Fisking the Guardian on climate change

When the plogosphere (political blogosphere) was first kicking off in Australia (nearly 10 years ago) one common method of expression was the “fisking” where you include somebody else’s article and intersperse it with your own response. That seems to have gone out of fashion… but being the retro sort of guy I am I thought I’d bring back the fisk in response to the recent “common editorial” coordinated by the Guardian and published in 56 newspapers in 45 countries.

Unless we combine to take decisive action, climate change will ravage our planet, and with it our prosperity and security. The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation.

This is simply untrue. There is good science to suggest that humans are contributing to a warming planet, but there is very little evidence to suggest that our prosperity or security will be “ravaged”. There have been only 14 peer-reviewed studies of the consequences of warming, and they mostly find an impact of -1 or -2% of world GDP in about 100 years time. Of course, the world grows by about the same amount every year. So the “ravaging” is actually just the equivalent of a one-year recession. How under-whelming.

Even the Stern Review and the Garnaut Review (not peer reviewed, and significant outliers compared to the peer-review literature) confirm that humanity will be more prosperous in the future, even with no climate policy.

So the article is starting with blatant fear-mongering and denial of reality.

Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting and last year’s inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc.

The facts have always been speaking, but unlike the alarmists the facts have not been shrieking like scared teenagers watching a horror film. Yes, the last few decades have been warm. There was a noticeable warming trend between (roughly) 1970 and 2000… and then a plateau. That has lead to some ice melting, but there is nothing particularly scary about that.

But the amazing part of the above comment is the reference to high food prices. One reason for those higher food prices is that the climate alarmists have convinced some countries to start turning their food into bio-fuel. That reduced the supply of food, which increased the price of food.

In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage. Yet so far the world’s response has been feeble and half-hearted.

Note the wording: “how little time”. No bias there.

Climate change has been caused over centuries, has consequences that will endure for all time and our prospects of taming it will be determined in the next 14 days.

Prospects for “taming” the climate? What amazing arrogance.

We call on the representatives of the 192 countries gathered in Copenhagen not to hesitate, not to fall into dispute, not to blame each other but to seize opportunity from the greatest modern failure of politics.

Oh, well since you asked so nicely. It would be interesting to know if the authors actually think there is a chance of success at Copenhagen (a triumph of hope over reality) or whether their primary goal is just to make themselves look like humanitarians. The simple fact is that the developing countries will not sacrifice their economic growth in the name of greenie sensitivities.

The science is complex but the facts are clear. The world needs to take steps to limit temperature rises to 2C, an aim that will require global emissions to peak and begin falling within the next 5-10 years.

If they were interested in facts, then they would show the benefit-cost analysis of their proposed policies. If they were interested in facts they would note that rich countries tend to cope better with climate change because they have a more diverse and flexible economy… and consequently a key response to climate change should be helping countries to get richer, not asking them to slow down their economic growth.

A bigger rise of 3-4C — the smallest increase we can prudently expect to follow inaction — would parch continents, turning farmland into desert. Half of all species could become extinct, untold millions of people would be displaced, whole nations drowned by the sea.

Hyperbole much? This is fear-mongering of the worst sort, up there with the Dubya neo-con terrorist fear-mongering. First, the 2007 IPCC report suggests likely warming of between 2-4C… so saying that 3-4C is the minimum is not an accurate reflection of the “consensus”. Second, they totally forget to mention any potential benefits from warming, despite the known fact that some areas will benefit. Third, they ignore the fact that climate changes happen over a long period of time, which allows a long time for adaption. Humans are innovative animals. Forth, by “inaction” the fear-mongers want you to believe that we will not see a natural development of technology. While I don’t know what the future technology will be, the assumption of “no technology change” is a very poor starting assumption.

The controversy over emails by British researchers that suggest they tried to suppress inconvenient data has muddied the waters but failed to dent the mass of evidence on which these predictions are based.

The “mass” of evidence? No. There is a mass of evidence to explain the warming of 1970-2000, which indicates the contribution of human greenhouse gas emissions. But there is NOT a “mass” of evidence regarding the future. There are models. The models are an imperfect representation of a world that we understand imperfectly. They are a useful tool for predicting the future and I am comfortable with their predictions, but as all good modellers know, you shouldn’t over-state your certainty when there are so many uncertain variables at play.

