Understanding Climate Risk

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Archive for the ‘Hyperbole’ Category

ConspiracyGate!! Researchers collaborate and email each other – Oh noes

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Apparently  those with access to the purloined emails from CRU have built a database of all the researchers mentioned in those emails and it is posted on a site that purports to show the real story behind the ‘few’ activists who are dictating the whole climate-is-changing fiasco. They are also developing exposés into the science of the IPCC to show how shonky it is. Can’t wait. Meantime, the real IPCC is scheduled to release its Fifth Assessment Report Science of Climate Change Summary for Policymakers on September 27.

Of course, the first thing one does with these sites is to see what it says about moi. So I looked myself up, and lo and behold, I am a conspirator of considerable conspiratocracy, appearing twice:

Jones RN
Jones Roger

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Written by Roger Jones

September 11, 2013 at 9:34 pm

Isn’t stalking illegal?

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But I digress. Kevin Rudd has risen twice, breaking the souffle effect and reinforcing the glass ceiling. Graham Readfearn has a great post on The Grauniad environmental blog: Can Kevin Rudd protect Australia’s climate change credibility?

Given that Greg Combet has resigned, Australia has no climate change minister at present. And what about policy? Let’s see how the government manages (perhaps in its last few days) to manage the “great moral, environmental and economic challenge of our age.”

Written by Roger Jones

June 27, 2013 at 10:32 pm

The End of the World

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This blog has been silent for longer than I’d like to recall (*crickets*), but I really did think that I wasn’t going to wake up this morning, or if I did, it would be in limbo.

See, the world ended today July 1, 2012 because the carbon levy came into being. Maybe it’s been put off until tomorrow when the markets open. This will be the next shock that brings the global economy to its knees.

Independent Australia has got it about right, posting the end of the world under satire. Terry McCrann, who continually satirises himself (and amuses me no end), writes in the Hun today: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Roger Jones

July 1, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Nope – I can’t change your mind on climate

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So after last night’s ABC program I Can Change Your Mind on … Climate live blogged here, the answer is a resounding “No, You Can’t”. Minchin in an op-ed in The Age/SMH:

I’m sure I did not change her mind, but I hope she saw that not all sceptics are mad, bad and dangerous; that there remains a lively scientific debate about the drivers of climate change; and that scaremongering about global warming is backfiring on the warmists.

He goes on to say that of Lomborg’s cornucopian solution:

Lomborg instead advocates significant global investment in green energy research and development in order to make green energy so cheap that everyone will want it.

Now, that I can support. If there is to be any common ground between sceptics and warmists, this surely must be it. Let’s work to make green energy a realistic, affordable alternative, instead of stupidly trying to make conventional energy so incredibly expensive that we will stop using it.

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I can change your mind on climate – live blog

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Welcome to the live blog for I Can Change Your Mind About … Climate on ABC1 from 8:30 pm AEST. From the show’s blurb:

Separated by a generation, and divided by their beliefs, two passionate, intelligent and successful Australians go on a journey of mutual discovery to see if they can change each other’s minds about the most divisive issue in Australia today: climate change.

It’s a pity we don’t have cards for climate change bingo to mark off squares for “It hasn’t warmed since 1998”, “scientists are only in it for the grant money”, “the temperature record cannot be believed” and so on. Likewise, I don’t recommend drinking games. You’ll be on your ear by 9. Read the rest of this entry »

The pink surfboard conundrum

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The pink surfboard conundrum: calculating risk v a social licence to operate

by Professor Roger Jones, Professorial Research Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Economic Studies (CSES) at Victoria University and FAQ Research writer. Cross-posted at Crikey.

Coal seam gas issue presents a wicked problem. Wicked problems are hard to define, have competing values and cannot be definitively solved. For wicked risks, perceptions are just as important as the risks themselves.

So when a wicked risk becomes a hot political issue how do you know whether you’re being reliably informed or being sold a pink surfboard?

Recently, Ben Cubby reported in the Sydney Morning Herald on the public relations challenges discussed at an industry conference:

“A consultant, Daniel Tormey, recounted his experience with the development of oil drilling off California’s coast, and drew parallels with opposition to the coal seam gas industry in Australia.

“Environmental concerns were addressed, and the public had not logged any major objections, he said, but then the Hollywood actor Daryl Hannah was photographed carrying a pink surfboard and protesting about oil drilling. At that point, support for the industry collapsed, and he warned gas executives that the same thing could happen here. ‘Once you see the pink surfboard you know you can’t win.’”

Advocates, both pro and con CSG, are trying to capture public opinion and create their own pink surfboard moment, while preventing their opposition from getting the upper hand.

The CSG industry and a social licence to operate

The coal seam gas industry is seeking a social licence to operate.

Part of that social licence is tacit, where the community recognises the benefits of an industry and accepts that it is acting in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. Another part of that licence is exercised by government in permitting the activity and ensuring that a range of conditions are met on behalf of the community.

Here’s what the Australian coal industry says about their social licence:

“The Australian coal industry respects that its long-term future relies on its ‘social licence’ to operate. This means that the majority of the community remains supportive of Australia’s coal mining industry once aware of the economic and employment the industry provides; the essential products that it produces for domestic and overseas markets for energy, steelmaking and other industrial processes; and the impacts it can have on the environment and some local communities.”

