Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Five current articles below

Climate claims fail science test

By Michael Asten, a professorial fellow in the school of geosciences at Monash University, Melbourne

THE UN Climate Change Summit started this week in Copenhagen with far more dissent than its organisers hoped for from two extremes of the climate change debate We had the "grandfather of climate change", James Hansen, describing the proceedings as counter-productive and "a farce", while the chief Saudi Arabian negotiator to the summit, Mohammed al-Sabban, doubts the current science and suggests there is no longer any point in seeking agreement to reduce emissions.

It is therefore certain that the global political debate on managing carbon emissions and climate change will continue well beyond the Copenhagen summit. It is to be hoped that the scientific debate is also permitted to continue.

Results released this year suggest that the degree of scientific certainty falls short of that desirable before we set binding targets and dollar values on carbon emissions. Indeed, Tim Flannery, chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council admitted that: "We can't pretend we have perfect knowledge: we don't."

This is a refreshingly honest comment when contrasted with some of the statements in the hacked emails of the Climatic Research Unit, UK, made by leading British and US climate scientists, who were caught with their fingers on the "delete button" when faced with climate data that failed to agree with their computer models.

Meanwhile two recent results published by top scientists cast doubt on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's theory about the link between atmospheric carbon dioxide and global warming. These are of of significance because whereas the climate models used by the IPCC rely on software to represent a large number of highly complex Earth processes, these results are equivalent to experimental observations on the Earth itself.

Paul Pearson of Cardiff University and his international team achieved a breakthrough recently, published four weeks ago in arguably the world's top scientific journal, Nature. They unravelled records of atmosphere, temperature and ice-cap formation 33.6 million years ago, when the Earth cooled from a greenhouse without ice caps, into something quite similar to our present day. These results from "Laboratory Earth" have a particular advantage: we can see what happened after the event for two million years. With today's records we see changes in atmospheric CO2 and temperature over 50 years and seek to project what will happen in the future.

Pearson's work contains a couple of remarkable results. First the greenhouse atmosphere pre-cooling contained a CO2 concentration of 900 parts per million by volume, or more than three times that of the Earth in pre-industrial days. We can't be sure what triggered the Earth to cool despite, or because of, its changing green-house atmospheric blanket, but once it did, cycles of ice cap formation and glaciation commenced, apparently governed by the same variations in the Earth's orbit that govern the ice ages of the past million years.

Second, while the cooling of the Earth took place over a time-span of around 200,000 years, the atmospheric CO2 first dropped in association with the cooling, then rose to around 1100ppmv and remained high for 200,000 years while the Earth cooled further and remained in its new ice ages cycle.

We can compare these huge swings (both up and down) in atmospheric CO2 with current computer-modelled estimates of climate sensitivity by the IPCC which suggest that a doubling of CO2 relative to pre-industrial times will produce a temperature increase of 2.5C to 4C.

If the Earth started a cycle of ice ages 33.6 million years ago while having its very carbon-rich atmosphere, and if the Earth showed cycles of ice-age activity when atmospheric CO2 was four times the level that it was in humankind's pre-industrial times, what new information must we incorporate into our present climate models?

Another key parameter in climate modelling is the warming amplification associated with increasing CO2 in our atmosphere. This amplification factor is generally believed to be greater than one, giving rise to an understanding that increases in atmospheric CO2 amplify warming (a positive feedback in the physical process), and the IPCC has quantified this to deliver the finding that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in man-made greenhouse gas concentrations.

However since the IPCC's fourth report, our Laboratory Earth has also delivered new data on this CO2-induced amplification factor. The tool for the study in this instance is recent satellite-based temperature data now extending over 30 years. Building on a methodology published 15 years ago in Nature, climatologist and NASA medallist John Christy and colleague David Douglass studied global temperature impacts of volcanic activity and ocean-atmospheric oscillations (the "El Nino" effect) and separated these from global temperature trends over the past 28 years. The result of their analysis is a CO2-induced amplification factor close to one, which has implications clearly at odds with the earlier IPCC position.

The result was published this year in the peer-reviewed journal Energy and Environment and the paper has not yet been challenged in the scientific literature.

What this means is that the IPCC model for climate sensitivity is not supported by experimental observation on ancient ice ages and recent satellite data. So are we justified in concluding that the concentration of atmospheric CO2 is not the only or major driver of current climate change? And if so, how should we re-shape our ETS legislation?

