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Carbon rationing or freedom

By Jennifer Marohasy - posted Friday, 14 March 2008


Australia has now ratified the Kyoto Protocol and when George Bush’s Presidency expires the United States is also likely to join up. Indeed all counties in the developed world will probably soon become parts of a carbon emissions trading scheme. But the gap between what is agreed and what is achieved in terms of reducing emissions is likely to be significant.

Speaking at the 2008 International Climate Change Conference in New York last week, the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, described the “robust relationship between carbon dioxide emissions and economic growth”. He went on to suggest there are three types of countries in Europe based on their emissions profile and level of economic growth. He talks about his speech in an article in The Australian (March 12, 2008).

He described the less developed countries of the European Union (EU), including Greece, as trying to catch-up economically and in the process, since the signing of Kyoto, increasing their level of carbon emissions by 53 per cent. The post communist countries are seeing their heavy industry disappear and are experiencing a decline in GDP and a drop in emissions of on average 33 per cent. Highly established countries like France and Germany have seen their emissions increase by about 4 per cent since Kyoto was signed.

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President Klaus said “the dream” to reduce emissions in the EU by 70 per cent in the next 30 years could only be achieved if there was a dramatic de-industrialisation of Europe - likely associated with a dramatic drop in GDP, a significant drop in population, or a technological revolution.

Klaus questioned the extent to which carbon dioxide, as opposed to natural variability, has driven global warming over the last 100 years. He sees the imposition of carbon rationing through emissions trading as reminiscent of communist era European politics where radical economic change was imposed from above.

These sorts of views are often labelled as climate change scepticism - but it is more climate change realism.

Of course there are those who argue that given the imminent catastrophe of global warming we all need to make some sacrifices and if this requires some draconian top down social engineering, so be it.

Also at the conference in New York was Roy Spencer who leads a team analysing temperature and cloud data from NASA’s Aqua satellite which was launched in 2002. This satellite has, for the first time, enabled the collection of detailed data on cloud formation and evolution, and temperature anomalies in the tropics.

Much of the scientific uncertainty about the size of manmade global warming is related to how the climate system responds to some warming. The climate models suggest a strong positive feedback: that the warming effects of additional carbon dioxide will be amplified by increasing water vapour. But data from NASA’s Aqua Satellite indicates just the opposite - that warming has the effect of slightly reducing the total greenhouse effect by adjusting water vapour and cloud amounts, to keep it in proportion to the amount of available sunlight.

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These findings published late last year are still being digested by the meteorological community: if correct it will mean that all current climate models used by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) will require an overhaul.

Dr Spencer’s work supports President Klaus’ hunch that climate systems are more robust than the models suggest and that natural climate variability has been neglected in much of the research and discussion to date. The policy implications are considerable if, as Dr Spencer‘s work seems to indicate, the overhauled climate models eventually show greatly reduced future warming projections.

The conference in New York was attended by 500 so-called climate change sceptics, including meteorologists, geologists, astrophysicists, social anthropologists (studying group dynamics in the climate change community), polar bear specialists and of course lobbyists.

There was diversity of opinion among delegates at the conference as to the causes of global warming in the last 100 years, and also little consensus regarding the future of fossil fuels.

Benny Peiser from Liverpool University in the UK, acknowledged that governments worldwide had no real solutions to rising emission levels but that solutions would come through geo-engineering and the development of solar energy.

In contrast, Michael Economides from the University of Houston in the US suggested this was a pie in the sky fantasy. Professor Economides said the world was likely to continue to source most of its energy from fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.

Perhaps it all depends on the extent to which governments in developed countries, including Australia, are prepared to risk a fall in their GDP by insisting on a real reduction in carbon emissions before new low emissions technologies are in place.

Such social engineering, President Klaus warned, would be disastrous.

Instead, we perhaps have to restart the discussion about the very nature of government and about the relationship between the individual and society. Should governments let climate alarmists impose policies designed to limit an individual’s access to energy?

We do need to relearn the lessons from the collapse of communism nearly 20 years ago. It is not just about climatology; it is also about freedom.

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Jennifer Marohasy was a delegate at the 2008 International Conference on Climate Change, March 2-4, 2008, New York City.

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About the Author

Jennifer Marohasy is a senior fellow with the Institute for Public Affairs.

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