The fall out from Sandy: what hope for the politics of climate response? (Reprint)

Again The Conversation provides some of the best commentary and thinking on the climate change debate.

Nick Rowley from the University of Sydney reflects upon the impact Hurricane Sandy may have on the politics of global warming. More importantly he muses on what progress can be made to fashion a global consensus for action (reprinted below).

Within the article is a remarkable statistic: investment in renewable emery has jumped 800% in the last few years.

This figure comes from a report by Pew Environment Group and is worth reading. It is worth noting who is making the investment, and critically who is not:

The Americas region is a distant third in the race for clean energy investment, attracting $65.8 billion overall in 2010. Investments in the United States rebounded 51 percent over 2009 levels to reach $34 billion, but the United States continued to slide down the top 10 list, falling from second to third. Given uncertainties surrounding key policies and incentives, the United States’ competitive position in the clean energy sector is at risk.

I’ve been musing for some time that he price of listening to the climate sceptics – at least for the US – is the loss competitive advantage.

We can see this in how America is surrounding its lead on technology and innovation (not to mention its moral leadership) due to the reflexive denial of conservative politicians cultivated and feed by the sceptics movement and right-wing media.

One only has to look at the “war on renewable energy” waged by the conservative Republican Party and News Corporation. In dismissing non-carbon sources of energy, the United States is literally surrounding its technological advantage to the Asia-Pacific nations.

“Stick with coal!” scream the sceptics.

And while many advocate for a “Drill baby, drill” energy policy the rest of the world is leaving the US behind.

The above statistics prove the folly in such short-sightedness.

There can be little doubt that in the future we will utilise clean energy technologies from China, India and South Korea – and so will the Americans.

The phrase “Made in the USA” will come to carry the same overtones we now associate with the old Soviet and East European industries: shoddy, polluting and the epitome of inefficient technological obsolescence.

This is not the first time the Americans have surrounded a technological or economic advantage: one merely needs to look at the decline and near collapse of the American automobile industry (although it should be noted it has experienced a small turn around by switching production to more fuel-efficient vehicles to match their competitors).

The same dynamics are playing out again.

Where foresight and leadership are required you can trust the doubting voices to stifle innovation and genuine discussion on policy responses. Because ultimately that is what the climate sceptic movement promotes: paralysis.

It encourages the individual and nation to stand still and forgo innovation. Failing to even acknowledge the problem of climate change means forgoing a leadership role in the realms of politics and techologicaly.

Thus it seems America’s decline is marching lockstep with rising temperatures and increased extreme weather events

When a nation’s political elite are locked into denial or silence on an issue as fundemental as climate change it can only have negative effects in both the short and long term.

The silence on the issue in the American presidential election is the true victory of the deniers – but such self-imposed silence on a issue of strategic importance will cost the US dearly.

This is not to blame the individual American, many of whom are blameless – indeed when polled the vast majority accept the science and wish to see policies and regulations addressing energy and climate change.

The ruined foreshore of New Jersy, the wrecked and burnt homes and flooded subways of New York are the price of failed leadership.


After the deluge

By Nick Rowley, University of Sydney

I am writing with Hurricane Sandy having brought devastation to New York and the East coast of the United States.

Much has been written on the politics of climate change. But until a few days ago, a severe weather event affecting the Presidential poll in the world’s largest economy and second largest emitter of greenhouse gases, would have been regarded as creative fantasy or another average Hollywood script.

And yet that is the situation now. In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina led to losses of $US125 billion: the costliest event ever recorded in the US. It was also the deadliest single storm event, claiming 1,322 lives. Sandy doesn’t come close to those statistics, yet she has halted an election campaign, shut down a major global city and stopped trading on the New York Stock Exchange for two days.

In the autumn of 2005 when working at Downing Street on climate and sustainability, I spent four days north of New York with a group of scientists and business leaders concerned with the global climate problem. It was no hurricane, but while I was there the rain didn’t stop. At the conference I met a senior executive working with Munich Re, one of the two largest re-insurance companies. An actuary by training, he wasn’t the type of person swayed by emotion or any environmentalist requests to save the world.

Insurance companies have noticed the increasing frequency of devastating weather events, and now adjust pricing accordingly. rsgray16/Flickr

Re-insurers rigorously analyse the frequency and loss trends of different perils from an insurance perspective. They calculate and assess the risk, and advise on premiums accordingly. He had little interest in the political battles with sceptics and those denying basic climate science. He said he wasn’t qualified to understand the policy responses required. Having assessed the data it was clear to him that as the atmosphere warms, the relationships between ocean currents, ice caps, and atmospheric pressure become more turbulent. The weather turns more unpredictable.

