Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Labor liars on climate change

The claims by Labor that Brendan Nelson is a 'climate change denialist' because he asserts that the current dire situation in the Murray-Darling cannot be attributed to climate change is a deceit. There is no such implication. The statements by Brendon Nelson are accurate - the current drought cannot be attributed to climate change. Moreover, Nelson's claims have nothing at all to do with denying the reality of climate change.

Droughts have occurred around large parts of Australia for about 3 years in 10 since almost the time the first settlers arrived at Sydney Cove (Rob Linn, Battling the Land, 200 Years of Rural Australia is good on this). On this basis moderate drought cannot even be regarded as an extreme climatic event. In the terrible drought of 1895-1903 40% of cattle in Australia perished. There have been major prolonged droughts in Australia from 1911-16, 1939-45, 1963-68 and 1991-95 prior to the current severe drought. There have been specific regional droughts on a much more frequent basis than even this.

Longer-term we might expect a gradual trend increase in temperature, changed rainfall levels that differ regionally and possibly an increased frequency of extreme climatic events including drought. There is, however, no basis for interpreting the particular drought event now being experienced as being attributable to climate change.

As a commenter pointed out a few weeks back on this blog the difficulty with perpetuating these false claims is that, if people are persuaded that the current drought is due to climate change, they will come to disbelieve that climate change is a serious threat if the drought breaks and we have good rains for a number of years. Moreover, there are suggestions from some that ocean temperature changes might cause a temporary easing of warming over the next decade or so before temperatures resume their upward trend.

In addition these lies turn attention away from more proximate causes of the current dire situation namely the overallocation of water use entitlements in the MDB. Nelson is quite correct to point this out.

The lies have the political purpose of seeking to ridicule Nelson (are there diminishing returns to abuse?) but they have potentially serious consequences that go beyond this. It is important that politicians stick to the truth and throw light on climate change problems rather than mud at their political opponents.

I watched Minister Penny Wong repeat this deceit on Lateline last night. She deliberately avoided answering the repeatedly posed question of how she came to the view that drought in the MDB could be attributed to climate change. It was an evasive and disgracefully, inept and deceitful performance. Moreover, when quizzed on the issue of carbon leakage complaints currently being raised by the BCA she seemed lost and mumbled something irrelevant about the need to 'share the burden' of dealing with climate change. Moreover, if she understood the issue at all - one would think she should as she is the relevant minister - she could have advanced some sensible views that would, in fact, have supported the Government's position.

Wong took over the climate change issue from an incompetent Peter Garratt who, in fact, launched the foolish attack on Brendon Nelson yesterday in Parliament. Who can take over handing the important climate and water portfolio from Wong?

Update: The press reports that MDBC boss Wendy Craik has claimed the CSIRO have determined that the current drought is due to climate change. I can't find such a statement in CSIRO material I have read. What is claimed in the literature I have read is that the frequency of droughts has risen and can be expected to rise - a claim that is plausible and indeed which I cite above. This is, of course, quite a different matter from attributing the current drought to climate change. If the CSIRO - or anyone else - claim this it is an extremely incautious claim.


melaleuca said...

Yes, and I saw Turnbull lie like a whore on the &:30 report tonite as well. They all lie I'm afraid.

hc said...

It is interesting to ask why you make this unsubstantiated claim Mel. Is your claim - assuming it has veracity - somehow intended to diminish the case for criticising Labor?

They all do it, right?

Steve said...

Harry, I don't know whether you read my blog or not, but I have for a couple of years argued that ocean acidification alone is sufficient reason for strong greenhouse gas cuts, regardless of temperature movements. I was initially persuaded of this research on the oceans' possible role in previous mass extinctions, but studies since then on the more immediate issues (the likely harm to coral reefs, the effect on some important parts of the food chain, and on the reproductive success of many species) have, by and large, only confirmed scientists' concerns. (There was a surprise earlier this year when one study indicated that at least one type of phytoplankton actually likes increased CO2, but this is no answer to the concerns for the ocean ecology overall.)

While there are considerable uncertainties as to how it will play out, there are many scientists who think the coral reefs, at least as they are currently comprised, are doomed within the century due to the pH changes. One would have thought this aspect alone would be worthy of more publicity within Australia. However, it seems to me to be a topic which still only attracts intermittent publicity. Even recently, when Rudd and Wong had a visit to Townsville, they were briefed on the issue of ocean acidity, yet in most news they seem to only talk about increasing temperatures affecting the reef.

