Sunday, 9 December 2007

Proof of Climate Change

If you want an example of the reality of rapid human-induced climate change, you only need to look at the change in tone of reporting after Labor won the Australian federal election. In barely a week after the win, reporting on Kyoto changed in the Australian (mostly Murdoch's News Limited -- strictly limited) press from "we can do more by staying outside an imperfect system" to "Australia joining the club makes it so much stronger".

It was always a mystery to me in any case why refusing to join the club somehow gave us a stronger voice. All the weaknesses of Kyoto were extremely well known – indeed some were engineered in deliberately to make it an easy starting point. How, therefore, being outside would make those weaknesses clearer escaped me.

No doubt all of this made sense in the cloud-cuckoo land of a losing election campaign.

Now, we can turn to hard reality: gearing up for post-Kyoto.

The fact is that the Kyoto targets were more symbolic than real. Yet being in the system has focused effort on renewables and other approaches to emission reduction. Germany, with about half the rate of solar radiation we have with only about a twentieth of the land area, generates more than ten times the solar power per capita that we do. Why? Because Germany has stratagems like an aggressive policy for rewarding feed-in (when you generate solar power, and sell the excess to the grid).

The next piece of hard reality is short-term targets.

Labor has committed to committing to short term targets only after receiving a report from Professor Ross Garneau in 2008. That’s a start, but you have to worry about the commitment Labor has made to tax cuts without considering potential costs of emissions reduction targets. Here are a few examples of potential costs. Hot dry rock geothermal power is a promising technology that looks nearly ready to go, but significant commercial risks remain before the first plant can be operational. If hot rocks become part of the plan, is the government willing and able to stump up capital, if the private sector balks at the risk? What if the oil price continues to rise, making fast trains a desirable alternative for inter-city travel? Does the government have funds stashed somewhere to get new infrastructure costing tens of billions of dollars built?

Then there’s the clean coal story – an even more unproven technology than hot rocks. The fact that parts of the technology have been tested in different ways and on smaller scales doesn’t mean it will work. Again, there are significant risks that could prevent private capital from touching the technology. Either the government will have to support it with substantial capital – or face up to more likely scenario of the costs of a substantial decline in coal usage, both domestically and internationally.

On top of these straightforward risks is the question of how steep a carbon tax needs to be imposed to make cleaner technologies competitive. The carbon tax needs to be high enough to make the new technologies viable, but not so high as to cause major economic damage. It also needs to be calibrated to similar measures overseas.

On the subject of economic damage, the risks are somewhat overstated because a reconfiguration of an economy seldom results in pure cost. No doubt when the first Model-T hit the showrooms, the horse industry predicted doom and gloom. And, indeed, farriers and horse manure shovellers were put out of work in large numbers... and no doubt still populate the dole queues in large numbers. A significant factor in a post-Kyoto economy will be improved efficiencies, which should have a knock-on effect. In the process of reducing energy needs, an organization may find and eliminate other inefficiencies. Why? Once a culture of R&D has been established, the scientists and engineers engaged to reduce energy consumption will need to justify their jobs by discovering other useful innovations. (And of course it will be harder to fire them under a Labor government when the job is done, but I digress…)

The indirect cost of recalibrating the economy is rebuilding capacity for R&D in areas long neglected under the previous government: alternative energy, business process efficiency, science, engineering and mathematics.

Australia is well below the OECD average for R&D expenditure measured as a fraction of GDP (1.64 in Australia, versus an average of 2.26 – 2005 figures). Providing an incentive to spend more on R&D, in the long run, will advantage our economy not disadvantage it as apologists for doing nothing claim. Being stuck in a fossil fuel economy when the rest of the world starts imposing carbon taxes certainly will not be a good place to be.

With some of the recent announcements of findings that indicate that climate change science up to now has been understating the risks, we need to be on side, and taking part constructively, not carping from the sidelines.

To misquote LBJ: we can surely do more by being inside the tent pissing out than by being outside the tent pissing in.


Anonymous said...

