The Abbott Government will be sworn in next week, and the new Prime Minister has already told his senior public servants that to repeal the carbon tax is at the top of his priority list. Julie Bishop has said that given the new government’s clear mandate to do so it would be appropriate for Labor to concede, and to assist the legislation through the Senate.
Both Greg Combet and Penny Wong have been asked publicly whether or not this would be likely to happen — more accurately, would Labor now re-assess its ‘climate change’ policy? Both have said No — the party must stick to its principles and values. Ms Wong said that every party needed to have a ‘climate change’ policy, because ‘climate change’ was real and important (that’s not quite what she said, but that was the drift).
They spoke on different days, but I wondered, when I heard each of them, whether or not there would be a serious rethink inside the party about the whole issue. Labor is largely free from the need to subscribe to the policies of its six years in office — this is the great virtue of electoral defeat. Why would ‘carbon pricing’ not be part of such a re-assessment? After all, Julia Gillard had originally said that she would not introduce a carbon tax, but was forced to recant when the Greens made such a tax part of their price for support. Kevin Rudd swiftly abandoned it, and went to a floating ETS. The Department of Climate Change has had the chop, and Labor was winding down its ‘climate change’ measures anyway.
Why not start again, and move from a carbon tax to ‘energy efficiency’ or some other mantra in the general area of environmentalism? Ah, well, according to these senior Labor people, what is at stake are principles and values, and the party must maintain its beliefs. But why is ‘climate change’ a belief? You can believe, for example, that Labor must stand up for the weak and vulnerable who cannot stand up for themselves. That is a straightforward statement of value that comes from some set of first principles about the social world and one’s moral responsibility for others.
But surely ‘climate change’ is about something that is in principle measurable. I take it that both Ms Wong and Mr Combet translate ‘climate change’ as ‘human-caused climate change’, so one would hope that Labor — indeed both major parties — keep their eagle eyes on the evolving answers to the questions that follow. Is climate change happening at all? In what ways? Are we sure? How dangerous to humanity, let alone to Australia, is whatever is happening? What is the most efficient and effective method of dealing with whatever it is that is the most worrying aspect? How long have we got? And so on.
I should say that I’ve given up on the Greens in this area. As I understand them, the Greens are sure about ‘climate change’, and that’s all we need to know. If it’s not happening now, then it will later. It doesn’t matter how much later. If Nature is not following the prognostications of the Science that the Greens believe in, then Nature should smarten itself up. Quickly. But back to Labor. A correspondent pointed out to me yesterday that ‘[Labor’s] intellectual elite is far more concerned with the symbolism of saving the planet than the plight of those who subsequently pay much higher energy prices.’
I think he’s right. The cost of energy is built into virtually everything we do and buy. But why won’t Ms Wong and Mr Combet look hard at the numbers? There are numbers, and they’re available to everyone. As I’ve pointed out on a number of occasions, the hard data are equivocal even about warming now, let alone about warming in the future. They’re equivocal about sea-level rises, about sea-ice, about everything — oh, except the fact that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere goes on merrily increasing. That seems to be a fact.
It seems to me, sadly, since I thought both of them were competent and sensible, that Ms Wong and Mr Combet are ‘believers’. Or they feel that they can’t yet say in public what they might feel inside, that it’s time to scrap this one. Or they are following one or other of the following strategies.
1. Labor shouldn’t jettison carbon pricing because it’s too soon — some time needs to pass before we move on.
2. Labor needs to remember that there are a lot of people out there who voted for us because, like them, we say that we believe in ‘climate change’.
3. If we abandon carbon pricing now our supporters will move to the Greens.
As to the first, now seems quite a good time, and Labor could shift, as I argued above, to a different environmental platform. As to the second, a lot more people seemed to have stopped voting for Labor, at least in part because of the carbon tax. As to the third, the Greens lost a third of their vote, even more than I suggested when I last wrote about them. They are on the nose for the same reason.
Climatically, we seem to be in a relatively cool period, and some scientists argue that it will go on for a long time. Yes, the IPCC’s Fifth Report will be out soon, but it will not be greeted with the respect that attended its last one. I suggest that Ms Wong and Mr Combet do some homework before the next major Labor policy meeting, and go in for some old-fashioned empiricism rather than for some more ‘belief’.