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August 01 2012


Victory Declared For The Climate Science Denialists

A VICTORY has been declared in the field of climate change but the lap of honour is not being run by research scientists or renewable energy bosses, or by coral reefs, drought-stricken farmers or the citizens of low-lying countries.

Rather, if you accept as valid this declaration of victory from one of Australia’s leading thinkers, then those popping the champagne corks are the fossil fuel lobby.

Standing by the track cheering this triumph, are the conservative think tanks and the free market ideologues that believe the world should be run on their terms. To follow the analogy through to the bitter end, the losers are everyone else.

Professor Robert Manne, a political philosopher at La Trobe University, is making this declaration in a 7000-word essay published tomorrow in The Monthly magazine – its cover screaming “Victory of the Denialists: How Climate Science Was Vanquished”.

Manne’s essay charts the decades-long effort to spread doubt and confusion about the science of human-caused climate change, focusing on the think tanks and corporations that created and backed a “relentless” campaign in the United States which has infected other parts of the western world, including Australia.

Manne draws on already published books and research papers about the climate denial industry, and so in that respect close watchers won’t find anything new. But it is his declaration that climate science denialists have won which will stick in the throat of many climate change campaigners and science communicators.

I asked Professor Manne why he had come to that conclusion.

I find it difficult to see how a reasonably objective observer could deny that this is what has happened—gradually at first but also dramatically since the end of 2009 due largely to the combination of the failure of Copenhagen and the impact of 'Climategate'.


The victory I write about is limited to the United States, although denialism is an important and almost certainly growing movement in Canada, Australia and the UK.

If climate change denialists are pleased [by the conclusion] then they have chosen to ignore the explicit claim of the article that they are part of an irrationalist movement that is placing the future of the Earth at risk. The role of analysis is to be as faithful to the truth as one can be, not to boost morale or to support delusion.

For the denialists to be “victorious” they do not need to "prove" that global warming is a "hoax". All they have to do is to "manufacture doubt", that is to say to create a substantial level of public doubt about the solidity of the science.

According to Manne, President Barack Obama has been “nobbled” by the denialist campaign and the Republican Party almost “entirely converted” to denying the science.

Manne concludes in his essay that the success of the denialist campaign is one that subsequent generations will look upon “as perhaps the darkest in the history of humankind”.

But just as Manne makes his declaration, a project funded by two of America’s greatest supporters of the “denialist” campaign has backfired spectacularly.

Professor Richard Muller, a physicist at the University of California at Berkeley, led a project that accepted a $150,000 donation from a foundation controlled by the Koch brothers to study global temperature records (the Kochs have pumped millions into the global climate denial campaign).

Muller had previously stated that claims by skeptics that temperature records were unreliable merited a major investigation. He has also previously criticised the work of Pennsylvania State University scientist Professor Michael Manne, whose research gave birth to the now famous hockey stick graph showing a sharp rise in recent global temperatures.

After going through 1.6 billion records from 36,000 temperature stations, Muller’s team says the world’s temperature has risen by 1.5C in the 250 years since the start of the industrial revolution. More than half of this increase has occurred in the last 50 years.

What’s more, Muller now says that human activity, mainly burning fossil fuels, is to blame for practically all of that warming.

Muller’s study, which has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, has been widely reported not because of a novel approach to climate science research, or because it tells us anything new, but rather because of his reported “conversion” from being skeptical to accepting the science.  He now describes himself as a “converted skeptic”.

Presumably, the oil rich Koch brothers were so convinced the world’s temperature gauges were lying, that they were happy to provide a no strings donation to Muller’s project, which stipulated its donors  “have no say over how we conduct the research or what we publish”.

But in a chronology, Muller’s work has come to essentially the same conclusion as the rest of the climate science community, except they got there a good decade or so earlier.

In The Monthly, Manne defines “denialists” as “orthodox members of a tightly knit group whose natural disposition is not to think for themselves”.

But on the same spectrum is a group of individuals, lobbyists and think-tankers who hide their skepticism behind a charade of pragmatism. Professor Clive Hamilton, recently appointed to board of the Australian Government’s Climate Change Authority, describes them as the “luke warmists”.

Luke warmists, Hamilton wrote recently, accept the science but relentlessly and unrealistically emphasise uncertainties, play down the dangers and advocate for only tokenistic, low-impact policy responses.

But what about those world leaders who have accepted the science of human caused climate change and have articulated the risks? Even these have hardly covered themselves in glory.

Because after Kyotos, Copenhagens, Durbans, Cancuns and revisits to Rio for new earth summits, the world’s emissions continue to boom reaching an all-time record last year.

Even though Australia has introduced a price on greenhouse gas emissions on the heaviest polluters, the scheme will allow these emitters to buy carbon credits from overseas to offset as much as half their liabilities.

This means that Australia’s domestically generated emissions will likely rise for the next 20 years, although not nearly as quickly as they would have risen without the scheme altogether.

Bizarrely, this situation is seen by some as major progress.

The carbon price is an important step forward and will help drive the roll-out of renewable energy in the same way that decades of subsidies have helped the fossil fuel industry to retain its market dominance.

But then there is Australia’s hypocritical position of claiming to be concerned about climate change while at the same time becoming a world leader in the export of coal and gas to be burned outside the jurisdiction of any carbon pricing mechanism (although plans to price carbon in China could change things).

Research just published by not-for-profit group Beyond Zero Emissions suggests when Australia’s domestic emissions are added to those from the coal and gas we export, Australia becomes a major global emitter, ranking sixth globally.

The BZE Laggard to Leader report finds that by 2030, the emissions locked-up in Australian coal and gas exports would combine with domestic emissions to give the country an annual carbon footprint in the region of 2.2 billion tonnes.

In terms of exports, these emissions from Australian coal and gas exports will be almost double those coming from Saudi Arabia’s exports of oil.

