Avoiding an echo chamber

Climate Spectator is eager to present readers with a broad range of views on how to best reduce carbon emissions.

This website will fail in its aim of keeping you well-informed if we let it become an echo chamber for any one interest group or perspective. I want this website to reflect a diversity of views about how we might reduce the risk of dangerous climate change, even though I may disagree with some of these viewpoints. While we might all be willing to agree to a long-term emissions reduction in 2050, when it comes to what we should do now there is huge disagreement. If you close yourself off to these points of view you risk being blindsided. This is the case whether you are in a business or a policy analyst role. All points of view have powerful arguments and some degree of success in influencing government in Australia and overseas.

From my standpoint I see the following viewpoints:

1)     Free market purists: this camp thinks we should implement a price on carbon pollution through either a carbon trading scheme or a carbon tax and do nothing else. They believe that targeted support or mandates for particular technologies will always be more costly than relying on a carbon price alone. Indeed they contend that these ‘picking winners’ exercises could even be counter-productive through undermining investor confidence in the carbon pricing scheme.

2)     Free market purists but with some reluctant concessions: As above, but reluctantly willing to concede a role for government in providing small-scale support for early-stage technologies. Also willing to accept a role for government to help inform consumers about energy efficiency, such as through appliance energy rating labels.

3)     Pragmatists: Viewing a price on carbon pollution as the most important policy mechanism to reduce emissions, pragmatists also place strong weight on additional policy measures as part of a cost effective response to global warming. They believe government should provide targeted support such as feed-in tariffs or mandated targets to drive significant use of low emission technologies such as wind and capturing CO2 from coal power plants (referred to as Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS). They also believe that government should implement mandates to drive uptake of energy efficient equipment and practices, not just provide information.  These people tend to come from a background in energy rather than general economic theory.

4)     Technologists: This camp sees little value in a price on carbon. They discount the importance of achieving incremental, albeit easy, near-term reductions in emissions. Instead, they are focused almost entirely on developing and deploying technologies that will produce electricity with zero, or close to zero emissions. These people tend to divide into those who think renewables are the answer or nuclear or burying CO2 underground. A few in this camp will advocate for all these technologies, but most seem to have a particular favourite.

5)     Scatterguns: This group is for throwing every type of policy measure at the problem and aren’t too concerned for cost or how policies might overlap or even counteract each other. They like highly tangible and direct interventions such as closing down a coal-fired power station or providing a rebate for installing solar panels or banning incandescent light-bulbs. They are often sceptical about market-based policy instruments such as a carbon trading scheme, which they suspect will be subject to loop-holes and rorting.

6)     Climate change deniers: These people don’t think that human activity is leading to global warming, or if it is, they don’t think this poses any serious danger. In an effort to prevent any meaningful effort to reduce emissions, they will dress themselves up as technologists or free market purists.

I am keen for Climate Spectator to reflect the views from people across all viewpoints except number 6.  We will provide a fair hearing to the complaints of major carbon emitters, but we won’t provide a platform to people who aren’t genuinely interested in reducing carbon pollution. Those that believe global warming is a myth should concentrate on getting their analyses published in scientific journals of high standing such as Nature and Science. 

As for everyone else, I welcome contributions. 

And of course in my own column I’ll be applying the blowtorch to everyone, irrespective of the stripes they wear.

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