Sunday, December 25, 2011

Xmas Message

Posting during the holiday period will be light (or non existant) until the New Year.
After two years out of Oz I'm fully enjoying a short stay at home with family.
On behalf of all contributors I wish you all a safe and happy XMas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Base Motives

The Age has an interesting piece of pop psychology about why 'sceptics', in the face of all argument to the contrary, continue to follow the road paved with gold, arguing that...

Climate sceptics might just be captive to basic emotions

Paul Biegler
December 20, 2011

Instant gratification is a powerful, but flawed, human motivator.

If you are down a blind alley searching for that perfect Christmas gift for your climate sceptic friend, you could do worse than slinging them a book on Emotional Intelligence. Why? Research is mounting that your friend is the victim of one of the brain's many computing glitches. More particularly, [they have] been derailed by an emotional response that is at best unhelpful and at worst catastrophic. [They have] capitulated to the pleasure of the here and now.

In his recent book Brain Bugs, psychology professor Dean Buonomano summarises a wealth of evidence that when it comes to putting off rewards, many of us suck. In the most famous study, back in the 1960s, Walter Mischel sat unsuspecting toddlers at tables laid with a single marshmallow. They could eat it now or receive an extra one if they waited a short time. Some rug rats unceremoniously demolished the treat without delay, while others exercised supreme self-control and resisted temptation until the appointed moment. Follow-up of the youngsters two decades later found those who showed restraint had better college admission scores. Other studies have linked weakness of will with obesity and addiction.

This is an example of temporal discounting, where greater rewards in the future are tagged with lesser value in virtue of their temporal distance.

Adults remain prone to temporal discounting. Given the choice of $100 now or $120 in a month, most take the money and run, sacrificing what amounts to an annual return on their one-month investment of 240 per cent. How could we be so dumb?

Climate scepticism is a strong candidate example of temporal discounting. A truckload of science supports global warming and its attendant perils. Yet, addressing this temporally far-flung threat, while generating distant benefit for our planet's inheritors, will cost us real pleasure now.

The task is difficult, not least because many of our emotional decisions are backed by post hoc - but aberrant - rationalisation.

In the climate realm, fabrication is also rife. Enthralled by their emotional biases, sceptics mouth desperate appeals to the corruptibility of scientists, or to the fallibility of climate prediction models.

It's one thing to claim that the work of an individual scientist or even a team is wrong. But so called sceptics essentially make the amazing claim that ALL climate scientists are wrong.

Comment section after comment section of newspapers and blogs are filled with poorly researched (I'm being generous) claims asserting that this or that aspect of climate change has been overlooked.

Are all scientists so dumb? Not in my personal experience.

To cover this obvious rebuttal, 'sceptics' make a further assertion - climate scientists have become trapped in so called 'group think'. No evidence for this is provided other than the fact that climate science (and science in general) disagrees with the sceptic position.

Imagine the accused standing up in court and stating "Obviously, Your Honour, the verdict of the Jury can not be trusted as they have become trapped by group think".

Pop psychology is perhaps just slightly more informative than pop stupidity - as de-constructed here.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Durban UNFCCC international climate negotiations

In which Robin Johnson's Economics Web Page discusses the Durban UNFCCC international climate negotiations through a historic lense of the Second World War and the Rio 1992 Earth Summit.

In a very considered comment on the Hot Topic blog , David Lewis questions whether the Durban UNFCCC international climate negotiations can come up with a binding treaty that effectively reduces greenhouse gas concentrations, given the existing public will.

"I don’t see how negotiations on an international climate treaty can proceed to an agreement that would actually stabilize the composition of the atmosphere at a level that would not cause [dangerous anthropogenic interference] without more demand for such an agreement coming from the global population."
David Lewis compares the global demand for action in the international climate change negotiations with the changing British attitudes to 'Total War' with Hitler's Germany in 1940. Lewis implies that in the climate change negotiations, each government is "trapped in a circumstance where it can’t generate the national will that’s necessary."