As for the “climategate” e-mails… they do not disprove global warming, but they do suggest that some scientists aren’t playing fair. In a debate where one side often says “trust them, they’re scientists”, anything that decreases trust is relevant.

Few believe that Copenhagen can any longer produce a fully polished treaty; real progress towards one could only begin with the arrival of President Obama in the White House and the reversal of years of US obstructionism. Even now the world finds itself at the mercy of American domestic politics, for the president cannot fully commit to the action required until the US Congress has done so.

Do I sense an instinctive anti-Americanism here? Sure, America makes mistakes and it’s good to have the freedom to criticise people & countries when they make mistakes. But where is the criticism of China and India and the other developing countries who are less likely than America to join a binding treaty?

But the politicians in Copenhagen can and must agree the essential elements of a fair and effective deal and, crucially, a firm timetable for turning it into a treaty. Next June’s UN climate meeting in Bonn should be their deadline. As one negotiator put it: “We can go into extra time but we can’t afford a replay.”

Oh no. You can’t do that. You see… K-Rudd has told us that delay is the same as denial.

At the deal’s heart must be a settlement between the rich world and the developing world covering how the burden of fighting climate change will be divided — and how we will share a newly precious resource: the trillion or so tonnes of carbon that we can emit before the mercury rises to dangerous levels.

Yes, that is the problem. And it’s likely to be an insoluble problem. So instead of moralising and threatening to waste billions of other people’s money, why don’t you alarmist greenies set up an NGO dedicated to funding innovative new technologies and offering multi-million dollar prizes to people who achieve technological breakthroughs.

It is unlikely that developing countries are going to accept lower growth. They certainly shouldn’t: the benefits from economic growth are greater than the benefits from emissions reductions. A recent CATO study suggested that if India had started their economic reforms 10 years earlier then the resulting economic growth would have saved 15 million children’s lives and 109 million more people would now be out of absolute poverty. To elevate self-righteous green moralising above the value of those lives may look trendy and progressive, but it is immoral.

Rich nations like to point to the arithmetic truth that there can be no solution until developing giants such as China take more radical steps than they have so far. But the rich world is responsible for most of the accumulated carbon in the atmosphere – three-quarters of all carbon dioxide emitted since 1850. It must now take a lead, and every developed country must commit to deep cuts which will reduce their emissions within a decade to very substantially less than their 1990 level.

Let’s be clear. This paragraph admits that action by developed countries is pointless without the action of developing countries. So the benefits would be zero. But nevertheless, these self-appointed moral elites insist that the developed world take costly action, to compensate for past sins. If they were honestly interested in good policy, they would provide benefit-cost analysis of their proposed schemes.

Developing countries can point out they did not cause the bulk of the problem, and also that the poorest regions of the world will be hardest hit. But they will increasingly contribute to warming, and must thus pledge meaningful and quantifiable action of their own. Though both fell short of what some had hoped for, the recent commitments to emissions targets by the world’s biggest polluters, the United States and China, were important steps in the right direction.

Fluff words.

Social justice demands that the industrialised world digs deep into its pockets and pledges cash to help poorer countries adapt to climate change, and clean technologies to enable them to grow economically without growing their emissions. The architecture of a future treaty must also be pinned down – with rigorous multilateral monitoring, fair rewards for protecting forests, and the credible assessment of “exported emissions” so that the burden can eventually be more equitably shared between those who produce polluting products and those who consume them. And fairness requires that the burden placed on individual developed countries should take into account their ability to bear it; for instance newer EU members, often much poorer than “old Europe”, must not suffer more than their richer partners.

Massive aid payments from the rich countries. International bureaucracy. What’s not to love. There is no need to fear this sort of stupidity, because America will never accept the massive aid burden, and the developing world will never accept the international monitoring.

The transformation will be costly, but many times less than the bill for bailing out global finance — and far less costly than the consequences of doing nothing.

Well, we shouldn’t have bailed out Wall Street either, but that’s a different story.

Doing nothing will likely cost the equivalent of a couple of percentage points of growth in the future. Doing what the green alarmists want will likely cost more, and will kick in sooner. All the alarmists can do is assert otherwise. They can’t point to any peer-reviewed literature backing up their claim, because there isn’t any.

