Climate: a change needed

By Andrew L. Urban

Climate change has changed an entire generation’s thinking; it has been framed (by both Al Gore in the US and Kevin Rudd in Australia) as a moral challenge, one that must be addressed by drastically cutting emissions of carbon dioxide. This has become an article of faith among those who believe that ‘the science is settled’ on the matter and who cannot imagine any other form of action to be effective. (The science is never settled in science, notably in such a complex field. But that’s beside the point.)

It stands to reason that abatement action will only actually reduce emissions if tackled on a truly global scale. Australia’s reduction target of 5% by 2020 will, if reached, reduce emissions from its total level of 1.4% of global emissions to 1.307%. This at great economic and social division cost. It’s like losing weight by hacking off your little toe with a rusty razorblade.

Back on July 11, 2011, Bjorn Lomborg of The Copenhagen Consensus Centre wrote in The Australian: “Introducing a carbon price may feel like a symbolic victory – particularly after years of fiery, distracting debate over the reality of global warming – but unfortunately, symbolism will not reduce temperature rises. The main climate economic models show that to achieve the much discussed goal of keeping temperature increases under 2C, we would need a global tax on carbon emissions that would start at nearly $100 per tonne and increase to more than $3700 per tonne by the end of the century.”

In the same article, he wrote: “In 2009, the Copenhagen Consensus Centre convened a panel of Nobel laureate economists who examined the research by Green and Galiana, along with a body of new research by top climate economists about different responses to global warming.

“This expert panel concluded that an R & D-focused response was the most effective policy choice. Adaptation and carbon-storage policies were given a medium ranking, while a response based entirely on a carbon tax was found to be the least effective choice.

Australia could lead the world on climate change by pursuing a policy based on the creation of a research and development fund. This would unleash entrepreneurship and creativity.”

On August 4, 2013, with no change to the headlong rush to expensive and futile abatement policies (from both sides of Australian politics), Lomborg wrote again to emphasise the foolishness that has been unleashed by ideological manipulation of the debate:

“The Copenhagen Consensus Centre asked 27 of the world’s top economists including three Nobel laureates for advice on which climate policies would do the most good per dollar spent.

“They found carbon tax solutions (and the similar ETS) the least efficient. Policies with a significant CO2 reduction were poor deals and should not be pursued. Each dollar spent, mostly in economic growth loss, could secure as little as 1c of global climate benefit.

“Analysis showed that adaptation – from securing coastlines against sea-level rise to enlarged sewers to handle more precipitation – was a sound, if moderate, investment. Every dollar spent would likely avoid $2-$3 of climate damage.

“They found a potentially phenomenal return from a small investment into investigating geo-engineering. Geoengineering aims to counter the temperature rise by intervening in the climate. One way is to amplify the natural cloud formation over the Pacific Ocean to make clouds slightly whiter, reflecting sunlight and cooling the planet. Estimates show that about $6bn could potentially offset the entire 21st-century heating, meaning each dollar could avoid more than $1000 of climate damage. For now, however, they only suggest exploring the feasibility of this opportunity, which could also work as insurance if other policies fail.

“Finally, the Nobel laureates considered green research and development as the best long-term strategy. The idea is that as long as green energy is much costlier than fossil fuels, it will rely on heavy subsidies. This is unattractive to developing countries and even rich countries can afford only a moderate amount of renewables. But if innovation could reduce solar 2.0 or 3.0 below fossil fuels, everyone would switch, including the Chinese. Hence, a radical long-term CO2 reduction could result from a reasonably modest R&D effort. The experts suggested 0.2 per cent of gross domestic product in R&D, which for Australia would be about $3bn annually – half of last year’s clean energy cost. Each dollar spent would avoid $11 of climate damage.”

It seems an unfortunate truth, however, that Australia (and many other countries) are caught in the political maelstrom of climate change correctness, unable to free themselves of the dead weight of the climate change lobby (or should that be climate change industry?) for whom carbon dioxide abatement is the holy grail, an article of faith not to be questioned. The exact opposite of a scientific and rational approach.

In a generation or two, society will look back on this not as the time we saved the planet but as the time we failed it, squandering our collective intelligence on a pilgrimage to political correctness. A false god, no less.

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