Doomed Planet

Hot air tax

Debate continues to rage over the merits of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s proposed carbon tax after she broke a pre-election promise, but so far it’s all a bit premature, just like the plan.

It’s probably time to move on from the “Liar, liar, pants on fire,” accusations being thrown up on both sides of Federal Parliament, the media and the blogosphere. You can’t argue black is white when everyone has seen the TV footage of the PM carefully mouthing the words in her slow Aussie drawl, “There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead”.

So she has since changed her mind and agreed with her new Green power-sharing partners that suddenly the time is right for a carbon tax which will be the fore-runner of an emissions trading scheme. This is what she said she wanted all along, which must come as some surprise to her Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, seeing she was instrumental in persuading him to steer away from that course after the Copenhagen Climate Conference failed to reach any agreement at the end of 2009.

It’s history that this only accelerated Rudd’s fall from grace which led to the “Night of the Long Knives” and we woke up to find we had a new Prime Minister.

Some have seen the irony and seized on the last few words of the sentence that has come back to haunt her : “… under the government I lead.”

As one comment on The Punch said, “Maybe Julia didn’t lie ….Beware the Ides of March, Julia (or any month coming soon) your prediction could well prove correct…” It’s a fairly obvious leap, given what happened to Julius Caesar and Kevin Rudd at the hands of their colleagues. 

Then there is the strange timing of the carbon tax plan’s announcement. It has more loose ends than a drunken sailor’s knot and if there were any thoughts the media’s focus on the tragedy in Christchurch would divert attention from the broken promise, that was a bad miscalculation. 

If the aim was to stop criticism of potential increases in energy costs flowing on to a whole range of essential items because no price was set, that was also a lost cause. Naturally the Opposition seized on an example of what could happen with a hypothetical carbon price and ran with it. 

The government and the Greens have left themselves wide open to attack by making the announcement prematurely without tying it to a base price and without ruling in or out such crucial components as petrol or diesel fuel. 

Promises that all funds raised by the tax will go to compensating the poor and encouraging greener alternative energy have been outweighed by concerns costs will inevitably rise and offsets won’t go far enough.

With no facts to back up the proposal, it’s a hard sell for the government. “Trust me, we’ll look after you,” will not impress too many families already juggling the rising costs of power, fuel, food and housing. 

Supporters of the new tax proposal say it is necessary to tackle “climate change”. But “climate change” is a misleading term. The only point of contention is whether it is “anthropogenic” or man-made. 

We are constantly told, “the science is settled” but there is a growing number of scientists who disagree. More than 30,000 have signed a petition disputing the widely promoted IPCC view that CO2 emissions are a main driver of climate change:

We urge the United States Government to reject the global warming agreement that was written in Kyoto, Japan in December, 1997, and any other similar proposals. The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.

There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth …

But accepting for argument’s sake that it is a real problem, will a carbon tax in Australia help to address that? 

We hear much from the likes of the government’s climate change advisor, Professor Ross Garnaut (an economist) and Professor Tim Flannery (a mammologist) but another view from Professor Bob Carter makes good sense: 

Despite this lack of evidence for dangerous, or potentially dangerous, warming, and despite the lack of efficacy of cutting carbon dioxide emissions as a means of preventing the trivial warming that is likely to occur (cutting all of Australia’s emissions would theoretically prevent, perhaps, around one-thousandth of a degree of warming), the political course in Canberra is now set on carbon tax autopilot, and the plane is flying squarely into the eye of a storm that is labelled “let’s spin a regressive new tax as a virtuous environmental measure”. 

So the debate on climate change is far from over, the science is not settled because the government, the Greens and some journalists would like us to think so. 

And the debate on the merits of a carbon tax hasn’t really started until we know just what we are debating. Until then, it’s just more hot air.

John Mikkelsen is a career journalist. He was the editor of the Gladstone Observer and is now a regular newspaper columnist, freelance writer and blogger. 

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