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April 11th 2016 print

Alan Moran

The Climateers’ Moveable Feast

After the Paris powwow in December the action switched to Davos. Then the serried legions of  jetsetting carbonphobics repaired to the four corners of this tormented planet with renewed messages of a doom that only other people's money can avert

pigs at troughThe Paris COP 21 at the end of last year may have set an all-time record for conference attendance of officials, NGOs and lobbyists—40,000 plus at least 5000 from the media. Virtually every world leader made an appearance, many changing their schedules at short notice to attend the opening rather than the close. There may have been a thousand booths of different organisations and countries, and in the course of the deliberations there would have been over 800 formal meetings and presentations.

During these meetings statesmen and NGOs repeated the same messages they had delivered dozens, sometimes hundreds of times. We heard how the ice was melting, the rivers were drying and sea levels were rising. We heard how tropical diseases were going to engulf us unless we took action and how, in view of the rapid expansion of renewable technology, that action was going to be much cheaper. Moreover if we used less energy we would be better off because we would spend less money. National spokesmen boasted of the sacrifices they were making and how much they were doing to advance the clean/low energy cause at home and abroad, while NGOs urged faster and further action.

The conference featured a constant series of street theatres. 350Org staged a major concert featuring, among others, Patti Smith, Flea (of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers), and Thom Yorke (of Radiohead). When musicians are lecturing us on policy we know the end of rational government is near.

The only note of dissent was the counter-conference hosted by the Heartland Institute, which featured genuine scientists, including the recently deceased great Australian Bob Carter, who demonstrated that:

  • the earth was not warming to a level that might cause unease;
  • there was no increase in inclement weather events;
  • sea levels were not rising;
  • the emission-restraining actions by the developed world would be meaningless since the developing world, especially China and India, would take no such measures and their emissions already exceeded those of the developed world.

The protesters outside and inside the Heartland event far exceeded the invited attendees. Among them, with his own camera/sound crew, was the University of Queensland’s John Cook, who originated the story that 97 per cent of scientists agree about human-induced global warming. Actually, only 1.6 per cent of the thousands of papers Cook and his activist team studied were said to have explicitly endorsed the warmist view and even some of these scientists have rejected the researchers’ classification of their papers.

Politics and diplomacy were the dominant issues in Paris. Few were concerned about the science or economics of climate change. Even the source material in the IPCC Fifth Assessment issued in 2014, once the 6000 pages of jargon and intimidating diagrams had been navigated, asserts that with a three-degree warming total loss of global GDP compared with business-as-usual is just 2 to 3 per cent over the course of a century. That’s just half a year’s growth even without any mitigatory action, such as planting different crops. Meanwhile the apparently trivial costs of preventing the emissions rest upon massive new breakthroughs in renewable energy technology and a Philosopher’s Stone discovery of how to capture and store the carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

In view of the IPCC’s sober assessment of losses from climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) could hardly endorse the double-digit losses in global GDP claimed by hack studies like those of Stern and Garnaut. It did however promote alarmist studies, such as one that topically claimed climate change was killing more people than terrorism.

In January, the UN cavalcade moved on to Abu Dhabi where UN chief Ban Ki-moon said: “Sustainable energy is the thread that connects economic growth, social equity, and our efforts to combat climate change.” Leaders of the world’s mendicant states queued up to divert to themselves funds from this major oil producer and owner of Manchester City.

Participants barely had time to cash in their frequent-flyer points before jetting on to the World Economic Forum in Davos. There, film stars like Leonardo DiCaprio were in full attack mode. According to DiCaprio:

We simply cannot afford to allow the corporate greed of the coal, oil and gas industries to determine the future of humanity. Those entities with a financial interest in preserving this destructive system have denied, and even covered up the evidence of our changing climate …

Although most business delegates attending Davos would count themselves as “concerned”, they appear to have downgraded climate change to a relatively low point on their fearmometer scale. The Paris agreement was fundamentally created by President Obama, who said:

Climate change could define the contours of this century more than any other [challenge]. I came here personally to say the United States not only recognises the problem but is committed to do something about it.

As Obama has said, his administration claims his policies will “push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet”. He cheerily argued that green energy now employs more people than the coal industry—a sad indictment of politicians’ understanding about the need to produce things cheaply—especially things like renewable energy, which costs two to three times as much as conventional energy.

Obama bookended December’s agreement in his State of the Union message where he declared, in Shakespearean language, “if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it”. He declared that everyone including the US military, the great corporations and almost the entire scientific community were on board.

