Background to our basic precautionary approach is here.
Comments welcome - contact Henry here.
Our aim is to follow the debate in as much detail as we do the economic news.
Henry, 30/6. We end one financial year with a scary story that is not without hope, courtesy International Herald Tribune.
'Lewis Ziska, a lanky, sandy-haired weed ecologist with the Agriculture Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, matches a dry sense of humor with tired eyes. The humor is essential to Ziska's exploration of what global climate change could do to mankind's relationship with weeds; there are many days, he confesses, when his goal becomes nothing more than not ending up in a fetal position beneath his battleship gray, government-issue desk. Yet he speaks of weeds with admiration as well as apprehension, and even with hope.Lewis Ziska, a lanky, sandy-haired weed ecologist with the Agriculture Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, matches a dry sense of humor with tired eyes. The humor is essential to Ziska's exploration of what global climate change could do to mankind's relationship with weeds; there are many days, he confesses, when his goal becomes nothing more than not ending up in a fetal position beneath his battleship gray, government-issue desk. Yet he speaks of weeds with admiration as well as apprehension, and even with hope.
The message of hope comes at the end of this long article. 'Weedy ancestors of our food crops, Ziska predicts, will cope far better with coming climatic changes than their domesticated descendants. Coping, after all, is what weeds have always done best. As last year's climate- change panel report, Climate Change 2007, made clear, we have already set in motion far-reaching and unstoppable changes in regional temperatures and precipitation and in the composition of our atmosphere. No matter what actions we take, these changes will continue for decades. If we are to avoid disaster, experts agree, we will need to be tenacious but flexible, ready to identify and exploit any opportunity in what will be a challenging, even hostile situation. In this new world that we have made, weeds, our old adversaries, could be not only tools but mentors. At which point, if Ralph Waldo Emerson is to be believed, weeds by definition will cease to exist'.
We await Ross Garnaut's Interim Report - to be presented to a waiting nation and a no doubt anxious government - this Friday. We shall be there!
Henry, 16/6. Louis Hissink writes about 'global drying'.
'There is a looming crisis facing humanity and it isn’t global warming or climate change as it is now called. It’s far, far worse and it’s called global drying. We are running out of ground water. Almost 3 billion humans rely on deep wells as the main source of drinking water and a large proportion of the food supply in many undeveloped countries is based on irrigation by those wells.'
A local example is New South Wales.
'NSW farmers are suffering crop-withering drought - with well over half the state now gasping for rain - while Sydney residents continue to pack their umbrellas.
'The latest drought figures show 62.7 per cent of the state was in drought last month, up from 48.4 per cent in April.
'Agriculture Minister Ian MacDonald said cropping regions were in "urgent need" of rain'.
Henry, 11/6. A valued Goldmember of Henry's site, Dr GFS, has provided a link to a paper given recently by the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus. It touches on some of the elements of environmentalism and poses the question of what it is that actually drives some of the activists associated with the environmental movement.
'Illiberal ideas are becoming formulated, spread and preached under the name of ideologies or "isms", which have - at least formally and nominally - nothing in common with the old-styled, explicit socialism. These ideas are, however, in many respects similar to it. There is always a limiting (or constraining) of human freedom, there is always ambitious social engineering, there is always an immodest "enforcement of a good" by those who are anointed (T. Sowell) on others against their will, there is always the crowding out of standard democratic methods by alternative political procedures, and there is always the feeling of superiority of intellectuals and of their ambitions.
'I have in mind environmentalism (with its Earth First, not Freedom First principle), radical humanrightism (based - as de Jasay precisely argues - on not distinguishing rights and rightism), ideology of "civic society" (or communitarism), which is nothing less than one version of Post-Marxist collectivism which wants privileges for organised groups, and in consequence, a refeudalisation of society. I also have in mind multiculturalism, feminism, apolitical technocratism (based on the resentment against politics and politicians), internationalism (and especially its European variant called Europeanism) and a rapidly growing phenomenon I call NGOism.
