Category Archives: Climate change

A man exploiting the moment, or a man for all seasons? Tony Abbott’s legacy will be defined by climate change

A_man_for_all

On September 7 2013, the Australian voting public put into high office a man known for his scepticism of climate change, for surrounding himself with a coterie of fellow sceptics and for turning his back on partisan efforts to introduce a price on carbon. 

It is scarcely acknowledged today, but as late as June 2009 Tony Abbott argued for a price on carbon. In Sky News interview, Abbott stated: 

“If you want to put a price on carbon why not just do it with a simple tax. Why not ask motorists to pay more? Why not ask electricity consumers to pay more? 

And then at the end of the year, you can take your invoices to the tax office and get a rebate on the carbon tax you paid. 

It would be burdensome, all taxes are burdensome, but it would certainly change the price on carbon, raise the price of carbon without increasing in any way the overall tax burden.” 

Abbott’s repudiation of his own position and that of perceived wisdom is one of the most stunning turnarounds in Australia political history. The question, though it may never be answered, is what prompted Abbott’s about face? There are clues given to us but the man himself. 

Following the defeat of Howard Government in 2007 Abbott found solace in writing what should be regarded as his manifesto for the government he leads, Battlelines. 

Of it’s almost 200 pages, Abbott dedicates a scant four of them to climate change. And yet those four pages tell us all we need to know about Abbott the man and his view on the issue.

Abbott cites notable climate sceptic Ian Plimer as an authority, regurgitating many of the same arguments made by Plimer that have been widely dismissed by the scientific community. He also cites the equally discredited economist Bjorn Lomberg, of “sceptical environmentalist” fame. Lomberg acknowledges global warming but cherry picks facts without reservation to downplay it’s seriousness. It is an argument Abbott uncritically adopts in Battlelines, and without doubt guides his actions on climate change.

A clue to Abbott’s radical shift can be found in his concluding sentences on the issue, where he notes:

“Australians will continue to tell pollsters that they want action for a cleaner environment, but they are unlikely to support policy changes that they think might make daily life harder or much more expensive” (Battlelines, page 173).

Perhaps climate change is real. Perhaps not. Perhaps technology solutions and nuclear energy is the answer. Or not.

Regardless, it seems Abbott has cynically read the mood of parts of the electorate and played to them. Abbott is now in a position to impose the views expressed in his Battlelines manifesto upon the country.

There is much irony in that Abbott, the man who grudgingly acknowledges the science (in public at least), who will dismantle the carbon price and who has closed institutions such as the Climate Commission is defined by the politics global warming.

Without doubt Abbott, his government and his legacy will be measured against his policy approach to climate change, the very issue he denies is a genuine risk to Australia or the world. 

A man for our time, or a man for all seasons?

In the play A man for all seasons, playwright Robert Bolt muses on questions of identity and personal conscience in politics.

Based upon the life and death of Thomas More, Bolt suggests via the narrative of the play a person of conscience will stand by their principles regardless of external pressures and the temptations of short term gain.

By abiding by their principles, such individuals forfeit the temptations of power and its abuse. They remain true to themselves, a person “for all seasons”,

In the plays most famous scene, More argues against those who would put aside laws for the sake of expediency. He argues with his son-in-law, who urges the illegal arrest of a man who would eventually go on to betray him:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

It is well known tony Abbott has yearned for the Prime Ministership all his life. 

When the opportunity was presented to him, Abbott recognised the thicket of laws he needed to cut down to achieve his ambitions. He read discontent is some parts of the electorate, and played to their fears.

At this moment of writing, fire-storms are wiping out communities across New South Wales. There is no respite at this point, conditions such as these may last for weeks.

It is early spring, Australia’s extended fire season is upon us. The ill winds of climate change are upon us. 

Against this background Prime Minster Tony Abbott moves steadily, without pause or consideration to cut down laws. 

Who is Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a man cynically exploiting the moment or a man for all seasons?

Whatever you do, don’t mention climate change: as catastrophic fires devastate Australia, many want to stay in denial

[Source: Daily Telegraph]

New South Wales is in the grip of an extraordinary catastrophe: hundreds of fires are raging across the state devastating homes, communities and vast tracts of forest.

And while fires are not uncommon for this time of year, the scale and intensity of what we are seeing is unprecedented

As the Bureau of Meteorology noted recently, 2013 is shaping up to be the warmest year on record. Over late 2012 and 2013 Australia experienced the “Angry Summer” as fires devastated parts of New South Wales and Tasmania.

