Would you let Michael O’Leary run your business?

Several people have sent me this quote from Michael O’Leary, head of Ryanair.

You have to wonder how they could let a fellow like this run an airline who doesn’t understand the difference between noise and trends!  Question:  Would you let someone guide your investment portfolio who draws more inspiration from the day-to-day jitter in stock prices than the long-term trends?  Probably not!

Time for another Guinness!

What type of denier are you?

Hans Hoegh-Guldberg is a prominent specialist on the economic impacts of climate change on natural ecosystems and dependent industries.  He recently posted the following discussion on the list server, coral-list.  I believe he makes some important points regarding types of climate change denial out there today and the way forward given their existence and persistence.

By Hans Hoegh-Guldberg, Economic Strategies, NSW, Australia

The Pew survey showing that public belief in climate change and its reasons has waned should be no surprise to anyone who has been observing the scene over the past couple of years. Neither should there be much surprise that attitudes to climate change tend to follow party lines. The same thing happens in my adopted country, Australia, according to a recent University of Queensland survey.

Structural change is always resisted by mainstream corporations with huge investments in present plant, but while it can be delayed it will happen. Joseph Schumpeter as early as 1914 identified “creative destruction” as a hallmark of capitalism. It is true today as much as 100 years ago, with climate change the current elephant in the room. Scientists, and economists taking a hard look at the long-term implications of their own discipline, agree that the crucial issue is whether the structural change that is needed will be in time to avoid a worst-case scenario.

There are two kinds of climate change deniers. Vested interests are the most influential because of their power to operate through lobby groups and other channels, and doing their best to discredit the scientific evidence and generally try and delay when they themselves have to adapt. But by far the biggest group is made up of those who are influenced. The lobbyists have an easier task because the short term is instinctively the most important, and climate change is not generally seen as a critical issue in that context. So we can have the Australian opposition leader being a cat’s whisker from winning the August 2010 election by warning the electorate against a proposed carbon tax as “a great big tax on everybody”.

The financial crisis naturally brings the short term into greater focus, causing climate change to recede.

Some scientists try to perfect the art of strategic conversation (to use Kees van der Heijden’s description of scenario planning) with the general public and popular press. They realize that their case is not so convincing that they can just rely on lecturing others about the righteousness of the case.

On July 14, “adaptation mavens” Lara Hansen and Jennifer Hoffman referred to the classical Cartesian insurance argument that if God doesn’t exist, and you express faith, you are no worse off, but if you don’t express that faith, and there is a God, you may rot in hell. The parallel in the CAKE version is that if climate change doesn’t exist it doesn’t matter whether or not you adapt, but if it does exist and we don’t cut our greenhouse gas emissions it could cost humankind dearly. The insurance policy is that we all pay a relatively small cost now to mitigate against a big future risk before the adaptation task becomes too huge(http://www.cakex.org/community/advice/we-adapt-therefore-we-are).

Here is a list of some possible ways forward:

  • Support and elaborate on the insurance argument promoted by the mavens and others.
  • Identify more “canaries in the mine” to add to the most famous original one – coral reefs.
  • Island nations have been trying to attract attention for a long time – still for deaf ears?
  • Sea-level rise has added urgency to the original global warming dimension. Florida and other threatened areas would provide a special voice to support and promote.
  • The impact of ocean acidification (“the evil twin of global warming”) not just on coral reefs but on all oceanic calcareous organisms is not well-known and understood by the voting public.
  • Promote the virtues of technological change and its commercial benefits, and other positive  aspects, rather than continuing with in-your-face climate change doom-saying with negative or at least mixed results. People are very good at switching off against persistent arguments.
  • Advocate the development of a better Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) as an alternative to or at least development of GDP (which still takes little or no notice of environmental and social costs). The GPI went a long way but was last published in 1995 and when or if reconstituted is likely to underestimate the impact of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
  • Build on the fact that President Sarkozy of France lost patience with economic statistics last year and commissioned Nobel Prize-winning economists Joe Stiglitz and Amartya Sen to investigate how these statistics might be developed to incorporate the social and environmental costs into a proper economic measure, not just catering for the GDP growth fetish (http://www.stiglitz-sen-fitoussi.fr/documents/rapport_anglais.pdf.
  • Demonstrate that significant technology change is already happening and gathering pace, nationally and internationally, in renewables, energy efficiency, developing green and blue carbon sinks, and spreading to a widening circle of countries, including the least developed ones. In Schumpeterian terms, this may be seen as part of the creative destruction that will eventually prevail – one can only hope in time.
  • Advocate web links that can be even better publicized, e.g. John Cook’s Skeptical Science – “getting skeptical about global warming skepticism” (see especially the arguments page (http://www.skepticalscience.com/argument.php)).

