Fomenting unhappy mischief…

I usually stay out of the fray at NZ’s political blogs, but sometimes it’s impossible to resist a brief plunge into bracing waters. Yesterday, David Farrar at Kiwiblog posted approvingly about the impending launch of a movie called Not Evil, Just Wrong, apparently intended as a counter to Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. Here’s Farrar:

The film compares the consequences of the ban on DDT, with the cost of trying to ban carbon emissions. They talk about how Al Gore would have you believe the sea level will rise by 20 feet in the near future, when in fact the IPCC say this would be over millennia.

Here’s Ed Darrell:

The film is both evil and wrong. Errors just in the trailer:

1: Claims that Al Gore said sea levels will rise catastrophically, “in the very near future.” Not in his movie, not in his writings or speeches. Not true. That’s a simple misstatement of what Gore said, and Gore had the science right.

[plus eight more]

It’s sad to see Farrar giving credence to the DDT ban myth — something that’s been shown to be the product of a US tobacco-funded attack on the WHO in the late ’90s. It’s even sadder to see his mischaracterisation of the climate problem:

And again I agree the long-term trend is for warming, but the hysteria over how it is urgent to have cut emissions by 40% by 2020 or the planet is doomed, is just that. In fact by 2020 the planet may still be in a cooling phase.

The “cooling phase” thing is based on something a German modeller didn’t say at a conference a few weeks ago. Climate Crock Of The Week provides the full context (you can hear what Latif actually said), and Joe Romm interviews the man to get the truth. The whole “cooling for 20 years” thing is a beat-up by cranks. And 40%? That’s an IPCC AR4 recommendation…

But Farrar’s misunderstanding runs deeper:

As we get better technology, and gradually transition to energy sources that produce fewer emissions, our carbon emissions will reduce. But 2020 is not some date of no return.

Sadly, we passed the point of no return a long time ago. We are now committed to considerable warming — our current emissions trajectory is pointing us at 4ºC by 2060 — and unless we take rapid steps to reduce global emissions, staying under the 2ºC “guardrail” is already looking unlikely. The longer we leave cutting emissions, the steeper the cuts we will eventually have to make (and the more expensive they will have to be) if we are stay within reasonable temperature bounds. Far from being a counsel of moderation, Farrar is allowing his misconceptions to mislead us into greater danger.

Farrar is of course a National party stalwart, credited by some with being the premiere spinmeister for the present government. If this post were just the ill-conceived ramblings of a right-wing blogger, designed as a dog whistle summons to the crazies who are his commentariat, then it would be worth ignoring. But Farrar’s site is NZ’s top ranking blog, and his thinking looks suspiciously like a reflection of what’s going on in the National caucus. It’s the fallacy of the false middle, based on placing yourself in the middle of a debate you deem to be polarised, but where only one side has the facts right. And that’s not the nutters in Kiwiblog’s comments calling for those who want action on climate change to be “hung, drawn and quartered”.

Take a giant step

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change, established to advise the British government on emissions targets and to report to Parliament on the progress being made towards achieving those targets, has just published its first annual report: Meeting Carbon Budgets – the need for a step change. It warns that the current rate of emissions reductions, running at about 1% per year, needs to be increased to 2% and perhaps 3% if the UK is to hit its relatively ambitious 34% emissions cut by 2020. Here’s how the Guardian reports it:

A green and pleasant land, with millions of electric cars powered from wind turbines and travelling between super-cosy homes and offices: that is the vision for Britain in 2020 set out today by the government’s climate watchdog.

That cleaner, greener country, playing its full part in averting disastrous global warming, is both possible and affordable, says the Climate Change Committee – but only if the government acts immediately to implement radical policies on energy efficiency and low carbon technologies, as well as dealing with the threat of the recession to carbon trading schemes.

The Times is more concerned with the suggestion that motoring taxes could be increased, but Richard Black at the BBC provides a good overview.

The report is well worth a read, not because the policy suggestions are directly relevant to NZ’s position (though encouraging household energy efficiency, electric vehicles and boosting renewables should be part of what we do), but because the Committee itself is a policy body that New Zealand sorely needs. Instead of arguing in parliamentary committee rooms about the existence of warming, this body takes the best scientific advice and applies it to determine credible policy objectives. That’s one reason why Britain’s current targets are amongst the most aggressive in the developed world. But the committee does much more: it reports on the progress being made, and establishes a “reporting to budget” process that would be familiar to anyone who has managed anything other than the smallest of businesses. And as this first report shows, if it looks like the budget forecasts are going to be missed, they are not afraid to recommend policy initiatives.

To me, that looks like a rational way to approach the issue. What a pity that instead NZ has leaders who are unwilling to lead, no effective mechanism for emissions reductions, and a government in thrall to big emitters. Climate policy needs to be made on the basis of rational analysis, not National’s paralysis.

[Taj Mahal]

Unreliable witness

NZETS.jpgDuring my appearance before the ETS Review committee earlier this month I was asked by committee chairperson Peter Dunne to comment on the evidence presented by the submitters who appeared immediately before me — McCabe Environmental Services, being one Bruce McCabe and Kathleen Ryan-McCabe. ACT member John Boscawen was clearly wondering how two sets of evidence could present such diametrically opposed interpretations of the basic facts.

The committee secretariat were kind enough to provide me with a recording of the McCabe’s oral evidence, as well as their written submission. My comments on the MEC submission were delivered to the committee on April 22nd, and are now available on the parliamentary web site here (direct link to PDF). The McCabe’s evidence is here. Not to put too fine a point on it, the MEC evidence is wrong in just about every material respect, choosing as they did to rely on Fred Singer’s Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change booklet as their primary source. You’ll find chapter and verse in my evidence, but I also took the opportunity to provide the committee with a quick list of arguments that signal the presence of cranks arguing for inaction:

  • Cooling since 1998, 2001, 2005, etc
  • There is no correlation between CO2 and temperature…
  • Climate models cannot forecast the future/are unvalidated…
  • Future warming from CO2 will be tiny/the greenhouse effect doesn’t work the way the IPCC thinks it does.
  • The hockey stick is broken.
  • The sun/sunspots/cosmic rays are the real cause.
  • “There is no consensus” or “The science is not settled”.
  • Any mention of Al Gore.

I leave it as an exercise for the reader to see how Bob Carter’s evidence (given today) stacks up against that list…

[PS: At the recent European Geophysical Union meeting Fred Singer’ announced his NIPCC is not yet dead. Apparently there’s an 800 page report due this year. Must be costing Heartland a fortune…]