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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...Bob Carter: British Report The Last Hurrah Of Warmaholics

THE AUSTRALIAN

Bob Carter: British Report The Last Hurrah Of Warmaholics

The Stern warning could join Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb and the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth in the pantheon of big banana scares that proved to be unfounded

Bob Carter is a geologist and founding member of the Australian Environment Foundation.

November 03, 2006

NICHOLAS Stern is a distinguished economist. Climate change is a complex, uncertain and contentious scientific issue. Have you spotted the problem with the Stern review yet? An accomplished cost-benefit analysis of climate change would require two things: a clear, quantitative understanding of the natural climate system and a dispassionate, accurate consideration of all the costs and benefits of warming as well as cooling.

Unfortunately, the Stern review is not a cost-benefit but a risk analysis, and of warming only.

This adroit shuffle of the pea under the thimble perhaps explains why Stern's flawed and partial account of our possible climate future stresses costs, ignores benefits, and fails to consider the all too likely eventuality of future cooling.

Even more unfortunate for Stern than his restricted brief is that there is no established theory of climate. Stern therefore has to rely on the advice of others in providing the summary of climate science that occupies the first 21 pages of his review. Though he cites a range of scientific literature, his summary strongly reflects the unsatisfactory consensus view of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The advice to policy-makers that governments periodically receive from the IPCC contains political rather than scientific advice. In concert with this, over the past 10 years the IPCC has moved from being primarily a reviewer of the science evidence to being an advocate for the alarmist case for global warming.

Perhaps the most important scientific point made in the Stern review is the statement that "the accuracy of climate predictions is limited by computer power".

Nonetheless, the review's risk analysis assumes that the computer models used are able to predict the future path of global climate for policy purposes. They cannot.

Worse, even if the models did have global predictive skill, that would only be a tiny first step towards policy advice, because the global average temperature or sea-level rise that the models calculate are conceptual statistics, not physical realities. Estimating accurate costs and benefits for future environmental change requires not just knowledge of changing global averages but accurate, site-specific predictions for all parts of the planet.

For example, from 1965 to 1998, measured sea level rose slightly in Townsville and fell slightly in Cairns. Presuming that these trends continue, there is obviously the need for different coastal management plans for the two regions. Now repeat that thought exercise for future changes in temperature, precipitation and sea level worldwide. To make actual and accurate predictions for this is, of course, impossible.

Stern has surely accepted his IPPC-centric science advice in good faith, yet that turns out to be his fatal mistake. Because there is copious evidence that the advice is untrustworthy. For instance, participants at a recent international climate conference in Stockholm were told that the hockey-stick depiction of temperature over the last 1000 years, an IPCC favourite, has been discredited; that pre-industrial atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were higher, and fluctuated more, than is indicated by the averaged ice core measurements; that global temperature has not increased since 1998, despite continuing increases in carbon dioxide; that the Arctic region is no warmer now than it was in the 1930s; and that climate models are too uncertain to be used as predictive policy tools.

These considerations undercut the core IPCC arguments for dangerous human-caused warming, as contained in its 2001 assessment report. Yet early drafts of the forthcoming fourth assessment report reveal that IPCC thinking does not consider these deep uncertainties, and neither does Stern.

The opinion of Bjorn Lomborg, writing in yesterday's Wall Street Journal, suggests that it is not just Stern's science that is flawed. Lomborg accuses Stern of cherry-picking statistics to fit the argument, such as massaging future warming cost estimates from the generally accepted 0per cent of gross domestic product now to 3 per cent in 2100 to figures as high as "20 per cent now and forever".

It seems that the economics of the Stern review is as shaky as the science, given that Lomborg concludes that "its fear-mongering arguments have been sensationalised, which is ultimately only likely to make the world worse off".

The Stern review has been presented as a rigorous treatment of climate change and its economic effects. In reality, however, the review is a political document whose relation to the truth is about the same as that of the notorious British report on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

The Stern agenda in Britain is to enable Labour to compete for eco-votes with an increasingly green-oriented Tory party. A wider agenda is the imposition of carbon levies for goods and services provided from outside Europe, thereby penalising more efficient competitors elsewhere. The European Union has form on this, and has previously tried to use DDT and genetic engineering of food as bogies to justify trade barriers. Among a range of possible carbon morality taxes, Stern considers the application of a food-miles levy on produce subjected to lengthy air transport. Subsequent media coverage has concentrated on earlier estimates that flying 1kg of kiwifruit from New Zealand to Europe generates 5kg of carbon dioxide. With delicious irony, it turns out that virtually all NZ kiwifruit are transported by ship, yet arrive in Britain at a price that undercuts local supplies. No wonder a levy is needed.

Australian grape growers are doubtless already resigned to having an extra "noble carbon" levy imposed on their products, to the advantage of their French competitors. For that matter, why not a ballet miles surcharge on tickets at Covent Garden when the Australian Ballet next visits London? And given that most British dildos probably come from overseas, perhaps UK citizens will soon have dildo miles, too.

The Stern review is not about climate change but about economic, technological and trade advantage. Its perpetrators seek power through climate scaremongering. The review's release was carefully timed to closely precede this month's US congressional elections and the Nairobi climate conference. Beyond these events, we can expect another burst of alarmist hallelujahs to accompany the launch of IPCC's assessment report in February.

Though it will be lionised for a while yet, the Stern review is destined to join Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb and think tank the Club of Rome's manifesto, Limits to Growth, in the pantheon of big banana scares that proved to be unfounded. It is part of the last hurrah for those warmaholics who inhabit a world of virtual climate reality that exists only inside flawed computer models.

Meanwhile, the empirical data stressed by climate rationalists will ultimately prevail over the predictions of the unvalidated computer models. Perhaps then we will be able to attend to the real climate policy problem, which is to prepare response plans for extreme weather events, and for climate warmings as well as coolings, in the same way we prepare to cope with all other natural hazards.