Doomed Planet

Carter in Canberra

This is text of the speech (edited for online publication) delivered by professor Bob Carter at the “Convoy of No Confidence” protest in Canberra on August 22, 2011.

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

First, my warm congratulations to every person here for coming to this gathering today. Most of you have paid your own expenses, and simply by being here you are therefore displaying great public generosity on behalf of all your fellow citizens. For, though some remain unaware of it, every single Australian man, woman and child will be hurt should a carbon dioxide tax come into being – and that hurt will be greater for the less well off, and will be imposed for no environmental benefit whatever.

Second, the organizers of this event have made it crystal clear it is a gathering at which ANY Australian, of any shape, size, colour or political inclination, can express his or her opposition to a carbon dioxide tax.

(Photo: The man with the grey jacket and bush hat between Alan Jones and Bob Carter is Mick Pattel – the leader of the truck convoys.)

However, a meeting on the lawn of parliament house has inescapable political implications. My perspective is that of an experienced scientist – one who has spent a professional lifetime studying ancient environmental and climatic change. I therefore have nothing to say, and neither should I have anything to say, about the politics of the carbon dioxide tax. Rather, my role today is to share with you a summary of the science that should be, but actually isn’t, illuminating policy making on climate change.

Agreed Facts

Let us start with the three key facts on which nearly all scientists agree:

  1. A gentle warming of up to about 0.5 deg. C occurred between 1979 and 1998; but since 1998 global temperature has now been static or cooling gently for ten years, despite continuing increases in CO2 emissions;
  2. The late 20th century warming of half a degree, and the current pause or cooling, fall well within the bounds of previous natural temperature change; they are therefore not necessarily alarming, nor necessarily of human causation.
  3. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, i.e., putting extra into the atmosphere will cause some warming.

The scientific argument, then – which is fierce and on which absolutely no consensus exists – is almost entirely about how much warming might be caused by “extra” human carbon dioxide emissions.

Amongst qualified scientists there are no “climate change deniers”, as the press so likes to badge those who do not agree with the warming hysteria. In reality, the great majority of independent scientists are agnostic rather than sceptical about the hypothesis of human-caused warming – it is the likely magnitude of human-caused warming, not the existence of a warming tendency in the first place, that is under debate.

Depending upon the feedbacks that are allowed for (water vapour, clouds etc.), answers to the question “How much warming will occur for a doubling of carbon dioxide?” range from “unmeasurably small” to “6 deg. of warming”. Factual evidence, including both the known history of climate, and recent new papers on atmospheric physics, favours an inconsequential warming of a few tenths of a degree for a doubling of carbon dioxide. It is only the speculative computer models of the UN that project a perhaps more troubling 3 deg. or more of warming for a doubling.

Three other questions of importance that have indeterminate answers

  1. How much of the warming of the 20th century (~0.8 deg.) was natural and how much human-caused?

    No accurate answer is known, but almost certainly more than half the warming was natural, i.e. only a few tenths of a degree might have had human causation.

  2. Will the 20th century warming resume or not?

    Again, no-one knows for sure. Currently the planet is cooling, and we have a quiet sun – which indicates that more cooling is likely.

  3. Would more warming, if it occurs, be beneficial or harmful?

    Both, depending upon geography, but overall the net benefits may well exceed the harm. For it is no accident that text-books call a warmer period that occurred about 8,000 years ago the “Holocene climatic OPTIMUM”.

Not much “settled science” there, then!

The two key policy questions

Against this background of both certain and uncertain science, there are two key policy questions that need to be asked, and together they comprise a cost-benefit analysis. Such an analysis is simple in principle; and it does not require complex Treasury or CSIRO computer models to calculate.

The intended carbon dioxide tax is based upon two assumptions. First, that the dangerous global warming hypothesis is true; and, second, that cutting human emissions will result in significantly less warming in the future.

Let’s see, then:

What is the cost?

At the intended rate of $23/tonne of carbon dioxide emitted, >$100 billion of extra costs will be imposed by 2020, and these costs will be passed down to every citizen of Australia at a rate of about $500/person (or $2,000/family of four) per year.

What is the benefit?

If (and it’s a very big if) implementing the new tax actually does result in a cut of 5% in Australian emissions, which is the government’s target, then the theoretical amount of global warming averted would be much less than one-thousandth of a degree; even cutting Australia’s emissions altogether would avert warming of only 0.02 deg. C (two one-hundredths of a degree).

So the question is "How many people here today are prepared to pay extra costs of $500/person/year in return for a notional warming averted of less than one-thousandth of a degree?"

Public dishonesty

I now wish to move on to the issue of public dishonesty.

In this regard, former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave us the “Carbon pollution reduction scheme”; and the ghost of George Orwell surely stirred. Prime Minister Gillard is now giving us a “Clean Energy” bill; well, last week, this further dishonesty stimulated George Orwell to get out of his grave and to walk the 368 km from Albury to Canberra (8 days), to appear in resurrected form at last Tuesday’s rally in the guise of truck driver Mr Troy (“Grover”) Logan.

