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.


    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).


  1. 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

  2. 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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