An unholy alliance is on foot. Organizations and people with quite different perspectives and for different, sometimes evidently self-serving, reasons are pressing for a carbon price to reduce uncertainty. Greg Combet, the Greens, the multi-party committee on climate, the Sustainable Energy Association, the Climate Institute, Marius Kloppers, the Australian Bankers’ Association, the Energy Supply Association, AGL, Diamond Energy and so on. All say that a carbon price is necessary for certainty. Certainty is needed they say to encourage the power generation and distribution industry to invest in additional capacity. Apparently the prospect of an imminent national scheme (parameters unknown) to penalise the emission of carbon dioxide is (unsurprisingly) stopping the industry from investing in new capacity. Well, to quote Ross Garnaut in another context, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Taxation at yet unspecified levels, coverage unknown, eventually morphing into an emission trading system, date and details unknown; at a guess, might not encourage investment. Moreover, if and when an emission trading scheme of known parameters is introduced, such a scheme gives rise intrinsically to uncertainty. What will be the price of buying permits to emit carbon dioxide in the year such a scheme is introduced? How about two, five, ten and fifteen years on? Power stations are not short term investments. Power companies will be faced with increased uncertainty unless they take out very long term and, therefore, costly hedges.
Let’s see, this seems to be the situation. Force up electricity prices by mandating renewal energy targets and by implementing mad state-based schemes to force power companies to buy back at inflated prices energy produced by subsidised totally inefficient solar panels. Paralyse the power industry into an investment pause by foreshadowing unknown, imminent and significant emission costs. Say, look see what is happening. We must quickly tax the industry to encourage it to invest otherwise electricity prices will rise even higher than if we didn’t tax the industry but only constantly threatened to. I think I have this right.
Tony Abbott responds to this argument by saying that he will produce certainty by enshrining a zero price on carbon dioxide emissions. You would think this would be a winning argument in most situations; except, of course Greg Hunt, shadow minister for climate action (doesn’t the name say it all) goes to lengths to make sure everyone understands that he takes man-made global warming as seriously as anyone else on the planet. For him “climate change is real” to quote Julia Gillard’s favourite statement of the bleeding obvious.
Herein lies a problem. If climate change is real, in the sense that the PM actually means, then Abbott’s repudiation of pricing the emission of carbon dioxide can be attacked as inadequate to meet the threat; and out of keeping with the direction the international community is likely to go. After all, if the levelling of temperatures over the past decade or so is a mere hiatus, the upward trend will soon recommence with a vengeance bringing catastrophe in its wake.
Bob Carter and other scientists of standing, who provide cogent reasons why the increases in temperatures seen since 1975 are in keeping with natural variations, are not being listened to at a political level. Mainstream politicians of whatever hue are frightened of being classed as climate deniers. We have seen one of the most successful propaganda campaigns in the history of the world. Conservative politicians like Howard and Abbott have been cowed into joining the “two legs good four legs bad” chorus line. This has occurred at the same time as conservative thinking people outside parliament, who have looked objectively at the evidence (albeit as laypersons), have found that man-made global warming does not stack up.
The course of temperatures since the end of the little ice age does not point to something untoward happening since 1975, anymore than the course of temperatures from the mid 1940s to 1975 portended untoward global cooling. And all of this is beside the separate persuasive arguments – that replacing efficient energy sources with windmills, and the like, lessens our economic capacity to deal with climate challenges of any variety; and that if “climate change is real”, adapting to it rather than trying (futilely) to prevent it is a more realistic and practical response.
This is a “your country needs you” moment for conservative politicians. They need to have the integrity and courage to reopen the debate at its very source, including by exposing and dismantling the self-evident scam that the science is settled. It is all now becoming too silly and damaging for words. Prodded by nincompoops, to wit the Greens and assorted independents, we have a Labor government intent on damaging Australia’s competitive position, and the manufacturing industry, in which many of its supporters work, on some quixotic quest to lower the planet’s temperature. This could not be made up.
Perhaps the Coalition could start by establishing its own climate change committee, with wide terms of reference, to which it could invite a number of politicians from the other side and from the independents. They wouldn’t attend of course (Bob Katter might) but that is by the way. Climate experts of different views and an objective economist could be appointed (economists who think they are climatologists, alarmists and hangers on excluded) and meetings and hearings held and journalists briefed. Maybe Hunt and Malcolm Turnbull could be turned. Somehow I think Abbott could be persuaded to follow. Australia then might eventually live up to Kevin Rudd’s ambition and lead the world onto a saner path on climate, if not quite in the way he imagined.