Green reasons to oppose Australia’s carbon price

Critics of the Gillard government’s proposed carbon price get daily coverage in Australia’s mainstream media. But some types of critic — those who want Australia to stay a polluter’s paradise — are heard the loudest.

Other views, which say the carbon price plan is a dangerous diversion from real climate action, are mostly frozen out.

Below are four green reasons to oppose the carbon price.

1. Emissions and fossil fuel use go up

For a policy that is supposed to drive Australia’s carbon emissions down, the carbon price does a very bad job.

Treasury modelling for the carbon price says Australia’s domestic emissions will rise by about 10% in the next 15 to 20 years.

It says by 2020, coalmining will rise by 45%, gas mining by 100% and iron ore mining by 104%.

By 2050, it says coal production will be 109% higher than in 2010. Gas production will be 155% higher and iron ore production will be a whopping 408% above today’s level.

Output in Australia's other main emissions-intensive industries — aluminium, alumina, cement, chemicals, oil refining, paper and steel — go up under the carbon price.

Road passenger transport will go up. Road freight transport will go up. Logging will go up. Air travel … you get the drift.

Meanwhile, the world’s top climate scientists are emphatic that we cannot afford to delay driving emissions down.

German climate scientist Hans Schellenhuber told ABC’s Lateline the world is on track for four degrees of warming by the end of the century.

“And, by the way,” Schellenhuber said, “Australia is surrounded by oceans — four degrees sustained for a while would mean at least a seven or 10 metre sea level rise; probably it would melt down all the ice on this planet. That accounts to 70 metres, seven oh, metres in the long term.”

We need a plan to phase out polluting industries and replace them with clean ones. But the government’s plan will entrench the fossil fuel economy for decades to come.

2. It pays out to polluters

The whole point of the carbon price scheme is to create a price signal that makes pollution more expensive and clean technology cheaper. But the billions of dollars it gives out to big polluters sends the signal the other way.

The polluters’ compensation package rewards their bad behaviour. It turns the polluters-pay principle on its head: now polluters get paid.

The excuse for paying polluters is to protect jobs. It would be much better to spend these billions creating new green jobs for workers and communities that now depend on polluting industries to make a living.

Some have defended the carbon price on psychological grounds, saying it sends a strong message to business that it will eventually have to change its ways.

But surely the message business has learned is that lying, scaremongering and manipulating the political process pays off — big time.

The big polluters have learned that if they make false claims about company shutdowns and job losses, the government will take money that could be spent on renewables and hand it to them instead. It’s a bad precedent.

We need a plan that ends government subsidies to polluters. But the government’s plan gives them more.



3. Markets are bad at structural change

Modelling for the carbon price says not to expect Australia’s emissions to fall soon, but it does predict the carbon price will help cut emissions in other countries.

Australian companies will pay these other countries some money and get carbon offset permits in return. The carbon price plan allows Australian polluters to cash in these credits and claim to have therefore cut Australia's emissions.

Carbon offsets are the way the government says Australia will reach its 5% emissions cut target. Offsets are, to put it politely, a gigantic scam.

When you buy a carbon offset, what exactly are you buying? No one can tell you for sure.

Carbon market researcher Larry Lohmann said in a 2008 article that carbon offsets assume “knowledge we don't have”.

He said: “All these ‘carbon offsets’ are supposed to be climatically equivalent to cutting your coal, oil or gas use.

“But you can’t prove that. You can add up how much greenhouse gas your offset ‘saves’ only if you assume that without it, only a single world would be possible. This assumption has no scientific basis.

“Researcher Dan Welch sums up the difficulty: ‘Offsets are an imaginary commodity created by deducting what you hope happens from what you guess would have happened.’”

When emissions trading begins in 2015, Australian companies will also trade carbon credits between each other.

But even if Australia's emissions trading scheme worked as it is supposed to — and it has failed everywhere else it has been tried — it would still set us back.

Carbon Trade Watch’s Kevin Smith said in a 2006 BBC News article that all emissions trading schemes favour cheap, short-term measures and penalise rapid changes to cut emissions.

“[Emissions trading] schemes allow us to sidestep the most fundamentally effective response to climate change that we can take, which is to leave fossil fuels in the ground,” he said. “This is by no means an easy proposition for our heavily fossil fuel dependent society; however, we all know it is precisely what is needed.

“What incentive is there to start making these costly, long-term changes when you can simply purchase cheaper, short-term carbon credits?”

