to support this claim has scarcely improved so it looks like the IPCC is trying to justify its own existence.

It would be unfair to criticise the IPCC for following the terms of its charter but one can criticise it for failing to clearly enunciate that charter. This situation has encouraged the perception that the IPCC is independent and the ultimate authority on all climate science, but it is intent on selling the notion of a man-made influence on climate in order to justify its own existence. To put it simply, if it was shown that there is no significant human influence on climate there would be reason for having the IPCC.

2. Its participants are not impartial towards a possible human influence on climate

Items 8 and 9 of the above-mentioned document set out the procedures for participation in IPCC work. 8. Invitations to participate in the sessions of the Panel and its Working Groups, Task Forces and IPCC workshops shall be extended to Governments and other bodies by the Chairman of the IPCC. 9. Experts from WMO/UNEP Member countries or international, intergovernmental or nongovernmental organisations may be invited in their own right to contribute to the work of the IPCC Working Groups and Task Forces. Governments should be informed in advance of invitations extended to experts from their countries and they may nominate additional experts.

For this extract we can see that governments can appoint participants to the IPCC but also that those who already work with the IPCC can invite experts to join various working groups and task forces.

Consider this from the origins of the IPCC in 1998 and a troubling picture quickly emerges. At that time the various governments would have appointed to the new organisation scientists or researchers with a strong interest in the question of a human influence on climate. Once appointed to the IPCC such people would, in accordance with the defined procedures, have directly invited other like-minded individuals to also participate.

More than just being a wonderful way to create a lobby group, this procedure created a strongly self-selecting assembly of people with a vested interest. Doubtless it included those who had undertaken research into the area, published papers on the subject and in general developed a reputation around the hypothesis of human-induced climate change. The potential to enhance the general acceptance of that hypothesis and incidentally to develop one's reputation by being part of IPCC processes was obvious from the outset.

Although some individuals appointed to the IPCC were probably sceptical of the extent of any human influence on climate, the very nature of the organisation's charter and its procedures indicates that such minority viewpoints would be quickly marginalized by the dominance of participants aligned to a "human cause".

3. The IPCC promotes a self-sustaining hypothesis of man-made warming

Over time the IPCC reports have progressively expressed more certainty that humans have significantly influenced climate. A key plank for this increased certainty is the number of scientific papers that are claimed to support this contention. This is nothing more than a self-sustaining hypothesis promulgated by the IPCC.

Here's how it works. When an IPCC report expresses confidence in a human influence on climate governments direct research funding into projects that will investigate aspects of this claim. The research produces scientific papers that support the argument. Like-minded experts, probably involved in similar research, review those papers on behalf of journals that subsequently publish the papers. The dominance of papers on those themes enables the IPCC to say that the number of papers supporting the particular line of argument is strong evidence for the claim.

With the dominance of the IPCC's opinions on the governments, which after all fund it and provide both scientists and policy architects, large amounts of public money are directed towards research projects that assume a human influence on climate and little or no funding flows to projects that take a more critical line.

Researchers are not foolish, and they have learned to word their research proposals in a manner that endorses or assumes a human impact on climate. And they have learned to make similar assertions in their scientific papers even if they have very little evidence for such claims. This artful wording of course helps the researcher obtain funding but it also works to the IPCC's advantage because the result will be an increase in the number of papers that endorse a certain viewpoint.

One reviewer's comments to the first order draft of the Working Group I report referred to this matter by suggesting that governments and other institutions be recognised for their support of climate research. This was rejected with the comment "The LAs [lead authors] have been sensitive to avoid the appearance of special pleading for research funding." But indirectly this is exactly what the IPCC reports do - highlight a certain issue and, by virtue of the esteem of this biased organisation, complaisant governments are only too willing to fund research into that area. The IPCC then claims that the predominance of papers that discuss and support a certain view is evidence that the notions are correct. It's a self-sustaining practice that also marginalizes investigations into natural drivers of climate by starving them of funds and exposure.

4. The IPCC's misuse of the concept of consensus

The IPCC misuses the concept of a consensus to provide misleading and false impressions. The document defining the IPCC's principles also says: 10. In taking decisions, and approving, adopting and accepting reports, the Panel, its Working Groups and any Task Forces shall use all best endeavours to reach consensus.... Differing views on matters of a scientific, technical or socio-economic nature shall, as appropriate in the context, be represented in the scientific, technical or socio-economic document concerned....