Regarding the dishonest communication that compelled Mr Logan to action, we must surely all agree that the language of the government spinmeisters lately has been compelling:

Carbon” they say, deliberately invoking images of soot —- when they mean “carbon dioxide” (a clean, environmentally beneficial gas).

Pollution” they say ….. when carbon dioxide is the elixir of life, and the base of most of the food chains on our planet.

Clean energy” they say   …… when wind and solar power are hopelessly uneconomic, and wind farms are both environmentally damaging and also (as we saw in a recent Four Corners program) a source of acute social division in formerly close-knit country communities.

We need to catch up with the rest of the world” they say ….. when only Europe and NZ have any form of carbon dioxide price; USA, Canada, Japan and others are running fast away from imposing one; and China and India will never, ever embrace one.

New green jobs will be created” they say ….. failing to explain that every new green job costs of the order of $0.5 million to create, and is accompanied by the destruction of 2-3 jobs in conventional industry.

Why this utterly dishonest language and marketing? Why propagandize what is essentially a scientific issue? Why expensive, tax-payer-funded advertising instead of honest communication?

The answer, of course, is that the result of the cost:benefit analysis we have just undertaken is, literally, ridiculous, for it shows that a carbon dioxide tax will yield no benefits whatsoever.

The government’s communication of its global warming policy therefore has to centre on untruth, spin, propaganda and advertising, for there are no real benefits to market. Note too that environmental improvement has nothing to do with the carbon dioxide tax …. except as a cynical marketing hook towards a desired new source of revenue for the federal exchequer.

The way forward: adaptation to all climate change

Ladies and Gentleman, it is important that I end on a constructive note, for once the carbon dioxide tax is defeated or repealed – as it undoubtedly will be – we have to find a better way forward.

We have a baby (which represents dangerous climate change); and we have some very dirty bathwater (which is carbon dioxide taxation). It is vital that in throwing out the smelly bath water we do not at the same time discard the baby. Why so?

Well, the reason is that as Australians we live on what is probably the world’s most dangerous continent for climate-related hazard. Active volcanoes have we none, and compared to New Zealand and Japan our earthquakes are relatively rare and only of moderate magnitude. But when it comes to droughts, floods, cyclones and bushfires – well, as they say, we punch above our weight there, and Australia’s hazards are truly of world class, even textbook, stature.

But do we then follow world-best-practice in the way in which we deal with our dangerous, natural, climate-related hazards?

Well … I suggest that you ask that question of the relatives of the 173 persons who lost their lives in the 2009 Victorian bushfires; or perhaps ask the thousands of persons living near Cardwell and Innisfail, whose homes or livelihoods were damaged during Cyclones Larry and Yasi; or ask the tens of thousands of Brisbanites whose homes were submerged earlier this year during the February floods.

Perhaps ask these persons: “Do you feel you are well protected against Australia’s climate hazards by the government’s plan to tax CO2 emissions?” You and I know full well what their answer will be.

A government has a sovereign duty of care to its citizens to protect them against natural hazard. And the reason that recent Australian state and federal governments have done so poorly in this regard recently is because they have taken their eyes off the ball of natural climate-related hazard, in order to chase the passing political meteorite of hysterical alarm about speculative, human-caused global warming.

For a fraction of the money already squandered on the Kyoto Protocol, and on ineffectual, doomed-to-failure anti-carbon dioxide measures, Australia could already have – but does not have – a world-leading climate hazard response and adaptation system.

The way forward, then, is to fund and manage our relevant research and hazard agencies to better prepare for, and adapt to, all climate-related hazards as and when they occur – and that quite irrespective of the presumed causation of particular events.

To date, and despite all the public hysteria, no scientist has been able to isolate and measure the theoretical warming effect of human carbon dioxide emissions on global temperature. Yet the question was a good one to have first asked back in the 1990s, and it remains possible that some time in the future a measurable human-caused climatic trend might emerge.

In proper prudent fashion, therefore, a policy of preparation and adaptation to the known range of natural climate hazard is also an effective precautionary policy against any human-caused hazard that might, or might not, emerge in the future.


So my final two conclusions, ladies and gentleman, are these.

First, we do indeed need to “Axe the Tax”. But, thereafter, we also need to “Adapt to the Fact”. And which fact might that be, you ask? The fact, of course, that natural climate-related events and trends are particularly hazardous in Australia, and that a better national policy is clearly needed to deal with our climate hazards by using strategies of careful preparation and intelligent adaptation.

We, the people, demand of the government and opposition alike that they implement cost-effective policies of adaptation to all climate-related events and change. We, the people, have spoken, and we will be heard.

Canberra, August 22, 2011

Professor Bob Carter is an Emeritus Fellow, Institute of Public Affairs (Melbourne), Chief Scientific Advisor, International Climate Science Coalition (Toronto), Advisory Council Member, Global Warming Policy Foundation (London), Science Advisor, Science & Public Policy Institute (Washington).

He is also the author of Climate: the Counter Consensus (Stacey International, 2010), see

Other speeches from the “Convoy of No Confidence” protest:

Jennifer Marohasy in Canberra

Matt Thompson on “The bush is bleeding

Art Raiche on The fall of CSIRO

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