Of course, this is hardly the case. Obama himself recognised this in avoiding having the agreement described as a treaty, which would never pass Congress, and in delaying the implementation of the $100 billion a year program until 2025 so as not to jeopardise the presidential hopes of Mrs Clinton.

But Obama led a process which seems likely to have enduring effects. Although some voices on the sceptic side expressed relief that the outcome was not a treaty, it involves powerful political imperatives. The President claims persuasively that the new climate agreement would bind the next president politically even if it had no legal force and even if the next president were a Republican who had campaigned against it. The Obama strategy was to bring this about by a mixture of moral suasion and a legacy of impediments to fossil-fuel usage via regulatory rules controlled by the Environmental Protection Agency.

With the UNFCCC, there is a permanent pressure that not only oversees national adherence to their pledges but will up the ante—as it did in the “aspirational” shift to a 1.5°C maximum global temperature increase. The UNFCCC is supported in this by an array of international bodies pumping out studies and analyses of how emission reductions will assist mankind. In this respect the International Energy Agency has played a leading role, with its Executive Director claiming ‘a “happy divorce” between economic growth and rising emissions of greenhouse gases and the IMF propagandising that “energy subsidies are projected at US$5.3 trillion in 2015, or 6.5 per cent of global GDP”, skating over the fact that these subsidies are mainly to Third World countries or, like Australia’s diesel fuel rebate, conventional tax exemptions to production inputs.

In the lead-up, all nations volunteered “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs), which are the agreement’s core. Under these, governments of developed countries committed to reduce their emissions by more than 26 per cent from 2013 levels.

The spectre of China and India torpedoing any agreement, as they had at the 2008 Copenhagen Conference, led the Obama administration to grant the rapidly developing nations leave to do as they please with emissions as long as they engaged in token measures and undertook to support the agreement. This they readily acceded to, especially since the developed world was pledging to cripple its own industries’ competitiveness by raising energy input costs. And the developed world was sugar-coating this with the $100 billion a year climate aid plan. Not all of this would be simple re-badging of existing commitments, which ensured support from developing countries unable to cast off statist torpor and embark on the self-sustaining income growth seen in south and east Asia.

All this was carefully assembled before Paris so that the meeting itself could simply clarify outstanding points. It was left to the delegates to solemnise the accord and ensure the language did not offend diplomatic protocols. In the process, the Secretariat totted up all the INDCs and conjured up an outcome that the warming would still at some future point be 2.7°C. This is based on some relationship between temperature and the climate models. That relationship was not described. Meanwhile, climate models consistently over-forecast future temperatures.

As Richard Lindzen has pointed out, the maximum increase in temperatures, from a doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations, absent any amplification feedbacks (the existence of which is unproven), is 1.1°C. On that basis, the goal to limit temperature increases to 2°C and its “aspirational” replacement of 1.5°C are easily achievable! Few of the Paris delegates would, however, be impressed by the assertion of someone who is perhaps the world’s foremost atmospheric physicist.

James Hansen, who is often regarded as the father of the greenhouse scare, dismissed the agreement. He recognised that without a global carbon tax, heavy industries will simply migrate to China, India and the oil-rich nations that will not impose price-boosting regulatory measures on energy.

The exemptions undermine the objectives. India’s pledged emissions levels would more than double by 2030 and China’s would increase by 50 per cent—leading to an increase in global emissions by 2030 of some 15 per cent. But such outcomes do not appear to be influential in determining policy. In the developed world there is an apparent view that technology will come to the rescue. This is reinforced by statesmen’s wish to make an economic impression and above all to deflect electoral negatives associated with contesting positions taken by green activists. This point regarding green activists was taken up by Bergkamp and Stone, who argued:

under the guise of direct democracy in a system of multi-level, non-hierarchical governance, it grants not only credibility but also de facto authority to climate activists, thus posing a threat to constitutional government and representative democracy.

For Australia, there is ostensibly little difference between the Turnbull approach to climate change and that of Tony Abbott. But while Abbott was a sceptic who sought to reduce the costs of climate policy measures, Turnbull has been a major supporter of carbon emission restraints. His signature policy to date is on innovation, where he is seeking to engineer a new industry approach for Australia, one that rejects the old areas of expertise—minerals and farming—and climbs aboard the new technologies.

Australia signed the previous climate accord, that of Kyoto in 1997, and although it was only ratified by Kevin Rudd in 2007 it conditioned policy. Important in this respect were collaborative measures between the Commonwealth and Queensland and New South Wales that prevented land development by means of land-use planning regulations, which expropriated farmers without compensation. In recent years global warming fears have also justified buying out water rights in the Murray-Darling, seriously reducing the productivity of Australia’s most important agricultural province.

