Another round of climate letters in Crikey. In response to a piece by Bernard Keane, one of Crikey’s staff writers, this letter from Tamas Calderwood (a vocal climate denier) appeared on 29 September 2010:

Bernard Keane equates “people who believe in man-made climate change and support a carbon price” with being “rational and economically-literate”, implying sceptics are irrational and economic dunces.

Well, thanks Bernard. In any case, applying my irrational and economically-illiterate super-powers to the problem, I started with the IPCC’s worst-case AR4-A1F1 warming scenario of 4C by 2100 (anyone seen any sign of that lately, by the way?… but I digress). I also assumed Australia to be a world leader in reducing emissions from 1.5% of humanity’s share of CO2 to 1% over that time and that this would have a linear impact on temperatures (even though CO2 has a logarithmic decay in energy absorption).

Let’s say this planet-saving tax works its magic by raising only ten billion dollars a year and assume zero inflation. So for just 900 billion bucks Australian taxpayers will reduce global temperatures in 2100 by?—?wait for it?—?0.02C.

Put another way, that’s just $45 trillion per degree Celsius of cooling. What a bargain.

In reply, I sent this, which appeared in the 1 October edition:

Tamas Calderwood (Wednesday, comments) takes exception to the idea that “sceptics are irrational and economic dunces”, but then dives straight in to a truly dire piece of numerical mangling that even he should be ashamed of.

Casting aside all the actual economic modelling of the effects of a carbon price, Tamas pulls from some orifice or other the idea that a carbon price worth $10b per year would not result in any actual reduction in Australian emissions, but that they would triple. He does this by using the sleight-of-hand that Australia’s share of global emissions might drop by the end of the century — but in the context of the IPCC’s worst case scenario, which is that emissions grow by roughly 400%. In this la-la-land scenario, every other country on the planet completely fails to get off the worst-case-scenario path of quadrupling emissions … and so, duh, there’s not a whole lot of cooling going on.

Tamas then distorts things even further by presenting a price on carbon as if it were purely and simply a cost to the economy, like, say, income tax is to the family budget. In reality, it’s a transfer from high-carbon sectors to low-carbon sectors: some parts of the economy benefit directly, some parts of the economy need to change how they operate, and indeed most economic analysis of this has underlined that early action is much more efficient and economically beneficial than significantly delayed action.

So-called climate “sceptics” (usually the utterly credulous) are fond of saying that reducing Australia’s emissions without the rest of the world is pointless — and, in terms of absolute global emissions, that’s obvious. Equally obvious is that if every country waits for every other country to act first, it just produces a tragedy-of-the-commons result. All (or most) nations will end up having to work together on this, no doubt about it; and a crucial component of building this kind of agreement is that rich, highly polluting societies like Australia take visible strong action on emissions: taking responsibility for cleaning up our act.