EDITORIAL: Carbon tax: putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop
by Peter Westmore
News Weekly, July 23, 2011
The Prime Minister’s five-minute address to the nation on her new carbon tax showed a complete misunderstanding of atmospheric science, coupled with the selective use of statistics to buttress a worthless package.
Throughout her statement, the word “carbon” was repeatedly used instead of “carbon dioxide” to refer to the by-product of combustion. She said, for example, that “500 big polluters will pay for every tonne of carbon pollution they put into our atmosphere”, and “big polluters will pay $23 for every tonne of carbon they put into our atmosphere”. The confusion is equivalent to using the words hydrogen and water (H2O) interchangeably.
Anyone familiar with combustion will also be familiar with the fact that when hydrocarbons such as natural gas and petroleum fuels are burnt, they produce both CO2 and H2O, water vapour.
It is well known that water vapour is a far more important greenhouse gas than CO2 — in fact as much as 30 times more — but only the CO2 emissions are to be included in the Government’s new tax!
If the Government were serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it would at least recognise the fact, not ignore it.
Instead, the Government is committed to phasing out the use of Australia’s inexpensive and abundant supplies of coal, including brown coal, but expanding the use of the far more valuable natural gas, and expanding the production of coal-seam gas which uses the controversial technique of “fracking”, the hydraulic fracturing of coal seams to release methane gas in the coal, with all the environmental consequences that involves.
As the Government intends to exempt petrol and compensate millions of households for its unpopular new tax, there will be no incentive to reduce use of motor vehicles, one of the main causes of increasing CO2 emissions.
The Prime Minister also declared that the government’s carbon tax would “take 160 million tonnes of pollution out of the atmosphere every year”, by 2020. The figure sounds very impressive, but it certainly does not mean the removal of 160 million tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere. Perhaps she means carbon dioxide (CO2)?
If so, it is instructive to look at what this means in practice. The total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is currently three million million tonnes (3x1012) tonnes.
So the Prime Minister’s forecast would reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by one part in 19,000! And that ignores the fact that the biosphere is a dynamic system in which large quantities of CO2 are constantly being absorbed by seas and oceans, soil and plant life.
The fact remains that CO2 is a very minor gas in the atmosphere, despite the increases which have occurred over the past 200 years as a result of industrialisation and rising living standards. It currently constitutes less than one part in2,000 inthe atmosphere, and is less abundant than water vapour, a far more potent greenhouse gas.
And while Julia Gillard characterises CO2 — which is colourless, odourless and necessary for every cell in every living creature — as “pollution”, we know that the scientific evidence is that it promotes plant growth (thereby absorbing more from the atmosphere), while the evidence of its effects on the climate are utterly inconclusive.
This is despite the alarmist claims repeatedly made by the government’s climate adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut (an academic economist), Professor Tim Flannery (whose academic speciality is fossils), Dr Bob Brown and others.
The new carbon tax, with billions of dollars in subsidies for “alternative energy” sources, is an exercise in coercive utopianism, in which Julia Gillard is trying to stop the defection of Labor voters to the Greens by embracing the Greens’ radical agenda.
But it will not work. The Greens, who are the ultimate coercive utopians, will always be able to “out-green” the ALP, no matter what Gillard does. And in the meantime, working-class voters will continue to abandon the ALP and switch to the Coalition — as they did in the recent Victorian and NSW elections — because the Coalition parties are committed to protecting the jobs of working Australians.
The Government’s claim that it will protect jobs and affected industries by one-off payments is a fantasy. While it will not release the names of the companies which will have to pay the carbon tax, it is already obvious that electricity and gas prices will continue to skyrocket, transport costs will rise, and affected industries will face fiercer competition from cheap imports.
On top of this, inflation will rise, causing the board of the Reserve Bank to push up interest rates, which will flow on inevitably into higher mortgages and bank overdrafts, and the loss of jobs.
In the meantime, out in the real world, the global financial crisis is worsening, with Europe’s financial crisis spreading to the heavily indebted nations of Spain and Italy, and the U.S. Congress paralysed by the dispute between President Obama and the Republicans over the size of the U.S. Government debt.
This carbon tax must be stopped, or the Government which introduced it must be defeated.
Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.