Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Morning Musings - coal, climate change and conceptual confusions

There is something strangely unbalanced now about some of the discussion on climate change and, within that, the discussion on the future of coal. The sculpture is Louis Pratt's King Coal. The artist's description of his work concludes: "My work depicts an arrogant character unwilling to change and unaware of his impending doom."

When I read today's speech by Opposition Leader Shorten to the Lowy Institute, my first reaction was "emotional pap." By the end of the speech, and cutting out all the assertions and opinions, I actually had no idea just what Labor was proposing. Fortunately, the ALP web site has more information.   This defines the approach in this way:
Our approach to post-2020 pollution reduction targets has followed a clear and logical sequence of decision making:
  • Labor accepts the science that limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius is necessary to avert dangerous climate change.
  • Our commitment to limiting global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius requires Australia to be a net zero emissions economy by the middle of the century.
  • To achieve this 2050 target, Labor will consult on the Climate Change Authority’s 2030 baseline target of a 45 per cent reduction in carbon pollution on 2005 levels.
The proposed consultation process is intended to define the best path to the achievement of these objectives.

In April 2010 I attempted to summarise my own position on climate change in Belshaw's position on climate change. The post included a listing of the 26 posts I had written connected with the issue to that point. Writing in my often cautious way, I concluded:
  1. On the balance I accept the majority scientific position that human induced climate change is a problem that need to be dealt with now. To wait until the science is proved right is a high risk strategy.
  2. To the degree that there are identifiable changes such as changes in sea levels, then we need to consider our responses to them. This holds regardless of the causes of those changes: we need to respond to the what, rather than the why. I say this because my study of history and pre-history shows that, regardless of current current climate change arguments, there have been considerable natural variations that have actually occurred quite quickly. Nature is not static. 
  3. I have been concerned for some time that group think in the scientific community and beyond has, to some extent, crowded out alternative views and that this has dangers. Scientific group think tends to be self-correcting over time because of the nature of scientific method. However, broader group think is less subject to correction.
  4. Linked to three, I have been concerned at the way climate change arguments have become linked to so many disconnected issues. These arguments take the form if a (climate change) then b (add in whatever you like), when a and b are in fact disconnected or at best loosely connected. The tendency to link specific current events like the recent drought in southern Australia to climate change does not help. All this actually acts to discredit the core case.
  5. Again linked to three, I have been concerned at what I see as the failure in discussion to adequately explore alternative policy responses to climate change. It may be that a market based response such as an emissions trading scheme is the best response (I suspect that either an ETS or carbon tax will be necessary), but I would feel much more comfortable if there had been more public discussion of alternatives. Among other things, this would give us a much better feel for practical implications of an ETS and for supporting measures that may be needed, as well as reducing the risk of simply dumb policy responses.
Quite a bit has happened since, including Mr Abbott! I would summarise those changes in this way:
  1. Despite the attempts by Don Aitkin to correct what he sees as the more egregious errors, the evidence for human induced climate change has probably become stronger. I mention Don because I do read his posts as a way of checking my own perspective against an intelligent skeptic's position.
  2. Regardless of 1, the global acceptance of human induced climate change creates a policy climate to which Australia must respond. We need to respond in a way that reflects our own interests. That requires cool thought, not emotional manipulation.
  3. The discussion I expected (hoped for) on intelligent alternatives has simply not happened. I actually got quite excited about some possibilities, but I don't think that there has been a new idea or indeed much advance on existing ideas since I wrote. All we have is a conflict between existing stereotypes. 
  4. By far the worst outcome from the Abbott period was the rejection of pricing mechanisms. There will be some form of carbon pricing, and we had a structure that would fit into that.
  5. The economics in favour of renewables has shifted faster than expected. 
In all this, some new things have emerged or, at least, come into sharper focus. Two are of particular importance. I would summarise them in this way:
  1. The magic pudding effect. For those who don't know this story, The Magic Pudding is an Australian children's book  The central character is a pudding that likes to be eaten and constantly replaces the lost slices. To my mind, this equates to much of the economic modelling on the effects of climate change action  We can have our pudding and eat it too. This is central to Mr Shorten's arguments. We can do things because they will have no real impacts on Australian wealth. I don't believe that.We need to recognise the costs and be thinking about them now.
  2. Double counting. Under the evolving global system architecture now emerging, each country will be responsible for the emissions created on its territory  by activities carried out on its territory. Australian environmentalists do not accept that. In the case of coal, for example, they argue that Australia needs to consider the carbon costs of .our own activities in mining and burning coal within Australia plus the carbon costs incurred elsewhere. That's just dumb double counting.
I suppose in all this the most important evolution in my own thinking has been the importance I now place on markets and pricing effects. You may oppose a coal mine in a particular area on environmental grounds, but you cannot also oppose it on its global environmental effects so long as efficient pricing mechanisms are in place. Those are the customer's responsibility. If it is their interests to burn coal and pay the appropriate price, it is not our job to say that they are wrong.

