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The University of Sydney.

The Brisbane Institute.

Collaborative Editors

There is no need to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

  Photo of Ray Evans.

Human folly is a constant, so one should not be surprised that in every generation, some new and inexplicable manifestation of quite extraordinary folly should appear. Kyoto is, indeed, in a special class of human folly with so many agendas and so many interests in play, but all of them are based on a scientific nonsense, viz, that mankind, by reducing, or at the extreme abandoning, his consumption of fossil-fuel based energy, can control the world's climate.

The idea that man can control the climate, or at least the weather, is not a new one. Planting trees, ploughing the soil, performing secret and/or sacred ceremonies and dances, have been activities which men have carried out in the past because they believed that by doing these things, rain in particular would come, and the climate improved generally.

During the last century and a half, but particularly during the past 30 years, we have learned a great deal about the climatic history of the earth, particularly through the work of geologists and other earth scientists. We know that the climatic consequences of huge volcanic eruptions, and the impact of large meteorites striking the earth, have been devastating. We know that periodic perturbations in the planetary system have given us ice ages as well as inter-glacial periods, such as the beneficent climate we now enjoy. We know that changes in the sun's output radiation, both periodic and apparently random, have played an important role in influencing the earth's climate. We also know that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, regarded by the ABC as a 'pollutant', have in the past been 20 to 30 times what they are today, and that at that time the world was warm and wet, and covered in huge forests and other forms of vegetation.

But the problem for volcanoes, planetary perturbations, large earth-striking meteorites, and sudden changes in solar radiation as abrupt and potentially catastrophic drivers of climate change, is that we cannot feel guilty about them. They are beyond our control. But carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is something we can feel guilty about because we are, at least in some degree, responsible for the increases in CO2 concentrations that have been measured since WWII.

So in the past 15 years or so, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on atmospheric research and climate computer modelling. This activity has had, as its primary purpose, the demonstration that the wages of sin are death, albeit a slow death, through the warming of the planet. Although global warming might appear attractive to many, the requirement that death follows sin means that global warming has to generate plagues, droughts, pestilence, cyclones, heat- waves, desertification, species loss, and so on, ad infinitum. The causal chain is that mankind has, in order to live better and more comfortable lives, burnt carbon in the form of fossil fuels, and has thus interfered with nature. This is sinful and he must now assuage his guilt through abandoning the use of carbon, and accept with good grace and humble resignation a much lower standard of living. Any hint that nuclear energy might fill the void is treated as serious blasphemy.

There is, however, no evidence linking fossil fuel consumption to rising global temperatures. Indeed, since 1979, when satellites began measuring tropospheric temperatures every day, every night, and all over the planet, there is no evidence over the 22-year period of rising global temperatures. Zero. But our cultural and intellectual elites will not be comforted, and the ambition to de-carbonise our economy, and thus to return to a simpler, more Spartan lifestyle, has developed a momentum which would be comic if it were not so pregnant with tragedy.

We are dealing here with a religious phenomenon which is hard to explain in our secular world. But political and commercial elites around the world are quick to spot an opportunity to advance their interests. The Europeans, whose primary political purpose in life is the establishment of a new world order in which the US will be tied down, like Gulliver in Lilliput, by a myriad strings of international treaties and international law, has seen Kyoto as an opportunity to establish what President Chirac of France described as "a genuine instrument of global governance".

The US has wriggled out of that entrapment, but President Bush still feels it necessary to pay lip service to global warming and to spend huge amounts of money on further research. Our Environment Minister David Kemp keeps on telling us that we are going to meet the 108 per cent Kyoto target by 2012, and do so without pain. We are now at the 123 per cent mark, with a number of energy-intensive industries on the drawing board that offer investment, jobs and export income. If David Kemp is serious, at some point the Government will have to announce that a major project has been blackballed because of its CO2 emissions. In the meantime a number of potential natural gas projects are claiming that the CO2 which is stripped from the gas as it comes out of the well will be reinjected underground and thus will not contribute to our CO2 emission tally. The cost of this is never stated.

The renewable energy industry has emerged from underground in the hot pursuit of the rents which have been given statutory form in the Commonwealth's Renewable Electricity Act of 2000. The windmill industry in particular is planning many hundreds of these ugly, swishing, behemoths, many of them in pristine locations, where they will generate random electricity at a cost of somewhere between $100 - $175 per Mwhr. It is extraordinarily difficult to get authoritative figures on windmill electricity costs. The Danes have announced they can no longer afford any extension of their windmill industry. They claim 17 per cent of their power comes from windmills and their electricity prices are very high, even by European standards. The Californians are closing down their huge windmill facility in the Alte Monte Pass. One of the problems which the Environmentalists have in defending those particular windmills is that the bird-kill, particularly of endangered eagles, is a serious matter.

To legislate, as Australia has done, for the replacement of $30 per Mwhr energy from coal fired power stations, with arguably $150 per Mwhr energy from windmills has to be very high on any list of political folly. And to do so on the basis of a scientific nonsense gives it extra piquancy.

At some point, one hopes, our political leaders will be mugged by reality. In the meantime we will all be the poorer, which is, of course, precisely what the Greens have in mind for us.


Ray Evans is Secretary of the Lavoisier Group Inc.

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