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Climate Hustle

Public talk: Global Warming - The Full Picture

Posted on 27 January 2012 by John Cook

Since Skeptical Science won the Australian Museum Eureka Prize, I've noticed two tangible changes. Firstly, the level of criticism and scrutiny that Skeptical Science receives from those that reject anthropogenic global warming has increased an order of magnitude. Almost without exception, the criticisms neatly avoid the science presented at SkS and instead focus on big issues like the buttons in our margin, comment moderation and the fact that our header graphic is photoshopped (an exception being a science-based critique by Lucia from Blackboard which led to an update of an SkS post). The other change is an increase in the invitations I've received to give public talks. Some of these talks are starting to make their way online so I thought I might start posting them on SkS (perhaps the invitations will drop off once people actually see my attempts at public speaking).

In November last year, I was invited to give a talk by TweedCAN, a group in the Tweed Shire just south of the Queensland/New South Wales border, that aim to reduce carbon emissions through local action (they're a dynamo of a group, having initiated a number of exciting local projects involving renewable energy). They asked me to talk about the science of climate change so I gave a presentation "Climate Change: The Full Picture". In all the public talks I'd given up until then, surprisingly I'd never once had a contrarian stand up in the audience and confront me with a climate myth. Finally, that disappointing streak ended at Tweed with a number of challenging questions (and it was all captured on video):

TweedCAN have posted a video of the talk on their website and also embedded the Powerpoint slideshow, which I also include below. You can also download the Powerpoint.

Now I did the best I could in answering the questions from the audience. Those of you who've read The Debunking Handbook (and if you haven't, why not?) might point out that some of my answers are not quite as lean and mean as I recommend in the Overkill Backfire Effect. Well, I do tend to ramble when in front of an audience :-) Comments on the talk and slideshow are very welcome.

Many thanks to Yasir and the folk at TweedCAN for inviting me to speak.

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Comments 1 to 27:

  1. Very interesting!
    Informative answers to the (archetypal) "skeptics" of the audience as well.
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  2. For those of us who are short on time, can you give the time index of your confrontation with the "challengers"?
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  3. Carbon Tax Compensation I heard will only last for 5 years, then the price on carbon becomes market driven. It will start around $25 a tonne but can go up to $50 even $100. We will have to pay for that. A better option would be to just force power companies to develop green infrastructure. Give them a little compensation to make the transition but that's it. Within a decade or two electricity will be so cheap, electric cars will be a must.
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  4. I learned a thing or two by watching the video, so thank you for that. The comments by the chap who followed you were on the money, too, but it is depressing how they will be dismissed as "left wing propaganda" by the denialisti.

    Michael@3 I expect that any government attempting your remedy would be committing political suicide, attractive though the approach might be. The Carbon Trading Scheme legislated in Australia offers industry some motivation to overcome the inertia of change, but we have to keep in mind that we as individuals will be paying an enormous price in the future, if we don't act now. All the people complaining that the CTS is going to cost them money are ignoring the cost to them and their children if we let the climate run out of control. Pay something now, or risk losing everything later if the worst-case scenario plays out.

    The climate has no ideology and doesn't care which way we vote - it is going to do what we are forcing it to do, whether we like it or not.
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  5. Doug H@4 I agree that the cost will be far more if we don't do anything, I live in Brisbane and these 50 year floods are looking more like annual floods now. But my point was directed to John Cook and how he some what brushed aside the cost of a carbon tax due to compensation. The truth is this tax will cost us a fortune, no compensation and $100 a tonne carbon cost. My simple solution (not really thought through) would only be a start, but would not cause so much hardship for everyday people.
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  6. jimspy@2

    There are 3 "skeptic" questions in the video, and one which is slight ambiguous.

    00:36:34 A chap (D. Weston Allen) asks why mistakes and exaggerations made by climate scientists supporting AGW are ignored. He also pushes his book in which he claims he identifies mistakes made by Tim Flannery.

    00:43:06 This rather verbose questioner says we're living in an age of unreason and seems to think it's all propaganda. He takes issue people saying "carbon" rather than "carbon dioxide" and with people switching from saying "global warming" to "climate change".

    00:50:29 This question is asked by a chap with a copy of "The Australian" with him saying that scientists have published a papers showing climate sensitivity is much lower than previously thought. I think it refers to the science paper addressed here.