The fact that Australian coal production may or may not be environmentally better than an alternative source is neither here nor there. It's the wrong argument. If the dirtier coal is cheaper after taking into account the cost of environmental offsets compared to alternatives, then that makes perfect environmental and economic sense.  


Evan said...

"You may oppose a coal mine in a particular area on environmental grounds, but you cannot also oppose it on its global environmental effects so long as efficient pricing mechanisms are in place. "

I for one think some things are more important than money.

Jim Belshaw said...

I suspect we may be talking at cross purposes, Evan. But lets test. What's the connection in your mind between your comment and my argument?

Evan said...

It depends I suspect on what you mean by 'efficient pricing mechanisms'. Is there one for the elimination of a species (or the misery of significant numbers of individuals)? What price your daughter dying early?)

Jim Belshaw said...

We may be further apart than I thought, Evan. I see limited connection between either species death or the risk of early death of my daughters and much of the current Australian debate.

The current climate debate globally focuses on the need to reduce human carbon emissions. The most effective was of doing that is via a global carbon price. One can debate mechanics, but an efficient pricing mechanism is one that achieves the required impact on global green house gas emission in the lowest cost way.

There appears to be a global consensus that action should be taken. That will involve a carbon price. Neither the Abbott position (spend more) nor the Australian Green position (stop more) seem to me to have much connection with the realities of achieving effective global action.

Evan said...

What does 'lowest cost way' mean Jim?

A price mechanism presumes that things are valued in monetary terms. So what is the value of those things saved by the mechanism? You need to know this if you are going to say that it is efficient in monetary terms.

The things that are on the line if the temperature increases are things like the spread of tropical diseases, many people being displaced by natural disasters and no doubt many unforeseen things. So what is the monetary value of this? Do you believe a 'real price' can be put on these things.

To talk about 'lowest cost' presumes a price on such things in my view. Do you disagree?

Jim Belshaw said...

I do, Evan. We start from the premise that a carbon target has been set. Once the target has been set, then the question of achieving that target is one of the most efficient mechanics.

Questions such as species loss or the spread of tropical diseases come into play in the setting of the target. Certainly one can then debate costs and benefits associated with particular targets.

Anonymous said...

Effortless virtue.

Which I think means, basically somebody should do something, and aren't I blessed/gifted/prescient to point it out? But don't ask me what the solution, or indeed what any solution/mitigation is; it's enough for my sense of self to have pointed 'something' out. I am thus blessed, or cleansed, or absolved, from lifting even my little finger; it is enough to shout/whisper "somebody orta do something".

"Species loss" happens all the time; is happening now. From white rhinos to tigers to Tassie Devils, to Orangutans, to those huge stick insects from Lord Howe. What have you done? What were you doing while they passed from threatened to irrecoverable? Effortless virtue to point to their possible loss, and 'jazz hands', but nothing more.

"some things are more important than money" - yes, but why then insist upon a value being placed upon same? Effortless insistence, effortless "look at me, I care so much". Virtuous.

I am worn out by your effortless virtue.


Maria Camparillo said...

But doesn't coal come from natural sources ie dinosaurs and plants then doesn't that mean that it is bio degradable. We used to burn coke in our fire and I still remember the coke man's deliveries. Coal was and still is a source of heat. I suppose as the world warms we won't need so much unless it is to power air conditioning so I guess it all balances out in the end. And when it runs out can't we use solar power. But then I suppose when coal is gone the planet will cool so we won't get as much solar power and we will wish we still had coal. I get giddy thinking around this issue. What do you think Jim?

