Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Environmental apostasy

David Evans has done something extremely challenging and bold, he has officially come out as a global warming skeptic and abandoned the religious cult of global warming hysteria that has gripped so many of his fellow colleagues, who receive large incentives for peddling the global warming line and face severe penalties and risks for compiling any analysis or opinion piece that differs from the "man made global warming" narrative.

The following is on the Mises blog:

I Was On the Global Warming Gravy Train

By David Evans

A version of this article was previously blogged on Mises.org here, and inspired a spirited debate. The author reworked the piece for the Mises.org front page. The blog item remains the same.

I devoted six years to carbon accounting, building models for the Australian government to estimate carbon emissions from land use change and forestry. When I started that job in 1999 the evidence that carbon emissions caused global warming seemed pretty conclusive, but since then new evidence has weakened that case. I am now skeptical.

In the late 1990s, this was the evidence suggesting that carbon emissions caused global warming:

  1. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, proved in a laboratory a century ago.

  2. Global warming has been occurring for a century and concentrations of atmospheric carbon have been rising for a century. Correlation is not causation, but in a rough sense it looked like a fit.

  3. Ice core data, starting with the first cores from Vostok in 1985, allowed us to measure temperature and atmospheric carbon going back hundreds of thousands of years, through several dramatic global warming and cooling events. To the temporal resolution then available (data points more than a thousand years apart), atmospheric carbon and temperature moved in lockstep: they rose and fell together. Talk about a smoking gun!

  4. There were no other credible causes of global warming.

This evidence was not conclusive, but why wait until we are absolutely certain when we apparently need to act now? So the idea that carbon emissions were causing global warming passed from the scientific community into the political realm. Research increased, bureaucracies were formed, international committees met, and eventually the Kyoto protocol was signed in 1997 to curb carbon emissions.

"Correlation is not causation, but in a rough sense it looked like a fit."

The political realm in turn fed money back into the scientific community. By the late 1990s, lots of jobs depended on the idea that carbon emissions caused global warming. Many of them were bureaucratic, but there were a lot of science jobs created too.

I was on that gravy train, making a high wage in a science job that would not have existed if we didn't believe carbon emissions caused global warming. And so were lots of people around me; there were international conferences full of such people. We had political support, the ear of government, big budgets. We felt fairly important and useful (I did anyway). It was great. We were working to save the planet!

But starting in about 2000, the last three of the four pieces of evidence above fell away. Using the same point numbers as above:
  1. Better data shows that from 1940 to 1975 the earth cooled while atmospheric carbon increased. That 35 year non-correlation might eventually be explained by global dimming, only discovered in about 2003.
  2. The temporal resolution of the ice core data improved. By 2004 we knew that in past warming events, the temperature increases generally started about 800 years before the rises in atmospheric carbon. Causality does not run in the direction I had assumed in 1999 — it runs the opposite way!

It took several hundred years of warming for the oceans to give off more of their carbon. This proves that there is a cause of global warming other than atmospheric carbon. And while it is possible that rising atmospheric carbon in these past warmings then went on to cause more warming ("amplification" of the initial warming), the ice core data neither proves nor disproves this hypothesis.

  1. There is now a credible alternative suspect. In October 2006 Henrik Svensmark showed experimentally that cosmic rays cause cloud formation. Clouds have a net cooling effect, but for the last three decades there have been fewer clouds than normal because the sun's magnetic field, which shields us from cosmic rays, has been stronger than usual. So the earth heated up. It's too early to judge what fraction of global warming is caused by cosmic rays.

There is now no observational evidence that global warming is caused by carbon emissions. You would think that in over 20 years of intense investigation we would have found something. For example, greenhouse warming due to carbon emissions should warm the upper atmosphere faster than the lower atmosphere — but until 2006 the data showed the opposite, and thus that the greenhouse effect was not occurring! In 2006 better data allowed that the effect might be occurring, except in the tropics.

The only current "evidence" for blaming carbon emissions are scientific models (and the fact that there are few contradictory observations). Historically, science has not progressed by calculations and models, but by repeatable observations. Some theories held by science authorities have turned out to be spectacularly wrong: heavier-than-air flight is impossible, the sun orbits the earth, etc. For excellent reasons, we have much more confidence in observations by several independent parties than in models produced by a small set of related parties!

Let's return to the interaction between science and politics. By 2000 the political system had responded to the strong scientific case that carbon emissions caused global warming by creating thousands of bureaucratic and science jobs aimed at more research and at curbing carbon emissions.

"Science has not progressed by calculations and models, but by repeatable observations."

But after 2000 the case against carbon emissions gradually got weaker. Future evidence might strengthen or further weaken it. At what stage of the weakening should the science community alert the political system that carbon emissions might not be the main cause of global warming?

