Showing posts with label carbon tax. Show all posts
Showing posts with label carbon tax. Show all posts

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Climate change: the disastrous consequences of political short-sightedness

This piece originally appeared online at SMH on 6 November 2013. 
Like John Howard, Liberty was frozen in time

On Tuesday, John Howard addressed a gathering of British climate change sceptics. He accused the United Nations' climate panel, the IPCC, of including “nakedly political agendas” in its advice and then explained his government proposed an emissions trading scheme in 2006 in the face of a political perfect storm on the issue. He also said “…the high tide of public support for over-zealous action on global warming has passed.” And on that score, he's right.

Lately, when I hear our politicians discussing the climate, I can't get the images from the otherwise largely forgettable The Day After Tomorrow out of my head. It's a movie that takes a few creative liberties in showing the devastation that happens when polar ice melts due to global warming. 

The unsalted water from the glacier dilutes the ocean, causing the climate to change rapidly. Weird stuff starts to happen, like helicopters freezing solid in mid-flight and a massive flood in New York where Jake Gyllehaal huddles in the library with his friends. And then Jake's dad (Dennis Quaid) – one of the scientists who is not being heard – rescues him and their estranged relationship and the storm passes and the world thaws and, we're like, phew, glad that's over. And we don't just mean the storm.

But the point of the movie was politicians put their shortsighted economic and political interests first, with disastrous consequences.

Howard's is just the latest example in a long list. Watching Tony Abbott bat away suggestions that climate change is contributing to the frequency and ferocity of bushfires with suggestions that the UN Climate Change Chief is “talking out of her hat” and it's all “complete hogwash” fills me with the same sense of foreboding I get watching those disaster movies. He merrily goes on, posing for a pic opp with a fire hose and razing the carbon price, the Climate Change Authority and the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).

Interviewed recently on ABC's 7.30 program, Al Gore diplomatically avoided scoffing at the Coalition's plan, but reinforced the view that an emissions trading scheme, which drives change towards cleaner, more efficient energy sources is the preferred route. Gore, the mastermind of the most compelling PowerPoint presentation of all time in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, believes people power is the only way to combat the obvious conflicts that exist between political and business interests and the climate. He likened it to the pressure brought upon politicians by cigarette companies trying to sully the link between smoking and lung cancer.

“I think the public has a role in this and has a voice to be heard,” said Gore. “In the US, we had Hurricane Sandy, which was devastating - US$60 billion in damages and it caused a dramatic change in the message the public was sending to politicians in both parties.” Is it going to take a disaster of that magnitude for Australians to stand up and be heard? I hope not.

A short four years ago, Australia was reeling from the Black Saturday bushfires, in which a record number of people lost their lives in a raging inferno that followed a two-month, unprecedented heat wave. In 2011, Queensland and Victoria were inundated with floods. Climate change seemed palpable. It was happening all around us and even as skeptics brushed them off as cyclical events, we shifted uneasily in our seats and wanted something to be done.

Now, Abbott, with his trademark appeal to our hip pockets and self-interest (“Electricity Bill” – haw haw haw! Good one Tones!) is trying to have us believe that as long as our light bills go down, the world will be a better place.
Abbott's Direct Action policy means he'll dish out a confusing goodie-bag of treats to polluters to help them change their dirty habits.That's like handing an alcoholic $50 and asking him to spend it on green leafy vegetables.

Hollywood end-of-days disaster movies often depict bureaucrats or other people with power making self-centred decisions, usually to further their own interests, throwing the lives of others into peril.

Unless Australians stand up and demand a real solution (not the Coalition's Real Solution) to climate change, we could all be archival fodder for future generations. In a world ravaged irrevocably by warming, they may watch a darkly comic moment in a movie where an Environment Minister trusts Wikipedia over scientists, and leave shaking their heads. “What idiots they were to not act when they had the chance…”

Monday, 15 July 2013

Global climate change politics: an inconvenient truth

Polar bears. Bloody whingers.

On Sunday, Greens Leader Christine Milne called it on the ABC’s Insiders program: “In all this discussion about changing to a flexible price, no-one is talking about the impacts on the climate.” And she’s right.

Barely a month ago, President Obama gave a speech about climate change that reframed the challenge as a global, imminent concern that threatens not only our livelihood, but our life. 
It was the sort of impassioned plea that Malcolm Turnbull made in Parliament in 2010 – about preserving the planet for future generations. 

Turnbull said, “Climate change is the ultimate long-term problem. We have to make decisions today, bear costs today so that adverse consequences are avoided, dangerous consequences are avoided many decades into the future…”

That was three years ago. Australia was still reeling from the Black Saturday bushfires, where a record number of people lost their lives in a raging inferno that followed a two-month, unprecedented heatwave. In 2011, Japan shuddered from the fifth most powerful earthquake in Earth’s history, Christchurch also crumbled, and Queensland and Victoria were inundated with floods. Climate change seemed palpable. It was happening all around us and even as skeptics brushed them off as cyclical events, we shifted uneasily in our seats and wanted something to be done.