Jenni X said...

KVD is absolutely right we humans are being extinguished (ten shot in Colorado) and who is going to save us, Tasmanian Tigers (they’re all dead) the Orangutan (a handful left) we are killing ourselves to the point of extinction. And who cares ? Not the snow leopard or the blue whale so they can’t save us and we will die as a species much the same as the Moa or the West African Black Rhino. We are foolish to think that we are above being extinct. Isn’t that what the people thought before discovering the bones of a pixie in western Ireland “Galway| Construction workers excavating the ground for the site of a new project in western Ireland, made an astonishing discovery: the corpse of a tiny winged humanoid ressembling a fairy or pixie-like creature.” So I am with you KVD somebody MUST do something before it gets out of hand and we end up like the species that are not here anymore!

Jim Belshaw said...

I must admit that I'm not quite sure where to go with all this. Confusion would best describe my current state. So for my own sake, just an effort to clarify.

One of my points is the need to clarify, to distinguish between issues.

Point one. Is the climate changing? I have struggled with this one, for there is an almost theological intensity to the debate and not all the skeptics are idiots. In terms of my own thinking, my feeling is yes, but I'm not absolutely sure.

Point two. Does climate change matter? Yes, obviously based just on the history of the planet. We have seen massive and minor changes before. The problem is to know the scale and timing of the change. We don't know that. What we do know is that the climate models being used by those arguing in favour of climate change suggest that we will know quite quickly, within decades. The debate at the moment between the two schools: one says the evidence to this point shows climate change and global warming, the other says that it doesn't. Regardless, if we accept the models as a working base, we know that we will find out quite quickly whether or not they are right.

Point four. Are we dealing with human induced climate change? While there may be argument about scale, I am inclined to say yes because of the volume of green house gasses released since the start of the industrial revolution. I just find it hard to believe that that this is not having some impact.

Point five. Does the debate about climate change or the causes of climate change matter from a policy perspective? Actually, at this point no. This may sound a strange thing to say. However, there is now a clear consensus among global governments that human induced climate change is happening, a consensus that is driving the policy discussion. That is the objective reality. The most that the skeptics can hope to do is slow the policy process, the most the proponents can hope to do is to speed the process. These are not insignificant things, but they affect the process at the margin.

If we now go back to timing issues. If the IPCC climate models are right, then we should see rapidly gathering evidence over the next two decades. If that happens, we can expect rapid acceleration in global responses. The important thing, I think, is that current discussions are creating the framework for later responses. Coordination among so many countries is always an issue. However, once mechanisms are established, responses can be quick. If the skeptics are right, we will see a rapid unwinding of previous policies and arrangements.

Turning now to Australia. It is in this area that I see the greatest confusions. That is why I pointed to coal. We just don't separate the issues.

Most of the Australian discussion seems to have focused on two issues. First, the impact on local climate and life. Second, our commodity exports, the contribution they make to global warming. To my mind, these are second order issues so far as the next twenty years are concerned.

If my policy judgments are correct, some form of carbon pricing will be central to the new global architecture, if with other things. At the moment, the policy focus is on individual country targets. These will need to be translated to a global target. That will then be enforced through some form of pricing mechanism. I say this because this is the simplest way to go. So Australian coal (and other) exports will be subject to a carbon price in the country of destination.

The first order question from an Australian perspective are the costs to us given a proportionate contribution to the achievement of global objectives. How do we adjust? This is the question that we have yet to answer.

2 tanners said...


I think you have it wrong. The climate is changing through human actions, nearly every professional with qualifications in the field agrees. Those who don't (a) have no relevant qualifications (b) have an economic axe to grind and/or have been employed by the fossil fuel industries or (c) are in such a minority as to fall under the category experimental error. The wide publication that these very minority viewpoints receive is not in peer reviewed journals, it's in the Australian. I don't go there for scientific fact and neither do you ("Humanity just grew older" was your most recent example).

The issue of pricing, including other technologies, withdrawal of coal subsidies etc occupies a vast amount of economic literature. It is not widely reported in the Australian because it assumes the desirability of a pricing regime, which News Ltd strongly opposed in the Gillard era.