None of the new evidence actually says that carbon emissions are definitely not the cause of global warming, there are lots of good science jobs potentially at stake, and if the scientific message wavers then it might be difficult to later recapture the attention of the political system. What has happened is that most research efforts since 1990 have assumed that carbon emissions were the cause, and the alternatives get much less research or political attention.

Unfortunately politics and science have become even more entangled. Climate change has become a partisan political issue, so positions become more entrenched. Politicians and the public prefer simple and less-nuanced messages. At the moment the political climate strongly blames carbon emissions, to the point of silencing critics.

The integrity of the scientific community will win out in the end, following the evidence wherever it leads. But in the meantime, the effect of the political climate is that most people are overestimating the evidence that carbon emissions are the main cause of global warming.

I recently bet $6,000 that the rate of global warming would slow in the next two decades. Carbon emissions might be the dominant cause of global warming, but I reckon that probability to be 20% rather than the 90% the IPCC estimates.

I worry that politics could seriously distort the science. Suppose that carbon taxes are widely enacted, but that the rate of global warming increase starts to decline by 2015. The political system might pressure scientists to provide justifications for the taxes.

Imagine the following scenario. Carbon emissions cause some warming, maybe 0.05C/decade. But the current warming rate of 0.20C/decade is mainly due to some natural cause, which in 15 years has run its course and reverses. So by 2025 global temperatures start dropping. In the meantime, on the basis of models from a small group of climate scientists but with no observational evidence (because the small warming due to carbon emissions is masked by the larger natural warming), the world has dutifully paid an enormous cost to curb carbon emissions.

Politicians, expressing the anger and apparent futility of all the unnecessary poverty and effort, lead the lynching of the high priests with their opaque models. Ironically, because carbon emissions are raising the temperature baseline around which natural variability occurs, carbon emissions might need curbing after all. Maybe. The current situation is characterized by a lack of observational evidence, so no one knows yet.

Some people take strong rhetorical positions on global warming. But the cause of global warming is not just another political issue, subject to endless debate and distortions. The cause of global warming is an issue that falls into the realm of science, because it is falsifiable. No amount of human posturing will affect what the cause is. It just physically is there, and after sufficient research and time we will know what it is.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Great Youtube video on the Taxman

David Zucker, of Naked Gun fame, has produced a brilliant TV commercial showing just how invasive the tax system is in the United States. The same logic applies to every Western economy, where governments recklessly tax every transaction, major life events, capital transfers, consumption and income alike. (hat tip: Liberty Papers)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

The Lives of Others: A magnificent film

Although this film has received dozens of awards, including the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, it unfortunately doesn't have such a big circulation across the major cinema chains, at least in Australia.

The Lives of Others is a gripping and tense film set against the backdrop of life in East Berlin in the so called German Democratic Republic. The central story is fictional, but the themes and culture of the period in East Germany, suffering after 40 years of communist rule, are brilliantly displayed by this film;

The way the socialist regime had a massive monolithic bureaucracy that intrudes into everybody's personal lives, the menacing Stasi (State Security) who would intrude into any home without warrants to spy on them, the way artists and writers and intellectuals were seen as a threat by the Party and how freedom of speech was no concern, the massive corruption and abuse of power by the party elite and of course, the fear and oppression that the system created in the minds of the millions who lived behind the iron curtain. In 1977, the suicide rate in East Germany had reached one of the highest levels of any state in Europe, so in true socialist fashion, the Party stopped publishing figures on suicide rates, and banned journalists from writing about it.

What becomes evident is how The Party existed and functioned simply to serve The Party - to expand its powers, to crush opposition and dissent, to find out who wrote subversive articles for Western newspapers, to interrogate random citizens and force confessions out of them, to promote those loyal to The Party and demote those who are disloyal or neutral.

Go see this movie, it easily gets 9/10 from me.

( Last week I saw both Spiderman-3 and Breach - both decent films, so I'd give them each 7.5/10 )

Monday, May 14, 2007

If you pay more for something, do you expect more in return ?

This is a general question and I think most people out there wouldn't hesitate to answer yes.

If the price of any goods or service goes up, all rational individuals will reconsider and revise the amount of that good they will consume. This would even apply to basic needs like food and water and shelter.

Most people avoid doing any kind of rational analysis when they have no choice in the matter. When you are forced to buy something, and could face jail and fines for not paying, then its really an academic matter as to whether you are getting good value for your money.

Which is why the government can so easily get away with massively expanding taxes, and not really doing anything to improve what it delivers. This comes via Thoughts on Freedom:

Howard govt. costs 34% more than Keating govt.

With the latest budget figures now out I did a quick back of the envelope calculation to find that our Federal government services now costs us 34% more than it did a decade ago. That’s after adjusting for population and inflation and omitting the GST cost component.

