Understanding Climate Risk

Science, policy and decision-making

Archive for July 2011

The risk perception paradox on The Conversation

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The perception paradox: understanding risk is key to selling the carbon tax

Science is strengthening its view that business-as-usual emissions of greenhouse gases will result in serious risks while the Australian public’s perception of climate change as a risk erodes.

A recent Lowy Institute Poll shows the proportion of the public who say “until we are sure global warming is really a problem, we should not take any steps that would have economic effects” has risen from 7 to 19% between 2006 and 2011.

81% believe climate change to be a problem, but support for a serious/gradual response has shifted from 68%/24% to 41%/40%.

75% think the federal government has done a somewhat to very poor job of addressing climate change. And in current political polling, a majority of Australians are opposed to a “carbon tax”.

This shows an increasing gap between the calculated and perceived risks of climate change, although a majority remained concerned.

It also shows a gap between the perceived risks of climate policy and benefits of implementing that policy. Read the rest of this entry »


Written by Roger Jones

July 26, 2011 at 7:24 am

The anti-carbon tax campaign is bogus

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So the Australian Industry and Trade Alliance (AIaTA) is spending $10 million in an advertising campaign against the proposed Clean Energy Package.

Step 1. Call it a tax. Which is what its being called in the press and in public. That openly associates the carbon price with the negative of a tax. Technically it’s not – it’s a levy. Much like the Medicare levy, except it’s a pollution levy set at the production end of the CO2 emissions cycle.

Over 50% of the levy collected is being returned to households, some will compensate sensitive industry, some is going to clean energy and carbon sequestration. The income tax system itself is being simplified. The scheme is not perfect, but it’s a reasonable compromise given the circumstances. A tax would go straight into central revenue. Although it’s too late to change the public label, this “tax” is designed as a fixed price mechanism preceding a trading scheme. John Quiggin explains the wrinkles and why most economists favour a price mechanism.

Everyone will keep calling it a duck even though it doesn’t walk like a duck.

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Written by Roger Jones

July 24, 2011 at 11:19 pm

Turnbull speaks up for climate science

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Last night Malcolm Turnbull gave the Inaugural Virginia Chadwick Memorial Lecture and spoke up for climate science. Who is Virginia Chadwick you may ask? She was Chair of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, committed to reef conservation and after her death, her family set up the Virginia Chadwick Memorial Foundation to carry on her work.

What I’ve heard of Turnbull’s speech is excellent. He was very even-handed about the Labor and Liberal policies, concentrating on the science and its impartiality in establishing the risk of climate change. Transcript here and excerpts were televised on ABC’s Lateline program with transcript.

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Written by Roger Jones

July 22, 2011 at 10:58 am

Steve Schneider in Memoriam

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Noted climate scientist and a great friend of Australia, Steve Schneider, died twelve months ago on a flight from Göteborg to London. This week he is being remembered on the anniversary of his death and next month his memory will be celebrated at the Steve Schneider Symposium in Boulder Colorado.

Steve was a great communicator of risk, understanding its emotion but never losing sight of the science. In explaining his views on risk he always separated his views on whether or not to act from the scientific evidence supporting his understanding those risks. He was in Australia at the end of June 2010 at the largest conference on climate adaptation ever held, organised by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility on the Gold Coast. He also did a great session on SBS’s Insight with an audience not so enamoured of climate science.

One of my memories of the adaptation conference was when I was sitting on a panel offering an alternate view to something or other (this is not unusual), Steve and Kris Ebi are sitting in the front row grinning like Cheshire cats with Steve saying “No-one else thinks like you, Roger”.

Despite health problems over the past decade Steve continued to travel, go to meetings, give talks, answer requests, meet people and tell stories. An email list SHS-friends has been set up by a colleague (Kudos: J-P Ypersele) that shares photos, reminiscences and notices of events, encouraging us all to keep up our efforts set by his great example. He was travelling against doctor’s orders and had cut back on physio because of time. The embolism that ended it all was quite possibly as a result of this. His wife Terry thought the travel was crazy (Steve would have agreeded but he did it anyway), and his family said recently, “He fought to save our planet for our children. Now it’s up to us. We miss you Steve.” Ditto.

Andy Revkin at Dot Earth NY Times has written a great piece: Steve Schneider’s Climate View. Worth a look.

Written by Roger Jones

July 21, 2011 at 12:35 am

Posted in Climate change

O’Farrell tries to fool the innumerate

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NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has claimed that NSW public transport fares will rise by 3.4%, driving commuters back into cars. He reckons that Treasury modelling suggests commuters will pay up to $150 per year more.

Hmmm. Let’s do the math. $150 per week as 3.4% of an annual travel bill suggests his highest paying commuters are forking over $4,400 per year. If someone travels to work 5 days a week, has 4 weeks off, that’s about $20 per day. Just the price of a full fare daily multi ticket.

