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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Just read an excellent article by Bill McKibben via The Monthly’s Shortlist which came from Rolling Stone’s July issue, Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.

Plainly, transitioning away from fossil fuels affects the future profitability of Oil companies. But there is an immediate threat to big oil which dwarfs that, and that threat comes about due to loss of value in oil inventory.

Simply put, to keep the planet from warming more than the 2 degrees celsius ‘safety bar’, we must not burn more than 20% of the proven reserves of carbon-based fuels. A committment to do that means 80% of the assets of the world’s oil companies become essentially woorthless.

As McKibben describes, the proven reserves of the world’s biggest energy companies, still in the ground has a current market value of $27 Trillion. Now, while all that oil and gas is still in the ground, from a financial perspective it is an asset and therefore in certain important respects is treated as tradeable. To quote McKibben:

it’s already economically aboveground it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide – those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value.

To avoid an AGW carbon fuel-driven temperature increase of 2 degrees celsius, optimistically regarded as a liveable, non-catastrophic medium-term average global warming outcome, only 20% of those reserves can be burnt. Which means that 80% or $20 Trillion worth of oil and gas would become valueless as an energy source…

you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets.

… which would obviously cripple the great energy corporations of the planet and the wallets and personal stock portfolios of their CEOs and major shareholders…which creates a great reason to engage in AGW denial.

So the threat to the wealthy and the companies they controlarising from meaningful transitions to renewable energy is immediate. They have outstanding loans, salaries and stock portfolios based on under-the-ground inventory.

No wonder they’re fighting like cornered wolves.

Serengeti Strategy (Part 2) (Part 1)

A favoured tactic of the Climate Chanage Denialatariat is to attempt to pick off and destroy influential supporters of the scientific consensus on AGW whom they consider vulnerable to smear or distortion. By discrediting influential consensus voices they attempt to discredit AGW itself. In Australia, denialists concentrate their Serengeti Strategy on Climate Change Commissioner Tim Flannery. Here is Andrew Bolt enjoying a superlative free lunch with Mark Latham while doing that very thing:

“How does Flannery hold the position of chief climate commissioner and, in making these predictions, why is he backed by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO? He is highly influential, he’s Mr Global Warming. If you say he’s a weak link, what does that tell you?”

Latham, for his part, is quite aware of Bolt’s true objective

Unable to make a factual case against global warming, the spoiler-sceptics have homed in on Flannery.

Flannery The Fundamentalist

A favoured and oft-repeated smear against Flannery is that he is untrustworthy, indeed irrational religious kook, because he believes that the Planet Earth is a living God or self-aware entity named Gaia. The right-wing Australian smear think tank ‘Institute For Public Affairs’ published an article concentrating on this smear some time ago. The undated article written by James Paterson, their Director of Communications, is entitled Tim Flannery, Climate Prophet. Paterson wrote:

When appearing on the ABC’s Science Show in January this year, Flannery said: ‘This planet, this Gaia, will have acquired a brain and a nervous system. That will make it act as a living animal, as a living organism, at some sort of level.’

To be fair, Flannery is not the only scientist to embrace the kooky theory that Gaia has human properties.

Paterson thus states that Flannery believes the planet Earth has a brain and nervous system. Flannery does not believe this. Paterson is guilty of lazy research here, but his overall objective is to paint Flannery as a crackpot so I doubt he was trying very hard to genuinely understand Flannery’s conception of the Gaia hypothesis.

In fact, Flannery does not think that the Earth has a brain or nervous system. What Flannery says is that human beings, really scientists, constitute the Earth’s metaphorical or virtual brain and that the Internet has the capacity to constitute the Earth’s metaphorical or virtual nervous system and that therefore humans may potentially be able regulate the Earth’s eco-systems via planet-wide computer networks and other technologies. In other words Flannery’s view of the ‘strong Gaia’ is technocratic and scientific, not religious.

Really James Paterson should be ashamed of smearing Flannery in such a way. It reflects badly on both himself and the IPA and lessens its credibility as a serious researching entity.

Here is Flannery explaining his Gaia hypothesis to Robert Manne at Latrobe University 4th June 2009

Robert Manne:
I wondered first for the audience if you could give a reasonable succinct view of what [James Lovelock’s] conception of Gaia is and then I want to talk about your book a bit in regard to that.

Tim Flannery:
[…] Just over the last decade Gaia is on the threshold of acquiring a brain and that’s happened because the internet and changes in human society have for the first time ever, allowed us theoretically to deliver a single, strong message to Gaia, what we want from Gaia. And also, after four billion years, we have got now the intelligence to see Gaia from space and to actually enhance its working parts…

Robert Manne:
Is what you’re saying then, that human beings have to somehow become the regulator? Of processes that once we were not able to control or didn’t feel the need to control or whatever?

Tim Flannery:
By virtue of the process of evolution humans are destined to become the regulator.

Robert Manne:
And it connects, doesn’t it, to this idea of yours which is the capacity of human beings now to see what has to be done and to do it. Is that it?

Tim Flannery:
That’s right and it’s already happening. It’s not like this is theoretic. We actually have built a system now that allows us to send a single strong message to the part of the carbon cycle we want to deal with.

