John Menadue is a most distinguished former public servant who was, among other things, the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet for both Gough Whitlam and Malcom Fraser, the CEO of Qantas, and our Ambassador to Japan. He knows a lot about health schemes, and he runs his own website. With Mike Keating, another former head of PM&C, and a no less able man, he has prepared a set of essays on policy reform. He has a blind spot: he seems to be a ‘believer’ in ‘climate change’. I know him and like him, and indeed used to write essays for him when he ran ‘New Matilda’ ten years or so ago.
The other day I read one of his essays, and felt I had to respond. What follows is a slightly expanded version of what I wrote there, and it has all the proper links.
When you move into the ‘climate change’ domain, John, your perspective shifts from the hard-nosed to hand-waving. Have you ever looked at any of the critiques of the global warming orthodoxy? You want ‘a sensible discussion on climate change and carbon pollution’. You can’t have one on ‘carbon pollution’, notwithstanding that it is in the title of an Act of the Commonwealth Parliament. ‘Carbon pollution’ is an example of scientific illiteracy: there is no such thing. What you are talking about is ‘carbon dioxide’, the basis of plant life, and therefore of our own. If it really is a pollutant, plants and animals haven’t been told.
Surely a ‘sensible discussion’ would start with the case for and then the case against the notion that CO2 accumulations are leading towards danger or some kind of catastrophe. The case for is built on (i) the recognition that a doubling of CO2 will, all other things being equal, produce an increase in temperature of about 1.1 degrees C, (ii) the proposition that ‘climate sensitivity’ will multiply that increase by much more — conventionally 3 times, and (iii) the output of global circulation models (GCMs) that propose floods, droughts and other unpleasant weather events becoming more frequent in consequence. Solution: reduce carbon dioxide accumulations by shifting towards sources of energy that do not involve the burning of fossil fuels.
The case against is no less straightforward. Yes, there has been an increase in global temperature over the past century of about 0.7 degrees C, and that increase has occurred as carbon dioxide accumulations have also increased. But temperature has increased in fits and starts, while CO2 appears to have gone up in a very steady way. There are factors of natural variability in temperature which also have effects on temperature. Alas, we don’t know exactly what they are. There has been very little warming in the last twenty years, but a considerable increase in CO2. No one knows what ‘climate sensitivity’ is. Inasmuch as one can observe it, it seems to be very little different from zero. The GCMs have been woeful in predicting the course of global temperature, and one reason, very likely, is that they have built into them much higher levels of ‘forcing’ for CO2 than the gas actually possesses. Outcomes? The warming and higher CO2 levels of the last hundred years have helped to produce much higher levels of agricultural and pastoral production on the same or less land, and a perceptible greening of the biosphere. Why is all this a problem? What should we do about ‘climate change’? Adapt to it. There will be floods and droughts again. Be ready for them.
You say that a carbon tax and an ETS are not the same thing, and that is true. But their effects are the same — an increase to the cost of energy, an increase that falls on the poorer more significantly than on the comfortably off. Doesn’t that have to be spelled out? If there is to be some kind of compensation for the poorer in society, than what we will have is another tax that falls more heavily on those better off — i.e. an income tax. Why not just increase income tax? But what is the point of all this? Why, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and thus global temperature. Are you aware that even if Australia stopped all production and all transport tomorrow, there would be no discernible change in global temperature even by 2050? And that would be true even if it were the USA that ceased all production? So why, again, are we doing this?
You say ‘Almost every reputable economist believes that a market mechanism like an emissions trading scheme is the best way to reduce carbon pollution.’ I shake my head again at that ignorant phrase, but how many of them have actually looked at the ‘challenge’ of global warming? Ross Garnaut didn’t, and said so. It was all too hard for him. Rubbish! None of it is very hard, for him, for you or for me. The basic science is accessible, but so many commentators refuse to look at it. They happily accept what they are told is the ‘settled science’.
You object to Tony Abbott’s ‘stepping up his attacks on renewable energy’. Have you any idea at all about the difficulties of renewable energy as contributions to grid power? Bill Shorten wants to have 50 per cent of grid power by 2030 from renewable energy. Do you think this feasible? If you do, please explain how it would happen. I’ve written about these matters on my website, and no one has faulted me yet for gross inaccuracies. It is simply impossible — worse, deeply ignorant. Why won’t you, and people like Shorten, actually look at what is proposed and how it might happen, instead of simply hand-waving about greenhouse gas emissions?
You say ‘The public wants something better in public discussion on climate change.’ I agree. The public would like some serious discussions about whether or not there is a problem, and if there is, what sort of problem it is, and what might be done about it. On the face of it, global warming is presently a public good, and there is no hard evidence to the contrary. What we have is scare-mongering, and with posts like this you contribute to it. Why don’t you use your considerable talents and acumen to look hard at this bogeyman? I think you would change your perspective if you did.
And it is not true that 97 per cent of climate scientists think there is a real scare, or that the learned academies around the world do either. The 97 per cent figure comes from four pieces of work none of which passes a decent smell test. I have written about all those papers on my website, and they are in my former field of expertise. You can also read a good demolition of one of them here. while only the executives of the learned academies have issued statements. The last one from the AAS was actually prepared by a group most of whose members are not Fellows, and all of whom are ‘believers’.
It is impossible to get any kind of serious or balanced view of the AGW scare, especially while people like yourself go on repeating the thought-cliches that pass for discussion. We can do much better than this, and you can, too.
I will use this response to you as the basis for an essay on my own website, and that will have links to relevant papers. I’ll add the link when it is done. I’m happy to debate the issues here on your website, whichever you prefer.