Doomed Planet

Combet’s hot air tax

No seasonal break for the climate commissars

Following the failure of the UN’s Cancun talkfest, Climate Minister Greg Combet, displaying what Paul Keating would doubtless term remarkable intransigence, commented that it was still “very important from the government’s point of view that a market mechanism is adopted" to put a price on carbon dioxide.

Scrabbling to regain similar lost ground, EU Commissioner for Climate Action (a real, and not satirical, title) Connie Hedegaard has now started to spin up the outcome of the Cancun conference as being a great success (“Cancun deal puts climate action back on track”, The Australian, Dec. 27).

According to Ms. Hedegaard, the major Cancun achievements were an agreement to limit future global temperature increase to 2 deg. C (a policy ambition that represents an astonishing mixture of scientific ignorance and political hubris), and the agreement of a package of climate-related financial aid to third world countries that is forecast as attaining $100 billion annually by 2020; to believe that this money will be well spent, or even provided at all, represents the triumph of UN hope over likely reality.

Ms. Hedegaard was the former Minister for the Environment who approved the conditions under which Danish financial traders were able to rip-off the European carbon dioxide trading market of an amount estimated by the auditor general to be 38 billion kroner. In 2007, she allowed a Danish carbon dioxide registry to be set up with lax rules, amongst other things removing the requirement for trader identification. One result of this was that more than 1100 of 1256 traders registered in Denmark (almost 90%) were set up with fraudulent intent, and have subsequently been delisted as their crimes became apparent.

Ms. Hedegaard, therefore, is scarcely the type of public official whose advice Australia should be seeking, and that she and Mr. Combet are hand-in-glove in their attitudes regarding the still entirely hypothetical “dangerous global warming” is a matter for concern.

Mr Combet’s continued, and unrealistic, support for the introduction of a carbon dioxide tax or trading system was announced on Dec. 21st, together with the results of the third meeting of the Prime Minister’s Multi-Party Committee on Climate Change (MCCC). 

As part of its last pre-Christmas pantomime performance, the MCCC enunciated eleven key principles to be applied in deciding the details of their planned new, economically damaging and futile carbon dioxide tax. 

Here are those eleven principles, along with some comments regarding the value of each. 

Environmental effectiveness. The reality is that cutting Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions, even altogether, will confer no measurable environmental benefit. Computer models suggest that a cut in emissions of, say, 20% by 2050 will (hypothetically) prevent warming by less than one-thousandth of a degree. By definition, then, a carbon dioxide tax is ineffective. 

Economic efficiency. No economic need, let alone efficiency, is sensibly met by taxing an environmentally beneficial trace gas. 

Budget neutrality. Whose budget? The imposition of a tax of, say, $30/tonne will impose on every Australian household increased costs estimated at more than $2,000 per year. 

Competitiveness of Australian industries. The introduction of a carbon dioxide tax is intended to, and will, significantly increase the cost of energy generation. Obviously, the resultant increase in business costs will reduce the competitiveness of Australian industry against overseas counterparts in countries (most) that have no similar tax. 

Energy security. In fact, energy security is sharply compromised by the very policies that the committee is espousing. Which are to continue to discriminate against coal, uranium and hydropower as energy sources, thereby taking out of play three of the only four currently practical sources of baseload power generation. Restricting the nation’s options in this way leaves only gas and oil for baseload generation, reduces energy security dramatically and is irresponsible. 

Investment certainty. Industry frequently calls for policy certainty regarding future investment in power generation. Terry McCrann was amongst the first to point out that such certainty would be most easily and cost-effectively assured by declaring a carbon dioxide tax of $0/tonne. 

Fairness for households. The committee must surely be kidding. Any form of carbon dioxide taxation will inescapably cause increased costs for households, especially those of poorer socio-economic status. Mark well, the most disadvantaged Australians are going to pay, and that quite irrespective of any subsidy measures that the government may trumpet. 

Flexibility to changing international circumstances. International circumstances have indeed changed recently, and the failure of nations to reach a global climate agreement at either the Copenhagen or Cancun conferences has been greeted in Australia with zero flexibility. Our policymakers and climate alarm lobbyists, now led by an unoriginal Mr Combet, have simply reiterated their earlier, failed policies of taxing carbon dioxide. The most important circumstance to be aware of now, of course, is that once such a tax is introduced it will be almost impossible to remove – despite its being unnecessary, inefficient and ultimately futile. 

Administrative simplicity. Dream on. Remember, a Canberra-based committee is designing this unnecessary new tax. 

Accountability. Of whom, and for what? If blame is to be sheeted home for the faulty scientific advice that has led to the current global warming policy fiasco, then CSIRO, BOM, the Department of Climate Change and major university climate research groups would be good places to start to look for culprits. 

Support for Australia’s international objectives. Australian objectives presumably should not include economic and political stupidity in the face of the collapsed talkfests at Copenhagen and Cancun. The idea that overseas nations will discriminate against Australia unless we implement anti-carbon dioxide measures is well worn out, and has anyway always been a juvenile argument. Nations take hard decisions in accordance with their sovereign economic interests, irrespective of Green lobby group dreaming. 

The irony is that the eleven principles adopted by the MCCC, to the degree that they are not mere persiflage, add up to a strong argument for NOT introducing a levy on carbon dioxide emissions, i.e., the principles indicate a course of action precisely the opposite of what the government currently intends. 

This obvious conclusion escapes not only the government, but also our national newspaper which editorialised recently (December 30th): 

Blaming Julia Gillard’s [intended] carbon legislation [for recent increases in the price of power] will come easily to consumers — even if putting a price on carbon is inevitable and logical. A price mechanism is the cheapest way to end uncertainty and reduce pollution …

Meanwhile, from the UK has just come the news that, with a December temperature average of -1 deg. C, England has already had its second coldest winter since records begin in 1659 – and, if January and February continue to be cold, England may yet achieve its coldest winter in the last 1,000 years. 

The effective response from the British Meteorological Office (BMO) was for Director Julia Sligo to demand more funding to purchase bigger computers, saying:

It’s quite clear that if we could run our models at a higher resolution we could do a much better job — tomorrow — in terms of our seasonal and decadal predictions. It’s so frustrating. We keep saying we need four times the computing power. We’re talking just 10 or 20 million a year — dollars or pounds — which is tiny compared to the damage done by disasters

The delusion that pouring more funds into ever more powerful computers will “solve” the climate prediction problem is chimerical, and simply represents an infinite regress for continuing (indeed, increased) funding for the very scientists who have led us astray so badly by their naïve over-reliance on unvalidated computer models in the first place. 

To the degree that statements such as those made by BMO’s Dr. Sligo represent the views of the professional meteorological community, that community has now moved beyond parody and demands to be ridiculed. Can it really be the case that amidst the hurricane of Green spin about global warming, not a single bureaucrat or government politician in Canberra has retained a functioning bullshit detector? 

Remarkably, in enunciating their “eleven principles”, the Canberra MCCC managed to evade entirely any mention of the underpinning scientific justification for introducing a tax on carbon dioxide. That is, of course, because there is none (which is doubtless why only one, tame, scientist was included as a member of the committee in the first place). 

As the government will discover from its focus groups over the next few months, no matter how hard Mr. Combet tries to spin it as beneficial, they will introduce a carbon dioxide tax at their considerable electoral peril. 

For where global warming alarmism is concerned, the good news is that the bullshit detectors of the Australian electorate are both alive and activated.

Bob Carter is a geologist at James Cook University and author of Climate: the Counter Consensus

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