Monthly Archives: June 2008

Sea level rising by ‘paddling’ levels over a century


 updat­ed:The TV news in Mel­bourne tonight leads with alarm­ing claims about the poten­tial con­se­quences of sea-lev­el ris­es. The full ABC online report quotes “a paper pub­lished today in Nature” that I can’t find on the Nature web­site. But the quot­ed data don’t seem all that wor­ry­ing: a rise of 0.52mm 1.5mm per year over 42 years to 2003—which adds up to a total rise of some­thing less than an inch just over two inch­es. [Trust the ABC to get the sto­ry wrong: here’s an accu­rate account of the study.]

Aids campaign a moral panic

It is time to recog­nise that the Aids scare was one of the most dis­tort­ed, duplic­i­tous and cyn­i­cal pub­lic health pan­ics of the past 30 years. Instead of being treat­ed as a sex­u­al­ly trans­mit­ted dis­ease that affect­ed cer­tain high-risk com­mu­ni­ties, and which should be vocif­er­ous­ly [sic, ‘vig­or­ous­ly’?] tack­led by the med­ical author­i­ties, the ‘war against Aids’ was turned into moral cru­sade.”  extract from: Bren­dan O’Neill,
Sound famil­iar?

Climate Change, Trade and Competitiveness

The papers from a recent Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion con­fer­ence on the trade, pro­duc­tion and ‘com­pet­i­tive­ness’ impacts of emis­sions con­trols and bor­der-tax adjust­ments are now avail­able (thanks to Simon Lester for the point­er). There’s some evi­dence that bor­der-tax adjust­ments relat­ed to ‘car­bon tax­es’ (at fea­si­ble rates) would be more trou­ble to admin­is­ter and col­lect than they’d be worth.

The empricist’s telescope

Galileo sketch by Ottavio Leoni (1578-1630)

E pur si muove”. It seems there’s no proof that Galileo ever said this (“And yet…it [the earth] moves, after all”).

But it’s one of those sto­ries that should be true. Dragged before the Inqui­si­tion, Galileo was forced to recant his appar­ent dis­sent from the “set­tled sci­ence” of the unmov­ing earth and the orbit­ing sun. If he didn’t mut­ter this famous phrase after his recan­ta­tion, then he should have. It epit­o­mizes his con­tri­bu­tion to one of West­ern Europe’s great­est intel­lec­tu­al legacies—the sci­en­tif­ic method.

Science, dogma and dissent: Ross Garnaut’s Heinz Arndt lecture

What a dis­ap­point­ment.

I hoped that Prof. Gar­naut would use his Heinz Arndt Lec­ture to describe the bal­ance he intend­ed to strike in his rec­om­men­da­tions between evi­dence for risky cli­mate change and a grow­ing body of evi­dence that the risks are low to mod­er­ate (at most). Giv­en his well-known views, I expect­ed to find the bal­ance tilt­ed in favor of the for­mer but I hoped to find that it would be mod­er­at­ed by recog­ni­tion of the lat­ter. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Prof. Gar­naut paid no atten­tion to any sci­en­tif­ic facts and made no attempt to strike a bal­anced risk assess­ment.

Instead, what real­ly struck me was what the speech implied about the reli­gious nature of Prof. Garnaut’s own adher­ence to the ‘cli­mate-alarm’ view.

A ‘secret’ copyright treaty

In Feb­ru­ary this year, the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment joined nego­ti­a­tions with a num­ber of oth­er devel­oped economies on a pro­posed ACTA (Anti-Coun­ter­feit­ing Trade Agree­ment). The “negotiations”—if that’s what they are, they seem more like a draft­ing convention—are being con­duct­ed behind closed doors in Gene­va. There has been lit­tle infor­ma­tion from the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment on the ben­e­fits for Aus­tralia of an ACTA or on its poten­tial pro­vi­sions oth­er than this back­ground paper on the web­site of the Depart­ment of For­eign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Nor has any infor­ma­tion been offered on sub­mis­sions that Aus­tralia might have made to the par­ties.

I think the process of cre­at­ing this treaty is like­ly to be harm­ful to the inter­na­tion­al trad­ing sys­tem. As to it’s content—who knows? Spec­u­la­tion tends to plau­si­ble sug­ges­tions of intru­sive, expen­sive, over­bear­ing enforce­ment. The ratio­nale for the treaty, how­ev­er, is implau­si­ble (see below). There is every rea­son to think that the ACTA pro­pos­al is being dri­ven by copy­right zealots who have no inter­est in the pub­lic inter­est bal­ance that each juris­dic­tion express­es in its copy­right laws. Their pur­suit of glob­al copy­right stan­dards and enforce­ment is like­ly to be moti­vat­ed by the exces­sive returns that they achieved—or at least, expect­ed—from the WTO’s 1994 TRIPS agree­ment.

Real food price below historic high

click for larger imageThe doc­u­ments for the FAO Con­fer­ence on Food Secu­ri­ty show that real food prices (deflat­ed by the index of man­u­fac­tures exports) have spiked but are still some way below their peak in the 1970’s.