Maybe you know all of this already, but in any case I like to not miss an opportunity in promoting this, as it does render pretty irrelevant a lot of the sceptics' talk of temperature changes and rainfall patterns. As you say, it is easy for the public that there is little to worry about if they have a couple of cool summers and a flood or two outback.

If you need recommendations as to background reading, I'm happy to provide!

Anonymous said...

"If the CSIRO - or anyone else - have made such a claim it is an extremely incautious claim."

Good to see an economist debunking our national science institution - what would they know! You cautiously prefix your comments with "from what I've read".

Which means you have read very little and know even less.

Before accusing others of deception and of being "liars", take a look at your own bias and misrepresentations.

derrida derider said...

Na, anonymous, harry's right on his particular issue. And I say that as both a firm believer in the need for strong action on global warming and as someone who thinks water policy has been horrifically botched (I was the "previous commenter").

Labor is just doing what pollies do - embarrassing the other side without being too scrupulous as to the underlying facts - but it is disappointing just the same.

But harry, which party is it that has been the bulwark of resistance to rational water policy at the behst of its short-sighted constituents? And which government has left Labor this catastrophe to try and deal with? And on which side of the floor in parliament do most of the climate change denialists sit?

derrida derider said...

On harry's update, though, the CSIRO has stated that the steady decline in autumn rain in south-eastern Australia in the last 50 years is linked in part to AGW - see here. But they've nowhere, as far as I can Google, linked it to to a specific drought event.

melaleuca said...

"It is interesting to ask why you make this unsubstantiated claim Mel. Is your claim - assuming it has veracity - somehow intended to diminish the case for criticising Labor?"

Not at all. Don't be so cynical. But the message isn't designed for people like you and me, who have a good idea about what's going on. The aim is to provide soundbites for the 90% of the population who are largely switched off.

Are seriously suggesting Turnbull is above the game rather than a part of it? Are you serious?

Spiros said...

Harry, I agree that it's too soon to call the MDB drought as due to climate change. But rainfall in south west Western Australia fell dramatically in the early 1980s and has never recovered. The data is in Green Paper. That's not a cyclical drought. Has Nelson acknowledged that the WA situation is due to climate change?

All politicians are economical with the truth.

Anonymous said...

In repsonse to anon above, Harry is an economist who feels capable of disagreeing with the CSIRO, the full Federal Court, whatever. Polticians lying, imagine that. The dreadful thing is when people, especially educated people tasked with educating others, believe the lies. Is it tempting the application of 'left wing hysteric' if I resurrect the ghost of Dr Haneef. How you going with that pack of lies and the lying liars who told them Harry?

Tony of South Yarra said...

Ian Castles has weighed in on the aforementioned CSIRO reports and claims the models used lack the predictive skill necessary to be useful in policy making:


Anonymous said...

My point being, to summarise this "article":

Labor - Rudd, Wong, Garratt - are incompetent, deceitful, foolish, dangerous, disgracefully evasive, inept, lying liars, ridiculing, mumbling irrelevantly and throwing mud as their opponents.

And yet, Liberal are all accurate and correct? Hmm. No bias there. Penny Wong avoided answering a question??? What the? Has a politician EVER answered a bloody question? See how Turnball or Nelson go when asked a question there not comfortable? They too skirt around the sides or stumble.

I don't feel its appropriate for commentators to stoop to this level of attack. Harry says, 'oh Penny disgracefully couldn't point to a source', lying, lying wench. (later on in update) CSIRO does have evidence (which I haven't read). Perhaps Penny had been informed the bottom line result but didn't know ALL the details - just like poor Harry here?

Except Harry had the advantage to not be put on the spot on television and could add a little "Update" item, when he'd actually gone and found out some facts... Oh but she's a minister I hear you say? Yes, who by design of our political system have very little base knowledge about their ministries. They rely on the departmental advice, and god forbid institutions like the CSIRO.

I'm not sure who you think is throwing mud Harry, but I think you've thrown a bit yourself. Next time the Rudd Government gets a report from the CSIRO, I'm sure they'll ring you directly and ask if you, Harry, the "Environmental Economist" agrees.

I am not saying Labor hasn't politicised or exagerated the subject either, but I have 10 times more confidence in Labor on environmental issues, than Liberal.

Anon #1

North Voice said...

I can actually claim to be a Meteorologist, fully qualified with over 35 years experience at high level and I can tell you that absolutely everything Harry says is correct and the people who attacked his statement do not understand the issues. Harry does and expresses them very well. His attackers do so on no basis whatsoever. The basic science of greenhouse warming is very clear - what is not known is what the final effect will be, especially on rainfall. Do not believe the current climate models - they may be right, they may be wrong. That doesn't mean we should not be doing anything - we should be.