1997 cost per capita was A$8437 (year 2007 dollars)
2007 cost per capita was A$11310 (year 2007 dollars)

In gross dollar terms the increase in the total cost of Federal government over the decade almost exactly equals the current total of all personal income taxes. Or to put it another way reducing all personal income tax to zero would leave the budget with the same gross revenue outcome as in Keatings day.

Do you feel like you were getting good value for money in 1997 ? What about now ? Does anybody think they get their money's worth ? Does anybody think ABOUT whether they get their money's worth ?
$11,310 per person is a lot of revenue. When you add up income tax, GST, stamp duties and petrol excise, its easy to see how the government can get rich quick.

UPDATE: A user in comments has issued a correction since the GST was not included in the above figures:
The story is actually worse than what Terje says because of the governments treatment of GST. Before 2001 the government had a wholesale sales tax (WST) and passed that money on to the states through FAGS (financial assistence grants)

I acknowledged it in the article but it is simple to include the effect so I probably should of taken the effort to do the numbers. Let me try and remedy that now.

GST according to the latest budget papers totals $40,000 million. So the corrected numbers would be:-

1997 cost per capita was A$8437 (year 2007 dollars)
2007 cost per capita was A$13238 (year 2007 dollars)

An increase of 57% not 34%.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

RMIT students stand united

Universities are a place where all cultures, genders, races and religions can live as one, right ? Well maybe not at the Muslim student group's BBQ. These pictures were taken Tuesday 8th of May at the city campus:

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Age show their stripes

Down at the Spencer Street Soviet, the anti-capitalist and Howard hating editors placed the following image on their front page today:

The state of modern journalism in general is appalling. Students of journalism and media, across the country and in many tertiary institutes, are not taught one of the most basic principles of news reporting - separating opinion from fact.

There is room for editorials and opinion pieces. In fact, there is a huge demand by readers to read different opinion pieces. But news is news, and the front pages of newspapers are supposed to be free from editorializing, colorful language, spin, cartoons and imagery.

The Age and SMH are 2 of the worst newspapers in Australia, because they proudly violate this concept on a near daily basis. The left wing hatred and cynicism towards Howard, climate change hysteria, animosity towards liberty and capitalism pervade almost every paragraph.

The Herald Sun also editorialize their headlines, but with a different bias - a more patriotic and nationalistic one. Its usually focussed on demonising criminals and social misfits, as "monsters", and celebrating soldiers, patriots and the winners of awards as valiant heroes.

The Australian is the best paper out of the lot of them, with as little editorialising as possible. There are still quite some detectable bias in support of Howard and Costello in their headlines, calling it a "Smart Budget" on their front page, but the spin is rather mild.

2007 Federal Budget: A picture is worth a thousand words

This is the awful bloated size of the massive government we live with, even after the tiny tax cuts offered in last night's budget:

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Victorian budget 2007 - the biggest spending spree in history

Taxes are bad news, that seems pretty obvious. Nobody is happy giving up their hard earned property. Government spending is also bad news. It "crowds out" private spending. Why would a private company build, fund and manage roads or hospitals or schools when there are so many publicly funded alternatives out there who have an unlimited budget ?

So yesterday's budget, Premier Bracks' 8th state budget, was terrible news. Here is how your money is being flushed down the toilet and is used to distort what would otherwise be a free and unregulated market:

  • $1.9 BILLION to slash surgery waiting lists and redevelop 110 hospitals and health clinics.
  • $510 MILLION to build and redevelop 2350 low-cost public and community housing homes.
  • $904 MILLION for education, with more than half to be spent on rebuilding and upgrading schools.
  • $872 MILLION for public transport, including $362 million to bring forward by a year the delivery of 10 new trains and 22 extra drivers.
All of the new pork projects above are bad news. You don't simply improve "health" or "education" by throwing money at it and letting bureaucrats allocate it to some overly complex system. Despite what the teachers and nurses unions would have you believe, it makes little or no difference, and the money gets wasted on administration and bureaucracy. The public sector has been about creating "jobs" - not in the real economic sense, but in the sense of government stealing money from real jobs and valuable transactions by the way of income taxes, and allocating to without any market mechanisms or pricing signals, towards employing administrators, bureaucrats and PR spin doctors, as well as some amount towards hospital beds and classrooms.
The private market has no problem allocating resources as effectively as possible as it has to rely on price signals and is exposed to market forces, i.e supply and demand.