Less than year later, fires equal to those of the Angry Summer are upon us again.

For those familiar with the science of climate change this is to be expected. Fire plays an important part in Australia’s landscape, but we’re now seeing the fire season become longer.

We’ve known this, indeed there isn’t a government or relevant agency that hasn’t been told this by experts.

Of course, attributing individual events to climate change can be tricky; however the events in New Wales are clearly indicative of the profound changes to Australia’s climate.

Thus when Adam Bandt, the Green’s member for Melbourne tweeted the following:

…the conservative media erupted in outrage.

Staff writers at the Herald Sun harrumphed Bandt was making “political mileage” of the fires:

PEOPLE’S lives are at risk. Houses have been lost. At latest count there are at least 40 homes burned to the ground. That number will almost certainly rise.

It is a shocking, distressing time right now in eastern New South Wales. The sky above Sydney is thick with smoke. Ash is falling from the sky in many suburbs. A dry southerly change due any minute may only make things worse as the fires change course.

So what does Greens MP Adam Bandt do?

He ignores the unfolding human tragedy and pushes his political barrow on Twitter.

How dare Bandt link unprecedented extreme weather events to climate change!

It’s almost as if climate change was real and having an actual impact on ordinary citizens.

Perish the thought that anyone should make the connection.

Or that we should seek to implement policies that reduce the impact of climate change.

Bandt has stood by his comments (see this ABC interview), and so he should.

But that won’t make those desperately in denial happy: “Shhhhh. The planet is burning. Whatever you do, don’t mention climate change. People just might want to do something about it.”

Open thread…

Some more thread for thoughts, links and debate.

Mike

#debateisover: the science is real, this is what the dangers look like

Let’s get the word out:

Debateisover2

 

Debateisover1

Fact: latest IPCC report makes it clear there is no room for complacency

The IPCC’s just released Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) states bluntly “warming of the climate system is unequivocal.”

The findings contained within the SPM’s brief 35 pages make for sobering but essential reading. So what to make of the IPCC’s latest report?

There is no room for complacency: the climate crisis is real. To ignore the findings of the latest IPCC report is to condemn future generations to a harsher world.

It would be a world of rising sea levels and average temperatures 4 degrees above mid-19th century levels. Consider the fact the Earth was lifted out of the last ice-age (or last glacial period to be precise) thanks to a 4 degree temperature increase.

Here are the facts for the realists and pragmatists who understand the need for action.

Fact: the planet in crisis 

The crisis engulfing the planet is elegantly explained within a single paragraph on page 3:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.

Take a moment to ponder the implications of those few sentences. Nearly every earth system is exhibiting unprecedented changes. This is a planetary crisis, and one of our making.

Fact: it is virtually certain the oceans have warmed, highest rate in 1400 years

The IPCC notes in the strongest possible terms the oceans have been warming at an alarming rate (page 5):

Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010 (high confidence). It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0−700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010 (see Figure SPM.3), and it likely warmed between the 1870s and 1971. {3.2, Box 3.1}.

The also note on page 6:

There is medium confidence from reconstructions that over the past three decades, Arctic summer sea ice retreat was unprecedented and sea surface temperatures were anomalously high in at least the last 1,450 years…

Fact: Arctic ice is disappearing at an astonishing rate

Annual mean sea ice extent has declined at a rate of 3.5% to 4.1% per decade, however the rate of loss of summer sea ice is stunning:

The annual mean Arctic sea ice extent decreased over the period 1979–2012 with a rate that was very likely in the range 3.5 to 4.1% per decade (range of 0.45 to 0.51 million km2 per decade), and very likely in the range 9.4 to 13.6% per decade (range of 0.73 to 1.07 million km2 per decade) for the summer sea ice minimum (perennial sea ice).

Fact: sea level rise is unprecedented

There is good reason to be concerned about rising seas:

The rate of sea level rise since the mid-19th century has been larger than the mean rate during the previous two millennia (high confidence). Over the period 1901–2010, global mean sea level rose by 0.19 [0.17 to 0.21] m.

The following graph spells it out:

SSL

A one meter rise in sea levels is more than enough to threaten most coastal cities and communities.

