What 'Science Says', part #8099

A recurring theme of the green argument for ‘urgent’ and ‘strong’ action on climate change — usually also an argument for circumventing the democratic process — is the claim that ‘science says…{insert fatuous pseudo-scientific statement here}’ .

It’s a fig leaf, this device. It hides the bearer’s shame: his authoritarian impulse, his bad faith, moral bankruptcy, and intellectual vacuity.

On ABC Australia’s ‘Q and A’ — their equivalent of the UK’s Question Time — Brendan O’Neill, Editor of Spiked-Online, called Labor Party MP, Tanya Plibersek up on her naked fear-mongering. (Watch it here).

Plibersek:There is a serious threat to our economy and a serious threat to our environment of not acting. In environmental terms we’re looking at losing the Great Barrier Reef, losing Kakadu National Park, losing the ability to feed ourselves because our . . .

Peter Dutton: To feed ourselves?

Plibersek: . . . our fruit and vegetable growing areas . . .

Brendan O’Neill: This is the politics of fear.

Dutton: Taking it to a new level.

O’Neill: If you don’t support our policies, we will die and starve and the Barrier reef will disappear.

Plibersek: Actually, it’s called scientific consensus . . .

O’Neill: Right. OK, yeah.

Plibersek: . . . that there are effects of global warming that affect our environment and affect our fruit and vegetable growing areas.

Dutton: You do your cause a disservice with this extreme view.

Plibersek: That’s not an extreme view. That’s a scientific view . . .

Dutton: What? That we’re not going to be able to feed ourselves?

Transcript courtesy of the Australian.

It is an extreme view, of course. Plibersek takes the most alarmist interpretation of the most alarmist climate change scenarios out there. And what that speaks to is not merely the tendency to seek the most alarming stories in defence of hollow and self-serving politicking, but also the lack of nuance in the public debate. For if the climate debate were to become understood as one about many matters of degree (and I don’t just mean degrees centigrade), it would surely capsize the ship of fools that is piloted by the likes of Plibersek. We can agree, then, that there is a degree to which CO2 causes global warming. And we can agree that there is a degree to which causes climate change. And there may be a degree to which other natural processes are sensitive to climate change. And there is a degree to which we seem to be dependent on natural processes. But even if we agree to all that, Plibersek still has egg on her face. This debate does not divide into two.

The Australians and British both face absurd, counter-productive (on their own terms) and incredibly damaging climate and energy policies. In Australia, it’s the Carbon Tax that has recently caused political turmoil. In the UK, we’re already committed to the Climate Change Act, which has somehow gone without a substantial public opposition. I wish we could have the vocal public opposition to the UK’s climate policies here that seems to happen in Australia. Yet the Australian government seems as keen to ignore the public mood as UK politicians are…

Here’s the previous UK government’s Energy and Climate Change Minister, Ed Miliband, now leader of the ‘opposition’ in 2009:

[youtube D0wi9kMXHyQ]

Miliband, like Pilbersek, divides the debate into two, claiming ‘science’ for himself, and to preclude a debate not about ‘science’, but about policy. Here is his successor, Chris Huhne, announcing the Conservative and Liberal-Democrat coalition’s ‘Green Deal’…

[youtube jE0lQwNADNE]

Huhne promises the creation of 250,000 jobs in creating more energy efficient homes. Yet simple arithmetic shows that the UK’s 26 million homes would occupy a workforce of 250,000 for only 1 year, even if it took two men as long as a week to insulate each one even if it took an individual a week to insulate two homes. [See comment from David Shipley below] (26,000,000 / 250,000 = 104. 104/2 = 52). Meanwhile, of course, energy bills and unemployment in the UK have risen. And since 2004, the number of UK households living in ‘fuel poverty’ has almost tripled, rising from 2 million to 5.5 million between 2004 and 2009. The rising cost of energy has led many to express their concerns that it will simply be impossible for energy intensive industry to remain in the UK, and that consequently — and in contrast to the 250,000 temporary jobs Huhne imagines he will create — millions of jobs may be lost. So much for the new ‘industrial revolution’.

In case you were at all concerned that there is any difference between political parties, anyone with sufficient faculties to recall events as far back as 2009 will notice the similarities of Huhne’s ‘Green Deal’ and the Brown government’s ‘Green New Deal’ in which precisely the same promises about a ‘green industrial revolution’ were made:

[youtube I80CPVlubO0]

This is what climate change policy-making is all about. The claim that ‘science says…’ allows politicians to go about their business, indifferent to the concerns and interests of the public, and ignorant to criticism of their policies from ‘deniers’ and ‘sceptics’. Intransigence is legitimised by what ‘science says…’. Bad politics proceeds from Good Science… Or is it that bad politics precedes good science? Take your pick.

