Monday, November 30, 2009

Strong Labor poll flags accountability for Brumby

In response to last weekend's coverage of strong Labor polling in Victoria, I wrote in response to The Sunday Age, which yesterday published my reply:

Time to get up and go green

AS ONE who believes the Brumby Government to be deeply flawed, I nevertheless welcome its strong performance in your poll. That's because, with the prospect of a massive 62 seats for Labor if the swing were repeated at election time, there is surely little scope for a 2006-style fear campaign against Greens and independents who, if elected, might force a more progressive and accountable government than we now have.

The current Government is highly vulnerable on a range of issues where progressive candidates offer far better policies. With no risk of an accidental change of government by voting for progressives, the time is ripe for substantial movement on issues such as climate change, identified in your poll as third-most important. By all means, leave Ted for dead, but consider carefully the policies offered by alternative candidates. And kids, don't just GetUp! - though that is eminently worthwhile. Make sure you enrol to vote and have your say.

I missed this one until this morning, as yesterday I was somewhat preoccupied with the fantastic achievement of the Run for a Safe Climate team, which arrived at St Kilda after more than 6000 kilometres of running from Cooktown to Melbourne via Adelaide (!). More on that soon - it was a pleasure to watch them come in.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Be at the Run for a Safe Climate finish line

The Run for a Safe Climate finishes at St Kilda this afternoon. Everyone who cares about our climate, about strong Australian action, and next month's Copenhagen climate talks should be at the St Kilda Sea Baths at 1.30pm today. What a fantastic effort by the runners and the entire team!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bolt hardly lightning on climate

Update, 21 November: It seems that Bolt, published in a high circulation daily metropolitan newspaper, can't even draw comment from the ill-informed readers who support him. The tally as of now is two.

Update, 19 November:
Seems the Herald Sun is somewhat reluctant to publish comments to which they are unable to respond. The sole comment on the story supports its feeble contention - nevermind.

Having heard of Andrew Bolt's climate views, I had a look at his Herald Sun blog this morning to see what he was offering by way of argument. Not much, as it turned out, and I posted to the site the following comment on today's offering, Bandwagon fully loaded.
So this is Bolt, the great climate change sceptic? I'd be surprised if your 'arguments' against global warming - and therefore against the overwhelming consensus of scientists and the world's nations - would persuade anyone smart enough to fill out an election ballot paper.

With many of the hottest years falling in the last decade, saying the world hasn't warmed since 2001 is like saying bushfire trends will have stabilised if the next few years fail to match Black Saturday.

The new 'catastrophic' category for fire risk hasn't been implemented for nothing, and has already been declared in South Australia - this when it's not yet summer.

In a 2007 report, the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre projected a markedly worsening trend in the frequency and severity of bushfires driven by climate change. The report clearly could not take into account the February fires, but they can only strengthen its conclusions.
Reflect on that, Mr Bolt.

Comments welcome.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Rudd should swap denial for a baton

Today's edition of The Age carries my letter in response to the paper's coverage of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's recent address to the Lowy Institute on climate change. It was edited a little, but captured the essential point that Rudd needs to match his rhetoric - which was quite strong against the sceptics - with stronger actions he must take to Copenhagen. The unedited letter with links to the coverage follows this published version:

IT AMAZES me that our Prime Minister can show such a clear understanding of the problem (''Rudd blames climate sceptics for global sabotage'', The Age, 7/11), and of the interests ranged against its solution, yet propose action that can only fail by the measure of the science he so strongly invokes.

Rejection of the emissions trading proposal is not necessarily driven by scepticism, but also by the knowledge that the scheme should only pass the Senate if it is strong enough to do the job.

When the Prime Minister says the sceptics' ''prescription for inaction has all the legitimacy of a roulette wheel'', it's not so much bizarre but more of a denial that Rudd himself has a hand on the wheel in the global climate gamble.

A team of emergency services workers is running 6000 kilometres down Australia's east coast in the Run for a Safe Climate. On November 29 they'll arrive in Melbourne. Kevin Rudd should meet them with real solutions that back the force of his climate rhetoric. Pick up the baton, Prime Minister, and carry it to Copenhagen - time is running out and it's a sprint to the finish line.

Now, the original, with links to the coverage to which I was responding:

The prime minister's spirited climate address to the Lowy Institute reported in your newspaper was a welcome departure from the bland "balance" of many of his speeches. I therefore disagree with Michelle Grattan's appeal for the PM to turn the volume down ("Turn the voulme down, PM", 7/11), but that doesn't mean Kevin Rudd is right.

What amazes me is that our prime minister can show such a clear understanding of the problem, and of the vested interests ranged against its solution, yet propose action that can only fail by the measure of the science he so strongly invokes. Rejection of the current emissions trading proposal is not necessarily driven by scepticism - as in the case of the hopelessly denialist Opposition - but also by the knowledge that the ETS should only pass the Senate if it is strong enough to do the job.

So when the prime minister says the sceptics' "prescription for inaction has all the legitimacy of a roulette wheel", it's not so much "bizarre" as Grattan claims, but more a denial that Rudd himself has a hand on the wheel in the global climate gamble.

Right now a team of emergency services workers is running 6000 kilometres down the east coast of Australia in their Run for a Safe Climate. On 29 November they'll arrive in Melbourne. Kevin Rudd should meet them there with real solutions that back the force of his climate rhetoric. Pick up the baton, prime minister, and carry it to Copenhagen - time is running out and it's a sprint to the finish line.

