Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The cost of carbon

I heard Penny Wong (Australia's Climate Change Minister) on the radio today talking about the government's just released Green Paper. There were questions from the media afterward, generally predictable stuff, and then a journalist from a Science publication (Science Week magazine?) posed what I thought was a most pertinent question that seems to not be receiving as much attention as it deserves in the debate about Australia's role in the worldwide Carbon equation. To paraphrase him,

"How can you expect Australians to pay more for the Carbon we use as a nation while on the other hand we are exporting huge and rapidly growing amounts of Coal and Natural Gas to other countries that have little to no climate change controls or policies in place?"

This left her grasping for words for a few seconds, and then sadly I had to dash before hearing her response.

Its a very, very good point. We're putting far more Carbon in the atmosphere by exporting it to China than we via our own consumption, which is relatively small in the grand scheme of things.

Really, to tax carbon effectively, you need to either put a price on all that comes into our economy (imports and whats dug out of the ground), or all that leaves the economy (exports and whats pumped into the atmosphere.)

Of course, the resources boom, including energy, is the engineof our current economy and is all thats likely keeping us out of recession. So slapping a tax on coal exports isn't nessecarily a crash hot idea.

Ideally, the developing world needs to make the same kind of tough decisions about climate change that the developed world is. That's at the heart of a lot of the political excuses for hesitance on this issue.

I'm also saddened by the government's (inevitable, given the political climate) decision to offset the impact of carbon trading on petrol prices. Petrol prices going up is a very good thing - consumers, especially motorists, need to accept the fact that they've had extremely cheap energy for a long time at the expense of the environment, and that besides fossil fuels are a limited resource which given the hyper-expontially growing demand of the global economy means prices are just going to keep going up regardless of any short term measures the government takes. Anyone who's buying a car with a non-hybrid/diesel engine these days deserves to be paying through the nose for their stupidity. Its harsh, but econonomic pressures like this are what's going to result in actual change, not some pretentious gesture like turning off your light bulbs for one hour a year. If only the Federal Opposition were honest and decent enough to give the government strong political support on this issue rather than trying to score cheap populist points, it might be possible to actually sell this message to the Australian public.

Sometimes, democracy sucks.

1 comment:

Joel Nothman said...

Love the profound bottom line.