Hans Hoegh-Guldberg, Economic Strategies, NSW, Australia


NASA reports 2010 hottest year on record so far.

From Climate Progress, Nov 11 2010

Last month, NASA reported it was the hottest January-September on record.  That followed a terrific analysis, “July 2010 — What Global Warming Looks Like,” which noted that 2010 is “likely” to be warmest year on record.

This month continues the trend of 2010 outpacing previous years, according to NASA:

October 2010 NASA

It now seems pretty certain 2010 will outpace 1998, which currently ties for fourth hottest year in the NASA dataset (though it is technically described by NASA folks as tied for the second hottest year with 2005 and 2007).

Outpacing 2005, the hottest year on record, will be closer.  In NASA’s surface-based dataset, we are unlikely to set the record monthly temperatures for the rest of this year; last month wasn’t close to the hottest October for NASA, though it was third warmest.  We  have entered a moderate to strong La Niña, which NOAA says is “expected to last at least through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2010-11.”  That said, as you can see, the October anomaly (deviation from the 1951-1980 average) was higher than September, in spite of the La Niña.

NASA’s surface-based temperature record appears to be the most accurate, as I’ve noted many times (see Finally, the truth about the Hadley/CRU data: “The global temperature rise calculated by the Met Office’s HadCRUT record is at the lower end of likely warming”).

As I discussed earlier, last month, the hottest September in UAH satellite record, puzzled Roy Spencer with its “stubborn” temperatures.  He now concedes that this year is likely to tie 1998 for the hottest year in the UAH satellite record (see “January-to-October tied for hottest in satellite record“).

For what it’s worth, here’s the latest UAH data, which, at least until it’s ‘adjusted’, shows what appears to be the warmest early November on record:

UAH 11-10+

UPDATE:  Michael in the comments directs us to this map of recent temperature anomalies from NOAA, which shows remarkably warm temperatures over much of Northern Hemisphere:

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/Global_Monsoons/Figures/curr.t.weekly.figb.gif

Finally, it bears repeating that the record warmth we are seeing this year is all the more powerful evidence of human-caused warming “because it occurs when the recent minimum of solar irradiance is having its maximum cooling effect,” as a recent must-read NASA paper noted:

It is just hard to stop the march of human caused global warming — other than by sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Coal Crash Coming?

Paul Gilding more than often has some interesting and provocative insights.  In Cockatoo Chronicle number 24 Paul discusses whether or not coal is the terrific investment opportunity after all.   This and the recent study published in the internationally respected magazine Nature, which highlighted the instability of future coal prices due to over-estimates of the availability of coal worldwide, should have people and organisations starting to wonder whether investing in coal mining is a great idea after all.

By Paul Gilding | November 18th, 2010 | From: Cockatoo Chronicles

The very conservative International Energy Agency has just released its closely watched annual World Energy Outlook (WEO), with forecasts for the structure of the energy market through to 2035. This year’s WEO was much anticipated, given the pace of developments in renewables and climate policy, and it didn’t disappoint. The report included the IEA’s interpretation of what major governments’ commitment to a 2°C temperature target would mean for the energy market. The contrast with what most market players assume, particularly coal companies, could hardly be more dramatic.

One global coal player, Peabody, recently told the World Coal Conference that it assumes demand for coal will increase by over 50 per cent by 2030. The IEA on the other hand tells us that if we are to have a reasonable chance of limiting warming to 2°C degrees, coal demand will have to peak by 2020, and by 2035 will have dropped to levels last seen in 2003. These are dramatically different views of the market and the implications for company valuations, and therefore for investors and corporate strategy, are considerable.

The same IEA report compares coal and oil’s current 46 per cent share of global electricity generation to what it would be in 2030 under the 2°C degree scenario. The answer is just 22 per cent. The difference would be picked up by low CO2 energy, nuclear and renewables, which would see massive growth. They assume non-hydro renewables would go from 3 per cent to 20 per cent, all the more remarkable given the assumed increase in overall energy demand. Interestingly, despite significant demand growth, even the total amount of coal-generated electricity would fall in absolute terms.

