News Corp climate change denial attacked by (checks notes) James Murdoch …

Written By: - Date published: 10:04 am, January 15th, 2020 - 116 comments
Categories: climate change, disaster, Environment, Media, science, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, uncategorized - Tags: , ,

As Australia continues to burn more and more attention is being paid to Rupert Murdoch and Newscorp and its actions in attacking responsible climate change abatement policies and enabling climate denying politicians.

News this week included the leaking of an email sent by a News Corp employee castigating the company for its activity in suppressing activity against climate change and in trying to divert blame for the Australian bushfires to arsonists, or Greenies, or anyone.  The employee was not someone involved in the preparation and presentation of news, but someone from the Finance Department.

The email was in response to an email from management detailing bush fire initiatives taken by News Corp.  Her response as recorded in the Guardian:

This does not offset the impact News Corp reporting has had over the last few weeks,” Townsend wrote. “I have been severely impacted by the coverage of News Corp publications in relation to the fires, in particular the misinformation campaign that has tried to divert attention away from the real issue which is climate change to rather focus on arson (including misrepresenting facts).

“I find it unconscionable to continue working for this company, knowing I am contributing to the spread of climate change denial and lies. The reporting I have witnessed in the Australian, the Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun is not only irresponsible, but dangerous and damaging to our communities and beautiful planet that needs us more than ever now to acknowledge the destruction we have caused and start doing something about it.”

The email landed in the inbox of all News Corp staff, and was leaked to the Guardian by multiple sources, but not Townsend herself.

And this was News Corp’s response:

[Executive chairman Michael Miller] issued a statement on Friday afternoon saying Townsend had resigned in December and was due to leave the company shortly. Miller said News Corp did not “deny climate change or the gravity of its threat”.

“However, we – as is the traditional role of a publisher – do report a variety of views and opinions on this issue and many others that are important in the public discourse on the fires,” he said.

He said he respected Townsend’s right to hold her views but “we do not agree with them”.

The response was treated by ridicule. John Birmingham in the Brisbane Times had perhaps the most acerbic response excluding those dominated by expletives. He said this:

We in the news media, or what’s left of it, cannot simply treat climate-change denial as we would disagreements over tax or health policy.

Even serious and violent disagreements over social and economic policies can still be legitimate differences.

But there is nothing legitimate about climate change denial. It has the backing of a trillion-dollar industry sector, but no actual credibility.

There are no experts to hear from. No counterpoints to be made.

It is all lies in the service of profit and power.

One day it will probably be a crime.

Until then, however, those of us who work in the media need to take a hard look at our practices and ask ourselves whether we are really serving our audience.

False equivalence will kill us all.

There was also Ketan Joshi’s twitter thread which was similar but has swearing.  Follow this tweet for the thread:

But the most surprising and most newsworthy response came from Rupert Murdoch’s son, James Murdoch.  From Lachlan Cartwright at the Daily Beast:

Rupert Murdoch’s younger son and his wife issued a rare public rebuke of the family’s media empire and its promotion of climate-change skeptics during Australia’s bushfire crisis.

In a long-simmering rift between factions of the Murdoch family over climate change, Rupert’s younger son, James, and his activist wife, Kathryn, are attacking the climate denialism promoted by News Corporation, the global media group, and also by the Fox News Channel overseen by James’ older brother, Lachlan.

“Kathryn and James’ views on climate are well established and their frustration with some of the News Corp and Fox coverage of the topic is also well known,” a spokesperson for the couple exclusively told The Daily Beast as wildfires rage in Australia.

“They are particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence to the contrary.”

The extraordinary public rebuke from Kathryn and James—who is the CEO of Lupa Systems, a private investment company he founded—comes as Australia has been ravaged by the worst fires seen in decades. The blazes have claimed 27 lives and destroyed thousands of properties across multiple states, with an estimated 1 billion animals feared dead. News Corp Australia dominates the country’s media landscape, publishing more than 140 newspapers and employing 3,000 journalists in print, broadcast, and online.

James is on the board of News Corp.  Oh to be a fly on the wall of the next Board meeting.

But as Australia continues to burn we need to become more forthright and staunch in our opposition to corporate climate change denial. Right now they are one of the biggest problems that we face.

116 comments on “News Corp climate change denial attacked by (checks notes) James Murdoch … ”

  1. Ross 1

    Mickey

    I doubt that the biggest emitters – China, US, India, Russia and Japan – will be terribly concerned about what the media in Australia is saying and doing. Indeed whatever action Australia and other small countries take will effectively subsidise the inaction of the largest emitters. In other words we could see the smaller nations spend vast sums of money which is likely to have little or no effect on climate change. That’s the biggest issue.

    • mickysavage 1.1

      Australia is one of the biggest emitters. Particularly right now.

      • Ross 1.1.1

        We will agree to disagree on that with Aussie contributing just over 1% of global emissions. But again that misses the point of the biggest emitters not doing their share, and the smaller emitters spending big to achieve little.

