December 2004 saw the partial collapse of support for the United Nations’ Kyoto Protocol at the Buenos Aires Conference of the Parties. Only limited and informal talks were agreed on for the future. As environmental groups objected to the “obstructionism” of the US attempts to kill off the Protocol altogether, Alan Oxley, well known Free Trade advocate and opponent of the Protocol gleefully reported, “The United States, China, India and the rest of the developing countries have taken over the UN climate process and sidelined the Kyoto Protocol”. More, “… the Howard government is now in the international mainstream of climate change policy”. And, “The science used to justify the Treaty has been steadily unwinding”.
In fact, European countries are enlarging their carbon trading, science reveals increasing evidence of warming, and Britain’s Tony Blair is committed to progressing solutions to warming described as “in the long term, the single most important issue facing the global community” and to involving the US in finding solutions. Saudi Arabia will endorse the Protocol even though it will lose billions of dollars as a result of emission reductions by industrialised countries. Meanwhile, the US Administration has removed or watered down protection for the environment, promoted high energy use and ignored inefficiencies. Australia is simply following along after the US wherever it goes. Lobby groups are everywhere.
At the January 2005 UN Conference on natural disasters in Kobe, Japan, the US together with Australia and Canada, vigorously opposed reference to the term “climate change” in the ten year action plan.
The issues of warming and the Protocol are bound up with science, economics and politics. The first makes argument inevitable, the second generates confusion and the third, politics, renders agreement highly unlikely, particularly with the presently fractured attitude to the United Nations. Much of the attack is directed at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its three groups - about 1,500 scientists in all - examining data, modelling and advising governments.
The Day after To-morrow vs The State of Fear
Oxley tells us “pro-Kyoto groups” in Buenos Aires used stills from the movie The Day after Tomorrow to illustrate presentations. That is not relevant to either the IPCC or the Kyoto Protocol. He also says business groups (“gleefully”) distributed flyers for the book State of Fear by techno-thriller writer and filmmaker Michael Crichton.
Crichton is hardly an expert. He makes false claims about scientific models and data, appears unaware of the way that observed data are used to evaluate climate models, particularly regional climate information and predictions, confuses weather and climate and seems unaware of the working of the IPCC.
Crichton claims scientists’ support for global warming is simply consensus science. This is merely an invoking of a big bogeyman. Scientists are people. They can conform to group think (preparedness to go along with a commonly held view) and accept statements by people acknowledged as authorities. Just like politicians, company directors and committees of almost any kind. Except they are more argumentative and have a decision model - the scientific method - which requires testable propositions. It is claimed by detractors that the trends in global temperature represented by the “hockey stick curve” is supported as consensus. In fact the curve has substantial independent verification.
If Crichton’s book was used as Oxley claims then we can only feel frustrated that bad science is used to counter radical environmental politics.
Oxley and Lavoisier
Oxley is associated with the Lavoisier Group of Melbourne, founded in 2000, that has mounted consistent attacks on the Protocol. Similar groups exist in the US and Britain. Lavoisier argues that climate change proposals are based on inexact science and are too expensive for Australia. Some of the Lavoisier material invokes the solar sunspot cycle as causing warming and asserts, “since we can do nothing about that, attention should be devoted to other environmental issues which we can affect”.
This resembles the claims of Danish “sceptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg. University of Queensland economist John Quiggin in October 2003 pointed out that Lomborg’s estimate of the costs of Kyoto were higher than most others’ due partly to his assertion that carbon trading was “infeasible” because it would involve transfer of billions of dollars from rich to poor countries. And that he ignores the many economists who estimate the costs of warming being much higher than does Yale economist, William Nordhaus, who favours taxes rather than trading. Earlier, Quiggin wrote that the membership of the Lavoisier group seemed prepared to rely on wishful thinking “whenever it suits their turn”.
Lavoisier promotes various groups claiming to highlight junk science and includes the conservative Washington-based Cato Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). Material on the Lavoisier site - a press conference by Russian presidential economic advisor Illarionov, even claims that the Protocol amounts to war against Russia.
Lavoisier is chaired by former Finance Minister Peter Walsh and supported by, among others, Hugh Morgan, now President of the Business Council of Australia; both consider environmentalism a threat to capitalism and Australia’s living standards.
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