A thread of hope

The following column was published in the Waikato Times on 1st December

Do we lament that the Copenhagen Conference is evidently not going to produce a binding global deal to tackle climate change?  Or can we take comfort from the likelihood that it will produce an agreement in principle and proceed to further legal negotiations with a deadline for their conclusion?  In other words a delay, not a failure.

The cruel reality is that President Obama, who needs no convincing as to the seriousness of the challenge, has not yet seen legislation from the Senate which will seal a US commitment to emissions reduction. It seems likely that he will see it, but not before Copenhagen and therefore not in time for the US to yet be fully confident of what it can offer to the global deal.

When one considers how for the eight years of the Bush-Cheney administration the US acted as an anti-scientific spoiler of international negotiations it may be understandable that less than a year later they are not yet quite ready for what they so long delayed. The complicated American system of government is not easily harnessed to the change of direction. The President has to carry Congress with him.

To counter disappointment it may be worth remembering the political progress that is apparent. The science of climate change is now overwhelming and widely accepted by world political leaders. They know that emissions of greenhouse gases by human agency must start to lessen almost immediately, drop substantially within the next decade, and continue to fall heavily as the century proceeds. If this doesn’t happen, the prospect for humanity is dire.  Obama, Brown, Sarkozy, Merkel, and many others say as much. Even Medvedev has recently sounded the alarm after years in which Russia seemed lukewarm on the issue.

And this has happened in spite of the organised forces of denial which continue to work feverishly on public perception to blunt the impact the science ought to have. We still see letters to the editor and opinion pieces claiming that temperature is going down, not up, that thousands of scientists disagree with their colleagues, that any changes are just naturally occurring variations, and so on.  None of it true, but well packaged and unceasing.

However although it has helped delay effective action for many years since it was first launched by vested corporate interests, denial of the science is no longer entertained by educated political leadership. That’s progress.

Of course it’s worth nothing if not translated into effective remedial measures. Politicians are notorious evaders but on a matter now accepted to be of such serious consequence there are surely enough among them who will push for adequate action. Copenhagen may not be the time when it is all stitched up, but legal agreements not too long afterwards would be acceptable.

The November meeting between President Obama and President Hu Jintao in China was encouraging.  These two powers are central to a global deal.  Without them it will not work. They are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases.  The fact that they are now talking and working together on the issue is of great significance.  Their meeting announced unexpected bi-lateral agreement on a variety of areas of practical cooperation including clean energy research, electric vehicles, an energy efficiency action plan, and a number of other quite specific matters. This is beyond sterile arguments about the respective responsibilities of developed and developing countries.  It’s affirmative joint action.

Their statement on the Copenhagen Conference was similarly positive, and carried no suggestion of drawing back from the task of finding a common legal agreement.

I don’t think we should surrender hope yet.

34 thoughts on “A thread of hope”

  1. “…the organised forces of denial which continue to work feverishly on public perception to blunt the impact the science ought to have. ”

    No the organised forces of catastrophism have done a much better job of that than I could ever dream of:
    “Britain’s University of East Anglia says the director of its prestigious Climatic Research Unit is stepping down pending an investigation into allegations that he overstated the case for man-made climate change” (AP)

  2. Steve, Phil Jones emails have no relevance to the overwhelming evidence of the work of numerous scientists in many fields that constitutes the body of climate science. I don’t know where you get your gleeful confidence from, but it’s not from the realm of the rational. The over-hyping of the emails is silly, and the excited conclusions you and your fellow denialists are drawing are as unfounded as your conclusions have always been. Unfortunately they have had influence in the public arena, something that one day may trouble rather than please you.

  3. [Snipped: Roger – I allowed you some freedom on the CRU/NIWA stuff, but that does not mean you can resume your old ways… Dewhurst’s Den remains alive and kicking. Go there with this stuff, please.]

  4. Bryan, further to your gloomy thoughts about Copenhagen you may like to address the implications on your position of Tony Abbott’s ascendancy. This for example…

    ““It’s hard to take climate alarmists all that seriously, though, when they’re as ferociously against the one proven technology that could reduce electricity emissions to zero, nuclear power, as they are in favour of urgent reduction in emissions. For many, reducing emissions is a means to achieving a political objective they could not otherwise gain.”

