Don’t hold your breath waiting for mass moral outrage

Troppo author and prominent academic economist Paul Frijters has been banging away for years about how current climate change policies (including carbon pricing) are doomed to failure. The sincere (and entirely well founded) concerns of scientists and environmentalists about the likely drastic effects of increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouses gases caused by human activity will continue to be thwarted for quite some time yet by an unholy alliance of fossil fuel corporations, cynical politicians and financiers.  The “free rider” effect will continue to make it almost pointless for even sincerely convinced governments to take effective action, and the vast majority of people neither know nor care enough to try to work out who is telling the truth. ((Paul summarises reality as follows: There is simply this huge difference between what actually goes on and what the mainline public debate on the issue is. The general population is just not interested enough to absorb this stuff. Its too technical and buried in the appendixes of reports that are too hard for most people to understand. And at the end of the day, the population votes for growth before they vote green so they dont really want to know either.  The experts all know what is going on, but even if they bother to vent their views in public, the journos  have to fit their writings within the dominant story on this which is shaped by the big players. So while the underlying realities are visible for those who want to know, for the vast majority the actual issues are over-shadowed by the shouting between the big boys. And think of the incentives of the big players: the opposition is quite happy to go along with the pretence that its the carbon tax that does the job, rather than the bribes and the foreign pretence-reductions. The reason for this is that the opposition thinks the carbon tax can be spun as a vote-winner for them. The civil servants in the Climate change ministries loves the pretence because it makes it seem they are achieving something and are at the international forefront of things. Instead of being seen to have achieved nothing, they suddenly are in charge of internationally debated policies. Woohoo! Industry is happy their lobbying has paid off and they wont be asked to do anything real, so they are happy investing in the emission booms of tomorrow. The Greens have their token success and can pretend to their voters that this is the thin edge of the wedge. And the government is honouring an election pledge and its deal with their coalition partners. So all the big players go along with it for their own reasons and keep quiet about what’s lurking beneath. Similar things go on abroad. At the end of the day, our populations just don’t really care enough about something that might cause problems in the far future, so they want the politicians to pretend to be doing something as long as it doesnt interfere with business as usual. ~KP))

Paul’s sundry writings on climate change together make a formidable body of work, which I will link at the foot of this post.  But they’ve been given added impact by recent news about the demise of the much-discussed theory of “peak oil”, by which many hoped that physical reality would soon intervene and compel drastic reductions in human CO2 emissions through huge price increases driven by increasing resource shortage. Those hopes have now been dashed, as George Monbiot despairingly acknowledges:

Peak oil hasn’t happened, and it’s unlikely to happen for a very long time. …

So this is where we are. The automatic correction – resource depletion destroying the machine that was driving it – that many environmentalists foresaw is not going to happen. The problem we face is not that there is too little oil, but that there is too much.

We have confused threats to the living planet with threats to industrial civilisation. They are not, in the first instance, the same thing. Industry and consumer capitalism, powered by abundant oil supplies, are more resilient than many of the natural systems they threaten. The great profusion of life in the past – fossilised in the form of flammable carbon – now jeopardises the great profusion of life in the present.

There is enough oil in the ground to deep-fry the lot of us, and no obvious means to prevail upon governments and industry to leave it in the ground.

An even more stark appraisal by Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone highlights both the objective seriousness of global warming and the improbability of anyone doing anything meaningful about it in the short-medium term:

Sometimes the irony is almost Borat-scale obvious: In early June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled on a Norwegian research trawler to see firsthand the growing damage from climate change. “Many of the predictions about warming in the Arctic are being surpassed by the actual data,” she said, describing the sight as “sobering.” But the discussions she traveled to Scandinavia to have with other foreign ministers were mostly about how to make sure Western nations get their share of the estimated $9 trillion in oil (that’s more than 90 billion barrels, or 37 gigatons of carbon) that will become accessible as the Arctic ice melts. Last month, the Obama administration indicated that it would give Shell permission to start drilling in sections of the Arctic.

However, McKibben’s proposed solution is almost mind-blowingly naive and improbable; declaring popular war on the oil companies by convincing the people to feel moral outrage:

So pure self-interest probably won’t spark a transformative challenge to fossil fuel. But moral outrage just might – and that’s the real meaning of this new math. It could, plausibly, give rise to a real movement.

Leaving aside the usual “Occupy …” claque of mung bean lefties, the chances of any popular mass movement fuelled by outrage in the short to medium term are miniscule …

Leaving aside the usual “Occupy …” claque of mung bean lefties, the chances of any popular mass movement fuelled by outrage in the short to medium term are miniscule, for reasons again outlined by Paul Frijters:

On reflection, these anticipated changes in climate are very fast from a geological point of view, but from a human point of view they are painstakingly slow. You would be forgiven for not noticing any changes in your lifetime, which is of course precisely why I deem it folly to expect the world to really get anxious about this.

The world might actually get anxious when the immediately experienced consequences of global warming impact on us to such an extent that even the most obtuse Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt fan will no longer be able to swallow their nonsense.  But that’s likely to be 30/50 years away and by then it will be too late to do anything to reverse quite drastic adverse change.

So what should a rational government, which believes the advice of its scientists but also recognises the real world constraints imposed by easily manipulable public opinion and short-term self-interest of powerful forces, actually do? There are some obvious and achievable policies in my view:

  1. Desirably keep in place the current carbon pricing regime.  It’s modest in size, imposes minimal costs on the economy, and gives us the framework to respond quickly and effectively in the unlikely event of meaningful international action in the short-medium term. However the carbon price certainly should not be cranked up any further until meaningful international action occurs, and to be blunt I wouldn’t be overly concerned if Abbott gets elected with a Senate majority that allows him to abolish the current regime.
  2. Immediately begin implementing planning measures to progressively move housing and other infrastructure back from low-lying coastlines and tidal riverfront areas.
  3. Implement building regulations requiring all new housing to be engineered to cope better with extremes of heat and more frequent and intense storms.  Perhaps the sorts of cyclone-resistant and thermally efficient designs now required in tropical Australia should be extended much further south.
  4. Invest in research and development into appropriate agricultural crops and cropping regions (e.g. parts of tropical Australia) that will allow us to future-proof our food production.
  5. Similarly with aquaculture. Develop (if necessary by genetic engineering) marine species which thrive in warmer more saline marine environments.
  6. Invest in research and development into geo-engineering solutions, so that we’re in a position to take quick desperate action when the world does eventually wake up and emerge from self-denial about the extent of the threat.
  7. Significantly increase our humanitarian migration intake (e.g. to at least 25,000 people per year).  This quota should come not only from refugees in the Convention sense from our near north, but also in due course from countries that will in a few decades or less be affected by serious inundation e.g. Tuvalu, Maldives, Bangladesh and parts of India.  Working constructively with these countries would put Australia in a strong ethical position at least, and might conceivably help to reduce the risk of invasion as climate change triggers forced mass migration not seen at least in our region in the last century if ever.
  8. However, as a precautionary measure we also need to maintain and increase defence readiness, which would appear to be the reverse of the short-term stance currently being taken by the Gillard government.