All of them represent substitute ideologies for socialism. All of them give intellectuals new possibilities, new space for their activities, new niches in the market of ideas. To face these new isms, to reveal their true nature, and to be able to get rid of them, may be more difficult than in the past. It may be more complicated than fighting the old, explicit socialism. Everyone wants to have a healthy environment; everyone wants to overcome loneliness of the fragmented post-modern society and to participate in positive activities of various clubs, associations, foundations and charity organisations; almost everyone is against discrimination based on race, religion or gender; many of us are against the extensive power of the state, etc. To demonstrate the dangers of these approaches, therefore, very often means blowing against the wind.'
To read the full paper presented by Vaclav Klaus, click here.
Henry, 10/6. The Economist says there is a deal to be done between rich nations and poor nations on climate change.
"The rich world should agree to increase the flow of clean investment dramatically, in exchange for a promise from fast-growing developing countries to take some steps of their own to curb emissions. That should not be such a hard sell in China and India. After all, their governments are all too aware of the devastating consequences if global warming were to cause the Himalayan glaciers to melt, or crop yields to fall".
On the other hand, should no deal be struck: "... the bill in Congress would allow only a small number of offsets, and only from factories that do not compete with American firms—a big hurdle in a globalised world. Worse, to make the bill more palatable to China-bashing politicians, its authors have strengthened provisions that would impose tariffs on energy-intensive imports from countries that are not taking “comparable action” against climate change, meaning all developing countries. That is a recipe for a trade war, which would only compound the economic pain of global warming. Just when a deal is possible, the stage is being set for a tragedy of Wagnerian dimensions".
Henry, 6/6. The heavyweights have come out to play - except this is about humanity's future and so is not at all a playful topic.
Henry reviews the debate and asks the climate change worriers to answer four technical questions - is the planet cooling or warming - from a notable climate change sceptic.
Henry, 3/6. Henry’s wandering geologist, Louis Hissink, has started to wonder whether or not most people in Australia, and for that matter the free world, have any inkling what is really behind the UN IPCC Climate Change Alarm.
"Scientifically AGW has been comprehensively falsified by measurement – the earth’s average global temperature has remained in stasis for the last 10 years and if the sunspot activity is a reliable indicator, we might be in for another Dalton Minimum with the implications for crops and food supplies – another period of global cooling, and the poorest are going to suffer most".
Read on here.
Henry, 30/5. Mike Steketee, national affairs editor at The Australian, takes aim at the Rudd Government's credentials when it comes to fighting climate change through the prism of the recent debates about the record-high petrol prices.
"Taking a sector as large as transport out of emissions trading would raise questions about the Government's commitment to tackling climate change. Shades of the Government's failure to match the war it declared against inflation with a budget that fought it on all fronts.
"But it could redeem its credentials if it were prepared to take alternative steps. Europe exempted the transport sector from its emissions trading scheme and New Zealand has delayed its inclusion. But European countries have imposed higher taxes on vehicles with high emissions, are promoting the use of very clean diesel and are requiring that 10 per cent of the fuel mix comes from biofuels."
The stark reality facing the Government is that it is not going to be cheap to truly tackle climate change by way of reducing carbon emissions any way you look at it. Any mitigation scheme based on carbon reduction is going to cause a certain amount of financial stress to Australians and there is simply no way around that.
That is the Government's challenge - but the challenge also presents the Government with an opportunity to prove that its words have been more than mere electorally inclined rhetoric.
Henry, 20/5. Here is a nice little piece of spin from The Climate Institute, claiming that cutting petrol excise will " be a boon for wealthier more polluting households, and detract from efforts to shift to cleaner, more climate friendly transport solutions."
A nice little bit of spin because clearly those that suffer the most under higher fuel prices are those in the mortgage belts of the outer suburbs of our major cities who have very poor public transport options available to them and thus a heavier reliance on the family car to get around for work and play.
On a marginal basis, society's more well off families are certainly more capable of handling the fuel price rises we have seen - as these rises have a smaller marginal effect on their disposable income! Until the transport infrastructure of our major cities improves to provide for those in the outer suburbs, fuel price rises will continue to strike lower to middle income families the hardest - apart from just the income differential also simply as a function of where many live.