The significant thing about these forecasts is that the IEA has generally been considered to be excessively conservative and largely aligned with the views that dominate the fossil fuel industry. Indeed, the Peabody forecasts referred to above reference an earlier IEA WEO report. So what’s going on when this industry friendly body chooses to prick the coal bubble? And what does it all mean for investors and resource companies?

What it means is the coal industry is headed for a crash. This is heresy in the industry and would be dismissed by some as starry-eyed naivety. But the numbers don’t lie and this issue has cold hard rational numbers all over it.

One of these numbers is 2°C. There are many uncertainties in the detail of climate science, but there is clear consensus on that number. It is the line in the sand scientists have drawn and said, if we go past it we face catastrophic system-wide risk. While some scientists argue that number is too high and too risky, none of any consequence argue it is too low. That’s why the governments of China, India, Europe and the USA have all agreed, along with many global corporates, that 2°C is the line we can’t cross.

Not crossing it requires the numbers in the IEA report to be achieved. This is hard science. If you put any more CO2 in the atmosphere than that, we will almost certainly be heading past 3-4°C. The economic consequences of that would make the collapse of the coal industry look like a picnic. The science also tells us, supported now by the IEA, that the decision will be made this decade, by action or lack of it.

Further complicating assumptions of growth is a very interesting analysis published today in Nature by two well regarded US energy experts, Richard Heinberg and David Fridley. Their article, “The End of Cheap Coal,” calls into question assumptions of endless supplies of cheap coal, using much of the same logic as earlier predictions around the end of cheap oil. It’s worth remembering that those who have been predicting the end of cheap oil since the late 90s, including Heinberg, were ridiculed for many years.

Now even the IEA supports that view with comments like “the age of cheap oil is over.” The new analysis in Nature suggests there may be a similar dynamic at play with coal, with reserves constantly being revised downwards as time passes. They also remind us that industry has a history of getting their forecasts wrong, noting that for oil, “the current price of more than $US80 per barrel is about three times higher than the upper range in official forecasts for 2010 that were being issued in the late 1990s.” Like oil, the issue is not any risk of running out, but volatile and rising prices as the peak level of quality supply is reached.

But isn’t this good news for the coal industry? Aren’t rising coal prices good? The answer is surprising – and this is where the two issues combine. In the short term the answer is yes, but ultimately higher prices will trigger the death of coal. Everyone knows the only way coal can survive in the low-carbon world the science demands, is if carbon capture (CCS) technology can make coal a zero CO2 energy source. The economic viability of CCS is already questionable and is rapidly losing support, but if it is ever to work it can only do so with cheap coal.

This is because the additional cost of CCS equipment and CO2 pipelines, along with the inherent loss of efficiency involved in its use, means that if coal prices rise, renewables will become cheaper than coal with CCS. So if Heinberg and Fridley are right, coal prices will increase, CCS will be confirmed as uneconomic and renewables will take over. This, of course, will then see coal prices drop again. But it seems likely, by then, that the market will have shifted its focus to renewables, and perhaps nuclear, with coal unlikely to recover given renewables prices will keep falling.

So why do Peabody and so many others assume levels of growth that are in such contrast to this hard logic of both the market and climate science?

Firstly, of course, because they want it be so. They sell coal and the more they can convince the market of an endless coal boom, the higher their share price. This is particularly so for resource companies that are heavily or exclusively reliant on coal like Peabody. Self-interest is a powerful driver of denial. But it’s more complicated than that.

What these people and their investors are falling for, supported by many people in government, is what I call the “economic inertia trap”. This is the belief that something that is big and moving in a certain direction will continue to do so. They simply can’t imagine the level of change required to shift that inertia could possibly occur. The argument goes: coal is cheap and plentiful, people need lots of energy, so coal will be burnt. This is delusion on a grand scale. Does anyone really believe society will calmly stand by as we head towards 3°C, then 4°C, staring economic and social collapse in the face while we focus on cheap energy as some kind of overriding objective?

Let there be no doubt, we will act on climate change – and when we do, the coal industry will face an almighty crash, as Phil Preston and I argued in our recently released paper on the financial implications of all this. Probably not this year or next, but we think before the end of this decade.