The IPCC report doesn't need the next 20 years - look at the last 20 years. Or the last hundred. "Sceptics" keep having to change their base year to try and disprove this.

Does it matter from a policy perspective? Actually yes. Given that our political decision-makers are unwilling to acknowledge expert advice now, when the advice is that it is almost too late, why would they change in 20 years' time? If they are going to ignore advice now, why not later?

I remember in the 1980's, modelling showed that the pricing on commercial fishing licences was such that the industry was better off fishing most species to extinction than preserving the industry. No action was taken by the Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries department. Fancy some cod? Tough luck.

Your accusation of double counting is a misunderstanding of the policy position of pricing. If nation A produces a pollutant, then it is responsible for the damage caused by the pollutant wherever that happens. It values each stage of pollution only once, but inconveniently for us, lays it at the door of those who initially make it possible.

By the same token, on this accounting system, if we go to solar/wind/nuclear/whatever then we save not only the debits in our country but those overseas too. Strong disincentive, yes?

You say we don't separate the issues in Australia. I can only assume you are not reading the Climate Change Authority's reports.

I agree that carbon pricing will happen because at the moment polluters get to destroy the environment at no cost; it is treated as a free good. The only way to change their economic viewpoint, climate being an externality, is through regulation. And of course Australia, like all other countries, will attempt to minimise the immediate cost, no matter what it means for our livestock industries (later) our cropping industries (later) and our quality of life (later), much less that of people outside Australia more immediately threatened by our actions.

Basically, Jim, if you can look at the IPCC report and the last 20, 50 and 100 years' data and say "we still need more time to decide", then you have already decided. Much as the leaders of our nation have, on both sides of the Despatch Box.

Jim Belshaw said...

kvd, I am going to have to come back to a substantive comment on this one. I fear that you are mixing things together, but need to set that out properly.

Jim Belshaw said...

Sorry, 2t not kvd. I had just responded to a kvd comment and carried the name thought across.

Jim Belshaw said...

2t, to keep things simple and for the purposes of discussion, I am going to put aside all the debate around causation and simply accept the IPCC analysis. I am also putting aside discussion about the on-ground impacts of climate change on the Australian continent as a separate set of issues. Finally, I am putting aside carbon measurement and accounting issues.

It seems clear that at official and political level there is global acceptance that action needs to be taken. It may not be as fast as you would like or consider necessary, but it is happening. It is also clear that business is increasingly factoring in assumptions about the commercial impacts of likely Government actions into their commercial decision. To the degree that the worst case prognostications prove correct, the speed of action will increase.

Industrial, commercial and indeed recreational activity generally involves some release of green house gasses. This is true of renewable energy as well. The very production of solar arrays, their construction, operation, maintenance and subsequent disposal involves some green house gases. So the focus becomes finding ways of reducing gas admission from activities while also finding offsets. In turn, this implies a carbon price so that things can be measured and, logically, some form of carbon trading.

I note that there is still resistance to all this among some in the coalition but I don't think that matters much anymore. We think Australia is important, but we are a minor player and in the end we will go along with the evolving global position.

If you are right on the accounting treatment for green house gases, and I don't think that you are although I have to check, then there is a huge accounting problem. It means that Australia is responsible not just for the greenhouse gases used in producing the coal, but for the gases emitted when that coal is used whether in steel production or power generation. The practical effect is that the country that uses that coal gets a free ride in green house terms except to the degree that the price of coal rises. China can burn imported coal in power generation till the cows come home and it doesn't affect their green house gas count.

Practically, and then its complicated anyway, accounting and pricing has to relate to gases generated at different points along the production chain. Australia is responsible for gases generated in growing and possibly shipping wheat but not for the gases emitted in turning that wheat into bread or noodles unless its done in this country.

Leaving aside that your word polluter is loaded, remember that you are one too, the aim of the various mechanisms (perhaps bar Mr Abbott) under discussion is to calculate and bring the external cost within the pricing system. As you say, this requires regulation. If this is done properly and it still makes sense to burn coal, coal will be burned.

Finishing, and looking just at Australia, I have little faith in the general models that say we can have our cake and eat it too. I have less faith in the generalised discussions about the offsetting economic growth gains from renewables. For the life of me, I cannot identify a single competitive advantage in this area, especially when politicians and officials from all the major countries are hyping the same expectation. Not everyone can win.

