Feb 112011

Two pieces in the Conservative Express today deserving of highlight, if not direct ridicule.

One from the risible and anonymously edited Cut and Paste column, the other from the redoubtable conservative economic commentator, Henry Ergas.

Both look at the issue of climate change solely from the perspective of economic return and risk. An extremely narrow viewpoint and only one part of a complex scientific issue which encompasses the human past, present and far future, including the potential economic cost of NOT adequately addressing the issue. Something which never seems to attract critical appraisal, especially from the editors of Con Ex. Proponents of climate change tend only to focus on the incomplete science and make postulations or ‘best guesses’ about existence in a changed physical future, while opponents of the climate change science and need to address the impacts of human industrialisation tend only to focus on the immediate economic impacts of proposed means of addressing the symptoms of climate change. Carbon taxes, prices, cap_and_trade mechanisms and so on.

There is nothing new in creation of markets around a seemingly intangible commodity like a noxious gas produced by industry. The Chicago Mercantile Exchange has been trading in noxious gases for almost 100 years, and plans are currently afoot to expand this trade in the relatively near future, focussing on greenhouse gas emissions. It’s interesting to note the wording of their release.

The most business-friendly solution is called “cap and trade.” This program assigns an emission limit to each large-scale emitter of greenhouse gases. The limits become stricter over time until the nation reaches its ultimate pollution reduction goal. More efficient companies that emit less than their quota can sell their extra emissions permits (such as European Union trade allowances, or EUAs) to less efficient ones. Companies also get credit for emission-reducing projects in developing countries (Certified Emission Reductions, or CERs) and in emerging economies.

Clearly Cap_and_Trade is the anticipated road American politics will choose to follow, if not now, within the term of a subsequent administration. Reticence to run headlong into a complex economic structure such as a carbon cap and trade system can be understood when the nation considering such a move is still beset by the lingering drag of a major economic crisis. That said,the inevitability of carbon trading mechanisms becoming reality globally is undoubted. What is lacking is only the political will, which will come as a matter of course. Which bemuses me, in that ideologically driven conservative voices, such as the Conservative Express, seem vowed and declared to oppose the inevitable to its last virtual breath. Perhaps because its master can’t be all that long for this world in the grand scheme, and the conservative bias driven by that master will surely be severely moderated upon his demise. Who knows. In the interim, it’s plainly obvious that any & all means of portraying a one dimensional world view will be pursued, including outright misrepresentation of even peer reviewed sources. Prime example is the Cut_and_Paste unlinked allusion to “Normalizing economic loss from natural disasters: A global analysis” by Eric Neumayer and Fabian Barthel – a dead link by the way – which you may find mentioned here. That think tank describes itself as:

The Global Warming Policy Foundation is unique. We are an all-party and non-party think tank and a registered educational charity which, while open-minded on the contested science of global warming, is deeply concerned about the costs and other implications of many of the policies currently being advocated.(highlighting is mine)

This again supports my point that such organisations and members tend to focus only on the immediate economic downsides of addressing climate change, not on the potentials of action or inaction from a holistic perspective for the planet & all who sail in her. I’m in agreement with intellectual, evidence-based arguments on the science of climate change, from the perspective that the science is not conclusive in it’s determination of climate change outcomes. The weight of evidence, however, is clearly indicative of human industrialisation having a major, if not sole impact on planetary climate changes since the 18th century.

Heavens forbid that we might cost ourselves a little hard currency in order to preserve our species’ future, and that of all other inhabitant of this planet, by taking action in the only way our elected leaders can understand and manage. That being economically. We, the little people, are doing what we can within the bounds of our respective societies. Putting solar panels on house roofs and encouraging the use and expansion of other alternative energy sources than fossil fuels, but we, the little people, cannot control aluminium smelting, coal mining or steel production methods, or have any influence over the owners of such concerns, so we must leave that influencing to our appointed leaders.