But don’t expect Peabody or their friends to come on board early. Horse and cart companies didn’t become auto companies. Amazon reshaped the book retailing business before book retailers woke up. Kodak failed to be ready for digital photography, and so on. We can safely expect coal companies to stay in denial all the way to the finish line – or in their case, their finished line. That is their choice to make. It is also their investors’ choice on whether to go with them or when to jump. The clock is now ticking.

Interview with Naomi Oreskes and John Cook (Sceptical Science)

We hosted Naomi Oreskes recently and admire the work of John Cook of Sceptical Science.  This link takes you to a cracking episode of The Climate Show at Hot Topic this week, featuring a must-listen interview with Naomi Oreskes discussing the background to her book Merchants of Doubt. The people who attacked her 2004 paper on the scientific consensus about global warming didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for. Also in the show: excellent infographics, Arctic warming bringing colder winters to the northern hemisphere, European biofuels, John Cook of Skeptical Science discusses the new Twitter bot that auto argues with denier tweets, electric cars again, and steady state economics.

UNCOMFORTABLE CLIMATE

Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker, Nov 22 2010

Darrell Issa, a Republican representative from California, is one of the richest men in Congress. He made his money selling car alarms, which is interesting, because he has twice been accused of auto theft. (Issa has said that he had a “colorful youth.”) As the ranking minority member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he earned a reputation as President Barack Obama’s “annoyer-in-chief.” Issa told the Times a few months ago, “You can call me a pain. I’ll accept that as a compliment.”

Now, with the Republicans about to take control of the House, Issa is poised to become the chairman of the Oversight Committee. The post comes with wide-ranging subpoena powers, and Issa has already indicated how he plans to wield them. He is not, he assured a group of Pennsylvania Republicans over the summer, interested in digging around for the sort of information that might embarrass his fellow-zillionaires: “I won’t use it to have corporate America live in fear.” Instead, he wants to go where he sees the real malfeasance. He wants to investigate climate scientists. At the top of his list are the long-suffering researchers whose e-mails were hacked last year from the computer system of Britain’s University of East Anglia. Though their work has been the subject of three separate “Climategate” inquiries—all of which found that allegations of data manipulation were unfounded—Issa isn’t satisfied. “We’re going to want to have a do-over,” he said recently.

Issa’s priorities are, to an astonishing degree, representative of the new Republican House majority. Last year, when John Boehner, of Ohio, the incoming House Speaker, was asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos about his party’s plans to address climate change, he had this to say: “The idea that carbon dioxide is a carcinogen, that it is harmful to our environment, is almost comical.” John Shimkus, of Illinois, is one of four members now vying for the chairmanship of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. At a congressional hearing in 2009, he dismissed the dangers of climate change by quoting Genesis 8:22: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” He added, “I believe that’s the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it’s going to be for His creation.” Another contender for the Energy Committee post, Joe Barton, of Texas—who is one of the House’s top recipients of contributions from the oil-and-gas industry—argues that CO2 emissions have nothing to do with climate change, and, in any event, people will just adapt. “When it rains, we find shelter,” he has said. “When it’s hot, we get shade. When it’s cold, we find a warm place to stay.” (Barton is perhaps best known for the apology he offered, last June, to the C.E.O. of BP, Tony Hayward, for what he described as a “shakedown” of the company by the Obama Administration.)
To be sure, even before the midterm elections, the prospects for meaningful action on climate change in Washington were dim. In June of 2009, the House approved the American Clean Energy and Security Act, also known as the Waxman-Markey bill, which would have imposed a nationwide cap on emissions. The bill was convoluted in all the usual, special-interest-driven ways, and not nearly ambitious enough to produce the emissions cuts that are needed. Even so, Waxman-Markey was too demanding for the Senate. After months of posturing and further concession-making, Senate Democrats failed to come up with a bill that they were willing to bring to the floor. While the Senate dithered, President Obama was silent. He did nothing to rally public opinion on the issue, and what he did do—open up new areas to offshore oil drilling, for example—only undermined the negotiations.