        • mickysavage 1.1.1.1

          Per head of population Australia is one of the biggest emitters and if you take into account the coal that it exports it is one of the biggest emitters full stop. And one of the best places to do something about this. Why shouldn’t they do their bit?

          • RedLogix 1.1.1.1.1

            The 'per head of population' figure is useful, but only up to a point. For example at one extreme I might hypothetically live in a nation with just a handful of wealthy people living very high carbon lifestyles … per head completely off the scale … yet our total contribution would be tiny. And any action we might take correspondingly so.

            It is China and the USA who are the political entities who can make the biggest change. China is now 27% of total emmissions and climbing, and political power in that authoritarian nation is clustered in the hands of a very small number of people.

            Labeling Australia as 'one of the biggest emitters' is only useful in one sense, because at most even including all their current coal and gas exports, with no accounting for their counterbalancing imports … is at most 5% of the global total.

            This of course doesn't let Australia of the hook, and now is a fertile moment to break their political deadlock. A small group of Liberal Party backbenchers who've had a stranglehold on climate denial for a decade, are now themselves facing the wrath of public opinion. All the recent polls show a solid majority of the public firmly in favour of strong action on climate change.

          • Ross 1.1.1.1.2

            Mickey

            Why would you include the coal that Aussie exports without deducting fossil fuels that it imports? The consensus is that Australia’s contribution to global emissions is about 1.2%.

            https://www.crikey.com.au/2019/11/25/fact-check-australias-greenhouse-gas-emissions/

            • mickysavage 1.1.1.1.2.1

              You know what? If every individual on the planet decided to do nothing about global warming because they only made such a small contribution we would be totally stuffed.

              • RedLogix

                LOL … mickey you know I probably first made that exact argument a decade ago!

                But what I am saying is that the 'per capita' number is not sufficiently definitive to erect an entire argument upon.

            • Dennis Frank 1.1.1.1.2.2

              Proportionality is a feeble excuse regardless of how rational you can spin it. Same applies to Aotearoa. Global problems require global solutions. Wimping out is not an option.

              So, from the perspective of voters & national responses, identity politics will pit those who see themselves as part of the solution against those intent on remaining part of the problem. James Murdoch has made the right choice. So why are you so keen to be a bad guy??

            • RedLogix 1.1.1.1.2.3

              That's not really what your reference says. Discounting their coal and gas exports to zero isn't reasonable either because Australia does benefit from them. It digs into three different accounting approaches, none of which is definitive.

              What this does highlight is the weakness of addressing CO2 emissions from a purely nationalistic perspective. The only number the physics cares about is the total. There is no difference between an Australian CO2 molecule and a Chinese one.

          • AB 1.1.1.1.3

            The argument about total vs per capita emissions etc. etc. is a tiresome one. One side is looking for excuses to do nothing – which is contemptible. The other side is failing to mention that what Australia is experiencing now was baked in long ago, no matter what they did domestically, and that still further worsening of the situation in future is also baked in, no matter what they do from here. The result is a false implication that Scott Morrison could have had some influence over the situation. He couldn't – the guy is a dick, not a god.

            How should Australia have played this? Done everything it could to lower domestic emissions, been a vigorous advocate of enforceable international agreements, and put some fairly heavyweight mitigation plans in place with a focus on such elemental things as their food security. To do this though, you need to mobilise the wealth of the community – rather than leaving it to continually accumulate and slosh around at the top of the wealth-power pyramid. And that's why it will probably all be left until it's too late.

            • RedLogix 1.1.1.1.3.1

              Yup. That's a realistic analysis. Too much bs from extremist fools on both sides of the argument. And a large fraction of the problem is the relatively weak grasp most people have on the science. This isn't to blame them at all, rather it should point to one way we can help turn this bus around.

              It's worth linking back to one of my original sources on CC; Tamino at Open Mind. His most recent post on the numbers, and especially as they related to Australia is worth a read. Grant is a professional statistician whose work and presentation is accurate, well argued and above all competent.

              There is no substitute for competence. We live in a world where coherent data, sound statistics and insightful analysis are going to be life and death matters for maybe hundreds of millions. In this world where numbers reign supreme, mathematicians will be our Princes.

              In this can I suggest to everyone here, that if you have any younger relatives at school, please please encourage them to stick with maths for as long as they can. Most people will not be able to be cutting edge academics or professionals, but the further they can develop this core competency for themselves the better. Better for them and for all of us. The good news is the internet makes math more accessible than ever before. For example, one of my all time favourites: 3Blue1Brown

          • Poission 1.1.1.1.4

            If Australia abandoned its coal exports (85% of production) the world would have to find around 5% from other sources.The shortfall is around the increase in global demand 2016-2018.

            Australia would also have to find around 60b$ in exports from other areas ,and find work for around 170000 directly and indirectly job equivalents.

