It’s not ETS being Greens:

James Burke writes: Re. “Greens support is soft, but they could inspire another climate change poll” (yesterday, item 1). The ETS surrender was the signal for many Labor voters to turn to the Greens in desperation. What may keep many of them on Bob Brown’s side is the leaked revelation that the Rudd government refused, from the beginning of its push for the ETS, to negotiate with the Greens.

When the ETS failed to pass the Senate, Rudd had three options. He could harden up and bring a stronger proposal to Parliament, minus some of the concessions and subsidies that made the first one so laughably weak, and start bargaining with the Greens, Xenophon and those Liberal Senators not wholly committed to Darth Abbott’s idiot kingdom. Alternatively, he could have shoved the existing ETS back at the Senate as a trigger for a double dissolution.

Instead, he took a third way — give up, and hope that those voters desperate to save the planet from fast approaching oblivion would settle for a limp gesture of sympathy for the poor old minke whales, and some posturing about a mining tax which would have no effect on carbon emissions.

Those voters who have taken a careful look at the expert opinion on global warming and its consequences are not going to be bought off with any number of initiatives on education or disabilities, let alone the freaking whales. If warming is not curtailed — and unless a hero arrives from the planet Krypton bearing a magic weather crystal, that means massively reducing carbon emissions — every achievement of the Rudd government so far, from avoiding recession to the vaunted apology, is utterly meaningless.

We might as well have voted for John Howard in 2007. At least then we might have had a government willing to negotiate with the Greens to pass its ETS.

Justin Templer writes: Bernard Keane suspects that support for the Greens loses its tumescence come election day because (inter alia) the Greens are outgunned advertising-wise during election campaigns and because voters are thinking of the economy and jobs when they cast their vote.

Bernard is half right — anyone with a memory and an eye on the economy would tremble at these extracts from the Greens’ policies: a cohesive industry policy, new government investment in strategic assets, align industry development with national goals, essential public services are under public ownership, removing the concessional arrangements for Capital Gains Tax, establishing progressive rates of superannuation taxation, etcetera, etcetera.

When the votes count most voters can remember the past and hope not to be condemned to repeat it.

Kellie Caught , Policy Manager Climate Change at WWF-Australia , writes: In Bernard Keane’s article (which was a good article as per usual) Bernard wrote:

“As for Labor, while everyone inside and outside the government is blaming poor communication for much of its current predicament, no messaging, however brilliant, is going to cover the gaping hole where the CPRS used to be.

It needs a new, convincing climate change policy, and not just one built on half-baked energy efficiency measures that at best simply fund businesses to save money for themselves and at worst repeat the ludicrously costly per-tonne emissions abatement measures achieved under the Howard government’s many ‘greenhouse challenge’ programs.”

WWF will not be supporting any new climate change policy that does not include an emissions trading scheme or carbon levy by 2010. Without an emission trading scheme Australia will struggle to meet even a 5% cut let alone a 20% cut by 2020.

See WWF’s media release from the weekend.

The Heart Foundation:

Susan Anderson, National Director, Healthy Weight, National Heart Foundation, writes: Re. “Heart Foundation tick and Coles tick go against the grain”  (yesterday, item 13). Yesterday in Crikey, David Gillespie continued the argument he regularly prosecutes in Crikey and on his blog that the Heart Foundation should not award the Tick to products containing sugar. We disagree.

The advice of the National Heart Foundation is based on sound science. We advise that the best way for Australians to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease is to reduce their intake of sodium and saturated fat and increase their intake of dietary fibre. Given cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of Australians, we dedicate significant resources to assessing and awarding the Tick to meals and products that meet our strict criteria across a range of food categories.

It is true that companies pay us a license fee to cover these costs. There is no scientific consensus that sugar as a nutrient causes heart disease. However, like climate change, there is a differing minority opinion that the presence of sugar is dangerous. We believe that while overall kilojoule intake is important, other factors such as levels of sodium, fibre and saturated fat are more important in preventing cardiovascular disease.

Mr Gillespie also criticises us for awarding the Tick to processed foods and snack items that nearly all health advocates, including us, would recommend as “occasional” foods that ought not be eaten every day. However, we’ve taken the view that since we live in a world where people do indulge in ice-cream from time to time or grab a ready meal to fast-track dinner, we’ve developed the Tick to provide us with healthier options when we do. Tick improves foods. It’s not a miracle makeover transforming a treat into a healthy snack.

We think Aussies are smart enough to get that; fruit = healthy snack; ice-cream = treat; ice-cream + Tick = healthier treat. Mr Gillespie also uses his views on sugar to discount our concern about use of the Coles Tick on some budget products. He argues that some products with the Coles Tick have an acceptable nutritional profile. Terrific.

Our point is that the appearance of a tick on these products is no guarantee of such a profile. Admittedly the products do not claim to be healthier, but with the presence of a tick so similar to our own we’re concerned that consumers who can rely on the Heart Foundation Tick to provide a quick and easy way of choosing a healthier product are being misled.

The tobacco debate:

Alister Air writes: Re. “Tobacco debate: plain packaging anything but plain sailing” (yesterday, item 12). It’s delightful to see serial lightweight Tim Wilson gracing the inboxes of Crikey subscribers again.

In between juvenile name-calling and the non-disclosure of the IPA’s relationship with tobacco companies, Wilson tries to make an actual point; that article 20 of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights may be breached. Wilson’s interpretation of the relevant section seems unnecessarily heroic, as he cherry-picks the elements he believes supports his argument, and disregards the rest.

