Ben Eltham on Who killed the climate bills?

Today on ABC’s The Drum Ben Eltham has posted Who killed the climate bills?

John F. Kennedy, in the wake of the Bay of Pigs fiasco, once said that "victory has a thousand fathers, but failure is an orphan."

Not so climate change legislation, which has now failed in both the US Congress and the Australian Senate.

Both defeats can claim many parents: climate change skeptics, conservative politicians in opposition, well-funded lobbyists, vested interests in industry, the complexity of the proposed bills, the failure of international negotiations, and the complacency of ordinary citizens. All have conspired to defeat flawed but necessary attempts by progressive governments here and in America to combat rising fossil fuel emissions and the warming global temperatures they cause.

Close followers of Australian politics are of course well aware of the torturous and repeated failure of the Rudd Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme in the Senate. After two efforts to get it up in 2009, the government gave up in April, marking the beginning of the end of Kevin Rudd’s Prime Ministership. Since coming to power, Julia Gillard has promised a citizen’s gabfest and a renewed effort to build consensus on the issue – but no price on carbon any time soon.

Across the Pacific, we’ve seen a similar story play out…

But who is really to blame for the failure? In another hard-hitting column in The New York Times, liberal economist Paul Krugman makes the obvious point that we should "follow the money":

"The economy as a whole wouldn’t be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries – above all, the coal and oil industries – would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines. Look at the scientists who question the consensus on climate change; look at the organizations pushing fake scandals; look at the think tanks claiming that any effort to limit emissions would cripple the economy. Again and again, you’ll find that they’re on the receiving end of a pipeline of funding that starts with big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, which has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting climate-change denial, or Koch Industries, which has been sponsoring anti-environmental organizations for two decades."…

There are, incidentally, left-wing versions of climate change contrarianism, notably Alexander Cockburn of Counterpunch.

We should never be more vigilant than at the moment a new dogma is being installed. The claque endorsing what is now dignified as "the mainstream theory" of global warming stretches all the way from radical greens through Al Gore to George W. Bush, who signed on at the end of May. The left has been swept along, entranced by the allure of weather as revolutionary agent, naïvely conceiving of global warming as a crisis that will force radical social changes on capitalism by the weight of the global emergency. Amid the collapse of genuinely radical politics, they have seen it as the alarm clock prompting a new Great New Spiritual Awakening.

Alas for their illusions. Capitalism is ingesting global warming as happily as a python swallowing a piglet. The press, which thrives on fearmongering, promotes the nonexistent threat as vigorously as it did the imminence of Soviet attack during the cold war, in concert with the arms industry. There’s money to be made, and so, as Talleyrand said, "Enrich yourselves!" I just bought two roundtrip British Airways ticket to Spain from Seattle and a BA online passenger advisory promptly instructed me that the CO2 "offset" cost would be $7.90 on each ticket, which I might care to contribute to Climate Care. It won’t be long before utility bills will carry similar, albeit mandatory and much larger charges. Here’s a forewarning of what is soon going to happen, courtesy of Samuel Brittan in the Financial Times, under the menacing title, "Towards a true price for energy”…

But most contrarians come from the Right. In Australia Quadrant provides a very handy anthology of their arguments, including not only Cardinal Pell but also one of my Facebook friends! Two things struck me as I browsed.

1. It is remarkable how many of the contributions really come from a prior ideological or political conviction rather than from actual scientific considerations. Even the heading quote of the set confirms this:

“Today’s debate about global warming is essentially a debate about freedom. The environmentalists would like to mastermind each and every possible (and impossible) aspect of our lives.”

Vaclav Klaus
Blue Planet in Green Shackles

2. It is sad how they have in the past twelve months latched on to one debunked guru after another: first the egregious Lord Monckton; latterly the US radio weatherman and blogger Anthony Watts*.

In a comment on Ben Eltham’s post Old Bill asks: “How does one obtain a qualification to discuss climate change? Is there a B.Cli.Ch.Dis? Perhaps one needs to be elected a fellow of the Royal Society?”

Well, the good news is we don’t have to rise to the heights of election to the Royal Society as those already there have delivered their verdicts on climate science already: they respect it, they respect its methods, and they endorse its findings as far more credible than contrarian or denialist positions. My own position as (like most of us) a total amateur is 1) the more I read about the science of climate change the more sense it makes and 2) when I see people like Stephen Hawking, Lord May of Oxford (FRS since 1979 and former President of the Society), and our own Nobel prizewinner Professor Peter Doherty have no trouble accepting the conclusions of climate science then what weight should I give to dissenters whose views so often prove suspect?