            • mikesh 1.1.1.1.4.1

              If Australia stopped exporting coal, the 15% that it continued to use itself would probably have little impact on global warming, its reserves would last virtually forever.

      • weka 1.1.2

        "Australia is one of the biggest emitters. Particularly right now."

        Haven't seen firm figures on this, but did see an estimate that the bushfires will double Australia's GHGs this year.

    • weka 1.2

      China, US, India, Russia and Japan account for 56% of emissions. You appear to be arguing that the countries that produce 44% of global GHG emissions shouldn't act because it might hurt their economies.

      Japan's emissions are 2.99% Australia's are 1.28%. Drawing the line at 2.99 is arbitrary.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_greenhouse_gas_emissions

      • Ross 1.2.1

        The countries I mentioned account for nearly two thirds of global emissions.

        As for spending large sums of money when it may have little or no effect, voters are unlikely to support that. In the meantime, 62 million children could die from preventable diseases, etc over the next 10 years. I would’ve thought that was an equaling pressing issue.

        • weka 1.2.1.2

          "The countries I mentioned account for nearly two thirds of global emissions."

          What source are you using for that?

            • weka 1.2.1.2.1.1

              CO2 rather than all GHGs, but it's 61% by my calculation, which leaves 39% of global CO2 that you are suggesting doesn't need to be reduced in any hurry.

              Pie charts are great. Looking at the small emitters that you say don't need to act on CC, they add up to 20%, which is larger than the US at 16%. I'll guess that Rest of the World wedge is all the ultra small emitters (including NZ), and that's 19%.

              • RedLogix

                No-one sane is arguing that small nations don't have to do their share; but until the big boys pull on their big boy pants and start cutting seriously into those big numbers … the rest of us will be spitting upwind.

                And interestingly if you care to look closely at the references already provided, the USA 'per capita' numbers leveled out a while back and are now declining. It's China that's by far the biggest emitter, and they continue to grow dramatically. And that can be sheeted home to the policy decisions being made by relatively small handful of senior CCP rulers.

              • Ross

                but it's 61% by my calculation, which leaves 39% of global CO2 that you are suggesting doesn't need to be reduced in any hurry.

                You're missing my point again. Do you recommend spending billions and trillions of dollars when the outcome of that spending is indeterminate? Do you regularly buy Lotto tickets or gamble at the casino? Neither do I.

                • RedLogix

                  Do you recommend spending billions and trillions of dollars when the outcome of that spending is indeterminate?

                  Can you please clarify exactly what you have in mind by 'indeterminate'? When we read that it sends a conflicting message.

                • weka

                  I don't know what you mean by indeterminate. The current thinking is that reducing GHG emissions now will prevent worsening of climate change in the future. Are you saying you think this plan is so uncertain as to be akin to lotto?

                  If it's valid for 61% of emitters to reduce GHGs, why not the other 39%?

                  • Ross

                    You don’t know what indeterminate means? It means not clearly known or not measured. I gave the example of Australia spending $12 billion on Y2K…wasteful spending on a problem that was overblown and driven by hysteria.

                    I am saying if the small emitters do all the heavy lifting, that will have little or no effect on climate change. And in the meantime 62 million children may die because we didn’t think they were a priority. Is it OK to sacrifice millions of kids because we were fixated on something else?

                    • Ross

                      A simple question: how much money has been spent globally on fighting, for want of a better word, climate change in the last 20 years and what effect has that had on ameliorating climate change?

                    • Robert Guyton

                      Ross; do you regard tree-planting as "fighting" climate change?

                    • Robert Guyton

                      And do you regard research by climate scientists and any other scientists who's work could contribute to the understanding of the effects of climate change, e.g.; entomologists, botanists, marine zoologists etc. as part of the fight? Should we add the cost of those into the calculation you've asked for?

                    • Robert Guyton

                      The cost of battling the Australian bushfires and repairing the damage once they've gone out? Should we include that?

                      Remediating the bleached coral reefs? That'll be expensive.

                      It's quite a list you've seemingly cited!

                    • Ross []

                      It’s quite a list you have cited!

                    • Sacha

                      Y2k was all too real – ask any of us who actually worked on the problem. Denial of that seems conveniently fashionable amongst people who deny other things.

                    • weka

                      "You don’t know what indeterminate means?"

                      I do know what it means, I just don't understand what you mean when you are using it here.

                      "It means not clearly known or not measured"

                      Do you mean that we don't know how much reducing GHGs globally will prevent worse CC in the future?

                      "I gave the example of Australia spending $12 billion on Y2K…wasteful spending on a problem that was overblown and driven by hysteria."

                      Does that mean you think that there was no actual issue with Y2K? Or that there was an issue but not as big an issue as people said?

                      "I am saying if the small emitters do all the heavy lifting, that will have little or no effect on climate change."

                      Will the big emitters doing the heavy lifting have a positive effect?

                  • Sacha

                    He means we should not spend anything on climate action unless we can prove beforehand that it will work. Sounds awfully familiar.