To Quickly Summarize then, Flannery is not a Gaia worshipper. He does not think that the Earth is a gigantic person or a living god or a self-aware entity. He does not think the Earth has a brain or nervous system. Flannery’s view of the ‘strong Gaia’ is technocratic and scientific, not religious.

Footnote

This post is a disaggregation of another one I did defending Flannery in which I also show how Flannery’s predictions on water supply, routinely ridiculed by denialists, have actually been correct and justified in every respect.

You’ll find that here.

Any Fule Kno

On 28 June 2012, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship announced that the Government had invited Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston AC AFC (Ret’d), the former chief of Australia’s defence force, to lead an expert panel to provide a report on the best way forward for Australia to prevent asylum seekers risking their lives on dangerous boat journeys to Australia.

That panel, which became known as ‘The Houston Panel’ or simply ‘the Expert Panel’ released its report on 13 August 2012 and recommended re-opening offshore processing asylum centres in Nauru and Manus Island, PNG, which were hallmarks the the infamous Pacific Solution established by the LNP under John Howard.

The Gillard Government, desperate to neutralise Asylum-Seekers as a political issue, and unable to implement its preferred regionally-based Malaysia Solution due to the principled intransigence of The Greens and the highly unprincipled intransigence of Tony Abbott and the LNP, implemented the Houston Panel’s findings and have thus legislated to reintroduce the Pacific Solution.

Prison Islands

Only thing, the Expert Solution is worse, by which I mean more inhumane than the Pacific Solution as the Expert Panel have decided that the fatuous concept of ‘queue-jumping’ be given official endorsement by implementing a supposed ‘no-advantage’ rule by which refugees will now be imprisoned on the detention islands for a period equal to the imagined length of the imagined queue which they have been imagined to jump. By extrapolation of UNHCR figures, the period of ‘no advantage’ for a refugee enrolled in the UN Resettlement program would be 10 years imprisonment.

But there are many more refugees in the world than those enrolled in the UN Resettlement program. Total refugees are 10.4 million with 80,000 places made available by resettling nations such as Australia. That ‘queue’ is 135 years long. Even Scott Morrisson, Shadow Immigration Minister, no friend of asylum seekers has said it can take 30 years or so for a refugee claim to be processed in Malaysia

Lesser Of Two Evils

In fairness to the Expert Panel, their intention is not to be inhumane because they enjoy driving people insane through elongated detention, but to prevent drownings at sea by making the cost of seeking asylum greater than a person would be willing to pay and thus ‘stop the boats’. The Expert Panel is recommending a lesser of two evils: imprisonment versus death and also anticipates that the boats will stop very quickly once the imprisonment policy is implemented, therefore resulting in very few people imprisoned. Says Paris Aristotle of the Expert Panel:

People are not going to be on Nauru for five, 10, 20 years or forever as people have suggested. These things are short-term interim circuit breakers.

Abbott, enthusiastic keeper and feeder of John Howard’s xenophobic flame, merely wishes to demonstrate a level of viciousness approved by xenophobic bottom-feeders inhabiting Australia’s marginal electorates which is why he is happy to endorse a recommendation implying many years imprisonment for asylum seekers.

Deterrent

This elongated imprisonment principle is meant to be the mechanism which actually provides deterrent and hence save lives since it is agreed by all, Expert Panel and LNP included, that Offshore Processing in Nauru does not and will not of itself deter any boat arrivals.

That’s why the Coalition are saying, deceitfully, that deterrence must be tripartite and include towing back the boats and Temporary Protection Visas along with Offshore Processing. In fact, both TPVs and Offshore processing are meaningless to deterrence. Only physical denial of entry will actually work, momentarily allowing the otherwise fine concept of ‘working’ to be sullied by association with the inhumane reality of prolonged imprisonment for innocent refugees of war.

Deterrent Opposed: Abbott Glad When People Die

So, the Expert Panel recommends the ‘no advantage’ rule because it denies entry and therefore will stop boats. Similarly the Labor Party’s Malaysia Solution included a refugee swap with Malaysia – it denies entry and would therefore ‘work’. The Coalition knew this and thus blocked the Malaysia Solution from becoming legislation as it wanted the boats to keep coming so it could blame Labor for failing to stop the boats. And if people should die, then Tony Abbott could care less as he would blame those deaths on Labor.

As a Liberal Party MP put it to journalist Peter Van Onselen in The Australian June 26, 2012, “so be it”

One well-placed Liberal source told The Australian that Abbott would rather see Labor continue to bleed politically with ongoing boat arrivals. If that means deaths at sea continue, he said, so be it.

This confirms the attitude of Abbott and the Coalition reported by Daniel Clune, the charge d’affaires in the US Embassy in Australia in November 2009, who reported in a diplomatic cable obtained by Wikileaks that he had been visited by a “key Liberal Party strategist” who thought it was “Fantastic” that large numbers of asylum seekers were preparing to attempt to cross from Indonesia with all the dangers that entailed. Said the Liberal Party strategist:

“The more boats that come, the better”

Pass The Chianti

So Tony Abbott judges that he is strengthened politically by larger number of refugee boats coming to Australia, and is completely fine with the fact that people will die making that journey. Politically then, Abbott feasts on the corpses of asylum seekers. Consequently he opposed measures reasonably expected to stop boat people drowning at sea.

