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Something Rotten in Denmark

A Difficult Problem

The issue of climate change and the social policies to deal with it is an area where science and politics and the global distribution of wealth have come into enormous conflict. Already it seems that the 15th Annual Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cophenhagen is struggling to generate a legal binding to extend the Kyoto Protocol.

Even basic discussion on the matter requires some knowledge of atmospheric physics, comparisons with paleoclimatological data, population and resource analysis and, in making practical decisions, economics and international relations. This review of core facts is pessimistic that the appropriate action will be taken, especially due to the politicisation of the science.

Global Warming: Real and Significant?

The Greenhouse Effect is a result of the process of absorption and emission of infrared radiation by greenhouse gases. The science behind this process was first discovered in 1824 and has been subject to rigorous testing. There is almost universal acceptance of the greenhouse effect, even among scientists who disagree that recent warming is attributable to human activity.

Greenhouse gases are both naturally occurring and the result of human activity. There is very significant variation in the contribution of the different greenhouse gases to global warming due to their atmospheric mixing. Water vapour is the most significant greenhouse gas, contributing somewhere between 36 to 70 percent of the total effect, followed by carbon dioxide, between 9 and 26 percent, methane, between 4 and 9 percent and ozone, between 3 and 7 percent.

Since the Industrial Revolution human activity has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide and methane. The current levels of these gases is now higher than at any time during the last 650,000 years, according to analysis from ice cores. Recent temperature changes are more significant than the medieval warm period of 1000 to 1200 CE, or the little ice age of 1500 to 1800 CE. It is also significant when compared to averaged temperature reconstructions over the past several thousand years.

The increase in the global warming since the start of the 20th century is roughly 0.74 degrees C, with most of that occurring in the last fifty years. In the past, variations in solar irradiation have been a significant contribution to climate change, however this is not considered to be the case in recent temperature changes. In part, global warming has been mitigated by 'global dimming', a reduced level of direct irradiance at the Earth's surface, due to pollutants and volcanoes.

Projections indicate an increase between 1.1 degrees and 6.4 degrees celsius. The variation occurs due to the different sensitivity of gas emissions and variation in future estimations of emissions. The latter includes population growth increases, with world population expected to reach ten billion by 2050 before stabilising.

Mainly due to the thermal inertia of oceans, even if greenhouse gase emissions were stabalised at 2000 levels, there will be still be a warming of 0.5 degrees C. There is a high possibility of positive feedback occuring at an increase of 2 degrees C due to additional evaporation and water vapour.

Emissions Trading and Carbon Taxation, and International Economics

In 2005, the average social cost of carbon emissions from 100 peer-reviewed estimates is US$12 per tonne of CO2, but with highly variable range; from between -$3 to $95/tCO2. An emissions tax is a proposed 'cap and trade' method. A value is assigned per ton of pollutants and excesses may be traded with those have not exceeded their limit. The use of an emissions trading scheme resulted in a thirty-five percent reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions in the United States after a twenty year period. Germany however, they have had a ninety percent reduction in fifteen years, due a policy of strict regulation of emissions.

Another option is a cabon tax method, which an arbitrary price is placed on tonne of emission, with no trading options. The benefit of the former over the latter is that in the former those who are well below their limit benefit, rather than just imposing punishment on those who emit. A major perceived disadvantage of a emissions trading scheme is that it leads itself to a derivatives market which, if not under strict regulatory control, can lead to extreme financial abuse.

The international distribution of wealth become an issue, with proposed carbon emissions per capita whereby poorer countries refer to the per capita emissions of the wealthy countries, whereas those concerned with high living standards in wealthy countries referring to absolute emissions of a country. Proposal of varying cap levels, regardless of what mechanism is used for limiting emissions, leads to significant disagreements.

Risk analysis suggests that there is a high level of probability that human activity is responsible for significant increases in global warming. The cost of that activity must be determined on the basis of expertise. Variation and flexibility must allow for modifications in valuation on the basis of new science as variation in emission contributions and social costs is variable. On this basis a carbon tax of $12 USD per tonne with monies being used for renewable energy infrastructure and carbon sinks is currently the most appropriate action.

