Sunday, April 24, 2016
Sunday Snippets - mainly climate change and the need for middle ground
This morning's post is a meander with a special focus on what other bloggers are saying.
In Where are the sandwiches of yesteryear?, marcellous mourns the loss of Sydney Opera House sandwiches (among other things).This is followed by a rather nice review, Berg, Bruckner, Dohnanyi, of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra performance that was associated with the lost sandwiches.
It is a truth universally acknowledged - I do like that phrase however hackneyed it may have become - that I am not a music buff. marcellous makes me wish that I were!
The decision on who should build Australia's next submarines is close. According to a story in the Interpreter, the Japanese bid looks sunk. If so, that would be a real turn around after earlier remarks by the then PM Tony Abbott.
In On-line Opinion, Don Aitkin repeated a piece from his blog ‘But aren’t 97 per cent of climate scientists sure that humans are causing global warming?’ The phrasing gives the answer. I think that Don has a point, but I do get so sick of certain elements of the debate.
As I write, 171 countries have ratified the Paris Climate treaty, so it now has the effect of law, if with considerable ambiguities and uncertainties. One of the points I tried to make in the context of the Abbott Government's actions was a very simple one: regardless of one's views on the overall issue, there was a global consensus that action needed to be taken. That was a reality that had to be recognised. In those circumstances, it made no sense in policy terms to dismantle the Australian emissions trading architecture since some form of emissions trading seemed likely to emerge at global level. The Government could achieve its policy objectives in another way.
There was never any chance that my view would be accepted, the politics dictated otherwise, but I remain convinced that my position was sensible in public policy terms.
Moving beyond this point, the thing that I find so difficult lies in the way so many things get confused together to the point that it can be difficult to have a sensible conversation.
Is climate change happening? Quite possibly. There is actually more consensus on this than would appear at first sight, a consensus concealed by the debate about causes. Those attacking the current climate change orthodoxy point to past examples of climate change. Essentially, it has occurred, will occur, One consequence of this interest is an expansion in our knowledge of past climate.
This is something that I am personally interested in and do write about, especially in an Australian context. When I first studied history, I more or less, mostly more, took climate as a given. I am now much more sensitive to the impact of climate variations on human history, both short and long term. We also know just so much more about past climates. I would count this as a real plus of the focus on climate change, although knowledge and awareness was expanding before the climate change debate became so intense.
Within the debate about climate change, the thing that I am most interested in is the question of sea level changes, for that is arguably the most important element both directly, how it affects land surfaces, and indirectly, how it affects climate. We know that sea level changes are often slow, but can also happen quite suddenly and dramatically. Some of the evidence, or at least the reporting on the evidence, would appear to suggest that we may be about to experience quite dramatic sea level changes. I would like to know more about this.
Once we move from the question of whether climate change is happening and what it might mean, we then go to the question of causes. Here I am inclined to accept the argument of human induced causes. I just don't think that we can pimp so much stuff into the atmosphere without effect, and the warming effect of certain gasses appears to be well established. However, I don't know how much of the changes can be attributed to human action, how much to other factors. So now we have two uncertainties, those associated with the extent of climate change, those associated with cause.
Then we come to the desired responses to all this. Here I simply despair, for we have entered the role of theology, of beliefs, rather than science. Long ago in the context of Sydney water restrictions, I wrote of the way that climate change was being used to justify very silly policy positions. Now it's gone to extremes, especially on the environmentalist side.
We live in a world dominated by two existential positions.
One says climate change is happening, it's a disaster. it's human induced and therefore we must take whatever steps are necessary to solve the problem, and this includes the following steps Fit in here whatever position you like. A second says we don't know if climate change is happening, if it is happening we don't know that it's human induced as compared to a natural phenomenon and, in any case, we don't know what to do about it. Fit in here opposition to any action at all. There can be no joining between these two extremes.
For those of us who sit in the middle, life can be a tad uncomfortable.Ask questions on climate change and you are a deniest. Support coal mining and you are committing a moral sin notwithstanding price based arguments. In a reducing emissions world, you can still have coal mining if the emissions price is right. Coal mining is an economic, not moral, activity. Alternatively, say climate change seems to be happening, it could well be human induced on the evidence, we need to do something about it, and you are a wet leftie.
It's all quite hard. In some of my writing, I have tried to define a position that says if it's happening, what might we do about it? How do we create structures that allow a fast, phased, response? What are the options we have? How do we use these changes to our advantage? In answering the last, I tried to look especially at new land-use techniques that, intuitively, might offer special benefits.
I don't accept the position of a conflicted right, conflicted because the right's denial of climate change makes debate difficult, that price based solutions are the sole answer, although I think that price based solutions are central. I don't accept the position of the left that we should ban on one side, subsidise on the other. Some of this is crazy stuff.
Idealistically, what I want is middle ground where we can have a sensible conversation.
I have sidetracked from my original idea of snippets based around a review of what other bloggers are saying. Sorry about that.