Anyway, as I foreshadowed at the outset of this post, here are links to Paul Frijters’ impressive body of blogosphere work on this vital issue, starting with the oldest in 2007:

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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87 Responses to Don’t hold your breath waiting for mass moral outrage

  1. Alan says:

    Sadly, I tend to agree. There are much more clear-cut examples like fishery depletion, which does not (as yet) have a well-funded denialist claque like those employed by Big Tobacco and Big Oil. Even so the vast majority of governments deal with the problem only by shutting their eyes really, really hard and muttering about how our fishers are wonderful.

  2. Your email notification of this entry arrived as I was trying to formulate thoughts to contribute to a discussion into which I have been drawn – about how to get public thinking on a new plane in another important area, Australian strategic policy and the folly of the direction in which the alliance with the United States is taking us.

    So I drew on a point in your work in an email which I have quoted now at my blog, here.



  3. Yobbo says:

    Ken so desperately wants to believe. No matter how often the doomsayers have been proven to be lying, exaggerating or just flat out wrong, there’s always another man-made disaster on the horizon. It’s like a religious faith with you guys.

    Like Alan said, we would be much better off to stick to things which a:) we know are actually happening and b:) we can actually influence, rather than waste a lot of time pretending we are more important than the sun.

    • hammygar says:

      The screen name of this commenter is quite desciptive. He really is a yob, a destructive denialist. His mates Bolt et al haven’t been able to put a dent in the science of climate change for a decade or more. It’s obvious to anbody who looks up from their iPhone that the planet is warming disastrously. Look at the shocking bushfires in the USA, the incredibe floods in the UK that haven’t happened this badly in recorded history. Black Saturday in Victoria not long ago should have convinced any observer of what disasters lie ahead of us in the very near future. If you’re in any doubt just take a look at the dramatic increase in your home and contents insurance premiums in the last two years, and the doubling of electricity prices.

    • Ken Parish says:

      Sam/Yobbo’s position/belief system is fairly typical of the “libertarian” strand of hard Right political ideology. For these people acceptance that mainstream scientific orthodoxy about climate change is more likely than not correct amounts to “religious faith” whereas their own grimly determined espousing of the fringe theories of a tiny group of mostly fossil fuel company-funded scientists and other advocates is simply self-evident commonsense requiring no rational defence.

      Moreover, the fact that just about every government and university science department, national academy of science and weather bureau in the developed world tells us that human-induced climate change is a real and serious problem is either ignored completely or dismissed as being explained by some sort of malevolent green or socialist conspiracy between all these bodies and their members. The bizarre improbability of such a theory doesn’t faze them even for a moment, which is why there is no point whatever in arguing with them.

      • Mel says:

        “Moreover, the fact that just about every government and university science department, national academy of science and weather bureau in the developed world tells us that human-induced climate change is a real and serious problem is either ignored completely or dismissed …”

        Ah yes but Sam listens to such intellectual giants as Rafe Champion and Steve Kates. Who cares what those fancy folk with their fancy-schmancy edoocashun think.

      • Dan says:

        Yep – and of course the US Navy. And the Gubernator.

      • wizofaus says:

        To be honest I don’t particularly get this stance. If I were a hard-core libertarian, I’d be desperate to get something like the carbon tax in place, because the alternative is some pretty draconian legislation and government intervention in the next few decades. Not only that, but there are good libertarian-economic reasons to prefer Pigovian taxes over income taxes.

        • desipis says:

          I think you’ll find many of the ‘libertarians’ who comment here will deny the existence of externalities as much as they’ll deny the existence of AGW, and hence consider the idea of Pigovian taxes as just another socialist conspiracy.

        • Patrick says:

          If I were a socialist I’d be against unions because empirically they are a mechanism to entrench the privileges of the few against the betterment of the many.

        • desipis says:

          What empirical evidence is there that unions increase inequality across society?

          • based on much of this, the evidence has to be Golgafrinchan.

            I do weary of blather from people who know no history, have no social dimensions, no extramercantile sense of existence and leech off the put-there-by-someone-not-an-economist infrastructure. Having had 17 jobs on 4 continents I’ve never heard an economic argument that is not better understood in non-economic terms and I have not been moved off that position by this extraordinary exchange.

        • Pedro says:

          That’s just a slander Desi. I’ll be you can’t find a single instance on CT where a ‘libertarian’ has denied that there could be externalities, or AGW, or any evidence that such libertarians think pigouvian taxes a socialist plot.

          As for unions, that’s not Patrick’s claim. I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that key union policies are good for union members but bad for the unemployed.
          A pigouvian tax seems a fine thing in principle, but taxes have to be sensible in practice and taxing a comparative advantage for nil environmental gains is stupid.

        • Patrick says:

          Desipis, as Pedro’s pointed out, you’ve actually challenged a very different point to the one I was (facially at least) making.

          More to the point you’ve completely overlooked my real point which was the idiocy of ‘If I were a…’, since it turns out that if a socialist was a libertarian, they’d love lots of socialist ideas, and vice versa.

  4. Alan says:

    Ummm, no. Alan, said that fishery depletion is an example, like climate change, of governments failing to act on problems they know to be urgent. All that’s ever been shown about the international scientific consensus on climate change is that they are not as good at persuasion as the denialist claque.

  5. Yobbo says:

    For one thing Alan, they’ve failed to show why the world becoming slighter warmer is anything people need to worry about. Given that it was warmer in documented history previously, and they didn’t even have air conditioning.