Commenting on this Page will be automatically closed on February 13, 2010.


The Fourth Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in 2007, represents the latest set of predictions about climate change and its effects. This report includes specific predictions about climate change in Australia.

Below is a summary of some of the features of that report that apply to Australia.

• Sea level rises are expected to lead to flooding in coastal areas and significant loss of coastal properties and infrastructure.

• Some areas such as Queensland are likely to have increased rainfall, but other areas of Australia are expected to become drier, with more frequent and more prolonged droughts.

• There is expected to be significantly less water in river and dam systems in many habituated areas of Australia, including the Murray-Darling basin which is used to irrigate about 70% of Australian crops.

• Greater overall temperatures will significantly increase demands on resources such as water supplies and electricity (e.g., for air-conditioning).

• There will be a significant loss of plant and animal species, and the Great Barrier Reef is likely to experience regular coral bleaching.

• Extreme climatic events, floods and storm surges are very likely to occur more frequently, with increased damage for buildings, telecommunications, transport structures, energy services and water services.

Leaving behind us, for the moment, the people still mired in the denial and anger phases, what will all this quibbling over details achieve if we don't address more pressing problems with the basic function of our society?

What is the point of deciding exactly what actions are required to avert climatic disaster, if the structures we depend on to carry these actions out are incapable of doing so?

The concept of carbon trading is a distillation of our delusion, a succinct symbol of our expectation that we could somehow be saved by a continuation of the behaviours which led us here. Let's put aside the question of exactly how we quantify the damage done to the planet by various emissions, a problem as thorny as the measurement of IQ, say, even if we had a time machine to look back from 2100 to know precisely the extent of various feedback effects. No, we're told, the market can decide such messy details.

Well, it's done a bang up job so far, hasn't it? The market's sensitivity to long-term consequences is certainly, uh, remarkable. Tell me, what is the point of sticking a dollar value on a tonne of carbon in the air, if the currency we use to measure it is meaningless? Demystify the market - it's nothing more than the manifestation of our value systems. If most of us act like selfish, short-term-thinking arseholes, the market will reflect that. We can tell each other our behaviour creates all the value we like, but when reality refuses to cooperate, our money will be worthless.

Wake up. The current market structure is doing exactly what it was designed to - leading us docilely back into serfdom. The situation calls for something more than switching settings on the machine, something other than another rule reshuffle. We can't expect our nation states to manage it, they're owned now. It's not even enough to declare the US dollar valueless, say. We need the guts to cut through to real-world assets, declare all those title deeds null and void which were stolen by usury, fractional reserve banking and other such pyramid schemes. Until we reclaim our own production, how can we choose to carry it out sustainably?

Long before we can address the problem of climate, we'll have to figure out what we're going to do about energy. Before we can get access to that, social change is needed, and that'll take courage. If we don't feel in danger, we aren't being realistic. If it doesn't cost us anything, it isn't working.

The general proposal to internalise external costs into products seems to be legitimate in lieu of a lack of alternative proposals. The inability of this occurring in the past to do this has been due to the lack of concern of externalities, rather than a price mechanism as such. Assigning a particular value now does not change the possibility of that metric being altered in the future.

If we're not going to find a solution for greenhouse emissions through existing governing bodies and a price mechanism, I am certainly all ears for alternatives. Because they certainly are prone to corrupting influences and as a result, we can be justly cynical of the possibility of genuine outcomes. It is for that reason that a greenhouse tax is suggested here rather than an ETS. The latter, despite being framed with the right intentions, is certainly more prone to political influence due to a lack of transparency.

Lev, I agree that a tax would be more transparent than an ETS, and I agree with your points on externalities, but you're largely missing my point: Corporations are beyond the power of nation states now, and corporations are externalising machines, it's what they were designed to do. Even if we'd achieved a dream deal at Copenhagen, it would have as much chance of being implemented as the Kyoto protocol.