In looking out of the window at the torrential rain all I saw were damp autumn leaves. But for him, the constant rain demonstrated the probability of future events that Munich were most fearful of: a pattern of severe storms tracking up the east coast to New York, New Jersey and Washington DC. Not the big “doomsday” scenario, but what Al Gore describes as an unstable series of climatic events that become “the new normal”.

Sandy is not some bolt out of the blue. It is the kind of event that insurers have been across for a while. And as the science, impacts and costs of global climate change become more clear and the risks more real, the next meeting of the world’s climate negotiators will take place in Doha at the end of the month.

Before the meeting Christiana Figueras, the diplomat charged with leading the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was in Australia last week. With a carbon price in place and potentially powerful institutions such as the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in the process of being established, Australia is a place of great interest.

Figueras is a seasoned United Nations professional: highly intelligent, committed, knows the system backwards, and feisty. I sat next to her at a private lunch convened by the Clean Energy Council. She enthusiastically described the growth in the regulation of carbon with more than 30 emissions trading schemes now in operation. This is indeed positive, but sadly few, if any, can yet demonstrate a price that will come close to de-linking economic growth from emissions growth

Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Chatham House, London/Flickr

If only the politics of carbon pricing worked as well as the economic principles. And with the failure of Copenhagen to fulfil even the most modest expectations built up following the rise in public, business and political consciousness, there is currently no appetite to take the lead internationally on climate change.

Figueras sees this lack of momentum and argues it must be accelerated through three mutually re-enforcing dynamics:

  •  government and business working in tandem
  • an understanding that a burden-sharing approach must be replaced with an international race to lead in low emissions energy and infrastructure
  • an end to the logjam that pits the rapidly developing economies against those that have achieved their high carbon development already.

On these criteria there is cause for optimism. The first is latent. There are notable exceptions, but business responses to climate change have waned and remain more about the need for conspicuous concern rather than achieving measurable reductions.

The second is very much underway. According to Bloomberg, in 2004 only $US34 billion was invested in clean energy globally. In 2011 the figure was $280 billion. That is a more than 800% increase. Last year was the first when new investment in clean energy overtook investment in coal and gas.

On the third, new alliances have been formed between India, China, and Brazil. For them low carbon has the potential to be a massive potential source of competitive advantage over coming decades.

Figueras is impressive. I disagreed with little that she said. She recognises that progress cannot come from the top down, or just the bottom up, but through the actions of multiple State and other players working together.

Yet she believes heads of state must be kept away from the negotiations. Certainly, the Copenhagen experience cannot be repeated: leaders turning up to make speeches and rehearse positions. But for the international agreement that this problem demands to ever be reached, heads of state must be involved. Decisions that have implications for global economic, energy, transport, and trade policy will not be taken by negotiators, no matter how deft and able, working for environment ministers.

Heads of state won’t be in Doha. The timing and the place is wrong. But for the international response to move from flirtation with the problem to putting in place the rules that might temper the scenarios that my friend at Munich Re continues to work on, they simply must be around the table.

Nick Rowley does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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53 thoughts on “The fall out from Sandy: what hope for the politics of climate response? (Reprint)

  1. john byatt says:

    Queensland has a climate change minister in denial, yet few voices are allowed to confront his insanity,
    Many letters and articles probably are sent to the Courier Mail and binned. The Courier mail could take a lesson from many regional newspapers like APN and the independents.
    The Australian had declared war on science many years ago.

    Do we have time, will QLD miss out on the needed investment ?

    the battle continues

  2. Eric Worrall says:

    If opportunities to make money from renewables appear, then business people will jump at the opportunities.

    And it will happen – eventually advances in nanotech and robotics will yield solar panels which are efficient and cheap enough to be competitive with other forms of energy.

    But it hasn’t happened yet, and won’t happen for the forseeable future.

    Greens hope to stimulate innovation, by offering subsidies for green power. But subsidies in their current form are simply creating a handout mentality, and stifling innovation. Executives blatantly loot their companies for cash, then go to the government for more, pressuring politicians with the embarrassment of being blamed for wasting money. It is to Obama’s credit that he resisted any temptation to offer Solyndra more bailouts – in the UK, Vesta receives a new bailout or grant every other year, to stave off financial ruin.

    It is much more cost effective for executives of green energy companies to lobby for more subsidies, than to invest vast sums in costly, uncertain research programmes.

