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CLIMATE CHANGE AND DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE February 21, 2014

Posted by wmmbb in CLIMATE CHANGE, Democracy.
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The climate crisis is not going to go away. The Government has abolished the Climate Commission, and intends, when it has the numbers in the Senate to abolish the Climate Change Authority and the Carbon Tax.

The Climate Commission was among the first agency to be abolished on the basis of saving money. Now as the Climate Council it has issued a report on “Heatwaves, Hotter, Longer, More Longer”. It is an interesting report. The authors of the report note:

Hot days, hot nights and extended periods of hot weather— heatwaves—are one of the most direct consequences of climate change.

They summarize an unequivocal situation with five summary points relevant to extreme temperature :

  1. Climate change is already increasing the intensity and frequency of heatwaves in Australia. Heatwaves are becoming hotter, lasting longer and occurring more often.
  2. Climate change is making heatwaves worse in terms of their impacts on people, property, communities and the environment. Heatwaves have widespread impacts, ranging from direct impacts on our health to damage to ecosystems, agriculture and infrastructure.
  3. The climate system has shifted, and is continuing to shift, increasing the likelihood of more extreme hot weather.
  4. Record hot days and heatwaves are expected to increase in the future
  5. Limiting the increase in heatwave activity requires urgent and deep reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases.

Climate system shift is reflected in the mean and extreme temperatures:

31212 Mean Temperature Shift [Source: p.17]

It would be interesting to speculate on the ramifications of a similar shift in the intelligence quotient of the Australian population. Peter Hannam reported on the opinions expressed by the prime minister while on his recent drought tour, which included:

At the end of a two-day tour taking in Bourke and Broken Hill in NSW and Longreach in Queensland, Mr Abbott said the present period of extreme heat and dry conditions – broken in part during his weekend visit – was not unusual for Australia.

”If you look at the records of Australian agriculture going back 150 years, there have always been good times and bad, tough and lush times,” Mr Abbott said.

”This is not a new thing in Australia.

”As the seasons have changed, climatic variation has been a constant here in Australia.”

Mr Abbott, who has previously dismissed a link between climate change and October’s early-season bushfires in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, ruled out taking the issue of a warming planet into consideration when preparing his drought-aid package for cabinet later this week.

‘‘Farmers ought to be able to deal with things expected every few years,’’ Mr Abbott said.

‘‘Once you start getting into very severe events – one-in-20, 50, 100-year events – that’s when I think people need additional assistance because that is … beyond what a sensible business can be expected to plan for.’’

There may be data that goes back to the 1860’s, although it is of note that the Prime Minister did not quote any references for his confident assertions. The Climate Council authors have a graph (Control+ to enlarge, Control – to reduce) showing the eleven year rolling average increasing from 1910:

63009

The Climate Council authors observe:

Drought and heat are interrelated. Drought can exacerbate hot conditions, while hot conditions can exacerbate drought.

Climate change will influence the intensity and frequency of droughts. The trend in the above graph would suggest this is happening. It seems reasonable to suppose that climate change has affecting the viability of agriculture in different locations. I don’t think the emotional impact on the people involved should be discarded as irrelevant to public policy. Farmers often have a strong attachment to their land and to their animals. Feeding animals during drought can be a major financial burden.

The Prime Minister is less than candid in accepting the findings of climate science. He is not making reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, in particular Carbon Dioxide, a priority. Tony Abbott’s statements suggest he is walking down both sides of the street but not walking in the middle. Axe the Tax is another of those slogan-driven policy positions that is blind to consequences. It is simply not possible to talk about policy in relation to drought or bushfires without taking scientific advice and some understanding of  data and information, rather mythic thinking about reality. Does abolishing the Climate Change Authority mean that the advice of  the CSIRO should be ignored?

Then there is the bypassing of the evaluation of the Renewable Energy Target to a committee of individuals with a history of representing big business interests composed of people who are climate change deniers on the absurd contention that they will deliver an impartial report. This cannot happen and it will not happen. It reflects both an abuse and a decline in the quality of democratic process and government.

