Lessons from 1983

25 years ago last week, the battle to stop the Franklin river dam was won. I think it provides some lessons for today. At the time it was seen as a battle between the economy and the environment. Most now concede that by stopping the dam, we have both — the stunning scenery of the area has been protected, and the towns have boomed from tourism.

The battle against climate change is being framed by the same terms — economy vs environment.

Various groups of people and industries have been highlighted as losers under an emissions trading scheme (ETS). But I think some of them are missing the point. The role of an ETS should not be to simply sting people for continuing their high-emission activities.

The point is to get them to find low-emission alternatives, which of course is where the revenue from the ETS should go. It shouldn’t be handed out as cash, so people can go on with business-as-usual, but targetted at more efficient alternatives.

If people are getting stung for driving everywhere, and good quality public transport is provided at a lower cost, they’ll move some or all of their travel to it. Or if they can do more of their activity remotely via voice or Internet or whatever, they will.

If energy-intensive industries keep doing their thing, they get stung for it and look for either more efficient methods, or they diversify into less carbon-intensive industries.

If power companies keep digging coal out of the ground and burning it, they should get stung for it, until they realise it’s cheaper to go and build wind farms and solar installations instead.

And if it’s handled right, it shouldn’t overly effect the economy. Railways are cheaper to build than freeways. Genuinely clean power is only 8 cents per kWh more expensive than dirty coal — I bet the difference is even less compared to “clean” coal (which only reduces emissions by 30-50%).

We have a good chance of radically reducing emissions (by capita the highest in the world) if we make the effort. And, as with the ban on incandescent lightbulbs, the world will watch and follow.

As for people like economist Ron Woods, who apparently still doubts it all, well, apart from the vast majority of scientists agreeing it’s happening, I just find it unbelievable that anybody could think we could burn off the incredible amounts of fuel that we do and have no impact.

Every day:

Our use of fossil fuels is phenomenal. We have to reduce it. But other, more sustainable methods of power generation will take its place. Coal and oil workers can move to building wind turbines, or installing solar panels, or driving public transport vehicles, or maintaining forests…

The Franklin river shows us that taking the environmentally responsible option is not necessarily financially irresponsible.

(Some thoughts on specific reduction targets will be in another post.)

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11 Replies to “Lessons from 1983”

  1. Good points Daniel.

    The Australian ETS is set to become a huge political football. It’s already, for many people, a difficult concept to get one’s head around. How it works and how it’s supposed to help climate change and why it costs us more money are common questions.

    Being bandied around in the media, where vested (business and political) interests are already muddying the waters to suit their own agendas, is only going to serve to complicate it further. There’s a lot of scaremongering going on. Possibly to the point where people throw up their hands and come out against the ETS on that lowest common denominator consideration – cost to their hip pocket.

    But if we don’t pay some more today – we’ll have to pay far more in the future. Not paying now for starting the journey towards a low carbon economy will only delay the pain and make the treatment more radical.

    For sure, it’s not going to be easy for some folks to pay extra for basic necessities in life. Fuel, electricity, gas, food prices and interest rates are already climbing. Some find themselves in that unfortunate position for reasons outside of their control, others because they have spent themselves into a finacial corner. So let’s assume we’ll have to help them out as part of the ETS.

    And, honestly, how many Australian’s could not afford a few dollars a week more on their utility bills? 5%, 10%, 15%? Ross Garnaut said yesterday that Australia had just passed the US in terms of affluence on some measure or other. We are one of the richest nations on earth with almost full employment. If we can’t afford an ETS now, who can and when?

  2. So far I don’t have a lot of problem with ETS – except that I think it is going to be more invasive/pervasive than the GST. However, one concern I have is that so-called developing countries like China, India and Brazil won’t come on board. You see I have great difficulty in calling them developing countries and I feel that they are going to be beneficiaries of some dreadful aspects of their own histories. China can buy and sell us yet we are expected to come to the party ahead of it. India has people who have wealth beyond the wildest imaginations of Australia’s A list and a caste system which keeps people impoverished and nuclear weaponry to boot, yet they won’t come to the party yet. Brazil tears down the rainforest which many consider the lungs of the whole planet and yet they won’t come to the party yet. I can understand S/Africa’s point of view that they are not interested until the USA is on board. My other concern is that the last time we got full of virtue and got rid of tariffs and proclaimed the level playing field all that really happened was that we levelled our manufacturing industry and have been swamped by imports. Dare we mention the current account deficit. We are flooded with Chinese goods and if they are not Chinese they are Indian. I have the funny feeling that if we penalise ourselves and China and India don’t, we are providing them with an industry subsidy.

