Monday, November 30, 2009

Heating up

Its been quite remarkable to watch the Coalition tear itself apart over climate change.

The issue has become so politically charged that one of the potential leadership candidates (Joe Hockey) is considering reversing his position on climate change due to agitation from the Coalition base.

This highlights the deep political divisions this issue creates, which while they are too complex to be fully explained by the left/right dichotomy, seem to align somewhat with David Burchell's assessment:

We know that we believe in climate change because we also believe in solar energy, social welfare, indigenous culture and women's rights. We know that we disbelieve in it because we believe in the coal industry, personal thrift and responsibility and the traditional family. There never was a catechism more hypnotic, more elemental, or more purely devoid of thought.

I'm not denying some people approach the issue more rationally and scientifically than described by Burchell. But how many people do you know who've waded through both the IPCC's reports and Ian Pilmer's musings on the matter?

I would argue most of us, whether consciously or subconsciously, use shortcuts to decide how we stand. I guess the trick is to try, as much as possible ,to use intentional and informed (rather than random) shortcuts when deciding how we will respond.

So here we go... I am in favour of policies which seek to reduce carbon emissions. The key questions I've considered and the shortcuts I've used to answer them are:

Q. Does the science support the idea humans are causing climate change?
A. Yes but this point is contested. Not being a scientist all I can really do is listen to climate change scientists and major international scientific bodies. I'm yet to hear of a climate change expert who has published peer-reviewed research that refutes it*.

Q. Is an emissions trading scheme (ETS) a good way to address climate change?
A. It seems to be a good start. People say an ETS is a waste of time because Australia's emissions are so small in a global context. But this is like saying Australia's relatively small contingent of troops in Afghanistan doesn't impact the political and military reality on the ground. Also, an incremental (rather than revolutionary) approach is consistent with how Australia usually approaches these things.

Q. Will an ETS hurt households and/or the economy?
A. Yes and no. According to Meganomics' predictions in the Aus, the vast majority of households will be better off once government compensation is taken into account. In terms of the broader economy, clearly high-emitting industries will face higher costs. This is inevitable when you are trying to re-align incentives and internalise the cost of 'externalities' (i.e. carbon emissions) that would otherwise continue to be costless due to market failure.

Q. Are we getting too far ahead of other countries in signing up to an ETS before Copenhagen?
A. I don't think so. Quite apart from the outcome of Copenhagen, the EU has had an ETS in place for several years, the US has one before Congress and Japan has a target of an 8% cut in emissions by 2020. China and India tend to be the countries most people talk about - India probably won't cut its emissions and fair enough - 50% of the population doesn't have access to electricity. Re: China, after the recent high-level US-China talks there is growing confidence China is moving to curb emissions due to the obvious effect climate change is having on the country.

I'd be interested in hearing how you would answer these questions using your own 'shortcuts'.

*Of course there is a possibility of a conspiracy theory involving all reputable climate change scientists across the world. But I consider this less likely than the proven track record of high emitters paying less reputable scientists to come out against anthropogenic climate change.


brad mccoy said...

it's like anything, isn't it? take evolution as an example. everyone makes up their mind about whether or not they want to believe it. we may look at a few "scientific" proofs for that belief, and ignore everything else. just how many people, on a contentious issue like that, first look at the evidence for and against, and then come to a conclusion?

so if you look at the people who are in favour and against the climate change science, they can usually be categorised by their interest in whether man-made climate change is real or not. most of them have formed a view on climate change based on economics (the cost of an ETS etc.) or on a philosophical bent.

the funny thing about climate change, as you alluded to, is that we get our "science" from politicians and the media. when it's presented by either side, it's nearly impossible to refute what they say. if the believers quote the increasing incidence of bizarre weather events, we either believe them, or discount it as false. when the skeptics tell us that over the last decade, the global temperature has actually been cooling, we remain skeptical, or we discount it as false.

the similarities with evolution science are immense. climate change, like evolution, is considered by a huge chink of the population to be a proven truth. does that mean it's true? i don't think anyone will ever be able to say for sure. and so it will remain a contentious issue for years to come.

brad mccoy said...

"chink?" freudian slip perhaps?

obviously, i meant to say "chunk".

brad mccoy said...

speaking of climate change skeptics. how funny is this!

"Senator Minchin wishes to record his dissent from the committee's statements that it believes cigarettes are addictive and that passive smoking causes a number of adverse health effects for non-smokers," the committee's minority report says. "Senator Minchin believes these claims (the harmful effects of passive smoking) are not yet conclusively proved. . . there is insufficient evidence to link passive smoking with a range of adverse health effects."

'Nick Minchin was a sceptic on tobacco'

brad mccoy said...

compulsive commenter.

here's some more of what i was saying earlier. it has nothing to do with science. those on the right side of the debate hate the CPRS because it's a tax. it restricts the "free" market.

"Rudd’s carbon tax isn’t about the environment. It is about introducing a new tax to help pay off the billions of dollars in debt he has already racked up on the taxpayer credit card. It is also about giving him more money to fund his social agenda. It’s now becoming increasingly obvious the government sees its ETS as a financial bonanza with reports it could raise as much as $124 billion in coming years. It is like adding three percent to the GST."

Phil Richardson said...

As Malcolm Turnbull pointed out, whatever else you want to say about the ETS:

- it is not a tax
- it does not raise additional revenue for the government (in fact it entails significant costs for government)
- it is a market-based mechanism that places a price on carbon and caps emmissions, with tradeable carbon 'permits'
- it will entail higher costs for high emitting industries, providing an incentive for cleaner technology.

People who say it is anything else are either ignorant or trying to exploit ignorance through deliberately misleading people.

brad mccoy said...

- it does not raise additional revenue for the government (in fact it entails significant costs for government)


- it will entail higher costs for high emitting industries, providing an incentive for cleaner technology.


(tongue in cheek, by the way)

Laetitia :-) said...

I was in the carbon-dioxide-in-the-air-leads-to-global-warming camp until I watched "The Great Global Warming Swindle".

A telling comment from one man interviewed is that if you can somehow link your current research project to the flavour of the month political issue, you are more likely to get grants. So if you are looking at "nut gathering behaviour of squirrels in the Forest of Dean" you'll get less funding (or less chance of funding) than a project looking at "the effects of climate change on nut gathering behaviour of squirrels in the Forest of Dean".

My main issues are that there seem to be a lot of "Chicken Little's" running around saying "carbon = climate change = evil" but (a) why is climate change evil? I'm sure a bunch of Victorians and north Queenslanders wouldn't mind the climate being significantly different from the past few summers; (b) with all the focus on carbon, there are a lot of other noxious fumes that seem to be getting a free ride - will these be more or less concentrated, stable or non-existent in the fumes from cars with new technology? (c) if people were really serious about this they'd stop driving their cars, watching TV on a plasma screen and wouldn't think that you could stop GW by using electricity to play a silly game on facebook...but that'd involve changing personal behaviour and it's easier to blame the anonymous "big polluters".

brad mccoy said...

that is the worst "documentary" ever. full of journalistic trickery. might as well have been produced by channel 9, with mike munro hosting it.

just because something is the flavour of the month, and attracts more funding, that doesn't mean that the research isn't valid.

and just becuase change could be achieved by changing individual behaviours (diet, electrical consumption, transport etc.), that doesn't mean that an ETS wouldn't also be effective.