Greenies advocate inefficiency – but we knew that

There is an astonishingly bad op-ed in the Australian this morning by Geoff Edwards – president of the Royal Society of Queensland. As least he is honest enough to admit:

This article does not necessarily represent the views of all members.

Yes – I imagine so.

He is responding to a previous op-ed by Ian Plimer. Ian was making the argument that the 97% consensus figure is a nonsense number – “a zombie statistic”. Edwards concedes that the statistic is meaningless:

So what? The implications for policy would be almost the same if only half of scientists or even fewer agreed.

Indeed – but only if you assume that (1) climate change is happening, and (2) something should be done about it.  The answer to (1) is a scientific question. It is either happening or it is not. Now bear in mind, it is not enough to simply claim that the climate continually changes. Or that humans are making some contribution to climate change.  The Greenies must demonstrate that humans are predominantly the cause of climate change.

Let’s assume for argument sake that the answer to (1) is yes. Question (2) comes into play. At this point, however, we have run out of science. Addressing (2) is an economic, engineering, and ethical issue. Ethical questions revolve around whether we should do anything? Who are “we”? Engineering questions revolve around what can be done, if “we” decide to do anything. Finally economic evaluates the benefits and costs of doing something and suggests appropriate choices.

Edwards – like so many people – bypasses all the thorny ethical and engineering questions and jumps straight into the economics.

A prudent response also would identify no-regrets actions that would advance towards some worthwhile outcome even in the face of high uncertainty.

No regrets policy? High Uncertainty? It’s not clear to me that we do face high uncertainty – the IPCC and their fellow travellers have identified several scenarios and assigned probabilities and the like. Climate change is a risk not uncertain.  Then which no-regrets policy is he implying? A maximin strategy would provide a different policy choice to a minimax strategy – so which decision rule is he calling for? We know which decision rule he has ruled out by omission – the value maximisation rule.

In identifying no-regrets actions, one should keep in mind that emissions of carbon dioxide — whether from industry, electricity generation, building construction or transport — are an indicator of waste. Once a fossil fuel is burned and its carbon, a carrier of energy, is converted to carbon dioxide, the stored energy is lost forever.

What a strange thing to say – when a fossil fuel is burnt its energy is not lost – it has been used.  Presumably in the production of a good of service that will be sold at a profit or in some other way provide utility to humans.  Carbon dioxide emissions are a by-product of an otherwise useful good.  Unless you want to mount the argument that the optimal amount of waste is zero, his statement in that paragraph is incoherent. Now you may want to mount the argument that waste should be fully priced and as a result humans will find a profitable use for what is now waste. I am sympathetic to that particular argument as it calls for public policy that encourages entrepreneurship – lower taxes, lower regulations, less red tape, less green tape, etc. It also invites a debate around the value of the environment – somewhere between zero and infinity, and closer to zero than infinity.  This is an argument our green friends want to avoid.  One reason being that if you want to make the environment more valuable you need to follow policies that make human richer and not poorer.  Again lower taxes, lower regulations, less red tape, less green tape, etc.

Whether the fossil fuel is abundant or scarce, and the carbon dioxide harmful or harmless, any cost-conscious industry or government should be seeking to squeeze as much value from its raw material as possible.

Indeed. Now watch the slight of hand.

Australian industry has been slow to improve the energy efficiency of its factories, and governments have failed to mandate building standards that include energy design, insulation and solar water heating.

Industry don’y know their own best interest?  The argument that government has failed to mandate standards is simply false. Perhaps not the standards he would like – but that is a different argument.

Numerous no-regrets techniques that are easy to justify lie in reducing energy demand. Many demonstrate a payback of eight years or sooner, and many pay for themselves within two years. Here the myopia of polemicists such as Plimer, who claim that a transition to renewable energy will burden the economy, comes into stark view. 

He advocates the payback rule? As a decision making technique? The payback rule is known to introduce short-term bias into decision making and is terrible at evaluating alternatives projects.

The laws of supply and demand predict that assigning a price to a consumable discourages use and encourages substitution. A high price would have encouraged industry and homeowners to replace inefficient plant with modern plant, to demand higher energy performance of buildings and appliances and to electrify gas and oil-powered processes. This cannot possibly be a burden to the economy.