I think there needs to be a sensible discussion about what might happen in Australia, not generalised rhetoric.

2 tanners said...

If you are right on the accounting treatment for green house gases, and I don't think that you are although I have to check, then there s a huge accounting problem. It means that Australia is responsible not just for the greenhouse gases used in producing the coal, but for the gases emitted when that coal is used whether in steel production or power generation. The practical effect is that the country that uses that coal gets a free ride in green house terms except to the degree that the price of coal rises. China can burn imported coal in power generation till the cows come home and it doesn't affect their green house gas count.

As I said, this is one accounting method. It assumes that to be economic and to operate as a market mechanism the total carbon price can be factored into the coal. If we sell China coal with just the mining and loading costs, and China burns it, who holds them responsible? If they can be held responsible, then surely the net price effect is the same anyway.

This is not a magic pudding model. Failing to price carbon is the magic pudding formula, where you can pour whatever you like into the atmosphere and never suffer a consequence, because the atmosphere won't change and nor will the climate.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi, 2t. To be effective, a pricing mechanism requires that those directly responsible for each portion of emissions along the production line pay a charge. Its like the GST. In the end, the final consumer will pay a price that incorporates all the normal production costs plus the carbon cost.

The whole system can only work if the architecture requires (and enforces) responsibility on each country for emissions created on its territory. Therein lies the rub and the reason for slow progress. Australia cannot act unilaterally in any meaningful way that will affect other countries emissions.

As I write, coal is an issues at the Paris discussions with 2,224 or so coal fired power stations under construction around the world. The opposition to action to affect this comes not from coal suppliers but from the nations in which the stations are being built. They will buy coal.

This is why we need a global pricing system including offsets. Then the decision to build or not build anything will be affected by price. Coal stations will only be built to the degree that they make commercial sense

On the magic pudding, I attached the term not to pricing models but to the assumption that we including Australia can have our pudding and eat it to. Specifically, I was attacking the economic modelling that says the effects on economic activity and costs, on the distribution of economic activity across the globe, will be marginal, that the whole thing will (in the end) be costless. I think that's grossly misleading.

I think that Australia needs more sensible discussion on the best ways to respond. There will be a price to be paid, if to avoid a greater long term cost.

Unknown said...

As I write, coal is an issues at the Paris discussions with 2,224 or so coal fired power stations under construction around the world. The opposition to action to affect this comes not from coal suppliers but from the nations in which the stations are being built. They will buy coal.

And here is where your argument starts to unravel. Coal exporters Canada and Australia have spearheaded this, not India and China. If it was easy for us, we would have signed the first day accord in Paris, not labelled ourselves as a holdout.

As a side note, many of the proposed and even partly built stations, particularly using ultraclean and superultraclean technologies (who comes up with these terms??) are apparently being mothballed or simply shut down. Britain's just cancelled a one billion pound sterling coal carbon sequestration program. With carbon prices coming, it may be that they will not buy and burn coal.

Anonymous said...

Jim, you and tanners seem to be in absolute agreement that there needs to be a 'dissuasive' price put on carbon emissions, "because AGW", and I agree with your analysis as to who will bear the costs. Your analogy of the GST accumulating over the course of the economic life of any particular transaction means to me that at each step in the transaction process a proportionate charge would be levied, with the final end-user/consumer effectively paying the lot.

As a kid, this used to be known as "pass the parcel". Do I understand your thought clearly?

If so, I am seeing a situation whereby our various governments would be collecting quite considerable sums of money, "because AGW", but - unlike the GST which was promoted both as a means of simplifying some State tax arrangements and also generating a growth tax base for said States - I am at a loss to understand just where and how said funds are to be disbursed, and to what effect?

Both you and tanners appear fascinated by the prospect of this endless stream of money being shifted from the pocket of the consumer to the pouch of 'the government' - but neither of you spare a minute's thought as to just where said funds may be utilised. And I can almost hear both right now thinking "don't you worry about that; we'll spend it orright!"

I look at this problem, and I think of 35c incandescent light bulbs being replaced by $2 fluorescents, "because AGW", which then need special recycling bins at the dump - and I think handing more money to such incompetent government regulators is just a farce. "Because AGW": is 'farcical farce' a term? If not, it should be.