I don't know the answer to these questions, but as Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman observed: "It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong."


Global warming has stopped, says conservative leader

OPPOSITION Leader Tony Abbott has gone one step further from being a climate change sceptic and has questioned if the world is warming. The comments were seized upon by Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, who will arrive in Copenhagen today for climate change talks that aim to set the foundations for cuts to global greenhouse gas emissions. It comes as the US Environmental Protection Agency plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions because they "threaten the public health and welfare of the American people".

When Mr Abbott seized the Liberal leadership from Malcolm Turnbull last week he rejected criticisms that he was a climate change denier, but said he was sceptical about what level mankind had contributed to the problem. His position yesterday raised further questions about his intentions to address climate change. "Notwithstanding the dramatic increases in man-made CO2 emissions over the last decade, the world's warming has stopped," he told Macquarie Radio.

Senator Wong, who has been accused of not giving enough funds to helping the Torres Strait cope with climate change, hit out at Mr Abbott. "He is out there publicly talking about the world cooling when we have so many world leaders ... going to Copenhagen because they are concerned about climate change," she said. ["World leaders" matter more than the facts? She is a pure apparatchik] "We see Mr Abbott talking about the globe cooling as the rest of the world is trying to work its way to tackling climate change."

A gobsmacked Greens Leader Bob Brown said Mr Abbott's comments would alienate conservatives. "In a world where both big and small business understand the science of climate change and the need for appropriate action," Senator Brown said.

It comes as Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt has said tackling climate change would come at a cost. Mr Abbott has guaranteed there will not be any taxes, either "by stealth" or otherwise to mitigate the problem. "There are no cost-free options, but there are dramatically lower cost options," Mr Hunt said. "The Government picked the highest cost of all the major mechanisms (through its carbon pollution reduction scheme)."


Plimer gets good mainstream coverage in Australia

The story below ran on several Murdoch sites

AN Australian scientist has told a Copenhagen audience that humans are not damaging the climate - and the weather seemed hotter to him as a child. Well-known geologist and author Ian Plimer travelled to the scene of the UN climate conference to question whether the world was warming. "It's been freezing in Perth and bucketing down," Professor Plimer said after his lecture.

The UN's weather body, the World Meteorological Organisation, yesterday announced the last decade was likely to be the hottest on record. Australia has had three heatwaves this year and is on track to record its third-hottest year ever. But Prof Plimer, author of the recent best-selling book, Heaven and Earth, which questioned human-induced climate change, said: "One swallow doesn't make a summer."

The University of Adelaide professor did not make it inside the official climate conference venue, instead giving his speech to a rival conference organised by a US lobby group in central Copenhagen. "Heretics are not allowed," he said of the UN conference. He told the rival conference he remembered summers when he was a child being much warmer and said at the moment it was freezing in Perth and bucketing down.

Prof Plimer said he was in Copenhagen to try to stop the world engaging in the "global collective madness" of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by clamping down on economic development. He said the climate had always changed and it was erroneous to blame emissions from people. Other factors, like the sun, the earth's orbit and extraterrestrial factors, could be responsible. Major ice ages had happened when carbon dioxide levels were high and there had been very warm periods before the industrial age began, he said.


Academics firmly stuck in their ivory tower

A NATIONAL union has broken ranks with the ACTU to demand the Rudd government dump its proposed emissions trading scheme, declaring the plan a costly and ineffective response to climate change. The National Tertiary Education Union said federal Labor should replace the scheme with "a non-market-driven solution that will drastically reduce carbon emissions".

The union said its policy stand was driven by academics and researchers directly involved in scientific and economic work around climate change. The union's NSW secretary, Genevieve Kelly, said the union was motivated by concerns from university staff that the ETS was not an adequate response to climate change. "Rather than get bogged down with a costly emissions trading scheme that rewards big polluters and will have a limited impact on emissions, the Rudd government needs to immediately invest in renewable energy, public transport and a transition from coal-fired power generation," Ms Kelly said.

The union is calling for a 40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. Ms Kelly told The Australian that the union did not believe there had been sufficient debate within the ACTU and the union movement about the direction of climate change policy. "This policy may place the NTEU at odds with the Rudd government and some elements of the union movement; however, we have an obligation to respond to the deeply held concerns of our members who overwhelmingly want action on this issue," she said.