And this is the position currently being advocated by Australia, whose Prime Minister Julia Gillard says that inaction on climate change is “ultimately threatening for our planet”. She is certainly no “denialist”.

Robert Manne says the denialist triumph might not be stable “in the long term”.“Who can tell?” he said in an email to me. “As Maynard Keynes once famously observed: in the long-term we are all dead."

July 25 2012


A Carbon Tax is More Viable than Cap and Trade

A carbon tax is a more viable solution than cap-and-tradePricing carbon is the cornerstone of a blueprint to contain climate change as it would provide both incentives and disincentives to reduce emissions. It would also drive investment and research dollars into renewable energy and efficiency. The best thing that governments can do to reduce emissions is to implement a cap and trade scheme or failing that, a carbon tax.

Cap and Trade

Creating carbon markets is among the most expedient ways to address climate change. Cap and trade rewards efficiency and punishes polluters. It would also increase green jobs, lower electricity bills, enhance competitiveness, and forestall a climate catastrophe.

The cap and trade strategy allows governments to set incrementally lower limits on CO2 emissions. Those who emit CO2 could either reduce their emissions to meet the targets, or they could buy emission credits from those who can come in under the targets.

Several economists, including University of Wyoming economics professor Edward Barbier, say cap and trade has the broadest political appeal because it’s a market-driven incentive to achieve emission reductions as cheaply and efficiently as possible.

Although price volatility and scandals have undermined the European Carbon trading market, others like China and Australia are looking to improve on Europe’s failings. Further, a new report on Tokyo’s cap and trade efforts suggests it has been a great success, as has carbon trading in British Columbia.

Early in 2012, BusinessGreen reported that China is getting ready to set up a direct tax on its largest greenhouse gas emitters by 2015. Seven Chinese cities and provinces are already preparing to launch the country’s first emissions trading schemes.

The results of the first fiscal year of operation of Tokyo’s cap and trade validate the city’s groundbreaking initiative to introduce a market-based approach to emissions reductions at the urban scale. Launched in 2010, new reports indicate that there have been collective emissions reductions of 13 percent over base-year figures. Cited as a “world-leading policy” by World Green Building Council (WGBC), Tokyo’s cap and trade program provides a compelling example for other cities to follow.

Nations like Australia are starting with a carbon tax, then transitioning to cap and trade. Australia’s carbon tax went into effect in July and carbon trading is scheduled to come online in 2015. The current Australian government sees the importance of pricing carbon. “The science is convincing, the threat is real, the economic and environmental benefits are tangible, the need for action imperative,” Wayne Swan, Australia’s finance minister, said in 2011.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has predicted the tax would cut Australia’s emissions by 160 million tonnes within a decade, the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road. Right now, the tax affects the country’s 500 biggest polluters and will be followed by a carbon trading program in 2015, which allows companies to meet 50 percent of their carbon reduction targets by paying for offsets.

Australia’s cap and trade program is expected to benefit emerging countries like Mexico.  Cool nrg International is an example of an Australian company that is providing offset projects. They are planning to distribute 45 million energy efficient light bulbs to 6.5 million low-income households in Mexico City. The project is expected to save 33,000 gigawatt hours of energy, equivalent to about a third of Mexico City’s auto emissions.

“Employment continues to grow just as strongly after we put a price on pollution…Our economy will continue to grow solidly while making deep cuts in carbon pollution,” Swan said. The renewable electricity sector is projected to grow by 600 percent by 2050. “But the only way to get these kinds of outcomes in a cost-effective way is with a market mechanism.” said Swan.

Nonetheless, it remains a tough sell with Australian voters. According to a July 23rd survey, Gillard’s Labor party has the support of only 28 percent of voters. However, a new study by the Climate Institute has found that more information could change the minds of voters.

Carbon Taxes

Historically, taxes have been a non-starter in U.S., particularly with Republicans. However, with the failure of cap and trade, many economists and a growing number of business leaders are looking towards a carbon tax to reign in emissions.

The Breakthrough Institute estimates that a carbon tax of as little as $5 per ton could result in $30 billion a year in the U.S. This could be used for R&D funding, project development, and other clean-tech supports, including a potential rebate for consumers initially hit with higher energy costs in some regions.

Business leaders like Microsoft founder Bill Gates is among those who support a carbon tax. In 2010, Gates expressed his support for a tax over cap-and-trade, stating “it’s ideal to have a carbon tax, not just a price on carbon…”

It is clear that Republican opposition makes cap and trade a dead issue in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. However, one prominent Republican claims that it is still possible to introduce a carbon tax.

In July, George Shultz said that his party could eventually support a carbon tax. The former Secretary of State for the Regan administration has called for a carbon tax to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption. Shultz is the head of the Hoover Institution’s Task Force on Energy Policy, which calls for boosting energy efficiency, reducing dependence on oil exports to improve national security, and putting a price on carbon.

“We have to have a system where all forms of energy bear their full costs,” Shultz said. “For some, their costs are the costs of producing the energy, but many other forms of energy produce side effects, like pollution, that are a cost to society. The producers don’t bear that cost, society does. There has to be a way to level the playing field and cause those forms of energy to bear their true costs. That means putting a price on carbon.”

“We’ve studied a variety of ways to do that, and to me the most appealing way is a revenue-neutral carbon tax. That is, you distribute all the revenue from the carbon tax in some fashion back to taxpayers, so there is no fiscal drag on the economy. British Columbia has a revenue-neutral carbon tax. They started low and increased the tax over five years to a much higher level, so people could adjust. The revenue is distributed mostly to individuals, so it’s popular.”

According to a new report released in June, the Canadian province of British Columbia introduced a carbon tax that has successfully reduced fossil fuel consumption to the lowest in Canada with little economic damage. The study titled British Columbia’s Carbon Tax Shift, produced by the Ottawa-based think-tank Sustainable Prosperity, offers clear evidence that the tax has helped reduce emissions while producing tangible economic benefits.