If you want as objective an account of the science as seems reasonably possible view the lecture series by Professor Richard Muller of the University California, Berkeley.

That video “deals with the physics of climate change, the data on global temperature and carbon dioxide changes, and some potential solutions. Also covered are the many mistakes that can be made, including the trap of exaggeration. He warns against the danger of cherry picking and overstating the case. When people discover that the exaggerated case is not valid, they may dismiss the problem altogether. Professor Muller has researched this topic for many years and has co-authored a book with Gordon MacDonald called Ice Ages and Astronomical Causes.”

If you know a bit about physics already consider The Physics of Climate PPT. Nothing hysterical there.

Fact is just about every reputable scientific academy and journal in the world will give you the same answer: the science is at least 90% certain. Why contrarians want to go for the 10% of uncertainty as the part of the equation to base our policy responses just defies even everyday common sense. Of course the trouble is the observed changes so far really are very small, and the possible catastrophic changes are highly unlikely to happen quickly or in the lifetimes of us or even of our children, though there is uncertainty about that too as they may well happen rather more suddenly than predicted. What does make sense is to do all that is reasonably possible to mitigate future changes due to man-made components of climate forcing while we can. Adaptation to changes we cannot mitigate is also important, but the trouble is the more we debate and wait the less mitigation will be possible and the less pretty adaptation becomes.

Yes there is a debate to be had about the most effective forms of mitigation, and the following is I think fair comment:

But the current inertia really ought to be a concern.

Another good source of information I have not mentioned in earlier posts on this subject is The Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Meanwhile, another issue comes via ABC: Selling the farm is a special report by Radio National and the ABC News Online Investigations team.

Foreign interests including state-owned companies from China and the Middle East are increasingly looking to Australia to secure their food production by purchasing key agricultural assets.

The sale of agricultural land is exempt under Foreign Investment Review Board regulations and the FIRB’s attention is usually triggered only by the sale of companies whose assets exceed a $231 million threshold.

In recent years, and especially since the global food shortage in 2008, China, South Korea, Japan, India, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have all been engaged in massive agricultural purchases around the world and in Australia – as outlined in these maps of Australia and the globe.

New South Wales Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan says Australia risks losing control of its wealth-creating agricultural assets. He believes the Federal Government is not paying sufficient attention to the issue of global food security…

* I’ve been thinking about his famous expose of inadequacies of US weather stations (see the video above) and been wondering why he didn’t go on to say “the temperature in Godzilla NC today might have been 83F” whenever he did a weather report, as presumably he relied on these stations for his own weather reports. Unless he has his own network of people with cuckoo clocks all across the USA who SMS him whether the little man or the little woman has appeared that day.

Late addition

19 thoughts on “Ben Eltham on Who killed the climate bills?

  1. “Not so climate change legislation, which has now failed in both the US Congress and the Australian Senate.”

    Yes Virginia, there IS a God. And apparently, our God hates hippies*.

    Despite the hippies’ best laid weed addled plans, the CO2 scam failed. I have to admit that I expected it to fail in the US, where mostly only Californians stay stoned all day. The rest of us aren’t nearly as idiotic. But I have to apologetically admit that I thought Australia might just be dumb enough to pass CO2 legislation. I realize that it’s an insult to your intelligence to suggest that you are stupid enough to tax carbon, and I apologize. But in my defense, I heard an Australian song that said, “Traveling in a fried out combie, on a hippie trail – head full of zombie.” So naturally I assumed that you guys were just a bunch of stoners. Stoners think taxing carbon is ‘smart’, btw.

    Never more glad to be wrong!

    * – In fairness, he probably just loves plants – things that are big fans of CO2, but _I_ hate hippies, so I’m projecting my views onto Him. Still, hippies and environmentalists do suck.

  2. My views have absolutely nothing to do with hippiedom, nor does the reputable climate science referred to above.

    I never have been a hippie, nor am I a total groupie of the Greens.

    I do assert that what is it appears actually happening trumps whatever opinion you may have about hippies and/or environmentalists, in fact reveals such a line of attack for the red herring it is.

