Volume LV Number 5
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For many years now, our media outlets have been awash with commentary about dangerous human-caused global warming. The coverage tends to move in spasms relating to events such as meetings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or, as at present, to government efforts to introduce penal legislation against carbon dioxide emissions in the vain belief that this will “stop global warming”.
Given that carbon dioxide is indeed a greenhouse gas (albeit a mild and diminishingly effective one at currently increasing levels of atmospheric concentration), and that some human-caused emissions accrue in the atmosphere, the question of dangerous warming was a good one to raise back in the late 1980s. Since then, with the formation of the IPCC, and a parallel huge expansion of research and consultancy money into climate studies, energy studies and climate policy, an intensive effort has been made to identify and measure the human signature in the global temperature record at a cost that probably exceeds $100 billion. And, as Kevin Rudd might put it, “You know what? No such signature has been able to be isolated and measured.”
That, of course, doesn’t mean that humans have no effect on global temperature, because we know that carbon dioxide is a mild greenhouse gas, and we can also measure the local temperature effects of human activity, which are both warming (from the urban heat island effect) and cooling (due to other land-use change, including irrigation). Sum these effects all over the world and obviously there must be a global signal; that we can’t identify and measure it indicates that the signal is so small that it is lost in the noise of natural climate variation.
Twenty-five years on, therefore, we have answered the question, “Are human carbon dioxide emissions causing dangerous global warming”, and the answer is “No”; but strangely that answer causes environmental activists and their supporters, including apparently many scientists, to develop the disease known as deaf ear.
In such circumstances, how is it possible that hypothetical dangerous warming remains one of the most potent political issues in the world, and certainly so in Australia at the moment?
The answer is, first, that a significant part of that $100 billion was spent encouraging virtually every lobby and interest group in Western societies to invent ways in which they could benefit from global warming alarmism—and none more so than the numerous climate research groups that cluster around the supercomputer laboratories, spawning endless virtual realities of the climate world as it might, or might not, be in a hundred years time. (One thing is known for certain about these computer models, and it is that they are wrong as tested against the last twenty years of elapsed global temperature.) Second, for the last twenty years environmental policies, such as being seen to “do something” about climate change, have been a critical currency with which to buy swinging, middle-ground votes in marginal electorates; strenuously and persistently egged on by large and unaccountable environmental NGOs, and by business and climate research group interests, global warming policy measures have thus achieved a remarkable and powerful political resonance.
Through the years, as public discussion of the global warming issue has passed from being dominantly about the relevant science to being instead a happy hunting ground for rent seekers and social engineers, the issue has become an almost exclusively political one. It appears that the only science that now counts is of the postmodern variety—which is to say the “science” of the IPCC, in which consensus opinion (a scientific abhorrence), statistical chicanery and computer fantasising dominate over traditional empirical analysis. Public discussion of global warming in Australia has thereby become dominated by the arts of politics, which is to say spin and repetition towards the end of establishing the propaganda point of the day. This pathology is well exemplified by the remarkably weak and intellectually dishonest government strategy paper that leaked in late March, just after it had been provided to party members as an aid to their convincing the public of the need for a carbon dioxide tax.
Which brings us to the second part of this article, and the fact that, as a result of the strategy paper, Australian press coverage of global warming policy over the last two months has comprised the endless repetition of numerous facile and utterly unconvincing sound-bites, designed with no other end in mind than propaganda.
Each of the following twelve statements reproduces verbatim, or almost verbatim, statements made recently by Australian government leaders, and repeated by their supporters in the media and elsewhere. The persons making these arguments might be termed (kindly) climate-concerned citizens or (less kindly, but accurately) as global warming alarmists.
Most of the statements, self-evidently, were crafted as slogans, and all conform to the obnoxious and dishonest practice of political spin—in which, of course, the citizens of Australia have been awash for many years. The statements also depend heavily upon corrupt wordsmithing with propaganda intent, a technique that international environmental lobbyists are both brilliant at and relentless in practising.
The following arguments, then, are the main reasons given by the government in justification for their intended new tax on carbon dioxide. As we will see, individually and severally these arguments are without merit.
1. “We must address carbon [sic] pollution [sic] by introducing a carbon [sic] tax.”
The argument is not about carbon nor a carbon tax, but rather about carbon dioxide emissions and a carbon dioxide tax, to be levied on the fuel and energy sources that power the Australian economy.