The union is also serving claims on universities to have environmental claims included in workplace agreements. During the current round of bargaining with universities, the union has pushed employers to agree to clauses that commit universities to reducing emissions. "We are seeking a better level of debate within the ACTU," Ms Kelly said. The union's national council has endorsed a resolution calling for the abandonment of the CPRS legislation and development of a national pollution-reduction strategy that does not primarily rely on market mechanisms. The resolution says there should be a planned transition from coal-fired generators to renewable energy.


By-election results a worry for the Labor party and its climate policies

Losing their traditional base

THE double-edged swings in the by-elections for Higgins and Bradfield will force the main parties to rethink their plans for any federal election based around the issue of climate change. Lower-income Labor booths swung to the Liberals, while higher-income Liberal booths swung to the Greens, in a criss-cross of party loyalties that presents challenges for both Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott.

Labor has more marginal seats to defend outside the capital cities, where the opposition hopes to find fertile ground for a scare campaign over the emissions trading scheme. But the Liberals have more marginal seats on the line in the cities, where the government believes voters will punish any party that does not take climate change seriously.

By picking a fight on climate change, the new Opposition Leader will force the Prime Minister to juggle two messages: compensation for lower- and middle-income earners outside the cities, and action for those within the cities. The Abbott strategy looks more viable after the weekend by-elections because Labor's lower- and middle-income base was not interested in switching to the Greens.

In Bradfield, Liberal candidate Paul Fletcher gathered double-digit swings to him in the Labor strongholds of Hornsby (up 12.6 per cent on the 2007 election) and Chatswood (up 13.5 per cent), but lost ground in the blue-blood suburbs of Wahroonga (down 7.7 per cent) and St Ives (down 8.7 per cent).

Kate Brodie, 22, voted Labor at the last federal election, but she voted Liberal in Saturday's by-election because she felt the Prime Minister had failed to make the case for an ETS. Ms Brodie, who works in public relations, said she didn't understand what the ETS meant. She described Mr Abbott as "a last-minute saviour . . . "For me, it came about really fast, so I wasn't quite sure what it involved, and how it would really impact on our future," she said. She was so concerned about the cost of an ETS, she said she would not have voted Liberal at Saturday's by-election had Malcolm Turnbull retained the leadership.

The pattern was repeated in Higgins, where the mortgage belt and Labor stronghold of Murrumbeena swung to the Liberals by 4.7 per cent but the private school hub of Kooyong Park had a 6.8 per cent swing against the Liberals.

The opposition is wary of reading too much good news into the worker swings because Labor didn't run in either seat, and many Labor voters appear to have cast informal ballots. But the numbers do provide a warning to Labor that its base, when confronted with a choice between Green and Liberal, will fracture.

The Rudd government betrayed its sensitivity last year by using its compensation package for the ETS to deliver more in handouts to lower- and middle-income families, and to pensioners, than these groups would face in energy price rises.

By switching its message on the ETS, from bipartisanship to opposition, the Liberals will force Labor to return to the retail politics of climate change by emphasising the benefits over the costs.

At the next election, Labor will have 88 seats, the Liberals 50, the Nationals nine and independents three. Nine of those Labor seats are on margins of less than 1 per cent, with five of those nine being Liberal-held seats that are now notionally Labor after the redistribution of boundaries. Labor has a further five seats on margins between 1 per cent and 1.7 per cent. The breakdown of these 14 most marginal seats -- the difference between holding government and losing it -- is where the climate change rub lies. Only three of Labor's exposed seats are inner city -- Solomon, Swan and Bennelong. The remaining 11 split between the suburbs and the bush. Four are outer metropolitan: Macquarie, Hasluck, Dickson and Deakin. A further four are in provincial centres: Robertson, Herbert, Corangamite and Bass. The final three are classified by the Australian Electoral Commission as rural: Macarthur, Gilmore and Longman.

From the Liberal perspective, some of these seats are worth targeting. But first they must shore up their base. Newspoll has shown a swing to Labor since the last election, so the opposition is at risk of going backwards if the ETS scare doesn't bite, or if it backfires.

The Liberals have nine seats on margins of less than 2 per cent, and the Nationals have a further two. The Liberal nine are split between two in the inner city -- Sturt and Stirling -- five in outer metropolitan areas -- Bowman, La Trobe, Hughes, Ryan and Cowan -- and two rural -- McEwen and Paterson. The Nationals have two rural marginals: Cowper and Hinkler.