                    • Ross

                      Sacha

                      I am saying nothing of the sort. Try to resist the urge to put words into my mouth.

                    • Sacha

                      Silly me, I read "not clearly known or not measured" as not provable beforehand. What was I thinking!

                    • Sacha

                      Is it OK to sacrifice millions of kids because we were fixated on something else?

                      Great to see someone is thinking of the children.

                    • weka

                      "I am saying nothing of the sort. Try to resist the urge to put words into my mouth."

                      Ime, when a commenter consistently refuses to clarify what they mean and instead complains about being misinterpreted, other commenters will continue to interpret first commenter's words on the basis of how they appear. Because they literally have no other way of making sense of them.

                    • Ross []

                      Weka

                      If you don’t know what indeterminate means, that is on you. But it seems clear to me that spending vast sums of money when the outcome is indeterminate isn’t a good spend, especially when there are other serious problems.

                      As for Y2K, I provides a helpful link below but it doesn’t appear that you’ve read the paper.

                      “More importantly, experience during 1999 provided a guide to the likely severity of problems in 2000. The absence of any significant Y2K problems, despite the transition to fiscal 2000 for many organisations, some of them poorly-prepared, suggested that severe Y2K problems were unlikely to emerge in 2000. The estimate that 35 per cent of failures would occur during 1999 implied that there would be about twice as many failures during 2000 as during 1999. Since there were no failures of critical systems reported during 1999, the best estimate of the number of such failures in 2000, even in the absence of additional remediation, was zero.

                    • weka

                      Goodoh Ross. I already told you I know what the word means. In the absence of you clarifying to anyone here asking, I'll just assume my perceptions are correct. You believe that global warming is real but humans can't do much about it and you'd rather we focused on poverty issues instead. You're also against the smaller countries that produce 40% of the GHGs globally from taking action to limit global warming.

                    • Sacha

                      I would be delighted if 'indeterminate' was added to a blacklist to prevent further wasting of our time here.

                    • Ross

                      You believe that global warming is real but humans can't do much about it and you'd rather we focused on poverty issues instead. You're also against the smaller countries that produce 40% of the GHGs globally from taking action to limit global warming.

                      Wrong again. You believe that we should spend billions and trillions on climate change when the outcome is indeterminate and when much of that expenditure could be wasted. Meanwhile other serious problems – like 62 million kids dying from diseases and other preventable causes – should be ignored. If we have to cut our spending on health, education and welfare, then so be it! I'm not sure voters will accept that prescription.

                    • Sacha

                      We understand what you are saying. You, on the other hand..

                    • weka

                      "Wrong again"

                      Really? Because you've been asked repeatedly by various people to explain what you mean and you won't. We're now free to interpret your comments the best way we can (by what we see in front of us).

                      It's pretty clear that you want to spend money on something other than climate mitigation.

                    • Ross []

                      Weka

                      Thats rubbish and you know it. It’s obvious you don’t think 62 millions kids are worth saving, so I have to wonder if you really are serious about climate change. You can’t focus one one at the expense of the other.

                      You haven’t addressed my earlier question. In the last 20 years, how much globally has been spent fighting climate change and what effect has that spending had?

                    • weka

                      Dude, I literally have no idea what you are talking about now.

                    • Ross []

                      To be fair, if you don’t understand what indeterminate means, having a conversation about climate change might be challenging. 🙂

                      And if you don’t know how much has been spent fighting climate change and what the benefits have been, that is kind of the point of this debate.

                    • weka

                      I've already told you twice that I understand what indeterminate means (but like others I don't understand your point about it, which you won't clarify).

                      You're welcome to put up the stats for "how much has been spent fighting climate change and what the benefits have been" but it seems an odd approach given we haven't yet adequately addressed GHG emissions by country.

                    • Sacha

                      Oh we understand his point alright. Waste of oxygen though.

                    • weka

                      not sure I do understand it tbh. If he means that we don't know for sure what the precise (or even general) effects reducing GHGs will have on future climate, that's different than saying the effect on climate of reducing GHGs is so uncertain that it's a waste of money to try.

                      You might be right about the O2 though.

                • Nic the NZer

                  The outcome of the investment is very well defined. It is a lower emission economy which should be less dependent on importing fuel.

                  Also, in national economy terms money is no object what-so-ever. All that matters is the real economic impacts.

                  • Ross

                    Also, in national economy terms money is no object what-so-ever. All that matters is the real economic impacts.

                    You're dreaming, and clearly you've never heard of Pharmac.

                    • Nic the NZer

                      As what I am suggesting implies, people recognise with Pharmac that the choice of which drugs are funded is a political one. Frequently a case is made in the public to fund certain drugs. There is no nation level comstraint there that I see.

                      Going back to Australia a lot of the costs to reform do not need any cross borders intervention. For example funding Australias Fire Fighters to the levels they requested to deal with a threatening fire season could have halved Australias CO2 emissions last year.

                  • Ross

                    It is a lower emission economy which should be less dependent on importing fuel.