Abbott’s moral standing on the asylum-seeker issue is demonstrated to be equal to that of a cannibal serial killer, delighting in death and feasting on corpses, one after another.

Abbott only agreed to the Expert Panel’s recommendations because it has endorsed one of the talismanic inhumane measures of his idol John Howard’s Pacific Solution, offshore processing in Nauru and Manus Island.

This, somewhat misguidedly, Abbott construes as a political victory, validating his electoral pitch and strategy of returning Australia to Howard’s Golden Age. He has no interest in the welfare or safety of asylum seekers. None. And in my opinion he overestimates the personal ardour of the general population for John Winston Howard.

Joy For Cannibal Serial Killers

The Coalition’s display of exultant, malicious glee at the recommendations of the Expert Panel was both self-serving and repulsive. The Panel had the moral sense to deliver their recommendations with an air of distaste, cognisant of the horrible effects of refugee detention and of the barbarity of their Prison Islands scheme.

The Coalition, however, embarked an 48 hours of self-congratulation, lining up 45 speakers on the rubberstamp debate on the necessary amendments to Australia’s Migration Act and ‘luxuriating”, as Jaqueline Maley put it in the Sydney Morning Herald, in the opportunity to humiliate the ALP for agreeing to reinstate Howard’s Pacific Solution, thus of course delaying the protection of lives they pretend to be concerned about.

Coalition spokespeople disingenuously claimed their bandwagon roster of speakers to the amendments was an honourable exercise in parliamentary scrutiny of the ALP government but it is doubtful a single person in Australia believed that conceit. Even The Australian, which operates as a permanent anti-ALP propaganda organ noted the speaker list was merely an exercise in self-indulgence for the Coalition.

But the Coalition, which has agreed to pass the amendments, has nominated 41 MPs to speak in the debate as it attempts to extract maximum political benefit from the government’s capitulation.

The Green’s Adam Bandt decribed the Coalition as ‘cock-a-hoop’

Further Distressing

What was further distressing about the Coalition’s reaction to the Expert Panel’s findings was their continuing desire to affirm disdain for asylum seeker and to advocate even more punitive standards of rejection

Scott Morrison, LNP Shadow Immigration Minister, not only affirmed his support for the Prison Island ‘no advantage’ provisions but said that the Coalition supports a ‘disadvantage’ principle by which asylum seekers arriving by boats would be ranked behind all other UNHCR refugees. Since Morrison knows Malaysia alone has more than 200,000 refugees some of whom have been waiting already more than 25 years for asylum, that the effective meaning of this ‘disadvantage’ policy is that asylum-seekers arriving by boat will never be granted access to Australia.

Understand, a no advantage principle, which we support but we’ve gone further than that in the past to a disadvantage principle, means that those who are waiting in places around the world get first call.

Tony Abbott was quick to assert that elite combat troops should be deployed against specific asylum boats, while Scott Morrison was open to the possibility of having such troops deployed on a routine basis for ‘border defence’ against innocent refugees of war. Abbott continued to describe asylum seekers by the dehumanizing terms ‘illegal entrants’ or ‘illegal boats’, even though he knows that seeking asylum is, in fact, legal. Directly challenged on this point he simply refuses to answer.

Disgraceful.

No Lower Limit

Abbott and Morrisson are prepared to go to racist depths on asylum-seekers. In December 2010 Morrisson encouraged the LNP to persue an anti-Muslim strategy for votes and power. Reported the Sydney Morning Herald

THE opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, urged the shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about “Muslim immigration”, “Muslims in Australia” and the “inability” of Muslim migrants to integrate.

This was rebuffed by his colleagues, but in my opinion Abbott is willing to play race-based politics as close to the wire of open hatred as he can go and while still maintaining plausible deniability.

Morrison’s infamous and disgusting criticism of Gillard’s basic humanity in flying children of deceased asylum seekers from Christmas Island to their parent’s funerals was seen within his party as a nauseating attempt to capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment and was initially backed by Abbott.

But after Mr Morrison’s comments this week on the cost of asylum-seeker funerals…colleagues are privately questioning whether he is trying to pursue an anti-Muslim political strategy unilaterally.

.

I see Abbott’s remarks that asylum-seeks are ‘Un-Christian’ as a direct and opportunistic dogwhistle to this same anti-Muslim sentiment and strategy.

Furthermore, Abbott keeps track of and is attentive to concerns of the LNP ‘One Nation’ fringe, for example in his decision to advocate the removal of Australian funding for Indonesian schools, which idea had its genesis in One Nation lobbying of MPs and talkback radio.

Abbott was instrumental in the organisation of the secret slush fund to pay legal expenses in the campaign to destroy Pauline Hanson and return One Nation votes to the LNP, so Abbott is very aware, as Howard was, that One Nation sentiment must be molly-coddled by the LNP.

