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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

still waiting « Previous | |Next »
July 3, 2008

In the online world it's easy to get the impression that climate change denialism or scepticism is the norm and that most of the population is nervously awaiting the configuration of the emissions trading scheme as if it's the sum total of what can be done.

Clive Hamilton won't be writing for OnLine Opinion anymore because he feels it's "been 'captured' by climate change denialists", and reading the comments you can't blame him. Brawls between believers and non-believers are a kind of ritual in the blogosphere, and then there's the Bananas in Pyjamas' evil twins Blair and Bolt.

Given the expectation that the ETS will be a huge economic shift it's no surprise that the policy, economics and climate change specialists in the blogosphere have devoted so many pixels to it. But experts are not average. More than half of average people have never heard of an ETS and the majority of those who have don't understand it. The good news is that when it's explained, they approve. Out there in the real world there is enormous support for action, but disappointment that nothing seems to be happening.

Hugh Mackay had some interesting things to say about it on the 7.30 Report last night. Video is up but the transcript's not available yet.

In Mackay's opinion people are more than ready for a shift, are worried about climate change and are well aware of, and prepared to accept, higher costs of living. They're waiting for something significant to happen and Kevin's not delivering, which fits with the 'wasting political capital' theme.

Watching the interview last night, it seems that Kerry O'Brien is making the same mistake here as Rudd in assuming that the ETS is the big fix the population is waiting for, but it's not. Mackay talked about the South East Queensland water saving campaign as the kind of thing people are expecting - some kind of all round campaign that sets limits and gives people personal responsibility for their contribution to a solution. Similarly, people are expecting to be called upon to actively participate in reducing the country's carbon footprint.

Queenslanders can quite rightly take personal credit for reducing water consumption to the point where they now have more than they know what to do with. A lot of it - four minute showers, no hosing, only use the washing machine when there's a full load, buckets only for car washing - is common sense. But they needed to be told and they needed to know that freeloaders wouldn't be tolerated. Hosing the driveway is now socially unacceptable.

It wouldn't be all that hard to put together a campaign that would make excessive use of electricity and petrol socially unacceptable. It wouldn't send the country broke to let the wealthy have their solar panel rebate. It's already a standing joke in some circles, but people might like to know how to drive more fuel efficiently or what kinds of gadgets they can buy so they don't have to reach behind the entertainment unit to switch off all the stuff that eats power on standby. Swtich off the lights when you're not in the room might be common sense, but maybe we're waiting for the most popular prime minister in the world to ask us to switch them off as a kind of symbol of patriotism.

Switching off the lights for the country is a heck of a lot easier and more practical than having a third child.

Obviously the Federal Government can't send squads of ticket-writing carbon-abuse monitors out into the suburbs, but the increased costs of power that will come with the ETS could easily be treated as just desserts for freeloaders. And if you gained sufficient public support for energy saving lifestyles it would be that much harder for the greenhouse mafia to justify exemptions and subsidies.

We've assumed since 24/11 that the mood for change would be, and was, satisfied by a change of PM, but Mackay has been trying to point out that it's more than that. He's been trying to say that people are more engaged, they're paying more attention and they're ready to participate. That message is being ignored and it's being assumed that the main game is still at the inaccessible end of town, where powerful men in suits do all the important stuff. Certainly that's part of it and as far as carbon is concerned, it's a huge part. But asking people to just go about their business and trust the suits to do the right thing is a bit much. It's the equivalent of admitting nothing will change, which is not why people voted the way they did.

| Posted by Lyn at 9:13 AM | | Comments (12)


It's not just the common populace. In a speech today, Greg Gailey, president of the Business Council of Australia and former CEO of miner, Zinifex, is urging the government to get on with it.,25197,23960552-5013871,00.html

This morning David Parker, NZ Minister for Energy and Climate Change, was interviews on Radio National Breakfast. Carbon trading starts in NZ later this year.

Gailey is also on about the ETS which doesn't do much from an electoral point of view. If it was introduced tomorrow the ETS is still treating people like passive victims of climate change, instead of giving them something they can proactively do about it themselves.

The market won't fix everything. Plenty of people will pay higher prices and go on chewing up energy the same way they always have.

Even if it only reduces emissions by 2%, I think people are looking for a cultural change - something to let them do something other than lie back and think of England while the planet boils around them.