It is observable climate scientists, with few exceptions, are sure that human activities is causing climate change, but not the members of the Government’s committee to review the RET, in particular the chairman, Mr Warbuton. The use of deceptive language is the issue. It is typically a way of avoiding accountability and transparency. Tom Arup reported in The Sydney Morning Herald:

The Abbott government’s renewable energy target review will be carried out by a four-person panel headed by former Reserve Bank board member Mr Warburton.

A self-declared climate change sceptic, Mr Waburton told Fairfax Media on Monday that he still maintained those views. But he said he had made a commitment to Prime Minister Tony Abbott that he would carry out the review in a ‘‘completely open fashion’’ and fully canvass all other sides.

‘‘I am not a denier of climate change. But I am sceptical about some of the aspects of global warming, and more particularly what might be causing it, and I don’t resile from any of those comments,’’ Mr Warburton said.

‘‘But I want to be very clear I will be having a very open position on this [the review] and want to make sure we do get all sides of the discussion tabled.’’

In 2011 Mr Warburton co-authored a two part-article in the conservative journal Quadrant called “The Intelligent Voter’s Guide to Global Warming”, which questioned the findings of mainstream science about how much global warming would be caused by man-made emissions.

Dick Warburton does not resile from any of the comments. So it is interesting, if somewhat boring to review, just what those observations were. Part One and Part Two of the 2011 Quarant article are available. To get Mr Warburton, and his co-authors, their due he is making the standard sceptic’s argument against the science, including the contention that scientists.

I notice that he suggests that climate scientists, with exceptions made for persistent critics, such as Dr Richard Lindzen, are subject to groupthink. It might be true to observe that theories become paradigmatic, but the practice of scientific research requires hypothesis and research questions. The Theory of Relativity, for example, threw a spanner in the works. It is interesting that MichelsonMorley experiment was carried out independently of Albert Einstein’s theory, but one of them, I am not sure which, continued to work on develope instrumentation, a source of problems.

The fact that the Climate Change Commission was not abolished, and they might reasonably be considered the appropriate body to review the RET could pose problems. Joanna Heath suggests that their upcoming report on the same subject might represent a “curveball” for the government.

Climate change represents a cultural and economic paradigm shift, and that as always is resisted, particularly by the status quo who have a sunk investment in the status quo. That happened, for example, in the Sixteenth Century when the impact of the revolution of the introduction of paper and printing was affecting the process of government and the spread of ideas. But in this instance the technology continued remorselessly, indifferent to what was right and good. So resistance to a new understanding of reality is understandable. While climate science is a development of system science made possible by computing, the atmosphere (as far as I know) operates according to well established empirical physics and chemistry within a holistic frame of interactions and inter-relationships.

The Abbott Government may believe it can legislate to turn back change and create social and political reality. I suppose that is the legitimate role of ideology, or less pejoratively philosophy, in politics. At minimum effective pubic policy has to have a grounding in reality, and when it does not it is dysfunctional. If the ecosystem collapses and we run out of oxygen, we cannot produce sufficient food, or don’t have clean water, we all die. On a runaway train approaching a cliff, given uncertainty, the passengers should be alarmed.

Beyond the evil Tony Abbott, what is the wider picture? Stepping out of the confines of cool, dispassionate analysis, let me suggest that political parties are now dysfunctional. They are now not so much democratic institutions that represent the world views and judgements of their citizen members, but rather have become propaganda mechanisms and politics has become the management of perceptions and of the media. I would be confident that members of the Liberal Party and Liberal voters are not anti-science. In this environment, Tony Abbott has shown that slogan dominated policies are developed which typically have no appreciation of consequences. Rupert Murdoch does the managing. The ABC, like the BBC, cowers at the threat of budget cutbacks. Accountability and transparency are dependent on whistleblowers. The assumptions underlying opinion polling may be subject to an increasingly fragmented media information sources.

As Dick did, let’s quote Vladimir again: What is to be done? We should ask the question and develop a constructive program allowing democratic transformation.

Nicholas Stern argues that climate change will lead to conflicts and violence, which in the very least calls into question the think in terms of global problems in parochial terms while advancing the economic agenda of multi-national corporations.

Changes to the Jet Stream, as described by Jennifer Francis, is not confined to one country in the Northern Hemisphere:

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