A really bad decision that will be difficult to rectify | RenewEconomy

A really bad decision that will be difficult to rectify

The government’s monstrously stupid decision will be incredibly hard to rectify, and will be a huge burden for decades.

[This is dedicated to my unborn grandson, due November 2014.  It’s my way of explaining current developments to him.]
carbontaxxSometimes governments make really bad decisions.
I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill bad decisions, which any government might make as part of the complex process of politics and which can be easily reversed by the next government.  I’m talking about monstrously stupid decisions that will be incredibly hard to rectify, yet if left unrectified will be a huge burden for decades.
I’m talking about a decision so bad that our descendants will shake their head in incomprehension, sadness and, yes, anger.  They will ask how we could have been so badly and stupidly governed.
Today, the Australian government repealed its carbon tax legislation.  This tax was paid to the government by major CO2 emitters.  Money received was re-distributed to the electorate to reimburse costs passed on by emitters.  This was done in a reasonably fair way, with people on low incomes receiving preferential reimbursement compared to those on high incomes.
The carbon tax had been in operation in Australia for two years.  It was working [1]; CO2 emissions were falling as gas and renewables replaced coal-fired power generation and industry introduced new processes and saved energy in response to the cost signal.  Yes, there were losers in this process, particularly the coal-fired electricity generators.   But there were big winners too, particularly new industries based on renewable power and energy efficiency.  Jobs might have been lost because of the carbon tax, but jobs were created too.
It needs to be stated clearly why the carbon tax is a good thing.  Today there is a 97% consensus [2] among climate scientists that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels are changing the Earth’s climate.  The change will be slow at first and there are still many doubters and deniers, but the effects are cumulative and irreversible on the timescales of millenia.  In the worst-case scenarios air temperatures will rise 4°C by the end of this century.  The polar ice caps and glaciers will melt and the sea level will rise, thereby imperilling infrastructure and threatening the entire livelihood of those in countries like Bangladesh who live close to sea level.  More extreme weather events are expected, biodiversity will be affected, the oceans will become more acidic, and there will be adverse effects on human health.[3]
Every credible expert I’ve read says that it would be far better for humankind to act now to avoid problems caused by CO2 emissions, rather than to act in response once effects have occurred.
Meanwhile, the low-carbon future should also be viewed as a huge economic opportunity.  There are immensely powerful global drivers at work:


  • Decarbonisation of supply.  This is the switch towards solar and wind for electricity generation, and the introduction of new industrial processes that reduce CO2 emissions and save energy.
  • Pollution reduction.  Coal doesn’t only involve CO2 pollution, it causes many other problems as well [4].
  • Energy security.  Every country in the world wants an assured energy supply, not something that can be turned off at the whim of an autocratic regime elsewhere.
  • New-build infrastructure.  Just in case we forget, there are billions of people on this planet still without an electricity grid.  These citizens want the convenience of electrical power, and renewables will offer the easiest way for them to get it.
  • Manufacturing policy.  Some countries see the low-carbon future as an opportunity to strengthen their industrial base.  They will put in place initiatives to promote the interests of their own economies, including R&D incentives and government programs.


Our government is blind to these drivers.
And here is my special message to deniers who don’t accept the science of climate change.  The trend is not your friend.  Pioneers and early adopters are re-shaping the economic landscape across the world, and they will be rewarded for their foresight as the effects of climate change become more evident.  In contrast, those who seek to preserve the status quo – our local fossil-powered dinosaurs – will be left with stranded assets and a huge task to fix the mess that has been caused.
So even if you deny anthropogenic climate change, influential people in the rest of the world disagree with you, and they are today making cool-headed decisions in boardrooms in countries like Germany and China that will affect you tomorrow.
Our fossil fuel reserves are undeniably finite, so we have to move to a clean energy infrastructure eventually.  But we now know that our fossil fuel gift from nature comes at a terrible price.  If we burn all the fossil fuels we will be hot, flooded, traumatised by weather, threatened by disease and morally weakened by the changes we have wrought to our planet.  We are literally threatening the prospects for human life on this planet.
There is a clear path forward that involves collaboration and good governance to move us to a low carbon and then zero carbon future.  It’s not even a difficult path, because it offers a cleaner and more comfortable environment, without economic disadvantage, as well as jobs in sunrise industries and better stewardship of our resources.  If costs to rectify the damage caused by global warming are taken into account, the low-carbon path actually involves lower costs than the present trajectory [5].
But the low-carbon path is challenged by those who want to preserve their current position and wealth, generally old men who manipulate the levers of power to their advantage.
The repeal of Australia’s carbon tax means we lose valuable time to confront the challenges that we will inevitably face.  Apart from the Renewable Energy Target currently under fierce attack by the government, there is no replacement mechanism available in Australia to reduce carbon emissions.  The government’s proposed “Direct Action” scheme is so bad that it’s risible.  So bad, in fact, that it will not get through the upper house of parliament.  And any move towards an emissions trading scheme, offered as a sop by the cross-benchers in the senate as part of the repeal of the carbon tax, will not get through the lower house of parliament in the present government.  Past good work to reduce our CO2 emissions will be wasted, and we will be steered by government decisions into a fossil powered economic dead end, instead of towards the industries of the future.
I fear this decision will take years to unwind.  In its lust for temporary advantage, the Australian government is acting to harm fellow citizens of our world.  It is also reducing Australia’s capability to participate in the inevitable revolutionary development of Earth’s energy infrastructure.
All those who have contributed to this decision should hang their heads in shame. They are going to be very harshly judged by history.  A really bad decision indeed!
Noel Barton is Managing Director of Sunoba Pty Ltd. Reproduced with permission.
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  1. Zvyozdochka 6 years ago