    That in a nutshell is why the cause of climate alarmism a la Al gore is doomed.

  5. Mikh, as Gareth has pointed out, there has been a significant move of opinion among people who before the recognition of the seriousness of global warming would have opposed nuclear power on environmental safety grounds, but are now prepared to contemplate it or even advocate it because climate change poses a far greater risk. If that’s a quote from Tony Abbott he’s well out of touch with environmental opinion as well as with the the seriousness of climate change.

    I don’t know why you mention Al Gore in this context. As I pointed out in my review of his book Our Choice he surveys nuclear power as an option – quite thoroughly in a chapter of its own – but thinks that it currently suffers cost problems by comparison with renewable energy sources. He certainly doesn’t reject it in principle.

    But perhaps your mention of Gore was just an expression of your fantasy that he represents an unwarranted alarmism. He doesn’t. He reflects the science faithfully.

  6. Mikh, I wouldn’t pin your denialist hopes on Tony Abbot…

    “Abbott – The Numbers Point to Grief

    This vote won’t resolve the Liberal Party conflict, it will only send it into a sequel. .. in the head to head there was 83 formal votes, with Abbott winning 42/41. Someone in that final contest voted informal…

    Fran Bailey was granted special leave from the meeting as she’s in Hospital in Victoria with some ear infection and couldn’t fly– however, Bailey wanted to put in a proxy vote but wasn’t allowed (there not being a capability for that apparently in the Liberal Party), yet she would have almost certainly voted for Turnbull.

    Next week, two new members enter Parliament – Kelly O’Dwyer from Higgins and Paul Fletcher from Bradfield, both almost certainly Turnbull supporters.

    If the vote was held at the end of next week rather than today, the result would almost certainly have been 44/42 in favour of Turnbull – where even if the goose that wrote “No” on the ballot paper managed to borrow a few extra neurons and cast a formal vote, it wouldn’t have mattered because of the margin created by these 3 extra Turnbull votes.

    Already, the moderates in the party are threatening complete dissent – the conflict in the Liberal party hasn’t been resolved, it has just started. This vote gave Abbott a win which he couldn’t have achieved a week later and every single one of the moderates know it.”


  7. Rob, I don’t have any “denialist hopes”. Just want the truth.

    Abbott is going to contest an Australian general election next year which will in effect, be a referendum on climate change, its extent, its causes and its remedy. The issue will get huge airing. This is Abbott’s position to date, which may or may not cheer you all up…

    “Abbott said he believed climate change was real and humans did make a contribution, but that the extent of that contribution and the measures needed were in dispute, as were the merits of an ETS. “We will have a strong and effective climate change policy, but one thing we are not going to do is damage Australia’s export industries, put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage against the world, and we are not going to have the conceit of thinking we can save the world on our own.”

    Very middle of the road, which will have a lot of electorate appeal, and puts hysterical climatastrophic (al la Al Gore) extremists on the back foot.

    Can’t wait…

  8. Cripes, why are you deniers so obsessed with Al Gore – he’s a centrist politician who was largely responsible for watering down the Kyoto Protocol back in the 90s!

    Have you never heard of James Lovelock, an eminent scientist who believes that we have already triggered a PETM-scale catastrophe that will cull 90% of the human race?


    As for Australians “saving the world on their own”, they might have more interest in saving THEMSELVES from the climate consequences of their coal exports, namely desertification, desiccation and bush fire barbeques en masse.


  9. Roger, your readiness to denigrate Al Gore is no doubt boundless. I had a look at the Washington Times article. It looks as if innuendo will serve your purposes adequately. This is apparently a promotion event for his book. 100 per cent of the book’s earnings are to be donated to the Alliance for Climate Protection, the non-profit organisation he chairs. I imagine it likely that any profit from the promotion event will be considered part of the book’s earnings. No investigation by the journalist, no background. But why bother with all that when there’s the opportunity for a sneer.

