Why Australia should not adopt an ETS

Although the Government sometimes portrays the proposed ETS tax as having a minor impact on the economy, the entire point of the ETS is to squeeze current production and consumption; there can not be any other way for it to work. The Secretary of the Treasury, in a panglossian moment, has implausibly compared the impact to that of the structural adjustments during the recession of the late 1980s; except that those reforms comprised a reduction in taxes (tariffs) while this law will impose a swinging new tax as the economy recovers.

The impacts on small producers, especially, are well illustrated by the expected impact on the farming sector where livestock producers’ incomes are likely to be hit hard and production fall between 10 and 20 percent, especially if processing cooperatives pass their full ETS tax liability back to the producer. The coal mining industry, our biggest commodity exporter, has been rated a “low-emissions” industry and will be hit hard with additional tax of $14 billion to 2021.

Contrary to fervent claims and outrageous name-calling of the political hue-and-cry surrounding ‘climate change’, there is no reason to believe that the warming is dangerous or deserves a higher priority than more pressing global challenges. There is well-considered evidence that adaptation policies are economically preferable and technically feasible.

The following is a brief assessment of what I take to be the Australian Government’s case. It comes, word-for-word from the text of ‘a major speech’ that the Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong, gave to the annual conference of the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia (CEDA) in June, 2009. I have edited nothing but only broken the paragraphs of the Minister’s speech into an outline format.

  1. Between 1906 and 2005, the Earth’s average surface temperature rose 0.74 degrees Celsius, or 0.07 degrees per decade. Since the 1950s, the warming rate has accelerated to 0.13 degrees per decade, nearly twice that for the last 100 years.
  2. Agreed. But the key fact is the last one: for the past 100 years—in fact, since the 1880s when the somewhat questionable GISS temperature record used by the U.S. government begins—the overall increase has been a mild and untroubling 0.560° C. The graphic (click thumbnail) is created directly from current GISS data using an R script that you can find here.

    GISSCenturyRecord_tmb.png

    During those 13 decades the decade-by-decade temperature trend has jumped around (see the graph). In the 1960s, for example, it was -0.28° C. and many scientists were warning of an impending ‘global freeze’. After 2001 the temperature trends flattened and have started to fall again. Since the beginning of 2003 the satellite-measured temperatures have been dropping by between 2.8° and 3.6° C/century, and GISS has been dropping at 0.96C/century (calculations here).

    Should we be worried by the century-trend of just over half-a-degree of warming? Hardly. Since the 1840s the world has been on this mild warming trend as it recovered from the ‘little ice age’ of the early 19th century (undisputed, due to ‘natural causes’). Is there any reason to suspect that the long term trend will suddenly take off? It’s not impossible, but it’s just not a reasonable fear; disruptive or expensive policies based on a ‘bogey-man’ assumption have to make a very convincing case.

  3. There have also been increases in ocean temperatures to depths of at least 3,000 m, rising average sea level, and extensive melting of snow and ice.
  4. Yes, there have been some increases in ocean temperatures and sea levels (but no loss of sea-ice). They’re actually very small changes—the consequence of 160 years of gradual global warming—and too variable to cite as a “proof” of man-made influences.

    GISS Ocean Temperature Anomalies have started to fall since 2003

    On ocean-heat: it’s true that the temperature of the upper ocean has risen over the past century or more—by about 0.45° C. since 1880—presumably for the same reason as the air temperature has risen. But the trend has varied over that time, broadly echoing the air temperature trend and has flattened and started to fall since 2003. You can see both of these trends in the graphs (click the thumbnail) that I’ve created directly from the most recent GISS data. The future of the ocean temperature trend is anyone’s guess. The more interesting question is why the total ocean heat content has not grown in line with GISS/IPCC projections for ‘radiative imbalance’.

    The “rising sea level” story, too, is a chestnut. Here’s some expert advice to the UK Parliament by a leading geophysicist who reports that the past decade has seen only ‘variability around zero’ rise in sea level (including specifically in Tuvalu and The Maldives). Here’s a recent, widely cited evaluation of the instrumental record which concludes “…since 2003, sea level has continued to rise but with a rate (of 2.5 +/-0.4 mm/yr) somewhat reduced compared to the 1993-2003 decade (3.1+/-0.4 mm/yr).” If maintained for a century, the current rate of sea-rise would be barely enough to paddle in.

    As for the South Pacific Islands that the Prime Minister has suggested are sinking beneath the rising seas, the precisely instrumented South Pacific Sea Level and Climate Monitoring Project hosted at the Bureau of Meteorology shows that the sea level around the 15 island is essentially flat between 1992, when the monitoring began, and 2007. See Figure 1. in the SeaFrame data in any of the reports here.

    Glaciers? Definitely evidence of melting, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. But with the overall mild warming of the earth, that’s to be expected. They have melted and reformed many times before. There need be no question about sea-ice: the global change on 1979-2000 is more or less zero according to the University of Illinois’ data record. This is partly because the Antarctic sea ice continues to expand (whatever you may have heard to the contrary).

  5. Despite this evidence, some people claim that the world has cooled since 1998.
  6. Temperature series and smoothed trendlines Satellite temperature anomalies are back at zero

    It’s not just “some people”. All of the official global temperature records show flattening and cooling trends since 2001. The first chart shows a comparison of five global temperature series, the second more detail of the UAH satellite series that show the latest month is back to a 0.0° C divergence from the 1979-200 average.

