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>Looking back on the climate debate

>While doing research into the debate on climate change I came across a 2002 article from the Sydney Morning Herald – World politics generates hot air on climate change – that I found pretty interesting given where things are currently.

Professor Warwick McKibbin, one of Australia’s internationally recognised experts on global warming, is not one of the 272 economists petitioning the Federal Government “to ratify the Kyoto Protocol without delay”. “It is a pretty sad indictment of the profession when people sign these things en masse without expertise,” he says.

Now, if that does not sum up the whole Climate Debate in one sentence then I don’t know what does. Not only that but the economists who did sign were all described by the petition’s sponsor, The Australia Institute (a left wing think tank headed up by Clive Hamilton), as ‘academic economists’. There is no group of people more out of touch with the reality of economics than are those in academia. A prime example is Professor John Quiggin who co-authored a paper with Clive Hamilton called The Economics of Reducing Greenhouse Gases. If you can find an analysis of the economics of reducing greenhouse gases that’s more wishy washy and nonsensical than this one then please feel free to send it to me. No wonder Quiggin refers to Kyoto as a ‘sensible policy response’; the man doesn’t understand how to assess risk, financial markets or, critically, what motivates people in the first place.

Today, the key players line up in Johannesburg for Earth Summit 2002 – and some say the future of the Kyoto Protocol is on the line.

Isn’t it great how tens of thousands of environmentalists have spent years and years jetting all over the world to these Earth Summits and other environmental junkets? Why don’t they use modern technology such as video conferencing and really make a statement about their own initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases?

“The fundamental problem with the Kyoto Protocol is it assumes that nature is priceless and therefore the costs of taking action should be unbounded. Extreme environmentalists don’t believe in trade-offs but incorporating trade-offs are inevitable for sustainable policy,” McKibbin says.

Spot on, again. The ‘nature is priceless’ mantra is what allows environmentalists to claim the moral high ground.

He warns that an “arbitrary” system of emission targets could kill the Kyoto Protocol. And if the protocol is ratified, he says, “it will be because the framework has become so corrupted that its targets are essentially meaningless”. In its original form, Kyoto purported to limit global greenhouse gas emissions to 5 per cent below 1990 levels by 2010.

How does it come about that the morally superior position of supporting Kyoto can become “so corrupted”? Could it be that there’s more to Kyoto than meets the eye?

The base year, 1990, was chosen because it coincided with the peaks of European and Soviet bloc gas emissions. Emissions fell dramatically in Europe and the Soviet bloc after 1990 due to restructuring of the European coal industry and the collapse of the Soviet bloc economies, but not because of climate change considerations.

And there you have it, folks. 1990 was picked by a European dominated Kyoto committee because it was the worst year ever for Europe and it was supposed to make their targets easy to hit, as the article continues

For these countries, Kyoto’s targets are likely to be meaningless because they will be well below them anyway.

It is pure comedy gold that the Europeans picked the worst year ever as their benchmark and are so far above it that they have no hope of achieving their 2010 target. Not only are they miles behind but the efforts they have made, including carbon trading, have seen power prices jump by more than 50% and industries moving to more accommodating locations such as China – taking many much needed jobs with them. North American Stainless Steel decided that it could no longer live in an environment of blackouts, brownouts and a 72% increase in the cost of power so they’ve drawn a line in the sand that says ‘no more growth in Europe’. Where are they now going to invest? The USA and South Africa. Europe is slowly reaping the seed that it has sown.

Greens senator Bob Brown, who strongly advocates signing Kyoto, concedes that the agreement will only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 1 or 2 per cent. “Kyoto is a symbol of global efforts to turn this thing around, but nothing more than that,” he says … Supporters acknowledged that the Kyoto Protocol has been badly compromised by politics but say it is an important symbolic first step and far better than nothing.

I keep talking about symbolism being more important than results for the Left and there we are again. The leader of the Greens in Australia concedes that Kyoto will have little impact and that it’s a “symbol of global efforts”. Its supporters call it a “symbolic first step” but say it’s better than nothing. Really? Imposing massive costs on the West for no result can only impair our ability to invest in clean technologies let alone help the developing world move forward. The do nothing option is certainly a better choice than Kyoto.

…In the absence of preventative measures, a 50cm rise in sea level (the median projection for 2100) would flood 11 per cent of Bangladesh, displacing 5.5 million people…

Five years on and it’s worth noting that the projection in the Fourth Assessment Report ranges from 18cm to 59cm, which is lower than previous predictions. Not only is it lower but at the low end of the scale it’s actually lower than what has been recorded since we started keeping records over one hundred years ago.

… and increased humidity would also spread devastating malarial epidemics and intensify the severity of tropical storms.

Here’s one of the great environmental lies of our times, that high temperature and humidity will increase malaria. Mosquitoes thrive in any climate and it’s only been the combination of poor countries not being able to afford to eradicate them along with the effective banning of DDT by the UN that leads people to think that malaria is a tropical, or African, disease.

Some economists argue that an “absolute” emissions cap, as was intended for Kyoto, is an inappropriate and politically impractical response to the uncertain costs of global warming. It is estimated that for American businesses and consumers to reduce their levels of greenhouse emissions to the levels required if the US signed the Kyoto Protocol (on its present terms), the price of oil would have to rise by 65-275 per cent and the price of coal would have to rise by 3-12 times. If vested interests and consumers allowed such a cap, the American economy would be crippled.

Tadaaaaaa. Any here you have the real goal of Kyoto – to cripple the American economy. What might have started out many years ago as a well meaning effort to deal with carbon emissions metastasised over time due to political opportunism by Europe into one that: 1) the Europeans would easily be able to hit thus the choice of 1990 as the base year; 2) would have no statistically measurable impact; and 3) would significantly slow down the US economy. The fact that Europe vetoed any discussion of attributing carbon costs on a life-cycle basis is further proof that they were only in it to hamstring the US, as life-cycle cost attribution would seriously hurt Europe even though it’s the logical, and moral, thing to do. That Europe’s green parties are so strong they could achieve an outcome that saw European nations sign Kyoto while the rest of the world didn’t is yet another sign that Europe really is in decline.

So, five years after this article was written where do things stand? The US and Australia haven’t signed Kyoto but are investing in technology to reduce carbon emissions; China’s power requirements add the equivalent of one United Kingdom every month, which they’re fulfilling through coal fired power stations; India is starting to build at a similar rate; and Europe is in the doldrums having shot themselves in the foot by signing Quggin’s ‘sensible policy response’, the Kyoto Protocol. The beaches still seem to be where they’ve always been, there are more polar bears than in recorded history, global average temperatures are lower now than in 2002, Greenland’s ice mass is increasing, as is Antarctica’s, and people continue to live longer, healthier lives.

Who knows what the climate will be in twenty years time but there’s no doubt that people will look back in bewilderment at the fact that large numbers of people were protesting against the weather and advocating economy-busting solutions while lunatic regimes built nuclear weapons, a hopelessly corrupt UN was run by socialist and totalitarian countries and Africans slaughtered each other by the million. In fact, anyone whose moral compass is tuned anywhere near correctly doesn’t even need to wait the twenty years to be bewildered…

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