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Climate change notes 2

I have become fascinated by the topic of climate change ‘denialism’ or, to use John Quiggin’s term, ‘delusionism’.  It is an intrinsically interesting development and has deeply troubling implications.  The climate change issue is probably the first time in history that people get to vote on a scientific issue where the science is well-understood and a significant response by a politically-motivated group of intellectuals is to seek to persuade people that the science is wrong.  And judging by the ruckus in the Australian Liberal and National Parties this group has had a fair measure of success in Australia.  

As the Copenhagen meeting approaches – barely 6 weeks away – Lord Monckton is preaching that President Obama is about to sign away US liberties to the Communists by seeking to endorse an international agreement (here is the full speech).  The Communists who took over Greenpeace in its early days will impose a communist government on the world and individual countries will be unable to extricate themselves.   It is frightening nonsense but nonsense that will be spread by the IPA in Australia when it meets on 10 November to discuss the Economic Consequences of Climate Change.  The Monckton idiocy is being promoted at the Quadrant website. Why the interest? Monckton is not a scientist and his claims on climate science have been repeatedly shown to be false.

Another insidious use of the media to twist public opinion is the film ‘Not Evil Just Wrong’ which I was unfortunate enough to see today – a promo is here. Endorsed by the libertarian loonies – it is a hideous instance of the big lie. Distortion built on distortion with illogic everywhere.   It is a particularly nasty piece of propaganda.  The junk science in the movie is demolished here.

I have also now seen the John-Mashey- recommended book by James Hoggan, Climate Cover Up.  A serious work. Background material here.   Hoggan is a PR expert who set up the DeSmogBlog – worth a look.  He understands very clearly how commercial interests have set out to distort climate change debates.  On the academic side of delusionism I enjoyed this very good clip by Clive Hamilton and Andrew Glikson at the Monthly’s Slow TV.  I haven’t always been the strongest supporter of some of Clive’s work but this is very good.

The debate over the Dubner-Levitt Superfreakonomics material on climate change has bubbled along.  I tried to summarize the debate here mainly via some key hyperlinks.  Yesterday Dubner responded to the extraordinary – though to my mind justified – range of attacks on the book. I am not persuaded and neither is one of the primary aggressors, Joe Romm.   Brad Delong has a concise list of corrections and makes the suggestion that Chapter 5 of this work should be reworked.  My reading of Chapter 5 did not convince me the authors took climate change issues seriously (e.g. it’s a religion) and they repeated some standard denialist fantasies (e.g. warming has stopped).  I think the work is an instance of the corruption of US academic life – the glorification of being hip and counterintuitive – rather than being right.   It is also very unscholarly. There is interest in geo-engineering backstop technologies but to propose them as a major basis for addressing climate change requires more knowledge than this pair of clowns possess. Eric Pooley describes the book as disappointing – I think that is an understatement. Yoram Bauman writes an interesting critique which goes to the core of the difficulties here.

Finally (and on a more constructive note) Bill Becker  provided a guide to the position of the US at Copenhagen.  Barry Brook continues valuable work on the case for nuclear technology using an inputs requirement approach that suggests a lot about comparative costs – some of the most interesting stuff I saw online this week.  The comparisons relate to nuclear versus renewable.  If you want a very sober 2009 update to the essential MIT work on nuclear power I recommend their website. In 2003 an interdisciplinary MIT group published an assessment of the case for use of nuclear fuels. It has recently provided a 2009 update.  In relation to climate change the study reaches an interesting conclusion  “….compared to 2003, the motivation to make more use of nuclear power is greater, and more rapid progress is needed in enabling the option of nuclear power expansion to play a role in meeting the global warming challenge. The sober warning is that if more is not done, nuclear power will diminish as a practical and timely option for deployment at a scale that would constitute a material contribution to climate change risk mitigation”.

The main factor against nuclear versus gas or coal with a CO2 charge are the construction uncertainties which raise the cost of capital.  Even without a carbon charge nuclear wins over these technologies if capital costs are the same.  They would be the same if nuclear power generation facility construction is not site-specific but replicable.  I thought the technology was replicable because I remember the paper by Martin Zimmerman in the Bell Journal of Economics (1982) which argued that there were substantial learning-by-doing in constructing nuclear power stations.  Of course there won’t be much learning-by-doing in the US since no new nuclear power stations have been built there for yonks.

If readers have seen good climate change literature please cite in the comments.

21 comments to Climate change notes 2

  • John Quiggin

    The process of building new nuclear plants in the US is fairly well advanced, but so far has not justified optimistic views. At least until they run out of good sites, or the share becomes so large as to create reliability problems, wind seems to dominate nuclear (basing this on revealed preference rather than bottom up calculations). And solar PV is improving fast.