    Turn that frown upside-down! They just mobilised an army of people prepared to take further/harder action themselves. The fossil fuel dinosaurs are deluded if they think they haven’t just accelerated their death spiral.

    • Mags 6 years ago

      Yes, I think they will look back at this day as the point at which their doom was set in motion!!

      Abbott is cactus.

      • Chris Marshalk 6 years ago

        Such mentality from the LNP on green technology is incomprehensible. Abbott must be a mentally ill idiot.

  2. Douglas Hynd 6 years ago

    A passionate well argued response to monumental stupidity

  3. RobS 6 years ago

    I don’t think it will be difficult to rectify, this government is going to go down like a sack of potatoes at the next election. Labor will be reflected and they will vote in an ETS. In hindsight if the Greens had never insisted on the fixed tax transition into an ETS then Gillard would to have been dogged by the “great big lie” accusation and history would likely look very very different.

  4. Pedro 6 years ago

    If and when we get a change of government they will have no stomach to re introduce a carbon tax

  5. martin 6 years ago

    Hyperbole ad nauseum! The author is anything but objective. Save the planet? Rentseeking speculators. Bunkum.

    • wideEyedPupil 6 years ago

      Rent seeking would perfectly describe the immoral lords of coal and gas who receive billions in subsidies every year of your and my taxes. Those vile corporations that continue to resist the transition to renewables which we all know is happening even without an international price on carbon. Those corporations that externalise trillions of dollars in planetary scale ecological damages and morbidity and mortality effects. You were saying?

  6. martin 6 years ago

    There is no 97% consensus. There is not and cannot be a consensus of things we cannot and do not understand fully. At best, there is suspicion. Nobody has yet been able to explain the ongoing increase in CO2 with a halt to warming at the same time. Computer models designed with already imagined outcomes is not science. There has been so much faith put into a belief of AGW that you lot and your egos and the authors bank account refuse to see that what you believe may not be. And please save the hand wringing about children and grand-children.

    • MrMauricio 6 years ago

      Hyperbolic bunkum yourself!!! The link between CO2 and warming is well established in science-there is no suspicion between those doing the research just healthy debate on details.12 of the warmest 14 years have been this century.The effect of the extra CO2 and other AGW gases is 4 Hiroshima bombs of energy per second.The question is where does it go? Warming goes to the atmosphere and the oceans(70+% of the planets surface). The major oceans have slow overturning cycles -so that cold waters are from time to time brought to the surface-and counted in surface temperature measurements slowing the apparent rate of warming-but then return warmed to the depths to haunt us later-not to mention the acidification that goes with it! Save us the pathetic sarcasm about future generations and self serving scientists. Its much more likely the 3% on the fringe are self serving-close to fossil fuel sponsored “think” tanks and sham research fronts with misleading names.We have been warned for a long time about the effects of massive burning of fossil fuels on climate and now the changes are already upon us(perhaps consult a major insurance company or any national science or meteorological institute)-let alone what our kids and grandkids will certainly face!

    • Tony Pfitzner 6 years ago

      You have no understanding of science – including computer modelling, or what consensus really means. S**t for brains rednecks will not win this argument in the end.

    • Clayton Drury 6 years ago

      Hi martin,

      Have a look a Noel’s footnotes. He lists this site http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus.htm
      as evidence that 97% of scientific papers written on the subject of global warming agree that humans are causing it. If you consulted 100 doctors and 97 of them told you that you have cancer, would you do nothing because three of them said you had nothing to worry about?

      Also, check out this article: https://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/graph-day-global-warming-paused-bollocks-22316. There has not been a pause in global warming.
      Faith has nothing to do with it. Please do some research into the science. I wish you luck.