Anonymous said...

While I was typing my spleen, a comment appeared above - which seems to be tanners again? - if not, apologies. But if so, have a look at the UK contribution to GHG reduction - base power generation - whereby they now import woodchips from the US to fuel their previously coal-fired power stations. Sheer insanity, driven by somebody with a one-sided abacus.

The new accounting: there are only debits, because AGW.


ps maybe we could reduce our annual bushfire threat by cutting down our forests, and feeding the trees into our brown coal power stations? Win-Win-Works for me :)

2 tanners said...

It was me, kvd. I am not proposing carbon pricing, but simply arguing the technicalities of a system of accounting. I agree that it is pass the parcel and the consumer ends up paying the lot. Unstated in the above analysis, but usually contingent in these systems is that you can also offset carbon debits with carbon credits and a country like Australia should be able to get quite of few of these. However, you do need money if you are a net carbon exporter and of course the present situation is that the world produces more carbon than it sequesters. ***IN THEORY*** while carbon credits are cheaper to produce than buy, carbon producers will take action to do offsetting things and the market will clear.

I am not a big fan of ***IN THEORY***. In practice, clever entrenched interests find a way around these things. So I was simply talking about a system, not endorsing it. As soon as I hear talk about markets clearing, my bullshitometer starts redlining.

I get irritated by simple schemes that will make everything OK, by the GST's endless bureaucracy of which this threatens to be a clone, and by the concept that we actually have to keep subsidising the coal industry to dig up and export an irreplaceable resource while not
.paying resource rent tax on common property
.employing many people
.employing Australians (preferring 457 visa foreigners)

There's no easy answer, and I think we all agree about that. But we have to do something, because AGM.

2 tanners said...

That was AGW, not AGM. :)

Jim Belshaw said...

Whichever system is used, 2t, involves measurement and accounting! A price system really is simplest. According to BBC, opposition on coal plants came from building countries. The Australian reaction was based on implications for the farm diesel fuel rebate - a subsidy paid to reduce the cost of a fossil fuel.

kvd, in a carbon neutral scheme, those with gas emissions would have to buy balancing credits. A Government cash take would only come in they did not.

Anonymous said...

"carbon credits" would actually mean something if they were allocated to non- or low-carbon producers - like maybe Greenpeace or WWF. Then they could enter the market, and decide who (of the polluters) to trade with.

Seems to me a bit arse-about-face to give a "credit" to somebody who's been continually shitting in my third bedroom, in the hope that he will move his effluent to the second - and allow him a profit for doing so. If you really believe that 'regulation' and 'market forces' is the answer, why not grant these mythical credits to those who don't presently profit by the act?

Again, it's a bit like a kids' game of poker, where one child runs out of matchsticks, so you give him more - not the smart girl who has the lot.


Anonymous said...

Apologies for being so simplistic - you and tanners obviously know far more about regulating who shits where, and giving credit for same.

All I know is the whole place is beginning to stink, and I don't think moving the source of the smell is a 'solution' - however well accounted for.


Jim Belshaw said...

My simple brain struggles with the architecture in all this. Carbon credits come in initially as a phasing mechanism. But why not set a low initial price and make people pay or offset from the beginning?

Anonymous said...

What's a caring fellow to believe these days? For instance, take the Walrus:

Packed shoulder to shoulder, an estimated 35,000 Pacific walruses congregated on Alaska’s northwest coast near Point Lay last fall. Normally the mammals find ocean ice sheets to rest on, but as waters have warmed the ice sheets have disappeared. In seven of the last nine years swarms of walruses swam ashore for refuge, as shown above, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The first time this happened was in 2007 when summer ice levels were at a record low.



Jim Belshaw said...

You have actually captured one of my key problems, kvd. It's just not possible to check every detail of examples used in what has become a theological dispute, clashes in beliefs, in which each side gilds the lily or presents examples that really have nothing to do with the question.

That is partly why I came down on the side that climate change was probably happening and that it was probably human induced. If so, what might be done about it? This allowed me to ignore the more egregious arguments on both sides (some of the responses to the previous Sydney drought come to mind)other than knocking the consequent policy insanities. It also allowed me to think about what was actually happening in global policy terms and what it might mean as well as considering possible responses.