    The right wing solution to this dilemma would be to stop subsidising failure, and allow the invisible hand of Adam Smith to do the necessary innovation. But despite plentiful evidence that government subsidies rarely lead to happy outcomes, you guys never seem to consider this approach.

    • john byatt says:

      THE State Government has poured almost $7 billion in subsidies into the coal and coal seam gas industries in the past five years, an economic study shows.

      The study, partially funded by protest group the Friends of Felton, also found that the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries also received about $900 million over the five years, but still faced barriers such as access laws for large-scale wind and solar projects.

      Report author Trevor Berrill, a sustainable energy consultant, also found that the external costs of the electricity industry were as much as $6 billion.

      “This cost, if reflected in electricity pricing, would almost double our household electricity bills and make coal-fired electricity uncompetitive against gas, wind and some biomass power generators,” Mr Berrill said.

      The resources industry said analysts tended to confuse the issue around funding and forget that the industry paid significant user charges and royalties.

      Mr Berrill’s comparison of the energy policies of the major parties found that Labor’s plan should be supported and expanded. He said if the program was continued after 2020 it would “greatly assist” in the transition to renewable energy.

      Alternatively, the Liberal National Party plan appeared to be a return to the past.

      “It takes little responsibility for global warming, is against the Federal Government’s carbon tax and emissions trading schemes and outlines few actions to address the issue,” he said.

      “For example, it fails to set renewable energy and energy efficiency targets and greenhouse gas emission targets.”

      • Eric Worrall says:

        Most of what you guys call “subsidies” for fossil fuels are in the form of tax breaks. Governments seem to think there is a strategic advantage to having things dug out of their home turf, and try to incentivise companies not to bunk off to cheaper countries.

        Renewables subsidies though are mostly paid in the form of actual handouts of cash, or enforced quotas of renewable energy which conventional suppliers have to purchase. They don’t receive their subsidies via tax breaks, because without government help, they wouldn’t make any profit from which to receive a tax break.

        I’m totally for level playing fields – as a right wing (fairly) Libertarian, I don’t like any kind of government intervention. If tax breaks are required to prevent businesses going overseas then taxes are too high.

        • Eric Worrall says:

          A subsidy scandal surrounding a government owned mine is hardly a surprise – government owned enterprises are notoriously inefficient, wasteful, and cost the taxpayer money, even when they should (in principle) be turning a profit.

          Just reinforces my point – when politicians intervene, common sense goes out the window.

      • john byatt says:

        Duck and weave eric never concede anything


        The coal power stations receive subsidies which are calculated to be between $450 million and $1.1 billion in 2005–06.[citation needed] Currently, the subsidies received by several electricity generation companies prioritising in coal-fired generation appear to match or exceed the profits made by those companies in 2005–06. In other words, government subsidies appear to be directly creating profits for coal-fired generators.[dubious – discuss]
        The impact of removing certain electricity sector subsidies will increase the cost of electricity by about $0.05/kW or 3.9%. This would decrease demand for electricity by 1.4% and also reduce GHG Emission by about 2.7 Mt CO2-e.[citation needed]
        The $400 million Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program (GGAP) has already invested in 15 projects totalling $145 million to diminish 27 million tonnes of GHG during 2008–2012.[29]
        $5 million to coal-fired power stations for improving thermal efficiency
        $15.5 million for pre-drying brown coal
        $58.8 million fossil fuel subsidy for methane capture

        work out the difference between coal mining and coal fired power generation subsidies

        • Eric Worrall says:

          I agree – the NSW government owned coal mines referred to by the article are a disgrace. Thanks for bringing that to my attention – I had no idea such ridiculous government subsidised boondoggles still existed.

          In case you didn’t notice, I was agreeing with you – all energy subsidies, and other market distorting tariffs and quotas should be eliminated, otherwise you end up with outrageous wasteful government white elephants which make no commercial sense, and which only exist because of government subsidies.

          Let the best solution win.

      • john byatt says:

        The best solution for civilisation ?

        • Eric Worrall says:

          If green energy is genuinely cheaper than coal and gas, as you guys frequently argue, then removing all subsidies will give green energy a shot at displacing all other power sources.

          Then both of us will be happy – you’ll have your low carbon energy, and I’ll have my properly functioning markets.

      • Nick says:

        Eric worries about green entrepreneurs leeching government incentives for a number of reasons,I’d guess. Firstly,he’s bought the Fox axis bullshit that renewables subsidies success in the US in characterised by Solyndra,s collapse–though the vast bulk of the program has not been problematic.