The issue I have with Ergas’s piece is both it’s inherently head_up_arse ideological viewpoint and narrow focus on cost, cost & cost with no counter-balancing consideration given to benefit. The issue I have with Cut_and_Paste is the same issue I always have with it. Lies, obfuscation and logical fallacy.


A review of the linked article, something C&P can’t be bothered providing, reveals the full quote from the paper’s summary:

"Independently of the method used, we find no significant upward trend in normalized disaster loss.This holds true whether we include all disasters or take out the ones unlikely to be affected by a changing climate. It also holds true if we step away from a global analysis and look at specific regions or step away from pooling all disaster types and look at specific types of disasters instead or combine these two sets of dis-aggregated analysis. Much caution is required in correctly interpreting these findings. What the results tell us is that, based on historical data, there is no evidence so far that climate change has increased the normalized economic loss from natural disasters." (highlighting is mine)

Note the phraseology of that summary. “no significant upward trend” yet, there is an obvious upward trendline as the graphic clearly displays over the past 60 years. Sixty years in geological timeframes is infinitesimally small and just 20% of the accepted 300 year timeframe human industrialisation is measured by. Remember also that these weather disasters are those which have created economic loss to insurers and re-insurers. The data does not purport to represent scientific climate change data as in ice core records, dendrochronological data or any form of ocean temper
ature record. Only financial loss attributed either directly or partially to climate change, which is ‘normalised’ using the methodolgy which is the core focus of the report. I’ll state that again. The paper in question is not looking specifically at climate change effected natural disasters per se, but studies the methodology of ‘normalising’ such data across regions taking into account wealth over time. The author’s results, as depicted in the graph above, represent their methodology, which differs from the standard norm. What the summary is alluding to is that changing planetary climate cannot be directly ruled in, or ruled out as a principal causal factor in assessing economic losses to insurers and re-insurers. That’s all. It’s not claiming a scientific benchmark, nor is it debunking or supporting any science from either contrarians, or the science community. It is simply an economics paper discussing a different evaluation method of accepted datasets.

Further, and this requires one to actually delve further into the issue by downloading the paper in question and reading it – something else that C&P seems incapable of doing in the pursuit of genuine information reporting, and we all know why. The paper itself, available here, is dry as one might imagine. I confess I’ve not made it past the first few pages, but even the abstract in the very front puts a lie to the context in which the Conservative Express attempts to place it.

Climate change is likely to lead to an increase in the frequency and/or intensity of certain types of natural hazards, if not globally, then at least in certain regions. All other things equal, this should lead to an increase in the economic toll from natural disasters over time. Yet, all other things are not equal since affected areas become wealthier over time and rational individuals and governments undertake defensive mitigation measures, which requires normalizing economic losses if one wishes to analyze trends in economic loss from natural disasters for detecting a potential climate change signal. In this article, we argue that the conventional methodology for normalizing economic loss is problematic since it normalizes for changes in wealth over time, but fails to normalize for differences in wealth across space at any given
point of time. We introduce an alternative methodology that overcomes this problem in theory, but faces many more problems in its empirical application. Applying, therefore, both methods to the most comprehensive existing global dataset of natural disaster loss, in general we find no significant upward trends in normalized disaster damage over the period 1980 to 2009 globally, regionally, for specific disasters or for specific disasters in specific regions. Due to our inability to control for defensive mitigation measures,
one cannot infer from our analysis that there have definitely not
been more frequent and/or more intensive weather-related natural haz
ards over the study period already. Moreover, it may still be far too early to detect a trend if human-induced climate change has only just started and will gain momentum over time.
(my emphasis)

The Cut & Paste piece is far and away the most damning evidence of the blatant and wilful misrepresentation of a subject which effects us all, and our successors down the centuries to come, yet, as far as the Ye Olde Conservative Express is concerned, it’s clearly something of evidentiary importance in the climate change debate which deserves an airing, however fraudulently expressed. Shame, Shame, Shame, Chris Mitchell. It’s a shame you never seem to display any.