  • hc

    John, Is the ‘process of building new nuclear plants’ in the US ‘fairly well advanced’? This is what the MIT study (2009) that I cited states:

    “While the intent to build new plants has been made public in several countries, there are only few firm commitments outside of Asia, in particular China, India,
    and Korea, to construction projects at this time. Even if all the announced plans for new nuclear power plant construction are realized, the total will be well
    behind that needed for reaching a thousand gigawatts of new capacity worldwide by 2050. In the U.S., only one shutdown reactor has been refurbished and
    restarted and one previously ordered, but never completed reactor, is now being completed. No new nuclear units have started construction.” (my bold)

    I am surprised with the claim on wind but your proviso that they don’t run out of suitable sites is very important. In the post you will see the link to the Barry Brooks work – the input requirements for wind are huge compared to nuclear.

  • DavidCOG

    > …a politically-motivated group of intellectuals…

    I think “ideologues” would work better than “intellectuals” here. Some of them may be reasonably clever – but their denial and delusion is driven, almost exclusively, by political ideology (libertarian wingnuttery) or a personal ideology of contrarianism.

  • Sinclair Davidson

    Richard Tol will also be speaking at that IPA event.

  • Uncle Milton

    Harry, you are being unduly pessimistic about the influence of the Quadrant crowd. So what if they are having a conference? The government’s climate change legislation will pass, perhaps with amendments, and that will be that.

    As for Lord Monckton et al, again, so what? There will be a lunatic minority who believe that the whole business is a communist conspiracy, but there have always been such minorities. They used to say the same thing about putting fluoride in the water supply. Perhaps they still do.

    Copenhagen will result in some vague statements of good intent with the details to be worked out later, and the world will stumble along to some sub-optimal solution.

    It is interesting though to ponder why the proposed responses to anthropogenic climate change have brought forth such irrational responses from some people. Ideology is obviously part of it, but I think the answers are to be found in the field of abnormal psychology. One for sure is, you can’t reason with conspiracy theorists and there is no point in trying to engage people who constantly act in bad faith. Climate change has both kinds, in spades.

  • John Quiggin

    Sorry, I was a bit unclear. What I really meant to say was that most of the obvious obstacles have been cleared away. There’s a new regulatory process, public funding, and approval for rate increases, and a number of proposals are at various stages towards commencement. The big problem now is the economics, not political resistance. But, the economics do not look that good. Here’s an admittedly jaundiced view.

    http://greeninc.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/09/a-nuclear-renaissance-stumbles-forward/

  • conrad

    I’m with Uncle Milton, who really cares about the Quadrant crowd? They’re basically preaching to the rather small number of converted. If they want to have teeth that fall apart and get cancer by killing weeds in their garden with DDT, who cares.

  • MikeM

    Dick Warburton, who is on the board of Caltex, writes in the Fin today that he doesn’t know who to believe and thinks there are as many scientists denying anthropogenic climate change as supporting it.

  • Nette

    Relating to policy, comment by David Pannell here http://www.general.uwa.edu.au/u/dpannell/pd/pd0160.htm, which references an interesting compendium of articles by Nordhaus and Shellenberger at http://www.thebreakthrough.org or direct at http://www.thebreakthrough.org/blog/PDF/EmergingClimateConsensus.pdf

  • I am shocked by the is from hc: “Another insidious use of the media to twist public opinion is the film ‘Not Evil Just Wrong’ which I was unfortunate enough to see today – a promo is here. Endorsed by the libertarian loonies – it is a hideous instance of the big lie. Distortion built on distortion with illogic everywhere. It is a particularly nasty piece of propaganda. The junk science in the movie is demolished here”.

    That link leads to the following “scientific demolition” clearly endorsed by Harry:

    “1. ‘They want to raise our taxes’ No, that’s pure, uncomposted bovine excrement.
    2. They want to close our factories.’ That’s more effluent from the anus of male bovines.”

    So head for Melbourne and Monash for an equally sophisticated economic analysis of the ETS. The truth is that the ETS is in the nature of an excise tax on the source of about 90% of Australia’s energy, as that is its purpose, to tax that source out of business in favour of “clean” energy sources. As Richard Dennis of the AI has cogently shown, “clean” energy on the scale required at a price to the consumer that is the same as current sources is a pipe dream, and simply assumed by the Treasury to be available by 2030. Absent “clean” energy available at today’s price of electricity, the fact is that without exemptions from our ETS many industries in this country will close or relocate offshore, e.g. many of those at Gladstone such as alumina and aluminium. That is why the Rudd government has (1) drastically cut its actual target for emissions reduction to just 5% by 2020 and (2) is enormously increasing its exemptions for EITE industries and power generators, especially those in Labor seats of course (like Gladstone).

