Why, what an unexpected pleasure in the post today. A bank statement, a copy of one of Australia's least interesting magazines...
...and a leaflet from a bunch of climate-change deniers! The front of which is one spaceship away from being the cover of an Asimov book!
The current Australian Federal government, you see, is proposing a carbon tax, the cost of which to consumers (in the form of more expensive goods and services from organisations that now have to pay for their pollution) will be offset by tax cuts. Various people have objected to this, including this mob, "The Galileo Movement".
The very name of The Galileo Movement proclaims their proud dedication to the popular Galilean version of the association fallacy. They laughed at Galileo, you see, and he was right, so since they also laugh at you, that's evidence indicating that you must also be right.
(It's a bit like a Christian organisation calling itself the Pascal Society.)
The "Patron" of the Galileo Movement is the entirely laudable colourful Australian radio personality Alan Jones. Jones, like most prominent climate-change deniers, is an authoritarian conservative, very wealthy, entirely without any relevant scientific education or perceptible respect for scientists who disagree with his views, and certain to be safely dead by the time the global climate really starts going to hell.
But never mind Alan. On to the "facts" presented by this flier:
* CARBON DIOXIDE IS NOT A POLLUTANT: CO2 is a colourless and odourless atmospheric trace gas. It is essential for life on Earth.
I cannot imagine why they bothered putting any more "facts" on this leaflet, having led off with a humdinger of an argument like this one.
* RESEARCH: Studies of data over very long periods confirm that C02 increases came AFTER increases in global temperature. So CO2 could not have CAUSED past periods of planetary warming.
Or, to put it another way, it could.
The little nugget of information that's missing here is that higher CO2 causes warming, but warming also causes the release of more CO2, from sources like thawing tundra. (This is happening, alarmingly rapidly, today.) So CO2 peaks can actually be expected to come after temperature peaks.
Oh, and note that here, the nice Galileo people are saying that scientists are right about past temperature and CO2 levels, though they kind of gloss over what the scientists actually say.
We don't, actually, have very good data on global temperature in the distant past, because nobody was there to record it. We can get a good idea of the composition of the atmosphere many thousands of years ago by sampling air trapped in thick ice sheets, but we cannot get a similarly sharp view of the temperature. We have to use "proxies", like the width of tree rings.
If a climate-change denier's trying to build an argument that relies on old temperature numbers being inaccurate, expect him to have a lot to say about unreliable temperature proxies.
* WARMING: Some global surface warming probably has occurred in the last century. However. despite increasing atmospheric C02, there has been no increase in the global surface temperature since 1998.
...and now they're saying scientists are wrong about present temperatures. Except not really, because they slip in that "since 1998" when they think you're not looking.
Climate-change deniers love 1998, because 1998 was unusually warm. So if you graph global temperature for the last, say, hundred years, you get a peak in 1998 and then it kind of plateaus off. At a temperature well above all previous temperatures.
Heck, the recent-temperatures graph actually goes down in a few places, like after 1940 and around 1990. Pretending that this is an actual argument against climate change, however, is like saying that Apple stock is a bad investment because it didn't do very well in 2008.
* CHINA: China produces the equivalent of Australia's total annual CO2 emissions in less than a month. Its total annual emissions will increase by 70% in the next decade to 10,000 million tonnes. Why should we sacrifice jobs and harm our economy, when our exported coal is being consumed tax-free there?
* REST OF WORLD: The Gillard Government wants to reduce our 1.5% of total global CO2 emissions. Yet China and the USA, the planet's two largest emitters, will CONTINUE TO INCREASE their emissions, together with India and most other countries.
This is the strongest argument available to climate-change deniers, and, notably, is also not actually an argument that denies that climate change is happening. One should not, indeed, expect to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels by reducing emissions from countries that don't emit that much CO2 in the first place. Especially while much bigger CO2 emitters are dramatically increasing their output.
This does not, however, mean that you shouldn't do the right thing, just because people elsewhere are doing the wrong thing on a greater scale. We're all going to have to do the right thing eventually, and rich countries like Australia can afford to be (relatively) early adopters, even if the actual direct effect of our action on the climate will be trivial.
