18 July 2011

Carbon tax pitch misses the mark: it’s the climate, stupid!

First published in Crikey, 18 July 2011

by David Spratt

Can you sell people an answer, when they’re not sure of the question?

The carbon tax TV campaign confirms the government’s strategy of framing the case largely in economic terms: a "clean energy future" for investment and jobs and innovation, building Australia for the 21st century. Long gone are the days of the "great moral challenge" of our time.

The "Say yes" campaign by civil society groups exhibits the same economism: "Saying yes to a price on pollution means saying yes to investment, innovation, and new jobs based on renewable energy ... Putting a price on pollution will ... protect jobs, drive innovation in adaptation and clean energy projects and technologies ..."

The problem is that barely half the population believes climate change is real and human caused; fewer support the tax. And much of that opinion is soft: it’s one of many concerns.

10 July 2011

Carbon price a historic step forward, but political compromise triumphs over scientific necessity

Check out: Carbon tax at a glance on Crikey

It is a historic step forward for Australia to be finally taking action to price carbon. The time for talking is over as the damaging impacts of global warming become ever more apparent. By acting to reduce emissions, the politics of delay and denial will become a historic relic.

The very existence of the legislation is due to the constant pressure and untiring work of thousands of individuals and groups in the climate movement across Australia. These people have kept the issue of climate change -- the greatest threat yet to our species -- alive in the face of powerful vested interests who deny both the science of climate change and the case for action. This is a very significant victory for Australian civil society.

However the long delay in acting makes our challenge today bigger and more urgent than ever. The aspirations of the carbon pricing scheme are low in comparison with what the science community tells us we need to do to avoid great damage to Australia's economy, our environment, and the way we live.

25 June 2011

How not to engage the community: the politics of 5 June

by David Spratt and John Rice

On Sunday 5 June, a set of coordinated public rallies in support of climate action, and particularly a carbon tax, under the banner “Say Yes....”, were held in capital cities around Australia.

For many people, including climate activists, they were a disconcerting experience, in which the community was effectively taken out of these events, reduced to little more than extras providing a staged backdrop for an inordinately expensive media stunt, led by GetUp.

The events may have been public, but they had nought to do with community organising and empowerment. In many ways, they were its negation.

14 June 2011

“Most of Australia” can expect extreme temperatures of more than 50 degrees by end of century

Climate change is making our planet hotter and wetter on average, but also drier in some places including southern Australia, and with more extreme events as the total amount of energy in the climate system increases.

So how hot will hot be? One answer comes from Andreas Sterl and 10 colleagues from the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at Utrecht University. In “When can we expect extremely high surface temperatures?”, they ask how extreme would temperatures be at end of this century if the global average temperature were to increase by 3.5C by 2100 compared to 2000 (based on the IPCC scenario known as A1B).

08 June 2011

Australian government deliberately underestimating risks from rising sea levels

First published in Crikey, 8 June 2011

Last weekend, the Australian government released the latest in a series of reports documenting the possible impacts of climate-change-induced sea-level rises (SLRs) on Australia.

It found a "worst-case scenario sea level rise of 1.1 metres" within 90 years would have a devastating impact, with as much as $266 billion worth of potential damage and loss to buildings and infrastructure.

This upper bound of 1.1 metres is used consistently by government. Inundation maps use three simple sea-level rise scenarios for the period about the year 2100: low (0.5m), medium (0.8m) and high (1.1m).

The big problem is that 1.1 metres is the wrong figure by a wide margin, with serious implications for the efficacy of the risk management and planning such research should underpin.

03 June 2011

'Direct Action' could reward polluters rather than discourage

First published in Crikey, 3 June 2011

Without any mechanism to discourage additional carbon emissions, the Coalition’s "direct action" climate plan may perversely reward them.

The Coalition plan proposes cash rewards for actions to "support 140 million tonnes of abatement per annum by 2020 to meet our 5% target", at a cost to taxpayers said to be $3.2 billion over the first four years. (The government now assesses that abatement task at 160 metric tonnes, for the meagre 5% goal of both major parties -- which stands in sharp contrast to the carbon budget approach advocated in the recent Climate Commission report.)