Economist and Sustainable Prosperity senior director Alex Wood said as a consequence of the carbon tax, “you’re starting to see in B.C. a separation between economic growth and fossil fuel use.” That “decoupling,” he added, would lead to a more “resilient” economy insulated from oil price shocks.

“The B.C. model is simple, it’s elegant; it’s a lot of different things,” said Wood. “You reduce taxes on income, on corporate income, and you promise to be revenue neutral and you make sure that happens.”

Despite controversy, British Columbians are increasingly on board. Wood says the report demonstrates that dire predictions are unfounded and he further claims that B.C.’s carbon tax policy could be easily exported.

Reasons to Support a US Carbon Tax 

A solid rational for a carbon tax in the US comes from a recent book titled, The Case for a Carbon Tax, written by Shi-Ling Hsu, a professor at the University of British Columbia. According to Hsu, a carbon tax is the most effective mechanism to combat climate change and motivate the private sector while raising much-needed revenue for governments. As reviewed by the Energy Collective, here are 10 reasons to support a U.S. carbon tax from Hsu’s book.

  1. It is economically efficient.  An accurate disincentive for using carbon-based fuels could mimic the increment of damage — the marginal damage — caused by each ton of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. “The simple genius of a carbon tax is that it aggregates disparate pieces of information, transmitting a price signal at every stage in which there is fossil fuel usage . . . no data collection is required and no model is required.”
  2. It avoids creating physical capital that could actually harm the environment — e.g. coal-fired power plants. “The problem with capital is that once we have it, its high cost makes it difficult to dispose of.”
  3. It doesn’t interfere with other regulatory instruments or jurisdictions. “A carbon tax would have the advantage, because of its simplicity, of forming the strongest foundation upon which other policies can stand.”
  4. Government is better at reducing bad actions than increasing good actions. Taxes work better than subsidies.
  5. Incentives for innovation — price effects. It would impact emissions not only from the largest carbon sources such as power plants and industrial facilities but all carbon sources.
  6. Incentives for innovation — price breadth. It focuses new products and services no matter how much money can be saved by using less electricity or electricity from a different source, e.g. renewables.
  7. It is easy to administer. There are no “offsets” as would be needed with a cap-and-trade program. “Awarding an offset for a project that purports to avoid emissions increases rather than actually reducing them is a tricky proposition.”
  8. International coordination is doable. “An international accord based on a carbon tax scheme would avoid the unfortunate appearance of China being allocated some cap amount by an external bureaucracy.” It “would not represent  . . . a binding limit to economic growth.”
  9. It raises badly needed revenue. There is a lot of money that could be raised from discouraging carbon emissions. However, the less carbon emitted, the lower revenues would be.
  10. It avoids the risk of catastrophe. In the long-run, this is the ultimate measure of efficiency from a public welfare perspective.

A carbon tax may succeed where emissions trading schemes have failed because a tax sends a clear and consistent message to the markets with little opportunity for speculative manipulation.


Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: swanksalot, courtesy flickr

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Climate Science Denier Debunks Greenhouse Theory With Two Fish Cooler Boxes And A Roll Of Cling Film

SOMETIMES in the world of climate science "scepticism", things can become a little surreal. A bit odd, if you will, to the point where you need to inflict a sharp pain upon your person to confirm you've not drifted off into an alternate reality.

Like the time, for example, when Australian mainstream TV station Channel Seven chose a "climate expert" who once wrote a book called "Pawmistry" detailing how to read your cat's paws. 

Or the time when a Christian fundamentalist claimed the Victorian bushfires were his god’s revenge for the state’s “incendiary abortion laws which decimate life in the womb”. 

Then there was the time when US free market think-tank the Heartland Institute said "the people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren't scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen."

To me, the odd thing about these instances is not that they actually happened or that there are people with enough arrogance and ideology to believe their own fantasies. What's odd, is that people in positions of influence still associate themselves with them.

Ken Ring, the "pawmistry" guy, still gets slots on Channel Seven. He was on again just a couple of months ago.

The fundamentalist Christian Pastor Daniel Nalliah later hosted a lecture by climate science denier extraordinaire Lord Christopher Monckton, who is also favoured by the world's richest woman Gina Rinehart.

The Heartland Institute may have paid the price for its billboard campaign juxtaposing climate science and the unabomber but it didn't stop Australia's Institute of Public Affairs science fellow Professor Bob Carter concluding the campaign was a good idea.

And so with all this in mind, we come to the latest episode in this compendium of climate contrarian curios.

To fill you in, Queensland's ruling Liberal-National Party has overwhelmingly accepted a motion that climate science shouldn't be taught in schools. The proposer of the motion (which may not be taken up by the parliamentary wing of the party), is a Dr Richard Pearson, from the Sunshine Coast town of Noosa.

It now appears that Dr Pearson has been running his own climate science experiments at home, in his kitchen, with results that some may find remarkable.

Armed only with thermometers, two fish cooler boxes and a roll of cling film, Dr Pearson believes he may have disproved the greenhouse effect (you may now pinch yourself).

We know this because he wrote about his experiment on the website of the climate sceptic group the Galileo Movement (patron, popular radio presenter Alan Jones, with a cornucopia of climate contrarian advisers). What was Dr Pearson's conclusion after running his fish box test?

 The Greenhouse Effect theory is not confirmed by this experiment and may be disproved by it.

Now, even though the notion that a guy in his kitchen armed with two fish cooler boxes and a roll of cling film could disprove the greenhouse theory may seem a little fanciful (because I acknowledge that to some it may), I thought I'd waste the time of an actual atmospheric scientist.

Because after all, I don't presume to be a scientist even though I did once make one of those volcanoes from bicarb of soda, vinegar and food colouring. My experiment was a success and also falsified the outrageous claim that my mum's tablecloth was "stainless".

I guess though that there's an extraordinarily slim chance that a Nobel prize could be winging its way to Dr Pearson's residence (he could put it in his fish cooler box for safe keeping). 