This "why-bother argument" is, I think, analogous to the argument that voting is futile, because your one single vote will almost certainly never decide an election.
But it's not like voting, because reducing CO2 emissions is something that human societies are not very good at doing yet, so having a go at it will help us figure out which techniques work, and which don't. If humans all refused to do something because everybody else wasn't doing it yet, climate change wouldn't be a problem at all, because we'd never have figured out how to light a fire.
* NATURAL ICONS: The governments tax will not make any difference to the state of the Great Barrier Reef or Kakadu ~ both of which are environmentally healthy.
This one's a bit bloody cheeky.
The Great Barrier Reef has indeed pretty much recovered from the last major bleaching event in 2006, and clearly that's not going to happen again. I mean, it's only happened seven times since 1980, most seriously in 2002 and, yes, good old 1998.
Using this same argument, we can conclude that Australia need not worry its pretty head about bushfires any more, either!
(Note also the "I'm all right, Jack" attitude to coral reef destruction; it's uncontroversial that warmer seas correlated with mass bleaching events - which is why unusually-warm 1998 was so bad for reefs - and it's similarly uncontroversial that there are reefs all over the world that are in danger as a result. But as long as our big reef's OK, who cares?)
And yes, the Kakadu National Park does not, at present, seem to be suffering any particular climatic damage. It seems pretty likely that it will, but just because there's a man with a machete climbing in through your window is no cause for alarm. Give the fellow a moment to explain himself.
There are plenty of other forested areas in the world that are currently doing OK, too. I doubt that a lawyer would achieve much success if he argued that his client should be acquitted because, yes, OK, that incident with the machete was unfortunate, but look at all of the people in the world that he clearly has not yet murdered!
The whole point of action on climate change is to do something about it before our national parks dry out or wash away, our farmland blows into the ocean, yet more misery and death is visited upon millions of brown people we don't much care about, et cetera.
* CLIMATE CHANGE: Climate change is a natural phenomenon. It is not due to human activity. The frequency of Australia's floods, droughts, bushfires and cyclones will not be controlled by a new tax.
If this is actually true, then all of the other stuff is irrelevant.
It's sort of kettle logic - "I did not break your kettle! It was in one piece when I returned it! And the holes were already in it when I borrowed it! And I never borrowed your stupid kettle anyway, so there!"
I suppose they could have phrased it as "even if we're wrong about all this other stuff...", but that'd clash a little with their proud dedication to FACTS!, so they're stuck with these arguments that sit strangely together.
But never mind, because this one's no good, either.
CO2 is definitely a greenhouse gas.
CO2 levels are definitely much higher now than they've been for hundreds of thousands of years.
This change is definitely the result of human activity since the Industrial Revolution. The numbers are very bloody clear indeed.
All the deniers are left with is claiming that this CO2 will, for some reason, not do anything. Good luck with that.
* FUTURE: Climate model predictions of dangerous global warming are highly uncertain, as there are no established laws of climate change.
Whoops, there we go - now the scientists don't know anything, again!
It's true that we don't know exactly what climate change will do. Shifting climate will probably make some deserts bloom. Which is all very well if you own the bloody desert, but a bit of a problem if you're trying to farm a place where it doesn't rain any more. And a warmer climate is a more energetic climate with more water in the atmosphere, which most certainly does mean more cyclones and floods, though not necessarily more droughts and bushfires.
You don't need a full and accurate model of everything that might happen for the next hundred years to realise that we're changing the climate in surprisingly large ways. My personal favourite example is the sodding Northwest Passage, which is now navigable every summer. At the beginning of the 20th century, the preferred vehicle for traversing that area was the dog-sled; today, it can accommodate commercial freighters.
But oh, no; climate change isn't happening and if it is then it doesn't matter and if it does then it's not our fault and if it is then there's nothing we can do. You can't prove that any particular natural disaster was definitely the result of climate change; therefore, there's nothing to worry about.
And companies like poor little BHP, trying to somehow survive with only the biggest profit they've ever made standing between them and penury, must not be taxed even a tiny bit more or they'll lay everybody off.