Under clean air legislation, the aerosols emitted from power stations, such as carbon (soot), nitrous oxides and sulphur dioxide, have been scrubbed at source in industrialised OECD nations for several decades. Similar scrubbing needs to be applied in the rapidly industrialising countries as soon as possible, to help reduce their health-damaging levels of air pollution. Taxing beneficial carbon dioxide emissions will contribute nothing towards reducing these genuine pollutants.
Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but a natural and vital trace gas in Earth’s atmosphere, an environmental benefit without which our planetary ecosystems could not survive. Increasing carbon dioxide makes many plants grow faster and better, and helps to green the planet.
2. “We need to link much more closely with the climate emergency.”
There is no “climate emergency”; the term is a deliberate lie. Global average temperature at the end of the twentieth century fell well within the bounds of natural climate variation, and was in no way unusually warm, or cold, in geological terms.
Earth’s temperature is currently cooling slightly, ocean heat is declining, global sea-level rise has not accelerated (although the climate models predict that it should) and tropical storm energy is at a thirty-year low. Furthermore, no evidence exists that Australian climatic phenomena—including droughts, floods, storms, heat waves and snowstorms—differ now in intensity or frequency from their natural historical and geological patterns of strong annual and multi-decadal variability; and the Great Barrier Reef is in fine fettle.
3. “Australia is the largest per capita emitter of carbon dioxide.”
Another untrue statement. Australia emits 18 tonnes per capita of carbon dioxide; according to the UN Human Development Report, countries with higher emissions include the USA (19 tonnes), Luxembourg (24.5 tonnes), Kuwait (31.2 tonnes), the UAE (32.8 tonnes) and Qatar (56.2 tonnes).
That Australia’s emissions are higher than those of some other countries is because we have cheap coal, little hydro-electric potential and have banned nuclear power.
Historically low, but now rapidly escalating, energy costs have allowed Australia, unlike other developed countries, to export products like aluminium (whose production incorporates high carbon dioxide emissions) at a competitive price, thus adding strength to our economy. Taxing the emissions of such companies will cause them to move offshore, or destroy them.
4. “Putting a price on carbon [sic] will punish the big polluters [sic].”
A price on carbon dioxide will impose a deliberate financial penalty on all energy users, but especially energy-intensive industries. These imaginary “big polluters” are part of the bedrock of the Australian economy. Any cost impost on them will be passed straight down to consumers.
It is the consumers of all products who will ultimately pay, not the industrialists or their shareholders.
5. “Putting a price on carbon [sic] is the right thing to do; it’s in our nation’s interest.”
The greatest competitive advantage of the Australian economy is cheap energy generated by coal-fired power stations.
To levy an unnecessary tax on this energy source is economic vandalism that will destroy jobs and reduce living standards for all Australians.
6. “We will protect existing jobs while creating new business investment and clean energy jobs.”
The whole point of a carbon dioxide tax is to force coal-fired power stations out of existence. No amount of subsidy will “protect” the jobs of the workers involved, and business investment will decline because Australia will be perceived as a sovereign risk.
It has been shown that in Spain, 2.2 conventional jobs are destroyed for every new job created in the alternative energy industry, at a unit cost of about US$774,000 a job. In a comparable UK study the figures were even worse, with the destruction of 3.7 conventional jobs for every new job.
7. “Putting a price on carbon [sic] will result in lower carbon dioxide emissions.”
Economists know well that an increase in price of some essential things causes little reduction in usage. This is true for both energy (power) and petrol, two commodities that will be particularly hit by a tax on carbon dioxide emissions.
Norway has levied a tax on carbon dioxide since the early 1990s which has added to the already high cost of living there, and despite which a 15 per cent increase in emissions has occurred.
At its mooted introductory level of $20 to $30 per tonne, a carbon dioxide tax is unlikely to effect any reduction in emissions. As the price is ratcheted up, as is intended, to the point at which energy-intensive industry is forced offshore, Australian emissions will decline, as will Australia’s standard of living, but world emissions will remain the same. Such a policy is senseless.
8. “Other countries are taking action, even China and India. We must catch up with the rest of the world, who are already taxing carbon dioxide emissions.”