So I asked Professor Steven Sherwood at the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre to review Dr Pearson's experiment. This is his response. Settle in.

This request falls at an interesting time, as I just finished lecturing about the greenhouse effect to students who have no background in science  - they're mostly arts majors.  At this point I would expect - or hope - these students have sufficient understanding to see why this "experiment" by Dr. Pearson did not work.  In fact I may use this as a test question or follow-up question to see if they understood the lecture. 
Also, if Dr. Pearson would spend even one hour studying the greenhouse effect he would learn why this test does not work. The greenhouse effect is determined by the difference in temperature between the added infrared absorber (in this case, CO2) and the surface.  Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere radiate to space at an average temperature of about 250K (-23C).  It is because they are so cold that they exert a greenhouse effect.  Absorbers at temperatures matching those of the surface would exert no greenhouse effect. In his film-covered boxes, the temperature is essentially uniform.  Thus there is no greenhouse effect, no matter what substance he puts into the box. 
Incidentally for a number of years I had students build such boxes(not filled with CO2) and they can be a good way to learn about radiation — for example, if he places this (air-filled) box outside at night he will see that the temperature falls below the surface temperature.  This is because of emission of infrared radiation which is not balanced by sunlight. In fact, Dr. Pearson could mimic the true greenhouse effect if he could build a several-layer system and put CO2 in the top layer, but thermally insulate it from the lower layer.  This would be quite a bit more difficult to build, and the performance could be severely compromised by diffusion of heat within the apparatus and to the outside, but in principle could begin to reveal the greenhouse effect.
By the way, the greenhouse trapping of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is not a theory as Pearson falsely claims but is directly observed by satellites.  It is an observed fact, and the warming follows from the principle of conservation of energy, which is as close to observed fact as one gets with theories in physics.

So there you go.  If only Dr Pearson had checked with an actual expert in atmospheric physics, then he could have saved himself some time and the cost of some Glad Wrap. If you bother to read Dr Pearson's "experiment" then it might well sound vaguely plausible to non-experts, which includes the vast majority of the general public.

At the end of his experiment, Dr Pearson recounts how his daughter then asked how a man bearing cling film could "disprove a theory that hundreds of climate scientists around the world say is true". A fair question. “That my darling is science”, was Dr Pearson's response.

Is it really? Professor Sherwood again.

When Dr. Pearson says,'that's science' he is I am afraid kidding himself. The way a real scientist interprets an observation is to write down the equations governing the system.  This is what my students have done.  They are not hard, and for the type of system Dr Pearson is putting together do not involve, for example, calculus - only the ability to solve a coupled system of linear equations.  Only then do you know whether you are interpreting it correctly.

Professor Matthew England, of the University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre and also chairman of the Australian Climate Commission's science advisory panel, says the motion Dr Pearson succesfully proposed to the LNP could have broad ramifications, if only for the state's reputation.

If the proposal to remove greenhouse science from the school curriculum is enacted, Queensland's education system will become an international joke overnight.  Basic greenhouse gas physics has been established with around 200 years of scientific progress - any move to muzzle climate science facts from being taught at schools will be condemned as world's worst practice in scientific education.
So if the Queensland Education Minister John Paul Langbroek does act on the motion (campaigners are petitioning) from his party, then Prof England says the state will be a laughing stock.
Until then, we'll just have to settle for the majority of the members of the LNP.


May 01 2012


On Our Radar: Pipeline Company Acquires Sunoco

Energy Transfer says the $5.3 billion deal will expand its presence in the transportation and storage of crude oil, natural gas and refined petrochemicals.

March 08 2012


February 14 2012


February 02 2012


On Our Radar: A Glacier Thief?

After intercepting a refrigerated truck carrying illicit ice, the authorities accuse the driver of theft and are considering charging him with violation of national monuments.

January 27 2012


When Marine Mammals Become Food

Rising human consumption of marine mammals in tropical regions poses a threat to animals like the dugong, which is similar to a manatee, and the Atlantic humpback dolphin, researchers write.

January 10 2012


November 30 2011


The Science of Debiasing: The New “Debunking Handbook” Is a Treasure Trove For Defenders of Reason

For quite some time here at DeSmogBlog, I’ve been writing about the growing science of irrationality—in other words, our ever-better scientific understanding of why people reject clearly correct information. I believe we can’t possibly get to a better place, in debates over issues like global warming, until we understand why getting facts across turns out to be so difficult.

A large amount of psychological science has now been published on this matter—but boiling it all down into a practical, usable guide for someone who wants to communicate in a scientifically-informed way? Not so much.

Not until now.

I simply cannot believe that John Cook of Skeptical Science and psychologist Stephan Lewandowsky managed, in just 8 pages, to create something as magnificent as their new Debunking Handbook. It is packed not only with wonderful graphics, but also with a clear explanation of why many attempts to defeat misinformation fail, and what steps must be taken to do a better job.

The core issue, of course, is one that I’ve written much about—too many scientists assume that that facts win out on their own, but that isn’t actually true. If you base your communication strategy on this misconception, you will fail very badly.

Instead, Cook and Lewandowky explain that there are a variety of “backfires” that can be triggered by uninformed communication styles. Stating a myth before debunking can actually reinforce it. Debunking a myth with an overload of information can also backfire. And attacking a worldview can backfire most of all.

So what do you do? You should read their guide, but basically it boils down to several principles:

1.       Don’t lead with the wrong view you’re trying to debunk, but rather, with the correct view you want to instill.

2.       Don’t overload people with information. Be “lean, mean, and easy to read.”

3.       Don’t attack worldviews—either find more persuadable audiences, or defuse deeply seated ideological resistance through practices like framing and self-affirmation, which reduce defensiveness. “Self affirmation and framing aren’t about manipulating people,” write Cook and Lewandowsky, “They give the facts a fighting chance.”

