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Debate needs fact, not feeling
Weekend Australian, Australia  by Chris Kenny
17 Nov 2018
General News - Page 18 - 1376 words - ID 1037959315 - Photo: Yes - Type: News Item - Size: 623.00cm2

The truth just keeps getting in the way of climate alarmists' theories

"Believe in the science," exhort the climate alarmists, apparently unaware of the oxymoronic nature of this phrase. My preference is to heed the science and base decisions on facts. Science, in various forms, is used in tendentious ways for myriad causes, good and bad.

When I worked for Alexander Downer, then foreign minister, there was a long-running irritant in our relationship with New Zealand. The Kiwis wanted to export apples to Australia and were prevented by quarantine rules protecting our apples from a range of diseases and, fortuitously, shielding our growers from competition.

With many orchards in Downer's Adelaide Hills electorate, he was sensitive to the Australian industry's fears about disease, competition or both. New Zealand foreign ministers agitated against this non-tariff trade barrier that seemed unfair, if not dishonest.

Departmental talking points strictly defended the legal position that the import ban was purely a science-based ruling.

But enjoying the Anzac familiarity on one occasion, Downer told New Zealand's Phil Goff that this was "absolutely a sciencebased decision" before pausing, cocking his eyebrow and quipping, "political science".

I haven't followed the horticultural literature closely but I know we can now buy apples from across the ditch.

Believe in the science.

Which leads me back to the important point about global warming alarmists demanding we adhere to a science-based approach but too often not practising what they preach. The debate should be all about facts. There is no room for emotion. The debate ought to be a matter of following the scientific studies, taking readings to assess real effects, then weighing up the costs and benefits of various policy responses.

Instead, we get little dispassionate analysis. Debate is replete with exaggeration, denial, hyperbole, emotion and partisanship. The climate debate has become a vehicle for the promotion of political ideology, civilisational guilt, global wealth redistribution, virtue signalling and doomsaying.

Alarmism is a prime postmaterial preoccupation for the prosperous in Western liberal democracies. In an age of identity politics, climate concerns are trumpeted as a demonstration of the proponent's selflessness and sophistication while its technological edge creates hobbies for those wealthy enough to indulge in electric cars, cover their roof in solar panels or invest in taxpayersubsidised renewable projects.

You can see the 21st-century cant when a woke tech billionaire runs a video question on the ABC inviting a multi-millionaire former prime minister to join him in renewables investments. Meanwhile, the working families whose taxes fund the ABC are struggling to pay power bills that have been driven up by climate gestures.

Facts expose the activists. The Australia Institute has argued this week that the nation's coal industry is on its last legs. This is counterfactual; either wishful thinking trumping rational analysis or deliberate deception attempting to cruel the political and economic debate.

In The Australian Financial Review, TAI chief economist Richard Denniss advocates a moratorium on new coalmines because it is a "great way to help existing coalmine" workers and owners. Clearly campaigning against Queensland's proposed Adani mine, he says supply should be constrained to keep prices high, maximise profits and drive a shift to renewable energy. Denniss claims demand for our coal exports is "flat or falling for the past three years", making this the worst time to expand the industry.

Now the facts. Export volumes have been holding up and values are surging. Australia remains the world's largest coal exporter and the mineral is tipped to surpass iron ore as our No 1 export this year. (If prices fall, coal won't keep top place for long but will remain the nation's second largest export.) As it happens, the same day Denniss's piece was published, the International Energy Agency released its world economic outlook, saying "coal use rebounded in 2017 after two years of decline" and acknowledged that it was "too soon to count coal out of the global power mix".

The IEA predicts Australia will be one of few countries to expand coal export volumes, with an increase of 20 per cent by 2040 thanks to growing Asian markets, especially in India and Southeast Asia, where demand could double.

On more conservative estimates, assuming all countries adopt Paris commitments, the IEA found current demand for coal still will be maintained and $US1 trillion ($1.37 trillion) in investment will be required. It raises concerns this investment is not occurring.

The truth is that despite its patriotic name, The Australia Institute is implacably opposed to the country's largest (or second largest) export industry, which directly employs more than 50,000 people and generates about $60 billion. It campaigns against coal as an article of ideological faith; not so much about science as political science, of the green-Left variety.

Cited often by Fairfax Media and the ABC as merely a "think tank", TAI is closely linked to the Greens political party through key personnel and routinely provides hard-left economic analysis. Denniss is an articulate advocate who says this nation has been mismanaged by "neoliberals", leaving the nation "riven by demographic, geographic and racial divides".

Still, others spruik this bleak assessment and share this antipathy to coal. Nobel prize-winning US economist Joseph Stiglitz made a remarkably familiar pitch on our shores this week. Stiglitz is a recipient of the Sydney Peace Prize and even has joined Occupy Wall Street protesters.

He told Sky News we "are already experiencing all over the world the extreme events that were predicted as associated with climate change" and that the "costs of these consequences of climate change far, far outweigh the cost of doing something about climate change". Stiglitz claims "robust climate policy" would be "actually good for the economy" because it would "encourage innovation" and "stimulate the economy".

We hear these claims often, without evidence. Yet if you go to the northern suburbs of Adelaide, Geelong or the Latrobe Valley, you can see how coal-based jobs have gone or how power prices and supply crises have played a role in the demise of manufacturing industries.

"Coal is going to become obsolete," Stiglitz says. "The world will not tolerate coal." He may or may not be right in the long term. But we know the world not only tolerates coal now but relies on it, and that leaving Australian coal in the ground will mean only more (and dirtier) coal is mined elsewhere.

"Given that there is this diminishing market for coal, opening up another mine is going to actually depress the global price of coal exports; you are going to be hurting yourself," Stiglitz says, echoing Denniss's Australian Financial Review thesis.

At this point, my Sky News colleague David Speers demonstrated that annoying habit that confounds many politicians. He injected facts, in this case, a coal hard fact. Noting the expansion of coal-fired generation in Asia, Speers asked, "Is demand not increasing?" "Ah, nuh, ah," Stiglitz stumbled, "uh, the demand is going to be going down, ah when the turning point is I can't, ah, exactly say, I think it has probably already passed." Well no, as outlined above, the turning point has not been reached and, according to the IEA is at least 22 years away; probably longer.

"The world, our planet, won't survive continuation of the use of coal," Stiglitz prophesied. "It is that simple." Would that it were but of course it is not. Nothing is as stridently straightforward as that.

For an economist, Stiglitz makes a pretty pessimistic climate scientist. Given the scientific consensus about the impact of anthropological emissions on climate, we need a fact-based debate.

The stubborn refusal of the climate to replicate the alarming predictions of the climate models should not disappoint us but, rather, delight us; and encourage more research.

Myriad policy options, from adaptation to rapid decarbonisation, warrant cost-benefit calculations and public debate.

We don't need more catastrophism, especially from leftist economists and green-left activists masquerading as think tanks.

Stiglitz and Denniss had their facts wrong while making the same anti-coal case. It turns out Stiglitz was in Canberra as a guest of the Sydney Peace Prize and The Australia Institute.

This was an illuminating fact.

'Ah, nuh, ah, uh, the demand is going to be going down, ah' JOSEPH STIGLITZ ECONOMIST

Caption Text:
BLOOMBERG 'The world will not tolerate coal,' Joseph Stiglitz says

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