October 31, 2013
The politics of climate change continues its slow burn through the body politic in a multitude of ways.
Even though we know that there will be mounting costs as the temperature rise goes beyond 2°-----and a rise of at least that much seems, at this point, almost impossible to avoid-----the Abbott Government is moving to repeal laws requiring big business to pay for the right to release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere,
The basic climate science isn't that hard to understand and its spelt out by Paul Krugman. By burning huge amounts of fossil fuels, we have greatly increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and will almost surely increase it much more in the next few decades. The problem is that CO2 is a greenhouse gas (as are several other gases also released as a consequence of industrialization): it traps heat, raising the planet’s temperature.
Warming, in turn, has a number of consequences going beyond a simple rise in temperatures. Sea levels will rise, both from the expansion of the water itself and from melting ice. Hurricanes will become more intense, because they are fed by warm water. Local climates may shift drastically, e.g., with wet areas becoming even wetter or going dry. The oceans will become more acidic.
It's also not that hard to understand how to deal with--stop burning coal to generate electricity. Emissions of greenhouse gases are just a kind of pollution. We initially deal with this by putting a price on emissions and/or issuing a limited number of licenses to pollute, and let people buy and sell those pollution permits—a so-called cap-and-trade system. Carbon pricing is standard textbook economics to deal with negative externalities such as pollution as it provides individuals and firms have a financial incentive to cut back.
So why the slow burn and the angst? Well there's real corporate power behind the opposition to any kind of climate action; corporate power defending naked self-interest as it means severely limiting our use of coal to generate electricity. Then there's the strand of modern Australian conservatism that rejects not just climate science, but the scientific method in general. Even though an emissions trading scheme is a market based mechanism the ideology of the free market crowd, such as the IPA, rejects any government intervention into the free market by the environmental state.
Their strategy has been to block action by warping the political debate by both denying climate science and by exaggerating the costs of pollution abatement. They use their power and wealth to gain political power and to break the back of the ALP. They now govern the country in their own interests.
It's not that hard to understand.