4.       Don’t leave someone with nothing to believe—if you want to unseat a myth, you’d better provide a better real explanation in its place. “When you debunk a myth, you create a gap in the person’s mind,” reads the Handbook. “To be effective, your debunking must fill the gap.”

On top of these key points, there are a variety of more practical bits of advice like:

1.       Use graphics to convey correct information. Especially graphics as good as the ones that Cook and Lewandowsky use.

2.       Use sound bites. Your bottom line needs to be Tweet-able.

3.       Sometimes, it is better to reduce the credibility of a source than to frontally attack its wrong claims.

As someone who teaches science communication, I’m going to recommend Cook’s and Lewandowsky’s handbook to as many folks as I can find.

Perhaps the best aspect of all: They follow their own principles. They are short, sweet, use brilliant graphics and….well, if you don’t believe in this approach to science communication already, they’ll change your mind.

If anything can, anyway.

November 29 2011


November 23 2011


Putting a Price on Carbon

Putting a price on carbon remains a vital tool for dealing with the climate crisisDespite conspicuous resistance from the U.S., governments around the world are putting a price on carbon. Emissions trading has increased dramatically in the last five years and over the next five years the trading of carbon emissions is expected to become the world’s largest commodity market.

The provisions for international emissions trading were introduced with the establishment of the Kyoto Protocol. The establishment of carbon markets has acquired even more importance in light of the looming expiry of Kyoto in 2012.

Taxing carbon increases energy efficiency and provides incentives for polluters to shift to renewable energy and replace outdated technology. The tax will breed innovation by forcing companies to replace outdated technologies with newer ones.

Carbon trading may be the best way to limit carbon emissions without damaging the economy. Carbon pricing also provides the certainty and simplicity that businesses and investors need. A well established trading system can be seen as an environmental regulation tool, which permits companies to reach emissions targets set out by a regulator at a lower cost.

In an emissions trading scheme, regulators decide on a maximum amount of a pollutant that can be emitted in a particular area within a specified time frame; the regulator allocates a portion of the allowable quota for individual firms.

Permits are allocated to emitters allowing them certain amounts of emissions. Any company not needing its whole allocation is then free to sell the surplus in the ETS market, where the buyers are typically companies that need more than their allocations. The idea is that, because there is value to these permits, companies will be encouraged to invest in green technologies, especially as the cap on total allowable emissions gets progressively lower, making fewer of the permits available over time.

 In November, the Australian senate voted to pass a carbon tax which will then be replaced by a market based system in 2015. Per capita, Australia is the worst carbon emitter in the world and relies on coal for 80% of their electricity needs. The country is also the largest coal exporter in the world.

“We cannot be stranded with a high-pollution economy as the world changes,” said Australian Prime Minister Gillard. Putting a price on carbon is ”the cheapest, fairest way to cut pollution and build a clean energy economy,” said a spokesperson from the prime minister’s office.

Carbon pricing in Australia would cut carbon pollution by at least 160 million tons a year in 2020, which is the equivalent of taking 45 million cars off the road.

The Australian Prime Minister said that passing the tax was “a major milestone in Australia’s efforts to cut carbon pollution and seize the economic and job opportunities of the future. Adding, the government has “secured a clean energy future for all Australians.”

Taxing carbon will help Australia meet its goal of reducing carbon emissions 5% below 2000 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. The carbon tax will spur multi-billion dollar investments in renewable energy and to help to close the country’s aging coal plants. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency will give grants for research and development for promising clean energy technologies, and to help them reach commercial scale.

Although only the largest businesses will be taxed, it will ultimately put pressure on all Australian businesses to adopt sustainable practices. To help offset the cost to consumers and businesses, households will receive $5 billion a year in tax cuts, and business will get $3 billion a year in assistance.

Many major Australian companies have expressed their support for the measure, which will help the nation to transition to the low carbon economy. Major companies in diverse industries have pledged their support for a carbon tax, including GE, Fujitsu, IKEA, Alstom and Pacific Hydro.

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore highlighted the success of the vote on his blog, hailing the “courage of legislators” and writing: “With this vote, the world has turned a pivotal corner in the collective effort to solve the climate crisis.”

Australia’s carbon market is second only to the EU’s, which accounts for 97% of carbon trades. Although austerity measures have greatly reduced the price of carbon, according to the World Bank, the global carbon market was still estimated at $142 billion in 2010.

Beginning on July 1, 2012, the new legislation will impose a tax of $23 a ton on the nation’s 500 biggest polluters. This price will remain for three years, and in 2015, it will be set at market price. The carbon market in Australia is projected to reach $15.5 billion by 2015, after which carbon permit sales could raise $27 billion in the first four years.

Carbon taxes vary around the world, in France the carbon tax is set at $25 a ton, in Switzerland it is $39, in Norway it is $66, in Sweden it is $145, and in India it is 50 rupees.

New Zealand has a carbon program similar to Australia. Japan, South Korea, South Africa and Mexico are also planning programs that address carbon. As the world’s leading carbon dioxide emitter, China has proposed plans for a carbon tax to come into place by 2013.

China will introduce a pilot scheme for carbon emissions trading and gradually develop a national market to reduce emissions and save energy. China has indicated that it hoped to introduce a pilot scheme in a handful of major cities by 2013 and expand it nationally in 2015. China has pledged to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide produced per unit of gross domestic product by 40 to 45 percent by the end of 2020.

As part of their carbon-trading plans, China will promote the development of green technologies and products through means such as preferential taxation policies. Xie, a vice minister with China’s top economic planning agency, was quoted saying that it also would “manage growth in energy-intensive industries”.

America is the second largest carbon emitter in the world, and even though the U.S. is responsible for a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions, lawmakers have no plans to tax carbon or to implement a market trading system. Congress failed to pass a climate change law in 2010 and it is unlikely to support similar legislation until at least 2013. The problem in the U.S. is Republican obstructionism from a congress hell-bent on resisting any form of carbon emission legislation.

