Beyond abatement: democratising climate policy

By Andrew L. Urban

This paper was submitted to the incoming Coalition Government via Prime Minister Tony Abbott MP, and others, on September 18, 2013.

“The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way.” – Bertrand Russell, philosopher & mathematician

Carbon dioxide (chemical formula CO2) is a naturally occurring chemical compound composed of two oxygen atoms each covalently double bonded to a single carbon atom. It is a gas at standard temperature and pressure and exists in Earth’s atmosphere in this state, as a trace gas at a concentration of 0.039 per cent by volume.

Five hundred million years ago carbon dioxide was 20 times more prevalent than today, decreasing to 4–5 times during the Jurassic period and then slowly declining with a particularly swift reduction occurring 49 million years ago. Human activities such as the combustion of fossil fuels and deforestation have caused the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide to increase by about 35% since the beginning of the age of industrialization.

What if the continuing deterioration of modelling accuracy makes carbon dioxide abatement policies even more futile and unacceptably wasteful?

What if focused & accelerated research found eternal, clean and affordable energy? (eg an efficient method of harvesting, storing and distributing solar)

This paper sets out to show that the current and excessively expensive climate change policies focusing on abatement by both major Australian parties as well as the Greens, are contributing to profound and destructive divisions in society and thus damaging the fabric of democracy.

This paper proposes that the debate and the policies be urgently re-framed to achieve more meaningful outcomes and minimise social division; and outlines action that can draw support from those who are alarmed by the prospect of AGW as well as those who are not.

On the latter, it is argued that there are actions that can be taken as a matter of policy which allocate significant resources to relevant action – for reasons other than just alarm over climate change (eg limitless, cheap energy).

For example: one would expect universal agreement that coal mining is dirty and dangerous work, resulting in many thousands of deaths. It would be desirable to abandon coal mining not just in a fuel fossil agenda but also to improve the quality of life for miners (in alternative employment) and redirect resources to, for example, improve water and air pollution in poor countries where millions are dying from preventable causes. Even if for differing reasons, society could focus and unite around this issue.


The September 2013 report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admits that “models do not generally reproduce the observed reduction in the surface warming trend over the last 10 – 15 years”. It follows that if the models overshoot for recent decades, the century long forecasts are also in doubt.

A report published in Nature Climate Change (September 8, 2013) said recent observed global warming had been less than half the rate simulated by climate models. “By averaging simulated temperatures only at locations where corresponding observations exist, we find an average simulated rise in global mean surface temperature of 0.3 degrees Celsius per decade,” the report said. “The observed rate of warming given above is less than half of this simulated rate.” (emphasis added)

The IPCC has allowed for lower temperature rises by reducing the lower end of its estimate of so-called climate sensitivity. It is also less certain that humans have caused hurricane and drought events since 1950. The 2007 report was more than 50 per cent certain that they have; now it is less than 21 per cent certain. (21% is more like UNcertain.)

IN recent months it has been stated repeatedly that 97 per cent of scientists agree global warming is real and man-made. These claims are based on a paper published by a team led by John Cook in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Skeptical Science activists Jim Powell, Dana Nuccitelli and Andrew Montford have deconstructed the concept of a scientific consensus.

Inter alia, Montford reports (Global Warming Policy Foundation, September 2013) “There was … an asymmetry in the classifications, with papers accepting the influence of a large or an unspecified level of human influence included in the consensus, and only those actively minimising the human influence recorded as rejecting it. This leads to the unavoidable conclusion the consensus as revealed by Cook et al was indeed a shallow one.

“That consensus is therefore virtually meaningless and tells us nothing about the present state of scientific opinion, beyond the trivial observation that almost everybody in the climate debate agrees carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and human activities have warmed the planet to some extent.”

Mike Hulme, founder of the Tyndall Centre, Britain’s national climate research institute, put it: “The (Cook et al) article is poorly conceived, poorly designed and poorly executed (and it) obscures the complexities of the climate issue.” The paper is, on close examination, a damp squib.” Or spin.