    The second thing they have failed to show is what percentage of temperature increase is caused by human action. Without knowing that it would be ridiculous to make significant changes to our lifestyle.

    P.S. it should be obvious by now that Hammygar is an Alene Composta-style concern troll. He is deliberately trying to make the left look stupid with his posts.

  6. Alan says:

    The science does not project a ‘slight’ temperature rise and the increase in extreme weather events suggests that anyone arguing that climate change will have no impact is a victim of wilful blindness. The weather effect was predicted in the models as long ago as the late 80s. It is a concrete example of the models working.

  7. Andrew Marville says:

    When someone tells me the world is going to end, I check my wallet. As for the well funded denialist, have you not counted the huge amounts of money flowing to Warmists. $10 billion will be spent on alternate energy from the Australian Carbon Tax alone. You are right though. Nothing concrete will happen Globally until real negative affects are seen. So nothing will ever happen.

  8. Does Sam Ward prove or disprove the start point? this point:

    At the end of the day, our populations just don’t really care enough about something that might cause problems in the far future, so they want the politicians to pretend to be doing something as long as it doesnt interfere with business as usual.

    On the one hand, the opinion seems to go beyond not caring, to significant objection; on the other, ‘business as usual’ is based on earnings from online poker, delayed earnings and attachment to fictional outcomes for time spent playing World of Warcraft plus recreational bigotry. Not an isolated perspective, when one reads some of the comments on news at Herald Sun, or the vulgar stream of live comment yesterday at the Youtube discussion with the Prime Minister.

    I have tended to believe that evolution does not produce intended purpose, that our frontal lobes evolved to provide an awkwardly upright hominid on the African plain with a big new cooling device. All the rest is evolving history, with the frontal lobes, like computer systems, gone since the beginning to indulge in absurdities of hypertrophy and autolysis: thoughtful argument have little sway while self-replicating absurdities gain admirers. It’s not two sides of an argument, it’s argument versus comparative mandrill bottoms.

  9. Nicholas Gruen says:


    I’m generally in agreement with much of your analysis, but I think you’re underplaying the role that carbon abatement technology may play. The cost of solar seems to be falling in a slow motion kind of Moore’s Law. This isn’t just green hot air, as it were, I was at an investment briefing by Platinum Capital a month or so ago and the falling cost of solar and battery technology is a big investment theme for them. And they’re a very canny bunch.

    Electric cars may displace petrol and gas in the next few decades.

    Also your list exhibits a bit of a penchant for planning for anything that’s going to happen. I don’t think we need to move houses anywhere for a good while, we have time to wait and see – though it’s perhaps sensible to start inhibiting building too much more that’s close to sea level.

    I’m not too confident of what we could achieve under your bio-engineering point (5). Nature does a fair bit of bio-engineering in real time.

    I don’t really understand the point about swinging the switch to ecological refugees. No problem with increasing the intake, but we should do that because there’s such a need now. What’s wrong with need as a criterion rather than the cause of one’s destitution?

    Finally, you may be interested in The Breakthrough Institute which was founded in the US a few years ago by a couple of environmentalists who were sick of the sentimental moralism of much environmentalism.

  10. Ken Parish says:

    “argument versus comparative mandrill bottoms.”

    I love that line Dennis. Thank you for it.


    On planning regs, I think I agree that in the short term we should concentrate on restricting/banning new building in areas of potential inundation rather than moving existing infrastructure. Presumably most existing buildings will have reached the end of their economic life by the time inundation caused by sea level rise becomes a proximate reality.

    However I certainly think building regs should be beefed up now so that all new buildings down at least as far as Sydney must be built to cyclone-resistant standards and high levels of thermal efficiency. Most new buildings constructed from now will still be around in 50 years time when the effects of global warming will be quite marked.

    I’m not talking about bio-engineering but geo-engineering possibilities, which Paul Frijters has written about fairly extensively (see the links at the foot of the primary post). As Paul concedes, some of them are a tad extreme (e.g. pumping sulfate aerosol particles into the atmosphere) and so would only be likely to be justified and to gain government and popular support when the desperation of the situation was generally apparent. One might hope that some less extreme solutions (e.g. cheaper clean, sustainable energy technologies like those you mention) might mitigate the severity of the crisis before it reaches that point.

    On refugees, I’m simply proposing that ecological refugees be included in the mix for Australia’s humanitarian program, not that they should take the place of Convention refugees (political, religious, race, social group). In fact my view is that the Convention definition is outmoded and too restrictive. We should assess all displaced persons/”refugees” for humanitarian migration based on an objective assessment of need, and we should do so in the context of a significantly expanded target/quota (i.e. 25,000 or maybe even more). We’re not going to begin seeing genuine ecological refugees for a few decades yet (sea level rise is fairly slow), so my proposal as much as anything else is designed to address the current “boat people”asylum seeker issue. It’s effectively a steal of a recent suggestion by Julian Burnside QC for such a target as part of a beefed up offshore processing program designed in part to stop/reduce the boats.

  11. rog says:

    IMO option 2) is unachievable because it would require a complete Uturn in public opinion and support of powerful self interest groups – the same groups heavily invested in coastal development. At present local councils are being hammered for mentioning sea level rise as this could influence property values.

    Yobbo accurately presents the commonly held view that science cannot be trusted and that nothing beats good old common sense.

  12. Patrick says:

    Leaving aside climate change, if this means that this site is officially over ‘peak’ crap, then that’s certainly one step forwards. Even if you needed George Monbiot to tell you??

    I’ve rarely heard a not-explicitly-religious theory that was more ridiculous than running out of oil.

    • Mel says:

      Umm, oil is a finite resource. It will run out eventually.

      • john r walker says:

        Cheap oil is a finite resource. Either way oil is not that important- There is more than enough much easy to get cheap coal in the world to run the cooker .

      • Patrick says:

        Not before we learn to synthesise it or replace it – it will be redundant before it is either too expensive or too scarce.

        The primary exception to this is products whose market is overly regulated as to price or quantity (most other regulation I think can generally be contracted around or negotiated around as to price), the other is ‘tragedies of the commons’, like fish.

        Amazing how powerful price signals can be, really.

