September 3rd 2011

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Canberra rally: "Don't meddle with marriage"

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Labor same-sex marriage bid out of step with voters

EDITORIAL: Behind the manufacturing industry crisis

SOCIETY: The UK school that beat the rioters


CLEAN ENERGY: Confiscation under a cloak of scientific respectability

ENVIRONMENTALISM: Why so much heat in the climate change debate?

INTELLIGENCE BRIEFS: Three important issues and what they portend

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: Economic illusions have misled world leaders

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: Should same-sex couples be allowed to adopt children?

UNITED STATES: Pro-life, pro-woman laws enacted in Louisiana

RUSSIA: Gorbachev denounces Putin for "castrating" democracy

HISTORY: Understanding the origins of the Great War


BOOK REVIEW Seven myths about the Mafia

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Confiscation under a cloak of scientific respectability

by David Archibald

News Weekly, September 3, 2011

The Australian Government’s recently released plan, entitled Securing a Clean Energy Future, is a very depressing document.

When reading it, you realise that the government which authorised it knew that it was lying. It has enthusiastically adopted one of Dr Goebbels’ notorious dictums: “The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it.”

We have space here to talk about only some of the more amusing lies in the document. One of these is the projection of an atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 940 parts per million (ppm) in 2100.

One reason why that won’t happen is that we don’t have enough rocks to burn to get us past 600 ppm. And it will only be rocks, because the oil and gas will be long gone by then. 940 ppm is a little less than what some greenhouse operators run their greenhouses at. It is an aspirational target rather than something to be feared.

Another lie is that the climate will heat up by 6.4° by 2100. That is just a physical impossibility.

Yet another lie is the assertion that the United States and China have committed themselves to the ambition of holding the average global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius.

In truth, the United States is not getting a carbon tax or anything like it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s attempts to misuse air cleanliness laws to close coal-fired power stations in Republican states won’t last beyond the term of the Obama administration.

China continues to open a new coal-fired power station every week, and now produces 40 per cent more carbon dioxide than the United States. China has a lot of installed wind power, but 30 per cent of it isn’t connected to the grid.

Why would China build windmills that it doesn’t use? They did so because they didn’t have to pay for them; the Europeans did so through some idiotic offset programme. Even with free windmills, the Chinese figured that it wasn’t worthwhile extending the grid to get the power the windmills might produce.

The Europeans started the whole carbon scare to take advantage of the collapse in coal consumption in eastern Europe with the fall in communism. It was an attempt to reduce the comparative advantage of the United States. Being masters of hypocrisy, they are increasing their coal consumption at a great rate while they preach to others.

Even the purest of the pure, the Swedes, are building a 675 megawatt (MW) power station in Boxberg, Germany. The fuel that it will run on is brown coal, the same fuel that the Hazelwood power station and the rest of the Latrobe Valley runs on. So the Australian Government wants to close Hazelwood, while the Europeans are building more plants like it.

Hazelwood brings up the subject of compensation. The Greens used to say that the owners of Hazelwood and other power stations shouldn’t be compensated for mandated closure. Now the cry is that a future Coalition government won’t be able to repeal the carbon tax because personal property will have been created and it would cost too much to compensate the owners.

After the alarmist projections on climate, the balance of Securing a Clean Energy Future is made up of a description of the enormous bureaucracy that will be created to administer the carbon tax. And then there are the things that have been left out of the document, such as the 10 per cent of the carbon tax that the Labor Government has promised to the United Nations. This starts with $599 million over three years. Why wasn’t it rounded up to $600 million? No-one seems to be curious about that.

My neighbour told me that he knows that the carbon tax is about money, and not the environment, because the Labor Government is quite happy to export coal to the Chinese but not have Australians burn their own coal. The carbon tax is a confiscation of property of the top 400 carbon dioxide emitters. In time, that would be extended to well beyond 1,000.

It is a confiscation of property concealed by a cloak of scientific respectability provided by the CSIRO and others. There are now three Liberal-led state governments in Australia. Any one of those three could strip away that cloak of scientific respectability by holding a royal commission into the science of global warming.

The parlous state of scientific literacy in this country is shown by the flight cancellations blamed on the Chilean dust cloud in June. The volcanic ash that might damage an aircraft’s engines falls back to earth within 20 km of the volcano. That Chilean dust travelled 20,000 km round the world, across the South Atlantic and Indian oceans, to get to Australia. Yet that dust was an apparition that frightened our air-traffic management people as much as comets might have done to stone-age tribes.

If a wisp of dust can frighten our scientific and engineering elites, no wonder that they can believe that a colourless and odourless gas that is barely present in the atmosphere can be so malevolent.

Australia can’t afford a carbon tax, and its ill-begotten sibling the mineral resource rent tax (MRRT), because of what they signal to the productive elements of Australian society. The message of these taxes is that if you work hard and accumulate capital, some of that capital will be taken from you so there is no point in being as productive as you might be.

At the beginning of the 20th century, both Australia and Argentina had some of the highest standards of living in the world. Then Argentina took the path of wealth redistribution and has never recovered. Visitors to Buenos Aires tell me that it is a city of Europeans living in dirty poverty.

But there is a place more execrable than Argentina. The riddle of why Haiti remains so poor has been answered thus: “The answer has to do with the regime. It is a well-known fact that any accumulation of wealth in Haiti makes you a target, if not of the population in general (which has grown suspicious of wealth, and probably for good reason), then certainly of the government. The regime, no matter who is in charge, is like a voracious dog on the loose, seeking to devour any private wealth that happens to emerge.”

Our current Federal Government hasn’t been able to produce a budget surplus during one of the biggest booms Australia has seen. If they can’t save now, there is no hope of their ever ceasing to be profligate and spendthrift.

And they can only get worse once the inevitable downturn arrives. The voracious dog will consume everything until we are literally in rags. The carbon tax is the start of that process.

David Archibald is a Western Australian climate and energy scientist and author and contributed a chapter to the recently published book Energy Security 2.0: How Energy is Central to the Changing Global Balance in the New Age of Geography (available from News Weekly Books). 

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