Anthropogenic Climate Change: There’s Really No Debate.

It was about 2 weeks ago when I was driving home from work when Triple J’s current affairs program Hack came on the radio. The topic of the day was climate change and it caught my ear not because I’m terribly involved in the movement (although I have blogged around it on 4 separate occasions in the past) but because it was leading up to a program I had seen advertised on the ABC called I Can Change Your Mind on Climate. The show pits Anna Rose, a noted environmental activist, against well noted (and much derided here on this blog) former senator Nick Minchin, a climate change skeptic/denier. The program was to focus on them travelling the world and meeting with experts from their side of the argument, in the hopes to swing them to one side or the other.

The idea intrigued me as whilst I was once a person who could be at best described as a climate change agnostic (I didn’t have enough information to sway me to either side) actual research into the phenomena showed that the evidence was unequivocally for it happening and that us humans were to blame for it. Thus I wasn’t so interested in Anna Rose’s side of the argument as I’m already sold on that, but I was intrigued to see what kind of experts Nick Minchin could dredge up to support his claims. Unfortunately due to work commitments I didn’t catch the show but from what I’ve heard neither gave any ground and objectively Minchin did more harm than good by the experts he chose.

That would’ve been the end of it but the show came up in conversation yesterday. To my surprise it was met with much derision even though I thought that it was for the most part bad for Minchin and great for everyone else. Their issue wasn’t so much the program but with the format in which it was presented, pitting one side of an argument against the other. Whilst this might appear to be the fair and balanced way (snicker) of discussing the material at hand it is in fact portraying a situation that simply doesn’t exist.

The one that there are 2 legitimate sides to this argument.

Anyone who’s not familiar with the current state of climate science watching such a program would believe that there’s still an ongoing debate on whether or not climate change is man made. Scientifically speaking this is far from the truth as 97% of scientists surveyed (of a total of 489) support that view point. Of the 3% that don’t agree with that view point most of them were not in an area related to climate research which takes the overall percentage of climate scientists who believe climate change is man made much closer to the 100% mark. The current debate is around what the impact will be and its severity, but with shows like the former you’d still think that the scientists are out on whether or not we’re at the center of this environmental problem.

This is the problem with representing opposing views with equal standing to a public that only gets its information from a single source. It’s highly unlikely that someone undecided on climate change would come away from such a program thinking that they needed to research it more. Instead such programs would either reinforce currently held beliefs (whether for good or bad) or simply leave them in the agnostic state they were in to begin with. It may be time for the government to go on an climate change denier campaign in much the same way as they’ve done for smoking as there’s just as much scientific evidence to support both.

Realistically I know I’m preaching to the choir here but posts like these (my piece on the anti-vaccination movement being one of them) seems to attract the kinds of crazies that I’m hoping will do a double take and think about their current position. I know that it’s a hard sell for those guys, most will just dismiss this post outright, but if I can get through to some I’ll consider it a success.

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  1. Since when did appeals to authority form the basis of scientific evidence 😛 My problem with such polls is like all polls. They show a similarity of opinion that never actually exists. One who agrees ‘CC is real and humans are to blame’ may have a very different view of what that implies and whether (and to what extent) we ought to respond’ to others who agree to the very same claim.

    The problem is, even if you accept CC is real, what then? Afterall, for all guys like Minchin like to disagree with the left on spite, what he, Abbott and the wider Australian public who reject the Carbon Tax are arguing is that whatever the truth of CC, why is the governments approach the best approach, what effect will it have, and why should they have to pay for it. Call it small minded, call it selfish, call it what you want, that 97% of scientists agree it’s real doesn’t change that fundamental issue.

    What i’m getting at is that the debate isn’t really about Climate Change.

    It’s about the appropriate response. A comparable debate, where the left & right’s position is switched is terrorism.

