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.