The biggest problem, however, is that Wilson presents no reason why we should believe what he writes. Mark Davison does IP law for a living, and has published and teaches in the field. Tim Wilson works for a lobby group. If I were Simon Chapman, I know who’s advice I’d be taking.

David Marr:

Stephen Mills writes: Re. “Richard Farmer’s chunky bits” (yesterday, item 11). David Marr’s essay was published in the Quarterly Essay, not the Monthly magazine. I think the Monthly these days would be too timid to publish this.

Climate change:

Adam Rope writes: Personally I’d be loathe to display my own ignorance of a scientific subject in a public debate, especially using obviously distorted data and mendacious arguments, as I might well be held in ridicule. But that doesn’t seem to deter Tamas Calderwood (yesterday, comments) — my best guess is that he’s simply playing Devil’s Advocate, a common hobby of trolls in the blogosphere, but he might try to use more soundly based and reasoned arguments if he comments again. Hopes aren’t high.

I note that yesterday he repeats an already disproven point — the untenable claim of The Royal Society’s “review of its position on global warming”, which it is not doing — but then jumps to the irrelevant “the science isn’t settled” argument, which merely underlines his lack of understanding of the science involved.

For the record Tamas, as far as I am aware no reputable scientist (so don’t stupidly use Al Gore), and certainly I, have never said that “the science is settled” on climate change. Whilst there are some areas where the science of climate change is not fully understood, the level of uncertainty in the majority of fields is very low.

Let me also say that your repeated use of the one off peak year in world temperatures in 1998 — due to a specific El Nino event — in your personal calculations means you are deliberately and deceitfully manipulating the data to suit your own agenda. Such poor and misrepresentative use of scientific data would be laughed out of an elementary scientific class.

Finally Martin Rees also said that “Science is organised scepticism and the consensus must shift in light of the evidence” and “The debate must be open and it must also be based on sound science rather than dogma.” The evidence of climate change is clear, Tamas, it’s just that you won’t read it and are simply repeating and rehashing unfounded dogma instead of sound science.

Steve O’Connor writes: The latest IPCC report pegs the global temperature rise at 0.19°C per decade (not 0.05°C as Tamas Calderwood suggests), which to a lot of people sounds piddling. However, the planet’s climate is a function of many interconnected and only partially-understood mechanisms.

We know from past climate records that the climate is highly unstable and prone to non-linear “tipping-points”, such as in the Younger Dryas period 13,000 years ago where the temperature dropped dramatically (around 5°C over perhaps as short as six months.) To believe that the temperature will continue to drift up slowly and calmly is wishful thinking.

The temperature has increased only about 0.7°C globally, yet we’re already seeing changes in the real world tracking worse than many of the 2007 IPCC worst-case predictions.

The basic science is solid, but as Tamas rightly points out, there are still large uncertainties — we don’t, after all, even know all the nutrients in a piece of broccoli, so it’s understandable that there’s still lots of suprises in store about something as incredibly complex as the climate. Unfortunately as the scientists refine their knowledge, the news for us tends to get bleaker.

It’s one thing to make an honest mistake when analysing data, yet looking over Tamas’s many postings it’s hard to escape the conclusion that he is attempting to deliberately misinform a rather serious debate, just when we need clear thinking the most.

David Scott writes: Tamas Calderwood quoted Phil Jones’s statement that there had been no statistically significant global warming since 1995. This quote from Jones pops up all over the internet, unfortunately many of the people using the quote draw inferences from it that indicate that either they haven’t read the entire interview and/or they don’t understand elementary statistics.

Tamas I would appreciate it if you could show that you have read and understood the interview (and so show that your thoughts are worthy of consideration) by answering the following question. From what Jones said in the interview about the global temperature record, which of the following statements could be true and which are definitely not supported by his analysis of the data?

  1. There is a greater than 50% chance that the world has not warmed since 1995.
  2. There is a greater than 90% chance that the world has warmed since 1995.
  3. There is a greater than 20% chance that the world has cooled since 1995.

Matt Andrews writes: John Kotsopoulos (yesterday, comments) rightly pulls me up for putting Kevin Rudd’s ALP in the same basket as Tony Abbott’s Coalition on climate policy. Rudd’s efforts on climate have indeed been better than Abbott’s; the gap between well-intentioned but ineffectual action and outright denial of reality is a large one.

John says that the Greens’ proposals are “unrealistic” and “job destroying”; but what I’ve seen of the modelling (putting aside the mining lobby doublespeak) shows very little difference in overall economic growth between inaction and having a sufficiently strong carbon price.  Not that I personally agree with all of the Greens’ platform: I think an evidence-based climate policy probably has to have nuclear power as a major component, but that’s another story.

Back to the Senate numbers. John goes on to say that negotiation with the Opposition was the only option; but if we look at the last ETS Senate vote, we had two Coalition Senators crossing the floor in defiance of their leader.  That’s not to say that a climate policy negotiated with the Greens would also have been supported by those two, but it does indicate that the numbers are not as cut and dry as a simple “Coalition plus Fielding equals failure”.

More broadly, I would have thought that “the great moral challenge of our generation” would be important enough to warrant a double dissolution and thus get a Labor-Greens plan passed.  The advantage there, of course, is that a scheme negotiated with the Greens would surely be more than window dressing, creating a carbon price sufficient to bring about real shifts.

To use an unfortunate analogy, we have a huge supertanker of a global energy economy to turn around here, and the sooner we start to firmly change course, the better the chance of avoiding an unpleasant appointment with the rocks that lie dead ahead.

Peter Fray

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