The Coalition plan does not discourage additional pollution, whether from new industrial investment or increased energy use accompanying population growth and increased household consumption. At $25 a tonne, the plan’s budget for 2012-13 would buy 20 million tonnes of abatement. Economic growth of 4% would be enough to nullify most of that.

24 May 2011

Commission's call for carbon budget beyond political belief

David Spratt

First published in Crikey, 23 May 2011

The Critical Decade report released today by the Climate Commission calls for a "fresh approach" to setting emission reduction targets, in particular by using a global "carbon budget".

But what does that mean for Australia? The answer, grounded in peer-reviewed science, is beyond political belief.

The "carbon budget" approach was first outlined in early 2009, and described in "Humanity's carbon budget set at one trillion tonnes" and "How The '2 Degrees Celsius Target' Can Be Reached".

Two peer-reviewed articles asked the question: how many more tonnes of carbon can humans pour into the air until 2050 before a 2-degree temperature increase is the result? A commentary by both sets of authors was published in "Nature" as "The exit strategy".

14 April 2011



Hot pink climate no laughing matter

First published in Crikey on 13 April 2011

by David Spratt

Do climate scientists have a sense of humour? In the case of James Hansen, head of the Goddard Institute for Space Science (GISS) at NASA, and perhaps the world’s best known climate researcher, the answer appears to be yes.

Hansen’s team regularly publish global maps of temperature changes, and in the most recent the warming in the Arctic was sufficient to run off the existing colour-graded scale. Needing to add a tone, their choice of colour was hot pink.

26 March 2011

Where are we headed?

Climate Interactive Scoreboard

How much will our climate warm with the current levels of commitment to action by governments? The scoreboard from Climate Interactive tracks all the firm mitigation commitments from governments around the world, and then compares the result with both "business as usual" (no action) and a 1.5C goal.

The result - around 4 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100 - is:
* analysed in our post Where are we headed? and
* in more detail in the Climate Centre primer "4 degrees hotter".
Also check What would 3 degrees mean?

13 March 2011

The Long View: communicating the science honestly

First published in Crikey on 9 March 2011

It’s the Gillard versus Abbott drawcard event. The debate over carbon price legislation is a decisive battle in Australia’s climate policy war. Lines have been drawn; only one contestant will survive.

If Labor goes down, so do the prospects of further action. The Greens would be badly battered and Australia would remain a polluters’ paradise. But if legislation establishes an effective carbon price relatively free of rorts, all will be well. Or will it?

Given the centrality of scientific research to understanding the impacts of global warning, and Australians’ recent experience of extreme weather events, it is startling that this debate has been cast almost exclusively in economic terms.

For the major players, including environment NGOs, it’s about a big new tax or pricing pollution, utility prices and compensation, employment impacts and clean jobs, investment and business certainty. Reduced to a slanging match between Tea Party Tony fanning fear about power bills, and the government rationalising that a carbon price will bring investment certainty to the electricity sector and keep bills lower, Abbott will likely win. It suits a Coalition wanting to avoid focus on the science of global warming, on which there is sharp disagreement within both conservative parties.

13 February 2011

4 degrees hotter: an adaptation trap?

"Can, and how would, we live in a world 4 degrees Celsius warmer?" is no longer an abstract question, but one that has become the subject of debate in scientific circles, and now in the community.
Global political failure to reach agreement on greenhouse gas reduction measures in accord with the scientific imperatives will result in 4 degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100, if only the present levels of commitments by nations are achieved.

But is talk of, and planning for, adaptation to a 4-degree warmer world realistic, or delusional?