Scott Morrison zealously implements the LNP’s strategy of dehumanizing asylum seekers for electoral advantage. In summary Morrison’s comments state that he thinks that asylum-seekers are disease-ridden criminals (illegals). Morally deficient, cunning cheats (document destroyers) who threaten decent Australians (hence border security, losing control of borders) and who will make Australia an unbearable and unliveable place.

And, oh yes, he is very concerned for their safety and human rights.

So, the Coalition’s attitude to asylum-seekers in unrelentingly vicious. That why they endorse the Expert Panel extended imprisonment principle as a xenophonic bonus. In addition, offshore processing in Nauru has a talismanic, essentially religious significance as an endorsement of the teachings policy of their former leader and living deity, John Howard.

The joy that accompanied the return of Nauru prison island was both malicious and transcendentant.

What Could Be Bad Is…

Unfortunately Abbott is going to win this particular race to the bottom.

Neither Nauru nor TPVs stopped boats (once again ignoring for a moment the barbarity of this objective). Only towing them back did. Malaysia = towing people back which is why the Coalition opposed it.

I believe the Expert Panel ‘no advantage’ test will stop boats coming once asylum seekers see that the ALP is serious about enforcing it. Until that time boats will keep coming.

But What Could Be Good Is…

The only hope for the ALP on this issue is that Abbott and Morrison continue to behave like exultant cannibal serial killers feasting on fresh kill and keep insisting on forced tow-back even all the way to Sri Lanka, minimum 5 year detentions, SAS invasion of asylum boats and such.

They just might yet repulse 1% or so of their 2PP and narrow the margin just that little bit more.

But in the short term the boats will keep coming.

My solution

I agree that ideally there should be a limit to Australia’s asylum seeker intake and I would seek to engineer a regional solution.

In view of the limit, I would withdraw from UN Convention Of Refugees, limit total asylum-seeker/humanitarian intake to 20,000 and process applications in Indonesia. Too many are drowning attempting the journey.

Any asylum seekers arrivals (air or sea) over 20,000 I would refoule to a regional partner.

If there is no regional partner I would accept all who come.

Habits Of The Lesser-Spotted Office Serf

With my first cup of coffee at work I like to listen to Radio National’s AM program via Podcast. The episode for last Thursday 9th August included the story “PMs Power Poles and Wires Cost Argument a ‘Fabrication: Abbott” which at face value looked like it would be 5 more minutes of Abbott on his endless “Ju-Liar” meme.

But as the interview unfolded it seemed to me that Abbott sounded agitated, borderline hysterical. The rehearsed, clinical tone (geddit?) to his mud-slinging, so consistent over the past year was absent and, in its place, something that sounded like a whiff of panic (if whiffs could sound).

“Nah.” I thought, “He’s so far in front…”

Three Streams In Confluence

But then I read the latest polling on the Carbon Tax. On July 1, just prior to the introduction of the Carbon Tax Nielsen reported that 51% of respondents said they’d be worse off and 37% said they would be unaffected.

Just one month later under the lived experience of the Tax, 38% say they’re worse off, while 52% say their lives haven’t changed. That’s a massive change in just one month. And it amounts to a rejection of Abbott’s ‘the Carbon Tax will destroy us all’ stance which is and has been the single most identifiable plank of Abbott’s voter outreach for at least a year.

So that’s was encouraging, but could it change votes ? I believe that Abbott thinks it can. I now suspect that whiff of panic was indeed real. At least for that morning Tones was a tad worried.

Now Tones is right of course that people haven’t received their first Carbon Tax Power bill yet, and when they do they’ll be 10% higher. That could sink the government then and there in one overnight mail out. Julia better pray for a warm spring and a mild summer so people keep the air-con off.

However, on the morning of that ‘power poles’ interview Tones may have also been aware through internal polling that the ALP’s Primary vote was about to leap by 5% in the latest Newspoll, edging in the 2PP to 54-46.

It seems to me to be absolutely reasonable that as fear about the Carbon Tax subsides so should the ALP vote incline.

And then there was George Megalogenis’s comments on Insiders today 12 August. Mega noted that a key turning point in the Hewson-Keating rivalry leading up to the 1993 Keating Federal victory was that the arrogant Kennett Liberal government was elected in Victoria. Within a few weeks of Kennett’s confrontational budget-slashing start to its term voters turned on Hewson fearing the duplication and amplification of Kennett’s style and policies by Hewson at the Federal level.

Personally, watching Newman in action in the first months of his term, I am myself thinking: “This is Abbott Jr. in action”, including the mean-spirited and petty elimination of the Qld ‘Premiers Literary Awards’ and the gob-smacking arrogance of the removal of the paltry $6.50 allowance paid to Taxi Drivers for picking up and attending to disabled persons.

Mega said:

“[the fear of the combination of] Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott are starting to flip Queenslanders out”

And Queensland is currently the key Federal battleground with the ALP facing a wipeout and consequently having the most and quickest gains to be made from any turn-around in voting intentions. If anyone has a handle of emerging polling trends, its Mega.

By the way great to see Mega get the gloves off on Insiders when discussing the barbarian know-nothings currently offering themselves as Australia’s next government.

