Monthly Archives: January 2017

Feb 1, 1990 – IEA calls for a carbon tax

At the height of concern about climate change, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to release its three reports and negotiations for a climate treaty all to begin in 1990, the International Energy Agency gets in on the act, with its boss, Ms Helga Steeg, flying a kite of economic measures,  including – gasp – a carbon tax.  That had been there in the fine print of the Toronto declaration from June of 1988, but everyone had been more hung up on the eye catching 20% reduction target.  In November 1989 an Australian politician (we won’t say who just yet – keep you guessing) had suggested it too….  The battle for a price on carbon was beginning.  Twenty seven years later, who can say we are any closer.

“Drastic measures to combat global atmospheric pollution caused by burning carbon fuels were urged yesterday by the International Energy Agency.”

Anon. 1990. Carbon Fuel Tax May Limit Pollution Levels. Australian Financial Review, 2 February.

Also on this day –

Five years later, a columnist in the Fin does a thought experiment.  Turns out Australia should keep digging it up and selling it….

Everyone wants a drop in carbon dioxide emissions but the costs have not been properly assessed, reports ALAN MITCHELL LET’S suppose that Australia did decide to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by cutting back on its use of coal. Presumably it would start by cutting back on the inefficient or low-value uses of coal.

Mitchell, A. 1995. Ambitious energy target may prove too difficult to achieve. The Australian Financial Review, 1 February.

Jan 31, 2009 – Australia’s first Climate Action Summit begins…

“From January 31 to February 3, 2009, over 150 community based climate action groups and more than 500 people came together in Canberra to talk, debate, strategise and take action on climate change at Australia’s Climate Action Summit.”
You can read more about it here-
http://www.foe.org.au/australias-climate-action-summit

The context was the release in mid-December 2008  of the Rudd government’s White Paper for its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) which had been panned as a grotesquely inadequate giveaway to the coal industry.  Ross Garnaut had opined

“There is no public policy justification for $3.9 billion in unconditional payments to [electricity] generators in relation to hypothetical future ‘loss of asset value. Never in the history of Australian public finance has so much been given without public policy purpose, by so many, to so few.”

According to Simon Butler the summit

“decided that the CPRS must be prevented from becoming law.

“The Greens’ spokesperson on climate change, Senator Christine Milne, was a keynote speaker at the summit. She commended the grassroots climate movement and said that the Greens aimed to represent the movement’s aims in parliament.

“Milne received a standing ovation after her speech — an accolade received by no other speaker.

So, the activists strategised, but it all seems to have ended in tears, as it so often does. How can radical social movements sustain their passion (anger), energy, morale, resources for the long slog, when faced with external problems and internal ones… Answers on a postcard to the usual address….

Jan 30, 1989 -coal might get restricted?!

From the get-go Australian politicians knew that there may be trouble ahead.  This below, from The Greenhouse Effect: Living in a Warmer Australia by Henderson-Sellers and Blong [review by New Scientist here]  gives a taste of that (though to be clear, the authors, not Hawke and Button, are raising the possibility).

On the morning of Monday 30 January 1989, the ABC 7.45am news reported the Prime Minister, Mr Bob Hawke, had begun an overseas trip to Korea, Thailand, India and Pakistan, with the primary aim of promoting Australian exports, particularly coal, iron ore and agricultural products. Juxtaposed with this report was one describing Senator John Button’s encouragement of Japanese investment in Australian forests designed to safeguard our timber resources. The viability of these economic moves may also be subject to the greenhouse effect. Australian exports of fossil fuel, particularly coal, may be restricted by increasing international pressure to try to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide. (emphasis added)

(Henderson-Sellers, A.  and Blong, R., 1989:3)

Turnbull, #climate and the National Press Club #auspol

On February 1st Malcolm Turnbull will make a major speech on the Coalition’s climate and energy policy at the National Press Club.In his last public utterance on the topic, at the Sydney fish market in December last year, he spilt coffee , perhaps trying to douse the flames caused by Josh Frydenberg’s declaration that carbon pricing would be considered in this year’s policy review. Turnbull ruled that out, so who knows what he  will say on Wednesday. One well-informed and immensely experienced observer reports that

“Turnbull will announce new vehicle emissions standards and a new energy efficiency scheme. He and his office are looking at “technological solutions” – bright new ideas in solar thermal, or battery or carbon storage technology that might fill the policy void. But all those technologies need government policies to provide investors with incentives and certainty, and without actually confronting the climate doubters no one can imagine what that policy might be.”