The report goes on, and it does refer to the lack of transport infrastructure - but making an initial link between cuts to petrol excise with handouts to the well-off is a bare attempt to bring class into an issue that affects all Australians.
Sources: theaustralian.com.au & The Climate Insitute - climateinstitute.org.au
Henry, 15/5. Leigh Dayton presents some alarming news about the state of the palnet.
"PLANTS, animals, ice and waters worldwide have all been significantly affected by global warming triggered by human activity, says the first research to link the phenomenon to changes in biological and natural systems.
"Among the effects are earlier leafing of trees, movements of species to cooler climes, changes to bird migrations, melting glaciers and snow fields and shifts in fresh and marine ecosystems.
"Even agriculture and forestry are feeling the heat, claim scientists at 11 international institutions, including the University of Melbourne.
"Co-author and Melbourne University climate scientist David Karoly said: "We are seeing the impacts of human-caused climate change in many natural systems much earlier than previous studies had projected.
"Without urgent action to slow global warming, much larger changes will occur."
Henry, 5/5. The weekend saw Henry's editor given a severe beating in his own sitting room by a young woman.
No, this is not what you think, gentle readers, no birching by a begowned dominatrix. In any case, the young lady's father was present to ensure there was no untoward hanky panky.
Henry's editor was treated to a verbal tongue lashing by a young person who equates the "precautionary principle" with puritanical paternalism.
The lashing in question was brought on by a debate about Global Warming and the evils (as perceived by Henry's editor) of parents driving miles and miles every Friday night to ferry their young children to hockey games in distant suburbs.
The young person is for freedom above all, including freedom to emit greenhouse gasses. "Global cooling is just as likely as Global Warming", she shouted. "And I'd agree to curb emissions only if the costs of doing so were minimal."
By a curious coincidence, Henry today received a copy of a submission to the Garnaut Enquiry by the chairman of “Carbon Sense”, Mr Viv Forbes. Mr. Forbes claimed that the scheme would have no effect whatsoever on world climate but every Australian would feel the oppressive cost and dislocations caused by it.
“Staggering estimates of the costs of forcing industry to purchase permits to emit CO2 are just starting to emerge: Germany (100 billion euros), Australia (up to $22 billion), New Zealand ($4.5 billion). The amazing fact is that even though consumers in many countries will bear oppressive costs, there may be no reduction whatsoever in CO2 emissions, and no beneficial effects on the world climate.
(The Chairman of the Australian Taxation Institute, Mr Michael Dirkis, recently estimated that the direct tax cost of an Emissions Trading Scheme could be $22 billion or 40% of company tax receipts.)
“The immediate tax revenues collected from the forced sale of the emission permits will just be the start of the ETS tax pain. This tax will feed immediately into the prices for electricity, transport, food, cement and metal products. It will be like spreading the costs of petrol excise taxes into everything we buy.
“But to administer the whole complicated scheme, with tentacles into every business in the land, will require a stifling bureaucratic overhead of administrators, consultants, regulators, statisticians, tax collectors, auditors, inspectors, enforcers and prosecutors. At a time when real industry is suffering from a shortage of labour and services, all of these people and resources will be sucked into an ETS black hole. This bureaucratic burden is yet another hidden tax".
Sure sounds like puritanical paternalism in action.
Henry, 29/4. New technologies are the world's best hope of controlling dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.
Tim Boreham in The Oz today admits: "A YEAR ago your columnist pondered whether geothermal energy was more a case of big bollocks than hot rocks, such was the unproven nature of tapping heat from the earth's bowels for infinite power.
"Fast forward to now and the hot-rock concept is still yet to be proved, but a global breakthrough is imminent.
"In France, the Soultz project will become the first hot rocker to produce power, with a 2 megawatt plant due for commissioning any day.
"Locally, Geodynamics (GDY, $1.55), the most advanced of the 10 listed hot-rock outfits, has reported its own milestone, last week reporting surface flow tests at its Cooper Basin tenement were strong (and hot) enough to justify a 1MW trial plant.