  13. Pedro says:

    “The sincere (and entirely well founded)”
    And you know that because???
    “concerns of scientists and environmentalists about the likely drastic effects of increasing levels of atmospheric greenhouses gases caused by human activity will continue to be thwarted for quite some time yet by an unholy alliance of fossil fuel corporations, cynical politicians and financiers. The “free rider” effect will continue to make it almost pointless for even sincerely convinced governments to take effective action, and the vast majority of people neither know nor care enough to try to work out who is telling the truth”

    But which is it; are the sincere and correct scientists being thwarted by evil right-wingers or by the harsh reality of free-riding? As far as I can tell, the free-riding problem is not due to the legions of Andrew Bolts poisoning the debate. The big three uncontrolled emitters are China, US and India, and China is supposed to be onside. In the US everyone thinks that meaningful controls would stuggle to get a single vote in congress and only India seems openly sceptical.

    • Ken Parish says:

      “And you know that because???”

      See my comment here. As with any area other than one where one possesses a high level of professional expertise to evaluate it for oneself, forming an opinion on climate change involves examining the evidence as far as one is able but then working out as a matter of logic and commonsense who should be trusted. I was minded initially to entertain the arguments of the skeptics/denialists, until the weight of evidence and scientific opinion convinced me otherwise. It seems to me that only wilfully blind ideological conviction could nowadays result in a person somehow believing that the weight of scientific evidence and opinion is all wrong, whether through incompetence or conspiracy between all those scientists and institutions.

      The rest of your comment appears wilfully to misconstrue or confuse what I’m saying. I don’t really think I’m expressing myself unclearly.

      • john r walker says:

        Here here

      • Pedro says:

        I was only making two points.

        The first is that you are taking things on trust even if you think that the trust is justified on sound reasons. I have always been sceptical and the reason is that I can easily find AGW scientists being untrustworthy and AGW scientists admitting that there is a large degree of uncertainty. Ergo, I am reluctant to trust AGW scientists.

        The second is that you included the reflex statement that evil people are stopping something being done, and then acknowledging that the real problem is the free-riding. I recall earlier threads where people like me argue that the hairshirt is pointless because of the free-riding problem and those pro-carbon tax were engaging at a moral level that I thought equated to penance. I think the swipe at deniers is pointless, especially seeing the denying is usually much more nuanced than credited.

        • rog says:

          A “degree of uncertainty” is a technical term and does not necessarily detract from the evidence, data or science – every measurement has a degree of uncertainty. What is unreasonable is the often expressed expectation that everything must be 100% or it must be rejected.

        • Alan says:

          Actually it is the uncertainty that makes the case. Science is about testable propositions.

          Lord Monckton and his ilk are not much given to qualifiers of any kind on their drivel, Every proposition, no matter how outrageous, is expressed in terms of absolute certainty. A scientist has to weigh the evidence and a system as complex as the climate is not necessarily going to give the black and white results so beloved of denialists. The failure to speak with absolute certainty is what characterises people who are relying on evidence rather than ideological passion.

        • rog says:

          Lets test the statement

          I have always been sceptical and the reason is that I can easily find AGW scientists being untrustworthy and AGW scientists admitting that there is a large degree of uncertainty. Ergo, I am reluctant to trust AGW scientists.

          How many AGW scientists have expressed a “large” degree of uncertainty and what percentage of AGW scientists does this represent?

          It may well be that the percentage is small, say 3%, which would mean that your scepticism is not supported by the majority of AGW scientists.

          I guess we will have to wait for your evidence before attributing degrees of uncertainty.

  14. Ken Parish says:

    “AGW scientists being untrustworthy”

    I’m assuming that this a reference to the hacked University of East Anglia emails saga, which denialists seized on as supposed evidence of the duplicity, dishonesty, thuggery etc of mainstream climate science, and by extension as a licence to dismiss climate science entirely.

    What the denialists conveniently ignore is that there were subsequently no less than 7 major government and university inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic, all of which found that the correspondence and surrounding events did NOT impugn the integrity of any individual climate scientist and in no sense undermined the force or veracity of climate science itself.

    “AGW scientists admitting that there is a large degree of uncertainty”

    You seem to be misunderstanding the nature, significance and role/function of uncertainty (and measures of it) i science in general and climate science in particular (as a couple of other commenters have pointed out). Mainstream climate science in no sense seeks to disguise or minimise the existence of uncertainty. It is acknowledged and discussed right through all the IPCC reports (as you should know if you’ve read them). This article provides a reasonably succinct summary:

    There is little doubt that both global temperatures and sea levels have been rising steadily over the past 150 years as human activity increased the amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, the complex nature of Earth’s climate had made it difficult for scientists to be sure that man is causing global warming. In 2001, the IPCC said that there was a 66-90% certainty that humans were mostly to blame for rising temperatures since about 1950, but improvements in both the science and underlying climate data have boosted this confidence to 90% in this latest report entitled Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis.

    The IPCC report predicts that global temperatures will rise by 1.8 -4.0°C between 1990 and 2100, depending on how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. These predictions are a bit more conservative than the IPCC’s 2001 report, which predicted a 1.4-5.8°C increase. Sea levels are expected to rise by 28-43 cm during the same period – much more definite limits than the 9-88 cm forecast of the 2001 report. And even if greenhouse gas concentrations were to be stabilized during this century, temperatures and sea levels would continue to rise for many centuries to come thanks to the long timescales associated with many climate processes, the report says.

    On a regional basis, today’s report says that warming is expected to be greatest over land and at most northern latitudes, with parts of Russia and Canada most greatly affected. This is expected to reduce snow cover and cause the melting of permafrost in the northern hemisphere. Arctic and Antarctic sea ice is projected to shrink, and by 2100, the Arctic Ocean is expected to be nearly ice-free in late summer.

    There is a 90% certainty that extreme weather such as heat waves and heavy precipitation will become more frequent in some regions. Thanks to improvements in the scientific understanding of precipitation patterns, the report says that there is 90% certainty that warming will lead to greater precipitation in high latitudes and decreases in most sub-tropical regions. Indeed, 20% reductions in rainfall are predicted for the Mediterranean basin and southern Africa.

    While there will never be a complete consensus on climate change, the report has been produced by about 600 scientists from 40 countries and was reviewed by 620 climate experts. The report was also reviewed, revised and accepted by representatives of 113 countries.