They also state:

“The Australian coal industry places premium value on maintaining its social licence to operate. In order to do so, the industry promotes the pro-active steps that it is taking to address impacts on the environment and some local communities, and works with those communities and governments to address concerns as they arise. The objective is to ensure the responsible, long-term development of Australia’s coal resources in a manner that is accepted and supported by the Australian community.”

The industry’s licence to operate is focused on maintaining a healthy coal industry. This is also relevant to other fossil fuel resources including coal seam gas. Continuation of the industry is a core part of their social LTO. Transforming the industry away from fossil fuel extraction to another form of energy resource is not on the table.

Other players would like to see this licence suspended or even cancelled because of the risks from fossil fuel emissions to groundwater and to agricultural productivity.

So the stakes are high.

Wicked risks

Three areas of risk are particularly relevant to negotiating wicked risks: calculated risk, perceived risk and political risk.

Calculated risk

Calculated risk is the estimate of risk calculated by expert assessment.

This combines science and values to estimate the likelihood of risk and assess the costs and benefits of various options for risk management. Aspects of calculated risk surrounding CSG include the identification of reserves, exploration and extraction, the interaction of CSG and groundwater, the greenhouse gas footprint of the production and consumption cycle, land-use and land planning, onsite environmental impacts and broader social and environmental outcomes.

Critical environmental issues include the extraction and injection of groundwater, the chemistry of the coal seam gas and groundwater, the chemical agents used to extract the gas, and the volumes  and quality of groundwater consumed in the process.

Perceived risk

Perceived risk is how a risk and risk management options are seen by an observer.

It includes how that person frames that risk via their personal values, but is also affected by a number of heuristics, or mental rules of thumb. For example, the short-term framing of economic gains from fossil fuel extraction is very different to long-term values attached to the sustainable use of groundwater. The value that a farmer puts on their livelihood is often very different to how a mining company will maximise shareholder return.

If external costs are to be allowed for, utilitarian economics will put a dollar value on all commercial, social and environmental aspects of risk, claiming that costs and benefits can be balanced this way.

Broader measures of welfare suggest these different viewpoints are very differently balanced. For perceived risk, emotional, rather than analytic, decision-making is likely to dominate.

Political risk

For political risk, the rubber hits the road on calculated versus perceived risk.

Good policy requires credible estimates of calculated risk, whereas good politics has to navigate the emotional currents of perceived risk. Much of this takes place in the rough and tumble market of public opinion, dialogues of power and privilege, and social discourses describing personal and institutional aspirations.

Pink surfboards can be game breakers.

How these come together is shown in the following cartoon. It combines calculated and perceived risks in “good” policy making where the various economic, social and environmental interests in a complex risk are combined. The prize is a social licence to operate.

Risk and pink surfboards

Reading the material being presented to the public via the social, print and broadcast media the debate on CSG is clearly dominated by the pink surfboard aspects of risk management. The main links are between perceived and political risk. That’s not to say that efforts aren’t being made to calculate the technical aspects of risk, it’s just that this is mainly taking place behind the scenes.

In the time it takes to assess things like the long-term effect of widespread CSG on groundwater, the socio-economic  balance between agriculture and CSG in rich fields, strategies for environmental management, how to substitute CSG for higher-emitting fuels rather than just add to them, the argument could be won or lost (depending which “side” it is viewed from).

Also, it is not a good strategy to admit to areas where the level of knowledge, therefore the ability to calculate risk, is low. It’s easier and cheaper for the media to report on pink surfboards. It’s cheaper and more politically effective to influence perceived risk, which requires a working knowledge of the psychology of selling, of pink surfboards and purple pachyderms. Look over there – a big shiny thing!

But if CSG is to be extracted sustainably, then good policy is vital.

In future articles we will look at how risk is being assessed and contrast that with appeals to risk perceptions. A pink surfboard on an astroturf background may be eye-catching but it’s not informative.

Professor Roger Jones is a Professorial Research Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Economic Studies (CSES) at Victoria University. Read more about FAQ Research writers here.

No conspiracy claims Minchin

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Ex Senator and bloke who pretty much wrecked the bilateral approach to climate change policy in Australia, Nick Minchin, has written to The Age saying that he never referred to climate change as a left-wing  conspiracy to de-industrialise the Western world. He has referred to the transcript of the Four Corners program broadcast on November 9 2009, where he said:

For 10 years the left internationally have been very successful in exploiting peoples’ innate fears about global warming and climate change to achieve their political ends.

and

For the extreme left it provides the opportunity to do what they’ve always wanted to do, to sort of de-industrialise the western world. You know the collapse of communism was a disaster for the left, and the, and really they embraced environmentalism as their new religion.

Well, glad we’ve cleared that up. Of course, these statements were widely reported at the time as a conspiracy. Ever the lawyer, Minchin is accurate in that he has never claimed a political conspiracy, which would be the overthrow of a legitimate government, or a civil conspiracy, which would break the law at some present or future time. It does however, paint legitimate science and all the scientific academies of the globe as agents of the extreme left.

Good-oh. When you’re extremely right, I guess you’re extremely right.

Apologies for not posting for the past month. Computer problems were causing driver failures and the BSoD. Eventually a new motherboard was installed but this had to be replaced twice more before things got sorted. 

Written by Roger Jones

September 18, 2011 at 10:34 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

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