(Another similarly-credentialled observer says he is the weakest Prime Minister since Billy McMahon )Who knows, perhaps Turnbull will dust off the ‘Greenhouse Challenge‘ voluntary programme for industry that Prime Minister Paul Keating started and  John Howard extended. We will know soon enough.

Meanwhile, the National Press Club has a long and interesting (if you’re a pathetic geek like me) history with climate change, and it tells us something about Australian journalistic responses to climate change.

Clubbing together
The Press Club began life as a press luncheon club, the result of some journalists having an (uncharacteristic for the profession) drinks in a Canberra watering hole. It seeks “to provide a genuine national forum for discussion of the issues of the day by the personalities who help shape them.” (A cynic might say that it is a way for journalists to have stories handed to them literally on a plate, with some nice plonk alongside.) The first speaker, on 17 May 1963, was Chief Justice and External Affairs Minister Sir Garfield Barwick.  Soon after Barwick helped establish the Australian Conservation Foundation.  The Press Club initially only held a few events a year, but it has grown steadily and there are now about 70 a year. Early environmental speakers included conservationist Harry Butler (October 3 1979) and in mid 1984 the German Greens Petra Kelly  who you can hear here 

The Club, naturally, reflects the concerns of the day, and politicians of the day fly kites and announce policies.  The climate issue seems to have reached the Club in October 1988,when the Liberal Senator Chris Puplick, the Opposition’s Environment spokesperson  launched the Opposition’s environmental policy and spoke on past Coalition.  It seems bizarre now, but Puplick then  went on to develop a policy on climate change that was more ambitious than Labor’s and took it to the 1990 Federal election.

Puplick and his Labor opponent Graham Richardson debated at the Press Club on March 7, 1990, just before the Federal election, and it was from  the club that Bob Hawke made his final (and successful) appeal to green-minded voters, calling on  disaffected voters not to vote green but, if they did so, to direct their second preferences to Labour. He warned. “When you wake up on 25 March there won’t be a Democrat government or a green independent government.”

In June 1989,  the inaugural Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory,  Rosemary Follett,  had appeared at the club and said that she was

“particularly concerned with environmental issues of national and international significance. The people of the ACT can be assured that the government intends to act locally in addressing issues such as the Greenhouse Effect and Protection of the Ozone Layer.”

Richardson had appeared shortly afterwards,after two cancellations for lack of journalist interest.. He talked tough (it’s how the man rolls) on the Federal government perhaps using its constitutional powers to override state decisions on environmental matters. He also confirmed a report by Michelle Grattan about a Cabinet meeting at which Treasurer Paul Keating had vetoed his proposal for a 20 per cent reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2005 (the so-called ‘Toronto Target’ ). He told the assembled hacks

“… When I put this target to our Cabinet, I came under close questioning by the economic ministers. I couldn’t sustain my argument with sufficient science.

“I haven’t yet learnt how to lose gracefully so I was angry. I delved into the department’s records so that I could write to my Cabinet colleagues and demand a reconsideration. The cupboard, however was bare, and the letter was never written.”

[Dunn, R. 1989. Cabinet reduces greenhouse target. Australian Financial Review, 26 July.]

Sir Ninian Stephen, by then Australia’s first Environment Ambassador, spoke wittily in late 1990 on the topic of  “the environment: a passing storm or an issue for all seasons” (you can listen here –  He argued that it didn’t matter what he said, only if he blundered in the Q and A.