California is the leading green energy economy in the U.S.  In October, they approved rules for a multibillion-dollar carbon market cap-and-trade program. California has mandated that a third of its electricity come from renewable sources like solar and wind. Although California is struggling with a budget shortfall, the state’s environmental efforts are creating green jobs and garnering significant venture capital investments.

California will become the second-largest carbon market in the world, following the European system. Point Carbon, a Thomson Reuters company, forecasts the market in California to grow from $1.7 billion in 2012 to nearly $10 billion in 2016, with prices rising from $10 a ton in 2012 to $18 per ton in 2016.

The election of Republican governors in 2010 has led to the abandonment of Western Climate Initiative (WCI), a greenhouse gas trading program by several U.S. states. In total, six states have abandoned the WCI leaving only California and four Canadian provinces involved in the program. New Mexico, Arizona, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Utah have formally declared their withdrawal from the WCI.

Despite the problems facing the WCI, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI ), a 10-state cap-and-trade market in the northeastern U.S., is producing favorable results. Although New Jersey’s Republican governor has also announced his plan to drop out the RGGI, a new study says the program has saved money for consumers, stimulated job growth and kept money in local economies. According to the study, much of the benefit was from improving energy efficiency.

In the absence of a global climate agreement, a patchwork of carbon regulations will likely continue. However, universal adoption is crucial so that polluters do not simply shift their GHG producing activities elsewhere, this is commonly referred to as leakage. As evidenced by what we have seen in Europe, climate policies will likely try to prevent leakage, but such measures may not only weaken the environmental performance, they may undermine international competitiveness.

Until we have a global deal, the private sector must step forward and take the initiative. Perhaps this could be best achieved by a sector-based approach that brings together trade and carbon issues for some of the most carbon intense industries.

Voluntary carbon markets will continue, but governments will need to show leadership to make carbon pricing truly ubiquitous. Carbon emissions are a global problem, but the major powers must price carbon if we are to arrive at a global solution.

Putting a price on carbon is a great idea, particularly when paired with efficiency programs and renewable portfolio standards. Revenue earned from carbon pricing could be employed to further reduce GHG emissions. Feed-in-Tariffs and other policies could also accelerate the reduction in emissions.

Drawing inspiration from US President Barack Obama, Australian Senator Penny Wong said: “Yes, we will act…[for a] clean energy future.” The question that remains unanswered is, as the world’s leading economy, when will America get on board?
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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October 21 2011


September 06 2011


Australia's Climate Scientists Expose Shock-jock Distortion Tactics

Authored by Stephan Lewandowsky. This post originally appeared at The Guardian. Re-printed here with permission.

Australia has unwittingly become a social experiment. A ruthless experiment on the fate of a society when a single media conglomerate, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, owns 167 newspapers and controls around 70% of the printed media market.

After the phone-hacking scandal rocked Britain, News Corp officials in Australia struggled to put some daylight between its local operations and the rest of the empire, assuring the public that the country was spared phone hacking and other unethical practices. It is perhaps unlikely that wire tapping or phone hacking was practiced in Australia, simply because the local specialty of the Murdoch organs and their shock-jock allies has been a fairly low-tech reliance on outrageous spin.

Nowhere has the reliance on spin been more apparent than during the coverage of the climate "debate" by the Murdoch media and allied shock jocks.

The Australian government is currently seeking to introduce a rather modest tax on carbon, which will have little effect on low-to-moderate income earners, but which will nonetheless help cut emissions, thus finally getting Australia to live up to its historical responsibilities as one of the world's largest per capita carbon emitters and one of the dirtiest producers of power.

The resultant "debate" about the carbon tax has turned into a fact-free brawl that is sufficiently devoid of ethics to make football hooligans blush. Segments of the media, alas, do not blush.

During the recent truck "convoy" that descended upon Parliament Hill in Canberra to protest against the carbon tax, faint memories of Allende's Chile were quickly overpowered by the raging tirade of the presiding shock jock, Alan Jones, who whipped his crowd of truckwits into a frenzy when journalists asked whether he had been paid for his engagement. Not a silly question, given that this individual has been involved in a cash-for-comment scandal before.

This rage has been no isolated incident. At a recent talkfest by vaudevillian denialist Lord Christopher Monckton, a journalist of the ABC was jostled by the hostile crowd.

And despite the robustness of its editorial, the Australian appears remarkably thin-skinned. Its editor-in-chef threatened to sue a former reporter for defamation because she reportedly said writing about climate change at the paper was "absolutely excruciating. It was torture."

In response to all this, and in the absence of politicians with sufficient courage to take on the hate-mongers, some Australian academics have started to provide a platform for accountability by shining a light on the media's practices.

Using the Conversation, the world's first daily paper written primarily by academics in co-operation with journalists, academics are beginning to catalogue the excruciating and tortuous daily distortions of climate science by various papers, especially by the Australian, Murdoch's flagship publication.

This catalogue reveals much that is humorous, albeit involuntarily so.

According to the Australian's front page, a picture of an aged and bronzed Aussie swimmer on an iconic beach is evidence against the threat of sea level rises. Why? Because if 80-year-old Kevin Court hasn't noticed the sea rising, then why bother with satellite data? And because that was so much fun, let's do it again and put the 53-year-old veteran swimmer Lee Boman on the front page a few months later. Two nice blokes in trunks allay all our fears about rising sea levels and prove that climate change is a hoax. Or something like that.

When the technical difficulties and expenditures associated with the procurement of photos become prohibitive, the Australian will happily resort to an internet chain email to present "facts" about CO2 emissions. Flagship journalism at its best.

On the odd occasions that practicing scientists are contacted, their statements either disappear without a trace or are distorted beyond recognition. Two months ago, an article on "a deluge of news" jubilantly declared that the "first solid rains for two years have all but broken the drought that has crippled the West Australian grain industry."

Actually, no.