    The right argues that because there is a real chance of harm being caused, we need strong legislation, even if it comes at a significant cost to the state and personal liberty. The left’s problem is the response more than the actual evaluation of threat. Yet most of the debate is about evaluating the threat as a proxy debate for how to respond. Afterall, if you managed to demonstrate there was no threat, there would be no need for severe liberty restricting legislation.

    100% of Political scientists who study terrorism know that it’s a threat. But that doesn’t tell us as a society what we need to do in response. That’s where the debate is, even if its not acknowledged.

  2. Different issue though. The media (less so in Australia, but its rampant in the USA see http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2012/05/anti-climate-science-group-experiments-with-trolling.ars) still likes to present climate change as if its still under debate and that’s where I see the problem. Voters won’t be able to rationally deconstruct any plan on climate change if they don’t understand the fundamental facts, I.E. it’s real and we’re to blame. How we respond to it is a matter for public debate (and thankfully is, now) but until it’s as widely accepted as the smoking and cancer link I still think there’s work to be done in educating the Australian populace so they don’t make extremely ignorant and uninformed decisions.

  3. “Scientifically speaking this is far from the truth as 97% of scientists surveyed (of a total of 489) support that view point. ”

    That is not what the actual report said exactly. It was 97% of climate scientists only. Here’s a quote

    “..we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change..”

    In other words, they looked at the publications and citations of 1372 climate researchers and determined the 97% agreement within climate researchers only. It was not a questionnaire survey, and it was not of scientists in general, it was climate researchers only. That’s not quite the same as what you claim above.

    A few years ago a questionnaire survey was done which arrived at the same 97%, however only 82% of scientists in other fields agreed. That’s almost 1 in 5 which disagreed.

    So you can go ahead and believe that there is no debate, but 1 in 5 says that the debate is still alive and well.

  4. @Andrew Carr

    I agree, the response to this non-threat is a carbon tax.

    Since carbon is used in everything it means an increase in the cost of eveything, which will do nothing to change the behavior of the wealthy and middle class but will hurt poor people primarily. It will increase the coffers of government and they will spend it all, and return to a debt/deficit situation as usual.

    However, the carbon tax will assuage the guilt suffered by a certain percentage of the public regarding thier wealthy lifestyle. It will asuage the guilt from an imaginary problem of the First World middleclass. Once the carbon tax is in place, the guilt will be gone, climate change will be solved.

    No wonder the deniers fight it to their last breath.

  5. @klem Among the scientific community with actual expertise in the area there isn’t a debate and I’d argue that with 82% of the general scientific community supporting the view that there’s little debate to be had there either. I really fail to see how you equate 18% not support the view to there still being an active debate as that’s well past the threshold for general acceptance of the notion. 1 in 5 might think there’s a debate going on, but they’re fooling themselves.

    What’s your view on man made climate change Klem? From your arguments I get the feeling that you either don’t believe it or that its impacts don’t warrant us taking any action. On both counts you’re sorely mistaken, just take a quick glance over this to see what the impacts are: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Effects_of_global_warming Do you have any evidence to support the idea that we shouldn’t take action on climate change? Considering the actual cost of the carbon tax to most Australians is somewhere on the order of $10/week (much of which is offset for those who will be hardest hit) I can’t fathom why you’d oppose something that’s a scientific fact and is already having real impacts on our world.

  6. Believing in climate change is one thing, agreeing on the correct response to counter it is another. The problem I have is the assumption that if you’re a believer of global warming or believe mankind is warming the world in some way then you should except any action by the Government in the cause of global warming. I.e. a ETS or Carbon Tax or similar mechanism or even supporting green schemes. ‘This is better than nothing’.

    However in words of Kerry Packer I don’t trust this government or any government to spend the money collected by these mechanism(s) wisely. Nor is it clear that having these mechanisms will actually effect the world’s climate. $10 a week isn’t much but I would rather give that money to someone directly then to a wasteful government bureaucracy.