Many of us, particularly in the developed world, will have to change our lifestyles. The era of flights that cost less than the taxi ride to the airport is drawing to a close. We will have to shop, eat and travel more intelligently. We will have to pay more for our energy, and use less of it.

If you want taxi rides to be cheaper than flights, then deregulate the taxi industry.

At least the green alarmists admit that they’re trying to undermine modern lifestyles. But stupidly, their solutions won’t even work. There is only one long-term sustainable solution to greenhouse emisions, and that is technological advancement. No amount of changed consumer behaviour (other than abandoning modern industrial life) will achieve their aims.

But the shift to a low-carbon society holds out the prospect of more opportunity than sacrifice. Already some countries have recognized that embracing the transformation can bring growth, jobs and better quality lives. The flow of capital tells its own story: last year for the first time more was invested in renewable forms of energy than producing electricity from fossil fuels.

Broken-window fallacy. This argument was lost 200 years ago… but it keeps coming back. Yes, if we banned cars then there would be an opportunity in the “horse & buggy industry”. But the total benefit to society is lower. As the evidence from Spain has shown, each “green job” has cost over 2.2 normal jobs. Despite the absurd socialist ramblings of economic irrationalist, not a single study has ever shown that climate policy will increase growth or jobs.

Kicking our carbon habit within a few short decades will require a feat of engineering and innovation to match anything in our history. But whereas putting a man on the moon or splitting the atom were born of conflict and competition, the coming carbon race must be driven by a collaborative effort to achieve collective salvation.

Our “salvation” eh? There’s your religious angle right there. The “end times” are upon us. Be scared little children… and believe in green salvation or you’re going to be “ravaged” in hell.

Overcoming climate change will take a triumph of optimism over pessimism, of vision over short-sightedness, of what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature”. It is in that spirit that 56 newspapers from around the world have united behind this editorial. If we, with such different national and political perspectives, can agree on what must be done then surely our leaders can too.

If 50 comfortably wealthy leftists scribblers can agree to call for vague fluffy goodness, then surely all the problems of the world are coming to an end. Kum-ba-ya my lord… kum-ba-ya…

8 thoughts on “Fisking the Guardian on climate change

  1. There is good science to suggest that humans are contributing to a warming planet, but there is very little evidence to suggest that our prosperity or security will be “ravaged”. There have been only 14 peer-reviewed studies of the consequences of warming, and they mostly find an impact of -1 or -2% of world GDP in about 100 years time. Of course, the world grows by about the same amount every year. So the “ravaging” is actually just the equivalent of a one-year recession. How under-whelming.

    Even the Stern Review and the Garnaut Review (not peer reviewed, and significant outliers compared to the peer-review literature) confirm that humanity will be more prosperous in the future, even with no climate policy.

    This is very interesting. Especially the claim that only 14 peer reviewed studies have been done on the consequences of climate change. I presume that statement is limited to “economic” consequences. Surely there have been a lot looking at ecological consequences.

  2. Terje — forteen studies looking at the total consequences.

    And when you say “limited” to economic consequences, that seems to imply it would miss something. Benefit-cost analysis done by economists includes the environmental and social impacts.

  3. John – I figured there would be peer reviewed papers on topics such as the impact of global warming on the behaviour of frog breeding. Such a review would not generally be considered to be about economic consequences. Are you sure there are only 14? Can you list them?

  4. John

    excellent piece.

    Greenery is just socialism (multinationalism, an overbearing bureaucracy, excessive regulation, telling people how to live their lives, trust us we’re from the govt) mixed with a dash of religion (this ‘end of days’ nonsense) with a liberal sprinkling of pessimism (we’re all doomed).

  5. Thanks pommy… look forward to see you back posting when you have some time. 🙂

    Terje — I can list a few, but the 14 reference comes from Richard Tol, who is one of the experts in the field.

  6. John – i will do very shortly . have been working like a dog this year trying to build up a business despite the govt’s best efforts to stop me.

    have just finished reading Peter Saunders’ first attempt at a novel (Versailles Memorandum) – will write a review of it here

  7. Thanks John. Do you have a link to a media article or some other webpage where Richard Tol makes the claim.

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