4th May 2009
Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change
Dear Greg Combet,
It is probably naïve of me to write to you and think you will have the time to read this. But here goes. Your recent comments on the Greens disturbed me.
You will be understandably concerned that the Greens and the Coalition will block the emissions trading scheme. Scathing comments on the Greens will not likely change that scenario. I doubt that they will lose the 11% of the electorate that votes for the Greens by holding out for something more meaningful than what you are offering. Irrelevant in the sense of not having an influence on ALP policy, certainly.
Both the right wing of your own party (Costa et al) and the coalition prefer a tax set at minimal levels (a token tax) to satisfy the electorate and no real emissions cuts without an international agreement. The Greens and environmentalists accept at least part of this argument in so far as they think a tax is more workable than the cap and trade system, but of course they want more than a token tax.
If the Greens hold out on the cap and trade proposals, an effective compromise for the ALP might be to go for a minimal tax combined with very major public works and targets to move to a carbon free economy – a very fast train to Melbourne, funding for solar research, grid restructuring to take wind power, government investment and partnership with energy companies to create a targeted amount of renewable energy in energy mix, rebates to householders and so on. The package would have to be quite large to get the Greens on board. It would be hard for the coalition to block this as many of their business supporters would find it a windfall.
You are mistaken to characterize the Greens 40% target as economic lunacy. Certainly, if it was achieved by cap and trade it would have the effects you specify. But that is not what environmentalists are talking about. We want the economy put on a wartime emergency footing with nationalization, government takeovers and intervention, regulation, war bonds and the like to move the economy ASAP into a setting more likely to stave off climate disaster. This is a very feasible economic policy. The standard of living in consumer goods would have to drop as investment was directed into replacing energy and transport infrastructure. But at the end of the day there would be no job loss and even the GNP would probably go up. Major capitalist countries of the world did this in WW2 and we all know that it worked.
Of course such a policy implies either that we are prepared to go it alone and lead the pack or that there is a world agreement. I find the moral argument that I have heard from Sartor and the business community on this very odd. If we just do it ourselves it will make no difference (except to bugger up our economy). So we should wait till there is a world agreement. It is like a group of villagers stoning a woman to death for adultery. The journalist approaches and interviews a villager on the edge of the crowd (rock in hand). He agrees that it is an appalling thing to be doing but points out that if he stops throwing rocks she will still die. Durggh. And think of the ostracism if he abstains!
The ALP policy on warming has two flaws.
If we go along with the most minimal IPCC strategy and aim for 60% global reduction by 2050, it might seem that we would be on track with a 15% reduction by 2020.
However the fact is that the developing world is never going to cut their emissions by 60% from their 1990 levels to achieve this target, while the rich countries do the same. So the real target for the developed countries must be a lot closer to 90%. And the interim target would have to be exactly what the Greens recommend – 40% by 2020. You must all know this.
The second flaw is that the IPCC ruled out long term feedback mechanisms in drafting their reports – though they and every one else knows they are central and make up what people talk about as tipping points. The best guide to the ultimate effect of these factors is the palaeo climate data – which tracks sea levels, temperatures and extinctions given particular CO2 scenarios in the earth’s remote past. What these basically show is that at anything over about 350 ppm (already exceeded) we are likely to get about 80 metres of sea level rise and a climate in which the only habitable regions of the globe are south of Melbourne and north of London. What Lovelock talks about is a “bottleneck” in which 8 billion of the 9 billion population in the middle of the century die by the end of the century. This is current majority science on these topics. Recent results on ice sheets and permafrost suggest we are already well and truly tracking to these tipping points. It is why the Greens’ policy settings are hardly drastic enough.
As you would be aware, these events will take place during our grandchildren’s lives.
I have a strong feeling that the ALP party reps on these topics have only read the IPCC stuff and even that in a digested form. You would be unlikely to make the comments you did if you had actually done a bit of reading on this topic.
Spratt and Sutton – Climate Code Red
Gwyn Dyer – Climate Wars
Mark Lynas – Six Degrees
These are all very readable. For a more nuts and bolts introduction you could try:
Mark Maslin – Global Warming – A Very Short Guide
Dr Terry Leahy
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
University of Newcastle