So, those three streams of confluence, namely reduced antipathy to the Carbon Tax, the perhaps-related ALP poll bounce and the gestational horror in Queensland at a Campbell-Abbott axis providing their governance may have in part or combination produced that whiff of panic enervating Mr. Abbott’s interview performance on AM last Thursday.

To which I say: GO CAMPBELL!!

During my teens I read a poem in Rolling Stone magazine called Bargain.. It so perfectly encapsulated by love of the experience of listening to the radio that I cut it out and blu-tacked it to my bedroom wall where it stayed until I moved out of home. Here it is in its entirety:

Bargain

“You’ve got to change your evil ways”
The Radio says to me
Alright
I’ll change my evil ways
If you show me
How you got on the radio

And This quote by Kurt Vonnegut Jr seems weirdly connected somehow:

I’m eighty-three and homeless. It was the same when World War II ended. The Army kept me on because I could type, so I was typing other people’s discharges and stuff. And my feeling was “Please, I’ve done everything I was supposed to do. Can I go home now?” That what I feel right now. I’ve written books. Lots of them. Please, I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do. Can I go home now? I’ve wondered where home is. It’s when I was in Indianapolis when I was nine years old. Had a dog, a cat, a brother, a sister.

KURT VONNEGUT, JR., Rolling Stone, Aug. 24, 2006

Just before we get started:

Tim Flannery’s comments on water shortages in Perth have been supported in The Australian and by Colin Barnett, Liberal Party Premier Of Western Australia, here. And TF does not believe that the planet Earth is a living God or self-aware entity named Gaia.

Due to his high profile, Climate Change Commissioner Tim Flannery is a favoured target of Climate Denialists. In this post I will compare comments made by Flannery against the intentionally distorted versions of his comments put forward by the denialist commentariat.

First, Flannery did not say that Australian dams will never fill again. Andrew Bolt, misrepresenting Flannery, draws attention to a Feb 2007 Landline interview with Flannery in which Flannery said:

even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and our river systems

Denialists like Bolt claim that Flannery meant by this that our dams would never fill again at any time for any reason from the date Flannery was speaking. However, what Flannery was actually saying that climate trends at the time indicated a long-term outcome of normalized water shortage consistent with IPCC projections

Flannery’s comments were to the effect that Australia was at the time currently experiencing a 60% fall in run-off going into dams due to hotter soils and greater rainfall take-up by drought-stressed vegetation and that this would be indicative of what we could eventually expect as a consistent and normal outcome in the future.

He did not say that the dams would never fill again at any time from the date he was speaking, which is the thick-as-a-brick intentionally distorted view presented by Bolt and fellow travellers. Flannery was pointing to a long-term outcome of normalized water shortage based on current data and climate trends.

Flannery’s quote in context is:

We’re already seeing the initial impacts and they include a decline in the winter rainfall zone across southern Australia, which is clearly an impact of climate change, but also a decrease in run-off. Although we’re getting say a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall in some areas of Australia, that’s translating to a 60 per cent decrease in the run-off into the dams and rivers. That’s because the soil is warmer because of global warming and the plants are under more stress and therefore using more moisture. So even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and our river systems

Bolt knows, but pretends not to know, that Flannery was applying IPCC modelling and projections to (then) present circumstances in relation to reduced rainfall and that Flannery’s statement are in accordance with those. Bolt also knows that IPCC projections include intensified (i.e. more severe) but rarer flooding events, which of course would fill the dams.

Minister For Climate Change, Penny Wong, stated in a Lateline interview 2nd September 2008:

by 2050 that Australia should expect around about a 25 per cent reduction in rainfall in the southern part of Australia.

Flannery, by starting his Landline comments with ‘We’re already seeing the initial impacts’ places Australia’s (then) current 20% decline in rainfall in relation to the IPCC projections, exactly as Senator Wong did.

In fact it is Flannery’s usual practice to speak of climate and rainfall trends in the context of a 50 year projection. His Landline comments of 2008 perfectly mirror remarks he made to the Sydney Futures forum in 2004 in which he extrapolated Sydney rainfall data into the next half-century to warn of highly adverse outcomes if currently observed climate effects were to be continued to be ignored. More on that statement below.

Climate Change Entails Heavier Flooding

As Climate Change Commissioner, Flannery is perfectly aware that intensified but rarer flooding constitues part of IPCC modelling. As such it is patently absurd to state that Flannery believes Australia will never again experience floods or that dams will never fill again.

In asserting that Flannery believes Australia’s dams will never fill again, Bolt would have us believe that Flannery is aware of only the ‘drying’ aspects of Climate Change and is unaware of the ‘wetting’ aspects. This shows how dishonestly Bolt handles the Climate Change topic.

For the benefit of denialists like Bolt I produce here an extract, via Deltoid, from the IPCC Third Assessment Report (TAR) 12.1.5.1

To summarize the rainfall results, drier conditions are anticipated for most of Australia over the 21st century. However, consistent with conclusions in WGI, an increase in heavy rainfall also is projected, even in regions with small decreases in mean rainfall. This is a result of a shift in the frequency distribution of daily rainfall toward fewer light and moderate events and more heavy events. This could lead to more droughts and more floods.

