Random comments on climate change policy

1. Video from The Australian: Paul Kelly.

Abbott goes for a pain free way of addressing the problem but the reality is there is no such thing…

2. Tony Abbott’s compost idea is not so cornyThe Australian.

While the story about a farmer who “now undertakes biological farming – using a humified compost to capture and store carbon in the soil, and shunning acid fertilisers and pesticides” is clearly on to a good thing, as is its recommendation of biochar,there is a classic case of misrepresentation via name-dropping:

The practice has the backing of a growing roster of green heavy-hitters, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore. James Lovelock, the influential British environmentalist, supports its use if limited to plant matter that would otherwise be left to decay.

Anyone who has actually read Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia (2006) will be quite amazed by the co-option of his name to the Abbott policy, which this article is a none-too-subtle example of.

3. Don’t count your trees, forests aren’t that green by Gary Johns, a former minister in the Keating government. Yes, not unbiased, but my reading suggests much of what he says is true.

New research suggests that forests are not the carbon sinks they were assumed to be.

Climate change policy-makers will have to return to the drawing board.

In late 2008, while he was a Smithsonian fellow, Griffith University associate professor Peter Pollard, a chemical engineer and water quality specialist, spent six months in one of the world’s most isolated tropical jungles on Panama’s Barro Colorado Island, and in the protected temperate boreal forests of Massachusetts.

In Panama, sitting atop a rudely constructed tower, he measured carbon dioxide and later, steering his tinnie alongside the giant ships that pass through the Panama Canal, he measured the rate at which freshwater microbes use dissolved oxygen to generate carbon dioxide. His task was to test whether rainforests really store greenhouse gases endlessly. The working assumption was that more carbon appears to enter forests than leaves the forests.

The assumption that unaccounted for carbon dioxide in tropical and temperate forests is held by trees was proved wrong. Pollard found that water-based microbes return carbon dioxide to the atmosphere in large amounts.

The implications of this research for climate change policy are huge. As Pollard states in his report to his sponsor, the Queensland government, "evidence is building to suggest that our forests do not store as much carbon as we thought. They may not be the climate change `get out of jail free’ card we all want."

Where does this research leave the federal government and the opposition on climate change policy?..

4. Peter Cosgrove in The Australian.

FORMER defence force chief Peter Cosgrove has pleaded for Australia to embrace nuclear power, criticising the "daily scrapping" between politicians about climate change.

Addressing a business breakfast in Perth, General Cosgrove said strong action was crucial and it was "almost immoral" to export uranium to less technologically advanced and stable countries to use in nuclear power plants while refusing to have one in Australia.

"We’ll give you the stuff but we won’t use it ourselves; I find that difficult to comprehend," he said.

"We’re a rich and technologically advanced nation sitting in a geologically stable continent, so surely we can expect to build and operate safely a nuclear power station."

The former Australian of the Year said he anticipated there would be an outcry but there was no cleaner energy source than nuclear power. General Cosgrove declined to give a preference for either Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott’s climate change plans and instead expressed concern the election could dilute their political will…

He conceded action to combat climate change would be costly and there were no guarantees about the outcome. "I really don’t know if all I have been told is true and if we may be at risk of quite catastrophic climate change outcomes during the life of grandkids . . . but I am very uneasy about dicing with their future," he said.

"If at the end of 50 years the last sceptic leaps to his feet on his zimmer frame and says `I told you so’ – and we’ve spent all this money for no great effect – then think of the obverse. Think of the people of Tuvalu now settling into Marrickville, Sydney . . . because their beautiful island is gone."…

I am drawn to his argument, and without any misrepresentation of James Lovelock I can say he also sees nuclear power as absolutely necessary to any sound climate change policy. See James Lovelock Nuclear energy for the 21st century.

5. Burying it won’t solve the carbon problem by Peter Cosier in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The good news is that the Coalition has recognised that climate change is a problem. Until now they have been sending confusing messages.

The cornerstone of their policy is to pay farmers, through a tender system, to store carbon in agricultural soils.

Is it possible for Australia to cut emissions by 5 per cent by 2020, through storing carbon in vegetation and soils? Yes, it is. Is that good news for the environment? If it is done properly, absolutely. But then what?

If we are to make our contribution to managing carbon pollution we need to reduce emissions by at least 25 per cent by 2020 (and by between 80 per cent and 95 per cent by 2050).

The Coalition’s policy can’t get us anywhere near those targets.

The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists strongly supports the important role terrestrial carbon – the carbon stored in forests, woodlands, grazing land, farmland and soils – has in addressing climate change, but unless we also transform our industrial economy, there is no chance of solving the climate change problem.