    Incidentally, since James Lovelock has been introduced into the thread it may be worth reporting what Lovelock says about Gore in his book The Vanishing Face of Gaia . In a couple of places: “American also redeems itself through the powerful messages from Al Gore, Jim Hansen and Steve Schneider.” and “It was not until 2004 that a few of us round the world, including Tim Flannery and Al Gore, came to the insight that climate change was more than an academic scientific project but instead a menacing reality, and one that threatened all of us.”

  10. Mikh, Abbott sounds remarkably like our own government’s statements. “We will have a strong and effective climate change policy, but one thing we are not going to do is damage Australia’s export industries, put ourselves at a competitive disadvantage against the world, and we are not going to have the conceit of thinking we can save the world on our own.” Exactly what Key and Smith have been saying so far (though for how much longer as international pressure builds remains to be seen) May I offer a paraphrase: “We will have a strong and effective climate change policy, but the one thing we are going to do is to ensure that it is neither strong nor effective.”

  11. “America(n) also redeems itself through the powerful messages from Al Gore, Jim Hansen and Steve Schneider.”

    All the above gentlemen characterised by their prolific use of fear, lies and overstatement. And it’s precisely those tactics that have relegated AGW to its position in public consciousness.

    The Australian election/referendum and the Copenhagen conference (and of course further revelations from the CRU leak) will put AGW even further back on the back burner. And of course the question of nuclear energy for Australia will be examined in depth. Feels like the beginning of the end of The Dark (green) Ages.

  12. Let’s not forget our own Dr. Bob Mann, lecturer in Environmental Studies at Auckland University, who was warning in the 80s that we had perhaps 40 years before the climate flipped to a new, less hospitable state.

  13. Is nuclear power the real answer here?

    Seems to me it would be a whole lot cheaper and less divisive to build a nuclear station to replace every existing coal-powered station when it comes to the end of its existing life. The “climate financing fund” could provide subsidies for a few, but once they are being built by the dozen (and the technology is constantly tweaked), the whole-of-life cost is almost certain to reduce to levels comparable with coal.

    Coal would start reducing immediately and could be gone entirely by about 2050. Should guarantee ppm don’t exceed 45o.

    1. I suggest you have a look at Barry Brook’s Brave New Climate where he’s been building a cogent case for new-gen nuclear to replace coal (very important in Australia, for example). On the other hand, nuclear is unlikely to be any sort of sensible option for NZ until n-power generation comes in much smaller units than at present.

  14. Mikh, whilst your Pollyanna-ish denials may comfort you personally, they have no effect on the energy spectra of CO2 and other GHG molecules.

    Do you reject quantum physics as well?

    If so, I’d enjoy your explanation of how the computer you are reading this at actually works – the power of prayer, perhaps?

  15. What a strange topsy-turvy world you inhabit Mikh. Distinguished sober scientists are engaged in a deliberate conspiracy of lies and fear. But thanks to the efforts of people like yourself the public has been rescued. It would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. Your confidence is appalling.

  16. “Distinguished sober scientists are engaged in a deliberate conspiracy of lies and fear…” Bryan, the men you admire are merely following Schneider’s instructions…

    “…to capture the public imagination,we have to offer up some scary scenarios,make simplified dramatic statements and little mention of any doubts one might have.Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective,and being honest.”

    A strange, topsy turvy world Bryan ? Scientists who you claim to admire like Schneider, have given up being honest, in an attempt to be “effective”. Phil Jones’ resignation is of course a good start. But of course, Schneider’s injunction to his compadres simply says the ends justify the means don’t they ?

  17. Mikh, you have a short memory, or perhaps you don’t pay attention to replies to your comments. You have already produced the quotefrom Schneider in a comment on my review of Schneider’s book. I replied to it there. I’ll copy my reply here to save you the trouble of looking it up.

    “Mikh, exactly the quote that has done the denialist rounds for 20 years. Like all the other deniers you leave out the final sentence “I hope that means being both.”

