Tony Abbott has said firmly that the first thing he will do when in Government is to end the carbon tax. There is a good deal to be said for doing so, since it cannot have any discernible effect on the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the European ‘price’ for carbon dioxide is now so low that when 2015 comes and the local carbon dioxide price is set at European levels, our carbon tax will probably cost more to collect that it will return to Treasury. It is a useless tax, and should go.
But what else will a Coalition Government do about ‘climate change’, the assumed phenomenon that worries so many people? Well, it has also said that it will abolish the Climate Commission, and I would support that, because the Climate Commission seems to me little more than the equivalent of a Ministry of Propaganda. But go any further, and you find that the Coalition is committed to something called ‘Direct Action’. Greg Hunt is the Shadow Minister for the area, and Direct Action can be downloaded from his website. Direct Action has come in for a good deal of stick from Government supporters and the AGW orthodox, and even from some sceptics. Having read it I can see why.
In brief, the Coalition’s climate change policy, set out in Direct Action, is a classic example of wanting to have a cake, and eating it too. It assumes that carbon dioxide accumulation is a problem, and that a Coalition Government must deal with it. Some sceptics would argue that there is no problem, and therefore no need for any action. The orthodox would argue that if there is a problem then the Coalition’s approach to it is woefully inadequate. My summary of the plan goes like this.
First, the Coalition accepts that emissions must be reduced and that the 5 per cent target of reduced emissions by 2020 should be met, and could be met through incentives to business. It would set up an Emissions Reduction Fund to provide the incentives, which would include improving the cleanliness of power stations in the La Trobe valley. Second, it would also put a lot of effort into the ‘replenishment of our soil carbon’. Third, it would provide ‘$100 million each year for an additional one million solar energy homes by 2020’. Fourth, it would invest in research in a number of areas, like algal synthesis and bio-fuels, high-voltage direct-current cables, and replacing high-voltage overhead transmission with underground cables. Finally, it would plant lots of trees.
Awkward as it may be, it would seem to me that the Coalition’s first task is to decide what sort of threat ‘climate change’ really is. How much of the Direct Action plan is really necessary? And how much of it is just there to pander to that part of the electorate that isn’t sure but thinks that something should be done? Several years ago there were people telling us that it was already too late, and we could do nothing to avert approaching doom. You don’t hear that kind of talk today, and one reason is that despite the increasing accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (now past 400 parts per million in the northern hemisphere), the global temperature anomaly has flattened. Yes, it seems to be warmer than it was in the 1970s, but that warming is not increasing, let alone accelerating its increase in some kind of ‘runaway’ fashion.
Retiring some old coal-fired power stations is a good idea, but it’s not obviously the Commonwealth’s problem. Replenishing soil carbon is another good idea, but we don’t really know how to do it. Investing in R&D for it makes some sense, but the notion that it can be done by 2020 escapes me. Solar energy homes are a great idea, but only if it makes good economic sense to do so — and we still need the grid, and it still needs to run mostly on coal. The parts of the plan which most appeal to me are the proposals to invest more in research, because in my view we still lack good knowledge about almost everything in the climate domain.
I do recognise that the Coalition needs to be able to present some sort of case to a disbelieving electorate that it is in favour of some kind of response to ‘climate change’, and Greg Hunt seems to be on the orthodox side. You hear no ‘climate change is crap’ from him. But my guess is that, if elected, the Coalition will get rid of the carbon tax and the Climate Commission. It would send only a small delegation to the next climate conference, get the tree-planting going — and wait to see whether or not anyone was still interested in ‘climate change’.
Of course, if temperatures start going up again, things may change. Nature remains unpredictable. The solar physicists keep talking of a cooling period ahead of us, and if they’re right, we may want temperatures to go back to where they were in the early years of the century!