George Meredith, a 70-year-old practising accountant from Gordon, believes Mr Abbott can win back the Howard battlers by fighting Mr Rudd on the ETS. "I was happier when Abbott came in and clarified his position on the ETS . . . I think we're rushing the whole bloody thing," he said. "I lost heart with Malcolm, he's not very different from Milky Bar Kid Kevin Rudd."



Three current reports below on Australia's own third-world airline

QANTAS strands blind woman -- illegally

"Australia's national airline" refused guide dog and stranded blind woman. A mainstream carrier that is as ignorant -- and as ignorant of the law -- as an El Cheapo airline

QANTAS left a blind woman distressed and stranded interstate at night because the airline would not allow her guide dog on a flight. Qantas is not alone. Tiger Airways two days earlier baulked at letting the same woman fly with her guide dog.

Donna Purcell and her husband, Ric, of Sydney, met a wall of resistance from Tiger Airways when they tried to fly return to Adelaide with her guide dog for a weekend away last month. First, she was told that Tiger did not take dogs, then she would have to buy an extra ticket for it and even then could not be guaranteed to fly. Eventually she convinced the airline to take her to Adelaide, but when Tiger cancelled the return flight, she approached Qantas.

Despite at least 20 seats being available on a plane that evening, Qantas asked her to stand aside while they processed other Tiger passengers. Qantas counter staff told her to call reservations, who told her dogs were not allowed in Adelaide airport. The airline finally booked them on a flight the next day. It left Ms Purcell and her husband stuck in Adelaide with no accommodation arranged or food for her seeing-eye dog, Hetty, a three-year-old black labrador on a special diet.

Ms Purcell has lodged complaints with both airlines and the Human Rights Commission. "I was shunned because I had a guide dog," she said.

Tiger Airways, which could find no record of the complaint, yesterday apologised to Ms Purcell, blaming an outsourced company for not understanding the airline's policy. "Tiger Airways will take immediate action to remind our staff and business partners of our policies in relation to passengers with special needs," its communications manager, Vanessa Regan, said.

Qantas head of communication Olivia Wirth said the Qantas counter staff did not have the authority to make the seat allocation but the airline took the matter seriously and had apologised to Ms Purcell, offered to pay expenses and was reviewing its processes.


Qantas passengers in dark for eight hours

DOZENS of international travellers' plans were thrown into chaos last night when a Qantas flight to Singapore was delayed by eight hours and then finally cancelled. A faulty emergency exit door has been blamed for the delay.

Passengers on the 2pm flight from Adelaide were initially told that the flight would be delayed by am hour. But at 9.45pm last night, they were told the part needed for the door had not arrived and the flight would be rescheduled. Many passengers missed connecting flights in Singapore as a result and some passengers became irate when advised of the further day's delay.


QANTAS has lost it

Qantas is in the process of reinventing itself, if you believe the company's own hype. It has spent millions on a customer service training centre in Sydney; at least on domestic routes to begin with, it is in the process of redefining the customer check-in experience to radically reduce the time it takes.

It sees the main brand as a premium carrier, complemented by Jetstar as a cheap alternative, with the group able to offer something for each part of the market. But, particularly for long-haul travel, I'm wondering whether the Qantas group has already lost the battle for Australian hearts and minds.

The combined Qantas group share of the market is now below 30% on international routes from Australia, where once its share was nearer 50% (admittedly in the much more regulated old days). Its market share continues to shrink in spite of the invention of Jetstar, which was designed to increase it.

On the US route, Qantas is being clobbered by new capacity from V Australia and Delta, although Qantas still has the lion's share. Between here and Europe, Qantas is being swamped, not only by traditional rivals like Singapore Airlines, which continues methodically and relentlessly to increase its Australia market share (in spite of this year's pause caused by the global slowdown), but also by the new Arabian Gulf carriers, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.

More than a million Australians - about 20% of everyone heading overseas - are going to Europe, but only 40% of them to English-speaking Europe (that is, the UK). Yet Qantas now has only two European destinations where it flies its own planes - London and the German business capital, Frankfurt. Its key competitors have far more comprehensive European networks. Emirates, for example, now has more than 20 European cities.

In the past two decades, Qantas has axed Manchester, Paris, Rome and Athens - not because it couldn't fill its planes on those routes, but because there weren't enough business travellers to make those routes pay.

