On how the politics of climate change just crossed the floor
3 July 2014 — Don’t despair. The world is shifting so fast on its axis you will soon wonder whether the Titanic has in fact been rebuilt as Clive Palmer promised and has also been made fast enough to avert the really big (but fast shrinking) iceberg in its path.
Take note of this: the Senate may vote to abolish the carbon tax when the it first sits on Monday, but the word around Canberra is that the Abbott Government will soon be forced to have an emissions trading scheme. It’s what Clive Palmer has been heard saying this last week, on the grounds that there will soon be an embargo on coal from countries that don’t have a carbon offset program.
Peter Newman, the wily watcher from the West, at Curtin University, says the news is pretty good right now. Pretty soon the coal companies will be begging for an emissions trading scheme.
Say what? Under this Abbott government?
Yes, Newman says.
“Just think, these coal companies won’t be able to sell their coal overseas unless they get sequestration or offset commitments and the only way they can do that is if they have an ETS; they can’t pay for it unless they’ve got carbon credits.
“They’ve killed themselves. Coal is dying anyway, but they’ve killed themselves even quicker.
“The whole politics of climate change has regained a bit of ground.”
Palmer United Party’s commitment to keep part of the architecture of the carbon laws in place – the Renewable Energy Target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Climate Change Authority – is a big win, and the reality is it’s driven by the market, Newman says.
“That’s enough for now; we’ll regroup. We’ll get there.”
But do we really have to lose the ETS mechanism?
Is anyone working the cross benches?
Remember the time when two liberal Senators crossed the floor when all of this disaster started to unfold to vote for the ETS in 2009?
“A Victorian senator, Judith Troeth, a senior figure in the Liberal Party’s moderate faction, and a Queensland senator, Sue Boyce, crossed the floor to vote with Labor senators when the legislation was finally put to a vote,” reported the Sydney Morning Herald at the time.
Both these women are now gone. But maybe there are a few other senators willing to vote with their conscience.
It’s a time for bravery. There are Titanic shifts everywhere right in both the US and Australia and impressively they are from the conservative big end of town.
Last week was the think piece in the New York Times from the über-conservative Republican politician Hank Paulson, a former US Treasury Secretary, that ricocheted around the world.
It was based on a bipartisan report bipartisan report, Risky Business, that argued that global warming was no different to the global financial crisis and even more dangerous. And yet it was if the world was ploughing straight into a mountain, Paulson said.
“We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course,” he said.
Paulson urged governments, in particular the conservative governments, to do the thing they do best. Get out of the way and let the market work things out.
“The solution can be a fundamentally conservative one that will empower the marketplace to find the most efficient response. We can do this by putting a price on emissions of carbon dioxide – a carbon tax.
“Few in the United States now pay to emit this potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere we all share. Putting a price on emissions will create incentives to develop new, cleaner energy technologies.”
The thinking echoed what the conservative think tank the R Street Institute said last year after it broke away from the Heartland Institute that has dominated – and some say controlled and funded – anti climate action around the world.
See one of our articles last year reporting the R Street Institute arguing for a carbon tax and saying it would be possible to get one in the US by 2015.
See this most recent post from the R Street folk, R Street disappointed by EPA greenhouse gas rules
Why is it disappointed?
Because the new carbon emissions regulations are likely to “prove expensive and damaging to a still-fragile economic recovery”.
Instead, it said, the Obama administration should move to a carbon tax and “kill two birds with one stone” – slow climate change and free up the tax burden for the economy.
“R Street has instead urged officials to embrace the power of the free market by utilising revenue-neutral carbon pricing as a complete substitute for command-and-control regulation.
“Carbon pricing could allow states to kill two birds with one stone.
“They could achieve mandated emissions reductions through a price signal instead of complicated regulation, while utilising all resulting revenue to eliminate or reduce taxes that are damaging to the economy. This could get EPA off their backs while securing real pro-growth tax reform.”
The Australian Financial Review on Tuesday continued its recent trends to run some more positive articles on climate – including republishing the Paulson piece, and opinion pieces from The Australia Institute defending its tactic of bringing Gore and Palmer together, under the influence of former Greens adviser Ben Oquist, who recently joined TAI.
AFR‘s Washington correspondent also ran another positive story, which said Paulson’s article was an indicator of “a notable development in climate change thinking”.
The irony, it said, was that Australian Prime minister Tony Abbott was about to get rid of Australia’s carbon tax. (More like a disgrace, we think.)
“The Australian public has been badly let down by a lack of intellectual honesty by those on the right, including the Liberal Party, media and commentators, supposedly in favour of markets solving our problems,” it said. Wow.
And, “You don’t have to be a leftie to advocate a carbon price. Economist Warwick McKibbin (a fierce critic of the former Labor government), former Liberal leader John Hewson and one of the most economically literate members of Parliament, Malcolm Turnbull, have all supported market-based carbon pricing,” it said.
Oquist though was fighting bushfires amongst his own side, with some greens attacking the Palmer–Gore strategy.
He sent an email alert that pointed out that to win you often needed to build alliances across people with different views, not just your own kind.
“It is important to engage with all sections of the community,” he said. “Even those we may have fundamental differences of opinions with. For example the recent powerful alliance between some farmers and environmentalist has come about through just such an approach.
“Change is only achieved by engagement with people who do NOT share your view.
“When I first started talking to Clive Palmer and his office, I realised how open he was to hearing more.
Oquist was right, the Palmer–Gore announcement has reset climate policy and politics and reframed the debate about carbon pricing.
“It’s hard to suggest carbon pricing is some form of left-wing, economy-wrecking conspiracy when a billionaire mining magnate supports it.”
Now, Ben, how about some of the magic charm directed to the cross benches. Three votes, we understand.