      • martin 6 years ago

        If you consulted 100 doctors and 3 told you that you have cancer, would you do nothing because 97 told you there was nothing to worry about?
        If you were making the decision regards the aforementioned, but it not bear directly upon your health outcome, would your decision making be different? Yes?

        • Clayton Drury 6 years ago

          Even if only three doctors told me I had cancer, then the prudent thing to do would be to seek further advice and treatment.
          Global warming has a direct bearing on everyone’s future wellbeing. It’s that serious. It’s happening whether believe it is or not. Wouldn’t the prudent thing be to take preventative measures?

        • Zane Alcorn 6 years ago

          Wow. You are *really, really* smart. I never thought of it like that.

          So… moving to renewables, to follow your example, is the equivalent of ‘doing nothing’ after 3 out of 97 doctors diagnosed you with cancer, whereas *actually doing nothing* to reduce emissions is presumably the equivalent of getting full scale cancer treatment, after 3 out of 97 doctors said you had cancer.

          You’ve really shed some light on the subject Martin. Amazing.

          But yea as Clayton points out, if you were prepared to take action when only 3 out of 100 doctors diagnosed you with cancer… doesn’t that sort of reinforce the fact that if 97 out of 100 doctors said you had cancer you would probably be even *more* concerned – even more resolute about seeking treatment?

          In other news, a ‘cancer trading scheme’ that allows your cancer to remain in your body as long as it pays for cancer removal in other peoples bodies – and for which it receives 95% free ‘cancer permits’ – probably wouldn’t do much at all to improve your position.

        • Peter Campbell 6 years ago

          And what if the 97 doctors explained patiently in great detail why the 3 who thought you had cancer were mistaken?

        • wideEyedPupil 6 years ago

          Martin you can even do analogy logic right. The risks of extreme climate change carriy with them enormous costs. If hundreds of data sets and thousands upon thousands of peer reviewed papers have it totally wrong then cleaning up the health effects of coal burning and diesel burning ($2b a year in USA) won’t be in any way a risk will it?

  7. Sydney Sustainable Living 6 years ago

    Let’s see how the ratings fare in the opinion polls…

  8. Zane Alcorn 6 years ago

    The carbon tax was never going to stop the type of climate change that is poised to make your grandsons life tremendously challenging. Its an all or nothing phenomenon, you can’t “half stop” runaway warming much less “5% stop it”.

    We needed to confront politics as usual before today and that task is still there now. The carbon tax was only ever rearranging the deck chairs in the grand scheme of things. Nationalise the coal mines and coal fired power stations and phase them out. Public investment in a crash conversion to 100% renewables.

    Not realistic? Neither is the notion that carbon trading would have got us out of this mess.

    • wideEyedPupil 6 years ago

      Totally. This article missing that point entirely not to mention many other false assumptions.

  9. martin 6 years ago

    So much emotion and not much to back it with. I understand greenhouse warming, but the evidence does not stack up with regards to CO2.

    If some of you would agree that surrounding my farm with wind turbines, against my will is counter productive we may be able to converse. If you could possibly see that windmills are nothing more than a fraud, a means of redistribution of wealth from the energy poor to the obscene overseas corporate wealth, then we can have a conversation.

    If I am to be considered green energy roadkill I will fight you to the end.
    I believe that a truly mature renewable sector is part of the answer, but it is in its infancy and you know it.
    Windmills are not the answer and if you look objectively, as I do , you will see this.
    Fossil fuels are not the entire enemy, they may even be found not to be the enemy at all.Fossil fuels are much more important to us other than just an electricity source.
    The idea that renewables will be the answer in the short term is simply nonsense, but pouring significant amounts of money into R&D is essential. I don’t think anyone is denying this.
    This debate has taken on such a religious fervor, as I witness on these websites, that I see a common ground difficult.
    Something that I am absolutely sure of is that financial self-interest in all sectors is paramount. “Green” is no different than “Brown”. There is no moral or ethical difference from this perspective.
    And please stop banging on about future generations. Guilt trips do not help.
    None of you can be absolutely sure of the future.

    • nakedChimp 6 years ago

      Sorry to hear, that they want to put a forest of windmills around your farm, but everything else of your post I can’t agree with.
      Also, with what just happened, the Government has alienated all the other – in your eyes needed for a more mature renewable energy sector – developing technologies.

      • Tara Burke 6 years ago

        Well said nakedChimp. It appears to me Martin is far more concerned about the look and sound of his farm. I hear no consideration of our most valuable green energy resource, THE SUN. Perhaps Martin isn’t aware this is one of our country’s greatest assets?
        I must too take offence to his complete disregard for future generations and fear we are attempting a conversation with yet another dinosaur.