Comments welcome.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ferguson puts green light before spill inquiry

Update: See Peter Ker's excellent article, Crude Awakening, in the Focus section of The Age, 3/11. Ker also reports online, here.

It's hard to believe, but weeks after the Montara oil rig began leaking disastrously into the Timor Sea, the company that owns it was granted further access and exploration licences for Australian off-shore oil fields green-lighted by resources and energy minister, Martin Ferguson.

Now the rig is on fire. In response, Ferguson struggled on Radio National's AM Program this morning, before again squirming tonight on ABC TV's 7.30 Report - a performance followed by a possibly more uncomfortable prime minister Kevin Rudd.

Ferguson highlighted stopping the fire as the proper current focus, noting that the government had sprung into action only 15 minutes after learning of the disaster. Yet weeks, thousands of litres of oil and an inferno after the incident began back on 21 August, what does the government have to show for it but the promise of an inquiry and a huge question mark over WA fisheries and the broader ecosystem?

Greens Senator Bob Brown was accused of playing politics when he called for Ferguson's resignation, but at what stage does the scale of this environmental catastrophe intersect with ministerial accountability?

If the minister does not resign - and I believe he should - will he immediately call for the suspension of the oil exploration and access rights of the company that owns the oil rig pending the inquiry? If he will not, then the minister will have put his green light for the exploitation of fossil fuels before an inquiry that will determine the role of the company in the mishap.

Regardless of the specific causes of this incident, as the scarcity of global oil supplies increases, are we likely to see more such disasters as expanding worldwide exploration strikes reserves in potentially unsuitable geological formations? If we can't get oil safely out of the ground, what hope for carbon capture and storage to bury our carbon dioxide?

Oil leaks in pristine waters, spiralling carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels, and the hazards of exploiting Australia's uranium all underline the risks of digging energy resources out of the ground when we could be pursuing clean, renewable energy. There's no impact when wave energy, the wind, or the sun escape our efforts to harness them. Until Ferguson gets that message, our local member for Batman will continue to wreak global damage.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

ABC's muddled take on climate

I'm a big fan of the ABC, but it appears to be suffering from the same disease afflicting the broader media when it comes to climate change. That disease is the inclusion of unexamined, untested positions of so-called scepticism relating to climate science, ostensibly for the sake of balance.

There was a prime example of the malady in The Sunday Age last week, with Melissa Fyfe's strong article on brown coal and moves to muzzle protestors ("A show of power"), contrasted with James Kirby's weak apologia for Ian Plimer's climate denialist tome, Heaven and Earth ("Going against the current climate").

Fyfe delivered a tough-minded, factual account; Kirby suggested big sales of Plimer's book after it had been "sidelined" by major publishers meant that we have not been getting the full picture on climate (see today's letters in The Sunday Age for reader responses - beginning with Michael Down).

Now we have the ABC at it, with Margot O'Neill and her excellent Countdown to Copenhagen blog in the corner of climate science, and the 7.30 Report's Chris Uhlmann singing the praises of sceptics as one of the ABC's Off Air bloggers.

Uhlmann draws on Karl Popper to suggest there's something unscientific to claims about climate science being settled. First he notes Einstein's view that: "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong".

Fair enough, but this doesn't justify the massive leap he then attempts by invoking Popper:

Popper became famous for his epistemological work demarking science from pseudo-science. It boiled down to testability. If a theory could be falsified by experimentation it was science, if it couldn't it wasn't.

So Popper would argue that to say any theory is "settled" means that you are not talking about science but pseudo-science.

The false leap is in the second paragraph. The claim that climate science is settled in terms of the basic mechanisms and impacts of global warming is not a claim that the science is beyond Popper's challenge of verifiability.

What can be said is that the weight of scientific evidence has created an increasingly high probability that the globe's unprecedented rate of warming is resulting from human actions. Global warming could be falsified by experimentation, but the chances are beginning to compare with those of falsifying the claim that the earth is in orbit around the sun.

Instead, Popper's challenge was to claims where there is no question that could be asked that could lead to results capable of testing. An example might be the claim: "Green looks the same to everyone".

While there might be a high level of consistency across healthy populations in the ability to identify the colour green, just how could you test that the experience of seeing it was exactly the same for every person? The unique subjective experience can only be known to the person actually seeing the colour.

In contrast, Uhlmann's challenge to climate modelling is in fact an admission of defeat in terms of Popper's challenge of verifiability. That's because he suggests modelling can be wrong. It is therefore verifiable, and is amenable to rigorous scientific scrutiny - leaving aside his weak comparisons of financial modelling and the GFC, and climate models that are proving increasingly robust not only in their predictions, but also in their ability to reproduce past climatic conditions using historic data.

It is on this basis that we are able to compare the claims of climate scientists arguing the case for urgent action to address global warming, and denialists unable to back their spurious claims with peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

Balance is without value if it has no basis in fact. Imagine listening to Dr Norman Swan's excellent Health Report only to find alternative, 'balancing' coverage elsewhere on the ABC suggesting that sufferers of cancer give faith-healing a go (see also Lynn Frankes' letter on "quacks" in The Sunday Age).

If it's not on in medicine, why should it be acceptable with climate? As laypeople, we don't reject the science of CAT scans and chemotherapy because we do not fully grasp their technical detail. While we certainly seek second opinions, we should do so from authoritative sources.

That's my invitation to James Kirby and Chris Uhlmann on climate science - unless we drastically reduce our carbon emissions, they'll find the diagnosis is consistent among those qualified to make it.