    There’s more debates to be had then the simple one whether mankind is causing warming. What is the best way of countering global warming? Definitely not agreed on. Would we be better at adapting to global warming then trying to stop it? Maybe. I recommend reading ‘Superfreakonomics’ global warming section for a different approach to cooling the earth. It may not work, it’s is fiercely debated and heavily criticised but I like it for the fact that humans with lateral thinking can solve many a problem.

  7. How far does this skepticism towards the government go? You may not trust them to use the revenue generated from a Carbon Tax or ETS wisely, but do you trust them with your current tax dollars? If you’re taking that kind of stance in regards to one aspect of the government I can’t see how you wouldn’t apply that to the rest of the government. The fact is corporations can’t be trusted to make the right decisions with regards to the environment unless there are penalties for not doing so.

    Among climate scientists the very questions you mention are the current topic of debate but they’re almost unanimous in support for reducing carbon emissions as a preventative measure. There are potentially much more effective solutions however they’re for the most part unproven and don’t address the underlying issue of reducing our emissions. The Superfreakonomics solution for instance attempts to curtail the problem by reducing total solar energy absorbed by the earth which is a catastrophically bad idea as it does not address the root of the problem: us.

  8. @Chaos

    “$10 a week isn’t much but I would rather give that money to someone directly then to a wasteful government bureaucracy.”

    Exactly, or how about $10 a week given to organizations directly to buy malaria mosquito nets? Instead it will go toward ‘saving the planet’ from the evils of CO2. None of that will go to jetting to conferences, eating caviar and discussing climate change at big photo ops like Durban. No never.

    C’mon folks, get a grip. After all of these years, how can they still pull the wool over your eyes?

  9. @klem So you don’t trust them with money from the Carbon Tax, what about the regular tax dollars? Is your mistrust of the government so deep that you believe that all of the money will be wasted and none put to good cause? If the government was as corrupt and inept as you make them out to be we’d be living in a very different Australia, one where I don’t believe we’d be even thinking about issues like climate change.

    So would you pay a malaria net tax at $10/week, run by the very same government?

  10. I like your optimism David or trust. You’re not as cynical as me. I like a healthy debate on topics like this just prefer a beverage in hand and a beer garden or something.

    We need a safety net and the Government generally does a good job of providing it. Just where should you draw the line? In last decade or so the Government (both sides, fed and states) is over reaching and there’s an expectation from the public, even a sense of entitlement, it should provide everything. Where is individual responsibility in this? There is a balance that needs to struck.

    Also when the Government tries to address specific problems for example implementing a tax or levy, it then bastardises the tax by having to many exceptions or means tests etc… Carbon Tax for example has too many exceptions which defeat the purpose it was implemented for which is reducing carbon emissions.

    It then tries to redistribute that wealth. If the mechanism doesn’t create the wealth it predicts you’re in trouble. It’s complicated and will have unintended consequences. It’s an inefficient way of generating a constant tax base. I’m in favour of completely revamping our tax system (K.I.S.S.) not just cherry picking a few items from a tax review (Henry) which excluded a major tax. Won’t crap on about it now. Getting side tracked.

    As for humans being the problem, humans shouldn’t be made to feel guilty for simply existing. I sincerely believe the solution will be solved in ways we couldn’t predict and humans will be the answer.

  11. I too enjoy a good debate which is why I take the time to respond to nearly every comment I get on this blog, even if they don’t agree with me (it seems that especially so as of late). They are a lot more fun in person 😉

    I agree with your first two points Chaos as I do feel like there’s a sense of entitlement from the middle class (our “battlers”) who overall pay little to no tax thanks to the myriad of breaks that we give to them. I’m not advocating cutting everything but there is a definite balance that needs to be struck and that’s where the debate should be. I also felt like the Carbon Tax was far too complicated (mostly owing to the fact that it is an ETS that’s just in a fixed price period). Personally I would’ve liked to have seen a flat tax that applied regardless, not another market which will likely be gamed.