The journalist should have been in possession of information from climatologists that autumn rains had been far below average and drier than last year – which had ended up being the driest on record. Somehow that information was exchanged for the obligatory soothing quote from farmer Brian Cusack in Narembeen, who talked of a "normal year."

Since then, inflow into Perth reservoirs has remained frighteningly minimal and total winter rain has been significantly below average, as explained and predicted by the climatologists months ago.

And all this deluge of spin and misinformation before we even get to the opinion pages of Murdoch's flagship paper. Those opinion pages, offering a smorgasbord of denialist talking points, resemble the event horizon of a black hole.

And all this before we descend into the netherworld of the gutter press and shock jocks.

It must also be noted that the editor-in-chief of the Australian, Chris Mitchell, received the "JN Pierce award for media excellence for leading the newspaper's coverage of climate change policy" in 2009. This annual award is presented by the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association.

More recently, the Australian used its considerable moral weight to vow that they would help destroy the Greens at the ballot box. The Greens are the party whose politicians, according to recent research, exclusively rely on scientists to shape their views on climate. In contrast, only 44% of conservative opposition politicians relied on scientists, with the remainder seeking information from other sources – perhaps the cat palmist who opines on climate on TV.

A vow to destroy the party that relies on scientists for scientific advice – how extreme! how radical! – is what many people would call an agenda.

And it is pursuit of that agenda which has arguably contributed to the increasingly fact-free state of Australian public life, in which eruptions of populist rage trump peer-reviewed science, in which climate scientists receive death threats, and in which reporters who practice actual journalism are subject to legal threats.

That is what happens when a media conglomerate and their allies go out of control and escape accountability. The result is a society poised to embark on a Stanford prison experiment.

Stephan Lewandowsky is a Winthrop professor and Australian professorial fellow at the University of Western Australia. His research addresses the distinction between scepticism and denial and how people respond to misinformation.

This post originally appeared at The Guardian. Re-printed here with permission.


August 24 2011


Giant Xstrata Coal Mine Challenged Over Climate Change Impacts

A GIANT mine planned in Queensland, Australia, is facing a court challenge over the impacts that burning its coal will have on rising sea-levels, global temperatures and ocean acidification.

The Swiss-owned mining company Xstrata wants to extract about 30 million tonnes of coal a year for the next 30 years from the mine next to the small township of Wandoan.

According to figures from Xstrata, once all emissions are counted for the life of the mine - including the burning of the coal - some 1.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere.

The mine would be the state's largest and one of the biggest in the southern hemisphere in a country which is already the world's leading coal exporter. The mining lease covers 32,000 hectares (123 sq miles).

Environment group Friends of the Earth Brisbane is challenging the mine's lease and environmental authority, already granted conditionally by the Queensland State Government, in the state's land court.

As the case started, FoE spokesperson Bradley Smith said the case was one of "David v Goliath". 

Taking on a billion dollar monolith like Xstrata is no mean feat, however it’s a fight worth having.  The slow creeping impacts from climate change will have a significant impact on Australia’s future; establishing new mines and burning more fossil fuels is a backward step for our country.

Ten local landholders are also objecting to the mine on several grounds, including the effects of dust, vibration, potential water contamination, effects on cattle and health.

Xstrata is defending it's applications to mine the site, saying it takes its responsibility to reduce it's climate chnage footprint "seriously".

Several high-profile key witnesses are scheduled to appear on behalf of FoE, who will argue the mine's impact will be measurable on a global scale.

A statement already filed to the court comes from Dr Malte Meinhausen, a leading climate researcher from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne.

The statement says emissions from the single mine will be enough to flood an additional 23,000 homes around the world by the year 2080. 

Because the mine is focussed on exporting the coal to burn in power stations in Asia, FoE points out the emissions are not counted against Australia's greenhouse accounts.

Dr Meinhausen's statement says the emissions from the mine are equal to about three years of emissions from the entire country.

Another expert witness, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, is currently a co-ordinating lead author for a chapter on the impacts of climate change on oceans for the next Inter-government Panel on Climate Change assessment report.

Prof Hoegh-Guldberg's statement to the court says the mine's emissions will impact the Great Barrier Reef, in terms of raising global temperatures and increasing ocean acidification.

The environment group wants the court to recommend the state Government refuse the mine's lease and the environmental authority, which have already been conditionally granted.

The FoE climate change arguments are set to be heard in court on week two of the hearing, which is scheduled to conclude on 2 September.

Pic: Xstrata media library.


August 04 2011


Denial Down Under With The Galileo Movement

THERE'S a new climate denial lobby group on the block - bravely regurgitating previously debunked pseudo-science and making wild unsubstantiated claims that climate scientists are all corrupt.

Not happy with misrepresenting the science on climate change, The Galileo Movement has also misappropriated the name of the father of modern science who was persecuted for his insistance that the Sun, rather than the Earth, was the centre of the universe.

The Galileo Movement, launched in Australia, has stated its prime mission is to stop the Government's current efforts to introduce a price on greenhouse gas emissions and boasts a list of advisors resembling a who's who of international climate change denial.

Included on the group's advisory panel are Professor Fred Singer, Patrick Michaels, Professor Bob Carter, Professor Ian Plimer, Joe D'Aleo, Professor Richard Lindzen and Lord Christopher Monckton.

Galileo has been getting plenty of air-time and online exposure thanks to its patron, popular conservative radio host Alan Jones, and News Ltd blogger Andrew Bolt, who is also listed as an "advisor". 

Jones, a fierce and fearless host on 2GB who leads radio ratings with his breakfast slot in Sydney, has been on a relentless tirade in recent weeks attacking climate science and the federal government's plans to tax greenhouse gas emissions.

Since March, Jones has interviewed seven of the Galileo Movement's advisors and the project's coordinator. He's interviewed Professor Carter twice and Lord Monckton three times. Both are advisors at the US-based climate denial "think-tank" the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI).