Now, America is feeling that same sense of urgency. As Obama said in his speech, the country has had its hottest year on record, the artic ice cap is melting to record levels and extreme weather events have cost the country millions.

But in Australia, we’ve become complacent. Victoria has a desalination plant that the Naphine Government has said we won’t need to draw from until at least 2016, because our dams are up to 74 per cent capacity. We whinge about the plant’s cost, forgetting how recently we would anxiously eye the ‘water storage’ calculator on billboards, watching levels plummet to below 35 per cent.

Do we even remember why we have a carbon tax/price in the first place?

Let’s recap. In 2006, Al Gore presented one of the most powerful PowerPoint presentations of all time in the documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. Suddenly, work that scientists had been quietly toiling away at for years became of interest to the mainstream. It was compelling stuff. We watched as the graphs soared into unchartered territory and we emerged alarmed and afraid of what we were doing to the Earth.

“DO SOMETHING!” the masses screamed. And governments did. Well, they started to. The British government released the Stern Review in October 2006, outlining the effect of climate change on the world’s economy. In Australia, John Howard kicked things off in 2007 by laying the groundwork needed to set up an emissions trading scheme, as recommended by the Shergold emissions trading task group.

Before the 2007 election, Kevin Rudd declared, “Climate change is the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time.” He was voted in, and then no sooner was the ink dry on his signature to the Kyoto Protocol; he suddenly lost his mojo for the environment that had been so convincing earlier. A new kid had come on stage – the GFC. The message shifted to bugger the planet; we need to get people out buying plasmas again.  So the planned Emissions Trading Scheme that had been worked on for years, and which Malcolm Turnbull had fallen on his sword for in lending bipartisan support to get through, was suddenly off the table in 2010. The greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time could wait another few years (until 2013) said Rudd.

Back then, Rudd’s capitulation on climate change marked a turning point for him in the polls, and soon, the faceless men came for him, quickly installing Gillard, who went into the 2010 election declaring a carbon tax a “never-ever” under her Government. But we know how that turned out, and in fairness, a hung parliament wasn’t on the radar when she said it.

Gillard created a Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, comprising members of the rag-tag Parliament to prepare a report on ways to introduce a carbon price. The result was the Carbon Pricing Scheme introduced on 1 July 2012, which required big emitters to purchase carbon emissions permits at a fixed price for the first two years, after which time the number of available permits would be capped and the price floated in line with an emissions trading scheme. As Milne told Barrie Cassidy on Insiders, the current scheme has been vilified as a ‘tax’, “…when in fact what we legislated was an emissions trading scheme with a fixed price period.” But don't let that get in the way of a good Coalition slogan eh? #bigfatcarbontax

It was part of the Clean Energy Future Plan, which provides investment in clean technologies, support for manufacturers and farmers to reduce their environmental impact, and help for households and businesses to reduce energy consumption and switch to cleaner sources. And it’s working. Just one year in, the Clean Energy Future Report notes that carbon pollution from electricity is down 7.4%, primarily because we’re switching to cleaner sources. The report states: “…renewable energy output increased by almost 30% and the output from the seven most highly-polluting coal generators was down 14% from the same period in 2011-12.” 

That’s a pretty good result, huh? So why aren’t we hearing more about this? Rudd has announced he’ll scrap the second fixed-price year and move straight to the floating price. This means it will cost a lot less for big emitters to pollute, just as their emitting behavior was starting to change.

Tony Abbott’s been imploring me to read his Real Solutions Plan, so I had a flick through to find out what his vision is for the climate. In 50 pages, ‘climate’ is mentioned once. The ‘Real Solution’ outlined is to shut down the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), established by the Gillard Government to invest in businesses trying to get innovative clean energy proposals off the ground.  He’ll also suspend the operations of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (no need for a regulator if you’re not collecting the carbon tax anymore).

The (other) Real Solution is to implement the Direct Action Plan on climate change and carbon emissions. But there’s no detail about that whatsoever in the Real Solutions Plan, so I Googled and eventually found it on Greg Hunt’s website. Not the Coalition’s website mind you, but I digress. The plan has slightly curled leaves on the front page, which seems like a good omen, but in actual fact, the leaves represent the entire plan. 

Yes, that’s right! The Direct Action Plan is to plant 20 million trees to suck up all the extra carbon being emitted into the atmosphere! Well, that, a few incentives for old and dirty businesses to clean up their act. No sticks here, just leaves and carrots.  Oh, and here’s the kicker. Abbott will scrap the carbon tax but keep the compensation to households (so will Rudd). Bills will go down. Power usage will go up and the compo cheque’s in the mail so you can go ahead and buy that third plasma TV. Direct Action to not change behaviour. Brilliant work, Tones! No wonder Turnbull said the policy was bullshit

We’ve lost sense of what action on climate change is all about. As Obama repositions the debate from parochial concerns about jobs and rallies Americans to lead the world on creating a greener planet and industries, the political leaders of Australia appeal to our hip pockets, and back away from the hard decisions that are needed to transition industry and attitudes, work once deemed so important.
Fair-weather politics at its worst.