                    That sounds vague. How much lower and at what cost? Do we need to cut spending elsewhere? If so, where? And what if lower emissions don’t produce the desired effect re climate change? Spend more in the hope that it does produce the desired effect? Again, where should we cut spending? And if that doesn’t produce the desired effect, what do we do next?

                    • Nic the NZer

                      The cost benefit analysis is all on the real side of the economy. Stop quibling about price and its a debate worth having. So far you have produced zero reasons to believe climate change mitigation leaves Australia worse in real terms than not doing it.

      • grumpy 1.2.2

        No, what the argument is saying is that even if Australia ceased to be, no mining, no people – nothing, then the decrease in overall emissions would be made up by India, China and Russia in a matter of months…….and Australia would still suffer bushfires forever.

        • Nic the NZer 1.2.2.1

          So you would suggest Australia should invest in their Fire Service properly then? It seems this could halve Australias CO2 emissions by preventing future fire seasons turning into annual national disaster scale fires. Its pretty clear this would reasonably count as climate change mitigation investment.

  2. Robert Guyton 2

    Good grief, this thread!

  3. Anne 3

    John Birmingham/Brisbane Times

    One day it will probably be a crime.

    Until then, however, those of us who work in the media need to take a hard look at our practices and ask ourselves whether we are really serving our audience.

    False equivalence will kill us all.

    Mt thinking for some time. CC denying should be against the law.

    The time is well passed when their lies and distortions can be tolerated. Anybody who still thinks the deniers have any credibility whatsoever should have to attend special re-programming sessions to bring them back to reality.

    Ah weeell… I spose the latter bit is going too far but ya know what I meeean. 🙁

    • RedLogix 3.1

      CC denying should be against the law.

      That's a tough question. Free speech is already subject to constraint, speech that promotes crime or violence is obviously out of bounds. Moving those boundaries should be only approached with great care, otherwise obviously we risk silencing voices we should hear, or worse still create precedents that can be used against us. For example how would you feel about a law making marxism or postmodernism illegal?

      It's more reasonable to expect that CC denying will become increasingly socially unacceptable.

      • Anne 3.1.1

        Yes I know Redlogix.

        I do like to be a bit provocative sometimes. 🙂

        The best bet would be to attach a stigma to all deniers. Then most people would see them as loonies doing a bit of attention seeking.

        • RedLogix 3.1.1.1

          Hell yes … the entire crazy-making debate has been nothing but provocative for decades now.devil

      • Poission 3.1.2

        Zamyatin argued the place of heretics in science was to prevent ossification and dogma.

        Between the old and the new, between tomorrow and today, there exists an eternal struggle. This struggle exists in all walks of human life—including science, and science too has its own tomorrow and today. Today consists of everything that has already been mastered, determined, generally recognized, and is considered to be incontestable and infallible. And this belief in their own infallibility sometimes makes the representatives of "today's" science a conservative element, retarding the never-ending movement of science forward. . . Even now, when science has adopted the correct view that everything which seems infallible is infallible only relatively, is infallible only today—even now traces of former reverence before dogma occasionally crop up. So recently. in our time, the miraculous properties of radium were discovered, which upset the seemingly most infallible scientific laws — and in our time more than one orthodox scientist skeptically mocked the heretics who had encroached upon these still recently sacred foundations. And the world lives only through its heretics, through those who reject the seemingly unshakeable and infallible today. Only the heretics discover new horizons in science, in art, in social life: only the heretics, rejecting today in the name of tomorrow, are the eternal ferment of life and ensure life's unending movement forward.

        Here he uses the radium example ,which was a significant paradigm shift on the falsification of existing dogma eg Rutherford/Kelvin.

        https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=3566551

        • RedLogix 3.1.2.1

          Exactly. A modern complex and functioning human society is an absolute miracle that utterly depends on a range of different personality types, values and roles to function at all.

          But only if they can tolerate each other and continue to talk; laws that inhibit this are to approached with great caution.

          • Poission 3.1.2.1.1

            Look at the nuclear problem,with the dogma,Germany being a good example of panic.

            Following the Fukashima disaster in 2011, German authorities made the unprecedented decision to: (1) immediately shut down almost half of the country’s nuclear power plants and (2) shut down all of the remaining nuclear power plants by 2022. We quantify the full extent of the economic and environmental costs of this decision. Our analysis indicates that the phase-out of nuclear power comes with an annual cost to Germany of roughly$12 billion per year. Over 70% of this cost is due to the 1,100 excess deaths per year resulting from the local air pollution emitted by the coal-fired power plants operating inplace of the shutdown nuclear plants. Our estimated costs of the nuclear phase-out far exceed the right-tail estimates of the benefits from the phase-out due to reductions in nuclear accident risk and waste disposal costs.

            http://papers.nber.org/tmp/45610-w26598.pdf

            • RedLogix 3.1.2.1.1.1

              That's very recent paper; will do my best to digest this thank you.

