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

ETS: public debate « Previous | |Next »
October 13, 2009

One aim of climate change policy is to prevent more than a 2C of warming. This is probably not feasible anymore and it is more likely to be a 4C increase given that a lot of climate impacts are running ahead of projections. Though there simply isn’t any possibility of stopping this acceleration of climate change in its impacts (eg., the accelerated rate of sea level rise) overnight, how to head off that catastrophe should be the dominant policy issue of our time.

On the 7.30 Report last night Kerry O'Brien asks a question of Ross Garnaut on climate change:

What do you think of the quality of political debate in Australia right now about an emissions trading scheme for this country, and does it really matter whether that ETS is determined in these few weeks before Copenhagen or in the two or three months after Copenhagen?

The core of the debate is what to do, given that Australia's primary energy comes from fossil fuels, whose combustion is putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the biggest driver of global climate change. Basic economics says that if we want to discourage a negative externality, like pollution, then we need to put a price on that externality. One way is through an emissions tax; an alternative, with very similar economic results, is a system of tradable permits.

Garnaut's response to the question is that:

Well, I think this whole process of policy making over the ETS has been one of the worst examples of policy making we have seen on major issues in Australia. It is a very difficult issue, so I suppose it was never going to be easy, but the way it's broken down is extraordinary.

It is hard to disagree with that judgement, especially when the Victorian Farmers Federation carry on about how the doomsday people in climate change are robbing regional people of hope at a time when that’s all they’ve got left.

Groups like the Farmers Federation and the Nationals don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it — and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial, even if it involves a contempt for natural science.

The deniers rhetoric also involves dishonesty on the economics of the transition. A cap-and-trade system simply puts a limit on overall emissions, so that emitters have to pay a price for emitting. It transfers money from the emitters, and ultimately those who buy their products, to whoever collects the taxes (governments) or gets the permits, and ultimately whoever benefits from the revenue or rents thus generated.

The three options with regard to climate change are mitigation, adaptation, and suffering, and there is going to need to be a lot of both mitigation and adaptation in order to reduce the amount of suffering that results from climate change. John Holdren, the President Obama's top science adviser, says that:

we need a lot of mitigation in order to hold the changes in climate to the level that adaptation will be able to cope reasonably effectively with. At the same time, we can’t rely on mitigation alone without adaptation because nothing that we could manage in the mitigation domain can stop and reverse climate change overnight.

In a world polluted by some of the worst kind of public relations spin, we routinely experience deception as well as dramatic overstatement and overheated rhetoric about the costs of mitigation and adaptation as "part of the game" being played by the fossil fuel lobby to block change and continue business as usual.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:50 AM | | Comments (14)


the climate change denial campaign of disinformation and mass deception is one of extensive PR campaigns in recent history. It is primarily financed by the energy industry and is executed by some of the nation's best PR talent.

Their aim is to manufacture uncertainty, to politicize science, to deny that burning fossil fuels indiscriminately could change irrevocably our existence on the planet, and to say that coal is the key to our long-term health and prosperity.

Given the crapness of Rudd's ETS and the current state of 'debate' on climate change, now would be a good time for adaptation to enter the discussion.

Ken might know more, but apparently some of the northern NSW councils are taking rising sea levels seriously, and insurance companies won't cover some of the lower lying coastal areas already. Since most of us live on the coast it seems reasonable to start thinking about what to do with all those people just in case.

If insurance companies won't touch an area they deem threatened by rising sea levels, should the local govt have some kind of evacuation plan worked out? Shouldn't there be some information about local high ground gathering spots made publicly available? We should be talking about early warning systems, shelters, emergency services and planning supply lines and emergency communications systems.

More likely though, we'll wait for an equivalent of the Victorian bushfires.

Ben Eltham on the Greens CPRS policy at New Matilda.

The Greens' amendments to Labor's emissions trading scheme are sensible, rational improvements to a vital piece of public policy. And they'll be ignored

"As the climate change debate rumbles on towards a possible denouement in Copenhagen, it's comforting that at least one of Australia's political parties is taking the issue seriously."

thanks. That is an interesting article. I see that like Ross Garnaut, the Greens' amendments argue that all pollution permits should be auctioned, and that compensation to the so-called "emissions-intensive, trade-exposed industries" like aluminum smelting should be limited to "offsetting the impact created by the fact that some trading partners have not yet introduced carbon pricing policies".

