Reading opinion columns from Australian prime minister Tony Abbott’s top business adviser Maurice Newman reminds me of those fairground whack-a-mole games.
You smash those cartoonish mammals over their fibreglass heads with a big rubber hammer as they emerge from little round holes, yet these little subterranean mammals never know they’re beat and just come up with the same grin somewhere else.
In this climate denialist version of whack-a-mole, the mammal is replaced with Newman’s upper torso clutching the latest truthy climate factoid he has plucked indiscriminately from the intertubes.
Just like at the fairground, when you whack-a-Maurice, he just keeps popping up with another myth.
The latest version of whack-a-Maurice comes in his new opinion column in The Australian newspaper, headlined “Inconvenient truths ignored by the climate propaganda machine”.
In the article, Newman attacks renewable energy, the IPCC, Australian Greens leader Christine Milne and climate science in general while telling us that coal is cheap and reliable and that we should put our self-interest in selling that coal above all else.
Newman misrepresents the latest IPCC study, misquotes experts, pushes debunked studies, claims the Scottish Government commissioned a report that it likely never actually commissioned and rounds off by putting his faith in an internet poll that was gamed by climate sceptics.
So join me for a game of Whack-a-Maurice®.
In the article, Newman starts with three statements about energy prices and how renewable energy projects apparently “destroy jobs” and have been terribly bad news for places that have embraced progressive policies to encourage renewable energy.
Clearly [Greens Leader Christine] Milne is unaware of the cost to California, Europe and Britain of their ultra green embrace.
The Golden State’s energy prices are 40 per cent above the US national average, plunging its manufacturing and agricultural regions into depression, with one in five living in poverty.
OK. While it’s true that Californians do have comparatively expensive electricity costs, they actually have among the lowest average electricity bills across the whole of the United States.
This appears due to a combination of the state’s mild climate and its aggressive energy efficiency scheme.
California does have a renewable energy target – recently expanded to push the state to get 33 per cent of its power from renewables by 2020.
The Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory in the US has studied the impact of renewable target schemes (known there as Renewable Portfolio Standards) in place across the US.
The 2007 Berkeley study (carried out before California upped its target) found these RPS schemes added an average of about 38c per month (about one quarter the cost of one take away coffee) to electricity bills. California’s scheme was among those having the lowest impact on bills.
In 2012, Californian’s had an electricity bill of about $87 per month.
Apparently, in Newman’s razor sharp climate policy mind, it is imposts like a 38c per month rise in electricity prices that is “plunging” the state’s agriculture industry into depression, rather than, say, one of California’s worst droughts in living memory.
So now to Spain. Newman writes:
Researchers at Spain’s King Juan Carlos University have found renewable energy programs destroyed 2.2 jobs for every green one created.
Newman is referring to a report titled: “Study of the effects on employment of public aid to renewable energy sources” that was published in 2009 and written by Gabriel Calzada Alvarez.
Alvarez is an associate professor at King Juan Carlos University, but Newman doesn’t mention that the study was actually co-commissioned by the “libertarian” think tank The Instituto Juan de Maria that Alvarez founded.
Alvarez has also presented at a Heartland Institute climate conference for “sceptics” and his institute has been a sponsor of one of those conferences.
Who were the other commissioning group?
This was the Institute for Energy Research, a US-based thinktank with strong links to the US Koch brothers, whose foundations have given about $175,000 to the think tank and funnelled millions into anti-climate action projects at similar think tanks. The IER recently claimed Alvarez’s study as its own.
But was the study any good?
The US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratorytook a studied look at it and, to put it mildly, tore the thing to bits. Here’s some of the choice parts of their critique
The analysis by the authors from King Juan Carlos University represents a significant divergence from traditional methodologies used to estimate employment impacts from renewable energy. In fact, the methodology does not reflect an employment impact analysis. Accordingly, the primary conclusion made by the authors – policy support of renewable energy results in net jobs losses – is not supported by their work …
Additionally, this analysis has oversimplifications and assumptions that lead to questions regarding its quantitative results. Finally, the authors fail to justify their implication that because of the jobs comparison, subsidies for renewables are not worthwhile. This ignores an array of benefits besides employment creation that flow from government investment in renewable energy technologies.