  3. “I do assert that what is it appears actually happening trumps whatever opinion you may have…”

    Wish you’d apply that to your own beliefs. I’m glad to assume that you aren’t an addled weed smoker (though you never exactly said that). I hope that at some point in the future you’ll be able to admit, “Hey, the CO2 concentrations in the atmo are still going up, yet the temps haven’t in the last decade or so. Mayhap there’s no causal relationship!”

    I said ‘mayhap’ to make it sound British. You know, because Australians want to be British. You’re welcome. 🙂

  4. That’s one of the most common bad arguments in the sceptic armoury — a classic cherry-pick, so classic that it is the very one with which Richard Muller begins the lecture in the video posted in this entry! What else has the Heartland Institute, or its clones and lackeys, been telling you lately?


    A report on the world’s climate has confirmed that 2009 was one of Australia’s hottest years on record and provides more evidence of global warming.

    Three hundred scientists from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association compiled the report, which the association’s data centre chief Deke Arndt says paints a compelling picture.

    “It’s basically the annual check-up that looks at the year that ended in a climate perspective and so you can kind of think of that as we all go to the doctor for our annual check-up,” says Arndt.

    “But because 2009 was the end of a decade we wanted to take stock of a longer-term view.”…

    South Australia and New South Wales had their warmest year on record as La Niña conditions changed to El Niño.

    Maximum temperatures were generally above normal throughout Australia, adding up to the second hottest year since temperature started being record in 1910.

    Warming undeniable

    Arndt says the signs of global warming are undeniable.

    “Each of the last three decades has been substantially warmer than the decade before it,” he says.

    “On a decade scale, that is very clear. The 1980s was the warmest decade on record as of December 31, 1989, but every single year in the 90s was warmer than that decade’s average temperature.”

    Dr Peter Thorne, of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, says the scientists were not swayed by the debate over climate data and whether it had previously been manipulated.

    “What this data is doing is screaming that the world is warming and that cannot be driven by any single, individual or even a small set of groups because the evidence is there to see there are lots of groups doing this stuff,” says Thorne.

    Tom Karl from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Service says the report does not try to make the link between the cause of global warming and what has been observed.

    “This is the basis for the next step, because without this data it’s impossible to take the next step,” says Karl.

  5. I didn’t realize you could ‘cherry pick’ an entire decade’s worth of data. But I guess in the non-mathematical non-scientific world of AGW belief, you can! In fact, I can ‘cherry pick’ seven of the last twelve decades as examples of consistently increasing CO2 and variably falling temps. This AGW tree seems to be more cherry than tree.

    Hey, to quote you, here’s an example of weather=AGW:

    “A report on the world’s climate has confirmed that 2009 was one of Australia’s hottest years on record and provides more evidence of global warming.”

    I thought you didn’t go in for that kind of crap. Guess I was wrong. But I bet you think that your and South America’s freakishly frigid winters are just weather and not related to climate change. A blip on the map, right? And the fact that Antarctica contains more ice than it ever has since we began recording it… well that’s just happenstance. To you, I mean.

    Look, I hope you don’t destroy the prosperity of your nation with carbon rationing. Australia is a great country and I’d hate to see it returned to third world status. But if your views are typical of Australians, who are we to stand in your way? If I had my way, I’d let NZ do the experiment where they priced themselves out of markets and see what happened, but if you want to do it to… hey, it’s your country. Hey, you can always get a job pulling a rickshaw.

  6. Yes, you are right that by itself the matter reported in the story I quoted neither proves nor disproves AGW. As for your cherry-pick I do commend you listen to Richard Muller’s lecture where he argues that the topic is bedevilled by both cherry-picking (and he does cite your recent argument, albeit three years ago) and exaggeration.

    I would like to see my country at the forefront of the next industrial revolution, though the signs are not promising, rather than locked forever into palaeotechnology.

  7. As for your cherry-pick I do commend you listen to Richard Muller’s lecture where he argues that the topic is bedevilled by both cherry-picking (and he does cite your recent argument, albeit three years ago) and exaggeration.

    No need. I already agree with you. People who’s knees bend at the Church of Man-mad Global Warming are expert cherry pickers, as we saw in the quote above, the quote where the evil Michael Mann said that the recent heat in the northeastern US is because of global warming, and the thing that you quoted last week about some part of Russia experiencing a heatwave not felt in almost 130 years as yet another example of global warming. I completely agree that cherry pickers abound.

