CLIMATE SPECTATOR: Cheat notes for shock jocks

Followers of Tony Abbott's 'carbon tax' script are being conned. The Coalition’s proposal – to close down coal power plants and compensate the owners using taxpayer money – is of far greater concern.

Climate Spectator

On the way back from a football game the other night, my son decided to aggravate my disappointment over a nil-all draw by flicking the radio dial over to 2GB. Here was night-time radio announcer Brian Wilshire railing against the carbon tax, the Prime Minister and the Greens – and anyone else who "didn’t like humans” – and encouraging his listeners to join the march against the carbon tax in Canberra on March 23.

Wilshire was quite adamant; there were many subjects where there were two valid sides of the debate, but global warming was not one of them. It was a con, a hoax, and Tim Flannery would be round anytime soon to dig up people’s gardens, because he doesn’t like them either.

It occurred to me that it wasn’t just his listeners, but Wilshire himself that was being conned. It would be all very well to follow Tony Abbott and join the carbon crusade to protect the right of industry to pollute the atmosphere, if Abbott genuinely believed the science was crap. At least that’s a point of view.

But that’s not what Abbott says he is about. He says publicly that he accepts the science and he even has a policy to back it up. Like Labor, it is a commitment to reduce emissions by 5 per cent from 2000 levels by 2020 (that will be 27 per cent per capita from current projected levels). And just like Labor, he also has a plan to introduce a carbon price, his spokesman Greg Hunt repeatedly assures us.

The not so subtle difference is that while Labor promises to tax the polluters and compensate the consumers, the Coalition intends to dip into the accumulated savings of the consumers (via the budget), to compensate the polluters. No other government in the world has decided that it can address this problem by meeting the entire cost with taxpayers’ money.

The government produced a document this week alleging a shortfall of $30 billion in the coalition’s plan, but that was mostly about the ability of "soil carbon” to satisfy most of the planned emissions reductions, and of it being accepted under international rules, which it currently isn’t. Of more concern to the shock jocks should be questions about the impact of the coalition’s proposal to close down brown coal power stations and compensate the owners. 

This is way out of step with what’s happening overseas. The Coalition and its supporters like to reference most things they do with what’s happening or not happening in the US, or China. But these two countries – the two biggest emitters who account for more than half of the world’s emissions – are closing down the worst polluting stations without compensation. China has already closed an estimated 40GW of its dirtiest power stations, the US EPA will likely close down up to 50GW as it enforces the clean air act and delivers on its undertakings to cut its emissions by 4 per cent from 2000 levels from 2020 (or 17 per cent from 2005). They don’t plan any compensation at all.

The Coalition’ insists it can implement its plan without impacting electricity prices. But many energy market analysts doubt that, saying at best it was a "wobbly assumption” that would require an extraordinarily high subsidy from the taxpayers, particularly with the likelihood that more power stations would need to be closed to meet the target, and with the price of gas expected to rise significantly in coming years as Asian buyers increase their demand for Australian gas.

Ben Vanderwaal, the managing director of ROAM Consulting, one of the leading energy experts in the country, says replacing coal with gas means that gas sets the marginal price for the market as a whole, particularly in the shoulder periods and leading into the peaks. One of the perverse outcomes of this, and coming from a small carbon tax for that matter, is that while the consumers pay more, the coal generators still operating – and that’s most of them – benefit from higher revenue.

"The underlying electricity price will be broadly similar where it be direct action or a carbon tax,” Vanderwaal says. The final cost to the consumer depends on where a government either allocates the revenue from the tax under the Labor/Greens plan, or the amount of subsidies it allocates from the budget, under the Coalition plan.

Which means that the price of the bananas that Abbott was holding in the supermarket the other day would very likely rise the same under the Coalition as the ALP. Which would be what? Five cents an item? As Josh Dowse points out in his Business Spectator opinion piece (See Is Ridout crying carbon chicken little? March 4), the survey conducted by the Australian Industry Group last week found that electricity costs for most businesses in Australia represented just 2-4 per cent of costs, so even the impact of a $25 carbon price would be a fraction of that. And energy efficiency measures would reduce it again.

Body parts

A recent blog on Climate Progress highlighted the attempts by the US Chamber of Commerce to prevent the Environmental Protection Authority from regulating greenhouse emissions. The chamber argued that the EPA had exaggerated the impact of global warming on humans, because it hadn’t taken into account the increased use of air conditioning and the ability of humans to adapt their bodies to different conditions.

"Overall, there is strong evidence that populations can acclimatise to warmer climates via a range of behavioural, physiological, and technological adaptations. The initial physiological acclimatisation to hot environments can occur over a few days to weeks, but complete acclimatisation may take several years.”

As the Climate Progress blog noted, the chamber apparently thinks it’s a better idea to allow humans to change their bodies rather than force industries to reduce emissions. So, we ask, what physiological changes would work for you? A camel-type hump to store water in droughts (surely cheaper than a desal plant), webbed feet to cope with rising water levels? Or do we all have to end up looking like Cory Bernardi?

This article first appeared on Climate Spectator.

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