The following year the Canadian entrepreneur behind the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, Maurice Strong, spoke. In November 1992, after Rio, Jeremy Leggett, a former geologist who had become  Greenpeace International’s Atmosphere and Energy Campaign leader spoke (his book The Carbon War is a terrific read, btw).

Worth remembering
Amid all the advocates of action (Ian Lowe, Peter Garrett, David Suzuki, Bob Brown, Gro Harlam Brundtland, Nick Stern), perhaps the one we should most remember is President Kinza Cloduma of Nauru.  In late 1997, when the Australian government’s diplomatic push for special treatment at the impending Kyoto Protocol meeting had silenced the South Pacific Forum’s attempt at a strong pro-action statement, Cloduma told the journalists

“I am not impressed when Mr. Howard openly scorns the critical nature of the situation in order to bow to the will of the fossil fuel industry.”

There have been peaks and troughs of concern since then, with scientists speaking  in September 2000 “Greenhouse Science Forum: How Real is Climate Change? What does Science Tell Us?”,  Ian Lowe spoke in 2005 on “ Is Nuclear Power Part of Australia’s Global Warming Solution?” (his answer was ‘nope’).

In the white-heat of the 2008-9 carbon pricing battles, Ross Garnaut seems to have had a camp-bed at the NPC, so often was he using it to launch various drafts of his climate reviews.  The Greens’ Christine Milne argued on 17 June 2009 that “The Climate nightmare is upon us.”  Bob Brown and  Ziggy Switowski debated nuclear versus renewables in April of the following year [thanks to the reader who alerted me to this!]

Less emphatically,  Penny Wong, Kevin Rudd, Greg Combet and Julia Gillard all used the NPC to launch various climate policy papers. In mid 2011, Gillard, under ferocious attack over her carbon proposal launched “The Government’s plan for a clean energy future”. She  was asked by Mark Riley about journalist famously suggesting that journalists ‘don’t write crap – it can’t be that hard.’

Since then the club has seen – among others –

Two way traffic
It hasn’t been one-way traffic. An early example of a sceptical perspective came in mid 1992 when Prof Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology at  Massachusetts Institute of Technology spoke. (He had been brought out by the CSIRO atmospheric science division, which was then headed by G.B Tucker. Tucker had been aware of the issue in the mid-70s, and written an early monograph – The CO2-climate connection : a global problem from an Australian perspective–  in 1981, but in retirement wrote pieces for the Institute for Public Affairs with titles like  ‘The Greenhouse Panic’. But I digress)

Three years later the Club heard from  Dr Patrick  Moore who was billed as a “ Canadian Environmentalist and one of the founders of Greenpeace”.The first term can be debated. The second cannot.

Climate change exploded as a public policy issue in Australia in late 2006.   It’s ironic to remember now, but when John Howard’s hand-picked emissions taskforce suggested that a low tax on carbon emissions — less than $5 per tonne –  might give Australia a start in preparing for an eventual global emissions trading system , the  Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Mitchell Hooke argued at the press club that while Australia should not embark on unilateral action, there was scope for “unilateral leadership”. He said

“I don’t want a blunt economic instrument of a carbon tax [but] I would see that kind of low order price as being part of a cap and trade framework.”

Hooke hardened his line, of course, as time went on.  At the peak of the 2011 carbon pricing battles, in June, the Australian Coal Association’s Ralph Hillman spoke on “The mining industry’s position on the carbon tax.”

The same month,  Lord Monckton  and the Australia Institute’s Richard Denniss squared off in a debate. Two weeks later  former President Vaclav Klaus President of the Czech Republic  spoke on “Climate Change: A new ideology”

Bjorn Lomborg followed up his October 2003  visit with another ten years later in December 2013.  Now that he won’t be having his ‘consensus centre’ , the trend suggests it might be another 6 years before he appears again.