    Sheesh, this is getting as silly as that environmental movement that says we have to stop harvesting fish from the ocean or all of the fish will die, while simultaneously saying that we have to stop letting fertilizer runoff enter our rivers because it makes too much algae (algae=fish food, in case you were unaware). I just can’t understand why you give environmentalists credence. They’re very poor thinkers, much like hippies. The evil Mr. Mann is a great example. Why do you trust such frauds?

  8. Because the best scientists on the planet encourage me to.

    And the greatest tools and hacks appear to be on the other side. Give up now, Kevin. Your certainty on AGW being a scam just doesn’t stack up against what real scientists, great scientists, are saying in just about every country in the world.

    Technologically too you seem like a livery stable owner on the cusp of the rise of the automobile. Events are going to leave you behind.

  9. Heh. I don’t even know where to start!

    You must read things more than you do things. No offense intended. It’s a way of life. It’s just not my way. I’m currently EXTREMELY offended by you, Neil. Sure, I’m a scientist, mathematician, engineer, and sure, you take other scientists who’s opinions are paid for to be fact over my unpaid opinion, but that’s not what offends me. What offends me is that you think I don’t know much about fish.

    I’ve got an 8 acre pond literally teeming with bass and catfish, assuming ‘teeming’ is something that can be done literally. And guess what – I toss in ~200 lbs of 8-8-8 fertilizer every year to keep it teeming. It’s not runoff. I do it on purpose. It yields great results. If I chased my neighbors off the land I’d have hundreds of pounds of fish to show for it. But I don’t have the time atm. Damn, now I want to go fishing. Jerk!

    See, this is how hippie environmentalists do their thing. Sure, massive algal blooms kill a few fish, but it all turns into food in the end. The overall population (or at least biomass) of fish increases quite dramatically after a bloom. But they won’t tell you that, much like they won’t tell you that CO2 appears to have very little to do with world temps. And yet you continue to believe them. Heck, maybe you’re one of them.

  10. And will continue to believe sources far better placed to be believable than you are, Kevin, no offence intended. That is my objective critical judgement of the available sources. Beside the Royal Society and the world’s leading scientific bodies you just don’t rate.

    Your opinions coincide very closely with a line of attack that, while you may not be paid, definitely comes via vested interests in energy policy.

  11. Yes yes, theory over facts. I get it. The Roman church in the 1600s would be very proud of you. Galileo, not so much. It’s your country. Destroy it however you like.

  12. I trust Sir Isaac Newton and other founders of the Royal Society would understand.

    The trend over the past forty years towards global warming is an agreed fact. You have had nothing to say that can’t be found on any Exxon-sponsored or Heartland Institute linked propaganda site.

    Except about your fiish pond.

  13. I trust Sir Isaac Newton and other founders of the Royal Society would understand.*

    Please. Clearly, you don’t trust Newton. Instead, you trust the ‘consensus’ of mediocre or paid off minds. Newton never did that when he was alive, so it’s obvious that he wouldn’t do that now.

    The trend for the years from 1968 to 1998 towards global warming is an agreed fact. Since then, it’s been cooling rather dramatically. You have had nothing to say that can’t be found on any UN-sponsored or tax-wanting government linked propaganda site.

    See what I did there? We can’t be silenced by your propaganda. Science WILL win out. It always does. It almost always shows hippies and environmentalists to be complete tools, and sadly, this time will be no different.

    * I didn’t completely follow that sentence. Are you saying that other founders of the royal society would understand if you trusted Newton? If I read that right, who cares? Do you believe their opinions count for something? Fact is fact, and Newton was all about facts. It never mattered if someone agreed with him.

  14. Also, I thought of a good new word for you. Piscine. It means, “I know more about fish than you in either word or action.” Something like that.

    I’m still quite angry that you suggested that I don’t know about fishing and that the Honorable Sir Tim Blair is just a court jester. It’s like you’re making a mockery of all that’s good, and I’m sick of it.

  15. You can cease your propaganda drive now, Kevin. I am quite satisfied that your one-sided and often highly repetitive contributions add nothing to the pool of reputable information on the subject — and yes, Tim Blair, Bolt, Miranda Devine and all the other right-wing hacks on this subject here in Oz are just that — hacks. I find them about as useful on climate science as the pages of Pravda were on the state of freedom in the USSR around 1950.