I heard David Parker this morning too. He spoke a lot of sense, was direct, and clear about what needed to be done and how it could be done.

The contrast with what is happening in Australia is remarkable. Wong and Garrett hide in the bushes rather than leading the debate publicly. They arere allowing the fear about change to develop.

How come?

The comments on Clive Hamilton's piece were pathetic, especially when he made it clear he only wrote it in the first place in response to a request by Graham Young. OLO has become a clearing house for such a lot of US-influenced tripe. I suspect it's only a matter of time before they publish calls for the right to bear arms and the overturn of Roe v Wade.

On the broader question - perhaps you're correct; but surely there is no shortage of information already available about what people can do to cut down on emissions. Trade in the four wheel drive for a Toyota Yaris would be a good start. If they really won't do anything until governments introduce regulations and penalties, they truly deserve the police state that so many in government would love to provide for them.

It's a genuine pity that most of the mob at Catallaxy are such clowns. Australia could really use a persuasive libertarian voice right now.

It's a real shame OLO has gone the direction it has. In sticking with the perfectly reasonable policy of publishing comment without fear or favour they've managed to attract a core group who wouldn't be accepted anywhere else. And driven everyone else away in the process.

In Qld there was no shortage of info on saving water, but it took a campaign to make people actually do anything. I'm not convinced the official penalties were as influential in changing behaviour as popular attitudes towards freeloaders.

People are generally not all that bright. There will be those who don't know what they can do, and there'll be those who know but don't think to do it until they're told, or it's framed as some kind of patriotic duty. Then there'll be those who are waiting for it to become fashionable to turn off the lights and walk to the corner shop for milk.

"They arere allowing the fear about change to develop."

Nan, the fear about change may be developing in the media, but it's been a while since the media had that much influence with the public. Still, I'm mystified over this silence from government. Surely they're aware they should be laying some groundwork before the changes come in, leading the debate as you say. Or is media so hostile there's no point?

"People are generally not all that bright."

You realise you just blew up the whole foundation of neo-classical economics?

Democracy too, I suspect. *Moves meaningfully towards the liquor cabinet*.

They are playing it strategically from a point that it may not come off.
1. We said we would look busy on climate change.
2. Keep the Greens on our team.
3. 2010 is a long way off.
Until the opposition mount a serious challenge against ETS there is no point jumping about too much.

Perhaps it's how you address a tragedy of the commons problem.

The rational thing is to look after yourself. You need to trust that the community is with you before you commit to doing what's best for the community.

Leadership can help build this trust. It doesn't need authoritarianism, just community building. But it requires the belief that the community is better than some would have us believe. At the moment our leaders appear to lack this belief.

I read the first 8 or so pages of comments on Hamilton's article on Online Opinion then gave up. It was like reading the comments on Tim Blair's blog several years ago. Most of the so called denialists are out to score points against Hamilton, not debate the issue. of what needs to be done.

More importantly for the Libs than the Greens, the ALP now have the BCA rooting for their ETS. That means the Libs can't afford a serious challenge, politically speaking.

The tragedy of the commons is a good way to look at it. Left to their own devices people generally sort out the freeloaders without the need for imposed restrictions.

At the federal level, no, our leaders don't appear to trust people. In NSW the leaders clearly don't trust people to leave the Catholics alone. Yet on the Qld water issue, people demonstrated that they can be trusted. Somewhere along the line the people came to be viewed as the enemy.

The most interesting thing about those comments for me is that at least half of them were made by people who don't normally comment at OLO. From that I concluded that it was some kind of organised attack, which also happens there when abortion or euthanasia are discussed.

OLO's advantage of having a high profile has been badly eroded, as has its reputation. It's a terrible shame.


Fully agree. One of the best points that David Parker made was that costs are not imposted by an ETS. They are imposed by the decision to commit to Kyoto and whatever comes after it. An ETS is simply a way of distributing these costs in a transparent (and, if it is well designed, fair) manner.

You are right in that the market never fixes absolutely everything. Where there are clear failures the government should step in, which is exactly what introducing an ETS represents - the market failure that it addresses is that in the past, people were charged nothing for the right to pollute the atmosphere with greenhouse gases.

After introducing an ETS, there may still be circumstances in which the market fails to function fairly, but government intervention ought to be light-handed when needed.