    1:04:00 This one is a little ambiguous as the question is asking what John thinks about papers being released before peer review e.g. the BEST paper. I include it because I think the source of that meme is the WUWT web site.
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  7. Apologies for following up my own post, but I think "The Australian" article being quoted by the chap at 00:50:29 was this one.
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  8. Sapient Fridge - That article in the "The Australian" appears to refer to the Schmittner et al 2011 paper discussed here. Their mean sensitivity value is a bit lower than the current IPCC estimate, while their lower value is in part due to a rather warmer Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) temperature estimate than is usually used.
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  9. Little pressed for time; so, I didn't watch the whole video; sorry. I did skip to the end and caught the Q&A with the guy asking about the BEST results being published before being "published".

    I think a more succinct answer, should it come up again, would be something along the lines of:

    From a personal standpoint, it would have been better to wait, but we all know the results have not completed review yet and can take that into account. If the results change when they have been through review, we can consider that as well. I think the odds of any meaningful change in the numbers are unlikely. From a broader perspective, I think the only reason this study receives so much attention is that some people expected it to be different in some substantial way from the already existing records, and it wasn't.

    Stepping back further, and no refection on John, I was disappointed at the size of the crowd. What is coming is going to be something like WWII and the bubonic plaque combined, and most people want to carry on as though nothing is happening.
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  10. The engineer at the back of the audience is incorrect regarding the terms 'climate change' and 'global warming'.
    'Climate change' was used in the 70s before 'global warming', which became more prevalent in the 80s after Hansens presentation. This myth about the terms is so often used and so many incorrect theories from the skeptics are based on some incompetent journalist or loud mouth media blogger claiming there is a conspiracy.

    I think John Cook handled that question well.
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  11. Firstly, let me congratulate John on what was an excellent presentation. Dealing with Q & A is a lot harder than it might appear to those who have never done it. While I might quibble with some of John's responses here and there, I believe he got the hard bits right -- adequacy, salience, register. Well done him.

    One point I'd make concerns John's response on how to use the word "carbon" in this context. I believe it is perfectly apt to speak of "a carbon price" or "carbon pollution". Carbon is the key element in most of the drivers of anthropogenic climate change. While anthropogenic CO2 in the flux is at the heart of the issue, CH4 is also an issue, particularly when one considers the decomposition of the arctic permafrost or releases from coal mines and oil wells. The term "carbon" is a useful and accurate exercise in ellipsis.

    The objection of the deniers here is a disingenuous and specious piece of pedantry aimed at making the issue seem scientifically credentialled. I'm yet to meet anyone who confuses "carbon pollution" with soot or "black yucky stuff".
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    Response: [JC] Interesting point re carbon being in CO2 and CH4. If I'd thought of that, I would've mentioned it :-)
  12. I think the use of the word 'carbon' isn't in order to make a bigger impact to the public, which is what the engineer seemed to think. It is used as a convenience word when having to deal with the complexity of the issues. But also carbon is the basis of producing CO2 and hence how we exploit it, is important and has consequences.
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  13. I read a great little book on propagandistic phraseology called Unspeak, by Stephen Poole. He had this story to tell:

    "The U.S., Saudi Arabia, and other oil-producing countries lobbied the U.N. in the late 1980s to change the language of early resolutions from 'global warming' to 'climate change' because the latter is vaguer and less frightening, and also because it doesn’t point the finger so directly at the burning of fossil fuels as the cause. While 'climate change' is scientifically correct (because a local climate might get colder rather than hotter), it obscures the fact that such changes will be a result of the rising mean temperature of the planet — i.e., of global warming."
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  14. Interesting point re carbon being in CO2 and CH4. If I'd thought of that, I would've mentioned it :-)

    I've lost track of the number of times I've wandered away from a conversation or presentation and thought of something I should have said. ;-)

    I might have added that even CO, which is not a GHG, does indirectly force climate change, through its interaction with CH4 and Ozone via the scavenging of the hydroxyl radical. Eventually, it oxidises to CO2. There are also some other less well known carbon-based GHGs (eg CFCm, HCFC, CF4, C2F6;

    More broadly though, the precise nomenclature of GHG-abatement CO2e with the "e" standing for "equivalent". So even non-carbon-based anthropogenic GHGs (such as Ozone, N2O, NF3) are expressed in terms of "carbon" equivalent.