To pretend, as Bolt does, that Flannery is unaware of this is shamefaced dishonesty and deliberate misrepresentation of Flannery.

In fact, in 1997 the IPCC Special Report on Regional Impacts of Climate Change noted specifically that Enhanced groundwater recharge and dam-filling events were expected from more frequent high-rainfall events.

Water Supply and Hydrology: Possible overall reduction in runoff, with changes in soil moisture and runoff varying considerably from place to place but reaching as much as ±20%, was suggested for parts of Australia by 2030. Sharpened competition was expected among water users, with the large Murray-Darling Basin river system facing strong constraints. Enhanced groundwater recharge and dam-filling events were expected from more frequent high-rainfall events, which also were expected to increase flooding, landslides, and erosion.

We can see here that Flannery’s 2007 Landline interview is basically a direct citation of this 1997 report. To wit: decreased water run-off from soils resulting in a 20% decrease in water flow into dams by 2030 i.e.over a 25-year projection (not immediately), that conditions in 2007 were indicative of this expected long-term outcome. And, incidentally, that this will occur in conjuction with more frequent flooding.

Of course, Bolt’s purpose is not to discredit Flannery, per se. It’s to discredit Climate Science and the IPCC. That Bolt can only attempt to do so through dishonesty shows that both Flannery and the IPCC inhabit a more secure intellectual and moral position than Bolt.

Flannery The Fundamentalist

A second smear against Flannery is that he is untrustworthy, indeed irrational religious kook, because he believes that the Planet Earth is a living God or self-aware entity named Gaia. The right-wing Australian smear think tank ‘Institute For Public Affairs’ published an article concentrating on this smear some time ago. The undated article written by James Paterson, their Director of Communications, is entitled Tim Flannery, Climate Prophet. Paterson wrote:

When appearing on the ABC’s Science Show in January this year, Flannery said: ‘This planet, this Gaia, will have acquired a brain and a nervous system. That will make it act as a living animal, as a living organism, at some sort of level.’

To be fair, Flannery is not the only scientist to embrace the kooky theory that Gaia has human properties.

Paterson thus states that Flannery believes the planet Earth has a brain and nervous system. Flannery does not believe this. Paterson is guilty of lazy research here, but his overall objective is to paint Flannery as a crackpot so I doubt he was trying very hard to genuinely understand Flannery’s conception of the Gaia hypothesis.

In fact, Flannery does not think that the Earth has a brain or nervous system. What Flannery says is that human beings, really scientists, constitute the Earth’s metaphorical or virtual brain and that the Internet has the capacity to constitute the Earth’s metaphorical or virtual nervous system and that therefore humans may potentially be able regulate the Earth’s eco-systems via planet-wide computer networks and other technologies. In other words Flannery’s view of the ‘strong Gaia’ is technocratic and scientific, not religious.

Really James Paterson should be ashamed of smearing Flannery in such a way. It reflects badly on both himself and the IPA and lessens its credibility as a serious researching entity.

Here is Flannery explaining his Gaia hypothesis to Robert Manne at Latrobe University 4th June 2009

Robert Manne:
I wondered first for the audience if you could give a reasonable succinct view of what [James Lovelock’s] conception of Gaia is and then I want to talk about your book a bit in regard to that.

Tim Flannery:
[…] Just over the last decade Gaia is on the threshold of acquiring a brain and that’s happened because the internet and changes in human society have for the first time ever, allowed us theoretically to deliver a single, strong message to Gaia, what we want from Gaia. And also, after four billion years, we have got now the intelligence to see Gaia from space and to actually enhance its working parts…

Robert Manne:
Is what you’re saying then, that human beings have to somehow become the regulator? Of processes that once we were not able to control or didn’t feel the need to control or whatever?

Tim Flannery:
By virtue of the process of evolution humans are destined to become the regulator.

Robert Manne:
And it connects, doesn’t it, to this idea of yours which is the capacity of human beings now to see what has to be done and to do it. Is that it?

Tim Flannery:
That’s right and it’s already happening. It’s not like this is theoretic. We actually have built a system now that allows us to send a single strong message to the part of the carbon cycle we want to deal with.

Flannery The Alarmist

The same IPA article decries Flannery as an alarmist by stating that his predictions on climate events have been wildy astray. This ‘alarmist’ meme is dominant in the denialist commentariat in regards to Flannery so I will use Paterson’s article as representative of the willing distortions directed at Flannery.

25 Metre Sea Level Rise

Paterson ridicules Flannery for approvingly quoting NASA’s James Hanson on the possibility of a 25 metre sea-level rise due to catastrophic ice melt and notes that such an eventuality would take thousands of years to materialise given current melt rates.

Unfortunately Paterson does not realise that Flannery agrees that such a change could take hundreds or thousands of years to eventuate and so has misrepresented Flannery as stating 25 metre sea level rise is imminent.

Of course Hanson’s actual prediction is based on Earth’s millenia-long climate history and anticipates that timeframe for its realisation, but Paterson ignores that to pretend Hanson and Flannery is warning of an imminent, practically immediate, 25 metre rise in sea levels.