Well reasoned arguments. Your country will be a wonderful place to be very soon when the natural cycle turns back toward cooling.
I make this statement only because I have seen the research that proves that AGW is purely, solely and totally a tax exercise
designed to beat the developed world into drudgery and to keep the developing nations where they are.
The UK HM treasury report of Oct 22 this year states that their findings show that we should expect a 1.5C drop in the Global
temperature over the next decade - beginning now. Totally ignored by the MSM, of course, this is far more important than the futile/facile argument that 0.038% of the atmosphere is responsible for anything at all (other than to produce funding for self aggrandizing scientists and holidays in hot countries for 10,000 tax funded politicos and "news" people who should be offsetting their carbon footprints by using existing technology to telecommute to their many redundant and purposefully fruitless meetings
not air travel). The AGW camp may well be using their hot air to thaw out their fingers very soon. Trouble being that there will have
been zero preparation for the soon to be frozen road network that the northern hemisphere governments have given priority for the

delivery of foodstuffs. The explosive revelation is contained in post number 530 in this thread:

Exposing the flaws inherent in "peer review" and "consensus" will not be easy, even when we have incontrovertible, cast-iron,
repeatable, verifiable and complete proof that The Sun, and only The Sun, is responsible for the cycle of fire and ice that we have to live with just as our ancestors did. I hold as much hope that the Nobel committee and Hollywood will take their "prizes" back from that ultimate glove-puppet El Bore as I do that Humanity can quickly absorb and utilize this breakthrough to overcome the pressures of cooling that have produced conflict, starvation and massive deprivation for people and nations many times in the past.

I, along with many others, will soon envy your pleasantly warm southern hemisphere environment.

Philip Machanick said...

The physics of the CO_2 greenhouse effect is well established. You can calculate the direct radiative forcing effect which adds about 1.2C for each doubling of CO_2. Further increases are caused by feedbacks (melting ice for example results in less heat being reflected back to space).

The basic physics has been known since early in the 19th century. The difficulty has been in modeling the effect reasonably accurately for a system as large and as complex as the entire planet.

The idea that all climate variation in the 20th century is induced by the sun is not supported by physics. Total solar irradiance has not varied sufficiently to account for the temperature changes (and is on the way down, not up, in recent years), and studies showing the sun is somehow responsible are curve fits with massive massaging of data.

Could you give us some references to the physics behind your assertions? Also to the UK Treasury report, which I can't find. It should be interesting reading. It isn't at climateaudit where you claimed it was.

Tell you what. If you want solid evidence that it's only the sun, find the total solar irradiance figures for this century (either from widely accepted sources or contrarian sources, I don't mind). Find out what the physics says this amount of change should do to temperature, and report back.

Anonymous said...

His "UK HM treasury report of Oct 22 this year" is actually David Archibald's paper I think:

I actually like his work - his new stuff is wild-

A lot of Australians are cleaning their windscreens.

Say what you will of Bob Carter his videos are watchable-

Philip Machanick said...

David Archibald is a certifiable bogon. First, he says "The CSIRO regurgitates the IPCC projections uncritically" then he objects to their disclaimer which warns that there could be inaccuracies in the modeling.

On now to his paper at the UK site. He has taken 5 rural stations in the US and asserted that they are "representative" without giving any hint as to why this is the case. The solar cycle stuff doing correlations over long-term data can't take into account changes in the trend over the last 20 years, and is also geographically localized. Here's a more detailed debunking of his material.

Carter is also debunked in detail elsewhere.

It is really lazy to find one thing you agree with and stop looking. If you don't understand the science, find someone who does to help you. I'm not a climate expert but I have yet to find a piece of contrarian science which is not either obviously bogus, or at best a nitpick.

If anyone has a counter-example, post it here. I would love to see hard evidence that clowns driving SUVs aren't dooming the planet. It's my planet too, after all -- and given that we are up against the likes of Exxon-Mobil, who don't care about the future as long as they turn a profit, I would much rather know for sure that we are safe doing nothing than that we have to fight them.

Keep trying. I'm not holding my breath.

Shifu said...

Re the first comment on the UK Treasury hosting a paper forecasting imminent cooling. Needless to say this is far from the truth. The paper cited was one of several dozen UNSOLICITED responses they received to the Stern Report, they listed and posted all of them; in the interests of transparency. Govt’s tend to do that kind of thing, in democracies at least.
The one cited is by David Archibald an Australian geologist who writes for the Lavoisier Group; I guess you know they receive funding from the coal and oil industry.
Many of the papers sent in contradict each other (they reflect a range of opinion plus a number of pet ideas held by individuals – Archibald amongst them.) For example, another paper is by Friends of the Earth
but none of them reflect UK Govt opinion any more than Archibald’s does. They’re just things that were sent in.