  3. IMHO to combat the “sending our jobs to china” phenomenon, we need to extend the ETS to include/tax our energy (coal, gas, oil) exports, unless the buyer can prove that an equivalent or more stringent ETS exists in the country of end use.

    We can’t claim to be a leader in combatting climate change when we are the world’s largest coal exporter, sending 766 million tonnes a year off to be burned elsewhere, no matter how clean we make our own backyard.

    Sure, Japan, Korea and Taiwan will be up in arms. It will however give the other coal exporters of the world an cashing-in incentive to introduce their own ETSs as well (read: the USA and South Africa).

  4. But like the Brumby Govt not penalising big businesses for wasting/using huge amounts of clean drinking water during a drought, will the Rudd Govt actually make big businesses change their ways or simply take the easy way out – slug them hefty fines that are passed onto the consumer, creating even more finance for the businesses and solving none of the problems?

  5. I think it’s interesting you started this topic with the Franklin Dam, Hydro power is one of the most effective alternatives to coal and emits no pollution. One of the reasons the Tasmanian Gov canned the dam was the federal offer of cheap dirty power to compensate. So what is more important pristeen wilderness or clean power?

  6. Hydroelectric dams are far from pollution free. All the rotting tree matter under the water releases a lot of the CO2 that was sequestered by the trees growth. Further, concrete production is one of the most CO2 intensive endeavours known to man.

    Clean power is important. Hydro power is not clean (though where it already exists, you may as well use it more efficiently and effectively)

  7. PC, if we are going to look holistically at power generation why not factor in the tonnes of CO2 produced during solar cell production or the amount produced building a wind turbine or a hybrid car, how long does it take to save the expended CO2 to make the initial cost worthwhile?

    The masses want easy and cheap answers and don’t want complications or side issues. IMHO there are many more issues with climate change than are spoon fed to Joe punchcard and Mary housecoat.

  8. Funny in all this talk about CO2-free energy, we totally overlook the most efficient, cheapest, and one of the cleanest forms of energy. Get ready people, I’m going to use some naughty words- nuclear energy! Uh oh, I hear the Green Police about to take me away!! But we shouldn’t really talk about it should we- after all, we can build inefficient wind and solar plants, which will cost more overall! Heaven forbid we actually use a resource of which we have about 40% of the world’s supply, and is free of CO2 emissions, safer than what the Greens will have us believe, and cheaper than all other forms of energy, thereby allowing us to actually cut greenhouse gasses, and reducing the cost of energy, thereby having our cake and eating it too! Mr Bowen likes to reference Wikipedia to justify his arguments, and so will I:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_population
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuclear_power_by_country

    The best justification for nuclear energy is one word- France! Mr Bowen uses France as an example of a country focusing on public transport, so I will use them as an example too! France has three times the population of Australia, hence you would assume it would use approximately three times the energy, and thus have three times the CO2 emissions, right!? But if you look at the CO2 emissions as a global percentage, France’s emissions are 1.4% of the global total, and Australia’s is 1.2%! Why are France’s CO2 emissions so low per person? Well, France is the world leader on nuclear power, with about 80% of its electricity supplied by it! They are also experts in recycling used fuel, and they’ve never had a serious accident, for those of you who use Chernobyl ad nauseum to justify not going nuclear! Now even Kevin Rudd’s buddies in the workers unions are advocating it, because of the effect this emissions trading scheme will have on the economy and industry! If we really are a democracy, then maybe our Glorious Leader will allow us a fair debate on this issue, thereby ACTUALLY cutting greenhouse gasses in a cheap way! Gotta go, the Green Police are carting me away!!!!

  9. Must say I am sick of hearing how much “going green” will cost us. Very little comment on what it will cost us to do nothing – not only direct costs such as lower incomes from tourism, but the indirect costs of dealing with the problems caused by global warming (eg. obtaining fresh water). Yes, reducing our CO2 emissions will impact upon our living standards. Boo hoo. Suck it up humanity, you’ve gone soft! In many cases (compact fluorescents are a good example), we’ll hardly notice the difference.

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