  15. Alan says:

    There is no certainty that deterrent measures prevent refugee bait rivals, but that a regiment is not advanced by conservatives to say there should be no deterrent measures. There is no certainty that austerity helps the economy but that regiment is not advanced by conservatives to oppose austerity measures. If 100% certainty were to become the test for public policy we would end up with a very strange set of policies.

  16. Yobbo says:

    7 major government and university inquiries

    Governments and universities of course, have altruism as their only motivation. Unlike evil, for profit corporations.

    This is why there will never be any agreement on this subject, as long as the AGW crowd blindingly trust anything that comes from a government department.

  17. Alan says:

    I suppose we could outsource AGW research to the oil or coal industry but the results could be predictable. The thing is the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study was designed to review the primary data and expose the weaknesses of the climate consensus. Instead it confirmed the findings of groups like the IPCC and the NOAA.

  18. Yobbo says:

    Just to be clear Alan, I don’t doubt that there have been measurable increases in temperature in the last 100 years.

    What I doubt is

    a:) The effect is caused primarily by human action
    b:) That it can all be cured by more socialism.

    You know how I know that the people pushing this are not really all that worried about the climate? It’s because they are the same people who oppose nuclear power.

    The warmenists don’t actually want us to solve the problem of how to generate power without fossil fuels. They just want us to use less and consume less energy because of some kind of weird kind of guilt associated with being born in a rich country. They want to wear the hairshirt, and they want all of us to wear it too.

    • rog says:

      Yobbo accepts some measurement without condition yet dismisses other measurement for failing to meet with his conditions. This is a clear demonstration of bias and prejudice.

  19. Alan says:

    I do not believe, for it is not a matter of faith. I am persuaded that the cause is anthropogenic. However the cause is not really all that relevant. The cause could be anything and the grim effects would remain the same.

    The real question is whether the temperature increase is a threat to our welfare and what measures will reduce that threat. You cannot fall back on allegations of socialism unless you also argue that people like Angela Merkel, Arnold Schwarzenegger, David Cameron and Margaret Thatcher are in on the conspiracy as paid-up members of the plot.

  20. Alan says:

    At the outset of this thread the reason to disbelieve climate change was the uncertainty of the science. Then it was socialism. Now it appears to be nuclear power, even though there are climate scientists who advocate nuclear power or simply have no opinion on the issue. When someone is continually moving the goalposts you have to wonder what they are actually arguing.

    • john r walker says:

      Alan its about preserving our bodily fluids .

    • Yobbo says:

      Nobody disbelieves “climate change” Alan. That would be like disbelieving in the moon. What I disbelieve is the assertion that it’s primarily caused by burning of fossil fuels.

      To this date no climate scientist wants to talk about the fact that it was hotter 10000 years ago than it is today – because they can’t blame it on the industrial revolution.

      To keep denying that there is more at play here than just trying to save the world is sticking your head in the sand. There’s a reason that this issue divides along left-right lines.

  21. Alan says:

    If you look at the NOAA’s page on climate history you will find discussion of warmer temperatures in the Middle Holocene. Is it then your allegation that the NOAA does not include any climate scientists or are you simply prepared to admit that your claim ‘no climate scientist wants to talk about the fact that it was hotter 10000 years ago than it is today’ is wrong?

    There is no left/right divide on climate science except in the US, Australia and Canada and even in Australia and Canada there is no major political party that claims that climate change is not happening and does not require a response.

  22. wilful says:

    I was going to post on this topic, but unfortunately it’s been overrun by a bunch of scientific illiterates. I’m so glad that self-regard for your own abilities is able to overcome the hurdles of the mountains of evidence provided by every single scientific academy in the world.

    Just one point, a LOT of climate change campaigners, including James Hansen and George Monbiot, are thoroughly convinced that nuclear power is a partial answer (without discounting the need for or desirability of affordable and reliable renewable energy. I recommend David McKay’s Sustainable Energy – Without the Hot Air book that goes into substantial detail on this.

  23. Pedro says:

    Here is a good essay on consensus and the final paragraph for the lazy.
    “The impact of the IPCC consensus probably peaked in 2006-2007, at the time of publication of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. Since then, the implications of the messy wickedness of the climate change problem have become increasingly apparent. Courtesy of the CRU emails, we have a better understanding of the sausage making that went into creating the IPCC consensus (e.g Ryghaug and Skjolsvold 2010). Manufacturing a consensus in the context of the IPCC has acted to hyper-politicize the scientific and policy debate, to the detriment of both. It is time to abandon the concept of consensus in favor of open debate of the arguments themselves and discussion of a broad range of policy options that include bottom up approaches to decreasing vulnerability to extreme weather and climate events and developing technologies to expand energy access.”

    It’s not hard to find references to papers that question important elements of the consensus

    • rog says:

      So thats it? Only one scientist?

      • Alan says:

        Actually, not even one:

        Climate skeptics have seized on Curry’s statements to cast doubt on the basic science of climate change. So it is important to emphasize that nothing she encountered led her to question the science; she still has no doubt that the planet is warming, that human-generated greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, are in large part to blame, or that the plausible worst-case scenario could be catastrophic. She does not believe that the Climategate e-mails are evidence of fraud or that the IPCC is some kind of grand international conspiracy. What she does believe is that the mainstream climate science community has moved beyond the ivory tower into a type of fortress mentality, in which insiders can do no wrong and outsiders are forbidden entry.

        And we are still waiting for Yobbo to tell us about the strange absence of climate scientists from NOAA,,,

        • rog says:

          At first glance it would appear that Pedro is only able to find one AGW scientist who supports his stance. Pedro then invites the reader to read work by Curry to establish the identity of others. So it would seem that Pedro is not able to form any meaningful argument of his own and is totally reliant on the work of Curry, who has in turn been refuted by many legitimate climate scientists.

          Despite ample opportunity Pedro and his ilk are unable to provide an argument that would satisfy their own criteria.

      • Pedro says:

        Why don’t you read her words about climate-gate and consensus rather than somebody else’s interpretation of her position? Calling it part of the sausage-making process for the manufactured consensus is not exactly a ringing endorsement. The whole essay is worth a read.

        There are various people, including working climate-scientists, who say that the claims of a strong consensus are over-blown, yet there seems a common tendency to simply deny that might be a valid claim.