They are not. All hope of a global agreement on emissions reduction has collapsed with the failure of the Copenhagen and Cancun climate meetings. The world’s largest emitters (USA and China) have made it crystal clear that they will not introduce carbon dioxide taxes or emissions trading. The Chicago Climate Exchange has collapsed, and chaos and deep corruption currently infest the European exchange. Though a dozen US states have previously committed to anti-carbon-dioxide schemes, some of those (such as New Hampshire and New Mexico) are now withdrawing.
Contrary to assertions, neither China nor India is taking substantive action specifically to mitigate their emissions level, and the carbon tax claimed for India is actually an environmental levy on coal mining of about $1 per tonne. This is similar to long-standing levies faced by coal mining in Australia, where, in addition, the Mandatory Renewable Energy Tariff (MRET) requires that 20 per cent of electricity is to be generated by renewables by 2020. Because renewable sources such as wind and solar are uncompetitive, by 2020 the MRET will impose a tax equivalent to $14 per tonne of carbon dioxide emitted.
Playing “follow the leader” is not a good idea when the main leader (the EU) has a sclerotic economy characterised by lack of employment and the flight of manufacturers overseas, and when large industrialising countries intend to take no action.
9. “Australia should show leadership, by setting an example that other countries will follow.”
Self-delusion doesn’t come any stronger than this.
For Australia to introduce a carbon dioxide tax ahead of the large emitting nations would be to expose our whole economy to competitive and economic disadvantage for no gain whatsoever. It would comprise an act of economic stupidity.
10. “We must act, and the earlier we act on climate change the less painful it will be.”
The issue at hand is global warming, not the catch-all, deliberately ambiguous term “climate change”.
Trying to prevent hypothetical “dangerous” warming by taxing carbon dioxide emissions will be ineffectual, and is all pain for no gain.
11. “The cost of action on carbon [sic] pollution [sic] is less than the cost of inaction.”
This statement is fraudulent. Implementing a carbon dioxide tax will carry large costs for workers and consumers, but bring no measurable cooling in temperature for many hundreds of years, if then.
For Australia, the total cost for a family of four of implementing a carbon dioxide tax is likely to exceed $2000 a year*—whereas eliminating even all of Australia’s emissions might prevent planetary warming of only about 0.01 degree by 2100.
*Assuming a tax rate of $25 a tonne of carbon dioxide, and Australia’s emissions being 550 million tonnes, indicates a total cost of $13.8 billion. Spread across a population of 22 million persons, that equates to $627 per person per year.
12. “There is no do-nothing option in tackling climate change.”
However, it is also the case that there is no demonstrated problem of “dangerous” global warming. Instead, Australia continues to face many self-evident problems of natural climate change and hazardous natural climate events. A national climate policy is clearly needed to address these issues.
The appropriate, cost-effective policy to deal with Victorian bushfires, Queensland floods, droughts, northern Australian cyclones and long-term cooling or warming trends (whether natural or human-caused) is the same. It is to prepare carefully for, and efficaciously deal with, and adapt to, all such events and trends, as and when they happen. Spending billions of dollars on expensive and ineffectual carbon dioxide taxes serves only to reduce our wealth and our capacity to address these genuine problems.
Summing up, it is a blight on Australian society that an incumbent government, and the great majority of media reporters and commentators, continue to propagate the twelve scientific and social inanities discussed in this article in an uncritical fashion. The current discourse on global warming is a frightening example of how political spin and postmodern argumentation have now come to dominate public discussion of all matters, even scientific ones.
Note: To maintain readability, the statements of fact made in this article are not referenced to source in detail. Persons wishing to check their validity should in the first instance consult my book Climate: The Counter Consensus, or the following websites:
Evans, D., 2011. “Carbon tax and temperature. By how much will a carbon dioxide tax reduce Australia’s temperature?” http://joannenova.com.au/2011/03/carbon-tax-australia-welcome-to-futility-island
International Climate Science Coalition, www.climatescienceinternational.org
Liljegren, Lucia, 2011 (Feb. 19). HadCrut January Anomaly: 0.194C. The Blackboard. http://rankexploits.com/musings/2011/hadcrut-january-anomaly-0-194c
Non-governmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), www.nipccreport.org
The Carbon Sense Coalition, http://carbon-sense.com
Watts Up With That, http://wattsupwiththat.com
Bob Carter’s book Climate: The Counter Consensus was published in England last year by Stacey International in its Independent Thinkers series.
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