In other words, big carbon should be compensated for some loss of competitiveness, but not to anywhere the absurd level Labor has promised.

this paragraph in Eltham's article in New Matilda is good:

On the face of it, the Government needs the support of Family First lightweight Steve Fielding — a self-confessed climate sceptic — to get the bill through, even with Nick Xenophon on board. But at the moment that's a mere detail, a sideshow to the real action entertaining Government strategists, namely the self-destructive carnage the Coalition is currently inflicting upon itself over the issue.

Now why do I find that easy to accept even though I voted for Rudd Labor because of its stance on climate change.

Mark Diesendorf, ithe deputy director of the Institute of Environmental Studies, UNSW, makes a good point in this op ed:

The incorrect notion that renewable energy cannot provide baseload (24-hour) power derives from propaganda disseminated by the coal and nuclear industries and their supporters. A sustainable energy future would have less baseload, thanks to energy efficiency and solar hot water, and more peakload to balance fluctuations.Baseload supply can be provided by a mix of wind, bioelectricity from combustion of residues of existing crops and plantation forests, solar thermal power with low-cost thermal storage and soon hot rock geothermal power.

By 2030 it will be technically possible to replace all conventional coal power with the following mixes: wind, bioelectricity and solar thermal each 20 to 30 per cent; solar photovoltaic 10 to 20 per cent; geothermal 10 to 20 per cent; and marine (wave, ocean current) 10 per cent.

Diesendorf makes little mention of natural gas---is that because its all been sold to China by the multinational energy companies?

As a retiree i am fearful of the consequences of the ETS. Increased charges for power, transport,food, utilities. With no income apart from a pension what compensation will I receive to offset these increases...zilch. As for the competiveness of the economy...gone. The ETS will be an absolute disaster in its present form.

There is to be compensation for households for increased power charges from the pricing of carbon to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The money comes from the selling of permits to pollute.

In their most basic form, cap-and-trade systems work by making it expensive to emit greenhouse gases. As a result, the owners of an emissions source are motivated to replace it with something less damaging to the environment. If they are unable to, the trading provisions allow them to purchase permits to continue emitting until they are ready to invest in new technology.

With market-based mechanisms one part of the economy is penalized, but another is rewarded. Whereas taxes tend to act as a brake on the economy, cap-and-trade programs simply slow old sectors of the economy while jump-starting growth in new ones. As that happens, the promise of green industries and green jobs starts to become a reality.

Turnbull's crunchtime on the ETS has been postponed. It seems that he has the okay (numbers) to begin negotiations with Wong around the Coalition's amendments to the ETS. What happens if these are rejected by Rudd + Co?

The opponents of emissions trading say that emissions trading is like a tax, so that they can fit it into a simplistic “government & taxation = bad” framework. They show little understanding of how a market -based cap and trade scheme actually works

There is a good account of how a cap and trading scheme works by Joel Kurtzman entitled The Low-Carbon Diet: How the Market Can Curb Climate Change at Foreign Affairs. It is better than a lot of the Australian commentary which is often borders on the bizarre.

ooops Kurtzman's Foreign Affairs article is behind a pay wall. You can access the whole artticle here.

the Coalition took over four hours to decide to give Turnbull the okay to negotiate on the ETS scheme---- on the condition that he not commit to anything.Four hours to decide whether or not to do their job! The schisms in the Coalition over this issue just deepen and broaden.

Turnbull's amendments would give the biggest carbon emitters even more free permits, even greater layers of pork-barrel lard, than Rudd has already given them.

Turnbull now needs to try to strike an agreement with the Government on the ETS, and then he has to get that deal through his party room.The amendments proposed by McFarlane are designed to be difficult for Rudd to accept. The amendments are all about saving jobs and protecting industry not shifting to a low carbon economy.

The Rudd Government's CPRS is structured so that the coal industry, including Victoria's brown coal, can expand, providing it can expand its export markets. It is not designed to shift to a low carbon economy.