But it is energy policy that has been the prime focus of emission reduction measures. Australian energy policy has been developed in two main directions. The first, dating from the mid-1990s, focused on deregulation and privatisation of the electricity and gas industries. The success of this underscored the success of the economy and, in the early years of this century, the Australian electricity and gas industries based on low-cost coal and gas became among the cheapest and most efficient in the world.

At the same time increased regulation was being introduced, first with a requirement in 2001 for “2 per cent additional electricity” to be derived from otherwise uncompetitive renewable sources. Renewable requirements have been gradually ramped up and are now scheduled to comprise 24 per cent of electricity by 2020, of which about 14 per cent will be subsidised (mainly solar and wind). In addition, there is a Clean Energy Finance Corporation making loans of $2 billion to uncompetitive high-cost suppliers. The upshot is that Australian electricity is now among the most expensive in the world.

The Paris accord will impose pressure, welcomed by those who seek to transform Australia, to take further action on renewable subsidies, regulations on energy use and so on. With an industry profile dependent on cheap energy both as an input and for export, Australia is vastly different from other economies and more vulnerable to the adverse policy effects of tax and regulatory slugs on fossil fuels.

Alan Moran runs the website Regulation Economics (www.regulationeconomics.com).

Comments [12]

  1. LBLoveday says:

    I have long believed the 97% figure was first proposed in 2009 in an article by Maggie Zimmerman and Peter Doran, based on the results of a two-question online survey sent to 10,000 selected scientists, from which they received 3,000 replies and that Cook’s easily and oft-debunked nonsense came years later.
    They then culled the 3,000 to 79 that they deemed “experts”, which begs the question as to why they sent out 10,000 questionnaires, and how just 79 were deemed to be relevant for their report. An obvious possibility is they determined what result they wanted and set about producing it – and to heck with rigor.
    Of the selected 79 (out of 3,000 replies), 77 said they believed GW was man-made, and subsequent “surveys” have stuck religiously to the 97% myth.

    Was that in fact the original basis of the 97% figure – a simple survey, 7 years ago, from 2.5% of answers received (and an even skinnier 0.8% of those they sent the survey to)?

    • Lawrie Ayres says:

      Yes. An university of Illinois professor and his student conducted the survey then realising they were not going to get the result they wanted manipulated the data to achieve the 97% figure. John Cook did something similar and by culling papers that would not give the right results also achieved the magic 97%. Ian MacDougall below thinks if enough people believe something it must be true.1.6 billion people believe in Allah, about the same number are Catholics who also believe in a hereafter. At least half the world’s population believe in a higher being which is a substantial consensus and therefore must be true. But the Green movement of which MacDougall must necessarily be a member are renowned atheists and therefore against the consensus. If we should adhere to one consensus why not two?

  2. Ian MacDougall says:

    Bob Carter allegedly demonstrated that “sea levels were not rising.”
    How did he do that? Move his throne down to the sea’s edge and command it to stay put?
    But then again: “We should also consider official scientific bodies and what they think about climate change. There are no national or major scientific institutions anywhere in the world that dispute the theory of anthropogenic climate change. Not one.
    “In the field of climate science, the consensus is unequivocal: human activities are causing climate change.”
    .
    https://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus.htm

  3. ianl says:

    I thought that would draw MacDougall back. He pretends to science but prefers ad homs and childish, low-level sarcasm..

    1) Nils-Morner, as *one* example, has a prolific peer-reviewed publication list on sea level changes. There is no real issue at all, is his view. And he doesn’t need a throne.

    2) The “official scientific bodies”, not one of them, ever actually polled their members. Their “executives” simply tried to roll over the top. So edicts from them are reduced to a few activists without the backing of their full membership. Try to understand that deliberate, hypocritical sleight of hand there. In truth, one society finally did a full member poll. That was the GSA (Geological Society of Australia). After several years of ijnternal acrominy following the initial “executive” roll over, a full membership poll was conducted. The results forced a change in the public stance of the “executive”, but the actual results were never released. There’s consensus for you.

    3) Consensus is politics, not science. And stamping of feet won’t change that.

    4) There is no real argument that CO2 emissions cannot cause some minor warming. The real question is HOW MUCH and whether positive feedbacks are serious. Even Trenberth admitted that the changes may be so slight that we cannot measure them to know if we’ve done anything useful. So far, there has been about 0.4C increase in “global temperature” in 150 years that seems to be reasonably well measured as anthropogenic, even with enormous error bars (larger than the actual measurement). ButI have far more pressing issues in my life than fretting over that.