Lohmann said it’s not reasonable to rely on carbon pricing to solve the climate dilemma: “Prices can do many things, but one thing they have never done is solve problems that require structural change in so many fundamental areas of industrial life.”

We need a plan that puts people and planet first. But the government's plan is to extend the market to more aspects of nature and hope for the best.

4. There is a better option

We could redesign our economy along sustainable lines very quickly, if there was the political will. The good news is Australian governments have done this kind of thing before.

Australia’s energy system was built by public investment, as were its transport system, its agricultural system and even its banking system.

A serious response to the climate change emergency would have the government do it again — this time creating many thousands of secure, well-paid green jobs in the process.

Rather than new fossil fuel power stations, the government could invest in large-scale wind and solar thermal plants for all our energy. Rather than new roads, it could build high-speed rail connections and expand suburban mass transit.

Rather than giving handouts to coal companies, it could plough that money into making the Hunter and Latrobe valleys renewable energy manufacturing hubs.

Rather than yet another big business tax cut, it could increase the rate a few notches and use the money raised to help farmers redesign Australia’s food system so it can withstand a warmer climate.

Public investment in a green economy is the smart economic move too. Once a 100% renewable energy system is in place, there are no more fuel costs. That would save Australia billions of dollars every year, forever. Within decades the investment will be repaid — a nice bonus to go along with a safe climate and an inhabitable planet.

The reason there is no widespread discussion of the public investment option is because vested interests and pro-market true believers dominate the mainstream debate on climate solutions.

Most economists and governments insist that setting up a market — a market that trades in imaginary commodities — is the most efficient and cost effective way to cut emissions. Some big green groups have come to accept this framework and keep their policy advice within its bounds.

But this has not produced the kind of climate policy ordinary people will rally around — as the carbon price polling shows.

The giant holes in the carbon price scheme are helping Tony Abbott's campaign to become the next prime minister. And Abbott openly promises to take no serious action on climate change whatsoever.

A bad policy like the carbon price makes it harder to convince the Australian people that genuine action on climate change will make their lives better.

We need a plan that is hopeful and inspiring, a plan that can work. But the government’s plan repeats the mistakes of the past and sticks with business as usual.

Comments

Call a no confidence in the constitution & start a new one because that is the only way other than proving they are corrupt & putting them on trial. You can protest & argue & run elections & they will simply talk a big heap of shit & make the smallest token of recognition then carry one doing exactly what they were doing with absolutely no regard for the population. All that will happen is people are just going to talk & the Corporations have armies all, the worlds money & are willing to use everthing in their power to do what they will. It is going to take about twenty five years of war to get rid of them & you can send them as many messages you like. If you want an example of their mindset go to the zoo & tell the crocodile to do as he is told & with determination & unending sensible advise, he will learn how to put up with the slight noise not far away,the noise is noise that is generated is well worth the food source tomorrow or the day after. Study your enemy & recognise that he is your enemy or you haven`t got a chance.Do you let a gambler set the laws on gambling ? A junky to regulate laws on drugs ? Why are we letting Corporations & investors self regulate. Any time they want to deregulate something they really want to rape the country with it. Like lowering sentences on car theft so that money can be generated from car rackets,which really robbs the insurance companies who then claim losses of the tax department. A big criminal machine robbing the public ! Then they get to walk around with their noses in the air & their kids can pick on our kids, their kids get University degrees,a dowry & our kids harrassed by police & the dole or prison. Basic subsistance . While we watch them murder our counterparts in other countries where our governments herd & slaughter people at will while they starve them into submission. The time for talk has ended.

I am not sure if by public investment you mean nationalisation of transport, banking and agriculture. If so, why not just say so? Otherwise, what you are proposing is in fact a gigantic subsidy to the private sector. In that case, what GLW is doing is proposing the same policies as Tony Abbott.

Where are you proposing the capital for all of this public investment will come from? The biggest sources of capital that is available in Australia are the superannuation funds. A public investment strategy would have to sequester those funds by nationalising all super funds. If you did nationalise you would be faced with a furious working class who would certainly rebel against your plan to take their retirement money and forcibly direct it to public investment in green energy. Whether you like it or not, workers are expecting good investment returns for their superannuation retirement funds. The GLW government would end up having to cough up giant subsidies to guarrantee market returns on funds.

Unless you are planning to nationalise the whole economy in a command economy (the kind of economy that cuba recently abandoned) then the public investment that you make will be done by the private sector (businesses and farmers).

The carbon tax is no panacea, but it is an essential component of any strategy to reduce carbon emissions in a mixed economy. The argument ought to be about the direction in which the proceeds of the tax are re distributed. Of course markets are bad at structural change, that is precisely why markets need to have systems of regulation and taxation.