In other words the IPCC's formal acceptance of a document or report will be determined by consensus among its members. This is entirely reasonable because a consensus is a decision-making tool for groups of people working in administrative or advisory roles (e.g. committees, juries in court cases, politicians, and assemblies in general).

It is a fundamental principle of science that support for a hypothesis means nothing because everything depends on whether the hypothesis can be proved wrong. Settling an unresolved scientific matter is normally done by trying to break various hypotheses and continuing until one is found that cannot be broken, at which point the hypothesis is provisionally accepted.

These matters are not settled by consensus but by dogged testing. Science and its near neighbour medicine are replete with examples of maverick individuals rejecting the consensus of the day and proposing new theories that subsequently proved to be correct. This is not to say that the mavericks are always right but it does illustrate that consensus does not confer "truth" on a scientific theory.

The IPCC's assessment reports are basically a literature survey of the current state of climate science. In the creation of these reports it is desirable that the length of the report be reasonable and therefore that a consensus be reached about the material to be included but if no consensus is possible then the range of differing opinions should be presented.

But whose opinions are we talking about? Is it the authors and review editors who seek to establish a consensus among themselves or is it a wider consensus among climate scientists?

If it is the latter then the review editors of the IPPC WG I report are in contravention of the defined procedures when they reject a reviewer's comments with statements like "More papers reject your claim than support it". If it is the former then seems that the IPCC is interpreting a consensus about the text of a report as somehow determining the truth of a certain statement.

In a similar fashion the IPCC often defends the content of its reports by claiming that it is the consensus of expert reviewers or other scientists. Such a consensus is merely a collection of opinions, not a statement of a truth or unassailable scientific fact

The IPCC seems unable or unwilling to accept the limitations of the use of a consensus as a decision-making tool. It's either that or the IPCC is really geared towards consensus-based political decisions and the science is a minor issue.

Much more here

Don't Look to Government to Cool Down the Planet

by John Stossel

Recently on "20/20," I said "give me a break" to Al Gore for claiming that the global-warming debate is over and suggesting that all dissenters were in it for the money. I interviewed independent scientists who say Gore is wrong.

Some people were relieved to finally hear the other side: "Thank you, thank you, thank you for your report on climate change. . I'm sick of hearing 'the debate's over' and writing anyone who differs off as a nut. This report showed the true nature of the debate and true lack of consensus, something you can't get anywhere else."

Others were just mad: "Your 20/20 report on Global Warning made me sick. ... Your sarcastic ridiculing of Al Gore . I have lost all respect for you and your reporting."

Yes, the globe has warmed, but whether severe warming is imminent and whether human beings are causing it in large degree are empirical questions that can't be answered ideologically. The media may scream that "the science is in" and the "debate is over," but in fact it continues vigorously, with credentialed climate scientists on both side of the divide. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may present a "consensus view of scientists," but the "consensus" is not without dissent.

"Consensus is the stuff of politics, not science," says Paul Reiter of the Pasteur Institute. The scientific process ought to be left to play itself out with as little political bias as possible. Politically influenced research is poison to science.

Part of the problem is the IPCC itself. Reiter points out, "It's the inter-governmental panel on climate change. It's governments who nominate people. It's inherently political. Many of the scientists are on the IPCC because they view global warming as a problem that needs to be fixed. They have a vested interest."

Phillip Stott, professor of biogeography at the University of London, says that the global warming debate has become the new "grand narrative" of the environmental movement. "It's something for people to get excited about and protest. It's more about emotion than science." While the scientists thrash things out, what are the rest of us to do?

There are good reasons to begin with a presumption against government action. As coercive monopolies that spend other people's money taken by force, governments are uniquely unqualified to solve problems. They are riddled by ignorance, perverse incentives, incompetence and self-serving. The synthetic-fuels program during the Carter years consumed billions of dollars and was finally disbanded as a failure. The push for ethanol today is more driven by special interests than good sense -- it's boosting food prices while producing a fuel of dubious environmental quality.

Even if the climate really needs cooling down, government can't be counted on to accomplish that. Advocates of carbon taxes and emissions trading talk about reducing CO2, but they promise no more than a minuscule reduction in temperature. Temperature reduction is supposed to be the objective.

