Archive for August, 2011

Climate of fear Pt 2

Ok, so it’s been ages, but I figured that I’d get around to writing this. Here is an evaluation of the actual policy of the carbon tax that seems to have taken Labor into a nadir in the polls.

So what is this thing anyway?

Now that we know all about climate change, we want to reduce our CO2 emissions, right? Well, not so fast. I came across a blog post by Jim Manzer that explains my problem with the Government’s approach quite well:

Progressives routinely attempt to drape the label “science” over assertions that do not have the same reliability as physical science in order to create political advantage. This occurs in two dimensions.

First, scientific findings in some area are used to justify some related political or moral opinion. Key examples are exactly the topics you [Kevin Williamson] touch upon: global warming and evolution. In one example, the indisputable scientific finding that CO2 molecules redirect infrared radiation is used to argue that “science says” we must implement a massive global program of emissions mitigation, when in fact, the argument for this depends upon all kinds of beliefs about the growth of the global economy, Chinese politics, technological developments and so on for something like the next couple of hundred years.

That said, it is quite remarkable about that the tax does follow the general theory of free markets; the idea is that by “putting a price on carbon”, industry will be encouraged to pollute less and so will have an incentive to switch to “greener” technologies, as well as putting more money and effort into research and development (R&D) of less carbon-intensive methods — because if they don’t, they’ll pay for it.

While it has many critics for being a “socialist” policy, no Labor party would have come close to something like this 30 years ago. To their credit, they have shied away from the instinctive social democrat solution to this issue, which would be something more like the model the Greens are proposing: regulation. If Brown and co had their way, under the law companies would only be permitted to emit a certain amount of CO2 before being capped and certain technologies would be legislated against (i.e. say goodbye to our agriculture and mining sectors, they had a good run).

The tax will then transition to an “emissions trading scheme”, which will include a cap on emissions, but companies will be able to “sell” each other emissions if they are below their annual cap.

A few repercussions

The flipside of the tax is in the numerous exemptions and compensation schemes that the Government included to make it seem more electable. In general they either seem counter-intuitive (taxing rail but exempting trucks and cars), insufficient ($300mln to steel companies sounds kinda big, but it’s a tiny fraction of what the tax will cost them) or… a little socialist (increasing the lower income tax threshold by about $10k).

Although there is merit in the idea of keeping the general cost of living stable, but rewarding people for a less carbon-intensive lifestyle – i.e. every household receives the same subsidy, but the ones using less of the taxed goods will receive greater benefits.

Also, Australia’s economy got through the GFC and is now one of the strongest in the world for a reason. That reason is not the BER or pink batts or your $900 tax break, it is that we make a hell of a lot of money taking stuff out of the ground and selling it to China. Mining and agriculture have sustained Australia, where the largely service-based economies of other developed countries couldn’t cut it.

The thing is, we’re not the only country in the world that can do this. We have a competitive advantage because we’re a stable, well-educated country with advanced techniques and we’re relatively close to China, which cuts shipping costs. Taxing our mining and agriculture will drive up the price of our exports, meaning that Australia is less competitive in the global arena. It comes down to a simple calculation – when Big International Mining Corporation A is making an investment decisions, do they put their new mine in Queensland or in Brazil? The carbon tax may be enough to sway their decision.

So that’s the basic idea, understand? Well, apparently the Government didn’t think you would understand, which leads me to my next point:


Gillard wonders why her approval is plummeting – has she listened to herself?

(Transcript here)

Listen to the terminology!

– Around five hundred big polluters will pay for every tonne of carbon pollution they put into our atmosphere.

– By 2020 this will cut carbon pollution by 160 million tonnes a year.

For one thing, I have a HUGE problem with the way “high emitters” have become “big polluters”. Sure, it makes them sound like the bad guys from Captain Planet, but that isn’t necessarily good nor accurate. CO2 is not pollution! You are emitting CO2 as you read this – your body produces it in the process of making energy and keeping you alive. Meanwhile, plants use sunlight to combine molecules of CO2 and create sugar. That is where organic energy in the world comes from*. That means that if we took all of the CO2 out of the atmosphere, every living thing on Earth would die.

Let’s keep things honest here, it is a naturally occurring gas that happens to have a warming effect in large quantities. So does water vapour, but I don’t see the Government trying to label that as “pollution” – they would be laughed at if they did. CO2 is no different, we should (and I do) laugh at the whole carbon tax promotion campaign (except that it’s costing us millions of tax dollars…).

For a campaign supposedly based on science, it doesn’t exactly smack of technical details. Just look at the official explanation of the evidence:

What the science tells us

The vast majority of scientists worldwide agree that the many different lines of evidence all point to the same conclusion: human activity has unintentionally turned up the global thermostat. The release of large quantities of carbon pollution is making our planet warmer.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a natural component of the air we breathe and circulates in large quantities through natural processes. Over the past century, the levels of this gas in the atmosphere have jumped sharply as a result of our activities, such as burning fossil fuels (like coal) and clearing forests. Pollution from these activities has resulted in there being more CO2 in the atmosphere now than at any time in the past 800,000 years.

You convinced? Neither is the Australian public. It reads like a year 6 science textbook, voters are adults and this is the problem. For all the criticism everyone gives Alan Jones, he can talk far more eloquently on climate science than Gillard, Combet or Garnaut, which is not exactly encouraging. I have yet to see anything from Gillard, Combet or Garnaut that even convinces me they could pass year 10 chemistry, nevermind understand the intricacies of atmospheric temperatures. Yet these are the people selling the policy. The funny thing is that a certain opposition front-bencher is much better at selling the idea.

I’ll cut that here, but there is one more post on this issue, which will look at various other options to tackle carbon emissions. There’s more to it than you think.


*Aside from a few strange-looking deep sea creatures that use geothermal energy.

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