2011-03-28 23:51:25How would you answer this question from Andrew Bolt?
John Cook

Have a read through these 2 interviews where arch-skeptic Andrew Bolt tries to extract a sound byte about how expensive CO2 cuts will have infinitesimal effect:

BOLT: "How much will it cost to cut our emissions by the Government’s target of 5 per cent by 2020 and how much will world temperatures fall by as a consequence?"

My question - how would you answer this in a hostile interview, knowing he will persevere in needling you, making you look like you're dodging the question until you give him his sound byte?

2011-03-29 01:52:45



- I'm not well-informed on costs. It depends on how you want to do it. In all fairness, we should be talking about a shift to renewables, rather than a short-term shift from coal to gas.


- Temperature benefit by 2020 will be of course negligible, because we anyway have a lot of warming "stored up" for us.

- But the benefit has to be computed based on two alternative scenarios. I guess I would look at business-as-usual (BAU) vs. a reduction of 5% by 2020 and holding, in the time frames of 2100, 2200 and 2300.

- A third point: IF we can do 5% reduction by 2020, what is a reasonable guess of what we could accomplish beyond 2020? It might be worthwhile to bring in a further projection, to contrast with the BAU of 2100, 2200 and 2300.

2011-03-29 02:53:23answers
Dana Nuccitelli

I would say that the up-front capital costs will be significant, but manageable, and that economic studies have consistently shown that the benefits will exceed the costs several times over.  The impact on the average Australian family will also be small, on the order of $10 per month.

For how much the world temperature will fall, I'd respond with the Tragedy of the Commons.  As we've discussed, the temp change will be negligible from Australian emissions cuts alone, but the point is that we need all nations to cut their emissions, including the Aussies.

If Bolt kept hammering away for a number, as he did with Flannery, I would say the temperature change will be less than a tenth of a degree but every other country could make that same argument, and if everyone did, nobody would cut their emissions. 

You have to give a number or he'll just keep hammering, but I think the key is pointing out that ever country could make the same argument.

2011-03-29 03:22:33


Or turn it around: If Australia does it with new technology, why not assume that whatever Australia accomplishes, every advanced country accomplishes as well? THEN what's the impact?

2011-03-30 07:10:43What about turning it around?
John Cook


What about asking in response: "the more appropriate question is how much will temperatures go up if we do nothing about climate change? If we just continue business as usual, global temperatures will rise over 3 degrees Celsius by 2100 - and will continue to rise sharply into the next century. This would have a terrible impact on humanity - metres of sea level rise, increased drought, etc. So if you're arguing for business as usual, that's just not an option."

BTW, I'm quoting the A2 scenario from http://www.ipcc.ch/publications_and_data/ar4/wg1/en/spmsspm-projections-of.html

2011-03-30 07:53:59turned around
Dana Nuccitelli

If I'm Bolt (and thank goodness I'm not!), I respond to that by saying that even if Australia reduces emissions, global temperatures will still rise by over 3°C.  They key point is that all nations need to reduce emissions to result in a significant slowing of the warming trend.

2011-03-30 08:09:30
Andy S


You just might want to go on the offensive and ask him: how long it will take him to cast his vote in the next election and what's the probability that his vote will make a difference? If he can't provide numbers for either factor how can it be rational for him to vote? The point being that small gestures by individuals (or small countries) will have very small effects on large systems.

Anyone who gas ever given up a bad habit has fought the battle against the "one more ciggie won't make a difference" argument from your inner demon.

We don't just do things because they are immediately or measurably significant, but sometimes simply because they are right.

2011-03-30 08:20:18voting
Dana Nuccitelli

Good analogy with the voting, Andy.

2011-03-30 11:36:40Andy's suggestion is like the parable of the Starfish
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

Once upon a time there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing.  He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day he was walking along the shore.  As he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer.  He smiled to himself to think of someone who would dance to the day.  So he began to walk faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn't dancing, but instead he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer he called out, "Good morning! What are you doing?"

The young man paused, looked up and replied, "Throwing starfish in the ocean."

 "I guess I should have asked, why are you throwing starfish in the ocean?"

 "The sun is up and the tide is going out.  And if I don't throw them in they'll die."

 "But, young man, don't you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it.  You can't possibly make a difference!"

The young man listened politely.  Then bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves and said, "It made a difference for that one."

There is something very special in each and every one of us.  We have all been gifted with the ability to make a difference.  And if we can become aware of that gift, we gain through the strength of our visions the power to shape the future.

We must each find our starfish.  And if we throw our stars wisely and well, the world will be blessed.

So ask him if he's ever helped any starfish.