But wait, what if they are a rational traveller and get a weekly ticket? That’s 48 x $57 or $93 extra a year. But wait, what if they are a really rational traveller and get an annual ticket at $2,180 per year? That’s an extra $74 per year, half Barry’s claim.

But wait, Federal Treasury modelled an increase of 0.5% for public transport. That’s $11 for our annual ticket buyer. Big difference between that and $150. What if we split the difference: state versus federal? That would be $48, still less than $1 a week on an annual fare.

Doesn’t the NSW Treasury model rational consumers any more? Or is Barry just entertaining a bit of hyperbole, hoping that no-one can add up?

Written by Roger Jones

July 15, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Hyperbole, Politics

Annabel Crabb is an airhead

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If you wanted any more evidence that Annabel Crabb, ‘our’ ABC’s chief online political writer is an airhead, this article fills the bill. If serious journalism is equivalent to portraiture, this is fingerpainting. Twelve monkeys on typewriters would make more sense.

She calls the carbon pricing scheme diabolical to sell, which it is, then attempts to make the task that much more diabolical by lampooning that complexity, largely through an inability to interpret the Treasury modelling in support of the scheme. I don’t mind that she needs a few gins to get a better understanding (who doesn’t with Treasury documents?), it’s just that the gin consumption does not ultimately yield enlightenment, merely befuddlement.

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Written by Roger Jones

July 13, 2011 at 7:21 pm

Spooner’s war on climate science

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John Spooner of the Melbourne Age used to be a great cartoonist. He’s done whatever cartoonists do whenever they go emeritus or jump the shark – let his emotional beliefs rule the analytical edge that makes satirical comment. As a result he is drawing rubbish cartoons lampooning facts that he finds offensive. When it comes to climate change, Spooner has lost his mojo.

The last Sunday Age (09/07) contained a Spooner anti-climate science cartoon marking the release of the Clean Energy Package. The content came from a paper recently published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science:

Kaufmann RK, Kauppi H, Mann ML, Stock JH Reconciling anthropogenic climate change with observed temperature 1998-2008. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi:10.1073/pnas.1102467108

Unfortunately his understanding of the paper came from the science denial blogs (wattsupwiththat was straight onto it) so completely misrepresents its findings. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

July 13, 2011 at 5:10 pm

The Clean Energy Package risk perception paradox

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This post concentrates on the paradox between the perception of climate change as a risk and opposition to carbon taxes. How the clean energy package is framed and communicated is just as important as the policy initiatives it contains.

The Clean Energy Package does not communicate to Australians the full benefits of reducing their emissions. It uses the standard method of saying the CAP will mitigate serious climate impacts:

This plan has been devised in response to clear scientific advice that the world is warming, that carbon pollution from human activity creates significant risks and that we can avoid the worst potential impacts by reducing carbon pollution.

Taking action on climate change is in our national interest. Australia faces acute risks from climate change. Faced with the serious  negative consequences for our natural systems (including national icons like the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu), our economy and our way of life, it would be irresponsible not to play our part in international action on climate change. Taking action sooner rather than later means that the transition to a clean energy future can be more gradual, manageable and affordable. Treasury  modelling shows that, for economies like Australia, deferring action will only lead to higher long-term costs.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

July 12, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Oz clean energy package released

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The government has released the Clean Energy Package along with the Treasury modelling assessing the general architecture of a carbon price mechanism. The plan is large, complex and very comprehensive. It will be a test for the media to see whether they can lift their game in reporting and analysing this package, or whether it will be a typical retreat to point scoring behind already erected barricades.

Links to the plan are here:




A couple of quick thoughts. It has a biodiversity fund (yay) but at much lower rates than being sought ($946 million over six years instead of around $1 billion per year). The Treasury modelling shows the overall costs are not onerous, but I have some concerns about their scenarios (not the modelling of cost per se, but the nature of the task).

There is a personal household calculator here:


I had a go (of course). It reckons that my personal costs would be $745 per year or $14 per week, $3 of which would come back in tax relief. This is generic of course, but interesting in that:

  1. It is a lot less than I am paying now to reduce or offset my emissions, although I am way ahead in the petrol that I don’t buy. Some of that goes on bike running costs.
  2. I also will not stop these current activities, so am assuming that I will get hit by double counting unless power companies do not pass through costs to green energy buyers (and do I believe that?)
  3. I hope that some of the good and services that I buy, which have external costs priced into them become relatively cheaper compared to those that don’t via increasing economies of scale. (It’s the cost of environmental goods that are probably the most expensive element of my budget, compared to buying the cheapest substitute)

I’ll be taking a closer look and hopefully will modelling some of the aspects that Treasury were unable to, in order to articulate the benefits of the plan in more detail. If I can get hold of their numbers, all the better.

A general discussion thread can be found on Larvatus Prodeo. Update on the CAP and risk perception paradox

Written by Roger Jones

July 10, 2011 at 2:14 pm