OPINION: by Lucy SullivanNews Weekly
The error of demonising carbon "polluters"
, October 15, 2011
From the very beginning, the global warming and climate change discourse has been confounded by an inaccurate use of terminology. The effect, initially, was the demonisation of the wrong countries as major contributors to the problem, if such it be; and in the longer term a revised terminology has disguised the meaning of the political response.
The confounding initially turned on the use of the words “consumer” and “consumption”, which were conflated with “producer” and “production” in the attribution of energy use per head of population.
We were repeatedly told that we, in Australia (along with the US), were the world’s worst consumers of energy. An extreme example was an article in the Adelaide Review some years ago, which declared that South Australians consume 50 times as much energy per head as the Dutch.
What nonsense! Anyone who has been to Western Europe in winter must be aware of the massive use of energy in central heating with which Australians cannot possibly compete, all other uses being largely equal and even allowing for air-conditioning in summer.
Temperatures in London in winter are six degrees Celsius higher than the surrounding countryside, so great is the household production of heat. There is no comparable effect in Australia’s capital cities.
What was obviously being counted to produce the high figure for South Australia was its coal and iron production, most of which will not be consumed by South Australians. Holland, with few such resources, did not have factored into the calculation of its energy consumption the energy resources and products that it imports, which its population, and not the producing country, in reality consumes.
Although in Australia coal and oil are produced — that is, extracted from the ground — mostly these products are not consumed here. They are no more polluting, in terms of heat or carbon dioxide release, above the ground than they were beneath it. It is only when burned to produce energy that they become “polluting”.
A true estimate of Australia’s per head of population energy use would subtract what is exported from the calculation, and consumption sheeted home to the countries that import them. Obviously, we are not forcing these imports and their usage on other countries. If they consume less, then we will produce less.
This initial misapplication of the word “consumer” was at least correct in implying that user-populations are the guilty parties. However, over time, as the implications for individuals of the policies proposed to curb consumption sank in, Save-the-Planet lobbyists realised that, despite the beating of breasts and the growing political strength of the Greens, people were in fact neither willing, voluntarily, to substantially change their energy-use habits, nor to have them priced into reduction.
When, for example, David Cameron, the Conservative leader of the then Opposition in the UK, thinking he would please the planet-savers, proposed putting a heavy tax on air travel, he suffered a massive fall in popularity. People wanted the planet saved, but not at any cost to their established way of life. Some one else must do it for them.
And so the spotlight of opprobrium was turned on the mining and oil companies who provide the cherished energy and the large manufacturers who produce the cherished consumer goods. They became the new villains — not consumers but “polluters” — and it was demanded of them that they provide energy in the same abundance, but without global warming effects.
In the event, their demonisation has been premature, for a sufficient supply of clean energy at the old prices is not yet, and may never be, available. Penalising them fiscally is still to punish the real consumers and polluters, the general population, as prices are bound to rise in compensation.
Although there are already signs that higher prices are effective in reducing electricity and petrol consumption, consumers are clearly not willing to save the planet at this cost to themselves, and political opportunism is facing absurdity.
As the government moves to financially punish its fake culprits (who will not produce if we and others do not consume), it is increasingly clear to ordinary, pragmatic people that because the real culprits, themselves, are to be protected by taxation concessions, the proposed carbon tax, in the terms it pretends to, will miss its mark. It will be harmful to the economy but ineffectual in its object of reducing our energy consumption.
But this is where the devious intention comes in, for those currently buying our coal, oil and manufactures for consumption overseas will not be recompensed by tax benefits, and will look elsewhere for a better price.
China, for one, is creating alternatives through its developmental aid programs in Third World countries. As all the world can see, the target of Australia’s carbon tax is not the reduction of carbon dioxide “pollution” in Australia or worldwide, but the handicap of the energy industry in Australia.
There is no way out, in the foreseeable future, of this political deception bind in which the Left/Greens have enmeshed themselves through, in a novel form of millenarianism, exaggerating the terrors of climate change in order to scapegoat their perennial enemy, capitalism.
Dr Lucy Sullivan has written widely on literature, cultural matters, family, taxation and poverty.