    It is pretty much now, except for propaganda intensification, as it was two years ago when David McKnight wrote Who is behind climate change deniers?

    …The chief scientist of New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric research, Dr Jim Salinger, knows all about misrepresentation. Two months ago, he was named by an Exxon-funded group, the Heartland Institute, as a scientist whose work undermined the theory that burning carbon was a cause of global warming.

    The Heartland Institute – essentially a free market lobby – emphasises that “the climate is always changing”. Salinger’s research studied variation in climate, so his research was enrolled in the denial campaign.

    Variations in the climate are normal, Salinger said, but this did not in any way weaken conclusions about the dangers of burning oil and coal. “Global warming is real,” he said, and demanded reference to his work be removed. The institute refused. The Heartland Institute received almost $800,000 from Exxon, according to Greenpeace’s research based on Exxon’s corporate giving disclosures.

    Another regular piece of evidence in the denial lobby’s PR campaign is the “Oregon Petition”. This urges the US Government to reject the Kyoto Protocol and claims there is “no convincing scientific evidence” for global warming. It is said to be signed by 31,000 graduates, most of whom appear to have nothing to do with climate science.

    The petition originated in 1998 with a scientist, Dr Frederick Seitz, who had been president of the US National Academy of Science in the 1960s (and a tobacco consultant in the 1970s). The petition was accompanied by a purported review of the science that was co-published by the George C. Marshall Institute. This institute received at least $715,000 from Exxon Mobil since 1998.

    Claims about the world cooling, not warming, are common in the world of deniers. Cardinal George Pell referred to this possibility recently.

    In his recent book Heat, George Monbiot gives the example of the TV presenter and botanist, David Bellamy, who is also a climate sceptic. He told the New Scientist in 2005 that most glaciers in the world are growing, not shrinking. He said his evidence came from the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Switzerland, a reputable body. When Monbiot checked the service they said that the Bellamy claim was “complete bullshit”. Glaciers are retreating.

    In Australia, the main group that tries to undermine the science of global warming is the Lavoisier Group. It maintains a website with links to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (over $2 million from Exxon), Science and Environmental Policy Project ($20,000) and the Centre for the Study of Carbon Dioxide (at least $100,000).

    The Lavoisier group is certainly influential in the Federal Opposition. A senior figure in the group told Guy Pearse, author of High and Dry, a study of climate policy in Australia, that there “is an understanding in cabinet that all the science is crap”.

    But perhaps the oil companies’ PR campaign is not the main reason for the success of the climate change deniers. There are at least three others. First, the implications of the science are frightening. Shifting to renewable energy will be costly and disruptive. Second, doubt is an easy product to sell. Climate denial tells us what we all secretly want to hear. Third, science is portrayed by the free market right as a political “orthodoxy” rather than objective knowledge.

    The tide slowly turned on tobacco denial and the science was accepted in the end. But climate is different. There are no “smoke-free areas” on the planet. Climate denial may turn out to be the world’s most deadly PR campaign.

  16. I read an article today that said, “Temperatures are 6-10C below normal in much of South America.”

    Hmm, they should have said “Temperatures are 6-10C below normal in much of South America, providing more evidence of a lack of global warming.” You know, to weakly counter the weak arguments you keep showing as examples of AGW.

    Hah! You calling ME repetitive is hilarious. “blah blah blah global warming. Blah blah blah we’re all going to die. Blah blah blah UN and CRU can be trusted. Blah blah blah so you can’t trust deniers.” Sound familiar? That was me paraquoting every single one of your dozens of posts on the church of man-caused global warming.

    If you’re going to whine about a made up future disaster, Neil, at least don’t whine about the people trying to set you straight. I’m doing all of this for you. Because I care :). Also, I was wondering, where do I get my Exxon check that is given out to all non-believers in AGW? Do you have a phone number or something?

  17. Church of denial is your congregation, Kevin. That’s fine. but stop pretending that you go 1) politics and economics (AGW can’t be happening because it threatens my political beliefs) and 2) let’s diss all the scientists who see AGW as around 90% certain and back anyone, scientist or clown, whose readings are more politically acceptable.

    I will still follow the most respected scientists on this one. That is a rational, not a political, choice.

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