So your essential response is the "all ears for alternatives" bit, which doesn't sound all that different, to my ears, from "the system may be broken, but it's the best one we've got". The alternative system I recommend is no system. The "system" represents our desire to abdicate our responsibilities to some other entity. I view that system's impending failure as an opportunity to end our dependence on systems. The economy will be fair when individual transactions are fair. This thing's gotta happen from the ground up, volitionally. No grand plan will save us.

What the hell am I talking about? It's difficult to put into words, because it's actual expression, if it comes to pass, will be unpredictable, complex, diverse, contingent on local situations. This isn't about ideology - any global system faces the same problems inherent in the fabric of reality.

Again, what do I mean? Okay, think of God Games, like Populous, Civilisation et al. When you first begin, you have one little village of 20 critters, and you make sure every one of them has exactly what they need, and their production is optimised. By the time you have thousands of critters, you're sending them to die in waves, and you could care less if entire towns starve, because you've more important things to worry about. The problem is one of scale. The more distant the driving impulses become from the ground level, the less the interests of critters at that level are represented.

This is why we must not allow power to concentrate. Not because it is morally wrong or unfair or whatever, but because it doesn't work. It ceases to give us what we need or want. When we give up our personal power to the Machine, we put ourselves in the role of cattle, to be fed or culled as convenient. Our large scale culture needs, instead, to grow from the village level.

My LJ response to Strangedave on this subject, would also apply here. We ain't gonna get outta this mess by tweaking things. We'll survive by taking personal responsibility for radical social change.

It was some days after I responded to your post that I considered the views that you are putting here. That even if government's do fail, as they largely have in Copenhagen (thank you Brazil, India, China) that we, as individuals, can make changes ourselves.

However whilst we do have legal persons other than natural persons (e.g., institutions, corporations etc) they will also be polluters and the individuals who manage them will abdicate any personal responsibility. Thus the suggestion for a carbon/greenhouse tax redirected to renewable energies is legitimated on those grounds. The nominal figure of course can be changed as the seriousness increases or declines.

On a tangent I have recently been referred to the following by the UNSW Climate Change Research Centre. It provides an excellent summary of our current situation and shows that the predictions of the previous decade by the IPCC et al were, if anything, too conservative. (23 mb PDF)

The system does what it was designed to do. It's just that its stated aims don't match its actual aims. Pay attention to actions, not words. Junkies taught me that, the hard way, and our planet is being run by the biggest, most insecure junkies that ever existed.

You say you've considered the views I've put, then simply re-iterate your original position. So I, too, will restate my points, more pithily this time, to assist you in addressing them, should you make a third response.

1. Nation states don't represent us, never have.
2. The entities in power don't care about us or the environment.
3. To nullify the power of these entities, we'll need our society back.
4. Energy and its flow is the real issue here, not carbon.

I think it's mean to blame Brazil, India and China for the pissweak outcome of the summit. They're just the next gumbies in line to be allowed to acquire debt, to supplement their slavery with TV's, fridges and so on. For the most part, they haven't got their trinkets yet. Why should they take a hit when the people who already got theirs don't plan to?

Nations and their peoples weren't running this show anyways. All that happened in Copenhagen is that a resource got divided up, and that went down the same way it always does, colonial style. The atmosphere just got incorporated.

The Greens are attempting to break the political deadlock over emissions trading by suggesting an interim two-year scheme with a fixed price on carbon.

Greens Senator Christine Milne is writing to the Government and the Opposition proposing a carbon price of $20 a tonne.

More at

...and that should about wrap it up for 'cap and trade'

At first I thought that global warming was just a bunch of who ha, but you would have to be crazy not to notice the changes in temperature and our earth. I think that many companies are trying to take advantage of people and capitalize on this issue but I think there are some good things coming out of this. At least people are becoming more aware of this issue.

I have come to the conclusion that we all have a little blame global warming and its consequences and guilt even more politicians who do not slow down.