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

selling out Australia's national interest « Previous | |Next »
December 22, 2009

The Australian has increasingly become ever more hostile to the Rudd Government. Its standard line of attack is that Rudd + Co can do no good, that the Rudd Government is on the slide electorally, the dynamic Coalition under Abbott and Joyce is spoiling for a fight, and the populist movement is on the march against Canberra. The Australian has become the equivalent of Fox News in Australia.

Consequently, it now adopts odd positions to sustain its angry oppositional stance. For instance, the latest editorial on Copenhagen---Put Australia's interests first--equates Australia's national interest with the miners and heavy industry who have long opposed an emissions trading scheme.

Australia's policymakers need to protect the national interest by guarding against carbon leakage and the export of jobs to developing nations. Such an approach will also be in the best interests of the global environment, as few developing nations have enforced the strict anti-pollution standards that apply in Australia and other advanced economies....Aside from heavy job losses and economic meltdown, there would be much to lose environmentally by Australia scaling back mining, minerals processing or heavy industry through overly punitive measures.Shortfalls in production would be made up quickly by rapidly industrialising nations and rival raw material exporters.

These are the talking points of the fossil fuel industry that opposes any shift to a low carbon economy. True, the editorial does mention "giving the planet the benefit of the doubt" (Rupert Murdoch's position), but there is no consideration of what that actually means, other than selling more coal and using cheap power from coal-fired stations.

The position is that climate change is crap and that the Rudd Government is selling out Australian's longterm national interest as it is acting to undermine our export competitiveness.This is also the position of the IPA. The implication of the fossil fuel position is that this industry is telling us citizens to get used to living in a warmer world. That is the price to be paid for the benefits of economic growth based on the dominance of fossil fuels in Australian life.

What is problematic about those ideologues who defend the fossil fuel industry position is that there is no mention, or even recognition, that Australia is already suffering the impacts of climate change and this is simply going to get worse until the rest of the world gets its act together. Hence it is in Australia's national interest that it should be concerned at both the failure of Copenhagen, and our failure to substantially invest in renewable technologies in energy and transport. It is this failure that signifies a political crisis.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:32 AM | | Comments (5)


Well yes Gary your final paragraph says it all. That is indeed the real (as opposed to rhetorical) position which I expect developed countries to take for quite a few years into the future. The task of putting together an infrastructure that will actually achieve anything useful is beyond our political institutions. Maybe, when climate change is so obvious that a vocal majority demands action and the Bolts and Plimers and the like are consigned to irrelevance and ridicule, something new can be attempted, but of course it will all be far too late by then.

re your comment "The task of putting together an infrastructure that will actually achieve anything useful is beyond our political institutions."

It is beyond these institutions in the US and Australia because they've been captured by the green mafia lobby representing the fossil fuel industry, miners and the heavy export energy users.

John Humphreys from the Centre of Independent Studies argues in The National Times that the only long-term fix for global warming is better technology, and so community groups should be looking at ways to encourage investment in alternative energy technology.He adds:

To engage the community, climate activists should offer the chance to contribute to a climate-change fighting fund which would be dedicated to action and not politics....The climate fighting fund could then commit to buying low-emission energy from alternative energy producers and selling that energy into the power grid at the going market price. For example, if alternative energy was twice the price of coal energy, then the climate fighting fund could buy $2 billion of alternative energy and sell that into the power grid for $1 billion, using the donations to pay the difference.

He adds that the effect would be a price signal with the same effect as a carbon tax or trading system but without the cost to the economy. The immediate effect would be an increase in alternative energy and a reduction in coal-based energy. However, the main benefit comes from encouraging the market for alternative energy.

Civil society is the solution not the government; and voluntary action is better than making the polluters pay for their pollution. Strange, therefore, that Humphries makes no mention of the voluntary action by households in putting photovoltaics on their rooftops.

Any single solution to climate change proposal, like Humphreys', is up against the fact that just about everything we do contributes to the problem, including the way we engage with international politics and trade.

True, it would be great to see investment in alternative energy and rewards for contributions to the grid, but what to do about our reliance on the combustion engine in this vast country, or the wealth generated by selling coal, or the politically and practically tricky question of nuclear power, or teaching an entire population to turn off the lights and think before they turn on the air conditioner?

John Hewson said carbon pollution should be a priority consideration in everything we do, but is that even politically possible while we equate the nation with the economy as it's currently structured? Like Ken, I suspect that it will become a whole lot more possible around about the time it's all way too late.

thinking about what happens from here needs to allow for the possibility that the future of business as usual may not be an appropriate assumption. There is a link to an interesting paper at Larvateus Prodeo which explores some possible reasons why the future may take a different trajectory.

the issues raised by Brian Davey

– the narrative about Copenhagen has been about the last ditch chance to prevent a growing economy bringing a climate catastrophe along with it. But what if the future is not one of continued expansion but one of contraction and disorganisation?


As the world becomes more complex it becomes necessarily more opaque. The more interrelated elements that there are in any given situation the harder it is to trace back the causative influences determining events. At the same time it becomes less easy to predict what the knock-on consequences of an event or an action will be. The creation of unintended side consequences becomes inevitable. The management and steering of complex systems becomes virtually impossible. What really happens is a constant process of knee-jerk responses, a constant process of review and studies from consultants and a public relations facade to hide the underlying chaos.

In large and complex systems, top-down management tends to break down.

Davey is not clear whether this a cause of hope or despair - but proposes that we need to take these issue seriously in thinking about future policy after Copenhagen.