"After numerous technical hitches, Geodynamics has pretty much proved that the theory -- forcing water down one drill hole and then up another in superheated form -- works".
Henry, 23/4. Global cooling?
"Sorry to spoil the fun, but an ice-age cometh", writes Phil Chapman.
This article relies on the observation that the 11-year (on average) cycles in sunspot activity are correlated with variations in global climate.
Also that large climate fluctuations, including periods of cold climate in recorded history, seem also the be related to the amount of energy put out by the sun, this correlated with sunspot activity.
This is an old idea, pioneered by economist Stanley Jevons if memory serves.
It seems - admittedly this is very hard to measure accurately - the world has been cooling and the expected upswing in sunspot activity has not yet materialised.
The Sun at present (With negligble Sunspot activity)
The Sun at present (With regular Sunspot activity - March 2001)
Henry's wandering geologist, also a global warming sceptic, Louis Hissink, attacks the same point with some material from Lord Christopher Monckton of Brenchley circa 2007.
"Another inconvenient fact are those pesky oceans submerging 70% of the earth’s surface. Emeritus Professor Lance Endersbee as shown that the earth’s atmospheric CO2 content is dependent on the sea surface temperature, and in typical engineering fashion comes up with a simple graph to explain it below.
(The world’s oceans release CO2 when they warm, and absorb it when they cool). The earth’s oceans are simply an enormous CO2 buffering system).
"Now the interesting point that needs to be made is that in the last Hissink File, mention was made of a decreasing global temperature and a suspicion that atmosphere CO2 was starting to level off. If Endersbee is right, and cooler global temperatures are expected for the next three years, then atmosphere CO2 content should also decrease as it is sequestered by the world’s oceans. This seems to be happening and probably explains the growing hysteria among the climate alarmists. The only climate catastrophe is in the computer models, because the earth is certainly not now behaving as expected".
Louis Hissink is working on the "Electric Universe" theory that may just tie together much of the sceptics' case. Watch this space, and think, do not rant, global warming consensualists.
Henry, 21/4. Henry's very own in-house geologist, Louis Hissink challenges some of the apparent consensus on the seriousness of the issues surrounding Climate change and Global warming.
Louis is particularly unimpressed with claims made by James Hansen of NASA recently to the Guardian newspaper in the UK. Particularly unimpressive is the fact Hansen used data from only 35m years ago, when comparisons stretching back 600m years provide a quite different conclusion.
"Hansen stated to The Guardian Newspaper that if this 450ppmv level was maintained for a long enough time, it would probably melt all the ice, raising sea levels by 75 metres and creating a disaster. Hansen’s problem is that his team cherry-picked the data because if one goes back 600 million years, some geologically inconvenient facts emerge as shown on the accompanying graph."
In the recent words of Lord Christopher Monckton of Brenchley (2007), "Climate Change is a non-problem. The correct policy to address a non-problem is to have the courage to do nothing."
Read more of Louis Hissink's latest evidence on the Climate Change furphy here.
Henry, 21/4. Christian Kerr reports from the frontline of the 2020 Summit in Canberra that Climate change and sustainable use of resources, particularly water, have been key areas of discussion by delegates at the 2020 Summit.
"KEVIN Rudd has described climate change as the overarching national challenge, in his closing address to the 2020 Summit.
"Australia faces an unprecedented challenge from climate change," delegates stated. "We have a brief opportunity to act now to safeguard and shape our future prosperity."
They have called for Australia to have the world's leading green and sustainable economy by 2020, working to firm targets to reduce the national environmental footprint while growing the economy and improving quality of life.
They have also called for resilient and innovative water systems that will reduce dependence on climate-sensitive water reserves in towns and cities, and measures to improve the health of ecological systems."
Henry, 17/4. Des Moore questions what he sees as an "Eyes Wide Shut" mentality that pervades much debate concerning Global Warming/Climate Change in Australia. The accepted wisdom is something Des challenges in terms of its absolute validity to dish out a prescription for the sacrifices Australians will be made to make to combat the problems presented by Climate Change.
