Doomed Planet

Gillard’s climate U-turn

Early in the recent election campaign, Julia Gillard was reported as saying that there would be no tax on carbon (dioxide) while she led the federal government.

Instead, she said, ”What we will do is we will tackle the challenge of climate change”, which turned out to mean the appointment of an assembly of 150 citizens to advise on the ways and means – a suggestion that prompted immediate public derision.

Just before voters went to the polls Ms Gillard again stated categorically: “I rule out a carbon tax”. Of course, that statement was rapidly rescinded after the election of a hung parliament created the political imperative that Labor court the Green and independent members who now held the balance of power.

Making a dramatic U-turn, Ms Gillard rapidly segued to a new policy position. This involved scrapping the idea of a citizen’s assembly and erecting in its place a new Multi-party Committee on Climate Change (MCCC) to advise on policy options, which now again were to include of necessity (hat tip to the Greens) a carbon dioxide tax.

With the Liberal-National coalition declining to participate, the MCCC ended up as including the PM herself as chair; her own Deputy Leader, Wayne Swan, and Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet; Greens leader and deputy-leader, Bob Brown and Christine Milne; and independent Tony Windsor, with the first lower house Green MP Adam Bandt as an additional “advisor”.

The primary question that the MCCC needed to deal with, of course, was whether dangerous climate change is occurring, and if so what policy options might be available to mitigate it? First and foremost then, there was a scientific issue to be resolved.

The committee’s state of mind on that issue was rapidly clarified by Ms. Gillard, who announced on September 27 the starting assumption that a carbon dioxide price was required to reduce “pollution” and to encourage investment in low-emission technologies.

A belief in anti-carbon dioxide measures to combat dangerous warming was therefore a pre-requisite for participation in the committee. As well, Ms. Gillard also announced that under the MCCC’s terms of reference its deliberations and papers were to remain confidential until otherwise agreed.

In such circumstances, it was scarcely surprising, though certainly scandalous, that only one of the four expert advisors appointed to the committee, Will Steffen, was actually a scientist at all – the other three appointments representing an economist (Ross Garnaut), a business regulator (Rod Sims) and a social policy expert (Patricia Faulkner).

Professor Steffen, the Director of ANU’s Climate Change Institute, is a senior participant in IPCC activities and also a long-time advisor to the federal Greenhouse Office. 

On November 12, the Climate Spectator reported the four main scientific points that Will Steffen had delivered to the MCCC. With a commentary on each, they are as follows.

1. The Earth is warming (100 per cent certainty).  

It is trivially true that the Earth has warmed over the last 20 thousand and also over the last 150 years. An alternative viewpoint is that the Earth has cooled over the last 10 thousand years; it all depends upon the length of your piece of string. 

But most importantly of all, and over the time scale that counts for testing the hypothesis of dangerous global warming, since 1998 the Earth has failed to warm at all despite an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide of more than 5 per cent. 

Steffen’s 100 per cent certain statement is, therefore, also 100 per cent ambiguous and 100 per cent misleading. 

2. Human emissions of greenhouse gases are the main cause of the warming observed over the last half-century at least (about 95 per cent certainty). 

Goodness gracious, in 2007 even the IPCC was only 90 per cent certain that the "net effect of human activities since 1750 has been one of warming". One hopes that Professor Steffen has shared with the committee the new evidence that now leads him to even greater certainty. 

In reality, and despite IPCC’s overstatement in 2007, no measurable, empirical evidence for global warming is yet known that requires a human influence to explain it, and that despite the expenditure of many tens of billions of dollars seeking just such evidence.

3. Despite considerable uncertainty about the specific consequences of climate change in future, we know that the risks to society and environment are very large, and are growing as we gain more knowledge.

The switch in language from dangerous warming to “climate change” is strange, and greatly changes the argument. For climate change includes the hazards of cooling as well as warming, a much needed risk assessment that the IPCC has completely failed to undertake. 

At best, three things are implicit in this confused statement. The first is that we cannot predict future climate change (true, which is what makes its “mitigation” a tad difficult).   

Second, yes, the risks of climate events and change are large, as exemplified by disasters that we read about in the media every week; but, no, climate risks are not getting larger as we become more knowledgeable. 

Third, and as more and more independent commentators are concluding, faced with real but indeterminate (in the sense that both warming and cooling are possible) climatic risk, the appropriate and cost-effective precautionary policy is of course to be prepared to adapt to either.

4. The scientific basis and imperative for rapid and vigorous action to reduce emissions is overwhelming. Decarbonisation of the economy by 2050 is required to meet the 2°C guardrail. 

The “20 C guardrail” is a political ambition with no basis in science. “Decarbonisation” actually means “decarbondioxideisation”, and is an expensive and futile (regarding its effect on future climate) proposition. 

Carbon dioxide is an environmentally beneficial trace gas, and there is no scientific basis for taking action to reduce its production via industrial processes. 

In 2006, Professor Steffen provided a report to the Australian Greenhouse Office that contained the same four lines of inaccurate advice just discussed. The arguments consist largely of re-cycled assertions from the now discredited 2007 IPCC report. 

The IPCC’s arguments were unsound in 2007 and remain unsound now, as documented in a due diligence audit that was accomplished last year by four independent scientists and provided to Climate Minister Wong by Senator Fielding. 

Senator Fielding’s advisors also recommended that an independent commission of enquiry was needed into the global warming issue, as a prerequisite to setting new and more sensible climate policy, a call that has recently been echoed by other commentators. 

The Canberra climate committee is a farce. Whilst its members have been indulging in play school politics, the Canadian Senate, paying attention both to the real science and to the result of the US election, has rejected a Climate Change Accountability Act that called for greenhouse gases to be cut 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. 

Commenting, Canadian PM Stephen Harper said that the Act: “sets irresponsible targets, doesn’t lay out any measure of achieving them other than … by shutting down sections of the Canadian economy and throwing hundreds of thousands and possibly millions of people out of work”. 

Meanwhile, under budgetary exigency, the governments of France and Britain have already moved to dismantle significant parts of their bloated global warming bureaucracies, President Obama has acknowledged the demise of cap-and-trade legislation in the US, and N.Z. has announced a rethink about applying its carbon dioxide bill to the farming sector as was originally intended. 

These political decisions have followed on from the dramatic swing in public opinion that occurred after Climategate, and they herald the almost complete collapse of global warming alarmism internationally. Yet they appear to have passed unnoticed in Canberra, and remain mostly unreported by the Australian press. 

Meanwhile, the Canberra charade that is the MCCC continues, sustained only by government spinmeisters who produce sillier justifications for the introduction of a carbon dioxide tax with every day that passes. 

The government wants to declare a price on carbon dioxide, and businesses (especially energy suppliers) want certainty. As others before me have pointed out, these twin needs can best be met by allocating a price of $0 per tonne to carbon dioxide emissions – forthwith. 

Time to catch up folks; global warming alarmism is on its deathbed.

 

Bob Carter, is a geologist and environmental scientist from James Cook University, and author of Climate: the Counter Consensus. 

The three other independent science advisors to Senator Fielding were David Evans, Stewart Franks and Bill Kininmonth.

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