You are riding on the coattail of Tony Abbotts populist crusade against the carbon tax. It might sell papers and get cheers from an Australian public that is generally ignorant and stupid when it come to matters political but its bad politics.

By "public investment", I'm pretty sure the article means public investment in, and ownership over, renewable energy, public transport, low-carbon steelworks, etc.

Socialist Alliance and Green Left Weekly aren't "riding on the back" of any "populist crusade" (Tony Abbott's or anybody else's). Rather, these policies are based upon 1) what the science says is necessary, 2) what technology and capacity already exists, and 3) bringing about the transition to a sustainable society in a socially just manner that puts people and the planet ahead of profits and corporate interests.

The carbon "price" package falls far short of 1), blindly ignores 2), and - compensation measures aside - has got 3) back to front.

As for where the money's coming from, this article from August last year outlines how Socialist Alliance's policies could be funded.

This kind of argument boils down to, if you criticise you are a wrecker, splitter, a Trot, a social-fascist, depending on the decade the terminology will change but it amounts to an ad hominem as a way of deflecting criticism.

This is how the centre-left like to attack the Greens and socialists. It's not an honest form of debate. It has nothing to do with Abbott's "populist" crusade (in which he has enlisted the support of such "populists" as Gina Rinehart!). Abbott wants to keep the Latrobe Valley power stations burning coal; no one at Green Left wants that.

Public investment is not a difficult or radical strategy. Essentially the government makes available loans that commercial entities would be unwilling to advance because there is a faster return on their capital available elsewhere. These loans could be to public or private entities. Your train of thought about sequestering superannuation funds, while not necessarily a bad idea if there was a guaranteed pension, is just speculation and putting words into GLWs mouth.

The revenue shouldn't be hard to raise. Return corporate tax rates to their pre-1984 levels, I think it was 60% as opposed to less than 30% now.

I notice you don't actually refute any of the arguments made in the article. Instead you resort to smearing GLW as following Abbott and set up a bizarre strawman argument about superannuation and nationalisation. Sounds like an act of desperation from someone who knows they're backing a dud.

The "carbon tax" you support isn't really a tax at all - it will become an emissions trading scheme in a few years, creating a brand new market to be exploited by business. If it were just a tax it would be better, yet still as potentially damaging to working people.

You accuse GLW of opportunistically following Abbott to help sell newspapers. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only has GLW opposed Abbott's phony criticism which is couched in climate change denial, it also opposes the government's plan that will do more harm than good in getting to where the science tells us we need to be in the short time available. Rather than being "populist" as you accuse, this makes GLW's position the least popular going around currently.

"Public investment is not a difficult or radical strategy. Essentially the government makes available loans that commercial entities would be unwilling to advance because there is a faster return on their capital available elsewhere. These loans could be to public or private entities. Your train of thought about sequestering superannuation funds, while not necessarily a bad idea if there was a guaranteed pension, is just speculation and putting words into GLWs mouth."

"The revenue shouldn't be hard to raise. Return corporate tax rates to their pre-1984 levels, I think it was 60% as opposed to less than 30% now."

No increase in corporate taxes would be able fund a public investment strategy in green energy. If you did increase corporate taxes to 60% you would have a net outflow of investment from Australia to other countries whos company taxes are under 30%. It would precipitate a major investment crises. So you are advocating the government makes loans available to private enterprises at lower rates of interest, which is in effect a giant subsidy to capitalist corporations. Direct subsidies to capitalist corporations are what Tony Abbot is advocating.

Let me repeat: "The carbon tax is no panacea, but it is an essential component of any strategy to reduce carbon emissions in a mixed economy. The argument ought to be about the direction in which the proceeds of the tax are re distributed. Of course markets are bad at structural change, that is precisely why markets need to have systems of regulation and taxation."

We who oppose the polluters and the Carbon Tax which SUPPORTS the polluters are branded as either Liberal supporters or Naive!! Get Up the supposedly independent organization has done nothing to come out with the Truth!! Get Up should be our voice not the Government's ..Get Up said nothing about refugees going to their Limbo in Malaysia ..The Greens led by Bob Brown is also an accomplice of all this!!

Charles

Really i think overall the carbon tax is good, while there might be a better option at least the government is taking action and we should be happy about it. Everyone should stop being so negative! If your concerned about rising electricity bills or whatever don't go on about how bad it will be! Take a stance and do something about it, get solar energy. Seriously it isn't that hard.

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