              Our analysis indicates that the phase-out of nuclear power comes with an annual cost to Germany of roughly$12 billion per year.

              And on top of that electricity in Germany is now twice the price it is in France.

              • grumpy

                Correct, and now Germany is pinning its future energy hopes on Russian gas. The future of lower emissions inevitably will rely on the latest safe nuclear technology.

    • AB 3.2

      I understand the frustration – but things that are merely contrary to reason shouldn't be against the law. Otherwise everyone would be in gaol. Even suggesting that CC denial should be illegal provides completely undeserved ammunition to defenders of the status quo – who will use it in their ongoing mis-characterisation of us as authoritarians out to 'smash' capitalism and make everyone become a vegan and live in mud huts. So best avoided even in jest.

  4. Ross 4

    The worldwide scare over the ‘Y2K bug’ result in the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars on Y2K compliance and conversion policies. Most of this can be seen, in retrospect, to have been unproductive or, at least, misdirected. In this paper, the technological and institutional factors leading to the adoption of these policies are considered, along with suggestions as to how such policy failures could be avoided in future.

    Australia reportedly spent $12 billion fixing the bug. That’s a lot of heart operations and hip replacements. I can see why they might wish to avoid making the same mistake again.

    https://rsmg.group.uq.edu.au/files/1186/WPP04_1.pdf

    • RedLogix 4.1

      Yes. It was quite the fiasco in hindsight; the usual result of non-technologist's driving technical decisions. Not to mention quite a few parties saw it as a great little earner for a few years.

      In my world the vast majority of real time controllers (PLC's and DCS's) always had used clocks with four digit year dates anyway, so the idea that power grids, water supplies and essential utlities that depended on them were likely all crash simultaneously was always bunk. Besides most process programs don't care about the calendar date at all, it's almost always elapsed time (like a stop watch) that they care about. I wrote about this here years ago, I'm absolutely on record as saying I knew at the time that the world was not going to stop.

      By contrast many IT systems, especially those that handled money or billing, did use calendar time extensively, and many did use a 2 digit year date to save memory. In that domain I do think there were some hidden problems, and no-one at the outset had a good sense of what their impact would be.

      Overall I think there was a modest problem that the industry could not afford to ignore; but the media and various people with a pecuniary interest in scaring it up, over-hyped the story beyond all reason. The consequences of this were more serious; for the average person it become one more reason to lose trust in 'experts', a loss of trust that has flowed into debates like climate change and nuclear power for instance.

    • Ross 4.2

      “The response to Y2K shows how relatively subtle characteristics of a policy problem may produce a conformist response in which no policy actors have any incentive to oppose, or even to critically assess, the dominant view. Moreover, in a situation where a policy has been adopted and implemented with unanimous support, or at least without any opposition, there is likely to be little interest in critical evaluation when it appears that the costs of the policy have outweighed the benefits.”

      • RedLogix 4.2.1

        In the case of climate change however, the evidence has been challenged strenuously for several decades. No other public science issue has been scrutinised so brutally, over such a sustained period.

        The comparison with Y2K is a reasonable one, but only takes us so far. The frustration for everyone in my sector, real-time industrial control, we knew our CPU's had 4 digit year digits, but no-one in the media even knew we existed, much less had anyone serious in their Rollodex. We knew there was no problem, but our voice was never heard. By contrast climate skeptic voices have been loud and well funded for decades; yet ultimately for all the confusion and delay created, they could never establish a credible, coherent case.

        As for the 'cost of the policy outweighing the benefits' … that's vague to the point of evasive. The long term marginal cost of transitioning from fossil carbon is zero, because ultimately we have to anyway. Simply burning ever increasing amounts of coal and oil into an indefinite future is not physically possible, regardless of any climate considerations. As for 'outweighing the benefits' … well that very much depends on what climate scenario plays out. Less than 2degC increase and we will see more predicable disruptions like the Australian bushfires; avoiding those would be a very fine benefit in my book. Above that … well it's uncharted territory and a massive gamble with our future as a species.

        • Ross 4.2.1.1

          In the case of climate change however, the evidence has been challenged strenuously for several decades

          But that's irrelevant as we are not talking about the evidence or science. We agree that climate change is man made. But that's not what we're talking about.

          The author of the paper on Y2K suggests that when hysteria takes over, all logic and reasoning goes out the window. And that resulted in bad decisions being made, including huge spending on a relatively minor problem. He makes the point, too, that some European countries (eg, Italy) did bugger all preparation around Y2K but didn't suffer any major consequences. Yes, doing nothing – or very little – may have been the best option! He notes, ruefully, that Australia could have put the money towards disaster relief. $12 billion would come in handy right about now.

          The long term marginal cost of transitioning from fossil carbon is zero, because ultimately we have to anyway.

          Well, we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels, but transitioning to zero fossil fuels doesn’t appear realistic when there is money to be made, And spending huge sums when the outcome is indeterminate is like going to the casino. Not smart.

