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An Indian view of climate change, and where it led me

By Don Aitkin - posted Monday, 12 August 2019


In Australia, and more generally in the Western world, we are accustomed to take seriously only opinions that come from our own languages and cultures. We will notice what the Americans say, the British, and the Dutch, for example. But if the opinions come from Russia, or China or India, we discount them. If they come from Brazil or Chile, we are unlikely even to know about them. A knowledgeable friend (peer-reviewed, yes, and an IPCC reviewer) pointed me towards an op ed piece in The Times of India, and I read it with some interest. The author is Sanjeev Sabhlok, who was educated in part at the University of Southern California, and after working for the Government of India, quit his job in despair and formed a right-wing anti-socialist party. He has become fascinated with the climate change issue, and what follows is a piece of cut-and-paste on my part. You can read it all here

'As a liberal party, our default position is to reject any government intervention in the lives of people unless it is thoroughly justified. In particular, we reject the wishy-washy precautionary principle. Real harm must be proven before even the thought of government intervention is entertained.'

Well, there you go. Since I too reject the precautionary principle, I am with him there. On he goes: even the IPCC says there is no harm from climate change:

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'The IPCC's 2014 AR5 report (see the chart at p.690 of Chapter 10 of the Working Group II's contribution) makes note of 20 studies by economists about the welfare impacts of climate change. Three of these conclude that doing nothing may improve things. Most of the remaining 17 studies suggest a very modest loss of future income, of less than three per cent. The IPCC summarises: estimates of global annual economic losses for an additional temperature increase of 2°C are between 0.2 and 2.0 per cent of income. These are its precise words. Check them out for yourself.'

He moves on to an issue that has caught my attention in the past, though I have not explored it, or written about it.

'There is no basis to suggest that today's temperature or sea level is optimal for life on earth. The climate has constantly changed, sometimes massively. A few degrees up and down, a few tens of metres of sea level up and down, is par for the course for life on Earth.

Just a thousand years ago, the global temperature was very warm. The IPCC's first report had a chart that showed temperatures far in excess of current temperatures during the Medieval Warming (MW) period. But the IPCC soon realised that people wouldn't cough up their money unless the MW was erased. Since then, these "scientists" have been making strenuous efforts to get rid of it.

A recent study published in Nature rejects MW. But I'd be reluctant to embrace it, at least not so fast. It needs to be thoroughly scrutinised by scientists whose hundreds of previous studies confirmed the MW. The weight of evidence is still with the MW. And then the temperatures cooled, leading to a Little Ice Age from which we emerged around two hundred years ago. All this variation occurred without man-made CO2 emissions.'

My position is that so far the evidence tells us that increased CO2 in the atmosphere is associated with greater food production and seems to have caused a perceptible greening in the close-to-arid parts of the planet. I do agree with him that the notion that today's sea levels and temperatures are somehow 'optimal' does need a good deal of consideration. I see no reason to accept it.

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My interest now keen, I thought I would find out more about India's electricity supply, and where it came from. How like or unlike Australia's was it? According to Wikipedia, there is one national grid, and just about everybody (99.7 per cent) is connected to it. As with us, coal is the backbone of Indian electricity production, amounting to not quite 76 per cent. India runs fourth in the world in coal reserves. Then come large hydro-electricity sources (nearly 10 per cent), small hydro (0.4 per cent), wind (4 per cent), gas (nearly 4 per cent), nuclear (2.9 per cent), solar (2 per cent), and biomass (1.2 per cent).

It is rather similar to Australia, where the standard division of fuel sources for electricity (Ausgrid) runs at coal 74 per cent, natural gas 15 per cent, with the remaining 11 per cent produced by hydro (6 percent) and wind, rooftop solar and biomass contributing 5 per cent. The renewables proportion is increasing. We have no geothermal energy yet, and no nuclear energy. India has more hydro.

What about China? Coal supplies 65 per cent of electricity there, hydro 18 per cent and a bit more from pumped storage, nuclear 4 per cent, natural gas 3 per cent, renewables (wind, solar and biomass) around 7.7 per cent), other thermal nearly 2 per cent. That's not strikingly dissimilar either. And China runs third in the world, just above India, in terms of its coal reserves.

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This article was first published on Don Aitkin.



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About the Author

Don Aitkin has been an academic and vice-chancellor. His latest book, Moving On, was published in 2016.

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