2 tanners said...

Simple answer: one ignores colourful "a man at the pub told me" anecdotes and focuses on statistical trends. I imagine the walrus thing is not real, as claimed by Powerline, but I understand that the scientist quoted approvingly by Powerline has no university position, is paid by the Heartland anti-AGW lobby and specialises in domestic dog evolution on the Pacific Rim.

The rains here came late this and last year. Late rains cause death, misery and suffering. That is factual. Is it climate change related? I don't see how anyone could prove a relationship between two observations in one small city and a global phenomenon which is highly variable over time and by location.

Anonymous said...

tanners, I think my response/reaction is the same as Jim's here. I presented those two links only to underline just how difficult it is for 'the common man' (i.e. he/she with whom the parcel stops) to feel confident of the various dire warnings; and The New York Times ain't your "man at the pub".

But on your I don't see how anyone could prove a relationship between two observations in one small city and a global phenomenon which is highly variable over time and by location - I read the other day a re-heated (pardon pun) research result which posits that the 2010-11 Queensland floods caused a 7mm drop in ocean levels - and hence, this explains why the projected sea level rises 'paused'.

A 7mm drop in the world's oceans is a freaking lot of water. What's a feller to do?


ps the only reason I searched out that report was that it was featured on the ABC's "AM" morning show as a "7% drop". I nearly ran off the road when I heard that.

2 tanners said...

A fella is to read the science.

Pretty much all journos are men (or women) at the pub - that is to say, they have neither scientific nor statistical training. They know that 'colour' is more important than fact or significance.

Most voters have been trained to accept man at the pub arguments; it is the shock jock's stock in trade. I think, and I would need to go back and check, that the pause was revised by later statistical analysis and shown not to have happened. It's certainly the case for the revision of the statistics on heat levels which later (a) showed the heat pause not to have happened or (b) absolutely proved that any supporter of AGW theories was involved in the Grand Conspiracy to Hide The Truth.

In the case of the Qld research, it posited that a fall of 7mm in the ocean brought on by oceanic warming led to a worsening of the Qld floods, not the other way around. This mistake was even made in the university's own newsletter (which reported it both ways) so I'm not surprised the journos didn't catch it.

Anonymous said...

tanners, your "read the science" throwaway has been unsettling me for a couple of days now. The assumption behind that (glib?) advice is that I, along with the other 99% of the population, have sufficient academic background in the half dozen or so relevant scientific fields to be able to assess what is presented. This is just not so. And the presumption I make is that you yourself do have such expertise? I think it is more accurate to state that, the vast majority of us are your "man at the pub" - which you seem to deride? - but which I think is quite normal, and it gives me no discomfort in identifying as one such.

On the cause/effect thing about the Qld floods, I understand your point, but the thing that I found interesting about that was the assessed outcome (measurable drop in ocean levels) being associated with the amount of additional rainfall which was absorbed on our continent instead of returning to the oceans. Contrast with present Indian floods - one presumes this rainfall will cycle into the oceans fairly shortly? Not arguing cause/effect language; more just surprised at the sheer size of the resulting drop in levels.

Anyway, we are now far away from Jim's post, but I wanted to thank you for once again prodding me to think through a couple of the associated issues. Happy to admit my understanding of the accounting mechanics (which is NOT the same as assessing the effectiveness of same) of carbon trading is far greater than my scientific grasp of AGW.


2 tanners said...


Some clarifications. I go to the bloke at the pub (I am one myself, so no derision) for a jolly good time, and not scientific advice, although I get the occasional gem that I can look up later. I go to scientists (I am one, but not a climate scientist) to find out WHAT they have said. I don't guarantee to understand the underlying science, but if I read it, I do find out that in this case the order was (1) take-up of water from the ocean then (2) floods, not the other way around. I go to statistics (I deal with them a lot) to find out statistical trends and significance functions.

The reason such a huge amount of water was taken up was a La Nina effect in the Pacific - a huge climatic event. We got some of it on top of regular rains. Then there was the whole flood management problem, which still has people pointing fingers at each other.

So, not glib, but both you and I seem to want people to use their brains. Journalists OTOH want to sell papers. Two steps could have put them in touch with the original paper, and just reading the abstract could have let them understand the guts of the paper.