    • Alan D 6 years ago

      Martin, I agree that self righteous attitudes are not help,full. No one has the right to claim that another is uncaring. Instead I feel we must start a conversation with the assumption that the other is just as humane as our-self. We also should acknowledge that others may know and understand things that we might not. We also should acknowledge each others feelings and take stock of our own and resist being ruled by our own feelings and keep an “even keel” by attempting to be as rational and sensible as we can. Without these concessions to each other we can not make any progress.
      The fact of the matter is that we do have common ground and we must start from there and reconcile our different takes on the issues by listening and exploring with care.
      As starting point it might be helpful to put aside the CO2 and global warming issue and explore the possibility that renewable energy systems may be cheaper, more sustainable, and safer then traditional energy systems. What progress has been made? What are the stumbling blocks that need to be overcome to achieve this common aim? How can they be overcome?

      • wideEyedPupil 6 years ago

        If you ask me Martin has walked into this discussion mouthing off like he is an intelligent person well across the science. His comments demonstrate he is extremely ignorant about the science and it would take hours to explain to him how all his assumptions are silly even if he was open minded enough to attempt to learn something that didn’t for with his predetermined conclusions.

    • Jacob David Tannenbaum 6 years ago

      It’s scary, the world is such a complicated place now, everything operates faster, and on a larger scale. With more systems and more people, the impacts of actions and decisions become more unpredictable. When there are people who dedicate their entire lives to specific topics how are laymen supposed to make sense of it all and make sound decisions?

      Well, really you already know the answer.

      If your car broke down right outside a mechanics convention and 100 of them rushed outside to look at your car, when 97 of them said that your brake lines were on the verge of failure, would you drive home?

      If you were writing your will with 10 lawyers, and all but one of them told you the wording would mean that your assets would be seized by the state upon your passing, would you change it?

      If you were booking a flight to Bali, and 97 out of the 100 websites you checked for flights told you that 15 minutes would not be long enough for a connecting flight, would you book it anyway?

      The reality is that we rely on the opinions of experts in our daily lives all the time. No one is claiming that experts know the future 100% of the time, but they represent the best and most informed way to make decisions. Sometimes the experts are wrong, but there are millions of ways to be wrong, and if hundreds of experts get it wrong in one way, the chances that you as a layperson will somehow get the answer right through sheer dumb luck are remote.

      If we know what the best way to make decisions is, and we make a contradictory decision based on nothing, of course there is a moral element. With so much at stake, to make decisions with anything but the utmost diligence is disrespectful to those upon whom it will impact.

    • Clayton Drury 6 years ago

      Hi Martin,

      I am sorry to hear that you are being forced to live near wind turbines. Why not allow them onto your property? You could make some good money, short term and long term.

      I am not interested in fighting you. That wouldn’t help anyone. I encourage you to check out some of the other articles on this site, though.

      Are you aware that wind produces more than 20% of all electricity in South Australia? https://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/pricing-sa-electricity-grid-high-wind-penetration-2005-13-14148. Did you know that over one million Australian houses have solar panels on their roof? I think you will find that renewables are already playing an important role in Australia’s electricity production.

      I agree with you that a lot of profits from electricity production in Australia go overseas as most of our generators are owned by overseas companies. This is true regardless of whether the electricity is generated by wind or by burning coal. Lots of coal mining profits go overseas too.

      Yes, fossil fuels are useful for more than just electricity. We shouldn’t be wasting them as profligately as we currently are doing.

      Fossil fuels will continue to be a part of Australia’s energy mix for decades to come. Within a few short years coal, gas and nuclear power stations will be more expensive to build is Australia than solar or wind. There will never be another coal-fired power station built in Australia. It will not be economically viable. It’s true that fossil fuels are not the only contributor to global warming but they are low hanging fruit.
      I hope you have a good day.

  10. John McKeon 6 years ago

    “Meanwhile, the low-carbon future should also be viewed as a huge economic opportunity. There are immensely powerful global drivers at work: … Our government is blind to these drivers.”

    Tony “Climate Science is Crap” Abbott and his bunch of losers have just picked a loser, the Greenhouse Mafia set, aka the Fossil Fools.

    I changed my mind about Malcolm Fraser when we all discovered his humanitarian statesmanship in his dealings with the Vietnamese boat people and the crisis of Apartheid South Africa. I changed my mind about John Hewson because he also seems – in the perspective of now – a moderate small-l liberal who seems right on board about climate change.

    But Tony … he is just something else … my feelings about this fellow are of loathsome imaginings and very angry. It would take a miracle for him to redeem himself.

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