But not all is lost - some of the good news are marginal tax cuts, which is quite surprising given the track record of the Victorian ALP when it comes to spending big.
  • A 2007-08 surplus of $324 million, with average surpluses of more than $400 million in the next four years.
  • $668 MILLION in cuts to WorkCover over four years, and $508 million in land tax cuts.
But the status quo is not a pretty one, when you read the following :
  • A record tax grab of $11.6 billion is expected over the next 12 months, and fines and fees will boost coffers by a further $843 million.
And somehow the bureaucrats of the ALP have a crystal ball and can see into the future !?
The Victorian economy will grow by 3.25 per cent for the next two years, up on the 2.75 per cent growth for 2006-07.
I will continue to pour through the budget documents and find the total outlays on health and education and will post more later today.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

A letter to RMIT lecturer Peter Weiniger

I wrote the following leter to RMIT lecturer Peter Weiniger. The figures were obtained from my analysis of last year's budget.

Just a note on today's lecture about the education system.

You stated that the problem with the education system was "not enough funding", and I find this to be impossible to believe.

In Victoria, the amount allocated to education crept from $3.5bil in 1990 to $4.5bil in 1999.

Since Bracks was elected, this amount has blown out to $9 billion in the 2006-07 State budget.

It will be interesting to see how much is allocated in today's budget when it is released.

Idiocy of the day

RMIT university is without doubt, considered one of the top institutions in Australia for teaching journalism and media.

Why is it, that they spend an entire lecture, run by a guest speaker and senior lecturer Peter Weiniger, discussing the education system from an utterly one sided, socialist and left-wing perspective ?

The anti-Howard rhetoric was stepped up incredibly. Numerous comments about "the good old days when education was free" were thrown about. The lecturer himself suggested that Howard wanted to create a system where only the rich can get education. But to find the biggest specific idiocy, it occurred when Peter Weiniger was asked by a curious student what he thought was the biggest problem with public education ?

The answer he delivered could not have been *MORE* idiotic, wrong or ignorant.

He answered:

"Not enough funding"

In Victoria alone, the amount of public funding thrown into the education system has doubled in the last 8 years. Today, the State Budget will be released, and no doubt, the funding will be massively boosted yet again. Despite the fact that the system fails, politicians continue to throw money at it, hoping to win elections.

And despite the ever increasing amount of taxes stolen from working people and allocated to the failing public sector, the idiots who teach journalism to thousands of students would have you believe that the current approach of increasing public spending is effective. Is it ignorance or propaganda ?

"Fresh Thinking" = Stupidity

Kevin Rudd launched the new look ALP at its national conference with the slogan "Fresh Thinking" last week. He attacked the Liberals and Howard as being old fashioned, stuck in the past and with no new ideas. He said Howard had his "head stuck in the sand" because he hasn't adopted the widespread panic about climate change as some kind of imminent disaster.

Rudd intends to show the elecorate that he will "take strong action" in favor of something largely useless, uncertain, unknown and of no immediate benefit to humans - by heavily regulating and strangling industry, commerce and households to cut emissions.

So, in much the same way as the left-wing British economist Sir Nicholas Stern was commissioned to write some alarmist report about climate change, where he both drastically overstated the impact of climate change and he understated the costs of the regulation roughly by a factor of 100. Kevin Rudd is going to commission his own Australian version of the Stern Report.

And voila.. the politicians and socialist elites had a flimsy report to hold up to the mainstream media, which was used as a basis for their hare-brained ideas and to justify increasing regulation and taxes.

He has commissioned economist Ross Garnaut to produce over the next year. Don't expect it to be impartial and objective. The results are already predetermined. As Andrew Bolt discovers, Ross Garnaut has already made up his mind:

He’s a useful choice for Labor. He says he’s “not an agnostic” on global warming, and is one of the 43 “eminent Australians” who signed a sniffy manifesto before the last election demanding the Howard Government stop telling lies. It’s no doubt unfair to recall that in 2004 he warned Australia could be on the brink of a slump as big as the Great Depression.

But here’s the absurdity of Garnaut’s inquiry: it won’t actually report on the cost of Rudd’s absurd promise to class emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 until after the election. In the meantime Rudd is promising cuts he does not know how to deliver at a cost he cannot even guess, relying on a British report even his global warming advisor tells him is flawed.

On earth, millions of humans are afraid that recent climate change is mostly driven by human activity and man made emissions, some people who actually know a bit about science are more cautious:

Antonio Zichichi, who is also a retired professor of advanced physics at the University of Bologna, made this assertion today in an address delivered to an international congress sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace…

Zichichi said that in the end he is not convinced that global warming is caused by the increase of emissions of “greenhouse gases” produced through human activity.

And this comes at a time when scientists have found the temperature on Mars has risen 0.5C in the last 30 years.

Kevin Rudd is not proposing Fresh Thinking at all. He is trying to put a positive spin on dishonesty and alarmist reports. And the media are only too happy to oblige and cooperate.