In fact, even drastic plans to cut the use of carbon-based energy would make only a negligible difference. As John Christy, director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and a member of the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, wrote last week in The Wall Street Journal. "Suppose you are very serious about making a dent in carbon emissions and could replace about 10 percent of the world's energy sources with non-CO2-emitting nuclear power by 2020 -- roughly equivalent to halving U.S. emissions. Based on IPCC-like projections, the required 1,000 new nuclear power plants would slow the warming by about 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit per century. It's a dent."

I agree with Stott, who says, "The right approach to climate change is adaptation -- and the way to do that is to have strong economies." We will have a strong economy if we don't give up our freedom and our money to fulfill the grand schemes of big-government alarmists.


Fifteen myths about Britain's housing crisis

Government slothfulness, combined with the green lobby's snobbery towards the masses and their 'ugly houses', is the cause of Britain's shocking homes shortfall

Too few new homes are being built in Britain to meet a combination of rising demand and the need to replace crumbling existing housing stock. The consequences are astronomical house prices and a generation struggling to afford any kind of a home. Anti-development campaigners and government policy are holding back the house-building programme so desperately needed. Here, James Heartfield, author of Let's Build! Why We Need Five Million New Homes in the Next 10 Years, tackles the many myths about Britain's housing crisis.

1) The government is concreting over the countryside

When polled, people think that around one half of Britain is built up, one half countryside (1). That number is wildly off-target. The real number is one-tenth built up, nine-tenths not. There is no threat to the countryside. Just imagine for one moment, you could double - yes double - the number of homes in Britain, and still the countryside would cover four times as much land as the towns and cities. Of course, there is no need to double the number of homes. I estimate that we need another five million, which is to say about 20 to 25 per cent more homes than we have now. In fact, less than one per cent of land goes to homes every 50 years (2).

2) The `green belt' is being worn away

Between 1979 and 1993, the green belt - the undeveloped area surrounding cities - doubled in size. Since 1997 it has grown by 64,000 acres. Today, the green belt covers around 13 per cent of England. Far from shrinking, the land area that is protected, including green belts, national forests, areas of special scientific interest and so on, is expanding decade by decade as more and more farmland is retired from use. If just a small proportion of this land were earmarked for development, then we could have enough homes for everyone.

3) Britain is overcrowded

There are more people per acre in Britain than in America, Africa and Australia, but less than in Holland or Belgium. Britain, though, is by no means overcrowded. Its cities are getting a little denser than they used to be, because of the policy that stops us building new homes in the countryside. In absolute terms, we have plenty of space. What people generally mean when they say that Britain is overcrowded is that they feel distaste towards the kind of people they see around them.

4) Too many homes are being built

The number of homes being built is at an historic low - its lowest since the Second World War. The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) disputes this fact, saying that more have been built since construction reached its absolute lowest in 2001. But the small increase in new homes being built still leaves us way below the levels of previous decades. House completions in the UK have fallen from over 400,000 per year in the late Sixties to well under 200,000 per year in the current decade. It is not enough.

5) More homes are being built, now that the government has acted

Top-down hectoring did whip up some new building, but this small increase has not been maintained. In the year to June, completions were only up by two per cent, but more alarmingly, new starts are down by eight per cent (3). The trouble with the government proposals in this area is that they generally create more barriers to development, even when they say they are liberalising.

6) Enough homes are being built

Almost every report gets this wrong, because they fail to take into account the fact that houses have to come down, as well as being built. It is no good counting the new builds and thinking that they are a running total. Over time, even the best-built homes must come down. The CPRE assumes that in England, with a housing stock of 21million, just one million homes will be demolished every 40 years. At that rate, it would take 840 years to replace Britain's housing stock. Does anyone really believe that all the houses built today will stand for 840 years? (4) It would be more realistic to assume that houses would stand for 100 years, in which case in England alone we need to build 210,000 homes just to replace the existing stock, before considering the additional demand. In fact, completions in England have not been higher than 167,000 in the past 10 years.