He is confusing a market price here with an artificial price. Price floors and price ceilings distort production and consumption decisions. Taxes impose deadweight losses on the economy. Note here that his argument isn’t that those distortions and deadweight losses are somehow a good thing, but that they do not exist – “cannot possibly be a burden to the economy”. Not even the astonishingly dodgy modelling produced by Treasury made that claim. To the contrary, the costs to the economy were so great that they tried to hide it by obfuscation.

It’s called initial investment for long-term dividends.

Then why not undertake a value-maximisation decision rule?  Certainly the payback rule won’t work here – yet he advocated it in the same paragraph.

The 2011 carbon price was a tax on waste. By eliminating that levy, the responsible government imposed a monumental financial burden on industry and householders.

Completely incoherent  here.

Then the closing sentence:

 We also expect them to recognise ideological crusades for what they are.

This is a game everyone can play.

Update: Andrew Bolt’s take here.

This entry was posted in Economics and economy, Global warming and climate change policy. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Greenies advocate inefficiency – but we knew that

  1. Confused Old Misfit

    Once a fossil fuel is burned and its carbon, a carrier of energy, is converted to carbon dioxide, the stored energy is lost forever.

    That sentence alone destroys all Mr. Edwards’ dubious credibility.
    Evidently physics never formed part of his study curriculum.

  2. Tim Neilson

    The Greenies must demonstrate that humans are predominantly the cause of climate change.

    AND that the “climate change” caused by humans will be materially detrimental.

  3. Bruce of Newcastle

    Since the real world temperature, as indicated by snow cover extent as a direct unadjusted proxy, hasn’t actually risen for a couple of decades, it is immoral to do anything. End of story.

  4. Turtle

    Edwards is pushing two arguments, one is global warming and the other is scarcity of fossil fuels. Scarcity of fossil fuels is a tired old argument that slips under the radar when global warming is discussed. The argument goes like this: “fossil fuels are scarce so we need do do something anyway”.
    But they fail to consider;
    1. Fossil fuels are much more abundant than greens suggest, and new sources are discovered all the time.
    2. Scarcity is best dealt with by the market. If it was as bad as greens say, the price would rise.
    3. New technologies will become available long before fossil fuels run out that will succeed in a free market without subsidies.
    Lots of people take fossil fuel scarcity as a self evident truth. This clouds their comprehension of the utter stupidity of gathering energy from sunbeams and breezes.

  5. Tom

    We also expect them to recognise ideological crusades for what they are.

    What does this clown think of the quasi-religious crusade by communist green zealots to use climate policy to destroy capitalism? Not an ideological crusade?

    Let’s talk about the lack of evidence that CO2 is the primary driver of global temperature. PS: models that don’t use real-world inputs are not evidence. Neither is a Malthusian hatred of the human race.

    If journalism was a genuine defender of the public interest, idiots like this wouldn’t be gifted so much power over politicians.

  6. Dr Fred Lenin

    Bolt had interesting fiures about the 97per cent of “scientists” . Seems this mob sent out 10,240 or so questionaires 3,400 odd replied They picked the eyes out of this lot and got down to 97 of whom 95 agreed climate change was doom . Im no matemstician but it seems 2.84per cent of one third of the people the mob thought knew about climate were a socialist majority,and what they invented was the gospel .
    Now I know there is a lot of mental affliction about but this is over the top . I have a very very very low opinion of the quality of politicians , today , but to believe this is either rotten corruption or certifiable insanity .
    You will notice the comrades got down to 97 and 2 dissented , they couldnt even pick a yes team thats how good these crims are.

  7. Russell

    I have often wondered about the practical human value of a lot of “highbrow” science like cosmological studies, particle physics, etc. I hear recently that such EU scientists want to spend another squillion euros on yet another bigger Hadron collider. And how many ground/satellite telescopes and space missions do they really need right now. Could we leave these hugely expensive projects to another human era in the future because we have more pressing problems today?
    Maybe we could apply an acid test for these highbrow scientists to choose at this point of human time between their interesting scientific endeavours and AGW/climate change.
    Maybe a lobby group is needed that coerces proper scientists to divert their “pet” highbrow science funding into AGW/climate change action to illustrate their real support and ideological colours. After all, who cares what the cosmos is made of, or about the essence of matter when the planet is supposed to be going to detriorate through AGW/climate change?
    Climate “science” is being allowed to flourish because these highbrow scientists think they will still get their grants for esoteric endeavours regardless of the AGW bunkum going on now. Just take a look at New Scientist magazine for a sample of proper science and ideological claptrap … a very mixed up editorial staff.
    Scientists need to feel the pain of competition like every other human endeavour to evolve economically. Surely highbrow scientists realise it’s time to flush the trash AGW science or, in these virtue-signalling times, their highbrow science will shortly be cleansed by the leftist political class.