    5) The HYPOTHESIS is that CO2 emissions + positive feedback (98% transient) water vapour will eventually make the planet unliveable. At this time, the CO2 atmospheric count is about 400ppm. During the Cretaceous, it was > 10000ppm.Useless to protest that that was a different climate – the unavoidable point is that the planet did NOT become unliveable. There is no control here – the hypothesis cannot be tested; nor are the models useful at any actual prediction.

    6) That of course leaves us with MacDougall fulminating away on the blindness, the selfishness, the destructiveness of what he chooses to frame as climate sceptics, or climate deniers or whatever … That does not test the hypothesis, just his vocabulary.

    • Ian MacDougall says:

      ianl:

      I repeat: “Bob Carter allegedly demonstrated that ‘sea levels were not rising.’”
      Other major scientific organisations disagree. (See below.)
      .
      I have long since reached the conclusion that what drives all this climatological ‘scepticism’ is a desire on the part of the ‘sceptics’ that business proceed as usual, without it being bothered by carbon-control measures like carbon taxes, emission reduction etc: as put forward by the likes of say, Tony “the-future-is-coal” Abbott.
      The irony of course is that the fossil carbon reserves will not last forever, and sooner or later humanity will have to transition to renewables. R and D on these should be a high priority, and the transition is actually well underway, as shown by the 1.5 million rooftop solar installations now in Australia. Such sources as battery-stored solar PV should shortly become cheaper than conventional. Then it will be game, set and match.
      .
      Interestingly, climate ‘scepticism’ also correlates with right-wing politics: political economy trumping chemistry and physics. (I am personally in the political centre.) Climatology is bad for established business, coal in particular, and therefore can be neither correct nor tolerated. But the rest of the world does not operate along the same lines, which is why politicians are routinely dragged, some of them no doubt quietly kicking and screaming, into UN-sposored climate negotiations and agreements: which in turn get slowly and steadily tighter and more stringent.
      Australia’s population is exceptional, in that it does not depend on glacier-fed rivers for its fresh water supply: unlike the huge populations of Southern Russia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, and China, to name a few. They are the real drivers of climate-change awareness and response.

      GMSL Rates
      CU: 3.3 ± 0.4 mm/yr
      AVISO: 3.3 ± 0.6 mm/yr
      CSIRO: 3.3 ± 0.4 mm/yr
      NASA GSFC: 3.2 ± 0.4 mm/yr
      NOAA: 3.2 ± 0.4 mm/yr (w/ GIA)

      If you go to http://www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/sod/lsa/SeaLevelRise/ there you will find:

      The measurement of long-term changes in global mean sea level can provide an important corroboration of predictions by climate models of global warming. Satellite altimeter radar measurements can be combined with precisely known spacecraft orbits to measure sea level on a global basis with unprecedented accuracy. A series of satellite missions that started with TOPEX/Poseidon (T/P) in 1992 and continued with Jason-1 (2001–2013) and Jason-2 (2008–present) estimate global mean sea level every 10 days with an uncertainty of 3–4 mm.
      Jason-2, launched 20 June 2008, is a joint effort between NOAA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, France’s Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).
      The latest mean sea level time series and maps of regional sea level change can be found on this site.

      Those “precisely known spacecraft orbits” used “to measure sea level on a global basis with unprecedented accuracy” are the game-changer IMHO. That fact (not hypothesis) is acknowledged even by that guru of climate ‘sceticism’, Ian Plimer. And that, I gather, is how they manage to calculate GMSL to half-millimetre accuracy.
      And as I have stressed before, this global sea-level rise can only be due to thermal expansion of sea water and/or glacial melt. Ergo, the planet is warming, in a long slow thaw with enormous inertia: analogous to that of a supertanker at all ahead full on the open sea.

      You may not like it, but that’s the way it is, Cretaceous or no Cretaceous. “So far, there has been about 0.4C increase in ‘global temperature’ in 150 years that seems to be reasonably well measured as anthropogenic…” is a doorway to a fool’s paradise IMHO as long as icecaps remain on the geographic poles and on the Himalayan Plateau. For as long as they are there, the solar heat trapped by the atmosphere will show up in sea-level rise and thermal expansion of the ocean, and temperatures and thermometer readings will tell us little of value. But they will open the doorway to that Paradise of Fools that, as I see it, the world is increasingly trying to stay out of.

      • padraic says:

        We simply cannot afford to allow the opinions of vapid, shallow celebrities and various musicians who wouldn’t know a molecule from a marsupial to determine the future of mankind.

      • PT says:

        Funnily enough Ian, those countries you mentioned are NOT at the forefront of cutbacks and mitigation. Some are demanding money from elsewhere (what’s that supposed to prove?), or pay lip service.