7) We can build houses to last

The CPRE says it does not matter that Britain's housing stock is the oldest in Europe: it just reflects the fact that Britain industrialised earlier. But the reason that Britain's housing stock is ageing is because it is not being replaced. We are sweating dilapidated housing. Not demolishing older homes is the way that the shortfall in new homes being built is absorbed. But every year that we fail to build enough houses to retire the old ones, the housing stock gets more run down, damp and dangerous.

8) We don't need any more homes

Instead of predict-and-supply, say greens like Mark Lynas, we need to restrict the demand on new homes. `Addressing this doesn't mean forced sterilisations or a Chinese-style, one-child policy', writes Lynas, having clearly thought about `Plan B', `but it does mean giving incentives for people to have smaller families and addressing rising levels of immigration' (5). Well, Lynas might want to join the anti-immigrant British National Party, but there is no need to. There is plenty of land to build on, without making a dent in the countryside, and there are plenty of people to do the building. The only barrier is the one that his friends in the CPRE lobbied to have put in place, the green belt.

9) We can build our new homes on `brownfield' land

Under the advice of Richard Rogers' Urban Taskforce, the government committed itself to building most homes on land that has already been developed and is now derelict, `brownfield' as opposed to `greenfield' development. Now, in London and other major cities, homes are being crammed into every available space that falls vacant. The BBC reports `garden grabbing': `a rash of flats and new houses replacing gardens in high-price areas.' (6) Shame-faced at their own role in this reinvention of Victorian overcrowding, the CPRE has amended its support for `brownfield development', but still thinks this can be done without overcrowding (7).

10) Urban regeneration is the answer

Britain is overwhelmingly a suburban country. Most people live in the suburbs. The mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, supports those campaigning to save the countryside from sprawl. That is because he wants to keep London densely populated to increase both his political and revenue base. To achieve that he has forced through lots of gardenless, dormitory-style flats, some unfortunately signposted as `key-worker housing'. And though newer immigrants naturally need to keep close to job prospects, Livingstone cannot prevent the `counter-urban cascade' of people leaving London for the suburbs. While five per cent of England's population live in rural areas and nine per cent live in the `urban core', 43 per cent live in the suburbs and another 23 per cent live in suburban/urban areas.

11) More social housing is the answer

A few people have looked at the shortfall in new homes and concluded that the decline is due to less council housing. That is not quite true. In the mid-Eighties, the private sector took up the slack, and in the Sixties, both boomed. It should not matter whether homes are public sector or private, but there is good reason to distrust the call for more social housing. Those who call for more council housing do so because they want to keep control over people, and do not trust them to make their own choices about where to buy. The green lobby supports council housing in the same way that the gentry supported almshouses for the poor - to keep them securely locked up, away from the toffs' country houses.

12) New homes are ugly

Even very intelligent people fall for this line. Considering just how big Cultural Studies is in our universities, you might have thought that somebody would have learned its basic lesson: most so-called aesthetic judgements are nothing but class snobbery dressed up as `taste'. Nearly every single house in Britain is a box. Much-prized Georgian terraces are boxes. Anti-growth campaigners like to show slides of urban developments from the skies, to make us all look like ants - but who lives in the skies? When people say that new homes are ugly, what they mean, but cannot bring themselves to say, is that they think of the people in them as being ugly.

13) Ireland's new homes are especially ugly

Ireland's recent building boom is often cited as an example of what can go wrong. Those Irishmen's homes are ugly, people say. What they mean is: `Wasn't it cute when the Irish lived in little cottages with peat roofs, instead of those hateful McMansions?' Why don't they knock on a door and tell the person inside that his house is ugly, and see how they get on?

14) The CPRE campaigns to protect rural England

In a radio debate, Shaun Spiers of the CPRE challenged me. Surely, he asked, I would not want to see the New Forest developed? The New Forest was once thickly developed with Saxon homes, until William the Conqueror burnt them out, demanding the New Forest for his deer park. The wide-open spaces of the British countryside are the barren desert left after our forebears were ethnically cleansed from the land by the aristocracy. It is the aristocracy that still takes most of the seats on the CPRE council. The real purpose of the CPRE is to put limits on people's aspirations, a function they see in the planning laws: a core function of the planning system is to serve the long-term public interest by preventing the fulfilment of our wants as individuals (8).