        I’m only bashing my head against the wall here because I’m sick of people who are open-minded and skeptical being regarded as ignorant fuckwits, even as the nature of the debate changes as evidenced by the original post.

        Here we have ken admitting that Paul F is correct after all when a while back he was sure we should have mitigation policies despite the lack of global action because to do otherwise was akin to pissing in the pool and so morally bad even if essentially meaningless.

        • wilful says:

          Paul F’s position on the realpolitik of action/inaction has nothing to do with your (accurately labelled) ignorant fuckwittery. I can’t see that he’s denying the science of climate change, if he is well his economics training has led him badly astray, he’s saying that no one is going to do a damn thing about it. Which is opinion, not facts, though unfortunately I suspect he’s mostly right.

        • Alan says:

          I have, Curry is a legitimate scientist who questions the IPCC process. I’ve been subscribed to her blogfeed for some time because she runs some interesting stuff. Conversations like this, where denialists rather thaN skeptics pile misrepresentation on misrepresentation rather weaken her argument that legitimate scientists should engage with skeptics.

          Describing Curry herself as a skeptic is just more of the same:

          The ‘speaking consensus to power’ approach can be characterized to a substantial extent as ‘speaking climate model simulations to power.’ In this context, increasing uncertainty in the climate models simulations is bad news for the politics of CO2 mitigation. I’ve argued in the previous post that that the ‘scientific truth to power’ model just doesn’t make sense for the wicked climate problem. Using climate models in ‘speaking climate model simulations to power’ isn’t a good use of climate models, given their limitations.

          Of course she could be a particularly evil conspirator whose game plan is to exploit Pedro’s credulity by making him think she is a denialist.

        • rog says:

          Why don’t you read her words about climate-gate and consensus rather than somebody else’s interpretation of her position?

          Why don’t you present your own arguments instead of relying on those of other people?

          To read Curry’s essay and then dismiss essays rebutting Curry is unreasonable.

        • Tel says:

          Why don’t you present your own arguments instead of relying on those of other people?

          You go first. By all means demonstrate how you personally have measured human induced Global Warming, including documentation of all your data sets, and intermediate calculations. You would be the first to do that.

          No fallback to anyone else’s work by the way, must be all your own.

        • Pedro says:

          I’m sorry, but jeez some people are stupid. Where did I deny climate change? Where did I suggest Paul F is doing anything but being pragmatic about wasted costs. Where did I call Judith Curry a skeptic? This is exactly the problem where dumb believers rush to condemn without reading what they say.

          Rog, you’re especially dense.

        • Alan says:

          And some people run out of arguments and start name-calling. Hey, at least you’re not in Yobbo’s position of trying desperately to find the missing NOAA climate scientists.

  24. wilful says:

    I regret calling you a fuckwit, I withdraw that.

    • Fyodor says:

      I regret calling you a fuckwit, I withdraw that.

      Oh, pish tosh. Don’t be such a softcock, Wilful.

      The planet is in danger, dagnabit, and miscreants like Pedro are infecting impressionable minds with their noxious doubts.

      FFFS man up, grow a pair and burn the heretic properly.

      • Yobbo says:

        Lefties are such angry little buggers, aren’t they Fyodor.

        “Fuckhead!” – they explained.

        • Nicholas Gruen says:

          Nice to get a laugh from time to time – Thanks Yobs

        • Fyodor says:

          Yea, verily, Yobmeister 2000. You’d be angry too if you were powerless to force people to agree with you.

          OTOH, prolly not.

        • Tel says:

          You’d be angry too if you were powerless to force people to agree with you.

          I should get that on a T-Shirt in big red capitals.

          Might help me get seat on the bus.

          Hmmm, can you get the same message down to a few less words? I want seriously big capital letters happening.

        • Pedro says:

          Tel, why not just try this on your shirt:
          “That’s my seat”

    • Pedro says:

      No need wilful, I’d do the same for you any day! ;-)

  25. gordon says:

    From the post: “…the vast majority of people neither know nor care enough to try to work out who is telling the truth”.

    I think this is taking it too far. There are lots of ordinary folk who care about the environment, including global warming. But we all have to consider our short-term options as well as the long-term ones. After all, the long term is just a lot of short terms put end to end. So, no, there isn’t going to be a peasants’ revolt, and Greens aren’t going to become the Masters of the Universe overnight. No drama, I’m afraid. But there is a steady uptake of renewable and low-emissions power, “environmentally-friendly” is still a popular claim to be able to make, people do sort rubbish into recylable and landfill, and so on.

    Overall, I do think the environmental movement has been mistaken to put so many eggs in the global warming basket. I can’t help feeling that the envirocrats who have tried to frighten everybody into electing them dictators are feeling the resentment of ordinary people who are already getting enough threat messages from other parties and interest groups, and want to be told there is hope, not disaster around the corner.

  26. Jim Rose says:

    Just about every major city throughout the world for that matter is located along a river, lake or seacoast.

    what is happening to waterfont land prices in these cities? is there are futures market in waterfront land prices?

  27. Patrick says:

    I do feel like I should stick up for Pedro.

    Personally I am near to certain that the climate is changing. I would be worried if it wasn’t. I am also convinced that a part of this change is related to human activity. I’d be very surprised if we’ve had no impact at all. I believe that any future climate will not be a pareto improvement over the current climate. Again, I’d be surprised if it were so. I believe that we are rapidly improving our understanding of how human activity has affected the climate. I’d be disappointed if we weren’t.

    I do not believe that we have a strong understanding of how future human activity will affect the climate. We have an understanding of how we expect it will, based on our current knowledge of how it has in the past and our current knowledge of how the climate works, but no more. To put it another way, I am not convinced nor very ready to be convinced that we have a better understanding of the likely impact of human action on the future climate than we have of the likely performance of key financial markets. I’d be reasonably surprised if we did given that the former appears to be a vastly more complex system and that the rewards for understanding the latter appear much more extrinsic and tangible.

    I am almost unable to believe that our governments, and even less self-appointed experts like Tim Flannery, Al Gore, Clive Hamilton, George Monbiot, anyone who ever set foot in LA, et al, are at all able to devise a system to affect the climate for the better and not cost all of us far more than the benefits.