          • Sacha 4.2.1.1.1

            It is understandable if you want both climate change and Y2K to be 'minor' problems. It is scary to think otherwise. People spend considerable effort avoiding feeling afraid.

            You are looking for evidence to justify your feelings. It is not convincing anyone.

            • Ross 4.2.1.1.1.1

              Except nowhere have I said that climate change is a minor problem. You might wish to comment on what I’ve said rather than what you imagine I’ve said.

              Australia potentially wasted billions of dollars addressing Y2K. Would that money have come in handy fighting the bush fires and providing assistance to those directly affected?

            • Sacha 4.2.1.1.1.2

              I'm only thinking of other readers at this stage. More than enough trying to engage.

            • Ross 4.2.1.1.1.3

              From the paper by Quigan:

              “From the perspective of public administration, the two most compelling observations relate to conformity and collective amnesia. The response to Y2K shows how relatively subtle characteristics of a policy problem may produce a conformist response in which no policy actors have any incentive to oppose, or even to critically assess, the dominant view. Moreover, in a situation where a policy has been adopted and implemented with unanimous support, or at least without any opposition, there is likely to be little interest in critical evaluation when it appears that the costs of the policy have outweighed the benefits.”

              • RedLogix

                I'm still struggling to make a coherent sense of your argument. On one hand you argue that Y2K was a minor problem and we over reacted in response to hysterical media reporting. We may have been better off doing much less about it. From my own experience I can agree with this to a fair degree, although I still think it would have been very unwise to ignore it altogether.

                But there is no logical parallel with AGW. Presupposing you accept it is a real and major problem, then arguing that we would be better off doing nothing about it because on a previous occasion we over-reacted to an unrelated issue, is not a reasonable argument.

                Or to put it simply, yes the boy cried wolf … but this does not mean there are no wolves.

                • Ross

                  RL

                  But there is no logical parallel with AGW.

                  Did you read Quigan’s comments about conformity? Not a lot of disagreement was heard amongst the hysteria.

                  Then there is his comment that “there is likely to be little interest in critical evaluation when it appears that the costs of the policy have outweighed the benefits.” In the case of global warming, let’s keep spending no matter the costs or benefits is not a coherent or sustainable response.

                  • Ross

                    Oh and nowhere did I say we should do nothing.

                    • In Vino

                      But the weight of all your offerings seems to me to be that we should not be wasteful, and you thereby criticise what others are saying should be done, because of the possibility of it being wasteful. I suspect that reading your prevarications is also wasteful.

                    • RedLogix

                      Well I have good news; unlike Y2K which was a software bug that needed investigation to determine how serious a problem it was going to be, climate change has an entirely deterministic metric … we keep spending money on it until CO2 is below 350ppm again.

                    • Ross

                      I'm sorry, IV, that you cannot comprehend my erudite comments. Better luck next time.

                      we keep spending money on it until CO2 is below 350ppm.

                      We, as in NZ? So, if we can’t afford to give Pharmac any money, can’t afford to spend on health, education or superannuation, none of that matters as long as we reach that random number? I’m in – how do I get my slice of the pie?

                    • RedLogix

                      Not random. NZ along with all other nations does it's share. In our case the easiest way to define that is electricity carbon zero by 2030 which is quite easy, and total zero by 2050 at the latest.

                      By then we will probably have hit something in the region of 450ppm, which in my view, means a century or so operating nuclear powered CO2 extraction from the atmosphere.

                    • Incognito []

                      The long-term answer is more research and development – not only into next-generation, safer nuclear energy, but also into energy sources like solar and wind, which currently provide well below one per cent of the planet’s energy. Alarmingly, this research has decreased over the last three decades.

                      https://www.thenational.ae/business/abandon-nuclear-power-that-is-not-an-option-1.446201

                      It seems that you and Ross’s guru Bjørn Lomborg may have something in common 😉

                    • Poission

                      Here is the latest emissions reduction position. for our treaty obligations.

                      https://www.mfe.govt.nz/climate-change/climate-change-and-government/emissions-reduction-targets/reporting-our-targets-0

                      The decrease in agriculture emissions ( since 2014)seem to be offset by the increase in transport emissions.

                      FB tax on suv perhaps?

                      https://www.interest.co.nz/news/103167/year-where-sales-stepped-lower-top-selling-new-car-was-suv-toyota-rav4-model-also

                    • RedLogix

                      @Incognito

                      Actually I'm not a big fan of Lomborg. He had some useful things to say, and that link is good, but I find his whole package disappointing. All too often his message is hijacked by the Ross's of this world to the cause of minimising and delaying action.

                      Most left wingers, greenies especially, have missed that crucial point that, regardless of how much the developed world reduces waste and increases efficiencies … our future total energy needs to develop modern lives for 10b humans AND repair our planet … demands far more energy than wind and solar can possibly deliver on their own. I'd guess by a factor of 10 at least.

