Can climate divorce itself from the lefties?

We seem stuck in an ideological war between Andrew Bolt versus Christine Milne, yet neither extreme offers a long term sustainable response on global warming. The emergence of several prominent Republicans arguing that you can believe in small government while acting on climate science shows progress is possible.

The Greens are demonstrating they are still prisoners of immature ideological purity in their refusal to pass the increase in the petrol excise.

The Greens should be falling over themselves to reinstate inflation-adjusted increases in petrol excise. It will help (although only mildly) to discourage carbon emissions and other pollutants, and it provides revenue that is important to funding government services.

But the Greens argue that they won’t be passing the measure because the revenue is going to be hypothecated to funding roads and they want it dedicated to public transport.

Actually, this hypothecation is an accounting sleight of hand, a piece of fancy packaging by the Liberal Party to fool the electorate into accepting what is a revenue raising measure, not a road funding measure. Problem is that it appears to have fooled the Greens, too.

As explained by Alan Davies, government funding for roads will substantially exceed any additional money raised by excise increases. The government could not add a single extra dollar to road funding and still safely claim for many years to come that all the revenue raised by the excise increase is going to funding roads.

Unfortunately the Greens’ ideological belief that 'roads equals bad' and 'public transport equals' good has led to a kind of knee-jerk reaction to block excise increases. This goes to a wider problem of extreme ideology overwhelming a sensible debate surrounding climate change policy in this country.

Some time ago I wrote that the Greens' involvement in the introduction of a carbon trading scheme and other associated Clean Energy Act measures acted much like a huge grotesque cigarette warning label to Liberal Party supporters which might otherwise have been open to the science surrounding global warming. 

The reality is that for so long as global warming is dominated by some kind of crazed ideological trench war between Cory Bernardi and Bob Day on one side and Christine Milne on the other, there can be no meaningful progress on emissions.  

Addressing carbon emissions requires transforming our energy infrastructure. Energy infrastructure requires multi-billion dollar investments that are only viable with stable, predictable revenue over a decade or more. No one will make those kinds of investments premised on revenues flowing from a policy that will die the moment government changes political sides.  

This domination of ideological extremes as a barrier to progress also exists in the US.

Cory Bernardi, Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt like to think they represent the true heart of the Liberal Party. And the Tea Party in the US thinks it alone represents the only true path for the Republican Party.

But you know what? There’s lots of highly educated, smart and practical people involved in both these political parties who choose to get their science from the academies of science. They might think smaller government is better government, but they don’t let it colour the way they look at physics, chemistry or biology.  

Last night a report was released by a coalition of senior business and political leaders in the US warning of severe economic risks if we don’t seriously act to restrain carbon emissions.

Included in this group was George Shultz. He was Treasury Secretary under US President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State under President Reagan. He also happens to have served as the president of an inconsequential company called Bechtel.

Another was Henry Paulson who served as Treasury Secretary under the second President George Bush and was head of global investment bank Goldman Sachs.

In commenting on the report Shultz told The New York Times: “The big ice sheets are melting; something’s happening.” He noted that he’d grown concerned enough about global warming that he’d installed solar panels on his own home and bought an electric car.

“I say we should take out an insurance policy,” he told the newspaper.

In an opinion piece Henry Paulson wrote, also in The New York Times, he noted that addressing global warming did not necessitate big government. Rather it required a restructuring of incentives to allow the market to do the hard work.

He said:

The solution can be a fundamentally conservative one that will empower the marketplace to find the most efficient response. We can do this by putting a price on emissions of carbon dioxide – a carbon tax. Few in the United States now pay to emit this potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere we all share. Putting a price on emissions will create incentives to develop new, cleaner energy technologies.

There are others that have served at senior levels in the Republican Party who hold similar views. Current senator and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain is an obvious one. It’s interesting to note that another one of President Bush Jnr’s Treasury secretaries, Paul O’Neill (and a former chief executive of Alcoa), was deeply disappointed by Bush’s unwillingness to consider the introduction of a carbon pricing mechanism.

Here in Australia we have one of the most pro free-market leaders the Liberal Party has ever had in John Hewson prominently arguing that government needs to act to constrain carbon emissions, and a carbon price would be the most sensible approach.

Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones may hold sway right now, but they aren’t the Liberal Party.