Fact: greenhouse gas concentrations highest in 800,000 years thanks to fossil fuel emissions

The SPM notes the unprecedented rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere thanks to human activities:

The atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. CO2 concentrations have increased by 40% since pre-industrial times, primarily from fossil fuel emissions and secondarily from net land use change emissions. The ocean has absorbed about 30% of the emitted anthropogenic carbon dioxide, causing ocean acidification…

There can be no room for doubt or complacency.

The time for denial is well and truly over.

IPCC AR5: Summary for Policymakers here! Ocean warming; glaciers shrinking; sea level rise highest in 2000 years

Well it’s here!

I’ve downloaded it here: WGIAR5-SPM_Approved27Sep2013.

Highlights I can see:

1/ Ocean warming dominates – “Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90% of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010..” page SPM-4

2/ Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets losing mass, glaciers continuing to shrink [page SPM-5].

3/ Rate of sea level rise since mid-19th century larger than the mean rate during the previous two millenia [page SPM-6]

4/ Atmospheric concentrations of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in the last 800,00 years [page SPM-7]

 

The Climate Culture War enters a new phase in Australia

Abbott_Signs

It is telling that one of the very the first acts of the incoming Abbott government was the dismantling of Climate Commission and the sacking of Tim Flannery.

Moves are also under way to wind up the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and repeal the “carbon tax”. The freshly minted Environment Minister, Greg Hunt has dismissed the CEFC as as a speculative hedge fund:

Mr Hunt labels the corporation a green hedge fund, “borrowed in taxpayers’ name for investing in speculative ventures”

Without doubt this little piece of Orwellian cant is meant to associate investment in renewable energy with risky financial speculation.

As Michelle Grattan noted in The Conversation, a select few high-profile public servants have been the victim of their association with Labor’s carbon price:

“One of the strikes against [Martin] Parkinson was that he headed the then Climate Change department and was at the centre of Labor’s work on a carbon price. This was particularly in the mind of some in the Abbott office.”

Grattan also expressed a fear many in the science community must be feeling:

“The CSIRO comes under the Industry department. The scientists working in the climate area might be getting a little nervous.”

Indeed, however it is not just climate scientists who are nervous.

Cheering on the planet’s destruction: the sceptic response

Of course the denial movement has been in an orgiastic state of schadenfreude in response to these cuts.

The Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt demands Tim Flannery refund his salary for his “dud predictions”; conspiracy theorist Jo Nova calls it a “win for Australia”; American blogger Anthony Watts gloats in several posts, dismissing Flannery as a “high paid fool”.

There are of course many more examples of such thinly veiled pleasure in the misfortune of others.

Sitting above this scrum of sceptic bloggers and News Corp hacks, presiding over events like a bad caricature of Ann Ryan’s John Galt, is Rupert Murdoch:

RM_Tweet

Abbott, the LNP, Murdoch and the sceptics have turned back time. They desire nothing more than to wipe from Australia’s political and cultural memory the years 2007-2013.

It is as if the last five years didn’t happen: no first woman prime minister; no Labor in power; no price on carbon; no pesky scientists to remind us of the dangers of climate change.

Down the memory hole they go.

A great first day indeed.

Climate change as lighting rod for conservative anxieties in a changing world

The culture war fought over climate science has raged for more than three decades.

During this period the forces of obstruction had the upper hand in Australia, especially during the Howard years. But their ascendancy was broken in Australia in 2007 with Rudd’s election.

For a few brief years it seemed Australia might take substantive action on climate change: the signing of the Kyoto protocol;  the introduction of the carbon price; greater public acceptance of the science and the desire to act.

Thus 2007 represented a wrong in the eyes of the LNP and conservatives that had to be righted. In response we have witnessed five years of rage and fury. 

And while some may think these events are about climate change, they aren’t.

It is about the soul of the nation: it is what Australia could or should be.

Murdoch, Abbott and the gaggle of sceptics looked out at the world and the shift in our culture and feared what they saw. They are of course differences among all these individuals and the groups they represent. But what united and drove them was hatred of the scientific consensus on climate change.

Climate change has become a lighting rod for conservative anxieties and fears about a rapidly changing world. 

What do individuals do when they feel their “culture” is under attack? 

They mount a counter-offensive. 

This is what the 2013 Abbott victory represents, a cultural coup d’etat. 

Conservatives fear the evolution of Australia’s culture: one that embraces sustainability and equality; one that rejects the values of the past; one that places the market second to the needs of society; one that embraces a post-materialist world view. 

Expunging the heresy of climate science: why we should be concerned for science in Australia

Abbott is keen to project an orderly transition to power, but his targets demonstrate a quiet rage and considered preciseness.

