If I were a Queenslander, I wouldn’t be too worried about the impact of drinking recycled water. Whatever they’re drinking right now seems to be doing strange things to their thought patterns, given the rather strange court case, and even weirder decision, that’s been made in their Land and Resources Tribunal.
As Senator Andrew Bartlett describes, several local environment groups objected to a new coal mine development on the basis of its greenhouse emissions and the deleterious effect such emissions had on the environment.
The judgement itself is a rather extraordinary document, in several respects. Firstly, Ian Lowe, head of the Australian Conservation Foundation, gets caught out by the presiding member of the tribunal using misleading figures to distort the impact of the mining operations on greenhouse emissions:
Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe AO gave evidence that the proposed mine would contribute to the cumulative impacts of global warming and climate change. He was the only QCC witness to address the key issue of causation (GHG emissions:climate change).2 However, Professor Loweâs assessment of the mineâs GHG emissions (which he said he was putting âin contextâ?) sought to compare its minelife emissions with global annual emissions. That was said to give a figure of 0.24% of current annual global release of GHGs. But when the mineâs annual output of CO2-e (5.6Mt over 15 years Ã· 15 for the annual figure) is compared with global annual output of CO2-e (34,000 Mt), the correct figure is not 0.24% but (as I calculate it) 0.001098%. In other words, Professor Loweâs figure was 218 times too high…
Lowe, in an article in the Oz, disputes this and says his figures were only out by a factor of 15.
But Lowe isn’t the only one making odd claims. The decision seems to be in part due to the tribunal president Greg Koppenol’s own personal analysis of the IPCC report:
Finally, the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changeâs Summary for Policymakers was released on 2 February 2007.6 It relevantly concluded that is very likely that human-induced GHGs are causing global warming, and that most of the observed increases in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century are very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (human-caused) GHG concentrations. However, a close examination of the global mean temperature chart (Fig SPM-3), which was said to support that view, reveals that the last 106 years had 3 periods of cooling (1900-1910, 1944-1976, 1998-2006) and 2 periods of warming (1910-1944, 1976-1998) and that temperatures rose only 0.5Â°C from 1900 to 2006. The largest temperature change in the 20th century was a 0.75Â°C rise between 1976 and 1998, But the fact that very similar rises have previously occurred (1852-1878, 0.65Â°C and 1910-1944, 0.65Â°C) was not specifically mentioned or causally explained in the Summary. Also not mentioned or causally explained is the fact that temperatures have actually fallen 0.05Â°C over the last 8 years. 
If a comparison is made of temperatures over the last 55 years (1951-2006), as the IPCC presumably did in reaching its conclusion, the chart shows that average temperatures increased from 13.85Â°C (1951) to 14.45Â°C (2006)âan increase of 0.6Â°C. As âmostâ? of that increase is said by the IPCC to be due to increases in GHGs, it follows that the temperature increase of concern is about 0.45Â°C (0.45Â°C being 75% of or âmostâ? of 0.6Â°C ). With all respect, a temperature increase of only about 0.45Â°C over 55 years seems a surprisingly low figure upon which to base the IPCCâs concerns about its inducing many serious changes in the global climate system during the 21st century.
I find this absolutely flabbergasting – this is Andrew Bolt stuff, not something you’d expect from a senior legal official. The IPCC reports are the agreed consensus view of thousands of climate scientists from around the world. The Summary for Policymakers is just that – a relatively non-technical summary of their conclusions designed to inform those making decisions on policy, rather than a super-detailed scientific analysis of the reasons behind the IPCC’s conclusions. Yet, it appears that, on the basis of a hugely superficial (and, frankly, wrong) analysis of one piece of data in the Summary report, Koppenol has discounted the report as an authoritative source of information on the causes and possible effects of climate change.
In what universe is it the role of a judge (or pseudo-judge) to be trying to argue against the opinion of the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientific experts on a particular issue?
Personally, I don’t think court cases like this are actually a particularly helpful way of addressing global warming, which needs to be tackled at a national policy level rather than trying to whack-a-mole with court cases about specific projects, and so I’m not that sad at the actual outcome. In any case, such a decision would likely have led to legislation ruling global warming issues out of bounds for environmental courts (as may well happen in NSW).
But when individual tribunal officers start suffering from delusions of grandeur and think that they know better than the world’s experts on scientific topics, it is kind of disturbing. Hopefully this aspect of the decision, at least, might be dealt with through judicial review.
UPDATE: Tim Lambert looks more carefully at the numbers than I did (Lowe still gets it wrong, but so does Koppenol), and eviscerates Koppenol for his interpretation of the IPCC report.