  7. But the fact is that globally 13 of the 14 warmest years on record occurred between 1995 and 2008.
  8. In the instrumented record since 1850, yes. As Minister Wong acknowledges (below), there is a long non-instrumented record, too. She refers to ‘ice ages’ but the same records show definitive evidence of warmer temperatures in in the historical past: the ‘Roman’ and ‘Mediaeval’ warm periods. So it’s only the ‘warmest on record’ if you say that there is no record of the 12the century (in fact, there is).
  9. Australia has experienced warmer-than-average mean annual temperatures for 17 of the past 19 years.
  10. Temperature series from BOMYes. But this is really the same point made twice. What matters is the degree of the additional warmth. It’s very mild: in fact, according to the Bureau, the mean temperature anomaly since 1980 for Australia is between 0°C and 0.5°C.

  11. It is undisputed that our climate has varied in the past without human interference – the ice ages being obvious examples. But we cannot put today’s changes in our climate down to ‘natural cycles’.
  12. Huh? Why not? At this point, I’m hoping that the Minister will offer some really convincing reason, because my inclination—based on the Occam’s Razor not on ‘climate skepticism’—is to attribute natural events to natural causes.

  13. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report is the most robust and comprehensive analysis of climate change science ever undertaken. It is based on the peer reviewed and published work of 1,250 climate experts from over 130 countries.
  14. But I’m disappointed when the Minster begins to set out an ‘argument from authority’. That’s just not sufficient in the debate about climate any more (if it ever was). We’re way past taking the Cool-Aid just because this guru or that fervently believes in the apocalypse. We’re not impressed by the number of disciples a theory is supposed to have. We want to see testable propositions that have not been disconfirmed and that are not merely trivial (like most of the above).

  15. The report contains a detailed analysis of the influence of natural variations in solar radiation on climate. The report notes that the Sun’s cycle of activity has been a factor in warming and cooling throughout history.
  16. But it also finds that while changes in solar radiation during the early 1900s explain much of the global warming that occurred at that time, solar changes cannot explain the rapid warming the Earth has experienced since the 1970s. Greenhouse gases have played a much stronger role than solar changes in determining recent warming.
  17. The “early 1900’s” were a period of falling average global temperatures (see the first chart), so it’s hard to see what ‘solar influence’ operated there that has since disappeared. A solar negative influence on temperature perhaps? Obviously not!

    The IPCC has acknowledged that its models do not fully account for the impact of clouds (sort of an obvious omission from a climate model, one would think). Yet clouds cover, on average, 65% of the surface of the earth and have an estimated net-cooling impact of 30 W/m2 (cf. IPCC’s 1.6 W/m2 estimate for man-made impacts).

    There is growing empirical support for the theory that glactic cosmic rays, that are diverted away from our atmosphere when the sun is active, influence cloud formation; a factor that has been mostly omitted from the IPCC models. The theory of solar-influence is compelling because there is an evident correlation over decade and century-long time frames between solar variability and temperature variability, in sharp contrast to the non-correlation between the growth of CO2 emissions and temperatures over the past century.

  18. The IPCC used a range of measurements to estimate how strongly different factors contribute to global warming and found that net human influences are much greater than changes in solar irradiance. In addition, the IPCC has conducted a careful analysis comparing climate modelling results and observed global and regional temperature increases.
  19. When the combined effects of increasing levels of carbon pollution in the atmosphere and natural factors (including changes in solar radiation) are included in the climate models, the models produce a good simulation of the warming of the Earth observed over the past century. But if the models are run including only natural factors, then they fail to reproduce the observed warming pattern.
  20. The Minister cannot, surely, mean that the test of a theory is whether it makes a computer-model behave better!

    The only test of any theory is whether it makes testable predictions that survive the assault of empirical evidence. The CO2 hypothesis (augmented by the IPCC’s ‘sensitivity’ claims for positive feedback) has failed confirmation of it’s theoretical prediction of tropical tropospheric warming. The ‘sensitivity’ factor has failed a much simpler mathematical test: we’ve had most—more than 80%—of the radiative forcing associated with a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 levels on the IPCC’s own assessments (Fig. SPM.2 from the Summary for Policymakers, WG1), but only 0.74°C warming in place of the 3°C predicted by the IPCC. The IPCC has been forced to introduce wide allowances for ‘error’ and include guesses about damping factors it admits are inadequately modelled (aerosols) in order to make its accounts add up. It turns out that the IPCC models are skilled only at projecting temperature backward into the past. Their forward projections for the post 2001-era seem already to be disconfirmed by eight years of global cooling.

    Recently, the empirical evidence from direct satellite measurement of the earth’s net radiative flux (the measure of the ‘greenhouse’ impact) shows that the IPCC models are way out of line with reality. “The observed behavior of radiation fluxes [from NASA’s ERBE experiment] implies negative feedback processes associated with relatively low climate sensitivity. This is the opposite of the behavior of 11 atmospheric models…”, (Lindzen and Choi, Geophysical Research Letters, July 2009, emphasis added).

2 Comments

  • myles kehoe wrote:

    after viewing bob carters seminars it would appear that a 20 year time period as a basis for measuring warming is statistically nonsence
    has it ben put to the minister what it would take for her and her party to abandon the ETS
    it woulsd seem that new evidence from prof lindzen and others would prove that c02 isnot the issue
    this has obviously turned into a political debate and the lobour party has gone so far they cannot turn the titanic around
    the only hope is the opposition has a new leader with an anti co2 hysteria and truthfull outlook
    it would mean that turnbull would have to be replaced

  • Michael Cejnar wrote:

    Thank you. The most comprehensive concise summary I have seen.

    I would love to see summarized in one graph the changes in predictions of ocean rises and global temperatures with each IPCC report since 1990 – have they been rising of falling as they add more understanding of natural phenomena into their models and remove the CO2/feedback ‘model filler’ factor. If falling – we can extrapolate to when predictions will be zero.

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