01 February 2011


Beyond the carbon price, a Faustian bargain, Crikey, 6 February 2012
Carbon tax pitch misses the mark: it’s the climate, stupid, Crikey 18 July 2011
‘Most of Australia’ can expect more than 50 degrees by end of century, Crikey 15 July 2011
Risky business in planning for rising sea levels Crikey, 8 June 2011
'Direct Action' could reward polluters rather than discourage
Crikey, 3 June 2011 Commission's call for carbon budget beyond political belief Crikey, 23 May 2011
Hot pink no laughing matter Crikey, 13 April 2011
The Long View: communicating the science honestly Crikey, 9 March 2011
NASA climate chief: Labor’s targets a ‘recipe for disaster’ Crikey, 27 January 2011
Emergency response needed for more than floods Crikey, 19 January 2011
The Long Road To Copenhagen New Matilda, 26 November 2009 
Copenhagen reality check #1: 25% by 2020 isn’t in the ball park Crikey, 9 November 2009
Please Adjust Your Expectations New Matilda, 3 November 2009
Illusions on the edge of a precipice The Age, 19 October 2009
Punting on coal is a loser, but try telling the government The Age, 10 September 2009

Why the climate catastrophe leaves no room for pragmatism Overland Winter 2009

Plan B: Ditch carbon trading and get ready to spend The National Interest, 8 May 2009
Suicidal Sweethearts New Matilda 5 May 2009
Warming gets cold shoulder from Canberra The Age, 29 January 2009
Bubbling our way to the apocalypse Rolling Stone (Aust), November 2008

This is an emergency! Speech to Adelaide public meeting, 10 October 2008
Middle of the road ... towards a cliff The Age, 8 August 2008
In the end, climate is not an economic question On Line Opinion, 8 July 2008
The perils of playing nice New Matilda, 4 July 2008
Not enough time to turn back the climate clock Adelaide Advertiser, 3 July 2008

After Garnaut, the big questions will remain unanswered ABC Opinion, 2 July 2008
Coming clean on ‘nice’ coal Crikey, 16 April 2008
Courting Tiger, like air travel itself, is unsustainable The Age, 17 March 2007

23 January 2011

Rethinking a "safe climate": have we already gone too far?

It is hard to argue that anything above the Holocene maximum (of around 0.5 degrees above the pre-industrial temperature) can preserve a safe climate, and that we have already gone too far.  The notion that 1.5C is a safe target is out the window, and even 1 degree looks like an unacceptably high risk.
  • NASA climate chief James Hansen says:
  • At current temperatures, no "cushion" left to avoid dangerous climate change
  • "... even small global warming above the level of the Holocene begins to generate a disproportionate warming on the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets."
by David Spratt, 23 January 2011

As global temperatures rise to be 0.8 degrees Celsius warmer than the pre-industrial level, is the planet already entering a zone of dangerous climate change?

With Arctic sea-ice in a "death spiral", Greenland in 2010 melting at an unprecedented rate, a seemingly extraordinary number of extreme climate events in the last year from the Russian fires to the Pakistan floods, and 18 countries setting new temperature records, have we already gone too far for a safe climate?

19 January 2011

Emergency response needed for more than floods

First published in Crikey on 19 January 2011.

With the military on the job and perhaps the post-1945 Marshall Plan on her mind, Queensland premier Anna Bligh has designated recovery from the floods “a reconstruction task of postwar proportions.”

The words are deliberate: ‘”I want people to understand how big it is, and how long it might take,” because the machinery of government needs to be reshaped. The premier goes on to “hope and pray that mother nature is leaving us alone to get on with the job of cleaning up and recovering from this event”.

Yes, but … we also need to leave Mother Nature alone, and stop loading the atmosphere with carbon emissions, so that more extreme climate events which are part-and-parcel of a warming planet do not tumble down upon us with increasing frequency, as they have around the globe in the last year.

That will require action and a commitment of resources at a scale far beyond the failures that have so far constituted Australia’s climate policy.

01 January 2011

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21 December 2011


Our climate:
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4 degrees hotter:
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A carbon tax...
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High Stakes: Climate Change, the Himalayas, Asia and Australia

A collection of provocative ideas and proposals for the 2010 Australian Climate Action Summit

The permafrost: Bubbling our way to the apocalypse

A collection of articles and ideas for the 2009 Australian Climate Action Summit

The October 2007 look at the Arctic story, which triggered the writing of "Climate Code Red".

"Climate Code Red"
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A primer on sea-level rise