15 thoughts on “What 'Science Says', part #8099”

  1. I think carbon taxes are a good idea (although if introduced here, duty on motor fuels should be cut so that the total tax take on motor fuel remains the same).

    Australia’s problem is not climate politics (although I’m not a fan of the more extreme climate alarmists). The problem is Australia’s irrational rejection of nuclear power, which is perhaps due to the political power of that country’s coal industry.

  2. George:

    Why would Austrailia, with abundant cheap coal, want to go to nuclear? The only reasons would be environmental: reducing either carbon or air pollution, as deemed necessary.

    More importantly for them though is the export sales. No amount of going nuclear will bring them export dollars. That comes from selling the coal to China.

    You are asking the equivalent of somewhere like Brunei to stop selling its oil, because it could use hydropower at home.

  3. Mooloo – The only reasons would be environmental: reducing either carbon or air pollution, as deemed necessary.

    I share George’s convictions that nuclear energy is preferable to coal. The benefits are not only environmental. The process of getting it out of the ground is less messy, less risky and you get more energy out per unit of labour in. There are also some health implications for burning coal — it’s not that great for people living down wind. Of course, it can be made safer by open cast mining, and by scrubbing the smoke, etc. I’m a fan of nuclear, then, but I don’t think there’s an emergency about coal, and no need to suddenly shut down all coal-fired power stations. The emergency is to get more energy to more people more cheaply.

    And that’s where I think I part company with George — I’m not a fan of the carbon tax. And fuel — in the UK at least — is already over-priced.

    You are asking the equivalent of somewhere like Brunei to stop selling its oil, because it could use hydropower at home.

    My understanding is that some oil producers import a lot of coal, because it’s more profitable to export the oil.

  4. @Mooloo

    Although I’m highly suspicious of the political movement which has grown up around climate change, I’m not really a hardened sceptic as far as the science itself goes. Therefore if there’s a way to significantly reduce our CO2 emissions without ruining our standard of living (and the first big step in that would be to replace fossil fuels with nuclear energy for electricity generation) I would definitely want to take it.

    By the way, I spend a lot of time in the pro-nuclear blogosphere, and many of the leading figures there push climate alarmism as a way of making the case for nuclear energy. I disagree with this tactic because I feel that currently the anti-energy crowd pretty much owns the climate change issue, and also suspect that banging the climate change drum too much may well collapse people into fatalism, rather than spurring them on to take action.

  5. You say, “I wish we could have the vocal public opposition to the UK’s climate policies here that seems to happen in Australia.” and then, “Yet the Australian government seems as keen to ignore the public mood as UK politicians are… “. Isn’t there a link? Isn’t it possible that UK citizens are simply convinced that their so-called “representatives” just aren’t listening and aren’t going to listen? Was it 2 million people who marched on Westminster to protest against the Iraq war without discernible impact? Politicians ignore the public because they’ve discovered that, in the last analysis, they can.

  6. I’m not anti-nuclear either. It’s a hard sell here in NZ because we have so much hydro and geothermal, but Auckland is where the power is needed and it exactly in the other end of the country from the generation.

    Australian coal is pretty much all open-cast and very, very cheap. No doubt the Greenies will say the local environment is “fragile” but I have yet to see a place anywhere that they don’t describe as “fragile”. They are in an unusual situation. Elsewhere I would definitely describe the nuclear option as preferable.

    I’m a tepid-warmer myself. I suspect that human activities are warming the earth and changing the weather, slowly, but I don’t believe CO2 is a major villain.

  7. Rich, I’m inclined to agree with you re the anti-war protest in 2003 – the sheer scale of this event put the numbers attending climate change rallies (even at their height, towards the end of the last decade – I think “The Wave” in London in 2009 drew around 50,000 people) into the shade. And yet, as you say, the government did not listen. On climate change, the last government encouraged us to tell them to send a message at Copenhagen, and criticised us for being indifferent. But when millions of citizens sent them a pretty unequivocal message about going to war in Iraq in 2003, the indifference was all theirs.