                      Short term renewable tech is improving all the time and for this we should be very happy. But if we lose the irrational fear of nuclear power we can develop and improve it far beyond the limits of diffuse renewables. We need both.

  5. Ed1 5

    Different world views can give different views on appropriate "balance" – see for example https://waikanaewatch.org/2020/01/15/the-threat-to-the-freedom-to-challenge-the-climate-change-from-unnatural-causes-brigade/

    Sometimes the "science"is no clear to everyone – this afternoon I heard a good discussion on RNZ about Kauri die back, with an explanation of the way the threat works and the need to avoid infecting new areas – and a comment about the importance of public education. I am also reminded of the story about a decision on fluoride being made by counting submissions, as some anti-fluride campaigners wrote their objections so as to appear as "scientific", and confusing the non-expert panel charged with the decision. Most people will agree that not all personal opinions should be given equal weight – their own views being excepted of course . . .

  6. Jenny How to get there 6

    At a time of universal deceit telling the truth becomes a subversive act.

    Probably why Scott Morrison can't bring himself to quell these rumours.

    It would be the mark of a real leader if Scott Morrison called a press conference to officially distance himself and his government from the dangerous misinformation that is being spread on the net about the cause of these fires.

    Only he can kill these false accusations and lies targeting environmentalists as the cause of these fires.

    Disinformation and lies are spreading faster than Australia's bushfires

    Christopher Knaus, The Guardian, Sat 11 Jan 2020

    ….Two pieces of disinformation stand out from the rest: that an “arson emergency”, rather than climate change, is behind the bushfires, and that “greenies” are preventing firefighters from reducing fuel loads in the Australian bush.

    Disinformation has spread across social media, finding its way into major news outlets, the mouths of government MPs, and across the globe to Donald Trump Jr and prominent right-wing conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones….

    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jan/12/disinformation-and-lies-are-spreading-faster-than-australias-bushfires

    It is way past time that the Prime Minister of Australia went on the air to put the record straight.

    Because he hasn't, is why Scott Morrison will be consigned to the dust bin of history.

  7. infused 7

    people still missing the point. less people is whats needed.

    • weka 7.1

      how many less and how would you achieve that?

      • Ross 7.1.1

        David Attenborough says overpopulation is a big problem.

        “Since 2006, the think tank Global Footprint Network has marked Earth Overshoot Day – the day when humanity has used up nature’s resource budget for the year. In 2018, it was held on August 1, the earliest date it has been since the world went into overshoot in the 1970s – meaning we’re using up 1.7 Earths every year.“

        https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/10/david-attenborough-warns-planet-cant-cope-with-overpopulation/

        • weka 7.1.1.1

          I also believe population is an issue, but the issue is more about how we don't manage society sustainably generally. Infused implied that we could reduce population, I was curious how they thought that might happen given the time frames required with climate mitigation (i.e. relying on adjustments to birth rate relative to death rate, which needs to happen anyway, won't happen fast enough for immediate climate mitigation purposes).

          • Ross 7.1.1.1.1

            Well, population control isn’t likely to be a vote winner so is unlikely to be attempted. Better to spend money and tell voters we are doing our bit.

          • Poission 7.1.1.1.2

            Think local,ie what would a reduction in immigration do?

            Reduce the need to build 25000 houses.

            Around 20000 fewer cars per annum coming onto the roads.

            Reduce the need for electricity to support new housing,where it can be used to power the nz transport fleet etc.

            etc etc.

            • weka 7.1.1.1.2.1

              I agree. This is different than reducing population though (which is what I took Infused to mean by 'less people').

              If we're going to say that this is about climate change, then global matters. We can say no to people from lower GHG countries immigrating here, but that only makes sense re CC if we reduce our own lifestyles (which I think we should).

            • Ross 7.1.1.1.2.2

              Think local

              Local warning? I haven’t heard of that.

              Of course fewer migrants will mean nothing for global warming. A smaller global population may well slow or reverse global warming.

              • Poission

                We cannot change what other jurisdictions do.We can only implement change in nz.

                Under existing treaty obligations we need to meet our requirements under the Montreal protocol.Kyoto and Paris agreements.

                Limiting unbounded growth,is a simple and effective mechanism with large paybacks to NZ across multiple sectors.

              • Alice Tectonite

                Ross, perhaps you could clarify your position on climate change.

                Your main concern seems to be arguing against actually doing anything – itself a classic late stage form of climate change denial.

  8. Jenny How to get there 8

    Catalogue of Shame

    A timeline of how The Australian has undercut hard coverage with denialist op-eds

    Media Matters for America

    WRITTEN BY MADELINE PELTZ

    Jan 17 2020

    https://www.mediamatters.org/news-corp/murdochs-flagship-australian-newspaper-pushes-climate-denial-devastating-bushfires-rage?fbclid=IwA
    R3MC2tAjxaggVWq-Gv_EmWxNSHlJAF03VUU87o54IErqfPeJBH-7KUhY8w

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