Journalism and climate change
The Press Club’s willingness to host those who deny basic scientific facts is indicative of a broader difficulty that journalism has had with this issue.  Academic studies of the journalism profession’s dilemma over climate change. One influential paper argues that “balance is bias”, given the overwhelming scientific argument (and dare we say ‘consensus’) on anthropogenic climate change. The authors argue that

“the prestige press’s adherence to balance actually leads to biased coverage of both anthropogenic contributions to global warming and resultant action.”

John Oliver put it more visually with this stunt on ‘Last Week Tonight’

Australia’s experience has been extensively studied – see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. For starters.

All this is part of a battle for hearts and minds – what counts as ‘common sense’ and shapes or sustains the institutions  – “stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior” – underpinning society.

Recently scientists have been admitting that studying climate change exacts an emotional toll. Journalists are following suit.

Malcolm Turnbull first addressed the club on March 18 1992, wearing his Australian Republican Movement hat.  He might need better head-wear this time round.  When Kevin Rudd launched the White Paper of his ill-fated and unloved Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme three protesters were dragged out The numbers of protesters there to greet him on February 1st will probably fall closer to that than the 1500 who turned up to say g’day to Pauline Hanson in 1997.

But on the day, and indeed all through the year, Turnbull will – like other endangered Australian fauna – be feeling the heat.

 

[cross-posted from here. Thanks to @AndyMechanarchy for alerting me to the Zwitowski/Brown debate]

Jan 29, 2004 – Skeptic author John Daly dies

greenhousetrapOn this day 13 years ago John Daly (not to be confused with John Daley, who we will meet later) died.  Daly was the author of The Greenhouse Trap, published in 1989.  It was the first (and for a long time only, I think) Australian book to deny anthropogenic global warming.  Daly went on speaking tours, was on the radio a bit crossing swords with scientists and environmental advocates.  He didn’t get to present his, ah, ‘research’ at the 1990 ANZAAS meeting, which apparently irked him.

You can read an obituary by Ray Evans here.

Jan 28, 1992 – Ros Kelly admits it’s a long way to Toronto

On this day 25 years ago the then Environment Minister Ros Kelly stated what anyone who could do sums and think about the active and passive resistance to change that institutions have already knew – reaching the 20% reduction by 2005 which she had taken to the Second World Climate Conference in Geneva in November 1990 was going to be a leeeetle bit challenging.  Yes, huge energy efficiency gains might in theory exist, but getting individuals and companies to change their habits was going to be tricky.  And by now, the idea of a carbon tax, floated by both three ESD Working Groups and alsothe Industry Commission in late 1991 had been comprehensively defeated by a determined industry campaign.  Two hacks for the Fin wrote –

The Federal Minister for the Environment, Mrs Kelly, conceded yesterday it would be “very difficult” to achieve global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent – a target endorsed by the Federal Government.

1992 Garran R. and Lawson, M. 1992. Kelly concedes greenhouse difficulties. Australian Financial Review, 29 January, p.5.

The Toronto target limped on, and mostly served to give industry some cheap shots, until early 1995.  But more on that later….

 

Jan 27, 2009 – Cory Bernardi launches ‘Thank God for Carbon’

Ray Evans (who died in 2014) was a tire…less advocate of climate denial, industrial relations ‘reform’ (smash the unions), etc etc.  We will meet him again in the course of this year, because he was pivotal in a variety of denialist 2017-01-27campaigns from the mid-1990s onwards.

On this day 8 years ago, in Adelaide, Senator Cory Bernardi launched his 36 page Nobel Prize worthy extravaganza. This should be seen in the context of Kevin Rudd’s doomed CPRS legislation and the mobilisation against it…

You can read Senator Bernardi’s speech here.

 

Also on this day

In 1995, a a national review for the Federal Government of Australia’s urban environment, released by the Deputy Prime Minister Brian Howe, called for a small carbon tax to cut greenhouse gases, and compulsory fuel-efficiency standards for new cars.

You’ll be shocked, shocked to learn that it didn’t happen…..

Milburn, C. 1995. Study Calls For Carbon Tax To Cut Emissions. The Age, 27 January, p.3.