As Flannery noted in his press conference following his sacking:

“As global action on climate change deepens, propaganda aimed at misinforming  the public about climate change, and so blunting any action, increases.”

This should send a chill down the collective spine of scientific community. It remains to be seen how this will play out, but the signs are ominous.

When the Canadian conservatives under Stephan Harper’ got into power they began a war on science and withdrew from the Kyoto treaty. A war on science was also a feature of George W. Bush’s Presidency, notably recorded by Chris Mooney in “The Republican War on Science”.

We may see similar events play out under the Abbott government: the heavy hand of Liberal Party apparatchiks in muting or censoring reports; the defunding of climate research programs; obstruction at climate conferences; more sackings; and pressure on the science community to remain silent on climate change.

Of course it will all be done in the name of savings, efficiency and small government. It will be done in the name of a “mandate”.

But the targets make it obvious.

Welcome to a renewed phase of the climate culture wars. 

The boys are back in town: Abbott’s dumps science and women, gives industry portfilio to Greenhouse Mafia

Firstly the good news.

Despite some initial speculation (and concern), Denis Jensen did not land the role of science minister. Placing a climate sceptic in charge of policy would have been a disastrous for science in Australia. Not to mention somewhat embarrassing.

Newly incumbent Prime Minister Tony Abbott neatly side-stepped the potential embarrassment of having a sceptic heading up the science portfolio by doing away with the science portfolio:

The country’s top science bodies have expressed concern over Tony Abbott’s  new ministry, which has omitted a dedicated science minister for the first time  in more than 80 years.

Not since 1931, and for six weeks during World War II, has an Australian  government been without a minister with science in their portfolio title. Under  the incoming Abbott government the minister for industry, Ian MacFarlane, will  be responsible for some areas of science including the main scientific  organisation, the CSIRO.

The Australian Academy of Science’s Les Field was disappointed Mr Abbott had  not appointed a science minister and hoped one would be announced in the coming  days.

”A scientifically literate society is a society which is equipped to hold  informed debate and make intelligent decisions about big issues that affect us  all,” said Professor Field,  the academy’s secretary for science policy.

See, problem solved!

Silly, silly scientists. What importance could science be to Australian society in the early 21st century?

Some commentators have noted that Macfarlane is a better choice than Jensen.

Really? Those of us with long memories and some insight into climate politics in Australia have grave concerns.

MacFarlane was once described as a member of Australia’s “Greenhouse Mafia” – part of a select group of men (surprise!) who worked behind the scenes in the Howard Government to block attempts to put a price on carbon or ratify the Kyoto agreement.

As Clive Hamilton noted in 2007:

“As industry minister in the Howard Government since November 2001, Macfarlane has been the greenhouse troglodyte of the Government. Even after the Prime Minister and the environment minister had accepted (at least in public) that climate change is real and potentially damaging, he continued to deny that there is a problem. MacFarlane has worked hand-in-glove with the fossil fuel lobby to sideline climate change. When the issue is unavoidable, he engages in policy window dressing in order to fool the Australian public into believing that the Government takes its responsibilities seriously…”

OK, now I can see how science fits into the industry portfolio.

Macfarlane’s mates get a free pass on polluting the planet, while science is muted and subservient to the needs of the fossil fuel industry.

Binders full of women, I mean women knocking at Cabinet’s door

In addition to this incumbent Prime Minister announced a ministry lineup which comprises of 95% men.

Memo to Australia: Afghanistan has more women in senior government positions than Australia.

Abbott sensed it may cause a perception issues stating:

“Nevertheless, there are some very good and talented women knocking on the door of the Cabinet and there are lots of good and talented women knocking on the door of the ministry.,”

Phew! Glad Mr. Abbott cleared up the impression he had a problem with women. 

Yep, the boys are well and truly back in town.

 

War on science to begin? Climate sceptic angling for science portfolio in Abbott government

We experienced a ominous precursor to the Australian summer this week.

Over 1200 firefighters battled 60 fires in New South Wales as temperatures reached the low 30’s. Sadly seven fire fighters were injured fighting the blazes and a number of homes were lost.

According to the NSW Rural Fire Service it was “unusual to have so many intense fires so close together”.

However over the past decades the Australian fire season has grown longer, beginning earlier and ending later – a direct consequence of a warming world.

As the planet heats, the Australian electorate saw fit to vote into office a party not merely opposed to the “carbon tax”, but riddled with sceptics.