If we are serious about limiting climate change to less than 2 degrees then we must put a cap on carbon pollution from transport and energy generation…

6. Disbelieving fans put faith in the lord is amusing on Lord Monckton.

Here’s how this London leader writer – briefly an adviser to the Thatcher government – came by his most persuasive qualification: he is the fortunate grandson of Walter Turner Monckton, 1st Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, GCVO, KCMG, MC, PC, a minister in Churchill’s government 1951-1955.

"I much prefer Ian Plimer’s Australian way of pronouncing viscount," he told his big, enthusiastic crowd at the club. "In Scotland they pronounce it Viccunt."

7. Peter Hartcher’s Coalition making sceptics of us all is good on good old Barnaby.

It was a puzzle until Barnaby Joyce solved it for us.

Tony Abbott’s Coalition doesn’t believe that man-made climate change is real. Last year Abbott called the idea ”absolute crap”. So why would he bother announcing a policy to fix it?

Joyce, in his first appearance at the National Press Club as the opposition finance spokesman, was asked to unravel this riddle yesterday.

And he did, if you could sort through his trademark quirks along the way, like his definition of insulation – ”that’s the fluffy stuff that sits in the ceiling for rats and mice to urinate on”.

The core of it was this: ”Because we represent the alternative government in Australia, that does not mean that we are omnipotent and that our views permeate to become the views of everyone else. We have to provide an outcome that represents the aspirations of the Australian people.”

In other words, we’re doing it because we have to pander to the electorate’s views, even if we think they’ve been gulled by a giant fraud…

When you’ve done with all those, go to the Department of Climate Change and have a good look round. You may also care to download Details of proposed CPRS changes (375 KB) so you can see what it’s all about for yourself.

Footnote 1

Are forests really the carbon sink we need? by Peter Pollard.

Evidence is building to suggest that our forests may not be the climate change ‘get out jail free’ card we all want.

Australian Rivers Institute’s Assoc. Prof. Peter Pollard has researched rainforest lakes and rivers to test a provocative theory. The respiration of bacteria living and ‘breathing’ in these freshwater ecosystems is a major pathway for the return of rainforest carbon back to the atmosphere as the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

His concern is that we are underestimating the rate of return of these greenhouse gases to the atmosphere…

Footnote 2

Not entirely relevant, but my task for the March issue of The South Sydney Herald is a piece about the My School site and related matters.

2 thoughts on “Random comments on climate change policy

  1. I’ve considerable sympathy for this part of what Jim Belshaw has just posted.

    I am sorry, but I no longer like the cut and thrust of political debate intended to support particular positions. It used to be fun, but now its boring.

    I need information that will help me to make up my own mind. I also want to see a variety of alternatives tested. At the end of the day we may come back to an emissions trading scheme as part of the mix.

    To finish this post, one of the silliest things that Lord Monkton said to my mind was let’s wait for ten years. Then, if its a problem, we can do something about it.

    I would turn this on its head.

    Given the scientific consensus, let’s do something about it now. If, then, at the end of the ten years we know that the global warning argument is wrong, we can change direction. It’s really a simple benefit-cost analysis. The net costs of waiting are greater than the net costs of doing something now and getting it wrong.

    Finally, in all this let’s keep talking about options and choices.

    Agree too with what he says there on the Indian students issue.

  2. Add Fran Kelly on ABC The Drum.

    Last year Tony Abbott was urging his colleagues to pass Kevin Rudd’s ETS, minimise the chances of a punishing early election and get on with things. The pragmatist in action. Not long after he changed his mind: the ETS should be blocked, Malcolm Turnbull dumped and any price on carbon banned for the foreseeable future.

    It was a nifty manoeuvre but not so surprising from the bloke who’d publicly declared the science of climate change “absolute crap” and was on the record as saying the economics of an ETS are a bit dodgy.

    A long list of concerned scientists think the economics and the science of his direct action response to climate change are a bit dodgy too. It’s not that the measures Tony Abbott advocates are bad, it’s just that they’re not much, and they won’t change much, Tony Abbott proudly declares his climate plan means “business as usual” for the big emitters – in other words no great cost burden and therefore no great job losses involved.

    The trouble is business as usual for industry means carbon emissions will continue to rise by 20 per cent by 2020. It’s hard to see how that’s going to help protect against a warming planet.

    And the small scale of his plan is really no help in the task of switching from a carbon intensive economy to a low carbon economy.

    But as a political tool it’s clever and it gives him some ammunition to argue on the topic and to keep on pressing the Government over its emission trading scheme – which he calls a great big tax.

    There’s no doubt the politics of climate change have changed and the Prime Minister missed the boat because he didn’t push hard enough to bring the people with him on his costly and complex ETS. Voters feel let off the hook after Copenhagen. If the rest of the world isn’t going there why should we?

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