        Next, he’s forgotten the rorting of coal exploration licences by NSW Labor,where in keeping with the grand tradition of the rugged self-made graft that is capitalism, those in the know got inside running buying up property to leverage yet to be made announcements into easy cash. Tell me that behavior isn’t subsidised by the public,Eric.

        And again,using the biosphere as a dumping ground for CO2 is a cost borne by all and generations to come.

        • Eric Worrall says:

          I agree with you about Australian Exploration Licenses – they’re ridiculous. Find something valuable, and some a-hole comes along and seizes it, because they own an exploration license they’ve been sitting on for 20 years.

          I disagree with alarmist model predictions, so I don’t buy the CO2 / future generations view.

  3. john byatt says:

    This is from, The Australian Business, hardly likely to give a green slant on things

    WIND and solar photovoltaic will be cheaper than coal-fired electricity generation within 10 years as technology costs fall and the carbon price makes fossil fuel-based generation more expensive.

    A significant new report into technology costs, the Australian Energy Technology Assessment, released today from the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, estimates that solar photovoltaic and onshore wind could produce some of the lowest electricity generation costs in Australia by 2030, based on current policy settings.

    Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said the report provided the most up-to-date cost estimates for 40 electricity generation technologies deployed in the Australian context.

    While the report found solar photovoltaic technology could be increasingly cost competitive, onshore wind, solar thermal, wave, nuclear and geothermal technology costs were also forecast to fall and be cost competitive with some coal and gas-based technologies by 2030.

    “The Australian government is driving innovation and investment in these emerging technologies by putting a price on carbon and through the newly established $3.2 billion Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation,” Mr Ferguson said.

    In terms of fossil fuel technologies, the AETA found that combined-cycle gas offered the lowest levelised costs of electricity generation over the majority of the projection period, and would remain competitive with lower cost renewable technologies up to 2050.

    The AETA has been developed in consultation with WorleyParsons, the Australian Energy Market Operator, CSIRO and a stakeholder reference group drawn from a wide number of industry and academic organisations.

    • Eric Worrall says:

      I would argue that putting a price on carbon is retarding innovation. Thanks to the subsidy, if a solar company wants more profit, it is simpler to lobby for a bigger subsidy.

      You already helpfully provided an article showing the disgraceful subsidies paid to a completely unprofitable coal company, to no purpose other than – who knows what. Can’t you see that the same thing is happening to your green hope for the future?

      • john byatt says:

        Eric the coal companies have received massive credits to make them viable under the carbon tax ,
        they have put nothing into R&D,as can be seen above. all the R&D is being paid for by you

        QLD will be the big loser in this with renewable not even being encouraged,

        In fact due to the denial of the Newman government renewable enterprises will go to SA , WA Vic and NSW, it is about job creation as well

        Even with the above Australian article the Newman government is too stupid to see where the future lies


        • Eric Worrall says:

          Given the catastrophic track record of green investments to date, I think its a bit premature to criticise the Newman government for its decision to avoid them.

          The following is an analysis by The Guardian, probably the greenest mainstream newspaper in the UK

          If the coal companies have to be subsidised to keep them open, because of the carbon tax, doesn’t this make the carbon tax as it currently stands a pointless money shuffling exercise? A policy should at least be coherent – should at least have goals and incentives which make sense, even if you (or I) disagree with them.

      • john byatt says:

        ERic we do not want to wreck the place, people need power, we will change over as quickly as possible,
        this is the first step in a long journey that we should have started 17 years ago

        hopefully we are not too late

    • john byatt says:

      So people like you that love the heat eric and do not have A/C units are paying for those that do.

      how unfair is that?

      • Eric Worrall says:

        An interesting idea in principle, but not really feasible in practice in a hot place like Queensland. We had a problem with the fridge a few months ago, in which it cut out for an hour or two at random intervals (defective thermostat), we noticed because the food was spoiling 3-4 times faster than it should.

      • john byatt says:

        Eric I have lived in Qld for half of my life, even in the tropics. have never used or required A/C house was insulated like an esky .

        my current house is eco smart, no need for A/C in summer nor heating in winter.

        we have a small pool, a promise to my wife
        in all our elect bill is tiny,

        Gas hot water and cooking and home built solar heating for the pool in winter.

        Should be able to go full solar power June next year.

        This is not about who is the greenest, it is about saving money while walking the walk as well as talking the talk

        • Eric Worrall says:

          OK if you can afford to do all that, but fitting out your house “like an eski” can be expensive.

          When we were living in the UK, we had double glazing fitted to all our windows, this cost around $20,000 AUD (and it was a small house).