In terms of the purposes served by international climate change negotiations, I would go a step further than that thoughtful comment from David Lewis. I say that the negotiations have never had the goal of producing a binding treaty to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations. Governments instead use the negotiations as one of their reasons for not reducing emissions of greenhouse gases and for continuing with 'business-as-usual'.

Let me summarise my contention using another reference to the Second World War.

Q. Whats the difference between Neville Chamberlain's negotiations in 1938 with Hitler in Munich that lead to the annexation of Czechoslovakia and the UNFCCC international climate change negotiations?

A. Neville Chamberlain only went once to Munich.

In making my argument I am influenced by a paper my late father Robin Johnson (as in Robin Johnson's Economics Web Page) wrote in 1992 about the political-economy of the Rio Earth Summit. Robin uses the term "political-economy" to indicate he is considering the various groups with interests in the Earth Summit and asking what interests were served by the outcomes.

Robin noted that the expected outcomes of the Rio Earth Summit were binding signed international conventions on climate change and biological diversity. However, the actual outcome was a "framework convention...full of resounding phraseology and generalities..."

Robin says the reason for this outcome was the fundamental split between the 'North' (developed countries) and South (developing country) blocs. Neither bloc was was willing to put global interest ahead of national interests. Instead, the outcome of the Earth Summit consisted of "...non-binding language ... adopted to get all major nations to sign..."

No agreement except on non-binding rhetorical statements! Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Isn't that what's happened with all the subsequent climate change talks?

Robin's paper uncannily predicts much of the next 19 years of inconclusive negotiations. He wrote "Prior to meeting in Rio, some governments expressed concern that the Earth Summit would become a "pledging conference" where world leaders would be expected to step to the podium and announce their country's contribution." Copenhagen 2009, anyone?

Robin concluded "The challenge for those seeking action will be to channel the outcomes of Rio into concrete action by member states." Substitute "Bali 2007" or "Copenhagen 2009" or "Cancun 2010" for "Rio", and we can re-use that conclusion for all subsequent international climate change negotiations.

So, from a political economy point of view, the climate change negotiations have had the effect of ensuring that international opinion stays "behind the demand curve” for decisive action. After all, that is the function they have served in the 18 years since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

So I think we need to let go of the idea that the negotiations as they are currently constituted and conducted will make any useful contribution to the kind of decisive international action that is required. We need to accept that the negotiations are just another forum for business and politics as usual.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chart of Australian Oil Consumption and Production

This graph of Australian oil consumption and production is based on the BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2011. I prepared it for a local government workshop later this week and thought I'd post it here for others to use.

Australia is one of very few OECD countries where oil consumption is still rising in this high oil price environment, albeit slowly. You can thank the resource economy for that (and the related strength of the Australian dollar).

Saturday, December 3, 2011

...we just run logistical support.

The Age
(Dec 3) carries a story about The Basin Communities Association, wherein it is disclosed that the "association" shares its head quarters with the NSW Irrigators' Council, and that until recently the Irrigators Council chief executive (Andrew Gregson) was its President and Secretary. But don't worry...

Mr Gregson denied the association was a front group and said the irrigators "don't own it, don't run it, we are not on the board of it, we just run logistical support".

The board includes Malcolm Jackman, head of rural giant Elders; Scott James, head of Westpac's agribusiness sector; Ray Najar, a civil engineer who works in irrigation and water resource management and is chairman of the Australia Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry; Ross McPherson, the Shepparton-based regional newspaper magnate and one of the architects of Victoria's controversial $2 billion foodbowl plan; a local Griffith irrigator and a regional financial planner.

For a moment there I was concerned that this was not a true community based organisation as implied by the name.

I guess strictly speaking it isn't a front group. The correct term is probably puppet.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thankyou for reading for one year...

Although this is just a part time amateurish effort, readership (amazingly) has doubled since TOD-ANZ launched about this time last year. Thank you. We hope the information here continues to be of some benefit/amusement to you all.

A special thanks to all contributors.