Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Climate Clever-er

Apologies for the slight pause, and for the fact that this will be another Australian-specific post.
The Australian government has, until recently, been run by long-term climate change sceptics. But now, trailing in the polls and with a very concerned electorate, suddenly the (energy-efficient) lightbulb has switched on. Instead of major policy change, we have a $23 million ad campaign selling us the government's credentials and telling us to "be climate clever" by taking simple actions to reduce our domestic energy use, like switching off computers at the wall, using a clothesline rather than the dryer or buying more efficient appliances.

I don't buy it. Personal action is important, but so is policy with teeth. Why don't the big polluters have to pay for their environmental impact? Why do we still not have legislated emissions reduction targets?* Or concrete targets and genuine incentives for renewable energy? By trying to position itself as the sensible middle way between sceptics and 'doomsayers', the government seems to be doing the minimum necessary to give the impression that it cares about this issue without actually doing much. This quote put some things in perspective for me:

...voluntary action is great - but it is not sufficient. When we wanted to stop asbestos being used we just banned it – we didn’t ask people to voluntarily seek alternatives while continuing to subsidise asbestos producers. It’s far simpler to ban new coal fired power stations than it is to convince 20 million people to voluntarily buy green power. It’s easier and cheaper to simply legislate for high energy efficiency standards than it is to voluntarily change 50 million lightbulbs – one at a time. In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter how many energy efficient lightbulbs you install if the Government continues to approve new coal fired power stations and coal mines. It doesn’t matter how good you are at turning off your computer if our Government continues to undermine global action on climate change and the Kyoto protocol.

- Greenpeace Australia blog

And for those with a sense of humour, make sure you check out this clever spoof of the government's ad (for comparison, here is the original ad):
*The lack of specific short-term targets from the opposition doesn't make them much better on this score.
Five points for naming the potential victim of climate change pictured above.


Drew said...

Yes, I've thought the same thing.

The move is typical of the last 10 years... the transfer of risk from corporations and governments to the individual. Except here it doesn't make any sense, as the risk will affect everyone and everything regardless.

Dave Barrie said...

It’s far simpler to ban new coal fired power stations than it is to convince 20 million people to voluntarily buy green power.

Yesterday I was chatting with a friend of mine who works in a coal mine as a mining engineer about this very issue. While I agree that we need more aggressive government policy, he reminded me that it is worth keeping in mind just how dependant Australia currently is on coal mining. Black coal is Australia's largest commodity export (19% of the total), it is worth about $A25 billion per year and it provides 85% of our electricity.

Realistically, the transition away from coal is going to be a slow one and despite the above Greenpeace quote there is nothing simple about banning new coal fired power stations.

In order to make the most of the reality in which we find ourselves I think we need to get past this either/or approach and support clean coal initiatives, whilst at the same time calling on the government to set tough short term targets and to invest heavily in renewable energies.

byron smith said...

Thanks for those stats, Dave. The Greenpeace quote is not calling for the abolition of the entire coal industry, just curbs on its expansion. While it may presently provide 85% of our energy and 19% of our exports (I didn't realise the latter figure was so high!), does it make sense to continue to build new mines and power stations?

Dave Barrie said...

does it make sense to continue to build new mines and power stations?

I think this is a complex decision which must be made based on the reality of the situation we are in rather than a general principle. The government will need to asses a host of factors which will be affected by the banning of new mines, such as our ability to meet future demand for power without them and the socio-economic impact upon us and the countries we export to (just to mention a couple)

What is my personal opinion? In short, I don't know; it is a question beyond my expertise to answer. But I am praying that the government will make the decision which best serves the common good rather than making a decision based on public opinion or pressure from a vocal interest group (from either side).

nico said...

not vote for a government that treats me like an idiot? i can do that.

Looney said...

I don't have problems with doing things, but it looks like all of the proposals down under are of the Big Brother type just like here. Things like renewable incentives are an invitation to government corruption, just like the carbon offset market is a gift to con artists.

A small government method would shift tax burdens to change behavior, but leave regulation and subsidy out: Income tax would be shifted to a coal tax. With increased costs of coal generated power, any entrepreneur can use any method to make a profit. Even the coal company can benefit if they can figure out a way to get energy more efficiently to the user. Regulations which encourage energy use need to be identified, modified and or eliminated. The same objective can be achieved more effectively with less government rather than more.

Anthony Douglas said...

Just to keep my hand in...

That would be Venice - though whether it's a victim of climate change or neglecting to build on the rock is debatable!

byron smith said...

Anthony - five points. This really was a gift, since it is very similar to a number of other pics I've posted. However, I'm not sure you can accuse the Venetians of neglecting to build on the rock - there isn't any! The middle of a big pond was the safest place to be when barbarians were running around destroying what was left of the Roman west. All the stone in Venice is imported from miles away (the Alps).