It has been the ugly side of climate change debate for years: the ‘believers’ and ‘deniers’ have insulted each other, generating hate and disrespect. It is not deemed necessary here to provide examples, given the high profile nature of those insulting behaviours and the savagery of acrimony.

On one side, activists claim that there is a scientific consensus that holds the earth is in clear and present danger from the predicted effects of global warming caused by mankind producing too much CO2. We must suppress our CO2 emissions urgently to save the planet. We don’t quite know how much would be enough, but we must act now.

On the other side, sceptics claim that global warming is either out of our control or not even proven. They don’t accept that there is a scientific consensus on the subject to support the activists.

Both sides support their arguments with ‘science’. Both sides are locked in their policy positions. Both sides despise the other and label them with extremist references.

This issue perfectly demonstrates the wisdom of Bertrand Russell (above).

Of those who are undecided, confusion is the only place they can inhabit, given the complexity of the subject matter and the conflicting opinions, charts, figures and hypotheses that have crowded the marketplace, seeking supremacy. But the enormity of the fear for the environment, coupled with the seductive self sacrifice involved in ‘saving the planet’ ensures that feelings run high – and deep.

Anyone interested in a rational discussion about ‘the science’ can find voices and ideas – in discussion papers, on the internet, in print – but these are rarely heard in the political mainstream. Politicians never question the science. This is weakening democracy, and threatening the very essence of science as a mode of enquiry, not as a tool for authoritarian grandstanding.

Jamie Whyte*, Quack Policy – Abusing Science in the Cause of Paternalism, August 2013, Institute of Economic Affairs (extract) * Whyte is a management consultant, a fellow of the Institute of Economic Affairs and a senior fellow of the Adam Smith Institute.

The climate models that predict AGW have not been tested and they are not mere entailments of well-known physics and chemistry. Why, then, do scientists have such high levels of confidence in them? In other words, if a scientific consensus really does exist, this is what needs to be explained. It cannot explain itself, nor justify itself.
We do not have confidence in the predictions of physics because physicists say we should. Rather, our confidence is founded on the extraordinary success of physics. Physical theory does not merely allow us to anticipate the existence and location of previously unobserved planets or the speed at which little trolleys will travel across school science laboratories; it allows us to build televisions, space ships, microwave ovens and so on. Physicists inherit their credibility from physics, not vice versa. That is why their special credibility is restricted to physicists.

Those who build climate models are scientists. But their branch of science has no success with which to impress us, neither in its predictions nor in its applications. In the absence of such success, their assertions of confidence should carry little weight.

Jamie Whyte: Science Says So, Suckers! – The Wall Street Journal, September 14, 2013 (extract)

The physics of medium-sized objects moving at velocities well below the speed of light has been experimentally tested and successfully applied in technology to such an extent that it is beyond reasonable doubt. Anyone who drives a car across an ancient bridge has reason to defer to physicists.

The climate models upon which the anthropogenic climate change hypothesis is based have no such record of success. This is not their fault. They are new and they make predictions about the climate, which can be observed only over a period of decades, shorter periods being mere weather. A new model that predicts weather patterns in 50 years’ time cannot be said to have been tested until 50 years have elapsed. Even then, we will have only one data point, which is hardly enough to confirm any theory.

Anyone who follows the news will know that most scientists believe in anthropogenic climate change. This is supposed to convince us. But it ought to perplex us. Why would scientists—people supposedly devoted to intellectual rigor and honesty—tell us that we ought to believe the implications of untested climate models with as much confidence as we believe in gravity?

We are asked to believe that “climate change is happening” because scientists with obvious incentives to overstate their achievements tell us that their untested models prove it. Those of us who remain skeptical are then accused of being anti-science fools. Funny.