    In some ways, the objection is a little like someone who claims that the tomato is not a fruit but a vegetable. From a botanical point of view, the tomato is the fruiting part of the tomato plant, but from a culinary point of view, it is a vegetable. So too, "carbon" here doesn't refer simply to the fact that most of the drivers of anthropogenic warming are carbon-based, but that carbon equivalents is the measure used by policy for reconciling these matters.
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  15. @ Michael Whittemore

    The impacts of the Australian Carbon Price will be much more modest than you expect.

    For starters there is nothing in the policy about stopping the compensation. The compensation is funded by the polluters paying the carbon price and they do this no matter if it acts as a tax or a market trading scheme. Much of the compensation is through income tax cuts, so is permanent, unless a future government was to increase income taxes across the board (which seems unlikely).

    Secondly, we won't be seeing a $50 or $100 carbon price anytime soon. Partially it's because the scheme simply isn't that ambitious, but there also price caps etc which will prevent it.

    Lastly, while "forcing" power companies to green the grid may seem attractive, such a measure would decrease the incentive to reduce carbon pollution throughout the rest of the economy. Like a carbon price we would see increases in electricity prices, but unlike the carbon price there would almost certainly be no household compensation.
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  16. Well dudes the carbon tax changes to an emissions trading scene in 2015. When the tax stops, the revenue to pay compensation stops. The big polluters like power stations and airlines will have no choice but to go renewable energy. Yippee!!!! Bring it on Julia.
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  17. John, a good talk so far. I had to pause to post a comment when I heard your comment about "I wonder how many 'Sydney Harbours' Greenland is losing every year?"

    When I gave a global warming talk at work early last year, I used the 2011 Brisbane Floods as my yardstick, and came up with a figure of five and a half times the peak flow rate of the January 2011 Brisbane Floods.

    Non-stop, for five months.
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  18. When the tax {fixed price phase} stops, the revenue to pay compensation stops.

    No, it doesn't. The permits are auctioned under the cap. There is revenue in that.
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  19. Hi John, I watched the whole thing and really liked how you kept bringing things back to "Let's look at the full picture." I'm going to try that more generally in more discussions of my own. I think it worked really well. I don't think you went into too much detail in your answers. But regarding word choice (groan), I think you could have been more incisive!

    I'm hoping next time somebody asks about "Global Warming" versus "Climate Change", the presenter will ask the questioner when/where he thinks those terms were thought up. If they have an interesting answer, so much the better, but in general I think they're just trying to make a glib comment to make them seem smart, and I think it is useful for them to have it dumped back in their lap to let them struggle with it for a short while. Then the presenter comes in and saves them: "Do you know when the first IPCC report was published? Do you know what IPCC stands for?"

    Back to your approach regarding the full picture, though, "carbon" versus "carbon dioxide" was a new one for me. It would be difficult to come back with this on the spot, but I believe Arrhenius used the term "carbonic acid". Would the questioner prefer that scientists stick to the original in that case?
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  20. @The Skeptical Chymist

    The compensation that is put in place right now will only cover the cost of $20 a tonne carbon tax. When the carbon tax is a floating ETS price, it will rise. The greens wanted it to start at $100 a tonne. I would like you to clarify where it stipulates how much the ETS can float. But yes my wording did suggest that the compensation will stop completely, but my point was focused on John Cooks expectation that compensation would cover the costs to the Australian people. Like I said, as the ETS prices rises, there will not be more income tax cuts. This compensation package is just designed to misleads the people into thinking they will be better off. But dont get me wrong, a carbon tax is a good way to go about reducing CO2.

    Forcing power companies to go green would not need the public to reduce their CO2 outputs, because all of the heating/cooling and every other electrical devise would be green. This would include office buildings and shopping centers, all green. With the reduced costs to the power companies, electricity prices would drastically fall, forcing the public to use electric cars. But this is just something I thought up off the top of my head, so its really only a pipe dream.
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  21. Michael Whittemore @20, when the Australian Carbon Tax enters the ETS stage, the emissions permits will be bought by auction from the Australian Government. The money so raised will be used, by requirement of law, to compensate the Australian people. Because the permits are purchased from the Government, the amount of money spent on permits is the amount of money available for compensation. Therefore suggesting that the compensation will dry up in five years time is fundamentally misleading.

