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John Howard, Climate Change Denier and much more!

It would be easy to dismiss former Prime Minister John Howard’s address, to acolytes in London, presented at the invitation of climate sceptic and former UK Chancellor Lord Lawson. Over at New Matilda Ben Pobje has done that. So have others including Guy Rundle and Max Gillies in their 2002 production Your Dreaming: Poets, Pontificators and Expatriates and Jonathan Biggins and others at the Sydney Theatre Company satirise numerous politicians and others every year in their Revue.

Lots of people take seriously what John Howard says. His speech has gained a lot of media attention, a media which for the most part has given scant attention to the overwhelming scientific evidence for human induced climate change and its likely damaging consequences, as pointed out by Wendy Bacon of the Centre for Independent Journalism at the University of Technology Sydney.

Unfortunately, to respond to Howard’s remarks is likely to only reach those who already consider the science of climate change to be valid and the Fifth IPCC Report just released to be further evidence of that. Stephan Lewandowsky, now of Bristol University, like others, has cogently argued on numerous occasionswhy climate change science and science in general faces scepticism. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway have done so specifically pointing to similarities with the campaign against action in cigarettes in their book Merchants of Doubt.

But one must go on! Several of Howard’s statements are gratuitous, several are misrepresentations. That is not to say that the contribution of innovation and advance of technology, on which he relies, are to be put aside. Tristan Edis atClimate Spectator has sensibly paid attention to that.

But Howard’s principal statements must be identified for what they are.

He casts the science as another religion. We have been there before. It is a conscious and complete misrepresentation of the nature of science and of terms like consensus and belief. We should remember that Howard presented numerous annual Prime Minister’s science prizes. We would be straining credulity to concede that he does not actually understand the basics of science. Unless he never read the speeches he had to make beforehand. To suggest that the climate scientists’ statements are “sanctimonious” and that the term “denier” has some overtone of intimidation is to misrepresent the meanings of words and the nature of the discourse.

Howard misrepresents the present state of scientific understanding by branding it as a mantra, as a set of views to be not denied. And he asserted, “In the past five years, the dynamic of the global warming debate has shifted away from exaggerated acceptance of the worst possible implications of what a majority of climate scientists tell us, towards a more balanced, and questioning approach.” Rubbish! Dangerous stupid rubbish!

“Global warming is a quintessential public policy issue. Understanding the science is crucial; so is understanding the economics …”

Indeed! Good public policy requires clear understanding. Global warming is indeed quintessential public policy issue. Understanding the science is crucial; so is understanding the economics; the argument cannot proceed in the absence of that. Howard does not understand the nature of science just as he does not understand the nature of history in his criticism of Australian history in the Australian school curriculum. In fact he does not understand the nature of truth as it is used in science.

He shows that with these statements. “The flood of emails coming from the University of East Anglia, the admitted errors regarding the Himalayan Glaciers, as well as the nakedly political agendas of some of those allegedly giving impartial scientific advice have degraded the image of the IPCC as the unchallengeable body of scientific experts on global warming.

“And the most recent IPCC Report has produced a grudging admission that the warming process has been at a standstill for the past 15 years. But we are assured that is only temporary.”

There have been eight independent enquiries into the leaked (hacked) emails from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit: all show there was no evidence of scientific misconduct. Howard’s statement is disingenuous!

The IPCC has admitted that the statements that Himalayan glaciers would melt away by 2035 was based not on peer-reviewed science but on a media interview in 1999: the large Himalayan glaciers could not melt in a few decades. But the evidence now is absolutely clear: there is substantial retreat, just as there is of Arctic ice.

And the latest IPCC assessment is not grudging, it is as cautious as always: the probability that climate change has been caused by humans has now been ramped up to 95%. Anyone not understanding the high level of certainty involved in that needs to “go have a ear examination” as jazz man the late Roland Kirk would have said.

The statement, “the warming process has been at a standstill for the past 15 years” is standard denier talk and relates to very high temperatures in 1998: this has been grabbed hold of to assert that the earth is cooling, not warming. Wrong! Research by Judith Lean, of the US Naval Research Laboratory, and David Rind, of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies published in 2009 shows the relative stability in global temperatures in the last seven years is explained primarily by the decline in incoming sunlight associated with the downward phase of the 11-year solar cycle, together with a lack of strong El Niño events. These trends have masked the warming caused by CO2 and other greenhouse gases.