He's also managed to squeeze in interviews with sceptics Lord Lawson, chairman of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, and Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus.

During one slot, Jones claimed on-air that "human beings produce 0.001 per cent of the carbon dioxide in the air", prompting an investigation by the Australian Communications and Media Authority

Yet Jones is also an outspoken critic of the massive expansions to coal mining and coal seam gas development in rural and remote regions of Australia.

Galileo has also brought in the services of JacksonWells, a Sydney-based public relations firm with a client list that you might describe as diverse.

As well as providing PR advice to international brands including computer firm Dell, Warner Bros. Entertainment, British American Tobacco and Imperial Tobacco, JacksonWells also has The Church of Scientology and the closed religious group The Exclusive Brethren on its books.

JacksonWells also lobbies government officials on behalf of many of its clients. The firm appears on the federal government lobby register and similar registers in the states of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia.

Picking up the Galileo PR work is the well-travelled JacksonWells director Bob Lawrence, who also provided media advice and support to organisers of climate change denier Lord Monckton's 2010 Australia-wide tour.

In an article last year in the JacksonWells company newsletter, The Well, Lawrence explained how he had helped to gain positive media coverage for Lord Monckton.

He wrote the firm had employees "who agree that climate change is a major global threat and we have our skeptics" but he added "the firm itself takes no corporate position on political issues".

A political issue?

Disagreeing would be the world's acidifying oceans, warming climate, changing atmospheric composition, melting Arctic and the vast majority of its working climate scientists.

July 15 2011


King Coal Australia Plans to Price Carbon

SO Australia’s carbon price cards are finally on the table.

From July next year, the Federal Government will look to price greenhouse gas emissions at $23 per tonne rising 2.5 per cent each year.

Then, in 2015, this is replaced by a cap-and-trade system with the price set by the market.

That’s the simple explanation. The devil is in the detail, of which there is an awful lot.

To make the plan politically acceptable, a complex array of exemptions, sweeteners, compensation measures and adjustments to the tax system have been negotiated.
Public debate so far has concentrated almost entirely on the financial winners and losers from the proposed Clean Energy Future plan. At the same time, the country’s position as the world’s leading exporter of coal looks even more secure.

As far as the general public is concerned, the Labor-led Government says the carbon tax will raise consumer prices by 0.7 per cent - a little under $10 per week for the average household.

But in a complicated re-working of the tax benefits system, the Government will use about half the revenue raised from the scheme to give many households that $10 back. Families who earn more, get less back. Some low-income households could actually be marginally better off.

Included in the Clean Energy Future scheme are emissions from power stations, some transport emissions, industrial processes, non-legacy waste (e.g. methane from landfills) and fugitive emissions (mostly methane released from coal mines).

Covered by the scheme are companies which have facilities that emit more than 25,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year (meaning if a business operates at multiple sites and none of those sites singly emit above the limit, then they are exempt). In real terms, this will see about 500 companies affected.

Transport fuel used by households and small commercial vehicles is exempt, as is fuel used in agriculture, forestry and fishing.

This led the country’s main airline, Qantas to “warn” this would put $3.50 on the price of a domestic flight.

One commentator, pointing out Australia’s comparatively luxurious standard of living, said this was less than the airline currently charged customers for a bottle of water.

So what of the carbon price’s aim to cut greenhouse gases and boost renewable energy?

The CEF plan is the key driver in the Government's bid to cut annual emissions by five per cent by 2020, based on their levels in 2000 - a target with bi-partisan political support. By 2020, this target represents a cut of 149 Mt.

There’s the creation of a $10 billion fund for investment in low-emission and renewable technology and cash to fund the closure of 2000 MW of coal-fired power stations.

There’s also the unmeasurable but significant symbolic step of finally acknowledging that the unbridled pumping of greenhouse gases into the world’s atmosphere comes at a cost.

But Australia’s main contribution to the climate change problem, in terms of emissions, isn’t covered by the carbon pricing plan because it is contained in its coal exports.

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal. In 2009/10, Australia exported 135 million tonnes (Mt) of thermal coal, used in power stations mainly in Asia.

In 2015/16, Government forecasts say an annual growth of 10 per cent in this trade should see 213 Mt of thermal coal being shipped from Australian ports.

Considering that each tonne of coal burned for electricity emits almost three tonnes of carbon dioxide, Australia’s thermal coal exports in 2015/16 will emit about 600 Mt of CO2.

The Australian Coal Association’s executive director Ralph Hillman has repeatedly claimed the carbon price will restrict growth in his industry and put 4700 miners out of work.

Mr Hillman is used to being involved in major negotiations on the climate change issue. Before he became the coal industry’s lead voice, he was the Australian Government’s environment ambassador. Among his responsibilities was in negotiating Australia's long-held refusal to sign the UN Kyoto Protocol.

Because the coal miners don’t burn the coal themselves, their main exposure to the carbon tax is in the “fugitive” emissions of methane released during mining and in the transport fuel used. Even then, the government’s plan will compensate mines for up to 80 per cent of fugitive emissions.

Yet as the coal industry complained about threats to its viability, elsewhere its future looks far more positive. Just two days after the carbon price was announced, coal giant Peabody Energy and steel maker ArcelorMittal announced it was pursuing a joint A$4.73 billion (US$5.05 billion) takeover of Australian coal miner Macarthur Coal.

At the same time a report in The Australian showed Australia had more than $50 billion of investment in coal mining and related infrastructure either committed, or close to commitment.

Photo courtesy of Greenpeace

May 31 2011


On Our Radar: South Korea Investigates Dumping of Agent Orange

A controversy erupts after veterans tell a Phoenix TV station that they were ordered to dump the herbicide at Camp Carroll, in southeastern South Korea, in the late 1970s.

Cate Blanchett features in advert for Australian carbon tax

Actress Cate Blanchett appears in a short advert backing the introduction of a tax on major carbon polluters in Australia.

May 27 2011

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