        The solar panels you talk of were/are highly subsidised. There was a hefty subsidy on installation, and a major subsidy on electricity buy back. If you really believed these renewables were about to undercut fossil fuels, you wouldn’t worry about subsidies, carbon trading etc as the switchover would happen anyway. Obviously you know better. But hey, the misleading claims are all in a “good cause” so they’re justified, right?

  4. Ian MacDougall says:

    PT:
    Ah yes. Subsidies. Marvellous how they keep turning up on the level playing fields of these deregulated economies. And why just confine yourself to solar panel subsidies? Check out the real cost of fossil fuels as against what a beginner economist might call their ‘cost’.

    Below is one claim (from the IMF) that fossil carbon is subsidised to the tune of US? $10,000,000 per minute globally. (The claim is strongly disputed by the fossil carbon cheer-squads of course.)

    BTW subsidies can be used profitably in the long term if they kickstart slow-takeoff industries with good long-term prospects: particularly in fields crowded with ruthless competitors. (But hey, we have a project going here at Dinkum Aussie Solar. We’re going to put a consortium together which will buy the sun; then charge the world for its electromagnetic output like a wounded bull on Viagra. Interested?)
    .
    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/18/fossil-fuel-companies-getting-10m-a-minute-in-subsidies-says-imf

    • PT says:

      Oh yes The Guardian! I’ve heard claims that the fuel tax rebate for farmers was a “subsidy” for the “fossil fuel industry”. Not sure how the oil companies profited from that, as farmers still wouldn’t use more fuel than they had to.

      Then there’s the tax write off for depreciation – you and your anti-resource industry “sources” act as this is some evil subsidy, when all businesses get this. Resources just happens to be more capital intensive than most.

      Anyway, I mentioned the subsidies because of your two assertions. One, the solar industry is “about” to undercut conventional energy in terms of cost. If you really believed that, you’d agree we don’t need carbon trading to make “the switch”. Secondly, as “proof” you cited the number of household PV panels. These people are directly subsidised to encourage uptake. Electricity is bought back off of them at 3 times the rate it’s sold to them, on top of direct subsidies (subsidies, not tax deductions) to install them in the first place. The Guardian, and those green groups feeding them these claims are trying to muddy the waters to obscure the fact that non-hydro renewables currently have to be subsidised to be competitive!

  5. Ian MacDougall says:

    PT:

    Not sure how the oil companies profited from that, as farmers still wouldn’t use more fuel than they had to.

    Quite right. And the farmers would then have incentive to switch out of short rotation crops like grain (eg wheat: frequent tilling and sowing) into longer rotation ones like stock feeds (eg lucerne: up to 5 years between tills).
    But I think that what you are really looking for is that elusive will o’ the wisp called economic justice. It has so far kept out of the reach of every religious prophet, Mediaeval schoolman, economist, business owner, shareholder, etc, etc; right down to the beggar on the corner outside the supermarket. It in turn is eluded by corporate ‘high-flyers’, who are not only in the delightful position of being able to decide their own pay (perhaps ‘arbitrate their own emoluments’ would be a more to their liking) but to opt in or out of paying tax: much to the so-far-controlled indignation of those of us who live on Mug St.
    As for carbon trading; it is a highly rortable can of worms IMHO: as is Tony Abbott’s ponzi ‘direct action’ on the GHG emissions he never believed were a problem anyway.
    I favour carbon taxation: strictly to fund the switch away from coal-fired energy, and also Gillard’s mining tax: essential if the people of this country, and not just the Twiggys, Ginas, Clives and their cronies, are to get maximum benefit from the non renewable mineral wealth of this country.

    • PT says:

      Ian, where to start. One “Gina” (who you endlessly go on about) paid over $400 million in tax from her private company according to the ATO. Perhaps you mistook that with Roy Hill which hadn’t shipped a gram of iron ore!!! Perhaps you need to ask what wheat farmers use to produce their crops, and what they’re run on! Also think about the highly toxic chemicals and elements used to make PV cells. According to your “IMF” data, this is a huge subsidy. BTW, BP is the worlds largest manufacturer of solar panels. Surely part of the “fossil fuel” establishment!

    • PT says:

      Regarding the mining tax. First, our constitution says the States own the mineral rights. That’s why the States get the royalties. Secondly, there was not one mention about rebates for Australian production. It was clearly a Canberra cash grab to “buy votes” in Sydney and Melbourne. It should have been struck down by the Supreme Court if it got that far. No where was it mentioned that the tax claim could be reduced by increasing the proportion of Australian sourced equipment or even engineering. It’s was seen as revenue raising without costing votes. Get that and you may well be on the road to wisdom!