Still, the recent election represents a new low. For the past two decades, the United States has been officially committed to avoiding “dangerous” climate change. One Administration after another—Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, Obama—has reaffirmed this commitment, even as they all have failed to live up to it. House Republicans and their Tea Party allies reject even the idea of concern. Not content merely to ignore the science, they have decided to go after the scientists. Before the election, congressional Republicans had talked of eliminating the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Why, after all, have a panel on energy independence and global warming if you don’t believe in either? Now James Sensenbrenner, of Wisconsin, who is likely to become the select committee’s chairman, is arguing that it should be preserved. His rationale? The panel provides an ideal platform for harassing the Environmental Protection Agency, which, in the absence of legislative action, is the only body with the power to regulate carbon emissions. At least one group of scientists is organizing a “rapid-response team” to counter climate misinformation, but, since the misinformation is now coming from the very people charged with solving the problem, that task seems a peculiarly thankless one.

Meanwhile, as John Boehner chortles about the dangers of CO2, the world keeps heating up. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the first half of 2010 was the warmest January to July on record. And this is just the beginning. Owing to the inertia of the climate system, the warming that we’re experiencing is only a fraction of the temperature increase that’s already guaranteed.

The United States is no longer the world’s largest carbon emitter; that honor belongs to China. But we’re still the largest source of warming in terms of cumulative emissions, and on a per-capita basis Americans produce more CO2 than just about anyone except the Qataris. Without the active support of the United States, there’s no way to make progress on emissions globally. This month, negotiators will meet in Cancún for another round of international climate talks, and it’s a safe bet that, apart from the usual expressions of despair, nothing will come of them. It may seem that we’ll just keep going around and around on climate change forever. Unfortunately, that’s not the case: one day, perhaps not very long from now, the situation will spin out of our control.

The end of cheap coal?

As coal reserves are depleted, busy coal-train facilities, such as this one in Norfolk, Virginia, will become a thing of the past. C. DAVIDSON/CORBIS. Nature article: doi: 10.1038/nature08017

An article released in Nature today has challenged the commonly held view that the world has cheap and plentiful coal supplies that will fuel the world for decades to come.

Richard Heinberg and David Fridley argue that coal prices are likely to rapidly increase in the near future, due to a combination of rapid growth in the demand for coal, and recent findings which suggest useful coal reserves are less abundant than what has previously been assumed.

In China, proven recoverable reserves of coal (that is, those that are technically and economically feasible to mine) have been estimated at a total 187 billion tonnes, which is expected to last another 62 years – assuming the rate of consumption of coal remains at 2009 levels.

But this estimate is likely to be too optimistic, since consumption of coal in China is accelerating rapidly. Applying the same techniques used to estimate the future expected peak production of oil , researchers have found that coal production in China could peak as early as 2025.

There are of course coal supplies to be found elsewhere (including Australia), but at current rates of import growth, China alone could absorb all current Asia-Pacific exports with just three years – ultimately increasing competition (particularly with other rapidly developing nations such as India) and driving up the cost of coal.

What does this mean for climate change? Well, apart from the fact that we simply can’t afford to burn all of the Earth’s available fossil fuels if we want to maintain a stable climate, Heinberg and Fridley suggest that coal supply limits also have implications for the development of clean-coal technology. If coal prices do increase as recent studies suggest, then it makes little economic sense to continue building new coal plants — whether they be conventional or retrofitted with CCS technology (which still hasn’t been proven on a commerical scale).

Seems like it may be time to invest heavily in energy efficiency and alternative energy.

______________________________________________

Listen to Richard Heinberg on ABC radio from this morning.

Youtube: Richard Heinberg: The Inconvenient Truth on Clean Coal

______________________________________________

References

Heinberg, R. and D. Fridley (2010). “The end of cheap coal.” Nature 468(7322): 367-369. doi: 10.1038/468367a

Meinshausen, M., N. Meinshausen, et al. (2009). “Greenhouse-gas emission targets for limiting global warming to 2ºC.” Nature 458(7242): 1158-1162. doi: 10.1038/nature08017

Tao, Z. and M. Li (2007). “What is the limit of Chinese coal supplies–A STELLA model of Hubbert Peak.” Energy Policy 35(6): 3145-3154. doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2006.11.011

Pesticide impacts on the Great Barrier Reef – Croplife misinformation?

By Jon Brodie.

