Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sounds good, but lookout for "sound science" poison pill

Penny Wong is a clever woman. She had a glint in her eye when she referred to Agriculture in the press conference after the first day of negotiations with the Opposition on the Emissions Trading Scheme. She had convinced Ian Macfarlane that the Opposition will get what it wants on Agriculture. We know this by the gushing tone of "we'll stand up for Agriculture" and "we won't weaken" that Mr Macfarlane adopted in Lucy Knight's piece in The Land. It sounds like the Opposition will accept increased costs of energy and fuel in return for 'offsets'. Macfarlane sounds upbeat about the possibility of 'offsets': "Offsets are an area where there could be huge money in it for farmers... An ETS is going to cost rural industries money... but to counter-balance that, if you can give them an offset then they could come out net better off." But does Ian know the way Penny can give with one hand and take away with the other? It's a trick called "Sound Science" or "Robust Science" and it can be set to go off in any one of a number of areas. It works by demanding that Soil Carbon pass a test that is impossible for it to pass. For instance, measurement. "Science has not yet found a reliable way to measure soil carbon for the purposes of trade." The test: Find a method of recording exactly how much carbon is in a given piece of land. Reason task is impossible: carbon cycles (fluxes) in and out of soil so measurements vary by location and time of day. Official Position: Wait for Science to find a method. (Task impossible.) Evidence of Poison Pill: Science accepts Remote sensing (satellite imaging) ground-truthed by core sampling as sufficiently accurate for the exacting levels of robustness required for scientific research. Why does it have to be even more exact for purposes of trade? Every other category of carbon emission or sequestration under Kyoto is managed by estimation. Why not soils? (No one from the Government has answered this question, ever.) So Ian Macfarlane should be wary of looking like Neville Chamberlain returning from Berlin with Hitler's signature on a letter saying he would never attack Britain less than 12 months before he attacked Britain.

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