15) We need to look after the environment

Of course we do, but the CPRE and other green campaigners have forgotten who the environment is for. They look after empty spaces, beetles and rare birds, but treat people as cattle to be herded into overcrowded sheds. The British countryside is not under threat, but housebuilding is. The grotesque shortage of homes for people to live in shows what happens when you leave the greens in charge of just one area of policymaking. Imagine what would happen if they were allowed to have their way with energy, food, transport and medicine.


GM paranoia is hurting Australian farmers

This week academics at the University of Melbourne released news of the latest victory in the environmental movement's war on Australia. The ban on growing genetically modified canola is costing our struggling farmers a whopping $157 million a year. No green group has yet claimed credit for this triumph of economic terrorism, but no doubt one will soon. On its website, Greenpeace lists among its main achievements the decision by five states to impose moratoriums on the commercial release of the first proposed GM crop. The greens applied pressure on the states after both Australia's independent regulators, Food Standards Australia New Zealand and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator, approved the general release of two types of GM canola in 2003.

This is a hot issue because most states are reviewing the bans, due to expire next year. It matters more generally because canola was the first big battleground in the public debate here over the acceptability of genetically modified foods.

The errors and misconceptions the green activists were able to lodge in our minds then have influenced our attitudes to this new frontier of science ever since. Basically, Australians remain pessimistic while other countries have moved on and are reaping the benefits, and not just from canola. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics has estimated that we stand to lose $5.8 billion in a decade if we don't access all new GM crop varieties. (Mind you, we are not always consistent. Most of the cotton grown in Australia is genetically modified. We hear no complaints from the greens about this. A cynic might say this is because if it wasn't modified it would require a lot more water and pesticides to grow. But the same applies to GM canola.)

Professor Rick Roush and Dr Robert Norton from the Faculty of Land and Food Resources at the University of Melbourne have looked at more than 20 recent reports on GM canola in Australia. They have compared this with the situation in other countries that have not banned GM canola, particularly Canada. A comparison of the experiences of Australia and Canada enables us to review the claims against GM canola made by the greens.

Let's start with the economics. The greens have sometimes argued that Australia, far from benefitting, would lose financially by growing GM canola, because foreign markets would gradually shut out not just GM canola but all canola from countries that grew the GM strains. In fact, just the opposite has happened internationally. More markets have now opened up to GM canola. The biggest is the European Union, which has approved the importation of GM canola grain and oil. As a result of this market expansion, Canada's canola production has increased by 40 per cent since 1996. It has been able to do this in part because GM strains are more productive. Canada's average yields have increased by 40 per cent over the past decade. In Australia, they've gone into reverse, declining by 10 per cent. Because of this and the drought, last year Australia actually imported a large quantity of Canadian GM canola.

This failure in the greens' economic predictions should not surprise us. In the past decade, as green spokesmen took to cutting their hair and wearing suits, they also began to argue their case on financial as well as environmental grounds. It was part of the appeal for respectability. But where it has been possible to test green economics, it has often been found wanting.

Perhaps the most persistent example of this has been in relation to the timber industry. Whenever Bob Carr created a new national park and destroyed yet another small town's economic basis, there was a claim from some city-based green group that the local folk would gain far more from "green tourism" than they lost from the closure of their timber mill. This proved to be fantasy.

Of course, it's not just a question of economics. Over the years green activists have presented a wide range of arguments against GM canola. But their basic position is one of faith: they are fundamentalists. On its website Greenpeace announces it is "opposed to the patenting of life". It is not clear whether this opposition is based on disapproval of capitalism or science or both, but as a general statement it leaves little if any room for debate.

A more positive view of genetic modification is that it's the latest stage in several thousand years' efforts by humans to improve crops. One of the great achievements of the past half-century has been the boom in agricultural productivity. Those who've benefited most have been the world's poor. If further improvements mean "patenting life", so what?

A perverse result of the successful green opposition to GM canola is the harm it has done to the environment. As Roush and Norton explain in their paper, growing the current types of (non-GM) canola requires large amounts of herbicides that stay active in the soil for considerable periods and can be aquatic pollutants. In contrast, GM canola would do far less damage. The Canadian experience shows that GM canola is good for the economy, and good for the environment. Indeed, Canada is planning a 70 per cent expansion of its crop by 2015. Buckling to green propaganda in 2003 was a major failure of leadership by Australia's premiers. Let's hope they reverse that decision next year.



For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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