The pesticide industry group Croplife have recently published their latest assessment of the threat to the Great Barrier Reef from pesticide use. The report can be found at:

http://www.croplifeaustralia.org.au/files/Great Barrier Reef. pdf

The report is notable for its extreme ‘cherry picking’ of data with which to make the assessment. It uses one data set from a summary report (not the original science report) for the GBRMPA Marine Monitoring Program from 2007/2008 (Prange et al Reef Water Quality Protection Plan Marine Monitoring Program: 2007/2008 Summary Report pp18-19). Note the Croplife report was very recently released in 2010. The data used is from the use of passive samplers only which are generally deployed only in non-flood conditions and represents the ‘low’ concentration end of pesticide detections in contrast to samples taken in the wet season which are generally much higher (as you might expect).

Since 2007 a large number of pesticide studies in the GBR have occurred and the results have been published in the peer reviewed literature (journals) e.g. Lewis et al 2009; Davis et al 2008; Shaw et al 2010 in marine waters. River discharge of pesticide studies include Packett et al 2009, Lewis et al 2009; Bainbridge et al 2009. Peer reviewed technical reports are also numerous in this period and are all available on the web. Even before 2007 a number of pesticide papers were published with data from rivers and/or marine waters of the GBR e.g. McMahon et al 2005; Shaw and Mueller 2005; Mitchell et al 2005. Finally a considerable body of work on the toxicity of pesticides to GBR organisms (mainly recently from Andrew Negri’s group at AIMS) has been published in the peer reviewed literature since 2007 (and a lot before 2007 as well). If any other readers want access to any of this literature please contact me.

Croplife chose to ignore all this published information and data. When this data is taken into account the outcome is an entirely different assessment, opposite in conclusions to that presented by Croplife.

One wonders at the ethics of a ‘respectable’ industry organisation like Croplife putting out such misleading information. It’s also sad in a period when we are making progress in pesticide management in the GBR catchment with farmers investing in better application technology such as shielded sprayers (see photo) with the assistance of the Australian Government’s Reef Rescue initiative.

Climate change: science’s fresh fight to win over the sceptics. Apology from Peabody?

book coverHere is an interesting article on the role of big energy interests in exploiting the illegal hacking of e-mails from vindicated scientists such as Phil Jones. Notice the reference to the giant coal company Peabody.  If what is reported below is true, then one has to question the company’s ethics in terms of its involvement in this type of subversive activity.  And if true, one has to also confront the important question as to whether institutions like the University of Queensland should accept money from companies who behave like this?  By the way, the issue of the deliberate peddling of misinformation by special interest groups will be explored by the next Global Change Institute’s Insight Seminar Series speaker, Prof Naomi Oreskes.  Dr Oreskes will be speaking at the Abel Smith Lecture Theatre (Building 23) on the University of Queensland’s St Lucia campus at 5:30pm – 6:30pm on Tuesday (16 November, 2010).

Robin McKieThe Observer, Sunday 14 November 2010

Hacked emails from climate researchers at the University of East Anglia caused a storm last year. Now scientists say it’s even harder to convince the world of the reality of climate change.

This was simply “the worst scientific scandal of a generation” – a bid by researchers to hoodwink the public over global warming and hide evidence showing fossil fuels were not really heating up our planet. These were the dramatic claims made by newspapers, websites and blogs across the globe a year ago this week, following the hacking of emails from a computer at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

Those emails – subsequently posted on a website via a Russian computer server – appeared to show that unit researchers, led by Professor Phil Jones, were working with scientists round the world to suppress data that proved global warming was not happening. One email in which the word “trick” was used by Jones was said to demonstrate he was hiding evidence while others were said to show that scientists were trying to prevent the publication of studies contradicting the idea that carbon emissions were heating up Earth.

The affair – inevitably dubbed climategate – caused considerable controversy at the Copenhagen talks that December. Many analysts believe its “revelations” were used by some delegates, including those from Saudi Arabia, to scupper a binding deal to limit global carbon emissions while Sarah Palin claimed the emails showed leading climate “experts” had “destroyed records, manipulated data and tried to silence their critics by preventing them from publishing”.

Public support for climate scientists was also harmed, with polls showing that trust in them dropped to 40%, from around 60%, in the UK. “By any measure, the leaking of those emails had a tremendous impact not only on Copenhagen but on all the international discussions that followed that meeting,” said John Abraham, a University of Minnesota researcher who last week launched a new US campaign to fight those who deny humans’ influence on climate. “All sorts of allegations were made and these still stick in people’s minds.”