    Sure, the movie used the very same techniques – so beloved by non-libertarians when displayed by Michael Moore and Al Gore – to make its points, including the letter delivery to the Gore mansion complete with its black butler, but why not? Sauce for the Gore goose…

    US steelworkers will indeed feel the pinch of an ETS, except of course that Obama’s Waxman-Markey will allow even larger exemptions than contemplated here – as well as use of competitive nuclear instead of uncompetitive renewables.

  • hc

    Tim, The film is rubbish. Why waste your life identifying with this tripe? OK so you don’t think it is tripe but I do and I am an economist working on ways to cut emissions using economic instruments. I am not interested every step of the way debating you on the basics of climate science. I am too busy to do that.

    The objective of the ETS is not to raise taxes but to stop people using carbon-based fuels. If they do generate significant revenues other taxes can be cut.
    I don’t like the language of statement 2 but Romm has a point. The objective is to cut carbon emissions.

    I have posted on the case for nuclear fuels. I agree alternatives to coal and CCS need to be identified.

  • johno

    You said that Clive Hamilton’s work on the Monthly’s Slow TV was ‘very good’. Does this mean you endorse his view expressed in the question period that the ABC and other media should provide space or air time for human induced catastrophic climate change skeptics. Do you believe Australian media should NOT publish the views of the following Australian climate scientist?

    Emeritus Professor Garth Paltridge, an atmospheric physicist and Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. Former Chief Research Scientist with the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research, former Director of the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies and CEO of the Antarctic Cooperative Research Centre.

    Emeritus Professor Ian Plimer , geologist at the School of Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Adelaide.

    Professor Robert (Bob) M. Carter, geologist and environmental scientist, former Head of School of Earth Sciences, James Cook University
    Dr David Evans, carbon modeller with the Australian Greenhouse Office (now the Dept. of Climate Change).

    Associate Professor Stewart Franks, hydro-climatologist at the University of Newcastle.

    Mr William Kininmonth, meteorologist and climatologist, former head of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology’s National Climate Centre, Australia’s delegate to the World Meteorological Organization’s Commission for Climatology and an Australian delegate the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change.

  • johno

    Ooops – I left a word out in my opening sentence of my previous posting. There should be a ‘NOT’ after ‘should’ in ‘the ABC and other media should NOT provide space or air time’.

  • hc

    Johno, How many of these people are active current climate scientists? Are any?

    I think these people have the right to have their views expressed but not as the ‘other side’ of a ‘debate’. They are very much a minority who are expressing views overwhelmingly rejected by mainstream science.

    For the same reason I believe that holocaust deniers should not be given eqwual time to debate respected historians on the history of WW2.

  • chrisl

    Harry, You are coupling one increasingly dodgy theory(global warming) with another completely insane theory (ETS)
    Will the ETS have any effect whatsoever on global warming.
    You yourself admit there is no alternative to carbon generated power.Will raising the price of carbon based fuels cause alternative fuels to be invented and cost competitive? Did last year’s oil price doubling cause alternative fuels to be invented?
    To sum up your argument – Introduce an ETS – then something magic happens – the earth cools

  • johno

    So Professors Paltridge, Plimer, Carter and Franks and Mr Kininmonth and to be equated with holocust deniers because they don’t agree with your view?

  • chrisl

    1. Is there any evidence that a decarbonization policy will have any effect on global climate?

    2. Have we been able to determine with any specificity the effect that centuries of human activity has had on global climate?

    3. Without an alternative energy solution will it ever be possible to decouple the inverse relationship that seems to exist between decabonization and economic growth?

    In light of myriad social/political issues that are coming to a head at this time (healthcare, unemployment, taxation, terrorism, etc) and given that these problems have largely been a result of our social/political inability or unwillingness to face until our backs are effectively against the wall, what hope is there to even begin to address climate change?

  • johno

    Professors Plimer, Carter and Franks are still ‘active’ scientist.
    Professor Clarke, how many years after you retire from ‘active’ science should your views on your area of expertise be dismissed because you are no longer ‘active.?

  • hc

    Johno, Professor Plimer has never published a paper in climate science – he is a geologist. Is Franks a climate scientist or a hydrologist? Bob Cater is a geologist associated with IPA.

    I didn’t equate any of these deniers to holocaust deniers but the same issue is involved. A whole bunch of knowledge is argued by a group of scientists/historians and disputed by a group of outsiders with strong political views.

    I think this discussion has run out of purpose. I am not interested in promoting junk science on this blogsite. There are plenty of others you can use to express your views.

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