Saturday, October 24, 2009

Science seduced to speak more than it knows

Other 'poison pills' masquerading as "Sound Science" are scientific opinions on soils' 'potential' to sequester carbon (supposedly based on peer-reviewed science but actually based on nothing at all except predisposition to believe or 'faith') , the insistence that the "fractions" must be measured because some of them are less stable than others (entirely irrelevant to trade because buyers are not interested in which carbon molecules are sequestered, only the gross amount), and the insistence that Bulk Density be measured to accurately determine the tonnages sequestered - an expensive process (and one that is entirely unnecessary in a trading environment where the sellers can agree to set Bulk Density at 1.0, sacrificing a percentage return to favour the buyer, to reduce uncertainty and avoid a costly process at the same time.) These and the thousands of other uncertainties attached to soil carbon can be equalised via the market mechanism of price. The misplaced belief in Sound Science's ability to provide a risk free market system for soil carbon is not an evil plot but a simple mistake: Politicians don't have enough headspace to devote to learning the soil carbon story, preferring to 'outsource' the judgement necessary to science (mistaking the task as being technical instead of commercial). Some scientists, in turn, are quite willing to give opinions on matters outside their competence (such as the operation of markets - ie. it will cost too much to measure, it will not be worth the expense because our soils cannot sequester significant amounts, etc.) - and they accepted the brief without questioning whether their actions were legitimate or relevant when the name of the game was "Trade". Yet decisions were taken in the name of "Sound Science" which have delayed "Trade" by diverting research funds into areas which may appear relevant to a scientist, but we believe are 'nice to know', not 'need-to-know'. A senior scientist involved in this process said, "I have know idea what the market will look like." But someone in the Minister's office assumed that the scientist did because they allowed them to make decisions which required knowledge of how a market works. Neither politicians nor scientists have 'knowledge of marketplace dynamics' on their Job Specification. Occasionally a Malcolm Turnbull appears. And he has never had a problem with soil carbon as a tradable commodity.

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