    The redistribution of wealth is indeed a topic for another day, one I might tackle in a future post.

    I don’t believe we necessarily need to feel guilty about it, just that there’s a problem and we can do something to fix it. There’s a non-zero chance that the problem will be solved in some way that we can’t yet fathom but until we start to see the horizon of said solution I believe we’re best placed to take some action now, if only to make our jobs easier down the line.

  12. The only thing saving the world from climate skeptics and climate believers is that neither group cares to take any action. The Carbon Tax is just a pretext for plugging Australia’s leaking economy. I only hope that once again, bureaucracy will save us from the government.

  13. @David Klemke
    “So you don’t trust them with money from the Carbon Tax, what about the regular tax dollars?”

    Exactly right. For example, $10 a week is $500 a year. Why not simply increase regular taxes by $500 a year, why must it be a carbon tax of that amount, what difference does it make? None really. A $500 carbon tax is the same as a $500 regular tax increase. But a regular tax increase is almost impossible for gpoliticians to get without losing their job, but under the guise of ‘saving the planet’ some peole can be fooled into paying it. And that just about sums it up.

    Where I live we’ve allowed an eco-tax on tires, which was supposed to go toward tire recycleing, after 5 years it now goes into generral revenue. We’ve also been talked into an eco-tax on bottles, to recycle bottles, now that money goes into general revenue. It will be the same thing for the carbon tax, it will start off paying for a few wind farms, then gradually it just goes into general revenue. How can the government still pull the wool over your eyes after all of these years?

  14. Ah but it’s not the same as regular tax. The Carbon Tax only affects the top 500 carbon emitting companies and is directly tied to how much carbon they emit. Therefore a company who wants to reduce the amount of tax they pay can look into greener technologies to reduce their carbon footprint. It’s a direct disincentive to polluting. Of course some of the costs will get passed onto consumers but the revenues generated from the tax will be used to offset the hardest hit. For the rest of us it’s a small price to pay and the remaining revenue will be used to further reduce our carbon footprint.

    So what I’m getting here is that you don’t so much object to the government collecting extra revenue, just the guises under which its done? I personally don’t have a problem with it as long as it keeps the disincentive for pollution which will push companies towards more environmentally friendly technologies. Taken to its logical extreme there would come a time when all of the carbon tax paying companies would be producing 0 carbon emissions and thus would not have to pay any tax. Thinking that the government is just using this as another fund raising adventure seems far too cynical for me especially when they copped so much flack over its implementation in the first place.

  15. @David Klemke

    “The Carbon Tax only affects the top 500 carbon emitting companies and is directly tied to how much carbon they emit. ”

    Ah, but they simply pass the tax to thier customers. The general public pays it and the top 500 carbon emitters are effectively the government’s tax collectors. And only a fool would believe that the tax will remain with only the top 500, as time passes that number will increase to 1000, then 2000 then 10,000 top emitters. And gradually it will be apllied to everyone, just like what was tried in the UK a number of years ago. You know what I refer to here, the carbon credit card for all UK citizens. With a carbon credit card everyone becomes a carbon trader and the total government control of our lives is complete.

    Read here http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2006/dec/11/uk.greenpolitics

  16. Indeed we all knew that was going to happen and the current government didn’t forget that either which is why much of the revenue generated goes to offsetting those costs that will be passed down to consumers. The average impact to an Australian household was somewhere in the order of $10/week and for those where that would make a big difference they’ll have it more than offset by initiatives funded from the carbon tax.

    As for the carbon credit card you refer to I can see that we’re 6 years down the line from the initial study and there doesn’t appear to be even a hint of that system existing. The closest thing I could find was a trial of a voluntary system on Norfolk Island here in Australia but even that’s been going for 2 years without much press about it (signalling that it’s likely not in use any more).

    If you truly believe that these carbon based initiatives are just a scheme by the government to control you despite all the evidence to the contrary then I’m not sure what I can do to convince you otherwise.

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