          Not many people can afford the level of insulation you’re talking about.

      • john byatt says:

        Eric, it costs fuck all, heaps of stryro foam is dumped from greengrocers etc
        we collected trailer loads from the tip over twelve months and put it into the ceiling and walls during construction.

      • john byatt says:

        I have built two of my own houses eric, but not this one, missus reckons I take too long to finish off, what a lousy ten years ?
        we lived in a caravan on site for six months while I built the second to lock up,
        councils were more lenient in the 80,s .

  4. john byatt says:

    psychology 101

    geoff finaly put my comment up at 8pm this evening over twenty four hours since i posted, my last comment was put up before that one

    worked a treat

  5. Eric Worrall says:

    Pjelke Junior’s respose to “the new normal” meme – and discussion of America’s recent extended hurricane drought.

    If you persist with this nonsense, public trust in climate exaggerations will drop even lower. No doubt you will blame this further loss of faith on big oil funded conspiracies.

    • john byatt says:

      Eric, look I am fair dinkum, you need to see someone about your short term memory loss, we discussed this yesterday.


  6. Eric Worrall says:

    Seems to be quite a lot of snowy weather across the Northern Hemisphere right now – Europe, North America, and it looks like China might get it in the kisser as well.

  7. john byatt says:

    James and eric

    here are two opposing views

    Geoff brown at TCS sticking up for Allen Jones

    My comments sticking it up him

    Do you agree with Brown?


    • Eric Worrall says:

      I haven’t got time right now for a detailed look at the calculations, but some of the CO2 in the atmosphere should be due to outgassing from the warming of the ocean. So whether the 0.45% is correct is a matter of which theories you believe.

      If the entire rise is our fault, then you can legitimately include outgassing as part of the CO2 burden we have created – the 0.45% stands.

      If part of the rise is natural, and outgassing has contributed to CO2 levels, then the 0.45% figure is too high.

      Given that RealClimate believes solar activity contributes to climate change , and the Earth experienced a solar grand maximum in the 20th century, blaming the entire outgassing contribution to current CO2 levels on human CO2 seems unjustified – so the 0.45% figure is almost certainly too high.

      • john byatt says:


        Oceans… emit 332Gts absorb 338Gts
        contribution minus 6Gts

        • Eric Worrall says:

          As the temperature of water changes, the solubility of CO2 changes as well.

          You can see this if you let a fizzy drink warm, it fizzes up a lot more when you open the bottle.

          Warmer water releases some of its CO2.

          So some of the CO2 currently in the atmosphere has to be due to ocean outgassing since the end of the little ice age.

      • john byatt says:

        failed maths eric

        more being absorbed by the ocean than emitted eric,absoring 6GT of human emissions as well as its own balance in/out

        Ocean contribution Minus 6 Gts

        do you understand the concept minus ?

        • Eric Worrall says:

          I guess the oceans aren’t warming very much then John.

          Water which contains dissolved CO2 yields some of its CO2 if it warms, because CO2 is less soluble in warm water. Compare the fizz you get when you open a warm soft drink bottle vs and cold softdrink bottle, and you will see what I mean.

          Given a dynamic equilibrium between ocean and atmosphere, warmer oceans should mean more CO2 in the air. The oceans contain a lot of CO2 (30 atmospheres worth), so even a moderate outgassing would cause a substantial change to atmospheric CO2 concentration. Since there is very little outgassing, the oceans cannot be warming very much, if at all.

    • Eric Worrall says:

      Sea level models are among the silliest of the alarmist exaggerations. Consider that the current trend has remained stable since pre-industrial times, despite the atmosphere now carrying an extra 50% CO2 concentration.

      • john byatt says:

        Not even close eric, 20th century average 1.7mm per annum

        now 3.1mm per annum

        • Eric Worrall says:

          You reach the 3.1 mm by “correcting” for changes in the level of the sea bed, due to a greater mass of water. The observed rise – what Al Gore will actually see from his sea front mansion – is a steady 1.5mm or so.

      • john byatt says:

        1880 ppm 280

        2011 ppm 390

        increase 110ppm

        extra 50% would be 140ppm ,

        you have beefed up the % ?

  8. Eric Worrall says:

    The lower range is 260 – its 260 – 280ppm pre-industrial remember. 390 / 260 is 50%.

    Agreed I should have explained this in more detail, and I probably should have used a mid range.

  9. […] 2012/11/01: WtD: The fall out from Sandy: what hope for the politics of climate response? (Reprint) […]

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