How to speak about ‘climate change’ as a politician

A lot of things puzzle me, and one of them is why there is not, in our current Parliament, a single politician who can speak calmly and sensibly about dear old ‘climate change’. It’s not so hard, as I’ll illustrate in a moment. To the best of my knowledge there is not one in New Zealand, either. There are two in the UK, and a few in the USA. The great majority of politicians — nearly all of them — simply avoid the subject, voting as required.

I assume the reason to be that each politician sees any statement as being a vote-loser, though it is safer to talk about ‘climate change’ as though it is real and a problem.But even then, no politician of whom I aware has ever advanced a cogent or collected statement about why he or she thinks so. This absence is not by itself unusual. For years there was only Bert Kelly in our Parliament who was prepared to talk about free trade as being in Australia’s interest. Oh for even one Bert Kelly on ‘climate change’!

What I’d like would be one Australian politician who could speak like Lamar Smith, a US Congressman, from Texas. He wrote the following  a month ago, and it caused a great hoo-haa in the US. Judith Curry’s Climate etc website discussed it at length. A friend reminded me of it a day or so ago, and here it is.

‘Climate change is an issue that needs to be discussed thoughtfully and objectively. Unfortunately, claims that distort the facts hinder the legitimate evaluation of policy options. The rhetoric has driven some policymakers toward costly regulations and policies that will harm hardworking American families and do little to decrease global carbon emissions. The Obama administration’s decision to delay, and possibly deny, the Keystone XL pipeline is a prime example.

The State Department has found that the pipeline will have minimal impact on the surrounding environment and no significant effect on the climate. Recent expert testimony before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology confirms this finding. In fact, even if the pipeline is approved and is used at maximum capacity, the resulting increase in carbon dioxide emissions would be a mere 12 one-thousandths of 1 percent (0.012 percent). There is scant scientific or environmental justification for refusing to approve the pipeline, a project that the State Department has also found would generate more than 40,000 U.S. jobs.

Contrary to the claims of those who want to strictly regulate carbon dioxide emissions and increase the cost of energy for all Americans, there is a great amount of uncertainty associated with climate science. These uncertainties undermine our ability to accurately determine how carbon dioxide has affected the climate in the past. They also limit our understanding of how anthropogenic emissions will affect future warming trends. Further confusing the policy debate, the models that scientists have come to rely on to make climate predictions have greatly overestimated warming. Contrary to model predictions, data released in October from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit show that global temperatures have held steady over the past 15 years, despite rising greenhouse gas emissions.

Among the facts that are clear, however, are that U.S. emissions contribute very little to global concentrations of greenhouse gas, and that even substantial cuts in these emissions are likely to have no effect on temperature. Data from the Energy Information Administration show, for example, that the United States cut carbon dioxide emissions by 12 percent between 2005 and 2012 while global emissions increased by 15 percent over the same period.

Using data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a Science and Public Policy Institute paper published last month found that if the United States eliminated all carbon dioxide emissions, the overall impact on global temperature rise would be only 0.08 degrees Celsius by 2050.

Further confounding the debate are unscientific and often hyperbolic claims about the potential effects of a warmer world. In his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama said that extreme weather events have become “more frequent and intense,” and he linked Superstorm Sandy to climate change.

But experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have told the New York Times that climate change had nothing to do with Superstorm Sandy. This is underscored by last year’s IPCC report stating that there is “high agreement” among leading experts that trends in weather disasters, floods, tornados and storms cannot be attributed to climate change. While these claims may make for good political theater, their effect on recent public policy choices hurts the economy.’

For those who aren’t aware, the  Keystone XL pipeline is to bring oil from tar sands in Canada to refineries in Texas, so he doubtless has an interest there. But the rest of it is moderate and sensible and, as far as I am aware, correct. President Obama’s most recent speech also had its share of inaccuracies and exaggeration, and claims that ‘extreme weather’ are caused by human activity are as yet unproven.

Could our politicians take their eye off the polls and set out carefully what they think about the issue our recycled Prime Minister has called the greatest moral challenge of our generation — and why they think so?



Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Malcolm Miller says:

    None of the politicians will hear what you say, Don, or change from their over-cautious stance. It’s just like ‘abortion’, the other subject they will never talk about iof they can avoid it. They are fearful of losing votes, poor devils.

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    Labor doesn’t want to talk about “climate change” as it’s too embarrassing to admite they backed away (under Rudd) from our greatest moral challenge, and the Liberals are keeping quiet on the topic while waiting for the climate to speak for itself – no point stirring up a hornets’ nest!

    On top of that, I suspect most haven’t looked properly into the subject, and are ill-equipped to discuss it.

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