July 29, 2008 | Graham

Nelson’s right, but can he prosecute the adaptation case?

Brendan Nelson is right that Australia shouldn’t adopt an emissions trading scheme unless China and India do, but it is a brave political move. He has to sell a proposition from opposition that John Howard couldn’t sell from government.
The proposition is quite simple. With less than 2% of world emissions, Australia can do little to halt global warming by curbing emissions. In fact, even if it became completely carbon neutral world emissions would decline by much less than the 1.4% that we contribute to world emissions because carbon intensive industries would migrate overseas rather than cease emitting.
Greenhouse gas emissions will be driven by China and India, so if they do nothing, even though we do all we can, global warming will still occur, and given migration of industries, probably no more slowly than it is occurring at the moment. Abatement in isolation is not the right strategy.
The correct strategy is to keep the economy as strong as possible so that adaptation can be more easily afforded, and only abate when it will achieve something.
It is argued that unless we abate, we are in no position to persuade China and India that they should. That is only a good argument if you think that they are persuadable. I think they are persuadable, but only on the basis of empirical observatoin. Australia and other rich countries are no more likely to persuade them to be “virtuous” than my neighbour to convince me to change my ways by entering the seminary. But if I have a heart attack, I’ll start my reformation tomorrow.
That doesn’t mean that we should continue to emit CO2 at the same levels as we do now. CO2 emissions are often projected by the IPCC as a straight-line product of growth in GDP. This is an oversimplification. High growth doesn’t need to be as carbon intensive as it has been in the past. Not only is more of what we consume intangible, but we can produce industrial goods with less energy if we have to. Using scarce and expensive resources as efficiently as possible is always a good idea.
We will run out of affordable fossil fuel one day, and another of the consequences of a richer economy is that some of the riches can be devoted to developing alternative energy sources. This doesn’t require an elaborate ETS system. The increase in the cost of fossil fuel due to short supply provides a good enough price signal without having to invent a new brokerage and taxation system.
Nelson’s problem is that while this might all be very logical, electors buy political promises largely on emotion. As I am seeing increasingly in my online polling, most have bought the global warming argument, and while they don’t want to pay higher prices for energy, they don’t want to admit to themselves that the obverse of that would be modifying the global warming creed.
Politically Nelson might be better-off being opportunistic and just addressing the increase in effective taxation as and when it affects specific costs, leaving the mantra alone.

Posted by Graham at 4:03 pm | Comments (11) |
Filed under: Environment


  1. Graham, where did you find the proof that an increase in CO2 causes climate warming? Until that is produced we do not need emissions trading.

    Comment by Gillian — July 29, 2008 @ 8:14 pm

  2. Gillian, the proof is well accepted across the board. It’s about the only thing on which there is a genuine consensus. The issue isn’t whether CO2 causes warming, but to what degree.

    Comment by Graham Young — July 29, 2008 @ 9:30 pm

  3. Actually Brendan Nelson’s wrong. If Australia can take up an ETS and show that it works, Australia can say they’ve started to or have cleaned up their backyard and we would like to help India and China too.
    Thus exporting the idea and moving practically the only muscle we have, international diplomacy.

    Comment by Vee — July 29, 2008 @ 10:00 pm

  4. Graham
    Good policy and Brendan Nelson are never going to go together. As long as he and the Coalition need to complain loudly that the world is going to hell in a handbasket every time Labor implement a policy they were elected to implement, we are just going to watch a conga-line of Opposition leaders going to the 2011 elections without any clear policies on anything. They should cut a deal with the Government on ETS by 2012 and move on.

    Comment by Terry — July 30, 2008 @ 12:53 pm

  5. Graham – what proof? I am serious – for some years I have been reading everything I can find about global warming, and I have not yet found the proof.

    Comment by Gillian — July 30, 2008 @ 1:27 pm

  6. Gillian, if you are looking for a proof in the sense of someone having a world in one test tube with low CO2 and another world in another test tube with high CO2, then it doesn’t exist.
    But if you want proof that CO2 does absorb infra-red radiation, and re-radiate it, then it does exist. Someone might be able to point me to a reference, but it’s just so universally accepted as to be beyond argument.
    The arguments are how much it adds to world temperature, and what other negative or positive forcings might exist. I can’t think of a single global warming sceptic who denies that C02 is a greenhouse gas, and I’d be surprised if you could either. The prominent sceptics in Australia like Bob Carter, Ian Plimer, William Kininmonth and Jennifer Marohasy all accept that CO2 is a greenhouse gas.

    Comment by Graham Young — July 30, 2008 @ 3:17 pm

  7. Yes, Graham, of course CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but is too small in the scheme of things to have any effect. Here is the reference you want

    Comment by Gillian — July 30, 2008 @ 7:47 pm

  8. Gillian if it is truly an explanation as to why a greenhouse gas is greenhouse gases you will find the explanation here.

    Comment by charles — July 30, 2008 @ 8:50 pm

  9. Gillian said,”Graham ,where is the proof that increase in CO2 causes climate warming?”Gillian,Graham is looking at the political reality,not the environmental one.He is saying that Brendan is being too honest since according to the latest poll over 80% of the pop believe in AGW and the need for Carbon taxes.
    The game of politics is never simple and since like most market places ,there is never perfect knowledge,nor intelligent design.

    Comment by Arjay — July 30, 2008 @ 9:32 pm

  10. Thanks, Charles, I read the Wikipedia entry. It was very interesting, but still does not prove to me that an increase in CO2 causes climate change/global warming.

    Comment by Gillian — August 1, 2008 @ 9:24 pm

  11. Well… if you accept that co2 is a greenhouse gas then you accept that more co2 should lead to higher temperatures.
    Perhaps you think that the impact will be small. Fair enough. But that’s different from saying there is no impact.
    The actual amount of current co2 in the atmosphere isn’t important. What matters is exactly how changes in that concentration may change the climate.
    I think somewhere between 1% and 99% of the 0.6 degree warming was caused by higher co2. That may seem like a big range… but my point is that those who argue for exactly 0% or 100% are the ones making weird claims out of proportion with the certainty of current knowledge. My range is much more likely. :)

    Comment by Temujin — August 2, 2008 @ 12:55 am

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