"The touting of the science consensus claim underpins the advocacy of large reductions in CO2 emissions to prevent temperatures increasing more than a further 2C and the assertion of many adverse consequences if that happened.
However, since the last report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, many qualified scientists have begun to question its basic science, and even those accepting the science differ widely on emission reduction policies.
While the Stern review advocates early and strong action, well-regarded environmental economist William Nordhaus argues for only modest emission reductions initially, followed by sharper reductions later.
And Australia's Productivity Commission notes that uncertainty continues to pervade the science, geopolitics and economics, describing the Stern review as much an exercise in advocacy as an economic analysis of climate change."
And advocates an essentially adaptive response...
"* If there are substantive qualifications to IPCC views, the need for governments to intervene to limit CO2 emissions is much diminished or disappears. Humans readily adapt themselves to different climates (as they do now) and for the present it would be best to rely on adaptation."
Read more of Des' views here @ theaustralian.com.au
Henry, 15/4. Following up from Henry's latest thoughts on the Climate Change debate - and particularly the question of whether we should take precautionary action, we have an in-depth contribution from an engaged Henry Thornton reader - who challenges Don Aitkin's views - but with sympathy.
Michael Hart: "I feel sorry for Don Aitkin, like many other academics before him he has entered into a debate well intentioned but uncritically informed, dare I say unread. I respect his attempt to question orthodoxy and to posit the right to question current orthodoxy on Climate Change. I will admit that I do follow the issues carefully, have a moderate grasp of the underlying science and have I have done so for some time with increasing alarm. Why?" Read on here.
Henry and his editor, 9/4, have accepted the so-called "precautionary principle" as the reason for action, not in place of further discussion but so that a start can be made on reducing human influences on the possible problems while the boffins argue about the very complex system that is the global climate.
Aitkin dismisses the precautionary principle in the following rather flippant manner: "Some readers of drafts of this paper have raised the precautionary principle as an indication that we should, even in the face of the uncertainty about the science, take AGW seriously. Unfortunately, as I see it, the precautionary principle here is very similar to Pascal’s wager.
"Pascal argued that it made good sense to believe in God: if God existed you could gain an eternity of bliss, and if he didn’t exist you were no worse off. Alas, Pascal didn’t allow for the possibility that God was in fact Allah, and you had opted for belief in the wrong religion".
It is unarguable that "exogenous" factors such as changes in the earth's orbit, wobbles of the earth on its axis, and things we do not know about or have not agreed upon have in the past and may now be heating the earth's climate. The more fervent believers in anthropomorphic ("endogenous") climate change see this as a "dangerous distraction", but there is an important precautionary implication, which we put as a question.
What if current global warming was kicked off largely by "exogenous" factors and the warming itself releases greenhouse gasses that make the global warming worse? Such a feedback loop is familiar to engineers, economists and one assumes other social scientists such as Professor Aitkin.
Henry's virtual climate change sceptic Louis Hissink said recently: "... there is global warming, to be sure, but it might be likened to an elephant while we [are] the fleas on its tail.
"As a mere flea, I merely question why the governing fleas believe they can affect the pachydermic progress by cutting down on flea-sized emissions".
If the "exogenous" effect is large, limiting greenhouse gas emissions due to human activity may be futile. And may do some damage to economic growth, although existing estimates suggest the costs of this may be quite low.
If "futility" turns out to be the case, most efforts will need to go into adaptation rather than prevention. The precautionary principle would see major efforts going into adaptation beginning now.
In the meantime, rapid development of renewable, non-emitting, sources of energy can do no harm and indeed this would presumably address one of Professor Aitkin's "environmental problems of great significance", alternatives to oil-based energy.
And limiting greenhouse gas emissions more generally will improve the environment in practical terms, even if its practical impact on global warming turns out to be minor.
Henry's attempt to follow the climate change/global warming debate is linked here.
To read prior updates to the Climate Change and Global Warming page, please see the Q4 2007 & Q1 2008 page here.
To read more recent updates to the Climate Change and Global Warming page, please see the Q3 2008 page here.