Tony Abbott: On Global Warming, Dare to Doubt

Tony Abbott, former Prime Minister of Australia, delivered the annual Global Warming Policy Forum lecture in London on October 9. The title of his lecture was “Daring to Doubt.” He began with some general observations on our peculiar age:

It would be wrong to underestimate the strengths of the contemporary West. By objective standards, people have never had better lives. Yet our phenomenal wealth and our scientific and technological achievements rest on values and principles that have rarely been more widely challenged.

To a greater or lesser extent, in most Western countries, we can’t keep our borders secure; we can’t keep our industries intact; and we can’t preserve a moral order once taken for granted. …
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In Australia, we’ve had ten years of disappointing government. … We have the world’s most powerful upper house: a Senate where good government can almost never secure a majority. Our businesses campaign for same sex marriage but not for economic reform.

Sounds like my home state of Minnesota.

Our biggest company, BHP, the world’s premier miner, lives off the coal industry that it now wants to disown. And our oldest university, Sydney, now boasts that its mission is “unlearning”.

At least Sydney University is upfront about it. On to climate change.

Climate change is by no means the sole or even the most significant symptom of the changing interests and values of the West. Still, only societies with high levels of cultural amnesia – that have forgotten the scriptures about man created “in the image and likeness of God” and charged with “subduing the earth and all its creatures” – could have made such a religion out of it.
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There are laws of physics; there are objective facts; there are moral and ethical truths. But there is almost nothing important where no further enquiry is needed. What the “science is settled” brigade want is to close down investigation by equating questioning with superstition. It’s an aspect of the wider weakening of the Western mind which poses such dangers to the world’s future.

Physics suggests, all other things being equal, that an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide would indeed warm the planet. Even so, the atmosphere is an almost infinitely complex mechanism that’s far from fully understood.

Palaeontology indicates that over millions of years there have been warmer periods and cooler periods that don’t correlate with carbon dioxide concentrations. The Jurassic warm period and the ice ages occurred without any human contribution at all. The medieval warm period when crops were grown in Greenland and the mini-ice age when the Thames froze over occurred well before industrial activities added to atmospheric carbon dioxide.
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Certainly, no big change has accompanied the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration over the past century from roughly 300 to roughly 400 parts per million or from 0.03 to 0.04 per cent.

Contrary to the breathless assertions that climate change is behind every weather event, in Australia, the floods are not bigger, the bushfires are not worse, the droughts are not deeper or longer, and the cyclones are not more severe than they were in the 1800s. Sometimes, they do more damage but that’s because there’s more to destroy, not because their intensity has increased.
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Even the high-priests of climate change now seem to concede that there was a pause in warming between the 1990s and 2014.

So far, though, there’s no concession that their models might require revision even though unadjusted data suggests that the 1930s were actually the warmest decade in the United States and that temperatures in Australia have only increased by 0.3 degrees over the past century, not the 1 degree usually claimed.

The growing evidence that records have been adjusted, that the impact of urban heat islands has been downplayed, and that data sets have been slanted in order to fit the theory of dangerous anthropogenic global warming does not make it false; but it should produce much caution about basing drastic action upon it.

Then there’s the evidence that higher concentrations of carbon dioxide (which is a plant food after all) are actually greening the planet and helping to lift agricultural yields. In most countries, far more people die in cold snaps than in heat waves, so a gradual lift in global temperatures, especially if it’s accompanied by more prosperity and more capacity to adapt to change, might even be beneficial.

In what might be described as Ridley’s paradox, after the distinguished British commentator: at least so far, it’s climate change policy that’s doing harm; climate change itself is probably doing good; or at least, more good than harm.

Abbott reviews some specifics of energy policy in Australia, which in recent years has been a disaster:

In September last year, though, the wind blew so hard that the turbines had to shut down – and the inter-connector with Victoria and its reliable coal-fired power failed too. For 24 hours, there was a state wide blackout. For nearly two million people, the lights were off, cash registers didn’t work, traffic lights went down, lifts stopped, and patients were sent home from hospitals.

Throughout last summer, there were further blackouts and brownouts across eastern Australia requiring hundreds of millions in repairs to the plant of energy-intensive industries. Despite this, in a display of virtue signalling, to flaunt its environmental credentials (and to boost prices for its other coal-fired plants), last March the French-government part-owned multinational, Engie, closed down the giant Hazelwood coal-fired station that had supplied a quarter of Victoria’s power.

The Australian Energy Market Operator is now sufficiently alarmed to have just issued an official warning of further blackouts this summer in Victoria and South Australia and severe medium term power shortfalls. But in yet more virtue-signalling, energy giant AGL is still threatening to close the massive Liddell coal-fired power station in NSW and replace it with a subsidised solar farm and a much smaller gas-fired power station relying on gas supplies that don’t currently exist.

Wind and solar power are inherently inferior and can never–at least not until electric power can be stored at scale–replace reliable sources like coal and natural gas:

Hydro aside, renewable energy should properly be referred to as intermittent and unreliable power. When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, the power doesn’t flow. Wind and solar power are like sailing ships; cheaper than powered boats, to be sure, but we’ve stopped using sail for transport because it couldn’t be trusted to turn up on time.

Because the weather is unpredictable, you never really know when renewable power is going to work. Its marginal cost is low but so is its reliability, so in the absence of industrial scale batteries, it always needs matching capacity from dependable coal, gas, hydro, or nuclear energy. This should always have been obvious.
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A market that’s driven by subsidies rather than by economics always fails. Subsidy begets subsidy until the system collapses into absurdity. In Australia’s case, having subsidised renewables, allegedly to save the planet; we’re now faced with subsidising coal, just to keep the lights on.

We have got ourselves into this mess because successive federal governments have tried to reduce emissions rather than to ensure reliable and affordable power; because, rather than give farmers a fairer return, state governments have given in to green lobbyists and banned or heavily restricted gas exploration and extraction; and because shareholder activists have scared power companies out of new investment in fossil fuel power generation, even though you can’t run a modern economy without it.

Abbott concludes with an inconvenient truth:

Should Australia close down its steel industry; watch passively while its aluminium industry moves offshore to places less concerned about emissions; export coal, but not use it ourselves; and deliberately increase power prices for people who can’t install their own solar panels and batteries? Of course not, but these are the inevitable consequences of continuing current policies.

That’s the reality no one has wanted to face for a long time: that we couldn’t reduce emissions without also hurting the economy; that’s the inconvenient truth that can now no longer be avoided.

There is much more at the link, including the video. It is, on the whole, a refreshing blast of common sense.

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