One of the prime candidates to take on the science portfolio was the Liberal member for Indi, Sophie Mirabella. However it looks as though Mirabella will lose her seat to an independent, and thus not take on this role in the Abbott government.

Noted for her “caustic style”, Mirabella’s position on the science could at best be called “luke warm” as the blog No Fibs reports:

Asked about climate change at a Mansfield forum, Mirabella indicated her belief that the problem was largely caused by natural warming, but she conceded people were also having an impact.

[Note: The Age reports today it is over for Mirabella and she will lose her seat]

As the fate of Mirabella looks certain, another Liberal has put their hand up for the role: one Dr. Dennis Jensen.

In case there was any doubts about the Abbott government’s position on climate change it is worth noting that Jensen is a prominent climate sceptic. As the Sydney Morning Herald notes:

Dr Jensen has made headlines by questioning the scientific consensus that humans are contributing to global warming. Dr Jensen believes carbon dioxide is contributing somewhat to global temperatures, but not as much as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is suggesting. Moreover, Dr Jensen does not think governments should be taking urgent action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Jensen is also a fan of Lord Christopher Monckton, the climate sceptic who believes Obama’s birth certificate was faked and propagates the idea the UN and climate scientists are plotting to take over the world and establish a one-world-government:

The colourful Englishman, Lord Christopher Monckton, who toured Australia to debunk the “bogus science” of global warming, was closer to the mark, Dr Jensen suggested. 

“Most of the stuff [Lord Monckton] says is entirely reasonable,” Dr Jensen said. 

“Some of it I don’t agree with but on the whole a lot of what he says is in my view correct.”

Yes, because a science minister should be taking his views from a conspiracy theorist and someone known for fantasizing about secret plots.

Jensen makes no secret of the fact he rejects the scientific consensus. In a June 2013 blog entry on his website, Jensen dimisses the work of the scientific community:

Worse even than “pal review” is where editors and reviewers of a specific scientific predisposition will attempt to reject any paper with a contrary viewpoint. Phil Jones wrote of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report AR4 and of some peer-reviewed papers he did not agree with: “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!” This is quite stunning, and shows the potential for perversion of a process that even when operating without systemic bias has its problems.

Hopefully, this will give a bit of a better idea of the peer review process, and of some of the shortcomings of the process, and that caveat emptor exists even regarding peer-reviewed literature. Remember, the consensus view of the fraud of Piltdown Man as being the missing link was accepted science for decades.

Note the reference to Pltdown Man – a standard argument used by Creationists to discredit evolutioinary theory.

In a 2008 article in The Australian (where else) Jensen implied climate scientists acted like the mafia:

VESTED interests have hijacked the climate debate, and taken Australia’s future hostage. The ransom they demand? Simple agreement or, at the very least, compliance.

Voices of dissent face derision. Legitimate questions are met with ridicule. But with many of the squabbling forces of power in this country now apparently united in their enthusiasm for an emissions trading scheme, it is more important than ever that we go back and examine the basis of their campaigns.

Conspiracy theories, arguments used by creationists, contempt for the peer review process and scientists.

Yes, this is exactly the kind of person Australia must have to oversee the science portfolio.

Quote: “The earth is what we all have in common”

Earth_Common

Quote of the day from the American poet, activist and author Wendell Berry.

Berry has written extensively on politics, the environment and the disruptive impact of agribusiness on traditional values and communities in the United States. Many have called him a contemporary William Faulkner due to the power of his prose.

While I do not agree with all of Berry’s views, it is not possible to deny his powerful prose style and nuanced thinking on a range of issues.

One of Berry’s concepts is “solving for patterns”, outlined in his 1981 essay of the same name. While the essay makes extensive reference to solving problems inherent with contemporary agricultural practices, I think his approach to problem solving has broader application.

In essence: when devising solutions do not consider them in isolation, but try to address many issues and remain mindful of the impacts:

“A good solution improves the balances, symmetries, or harmonies within a pattern – it is a qualitative solution – rather than enlarging or complicating some part of a pattern at the expense or in neglect of the rest.”

And that:

“A good solution solves more than one problem, and it does not make new problems. I am talking about health as opposed to almost any cure, coherence of pattern as opposed to almost any solution produced piecemeal or in isolation.”

When one considers the challenge climate change presents, “solving for patterns” is a concept well worth exploring.

Image source: Ilya Genkin (Flicker)

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