    The Discover article by journalist Jonathan Schnell followed an interview with Schneider. Schneider says in his book:
    “I tried to explain to Schell how to be both effective and honest: by using metaphors that simultaneously convey both urgency and uncertainty, and also by producing supporting documents of all types and lengths, from op-eds to full-length books. Unfortunately, this clarification is absent from the Discover article, and this omission opened the door for 20 years of subsequent distortions and attacks. Ironically, this is the consumate example of my grievance about problems arising from abbreviated versions of long interviews.” ”

    But don’t let this trouble you. Just go on producing the quote every time you see the name Schneider. Constant repetition is part of the armoury of denial.

  18. >From Watts up

    The unnamed hero of ‘Climategate’, after months of work gathering emails, computer code, and data, quietly sent a 61-megabyte compressed file from one of the university’s servers to an obscure public message-board on the internet, with a short covering note to the effect that the climate was too important to keep the material secret, and that the data from the University would be available for a short time only.
    He had caught the world’s politico-scientific establishment green-handed. Yet his first attempts to reveal the highly-profitable fraud and systematic corruption at the very heart of the UN’s climate panel and among the scientists most prominent in influencing it’s prejudiced and absurdly doom-laden reports had failed. He had made the mistake of sending the data-file to the mainstream news media, which had also profited for decades by fostering the “global warming” scare, and by generally denying anyone who disagreed with the official viewpoint any platform

    Someone might like to tell Renowden – who vents his spleen on the low lifes that hacked HADCRU files.

    1. I call BS on this – it’s obviously rubbish, the MSM don’t have standards any more.

      Well, at least we’re in agreement that the person who “hacked” the files (possibly an insider CCD sympathizer) is a low life.

    2. This attempt to paint the thief as a “hero” is risible. If it was an “inside job” it most certainly would not have been done in the manner described at microWatts. It is far more likely that someone who knows how to find their way in through typical server security systems did so, scraped as much data as they could, and then spent some time sorting through the stuff before posting it as a zip file elsewhere. Note that they first attempted to post the file at RealClimate, by hacking their servers. RC admins caught the hack in process and were able to stop it, but you have to be some kind of hacker to be able to do that sort of thing. In other words, the chances that this was an “inside job” look slim indeed.
      My guess — and it’s only that — is that the timing (the run up to Copenhagen) and the rapid response of the sceptic blogosphere (who all seem to have the read the mails and decided the same thing – it’s a fraud! ) make it far more likely that the break in was a part of a concerted PR attempt to make noise. Mud flinging is all they’ve got, so that’s what they did.
      You can defend that if you wish, but it makes you as morally and ethically bankrupt as the hackers.

  19. Roger, all the triumphant detail of your revelation is wasted on us. There is no highly profitable fraud and systematic corruption. Bluster away as much as you like, there is nothing in the emails which could possibly call into question the evidence that is now piling up, from all quarters, of the reality and danger of anthropogenic global warming. Have you no idea of how widespread that evidence has become? Heaven knows what your motivation is in denying it with such vehemence.

  20. On Sunday, I heard Tim Groser saying on National Radio that “the science on global warming was settled 20 years ago”. Cutting a bit of slack, I assume he might have meant since Rio in 1992.

    Is that right? If so, doesn’t it mean that a great deal of reliance was placed on the work of CRU in compiling and adjusting the historical instrumental records up to that time?

    1. The CRU temp record has no bearing on the science being settled. Basic physics establishes that more CO2 will warm the planet, we’ve been chucking out lots of CO2, and we observe the planet warming (other temp series, melting ice, phenological changes etc). The CRU email thefts are a sideshow, crude PR.

  21. Australis, AGW is a consequence of basic physics and chemistry that has been understood since the 60s, but I believe Groser was referring to the Toronto scientific conference in 1988.

    “The Toronto Conference attracted much publicity, and politicians at the highest level began to pay attention to greenhouse gases. It helped that the Conference was held during the summer of 1988, when exceptional heat and drought caused much public concern in the United States — the nation whose cooperation was indispensable for any effective agreement. But officials were also impressed by the insistent warnings of leading scientists. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher — trained as a chemist and one of the few prominent politicians able to fully understand her briefings by scientists — gave global warming official standing when she described it as a key issue in a September 1988 speech to the Royal Society.”


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