David Karoly at the University of Melbourne, an internationally recognised expert on interannual climate variations due to El Niño-Southern Oscillation has pointed out that at short time scales, natural variability can offset that warming influence and cause short-term cooling. Global average temperatures have fallen over the six years to 2008 due to natural variations, with the warmth in 2002 and in 1998 due to El Niño events and the recent La Niña causing colder temperatures in 2007 and 2008. The long-term warming trend is unequivocal.

And Mr Howard’s economics itself amounts to a mantra based on a naive view of the world and bad math. He draws upon the probable growth in the world’s human population and the trends in prosperity to envisage that a quarter of the world’s population will be lifted out of poverty. By economic growth!

Ongoing economic growth will not deliver ongoing economic benefits to the general population. The only people who believe that are fools and economists. (Not my words.) The world’s resources are limited and significant resources can continue to be exploited unsustainably only to the detriment of humanity. That is in fact what climate change is all about!

Howard ignores distinguished economists including Nobel prizewinner George Akerlof, Lord Stern, Ross Garnaut and a host of other economists around the world. Interestingly Akerlof years ago pointed to sensible risk management as had others: if climate change does not occur then taking the steps now will nevertheless not cost very much. But if it does occur and we have not taken steps to mitigate the effects, the costs will be horrendous.

More to the point, lifting of people out of poverty is not achieved simply economic growth! The proposition that general prosperity results from economic growth is a fallacy promoted by the adherents of neoclassical economics. United Nations Human Development Reports make it abundantly clear that where poverty has been alleviated it has been through cross border transfer of ideas and government intervention through carefully management strategies!

John Howard, like many who rail against the science of climate change, is defending his preconceived views developed over many years, views which are the basis of his political views. To accept contrary views would lead to political isolation, he would be left wandering about in an intellectual and emotional desert.

Howard, like some of his colleagues such as former Senator Nick Minchin are not agnostics, they are deniers. They might not like the term but that is not relevant. For a person in his position, John Howard’s statements are not just personal opinions. The are statements of a person held in high regard by many: the statements are grossly irresponsible and should be seen as such. The future of humanity depends on ignoring them. As ABC commentator Jonathan Greenpoints out Howard’s and the new Government’s, view propel us into a realm propelled purely by political necessity.

The latest analysis by Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM) reported by principal consultant Walter Gerardi shows that we have to work hard at diminishing emissions, including replacing carbon fuels in energy generation, if Australia’s emissions target is to be reached. Assuming no mitigation policy is in place emissions are expected to grow by 15% on current levels by 2020. “Fugitive emissions are expected to have the most rapid growth, around 58 per cent, due to expanded coal mining and increased production of LNG.” Gas prices are rising which acts as a barrier to entry of new gas-based energy generation. A large share of the abatement would have to occur in the energy generation sector, according to SKM.

Meanwhile the BBC reports that warming gases have reached a record high and the largest storm in three decades is this week hitting the Philippines. The change of government in Australia has seen several bodies concerned with climate change disbanded as legislation to abandon the carbon price is being prepared for tabling in the Parliament.

The Australian government cancelled the traditional briefings given to businesses, diplomats and environmental organisations before the upcoming United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change annual meetings in Warsaw; Australia will be represented at the meetings by the Ambassador for Climate Change. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister will attend a government heads of government meeting in Sri Lanka. (Canada will not attend that meeting and India will be represented at Foreign Minister level because of concerns about human rights practices of the Sri Lanka government.)

Large numbers of staff in CSIRO, those on temporary appointments, are to lose their jobs as a consequence of the Government’s freeze on replacing staff in the public service. There are those who claim that the future of humanity depends to a significant extent on ongoing scientific research. However, Prime Minister Abbott said in his interview with Lally Weymouth of the Washington Post recently that defence expenditure would be increased to 2% of GDP when the budget is stronger!

This post was last updated 11:12am 12 November 2013; it was originally posted at ‘Owl’s Hoots