    Finally, I am quite convinced that Australia’s decision to move to a post-industrial economy, with apparently no real thought given to facilitating the educational and ‘welfare’ systems required to support such an economy, under the wholly disingenuous guise of a carbon tax, is just nuts.

    As for the idea that the carbon tax is actually intended to do something about the climate, well they do say there’s one born every minute.

    • Ken Parish says:

      Another well judged intervention Patrick. I agree with just about everything you say.

      I still reckon the current carbon pricing regime should be retained, however, for the reasons I’ve given several times. It’s very modest and unlikely to cause economic damage, and it creates a framework that can be cranked up when the world eventually gets its act together if/when it becomes undeniably apparent that the damage being caused really is as serious as most of the mainstream science is already saying (although on my reading I agree the areas of uncertainty remain significant).

      My practical reason, however, for some concern about the current carbon pricing regime is about how it will work when we enter the tradeable permits stage after 2015 and affected industries can buy permits from overseas. As others have suggested, will we simply be effectively transferring money to dodgy overseas businesses and corrupt politicians to buy permits generated from illusory CO2 reductions e.g. an Indonesian businessman who burns down rain forest and then “earns” tradeable carbon credits by replanting the trees he just burned down?

      I’m happy to await more details of how the actual scheme will work in practice, but like you I have serious doubts about whether it is actually possible to create one that isn’t almost infinitely rortable.

      • Nicholas Gruen says:

        The idea that $23 per ton is such a crippling tax is ridiculous. Quite apart from any emissions reductions it may or may not generate, it’s probably less distorting than all existing state taxes.

        Can we get a grip please.

        So if we help the world get onto a carbon lowering trajectory, good for us – we won’t have sacrificed much. If it doesn’t work – ditto. It’s like reforming – or not reforming housing stamp duty. Big deal, do something you enjoy, move on.

        A grip is needed to be got.

        • Yobbo says:

          Tell that to the refrigeration industry

        • Alan says:

          We don’t really need to, even kicking at the ever-shifting goalposts of denial. We have gone now from uncertainty, to socialism, to the missing NOAA scientists, to de-industrialozation, to high taxes and now we are asked to leap in the fridge.

          Luckily if we do we will find the ACC there before us.

      • aidan says:

        Another well judged intervention Patrick. I agree with just about everything you say.

        I am astonished that this is the case.

        Everything acknowledging AGW in Patrick’s comment was so qualified as to be meaningless and yet he pours scorn on Al Gore and George Monbiot who have been right all along.

        Why should we give a monkeys about Patrick’s opinions with respect to climate change policies when he hasn’t even managed to admit to himself the reality of AGW? Not really, just look a the hedging.

    • Pedro says:

      Patrick, I thought it interesting that Judith Curry is predicting the 5th IPCC report will show an increase in uncertainty based on the growing knowledge.

      I’m happy to agree we are not debating an economic catastrophe.
      But it was Treasury and not Andrew Bolt that predicted lower growth as a consequence so there is a cost and the question is what benefit do we get for the cost.

      Ken has always like the redistribution and so he may think that sufficient justification anyway.

      The claim that we’ll have a mechanism ready for when the world finally acts doesn’t make much sense to me. Surely it is more likely that the mechanism ought to be designed at that time to reflect the global effort.

      Similarly, I’d like to see some evidence of first mover advantages and so forth. The change to renewables or whatever will be cheaper later and I don’t think it likely that smallish taxes in our puny economy will drive that very far. The shining example to the world claim is, um, well, let’s just say its embarrassing.

      I think you can have a grip (on more than your dick) and still think the carbon tax is not a good policy, even if the claims against it are as over-blown as every other claim that’s ever been made by an Opposition about a new tax. Calling it not as inefficient as State taxes pretty faint praise.

      The common sense position remains that the tax was a dud idea even if more so politically than economically. Gillard and Swan had the right idea after KRuddy copped the rat-fucking.

      • Ken Parish says:

        Strangely enough Pedro, I generally state my reasons for believing something. I don’t see very much point in having hidden agendas on my own blog. The current carbon pricing regime has a minimal effect on prices, and the refund arrangements have a similar minimal redistributive effect. In fact they aren’t redistributive in a net sense of the pre-existing situation. They are simply directing more of the compensating refunds to lower income people (which in any event recognises the reality that it will generally be easier for higher income earners to make changes that will avoid any ongoing cost of living impact of carbon pricing anyway). It’s hardly radical socialism.

        My reason for supporting the carbon pricing regime is precisely as stated. It is setting in place a mechanism that will have at least a small effect on people’s behaviour in relation to CO2 emissions, and which can easily and quickly be “cranked up” if/when we see effective international action on carbon pricing.

        I’m perfectly happy for you to disagree with my reasons. I’m NOT happy at all that you see fit implicitly to accuse me of having some hidden agenda/arguing in bad faith. Please desist.

        • Pedro says:

          No offence intended and that wasn’t what I was trying to do. I recall sometime ago a post or comment in which you said you like the carbon tax because the compensation was leading to additional redistribution, and remembering that, I thought you’d probably like the tax even without your views on the environmental justification. So I said as much when trying to cover the various ways people might like or criticise the carbon tax.

          If I think someone’s dissembling or lying I’ll just come right out and say so.

  28. Alan says:

    Finally, I am quite convinced that Australia’s decision to move to a post-industrial economy, with apparently no real thought given to facilitating the educational and ‘welfare’ systems required to support such an economy, under the wholly disingenuous guise of a carbon tax, is just nuts.

    Sorry, but what’s nuts is alleging that the carbon price will de-industrialsie Australia. Before Howard flew to Kyoto to not sign the protocol he was visited by a business delegation led by John Carrick, a former Fraser minister and the godfather of the NSW Liberals. barrack begged Howard to sign, arguing that Australia had an early lead in renewables technology that would be lost if we were not part of the Kyoto process. Howard signed and we lost it.

    Australia was de-industialising, along with everyone else except China, long before the CPRS or the ETS were ever heard of. One way to reverse that is to work on renewables where we have huge natural advantages. The idea that a carbon price can retrospectively de-industrialise a country is really, really nuts.

  29. Patrick says:

    Although I’ve expressed this too categorically before I don’t think the carbon tax alone will actually have any extremely dramatic immediate effect.