Abraham’s remarks raise key questions. If climategate has had a major impact, how long will it last? Has it permanently damaged politicians’s hopes of controlling global carbon emissions? Or is there hope that the cause of climate science can be resurrected?

Answers to these questions are unexpected and disturbing. In the case of Jones and his colleagues, the impact of the affair was deeply unpleasant. They were inundated with abusive messages including death threats. Jones, one of the world’s most respected climate scientists, lost more than a stone in weight and entertained suicidal thoughts on several occasions, he later admitted. “I was shocked. People said I should go and kill myself. They said that they knew where I lived. They were coming from all over the world.”

Jones survived, however. After standing down as head of his unit, he was reappointed following publication of a series of independent UK reports which backed the integrity of his work and his behaviour and which concluded those examples of “scandal” had been cherry-picked and quoted out of context. Sir Muir Russell, the senior civil servant who led one inquiry, praised the “rigour and honesty” of the unit’s scientists, for example, while another inquiry, chaired by Lord Oxburgh, found “no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice”.

Even more stark were the findings of a separate inquiry in America by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This report not only endorsed the work of the East Anglian climate researchers, it also strongly attacked US politicians and energy groups who had tried to suggest that the leaked East Anglia emails revealed that humans were not playing a role in warming of the planet.

According to the EPA, these people had “routinely misunderstood or mis-characterised the scientific issues, drawn faulty conclusions, resorted to hyperbole, impugned the ethics of climate scientists in general, and characterised actions as ‘falsifications’ and ‘manipulation’ with no basis or support.” Such individuals had also cherry-picked the language of the emails without looking deeper into the issues or providing corroborating evidence to assert that improper action had occurred. As a summation of climate scientists’ disdain for global warming deniers, these words could hardly be bettered.

Among those who had petitioned the EPA to change US environment regulations, using the East Anglia emails as evidence of meteorological fraud and manipulation, was Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private coal company. Its executives were so confident that climategate could be exploited as a global scandal that it even sent a memo to the UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee when it began to deliberate the affair this year, accusing the unit’s scientists of “suppressing dissenting views”. (The committee disagreed and vindicated the unit.)

The fact that companies like Peabody have exploited the East Anglia emails is revealing. As Bob Ward, policy director at the London School of Economics’ Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change, pointed out: “It is clear the leaked emails have been used by companies and groups with large financial interests in oil and coal production in order to oppose the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions”. The reverberations of climategate run deep and hard.

For those who believe carbon emissions pose a serious threat of triggering devastating temperature rises by the end of the century, the controversy has been a dispiriting experience. However they should not despair completely. For one thing, it would wrong to blame the leaked emails for the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks last year.

“They certainly influenced the atmosphere of the talks,” said Michael Jacobs, who, as Gordon Brown’s special adviser on climate change, participated in all the high-level talks at Copenhagen. “They were mentioned by the Saudi Arabian delegation, for example, and got widespread coverage in the US. But they weren’t decisive. Countries’ negotiating positions had been formed over the previous two years and were based on the accepted science. They could not be altered by a single new controversy.”

In fact, since the talks ended, most countries have continued to pursue the goals they set for themselves before the meeting. Only the US and Australia have deviated from their decisions to take some action against global warming. Most other countries, including Britain and its European neighbours, have continued to build wind farms and establish ambitious renewable energy goals. “There has not been a massive rowing back of measures to counter climate change,” added Jacobs.

This view was backed by Gavin Schmidt, a Nasa climatologist and founding member of RealClimate, a pro-science blog on climate issues. “The climate and global warming are not top issues on world news agendas at present. But you cannot expect those issues to be topping agendas all the time. There are spikes and troughs.”

The illegal leaking of the East Anglia emails may have helped push aside global warming as a topic of popular appeal but that lack of interest will not continue for ever. Public concern will return. “There is growing underlying trend of concern about climate change,” Schmidt insists. “The next spike of interest will be higher than the last and that background trend of concern will go on.”

In other words, all is not lost for climate sciene – though the tasks facing its practitioners should not be underestimated, a point stressed by Professor Trevor Davies, pro-vice-chancellor at the University of East Anglia and a former director of its climate-research unit. “This affair has showed just how difficult it is to get over rational, objective arguments to people who are just not prepared to listen. It is going to be very, very difficult to engage and converse with some of these people.”