    Re the mindset of the “anti-energy crowd”, here’s an example of this from 2009 – a BBC interview with spokesman Bob Andrews of climate activist group Eastside Climate Action, in which he actually proposes shutting down coal-fired power stations even when there is nothing yet to replace them with. It’s on BBC iPlayer here:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_7997000/7997499.stm

    Or if you’re unable to access the audio, I have a transcript here:
    https://sites.google.com/site/mytranscriptbox/home/20090414_r4

  8. That’s an amazing interview, Alex. Funny that Steve Jones now complains about the BBC giving ‘sceptics’ — extremists — a voice. Yet here is a fairly extreme character, who believes that the UK should be left without power, and that the decision should be taken without democracy, and is legitimised by ‘what science says’. I wonder what Jones might make of this extraordinarily vain man and his views.

    As I’ve argued here, the problem for ‘street’ environmentalists is that the government and energy companies have bought into environmentalism — it suits them just fine. What drives their increasingly radical position is the need to sustain some distance between themselves and the establishment environmentalists. The government responded to environmental activists demands in 2008, with the Climate Change Act — in fact, a number of climate activists authored it. Activists then complain that it’s not fast enough, or radical enough.

  9. Ben
    While I agree with almost everything in the article, I am not sure your arithmetic is any better than Chris Huhne’s, as you should have multiplied by the factor of 2 rather than dividing by it. If each house takes 2 man weeks, then 26m homes take 52m man weeks, ie 1m man years. At least Huhne knows that 9 + 3 = 12 ;)

  10. David thanks for pointing it out. I think the mistake is with the writing, rather than the maths. I checked it in excel, because I couldn’t believe that Huhne was promising so many jobs insulating homes. The advice I got from the web is that it takes 1 to 2 days to insulate a home. So I assumed that an individual could insulate two homes in a week — a conservative figure. I must have taken the 2 from the excel sheet, and assumed that it took two men a week. There are 104 houses for each job. Each job house takes half a week. Therefore, there are only 52 weeks of employment offered by Huhne’s scheme.

  11. Reports indicate that the ‘Green Deal’ just won’t work. SEE
    Homeowners will reject ‘green deal’ for its high cost, environment group warns
    Market rate of interest on loans for energy efficiency measures will deter households, report by E3G says.
    ” Ingrid Holmes, author of the E3G report, gives an example of a basic investment scenario in which a whole house retrofit costing £11,000 delivered 50% energy savings and loan repayments were spread over 25 years. “Our analysis indicates that for the average household, the economics of green deal investments as currently planned do not stack up for the rational investor.”
    The annual energy bill for an average household was calculated at £1,029 a year, meaning a good retrofit would save just over £500 a year. But this is not enough to cover the costs of borrowing £11,000 or more at anything other than a heavily subsidised rate of interest of around 2%, at today’s energy prices.

    Holmes calculated that a £15,000 loan offered at 0% interest and that delivered a 50% energy saving would result in energy bills lower by nearly £2,500 over 25 years, but the same loan offered at 2% interest would result in a loss to the householder of more than £1,700 over 25 years.
    The figures get even worse if a more realistic estimate of the potential energy savings is used. A £15,000 loan, even if offered at 0% interest, that delivered a 35% energy saving offered would result in a £2,777 loss over 25 years.

    At more commercial rates of 8% or more, the economics of these energy-saving projects would be “unmanageable”. ”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/19/green-deal-high-cost-interest

  12. This binary approach is also on show when warmists try to equate the climate debate with Creationism and Flat Earthism.

    I mean, either God created the world or he didn’t — there’s no wiggle room there.

    And of course this is why these are 2 very silly analogies that Warmists like to make.

  13. We in BC, Canada, have endured an escalating carbon tax which will reach $30 a ton next year. As sick as this sounds, supposedly 69% of British Columbians support the tax which adds to the costs of running the car and heating the house. It is especially outrageous now that there is no longer any basis in fact to think that a trace gas needed for all life and representing only 4/100 of 1% of the atmosphere can change climate.

    The con game has gone on long enough!

    http://www.climatedepot.com/a/12191/PeerReviewed-Study-Set-to-Send-Scientific-Shockwaves-Prof-Judith-Curry-Reacts-If-Atmospheric-Physicist-Salbys-analysis-holds-up-this-could-revolutionize-AGW-science

  14. As I mentioned before, I support a carbon tax, as long as nuclear energy isn’t regulated so harshly that no-one is building new nuclear plants (the traditional financial impediments to nuclear energy don’t really apply anymore, now that interest rates are close to zero).

    If such draconian regulation in place, then a carbon tax would be a de facto energy tax, and therefore a bad thing.

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