    It does however compound the effects of the high dollar and our [current government’s committment to perpetuating our] extremely high employee cost (both in terms of dollars per hour and work practices) and our relatively high taxes as well as our generally high prices full stop. It’s fair to say that at an absolute minimum the carbon tax reinforces all these and not the contrary, and I believe that this is where Ken and Nick on the one hand and I and Pedro on the other diverge.

    The overall effect is that we are exporting our emissions and the jobs that generate them [no-one in Canberra’s more the shame] to poorer countries. This may yet be Australia’s most significant foreign aid initiative ever, but it is absolutely not a material emissions reduction scheme.

    As for the stuff about renewables, you can take your awesome renewable jobs and stick them in a country that is willing to wear the cost. Personally I am quite happy with US, German and Spanish taxpayers footing the bill for their ruinous forays into renewables. I’ll also be quite happy to pay the cheap marginal cost that we’ll eventually get to for their products as well!!

  30. Alan says:

    There go the goalposts again. First it was the carbon price, now its not the carbon price and the carbon price only compounds a pre-existing problem. I am surprised to learn of our relatively high taxes which nobody else seems to know about.

    • Patrick says:

      I may have overstated the carbon tax point, but I don’t think I was particularly wrong. I’m absolutely happy to accept that it is one of several factors as long as you accept that it doesn’t sit on the right side of the scale for Australia’s economy or jobs.

      I’ll respond to the high tax point too. People always pull this thing about our taxes not being high – it certainly isn’t news to the Treasury team that wrote that report, they just aren’t stupid enough to say it plain enough for a casual reader to understand (They have both made a career out of being trusted to tell government palatable truths).

      There is a lot of detail in that report but the summary is a good starting point, in particular the end:

      While Australia’s individual income tax burden is relatively high compared to the OECD-30 and OECD-10, once social security contributions and payroll taxes are accounted for, Australia has the second lowest level of direct taxation on individuals and payroll in the OECD-10.

      I’m pretty sure this means that the Australian government wrote this report because the World Bank/IFC Doing Business report insists on including our pension contributions as taxes on wages. I can live with the Australian government position here.

      Australia’s company income tax as a proportion of GDP is above that of the other OECD-10 countries, but there are classification issues concerning this comparison. [it isn’t obvious that they are as substantial as this suggests, the only real one is franking -Patrick] Australia’s statutory corporate tax rate is in line with OECD-30 and OECD-10 averages. Australia’s treatment of depreciation, losses and goodwill is generally less favourable.

      Not that anyone would care about depreciation, losses and amortisation of goodwill if they were running an industrial plant…oh. This is, however the real issue – what we are being compared with. More below.

      Australia’s reliance on property and transaction taxes, which are virtually all levied by State, Territory and local governments, is relatively high compared with the OECD-30. Australia’s reliance on property and transaction taxes is more in line with the OECD-10, despite having the highest tax burden on financial and capital transactions.

      It’s the State’s fault! Although that last sentence may not be.

      It is all about comparisons. We are compared in this report to the OECD 10 and the OECD 30. When Company A decides where to build a major industrial factory, their shared services and marketing centre and their head office, they are however making more fine-grained choices.

      For reasons partly beyond our control, we are not competitive in heavy manufacturing. It’s almost inconceivable that any government would enact the policies that might make us so (10% or less corporate income tax, greater employment flexibility, etc) and conceivable that there are no policies that would outweigh high wages (which we presumably want), long distances and a strong dollar. We are in this context compared to emerging giants with massively lower costs or massive markets with large numbers of skilled (lower cost!) workers like Germany or the US.

      The current government thus, sensibly as far as it goes, sees our future in services and possibly ‘light’ manufacturing. However, now we are being compared to places like Singapore and Hong Kong more than the ‘OECD 10′ or ’30’. And our tax burden on services is very high, prohibitively so, compared to those jurisdictions.

      Finally we get to head office. As this decision is often driven by factors such as overally level of civilisation and access to professional services, we would appear to be in a strong position. However, to the extent that anyone is thinking outside of the large established centres (US, London, HK) tax starts to play a large role in this decision. So the ‘highest tax burden on financial and capital transactions’ referred to now comes into play, as does the high tax on services, again. Not only that, but our tax of foreign activities becomes an issue. In effect, Australia’s current offshore tax rules and even more so the proposed (but proposed since 2009!) rules will very often get to the same outcome as Singapore’s or HK’s, but with massively greater uncertainty and risk. For almost nil revenue, possibly negative revenue factoring in the revenue foregone, we lose, again.

    • Yobbo says:

      Alan, just because somebody mentions two different concepts in the same thread, it doesn’t mean they are “moving the goalposts”. This isn’t Quiggin, you need a real argument here.

  31. Alan says:

    Many OECD members levy separate social security taxes/contributions. This si tremendously convenient for a certain kind of politician who can claim to be lowering taxes when actually they mean that they are lowering the income tax while raising the social security tax (see for example one Reagan, R).

    So no, it’s not that they are counting super contributions as taxes, it is that the welfare system in Australia is funded from general revenue, not an earmarked tax. I suspect part of the high tax myth in Australia is assuming that the income tax is all that people pay when in the US, for example, the earmark tax is frequently higher than the ‘official’ income tax. (Except for the rich in the US because the earmark tax is capped at a certain income level) You also need to make allowances for having a unified income tax where some federations have separate state income taxes.

    • Patrick says:

      So no, it’s not that they are counting super contributions as taxes, it is that the welfare system in Australia is funded from general revenue, not an earmarked tax.

      No it isn’t, actually. I don’t even know what you are talking about. What is measured in these surveys is the tax on a wage-earner’s income – both income tax and social security contributions. No-one pretends that social security is not tax.

      The dispute is that the World Bank and OECD count the super contributions as social security contributions, ie taxes, when the Australian government says that only the 15% tax on contributions should be counted since the super hasn’t been taxed by the Government, it remains the wage-earner’s money.

      I don’t think there is any issue with measuring subsidiary level income taxes, in fact there is none at all in the kind of measurements being used by the Treasury team.

      Although wanker of the most collossal proportions Barney Frank did threaten to de-fund the World Bank thanks to America’s poor rankings in the Doing Business report which were partly the result of the comparator being the largest city, which for the US was NY with its high State and City income taxes :)

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