The Alvarez study came in for similar harsh criticism in Spain, as noted here on a blog from the US Natural Resources Defense Council.
And so now to whack-a-Maurice in Scotland. Newman writes:
A study by Verso Economics commissioned by the Scottish government concluded that for every job in the wind industry, 3.7 jobs were lost elsewhere.
Verso Economics? Commissioned by the Scottish government? Sounds impressive.
Indeed, when the report was published in March 2011, it was given extensive coverage in Scotland. And what did the Scottish government make of the study? A BBC report tells us the government’s view.
This report is misleading.
Does it seem odd that the Scottish government should condemn it’s own report?
Perhaps one reason is that there appears to be no evidence that the Scottish government actually commissioned the report that Maurice Newman says it commissioned (I have asked the author, an economist called Richard Marsh, for clarification, but the report itself makes no mention of a commission from the Government and, when Marsh gave evidence to a Scottish parliamentary committee the following year in relation to the report, he didn’t mention a government commission then either).
Verso Economics appears to have been a very small firm with only two employees, Marsh being one of them. This doesn’t necessarily make the arguments wrong, but it is curious that Newman would choose to use the name of a tiny consultancy once based in Kirkaldy that no loner exists (Marsh is now at another firm).
Where’s the next mole?
Newman has a crack at former Australian chief scientist Penny Sackett who, according to Newman, had said in 2009 we had only five years to avoid “dangerous global warming”.
Plainly if you read Sackett’s words from 2009, she was talking about a time frame to start radically reducing emissions to prevent “dangerous global warming” down the track and not, as Newman implies, a time by which we should all be frying in our own juices.
Equally, Newman brings up the bête noire of all Australian climate science denialists, Tim Flannery. Newman writes:
When climate commissioner Tim Flannery said that “even the rain that falls isn’t actually going to fill our dams and river systems”, it was sobering, but soon we were donating to flood victims and -suspected he’d dreamt it up to scare us.
Again, Newman ignores the fact that Flannery was not talking about the present, but referring to a time decades into the future if emissions remained on their current path.
Whack. Next mole?
Whacking the IPCC
Newman claims that “temperatures have gone nowhere for 18 years” while ignoring that in those 18 years the world has experienced the hottest decade on record. According to the World Meteorological Organisation, 13 of the 14 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2000.
If Newman thinks warming has stopped, why is it that between 2002 and 2011, the two main ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland were melting at a rate of about 362 billion tonnes of ice a year – an almost six-fold increase in the rate for the previous decade?
Newman keeps popping up like our proverbial mole with a litany of myths.
He says the recent IPCC Synthesis Report “fails to mention” that the extent of Antarctic sea ice is the highest since records began.
The reason it fails to mention this, is that the record was broken well after the underlying reports were finished.
But yet, the Synthesis Report does mention the increase in Antarctic sea ice extent (read my post What’s going on with global warming and Antarctica’s growing sea ice? for more on this).
In painting the bleakest picture they can, IPCC authors have projected CO2 levels reaching 1000 parts per million in 2100, largely through coal combustion…
Newman wants us to think that the IPCC authors are a bunch of doom merchants, and so ignores the fact that the IPCC report makes a range of projections for the future concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
As well as the admittedly “bleak” scenario of CO2 levels reaching 1000 parts per million in the atmosphere by the end of this century (delivering something like 4C of global warming), the report also projects CO2 levels at 720ppm, 580ppm, 530ppm and 480ppm.
Newman would have struggled to have missed this, given they all appear on the same chart.
We could go on an on whacking Maurice Newman’s climate denialist moles, and his column has several others, but at some point we have to stop.
Sciencey internet polls
But not before we dwell on Newman’s closing argument that 91 per cent of people think the IPCC is wrong that we’re heading for 4C of global warming.
I think you’ll agree that Newman’s source for this is beyond reproach. It’s one of those really sciencey internet polls carried out by the ABC.
So sciencey was the survey, that climate science denialist groups from Australia to the US were telling supporters to visit the poll.
This is when we have to remind ourselves that Maurice Newman is the chairman of prime minister Tony Abbott’s Business Advisory Council, handpicked by Abbott himself.
As Maurice Newman himself concluded, “Enough said”.