Richard S. Lindzen*, Ph. D. – Science in the Public Square: Global
Climate Alarmism and Historical Precedents, Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons Volume 18 Number 3, Fall 2013 (extract) *Lindzen is professor of atmospheric sciences, emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

… those with political agendas [find] it useful to employ science. This immediately involves a distortion of science at a very basic level: namely, science becomes a source of authority rather than a mode of inquiry. The real utility of science stems from the latter; the political utility stems from the former.
For science to be politically useful, several features are involved:
• Powerful advocacy groups claiming to represent both science and the public in the name of morality and superior wisdom;
• Simplistic depictions of the underlying science so as to facilitate widespread “understanding”;
• “Events,” real or contrived, interpreted in such a manner as to promote a sense of urgency in the public at large;
• Scientists flattered by public attention (including financial support) and deferent to “political will” and popular assessment of virtue; and
• Significant numbers of scientists eager to produce the science demanded by the “public.”

Expanded funding is eagerly sought, but the expansion of funding inevitably invites rent-seeking by scientists, university administration, and government bureaucracies.

Scientists far removed from the climate-related sciences are encouraged to get a share in the funding. For example, a $197,000 grant went to a psychologist who wrote: “Climate change represents a moral challenge to humanity, and one that elicits high levels of emotion. This project examines how emotions and morality influence how people send and receive messages about climate change, and does so with an eye to developing concrete and do-able strategies for positive change.”

A grant for more than $400,000 went to a political scientist who wrote: “Common sense says that claims about how social and political life ought to be arranged must not make infeasible demands. This project will investigate this piece of common sense and explore its implications for a number of pressing issues, such as climate change, multiculturalism, political participation, inequality, historical justice, and the rules of war.”

[Comment: it would be instructive to see how the climate change debate would develop if Government/s offered equal funding to scientists and organisations seeking to research the absence of AGW.]

Apart from any other considerations, our focus here is on the impact this debate and attendant policies have had and are having on democracy. One such impact is the dislocation of policy making. No political party can take the risk of being seen to be a ‘denier’; you must uphold the faith. This leads to poor policy formulation, as it has done with the Colation’s Direct Action strategy, which falls in line with the carbon dioxide reduction target of 5% by 2020, a rather pathetically meaningless target given Australia’s total CO2 output is less than 1.5% of the world’s total. Yet it will cost billions.

Writing on the eve of Rio Earth Summit (June 2012) Bjorn Lomborg* wrote (The Australian, June 18, 2012): Global warming is by no means our main environmental threat. Even if we assumed unreasonably that it caused all deaths from floods, droughts, heatwaves, and storms, this total would amount to just 0.06 per cent of all deaths in developing countries. In comparison, 13 per cent of all Third World deaths result from water and air pollution.

So, for each person who might die from global warming, about 210 people die from health problems that result from a lack of clean water and sanitation, from breathing smoke generated by burning dirty fuels (such as dried animal dung) indoors, and from breathing polluted air outdoors.

By focusing on measures to prevent global warming, the advanced countries might help to prevent many people from dying. That sounds good until you realise that it means that 210 times as many people in poorer countries might die needlessly because the resources that could have saved them were spent on windmills, solar panels, biofuels, and other rich-world fixations.

* Bjorn Lomborg, director, The Copenhagen Consensus Centre.

The sceptics have been put in coventry; our democracy doesn’t extend to providing a safe and respected public forum for a genuine debate on this resource hungry, energy sapping and divisive debate. Anyone who questions the orthodoxy is shunned and reviled. And they have no recourse to anti-discrimination laws. This medieval mindset is antipathetic to democracy. This is undemocracy.

Powerful political will, outstanding leadership and excellent communication skills will be required to lead public opinion away from abatement ‘ideologies’ to practical action towards focused and expanded research into renewable energy.

Existing research will need to be sharpened with additional funding and brain power. Objectives will need to be set and the global community engaged.

The potential benefits are a less divided, more democratically cohesive society and a more productive policy setting.


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