Friday 25 March 2022

Breaking The Climate Change Consensus

Disruptive Influencer: “New Zealand is not in a position of having to resort to desperate measures to meet its climate change obligations. This country can make reasonable or best efforts to lower net emissions with existing policies and be certain of success.” - Matt Burgess, The Pretence of Necessity

WITH THE ATTENTION of the world fixed upon Ukraine’s unceasing torment, it’s hard to imagine anything worse. But, worse things there are. The global Covid-19 pandemic still rages across the planet. Massive economic instability threatens. And behind them all, relentless and unstoppable, advances the existential challenge of climate change.

Only this past week, scientists in Antarctica recorded a temperature of 4.9C at a time of year when temperatures usually fall below zero. To say they were shocked would be to seriously understate their reaction. Such a reading should be impossible. It contradicts every assumption about how the polar environment is supposed to behave. The scientists described the anomaly as an “historic event”. A paradigm breaker.

If ever there was an historical moment for traditional antagonists to set aside their differences and make common cause against a common enemy, then this is it. Climate change is a planet-wide phenomenon, and its effects can only be ameliorated by an unprecedented level of international co-operation and coordinated action.

Measures hitherto ruled out-of-bounds by the guardians of economic orthodoxy will be required. State intervention on a scale unseen since the Second World War will be required. A willingness on the part of politicians, business-leaders, economists, and the ordinary man and woman in the street to think the unthinkable will be required.

Perhaps the only positive aspect of the Covid-19 Pandemic is that it has given the world some urgently needed practice in breaking the political, economic and social rules.

The inescapable role of the state in protecting the health and welfare of the whole population has been reaffirmed. Central banks have been willing to do themselves what, for the best part of a century, they have permitted only the private banks to do – create new money out of thin air. Historical memories are being stirred. Hopes of transformation are being re-kindled. For the first time in nearly four decades, political possibilities are expanding – not shrinking.

That there are forces at work in our nation determined to stuff this Genie of Hope back in his bottle should not surprise us. The global responses to Covid-19 – both successful (like our own) and woeful (like the United Kingdom’s) – have put the high priests of economic orthodoxy on their guard. They witnessed how, if only for a few months, medical science was able to over-rule the demands of private enterprise, and it terrified them.

Emboldened by their evident success at reasserting the right of business to prosper, over the right of citizens to be protected from a potentially fatal virus, these same high priests are primed to repeat the exercise against the state’s efforts to combat climate change.

Since outright Climate Change denial is no longer a viable strategy, their new plan is to exploit the public’s deep yearning for a return to normality by reassuring them that the measures already taken to combat Climate Change are more than sufficient to meet the Government’s targets, and that no further, inevitably more disruptive, measures are necessary.

Back in the days of Rogernomics these high priests of neoliberal orthodoxy worshiped in the temple of the Business Roundtable. Their new place of worship is called the New Zealand Initiative.

On Tuesday, 22 March, the New Zealand Initiative released a research paper entitled “The Pretence of Necessity”. Authored by Matt Burgess, the Initiative’s Senior Economist, the paper declares:

New Zealand is not in a position of having to resort to desperate measures to meet its climate change obligations. This country can make reasonable or best efforts to lower net emissions with existing policies and be certain of success.

Burgess’s is a bold intervention. His conclusions fly in the face of the painstakingly assembled consensus on the need to supplement New Zealand’s Emissions Trading Scheme with a number of more direct measures for combatting Climate Change. Labour and National are agreed on this. Even Federated Farmers accepts that more is needed.

But not the high priests. Under no circumstances can the politicians, farmers and business leaders be permitted to endorse the massive expansion of state power necessary to halt anthropogenic global warming. Wedges must be driven between the key players. The drift towards consensus must be halted. Old animosities must be re-awakened.

How fortunate, then, that the National Party has just announced the appointment of a new economic advisor.

His name?

Matt Burgess.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 25 March 2022.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

It's been interesting to watch climate change deniers – well most of them – retreat from "Climate change doesn't exist" when that statement becomes pretty much unviable to "Climate change exists, but human beings aren't responsible for it, its purely natural" to "Climate change exists but there's nothing much we can do about it/and it will probably have benefits".
On the other hand there are still people in my orbit that claim that it is something like the biggest fraud ever enacted on the human race, that it doesn't in fact exist. But then I also remember people who, months if not years after Bush's egregious lies about WMD's, insisting that they would eventually be found. I haven't heard this in a while. These people have gone silent, and I suspect that when we are standing up to our arses in salt water trying to catch a jellyfish for our one meal of the day, all these people that deny climate change will be looking round saying "Who me?" Because in spite of the fact that they favour personal responsibility for everyone else, they never adopt it themselves.

CXH said...

Yet there was an article in Stuff explaining why the temps in the Antarctic are high and why they have nothing to do with climate change.

Perhaps we should only listen to the science sometimes.

Odysseus said...

The "consensus" is fake. No one disputes climate change, many however disagree that it is anthropogenic. The causes of the phenomenon that was observed in East Antarctica over the past week, where man's presence is less than one hundred years old, were entirely natural and likely related to the current strong La Nina combined with the continued circulation of dust high in the atmosphere from the recent Hunga Tonga volcanic explosions. But it makes a nice bogeyman to scare people into submitting to the draconian totalitarian controls and impoverishment sought by the promoters of the climate apocalypse.

