Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Big IPCC Error

Here’s an IPCC error we don’t hear reported too often. This picture from the 2009 Copenhagen Diagnosis illustrates how far out the IPCC’s 2007 Fourth Assessment Report was in predicting reduction in Arctic sea ice extent. The black line is a combined (ensemble) figure of a range of simulations, and the dashed lines represent the highest and lowest values of the simulations. The red line is the measured sea ice extent.

Since 2007, when sea ice extent reached an all-time minimum (in recorded history), many climate deniers have made a big thing of how sea ice extent has “recovered”. Since this graph was made, sea ice extent has fluctuated a bit, without hitting the 2007 low again, but still well below simulations reported by the IPCC.

The other thing climate deniers have done is attack the IPCC wildly whenever a trivial error has been spotted. Guys, this is a big one. I’m waiting for you all to get excited.

Friday, 23 July 2010

The Heart and Soul Election

If this Australian federal election is the election where the Liberals lost their mind, it’s also the election where the Labor Party lost its soul.

The ALP last election stood for an evidence-based approach on climate change. Ross Garnaut was tasked with summarising the best science, and producing an economic response. The plan was that the government would go with what he recommended. If anyone spotted the flaw in the plan – the then opposition was committing to a course of action where they had not sold the detail politically – this was lost in the “it’s time” mood that swept John Howard into the dustbin of history.

Now that we know the best science, and have an economic basis on which to proceed, what’s Labor’s position? The logical progression from the Rudd campaign would be to win political support in the form of a renewed mandate to implement the Garnaut recommendations. Instead, Julia Gillard plans to set up something that is an odd mixture of focus group and jury, a Citizen’s Assembly to decide where to go next. This is rank cowardice. It only puts off the hard decisions, and leave us exactly where we were before the Garnaut Report, except this time we are allowing public opinion to shape policy, instead of expert advice.

In a situation where expert advice points in a direction that will require some hard adjustments, you do not need some sort of populist leading from behind strategy that procrastinates decision-making. Political leaders need to do the hard yards of selling the tough steps that we have to take. They also need to cut through the dishonest propaganda of lobbyists who see their agenda as more important than the overall welfare of humanity.

Add to this Labor’s abject surrender on defending refugees against unfair attack (including straight-out lies), and Labor’s craven cave-in to the big mining houses over the mining tax, and you have to wonder what Labor stands for.

And the Liberals? They elected Tony Abbott as their leader. If you don’t get why this is crazy, read this. No wonder all the polls are showing a big swing to the Greens.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Refugees World Cup

Talk about treating a vulnerable group as political football... there’s a World Cup on for the real thing. Is that not enough?

The announcement by the new Australian prime minister Julia Gillard that she is going to be “tough” (in politics, a synonym for stupid) on refugees and it’s unfair to call harsh attitudes to refugees “redneck politics” has to be challenged. Harsh attitudes to refugees are almost always based on racism, and are generally not factually based.

One example is the claim that refugees receive more benefits than pensioners. I haven’t seen a detailed version of this claim recently, but it appears to be based on a Canadian email hoax that has been translated to Australian circumstances. The Canadian version was full of errors, and the Australian version is no better. In fact, refugees in Australia do not receive the same entitlement to benefits as permanent residents, and become net contributors to the economy once they have adapted to their new home.

Another claim is that we get a disproportionate number of Islamic refugees, as if Islamic countries are not doing their share. Let’s let the numbers speak for themselves.

There are 2.9-million refugees from Afghanistan alone, and 96% of these are in Pakistan and Iran. There are over 1.7 million refugees in Pakistan, and the top three countries hosting refugees, Pakistan, Iran and Syria, host 3.8-million refugees between them. These numbers don’t include Palestinians, who are accounted for under a different system, totalling 4.8-million. So the total refugees arising out of Middle East and Afghan conflicts add up to nearly 9-million. We are quibbling in Australia over a few thousand. In the graph on the left of the page, I illustrate the scale of Australia’s annual refugee intake (about 13,000 per year currently) against Afghan refugees alone. If I were to compare our annual intake with all refugees worldwide, it would be too small to show on the scale of a graph like this.

What I find particularly ironic is that the people most keen on wars in places like Iraq and Afghanistan are at the forefront of demonising the tiny trickle of the consequential refugees that arrive on our shores. Have you ever wondered why people from these parts of the world hate us?

Back to the main point: is it fair to call these factually inaccurate attacks on refugees redneck politics? Julia Gillard’s claim is that this is an insulting attack on those holding these views. The facts I’ve quoted are very easy to find. Discovering the email hoax took me seconds. Finding the UNHCR’s 2009 Global Trends report, from which I quote statistics showing how tiny a fraction of refugees we see in Australia, was just as easy.

The people indulging in redneck politics are not ordinary people in the street who are misinformed about these issues, though a racist outlook helps them accept convenient myths without checking further. The people who do deserve the label of redneck politics are the people who know better and do nothing to correct the myths.

That means you, Julia.