    That does not mean there will be no cost. If a power company generates power using a solar thermal power plant, at a slightly greater cost per kwh than generating via coal, but cheaper overall because there is no need to purchase carbon credits, the additional cost difference between generation by CST and coal will still be passed onto consumers, but will not be available to fund compensation. That means the actual direct costs of abating carbon emissions, and only those direct costs will feed into the market.

    Of course, in the short term, the cheapest way for consumer to reduced costs will be to reduce energy consumption, which will give them cheaper power bills overall, allowing them to pocket some of the "compensation" as profit. In the long term, such a scheme may end up reducing overall power costs with a combination of reduced consumption and low cost renewable supply. Of course, if people do not reduce consumption, and renewables do not come down in cost, then overall costs will go up.
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  22. Tom Curtis @21

    Can you show me where it states income tax will decrease/increase with the amount the government makes from the ETS? Because if the price of carbon is floated then it will fluctuate, and I don't see how they can keep on adjusting income tax. The reason they started the carbon tax at $20 a tonne was so they would not have to compensate people as much as when it becomes an ETS. Also to be clear I am not saying the government will run out of compensation funding, I am saying they will pocket it. I read they will be setting up some sort of bank that will determine what to do with the funds, but with a fluctuating ETS it will not be income tax they use to distribute the funds.

    My point regarding a green power system, is that they would not need to buy carbon fuels or carbon credits. I agree with your point regarding the use of solar panels, but with such a mass push for green power the costs of the panels would come down. My not very well thought out plan of forcing the power network to become green, has me thinking that with large scale wind farms and huge solar plants they would not require much money to run. The cost to the customer would surely be low. Many towns are now buying wind farms to supply them power because in the long term its very cheap.

    Your point about people reducing their energy consumption is right, but its not nice. People dont waste energy, its expensive as it is, making it cost even more is sad. I get it though, a carbon tax is a good option, I just would rather the government step in and assist making the power network green. That way we wont all have to become energy saving hippies.
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  23. Michael Whittemore @22, it seems that I need to withdraw that the compensation will be increased "... by requirement of law". Never-the-less, it is the governments stated intention to do so:

    "Speaking after a Swan speech at the National Press Club, the Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, said the macro-economic outcomes from the modelling proved carbon pricing was a ''manageable reform'' which would not bring about the ''end of the world''.

    Mr Combet said household compensation - to be funded with 50 per cent of the revenue from the tax - would be regularly reviewed to make sure the real level of assistance was maintained as the carbon price rose.
    Meetings of the multi-party climate committee will continue today to negotiate demands for compensation and extra spending that add up to more than the revenue the carbon tax will raise."

    (My emphasis)

    There is, of course, "many a slip twixt cup and lip", particularly where government promises go. Never-the-less the return of adequate compensation is fundamental to the logic of the scheme, and is unlikely to be tampered with.
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  24. Tom Curtis @23 Will there you have it, %50 of the revenue given back to the people sounds good to me. I have been thinking about it and they would be able to do it with increased tax rebates at the end of each year. But I worry that he is only talking about the next couple of years before the ETS starts? I also have concerns that they will not be making as much as they do from a tax as they will from an ETS. But for now I will agree that an adjusted compensation rate of %50 of the revenues sounds fair. It would be good if they had that in writing though.
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  25. Michael Whittemore @24, it is of course 50% given back to the people, and most of the remaining funds used to compensate trade exposed industries, schools, hospitals etc, or to fund research on renewables.
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  26. Tom Curtis @25 Of course you say, I would like a link to that fact?
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  27. Tom Curtis @25 I have finial found the right information, it would seem they are still debating the actual compensation scheme but due to caps on the amount the carbon tax can increase by and the some what "predictable" Internationale price of carbon will be, they have concluded that "Tax cuts will increase over time with a second round of tax cuts in 2015-16 that will further raise the tax-free threshold to $19,400, matching the impact of the carbon price to 2020." ( It looks like I was wrong, John Cook was right to explain that compensation will cover most of the costs.
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