Unknown said...

Politicians make a living by selling delusional optimism. And that's true across the political spectrum. The rather unpalatable reality is that resource constraints are now crowding in on us - not least of those being climate disruption. This leaves politicians in a quandary. The emperor has no clothes, yet can't admit it.
It's a classic catch-22, because voters demand ever more wealth, security and prosperity. But growth is now over, unless cheap safe nuclear fusion comes online (unlikely) or Jesus or some other dude pops down to save us all (even more unlikely). Money is not an independent reality, it's a rather inaccurate proxy for access to energy. The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of a healthy ecosystem.
A decade or two hence, when the economic damage from climate disruption is obvious to everyone, those responsible for denial, for the endless growth myth, and for deliberately promoting obscene inequality will be regarded in the same light as Nazi collaborators were in 1946.

Michael Johnston said...

Dear Chris,

Having read your column I'm left wondering how carefully you've read Burgess' report. His main argument is not exactly that "no further, inevitably more disruptive, measures are necessary", it's that, with the emissions trading system (ETS) in place, they would not result in a further reduction in net emissions.

To understand why this is, it's necessary to understand the ETS in a bit of detail. The ETS places an absolute cap on the total volume of emissions that is allowable. It then allows people to purchase what are essentially licenses (in the form of 'carbon credits') to emit certain volumes of carbon gas. Most of the time we don't notice making that purchase because the price of carbon credits is built into the price of things like petrol. The total net volume of emissions allowable, from all carbon credits available, is equal to the carbon cap. So the carbon cap simply uses market forces to put a price on carbon emissions within an absolute limit.

Carbon credits can be generated and sold by people who do things like planting tree, which take carbon out of the atmosphere. Gross emissions are just the total volume of carbon gases emitted into the atmosphere. Net emissions are gross emissions minus the amount removed from the atmosphere by people generating carbon credits. It's net emissions, not gross emissions that matter to climate change.

Additional measures will have no effect on net emissions. For example, a subsidy on electric vehicles will increase the number of electric vehicles on the road, thereby decreasing the amount of carbon credits purchased by drivers and their gross emissions. The carbon credits released thereby will be purchased elsewhere in the economy and used to emit a commensurate volume of carbon gases.

The electric vehicle subsidy will reduce the price of electric vehicles and allow upper-middle class greenies to feel good about themselves at taxpayer expense. (Even at the subsidised price electric vehicles will be too expensive for most.) The subsidy will, however, have no effect on net emissions, which are controlled by the carbon cap.

You could, of course, argue against having the ETS at all and in favour of direct and specific government intervention instead. That may indeed be more in line with your political and economic philosophy. But it makes no logical sense to argue for measures in addition to an ETS, because any such measures will not and cannot result in net emissions reductions beyond those imposed by the carbon cap.

Chris Morris said...

They did not record a temperature in Antarctica, the temperature (and the plot showing it) came from a model. No-one contacted Vostok, Dumont D'urville or Casey and asked them to put their head out the door and tell them what conditions were. Cause was a massive polar high, which isn't that uncommon. The map was dated 18th March. At the same time, South Pole, which was within the "hot" zone recorded a temperature of -49° to -55°. Average for March is -45° to -54° so the temperatures were slightly colder than the climate.
From the same site, Vostok was a balmy -20°. Casey was 2° (slightly above the average high of -4°, but a 75km/h wind It was similar at the French base
I would believe the actual numbers over any model. Or is this another case of lying eyes?

4 days later the same GSF model showed the temperature in the central massif down below -50°. This was uncommented on. That rapid variation indicates there is problem with their model.
If I can find out this in ten minutes on Google, why didn't any of the breathless reporters fact check before doing a Chicken Litle? Or would it have destroyed the narrative?

greywarbler said...

Good on you Chris Morris. Thanks for the info. We should carry this in mind as an example of more than just variance in weather conditions, model v real. We are having the results of computer models thrust at us and affecting us in all sorts of situations. Will we always be able to check the information we are presented with? Passing faulty information at lightning speed isn't good for us, there needs to be a provision for a verification period.

It sends chills up my spine quite separate to weather reports.

Stock exchanges can get highly fevered over little information. Perhaps the floors will be sprayed from above with some non-toxic calming gas before the denizens working for the world's multi-billionaires get too stressed with the weight of it all and collapse the world's economy, e.g.

Governments can decide to throw out paper and other records on some spurious grounds and just carry on with ephemeral records from up in the clouds, no factual background history to refer to; eg Canada's Prime Minister

Government can refuse to accept real information from real people because of the primacy of technological standing; ie to prove that you are a living person when you are registered as dead on the system, therefore you can't carry out any transactions on the system, and become an alien in your country and on officially a non-person internationally. You can become a non-person when an ACC client, as when they treat you as a bit of interesting information when ACC swap gossip about you with their racketty mates.

There may come a time when someone says a phrase like '"Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?" only it will be the name for the latest nosy computer system scanning all. 'The Ring that Rules them All.' I thought that Inquisit would be a good name to have registered for a company and inquisitively looked it up. Too late for anyone else, it's gone.

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