Did climate case judge get ETS credits?Richard Treadgold | November 11, 2012
The Sunday Star-Times claims the NZ Climate Science Coalition has “formed an unlikely alliance” with “the losers of an infamous tax-dodging trial.”
Ha, ha, very funny. The Coalition isn’t even part of the Court case – it’s being brought by the NZ Climate Science Education Trust (NZCSET, or the Trust). Nor has any “alliance” been formed – the only losers are the innocent readers being fed this arrant nonsense. Where does that paper find its material?
If only the reporter had interviewed our chairman. Oh, wait, he did.
Having established those two quite spectacularly incorrect factoids, the doughty environmental reporter continues with three more inaccuracies:
1. That the Coalition doesn’t believe that people cause “climate change”.
2. That NIWA has been awarded costs.
3. That the Trust asked about the judge’s forestry interests as part of its appeal against the Court’s decision on our request for a judicial review.
1. We do believe that humans cause changes to the climate. Those changes are easily detectable at local level, so it’s perfectly reasonable to expect they are detectable at the global scale, too. It’s just that nobody has done so yet (please correct me if I’m wrong). The climate debate is not so much about whether we have an influence, it is more about the size of that influence, which appears to be very small.
2. The judge said that NIWA is “entitled” to the costs of its legal defence but has not actually awarded costs, as the parties must try to agree. So the Trust and NIWA are in discussion. Or firing memos at each other, or something.
3. The Coalition has appealed against the decision in the substantive matter, but (and let me stress this point) the question of Justice Venning’s partiality on the basis of his forestry investments forms no part of that appeal.
After the astonishing “pecuniary interest” memorandum was lodged I asked Coalition chairman Barry Brill for an official backgrounder, which you can read here. So now we wait to learn whether Justice Venning was still collecting credits under the Climate Change Response Act at the time he was considering the case against NIWA.
Huge implications for policy
But I’m not completely convinced that’s the right question. The real issue is whether the judge was genuinely able to keep an open mind (even subconsciously) in a case which might undermine the whole wide subject of New Zealand climate change.
Catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW) – or, in everyday language, dangerous human-caused climate change – is a very, very polarising issue.
In the years I’ve been blogging on the subject, I’ve found that most people either buy most of the hype or don’t accept it at all. About a third of the population take the future risks very seriously and many of them are caught up in a near-religious fervour about the immorality of carbon emissions. About half the population think it’s all grossly exaggerated and many of those are convinced that government climate scientists are prone to gilding the lily.
There are not many New Zealanders who are still completely open-minded about it all. And I don’t know of any big ETS beneficiaries who are among that select group. It’s perfectly understandable that people tend to favour viewpoints and policies that earn them money.
What if you developed strong views over the years when you had a sizeable financial stake in climate policy, and then you cashed in your investment? Would you reset your mind? Open your mind back up? What might a “fair-minded lay observer” think about that?
So my question is still centre stage, even if turns out the judge has now sold his carbon farming interests. Would an ex-carbon-farmer bring an impartial mind to an ETS issue?
Warm fuzzies for income
Fifty hectares of Southland radiata pine makes quite a lucrative carbon farm, according to MAF’s LOOK-UP TABLES (page 38). NZU entitlements began in 2008 and increase each year until they just about double by the time the forest is 30 years old in 2022.
If Justice Venning did quit his carbon farming interests in early 2008, he would have been selling an income stream for about 15 years into the future. Now, wouldn’t the proceeds of that windfall give rise to some warm and fuzzy thoughts about the Government’s climate policy?
Judge’s disqualification rules are tight. The test is whether a fair-minded observer MIGHT reasonably think there is a real POSSIBILITY that the judge MIGHT not bring an impartial mind to the case.
Those two “mights” and a “possibility”, working in concert, build up to quite a hurdle. There has to be virtually zero concern that the public could have any doubt at all about the judge having an open mind. Even a whiff of doubt has to be avoided. The judge has to be like Caesar’s wife.
Judges are good – but perfect?
The Law Commission report is interesting. It presumes that judges would always declare any interest they were aware of, and the real danger is that the judge might be affected at the sub-conscious level. For example, a judge might be influenced in favour of climate policy because it has been good to him, even if he has never actively thought about the subject.
The observer has to see a connection between the NIWA temperature records and the ETS. This is a two-step process:
The first point is that there is a clear connection between the “hindcasts” and “forecasts” of computer models. There’s nothing unusual about that and future predictions about anything are generally based on actual past experience. It’s NIWA’s job to calibrate those climate models and to project New Zealand’s future warming.
Secondly, there is little chance that New Zealand would have a costly ETS if this country wasn’t expected to incur any significant warming over the next 100 years.
The “NZ Herald” leading article welcomed Justice Venning’s judgment, because:
“If the coalition had managed to discredit Niwa’s methods, it would also have discredited the evidence for climate change, and the part played by human activities.”
That’s the actual view of a fair-minded lay observer. There’s no “might” or “possibility” in the eyes of that Herald leader writer – he sees the case as directly relevant to government policy. End of story.