Nevertheless, climate researchers will have to do just that in the coming years. The one criticism levelled by those groups who investigated and reported on climategate was their concern that its researchers had failed to answer properly the many requests for information that they had received from the public and from climate-change deniers. “We are going to have deal with that. We accept that,” said Davies. “In future we will have to be utterly transparent in our undertakings. We will have to go out and engage with the public and justify our stance. That is the real lesson of this affair.”

Vicky Pope, head of climate-change advice at the UK Met Office, agreed. “We are currently collecting vast sets of data for our studies of the climate and we are going to have make these available in forms that can be used by interested groups. They can then see for themselves that our analyses are sound and correct. It means a lot of extra work but if that is the price for making sure we demonstrate the dangers posed by climate change then we will have to pay it.”

PM needs something to say: What about focusing on something strategic like the Coral Triangle Initiative of President SBY?

  • Gillard tripDennis Atkins; From:The Courier-Mail; November 06, 2010 11:23AM
  • THE market research department of Party Games did some unscientific opinion sampling this week, asking people whether they knew Prime Minister Julia Gillard was in South-East Asia and what she was up to.

    The bad news for the Government is most people didn’t know she was away, and of those who did, the one thing they remembered was she travelled with her de facto spouse Tim Mathieson. This is what happens when leaders fail to construct a narrative to fit what they’re doing.

    Government officials say Gillard is still introducing herself on the world stage – she’s off on her third rapid-fire piece of summitry to the G20 in Seoul next week – but the Prime Minister needs to start telling the story of her leadership and Government, at home and abroad.

    During her trip to Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, Gillard spent most of her time talking publicly about asylum seekers and her proposed regional refugee processing centre in East Timor.

    She also touched on education issues in Vietnam and Indonesia – opening a campus for Melbourne’s RMIT university in the former and handing over a $500,000 schools grant in the latter.

    Governments in South-East Asia do not like talking about asylum seekers, which makes Gillard’s emphasis on this topic look like what it was, pitching to an Australian audience.

    Another research arm of Party Games went looking for something that might capture the imagination of people in the region and also be of interest to people in Australia. We found something after a handful of phone calls.

    It’s to do with the Coral Triangle – one of the world’s most precious and richest marine environments, covering an area that has as its three corners the ocean above the northern tip of the Philippines, the eastern edge of Java and the Solomon Islands.

    It’s an area of about 650 million hectares which is home to about 3000 species of fish and the richest concentration of marine biodiversity on the planet.

    As well as a seafood bowl for the world, the triangle supports and feeds local communities which are as culturally diverse as the marine life – 126 million people representing 2000 separate language groups. What unites them is a historical, cultural and spiritual connection with the sea.

    Because of over-fishing and other development pressures, much of this region is under threat, which is why the six countries most closely involved and dependent on the triangle – Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Solomon Islands – four years ago started work to halt the decline in available resources and diminish the threat to its future.

    There is also the associated social and political risk to the stability of not just the region but the internal cohesion of individual nations, particularly the Indonesian archipelago.

    Led by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, this initiative is aimed at galvanising international attention on the problems and to muster global resources – particularly scientific expertise and financial aid  to help a group of nations that includes some of the poorest.

    While the US has been supportive of the initiative – stumping up $40 million to get the program going – Australia has been slow and miserly in giving attention to such an urgent need on its doorstep. So far, apart from lip service, Australia has tipped in just $2 million, half of which is spent on administrative support in Canberra.

    Australia could assist its nearest neighbours by helping them address some of the most fundamental development challenges, boost regional security and balance the widespread perception in these countries that Australia is only interested in its own problems, particularly border protection.

    The Coral Triangle neatly encompasses all of Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd’s stated goals for Australia to embrace and enlarge its place in the Asia-Pacific region.

    That we have been invited by the countries makes this a unique opportunity to make a real difference.

    According to Canberra sources, interest in the initiative never got beyond lip service because of the bigger-picture ambitions of Rudd when he was prime minister – his plans for a new Asia-Pacific community group and getting a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

    But this looks to be a low-cost, high-impact initiative (and sources say Australia would get plenty of brownie points for $10 million or so) that Gillard could talk about. She needs something.