Cities Running Out Of Water

Paterson spends some time running through a list of Australian cities Paterson claims that Flannery predicts were destined for imminent catastrophe, but which of course still survive. In this Paterson attempts to portray Flannery as a kooky, Gaia-fundamentalist doomsday prophet.

Paterson wrote:

In 2004 [Flannery] predicted that ‘Perth will be the 21st century’s first ghost metropolis.’ The following year, he said that Sydney could run out of water in as little as two years.

Undaunted by that botched prediction, he tried again in 2007, saying Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane would ‘need desalinated water urgently, possibly in as little as 18 months.’

Undeterred by their failure to dry-out, Flannery was at it again in 2008, arguing that ‘the water problem for Adelaide is so severe that it may run out of water by early 2009.’ Of course, even amid a severe drought, none of these cities have met Flannery’s doomsday scenarios.

Perth

Paterson plainly states that since Perth had not become a ‘ghost metropolis’ (in Flannery’s words) at the time of his article, then Flannery’s statement about Perth was kooky doomsday alarmism.

Paterson knows, however, that Flannery was not expecting immediate or imminent abandonment of Perth, but rather that he was describing a long-term step-trend of declining rainfall and water catchment. Flannery was not predicting, contra Paterson, the destruction of Perth within 5 or 6 years. The actual time-frame of his comments was 50 years. From the article to which Paterson refers:

[Flannery] said climate change tended to move in steps. In 1976, when the first step occurred, the south-western corner of Western Australia lost 20 per cent of its rainfall, and its catchment fell from 340 gigalitres to 111 gigalitres…In 1998, when the second step occurred, the world experienced the worst El Nino effect

Notice that Flannery describes Perth experiencing step-wise increases in climate change induced phenonema with two step experiences so far and 22 years between each step. On that trend we might experience a third step in approx 2020 and a fourth in 2042 with perhaps a fifth to knock Perth out in 2064. That would indicate a timeline of about 50 years from Flannery’s comments.

Paterson flatly misrepresents Flannery, artificially imposing a 5 or 6 year time scale, merely to better paint Flannery as a crackpot.

Of course, Flannery’s statements about the step trend decline in Perth’s water catchment and the inevitability of its exhaustion are fully supported by rainfall and catchment data (i.e. the real world) and by Perth’s city planners including Liberal Premier Colin Barnett. See here.

Sydney

According to Paterson Flannery in 2005 said that Sydney could run out of water in as little as two years.. Flannery did not say this. What he said on ABC’s Lateline on 10th June 2005 was that if the prevailing drought conditions persisted then Sydney would have ‘extreme difficulties with water’

TIM FLANNERY: Well, the worst-case scenario for Sydney is that the climate that’s existed for the last seven years continues for another two years. In that case, Sydney will be facing extreme difficulties with water

This is in consonance with his 2004 statement, made at the same time as his comments on Perth, that by approx. 2050 Sydney would have 60% less water.

The next 50 years offer Sydney the last chance to avoid catastrophic climate change that would devastate south-eastern Australia, the scientist Tim Flannery has warned.

Speaking last night at the State Government’s Sydney Futures forum, Dr Flannery warned of a city grappling with up to 60 per cent less water.

Again, Paterson flatly misrepresents Flannery merely to better paint him as a crackpot.

Brisbane, Adelaide

John Dawson, writing in Quadrant in August 2011, drew heavily on Paterson’s article in framing up Flannery in exactly the same terms as Paterson. Dawson a quote from Flannery in May 2007 where Flannery remarked that Brisbane and Adelaide could run out of water by the end of 2007. Since those cities did not run out of water by the end of 2007, Dawson characterises Flannery as an idiot doomsday alarmist.

Unfortunately for the credibility of Dawson and Paterson, Flannery was correct in his statements. In April 2007 Adelaide had 40 days of normal unrestricted usage available in its dams, an amount which could be extended to 30 weeks with restrictions. Seven months of restricted usage from the end of April means water supplies would be exhausted by yesr end 2007, just as Flannery said.

The source of this data is Professor Cullen of the Wentworth Group Of Concerned Scientists, speaking on ABC’s AM program April 21, 2007 “Adelaiade’s Water Supply Drying Up”

From the AM transcript:

NANCE HAXTON (AM): Adelaide’s water supply has now reached an unprecedented tipping point.

PETER CULLEN: Historically we’ve never seen anything like this, and this is the second year that we’ve had it. I mean, last year was the lowest inflows to the Murray on record, and I don’t think any of us thought we’d have one as low as that again. This one could be as low as last year again.

So the system is virtually empty.

NANCE HAXTON: Traditionally, Adelaide has sourced its water in varying proportions from the River Murray and the Mt Lofty Ranges. If one of those areas was suffering drought, the other source would be relied on more.

[…]

PETER CULLEN: You only have 40 days’ storages, because you always have had a reliable supply from the Murray, and so all the time you’ve been pumping from the Murray you don’t have to store a huge amount, so you haven’t got a big dam that you can sort of fill up or whatever. Now, if the Murray goes off then you have about 40 days left.

