18 April 2012

The Climate Fix Lecture - With Slides

Thanks to a very helpful reader (Thanks Richard!) and the ANU Crawford School, the video of my recent lecture in Canberra now has the powerpoint slides integrated. It is above, Enjoy!


  1. Excellent lecture.

    Do you have any views on Mexico's recent emissions legislation?

  2. I finally had the time to watch your lecrure Roger. It was time well spent and you have led me to reassess if a climate fix is possible. Your contrast of the small thinking actions of Plane Stupid when compared to the 100+ runways being constructed in China has got me thinking that the notion that every little bit helps is the real enemy of progress towards a solution to the root problem. Small minded thinking steeped in ideological/political self interest and the need for self-preservation, no matter how foolish and wasteful, will prevent us from focusing on any comprehensive solution that actually addresses root problems.

  3. Roger,

    Thank you for this lecture, it’s a breath of fresh air in what I feel is an increasingly putrid political atmosphere with regards to climate change in Australia (no lame puns intended).

    For example, just a few days ago, the ABC here devoted 2 hours of airtime (a 1 hour documentary followed by a 1 hour talk show discussion) to a tiresome ‘debate’ between a climate-believer and climate-sceptic (called “Can I change your mind about climate?” http://www.abc.net.au/tv/changeyourmind/), with all of the predictable and useless shenanigans resulting. Thankfully, your lecture undermines the pure silliness of such a question in the space of a few seconds. If only all of the people who wasted those 2 hours could’ve watched your 1 hour lecture instead!

    Your refreshingly straightforward use of measuring sticks got me thinking about how the issue of decarbonising the economy is communicated by some people in Australia. It occurred to me that there may well be people smart enough to comprehend the enormous engineering scale of the challenge, but have found clever ways to disguise its magnitude by saying, for example, that Australia could decarbonise its economy by simply building a big 50km x 50km solar panel. Considering the enormous arid, sunny expanses of Australia, this figure can actually come across as underwhelming (!), as mentioned in this government report by ABARES (the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics) – http://adl.brs.gov.au/data/warehouse/pe_aera_d9aae_002/aeraCh_10.pdf (part 10.3.1, page 268), and in this presentation by a Melbourne urban planner, Rob Adams, who is talking about future energy use in Australia (though he misquotes the 50km x 50km, i.e. 2500 sq. km figure as 50 sq. km) - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZYJpdH-VGwc (15:44 in).

    I did some simple maths from your presentation, which I think produces a comparable figure to the one mentioned in the ABARES report and Adams' presentation (assuming that each Cloncurry solar farm is roughly a hectare, 100m x 100m, in area – though this may well be an underestimate):

    25% decarbonisation = 50 776 solar farms

    100% decarbonisation = 203 104 solar farms = 450 x 450 solar farms approx.

    (450 solar farms x 100m) x (450 solar farms x 100m) = 45km x 45km (rounded up to 50km x 50km)

    Undoubtedly, it is more appealing to say that Australia’s carbon-free future lies in building one big 50km x 50km solar panel somewhere in the middle of the desert, rather than saying that Australia’s carbon-free future lies in building more than 200 000 solar farms. This is similar to the example you give of the hard imagery of dozens of nuclear plants versus the soft imagery of clean, green initiatives in the UK – a case of same difference.

    Do you think this communication barrier can ever be overcome, when it seems that communicators themselves have figured out ways to massage the use of measuring sticks to make their messages more palatable? Or are we doomed to be stuck in a situation where hard, objective realities are obfuscated by people projecting their own mentally pleasing imagery onto them? I think it's a fascinating question that goes to the heart of the efficacy of political communication.


  4. Roger, this was a really terrific talk. You dealt with the subject in a rational, objective and dispassionate way. And your conclusions are very powerful.

    I'm a catastrophe skeptic (more precisely, I believe the best evidence supports a equilibrium climate sensitivity of between 1 and 2K) however, I very much believe that we need to find cheap, clean and abundant alternatives to fossil fuels.

    One area where I disagree with you is in the wisdom of using governments to orchestrate direct economic transfers as a way of funding green tech research (through carbon taxes or other means).

    Governments are, at best, inefficient investors. As a academic, I imagine you will take umbrage to the following comment -- but very few commercially successful technologies have come from government research. Government research is good at projects where cost is no concern and commercial success is not a factor: moon landing, the atom bomb, etc. But you would be hard pressed to find an example where government research produced a product that was economically cheaper at scale than what the private sector could acomplish. (the Internet started as a government research project and produced a basic light-weigh network protocol, but it was private innovators who build the software and network hardware necessary to make the internet scale cost efficiently). And frankly I worry that the politicians would simply use the money to buy votes (Ethanol subsidies) or to pay back big campaign donors (Solyndra).

    Why not leave the money in the private economy and have the government create investment incentives around clean tech? This would be vastly more efficient and much more probable to produce the desired outcome. For example, if you were to eliminate capital gains tax for qualified green tech investments or provide an up-front investment tax credit, vast sums of private money would flow into those investments.

  5. Fear-based policies promoted by the UN's IPCC, the UK's Royal Society, and the US National Academy of Sciences threaten the very survival of mankind.

    We need leaders like Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, who bravely seized the moment and used the natural creativity of humans to confront the Sputnik threat in 1957 with the Apollo landing on the Moon in 1969!

    Read the Royal Society's latest report on "People and the Planet":


    "An Open Letter to World Leaders, Editors and Publishers":


  6. Roger

    I've just got around to viewing this, so many thanks.

    You make a very powerful case against current climate policies, especially that of my own country the UK.

    The bit that I find difficult in your position is this: if pursuing wildly ambitious carbon reduction targets is pointless, why is decarbonisation through technology, which is more realistic but necessarily slower-paced, any different from the every-little-helps approach? Aren't you in the same position as the Plane Stupid guys, making tiny gestures with no impact on the bigger picture?

    The one point on which I agree with the climate alarmists is that, if you accept their portrayal of the science, then you have to think big in policy terms. So arresting economic progress, forceably controlling population growth, suspending democracy and all the rest of their wish list can start to look justified.

    Or you reject their scientific claims and get on with some real problems, including real environmental problems.

    The worst of all worlds, though, is to decide to tackle AGW and then to take only half-measures.

    Investing in innovation can of course be justified on other grounds, as a no-regrets policy. But that is a different rationale altogether.