Jetstar plans to return to Rome and Athens. But I think Jetstar will not only struggle to find acceptance from Australians if it flies to Europe, but also needs to tap new markets for visitors to Australia - and most (though not all) of those are in Northern Europe. Think Spain, Germany's many big regional cities, Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Ireland -- countries from where travel to Australia is already (or potentially) the strongest.

Do you think of Qantas if you're heading to Europe? How would Jetstar go against Singapore Airlines and Emirates? Has the horse already bolted, particularly since its chief low-cost rival, AirAsiaX, already flies daily to London and has just secured rights to fly to Paris?


Liberal Party getting tougher on illegal immigration

The Coalition's dumped immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone, says she has been "done over by the Right" as Tony Abbott moves to harden the Coalition's stance on immigration. The Australian understands the Opposition Leader will appoint Sydney MP Scott Morrison to the immigration porfolio in a new frontbench line-up expected to be announced today. Last night Dr Stone lashed out at her demotion, saying she had sought to steer a middle course between party moderates and hardliners.

Mr Abbott's reshuffle comes as the number of unauthorised boat arrivals this year approaches 2500, following the interception of the 51st boatload this year on Sunday.

Mr Morrison was elected to parliament in 2007 following the retirement of Bruce Baird, an outspoken critic of John Howard's hard line on immigration. His appointment to the front bench follows a widespread feeling within the party that Dr Stone had failed to "cut through" in her criticism of the government, a charge she angrily rejected.

"I've been done over by the Right," Dr Stone told The Australian yesterday. "It's about payback. Immigration was so difficult because you were sandwiched between the left and the right wing of the party. I happened to believe that I was steering the right path and I had a lot of support for that, including, of course, from the leader at the time."

Dr Stone is one of a number of moderates understood to have been dumped from the shadow cabinet. One Turnbull supporter said yesterday the reshuffle had rewarded hardline Abbott supporters and punished Turnbull backers. Dr Stone's public outburst came on the same day deposed leader Malcolm Turnbull attacked in his blog Mr Abbott's stance on climate change, suggesting the Coalition's internal bickering was far from over.

Nevertheless, Dr Stone, who has accepted a position as the Coalition's spokeswoman for women, youth and early childhood, pledged to work with her successor, as well as Mr Abbott, her ideological opposite. She said she would bring considerable experience to her new role. "I'm well known for championing the rights of women, particularly in the area of reproductive health and also indigenous, rural and migrant women," she said.

Dr Stone fired a warning shot over the new Opposition Leader's bow, saying it was essential the Coalition did not fall back on the hardline policies of the past. "It will be essential that the moderates that remain in the party continue to steer through the middle ground, ensuring that the real grassroots of the party continues to build in multicultural communities," Dr Stone said. "After all, we were the party that abolished the White Australia policy with Harold Holt in 1966."

Dr Stone's remarks came as authorities on Christmas Island prepared to process a boatload of 40 people intercepted on Sunday night -- the 51st boat to arrive this year. All told, the boats have ferried 2353 passengers and 115 crew to Australia's shores, bringing to 2468 the number of unauthorised arrivals by boat this year. More than half of those people, 1286, remain in immigration detention on Christmas Island.

Refugee Council of Australia chief executive Paul Power criticised the system of offshore processing, saying it made more sense to manage asylum-seekers on the mainland. "Years of strident political debate has lead to a situation where decisions are made to minimise political embarrassment to a government," Mr Power said. "Both major parties have done that."


Some stupid comments on the monarchy

By Barry Everingham -- "a Melbourne writer and commenter on royalty". All he has is hostility. He doesn't even know the difference between Sandringham and Balmoral. Sandringham is in Norfolk, not Scotland

Dear oh dear – the Queen of Australia and her other realms and territories beyond the seas – is very angry. She’s sick and tired of the paparazzi lurking behind the clipped hedges at Sandringham – her multi million pounds holiday house in Scotland – taking pictures of the rollicking royals on their Christmas break. Privacy? What privacy?Privacy? What privacy?

So angry is the Australian head of state, she’s threatening to invoke laws if any of the snappers are caught in the royal grounds – there’s nothing she can do if they stay outside the castle’s fences so the guess is ladders will be the orders of the day.

What the Queen fails to understand is that she, along with the other members of her family are nothing more or nothing less than paid public servants. They get their fortnightly cheques from Whitehall – which are taxed these days – and they go about doing what they are paid to do: open; open fetes, cut ribbons, launch ships and other important day to day duties....

More HERE, if you want to read drivel.

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