The portrayal of denialists like Dawson, Paterson and Bolt is that Flannery was saying ‘by years end the water will definitely all be gone and never return’. Of course, Flannery never said this. He said, ‘the situation is dire’ and recommends the construction of desalination plants to secure water supply. Denialists like Dawson can only sustain their ridicule of Flannery by deliberately twisting his words. Regrettably for the denialists, Flannery’s statements are firmly based in fact.

Campbell Newman Agreed With Flannery

And so it is with Brisbane. Contrary to Dawson and Paterson’s childish caricatures of Flannery as a hair-shirted lunatic who think that the Planet Earth is a gigantic human being, Brisbane’s water issues in 2007 were, as Flannery said, dire.

In this he had the agreement of all those responsible for Queensland’s water supply naturally including the Queensland Water Commission. In March 2007 the QWC forecast dam holdings of 5% by year end. Said then Premier Anna Bligh,

“I am advised by the Commission that, with the assistance of level 5 restrictions, we will have five per cent dam levels in December 2008…”

Dawson, Bolt and Paterson choose to elide all of the above from the record, and what is elided is that all experts, all water consumption and dam inflow data, the actual real-life situation facing Brisbane was exactly what Flannery said it was.

In April 2007 South-East Queensland existed on Level 5 Water restrictions and dams were down to 20% capacity. This fell to 17% in August 2007. Level 6 water restrictions were enforced from 23 November 2007 with the Queensland Water Commissionobserving a significant threat to sustainable and secure water supply in the South Eastern Queensland region because of extended severe drought conditions.

According to a certain Lord Mayor Campbell Newman it was the worst water supply crisis in living memory. Said Mr Newman,

Cr Newman said the cost of the drought was outpacing the cost of the North-South Bypass Tunnel – part of the TransApex bridge and tunnel scheme – as Brisbane poured hundreds of millions of dollars into water infrastructure.

He said water infrastructure projects were costing over $700 million.

“We have no option but to fund these water initiatives due to the water crisis,” Cr Newman said.

Ivory Tower Denialism

Bolt, Dawson and Paterson isolated and insulated in their Ivory Towers, content and well-fed in their chosen occupations as disseminators of absurd propaganda are freed from the real-life concerns of actually supplying water to a major city.

Mr. Newman, unlike them had real responsibilities to attend to, and acting on the same reality as described by Tim Flannery, took concrete actions to secure Brisbane’s water supply, committing the gigantic sum of $700 million to address what all were plainly experiencing as a crisis.

In this Newman acted in consonance with others for whom planning and securing the well-being of real-life humans was part of their job, the like-minded being Flannery as Climate Change Commissioner, the numerous Shire Council Mayors and the scientists of the CSIRO.

Flannery and Campbell were working from the same set of facts: a crisis requiring response. Which is why Flannery said, so absurdly reviled by Bolt:

“In Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane, water supplies are so low they need desalinated water urgently, possibly in as little as 18 months.”

Please note the difference between that statement by Flannery and Bolt’s block-headed distortion of it which was:

In 2007, Flannery predicted cities such as Brisbane would never again have dam-filling rains

Wrapping Up

We could continue to debunk the denialists slurs directed at Flannery but, in short, here is the story:

Flannery describes long-term trends which denialists willingly distort as as immediate statements about the present then excoriate Flannery because the present does not correspond to their distortions.

Flannery never said dams would never fill again.

What Flannery said was that in the long-term, commencing in about 2040, the normal rainfall situation will be that of long-term water shortage. Naturally this excludes floods and occasional wet years.

The IPCC’s climate change modelling predicts an increase in heavy rainfall events along with normalised hotter temperatures i.e. its a more extreme climate with both more intense droughts and more intense rainfall.

Flannery’s remarks about the water situations in Australian cities were to the effect that the water situation of those cities was dire and would continue to be precarious in to the future. He did not say that Australian cities would run out of water and never have water again. He did recommend desalination plants as a means of securing water supply.

Those remarks were supported by all data, all experts and represent the truth about the the water situation in Australian cities at that time.

Flannery never said it would never flood again.

Flannery is not a religious devotee of Gaia.

In short Bolt, Dawson and Paterson enagage in systematic and deliberate untruths about Flannery and it is they who merit portrayal as hair-shirted religious lunatics, not him.

The denialists are attempting to defend their entrenched anti-Green and/or knee-jerk anti-regulatory ideologies by the basic strategy of character assassination of Flannery. To do so they distort Flannery’s statements, ridicule him without foundation and ignore sound science. Their campaign would be pitiable if it were not so destructive.

Postscript

I emailed James Paterson of the IPA and also Tim Flannery seeking comment on the above remarks. You’ll be the first to know if they respond and give permission for their remarks to be published.

James Paterson Responds (Almost)

James Paterson of the IPA gave me the courtesy of responding by email but refused to engage in discussion about his article. Paterson’s rationale was that since my blog said he was a denialist then there was no point discussing anything with me because my mind was already made up about him.

In my view Paterson is hiding from critique.

Yes, I think Paterson is a denialist but this does not prevent he and I from engaging in debate about Flannery’s statements or about how Paterson characterises Flannery.

In my view Paterson is merely closing the curtains inside his Ivory Tower, steadfastly determined to remain insulated from critique.