    To what is this meaningless idiotic phrase intended to refer?
    “Climate definition, the composite or generally prevailing weather conditions of a region, as temperature, air pressure, humidity, precipitation, sunshine, cloudiness, and winds, throughout the year, averaged over a series of years.”
    The parameter is used to COMPARE the weather in one REGION with another. There is no more a ‘global climate’ than there is a ‘global currency’ or a ‘global language’.
    CHANGE In order to determine whether a parameter has changed over a period of time, it is necessary to MEASURE it.
    What do we use to measure climate? We CLASSIFY it using KOPPEN-GEIGER or TREWARTHA.
    What change has occurred in any one region in the last century or more? The size and shape of some regions change over a period of 30 years, then change back again over the next 30 years, in concert with a 60 year cycle. There has been NO SIGNIFICANT NET CHANGE in the climate of any region over the last 100 years.
    The TREWARTHA classification system shows SIGNIFICANT increase in vegetation over the past thirty years due to the increase in atmospheric CO2.
    What is “climate change” supposed to be? Other than sheer nonsense?

  9. DaveR

    The increase in CO2 since instrumental measurements began, and from proxies since the peak of the Little Ice Age (say 1680AD), is well within the natural earth variation over the last glacial cycle of 20,000 years. The belief that the CO2 rise since say 1950 is all due to human activity is an iteresting idea but cannot be proven, and also is well within the recent variation of atmospheric CO2 levels.

  10. Nob

    In engineering business, there are two main questions:
    Is it possible?
    Is it worth it?

  11. miltonf

    Sounds like another marxist don.

  12. Mique

    It is staggering that anyone would purport to respond to Ian Plimer’s reasoned arguments with such vapid crap. With idiots like that in positions of influence, we’re doomed.

  13. miltonf

    And the paywallian gives him a platform

  14. RobK

    Now i see why Sparty was mad as hell.

  15. Leo G

    Once a fossil fuel is burned and its carbon, a carrier of energy, is converted to carbon dioxide, the stored energy is lost forever.

    Lost forever- or until a process leads to the same carbon atoms forming bonds within a chemical species which can subsequently release some that bond energy.
    Strange that a Royal Society of Queensland president is unable to accept that the carbon atom in a carbon dioxide molecule could possibly later be incorporated in a different molecule which in turn could be converted to carbon dioxide.
    Geoff Edwards must be one of those despicable Carbon Cycle deniers.

  16. Rafe Champion

    It helps to remember that the office-bearers in the academies of science are not necessarily scientists and their KPIs all relate to getting money and publicity for science.
    The President of the National Academy a couple of years ago was just a Labor hack w ho moved from a back room in the party to the office of the National Academy of Science.

  17. Rafe Champion

    Jo Nova has posted several times on the performance of scientific associations. Not inspiring!

  18. Procrustes

    A nice, elegant fisking, Sinc.

    Haven’t seen a tidy one like that for a while.

  19. Rafe Champion

    This is more guff on the Australian Academy that I posted a couple of years ago, a scintillating serve from Garth Paltridge and the appointment of a Bill Shorten staffer to head the Academy.

    Arabia, whose role starts on October 24, has been director of policy/principal adviser to Bill Shorten for the past three years, earlier spending half a decade as adviser to Kim Beazley and Anthony Albanese. Pre-Shorten, she was CEO of Science & Technology Australia (STA).[1] On June 20, 2011, she led a war party of 200 STA members on an anti-science crusade to parliamentarians, her message being that “political leaders must put a stop to the misinformation campaign” by skeptics of the catastrophic global warming hypothesis, whom she bizarrely labelled “climate deniers”.

  20. jupes

    A nice, elegant fisking, Sinc.

    Haven’t seen a tidy one like that for a while.

    Yep. Great stuff Sinc. I note the Australian letters page overwhelmingly canned the idiot as well.

  21. Malcolm Thomas

    Sinc is wrong. On question 1, there is no need to demonstrate that humans are the cause of climste change. If climate change is real and will bugger the earth and the humans that inhabit it, that is a real problem – whether nature-caused or human-caused.

    Even if nature-caused, we should look at the costs and benefits of measures to address it – whether mitigation or adaption.

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