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The litterbug argument

July 18th, 2008

Over the fold my piece from yesterday’s Fin, a response to the argument that since Australia only contributes about 2 per cent of global CO2 emissions, there’s no real point in us doing anything. I’ve drawn on discussions here, so thanks to everyone who participated.

Although the article includes some allusions to the Green Paper, the deadlines involved meant that it was mostly written before the Green Paper was released, and it doesn’t deal with any of the details, on which more soon I hope.

While there are plenty of details remaining to be spelt out, the Green Paper on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme issued yesterday marks the shift from the symbolism of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol to the practicalities of an emissions trading scheme.

Many critics of an emissions trading scheme have embraced what might economists call a ‘free rider’ policy, but might better be described as the ‘litterbug’ argument. This is the claim that since Australia contributes only a small portion of emissions, it does not matter whether or not we do anything to reduce them. This is much the same as a litterbug saying that their beercan or chip packet is not going to make any difference, so they may as well dump it.

To take this argument more credibly than it deserves, Australia currently generates about 2 per cent of global emissions of greenhouse gases. That’s comparable to Britain or France. The fact that these countries have several times our population is cancelled out by our much higher emissions per person.

Of course, countries like the US and China with a population much larger than ours, have higher emissions. But there’s no obvious reason why this should be relevant. The 20 million residents of Southern California might reasonably say that, if Australia’s emissions make no difference, neither do theirs. And the 100 million people of Henan province in China, whose total emissions are about equal to ours, could make the same claim with even more justice.

A more superficially respectable version the argument, and one of several positions adopted by Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson in the last week, is that, as a small country, we should not get ahead of the rest of the world, incurring the costs of reducing our own emissions, but not realising any benefits from mitigation.

There is, however, little danger of our finding ourselves way out in front. Until the recent change of government, we were, along with the United States, bringing up the rear. To be more accurate, the Howard and Bush Administrations were dragging the chain. On the one hand, it was claimed (contrary to the agreement at Kyoto) that developed countries shouldn’t do anything unless developing countries like China and India also cut their emissions. Meanwhile, surreptitious encouragement was given to those in developing countries who opposed any action.

The Rudd government’s ratification of the Kyoto protocol has put Australia in front of the US, and also in front of some backsliders like Canada, whose conservative government (heavily influenced by its own “sceptics�) has abandoned any effort to meet its commitments. But we are still nowhere near the front of the pack.

Even assuming the government’s ambitious schedule of a 2010 implementation date for emissions trading is reached, we will be well behind the EU (which currently accounts for nearly a third of global economic output, and around 15 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions), not to mention New Zealand.

It might however, be argued that the previous policy of bringing up the rear was the right one, and that even the middle of the pack is too far in front. A look at our current position suggests the opposite. Given the absence of any serious action on climate change under the Howard government, introducing an emissions trading scheme by 2010 will indeed be more costly, and have a higher risk of failure, than would a more leisurely schedule.

But with the Copenhagen negotiations on a post-Kyoto agreement fast approaching, leisure is something we don’t have. If Australia is to present a defensible negotiating position on issues like the treatment of agriculture, we need some concrete evidence that we are taking action to reduce emissions. The window-dressing offered on such occasions by the previous government will not pass muster. And while the ratification of Kyoto was an important step, the symbolism must now be backed by substance.

The advocates of delay seem to think that Australia can act as a free rider indefinitely. But free riders eventually face sanctions. The European Union is already talking about border taxes to be imposed on imports from non-complying countries.

Such ideas are unlikely to go far while the Bush Administration remains in office. But once the US is part of an international climate agreement, life is likely to become uncomfortable for those who choose to remain on the outside. While there is still room for debate about the details of the scheme proposed in the Green Paper, the time for delay has already passed.

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  1. Hermit
    July 18th, 2008 at 22:37 | #1

    I’m not sure if this 2% is meant to include Australia’s fossil fuel exports. Coal at around 250 megatonnes per annum (X 2.4 for CO2) and LNG around 16 Mt if I recall but with half the CO2. There appears to be some disagreement in academic circles on global manmade CO2. Whatever the numbers they are way out of whack with Australia’s 0.3% of world population, and they add force to the free rider argument. Some have suggested the ETS confers sacred cow status on domestic coal fired generators by reason of free permits and cash compensation. However it could be pointed out that until there are international carbon constraints that coal exporters get off scot-free. Bizarrely they can increase coal volumes even as domestic users have to cut back.

  2. July 19th, 2008 at 00:46 | #2

    Part of the problem of climate change mitigation is the problem of achieving international cooperation, which involves resolving a prisoners dilemma. This means that when determining our own mitigation policies, we should ask ourselves two things: how much does this policy reduce global emissions? and how much does this policy contribute to resolving the international prisoners dilemma? These are questions that we should ask ourselves when dealing with issues of domestic mitigation, carbon leakage, fossil fuel exports, and international negotiations.

    This also means that when we act in a certain way, we should ask ourselves whether we would prefer it if all countries acted that way. For example, if we act to protect certain emissions intensive industries from international competition, we should think about whether we would prefer a planet where all governments are protecting those industries, or none are. On the subject of carbon leakage, leakage towards Australia is just as much of an issue as leakage away from Australia.

  3. Paul
    July 19th, 2008 at 01:39 | #3

    What I find interesting is that both Obama and McCain have committed to an ETS and to reduce emissions from 1990 levels by 60% in 2050 for McCain (http://www.johnmccain.com/Informing/Issues/da151a1c-733a-4dc1-9cd3-f9ca5caba1de.htm) and by 80% in 2050 for Obama (http://www.barackobama.com/issues/energy/#reduce-carbon-emissions).

    I haven’t yet seen mention of this fact in the press. We can’t be streaming that far ahead if even both US parties have committed to an ETS.

  4. Tony G
    July 19th, 2008 at 09:22 | #4

    test

  5. Salient Green
    July 19th, 2008 at 09:59 | #5

    Never under-estimate the power of setting a good example, whether it be in the workplace, in the home, or as an international citizen.

    The EU set a good example and have shown the world that wealthy countries can easily afford to reduce emissions. Australia is a wealthy country too. I think most of us are sick and tired of setting a bad example.

    Penny Wong used the phrase “continue to grow our standard of living”. What an extraordinary thing to say! How much better do we need to live? Is not our standard of living part of the problem? Is it not more about distribution? Does she have a vision of 2050 Australia with 50million people all living like todays multi-millionaires?

    I do feel that the focus on global warming and emissions reduction is too narrow. There are too many opportunities for the skeptics and delusionists to make things difficult and waste time.

    The issues of resource conservation, sustainabiliy, needs of future generations, pollution and ecological footprint, all need to be up there along side or even ahead of global warming, as reasons for reducing the use of fossil fuels.

  6. jquiggin
    July 19th, 2008 at 17:37 | #6

    I’ve deleted a comment from “Keiran”. This post is to announce that he has been banned permanently.

    Keiran has made no useful comments since his recent arrival, and his latest comment included a personal attack. Anyone considering making comments along these lines should read the comments policy.

  7. Mark
    July 19th, 2008 at 18:43 | #7

    What are the chances that once the EU has successfully reduced it’s carbon emissions (and not gone broke doing so) that it will then impose carbon emission requirements on it’s trading partners, much in the way that it now imposes safety standards on airlines flying to/from the EU?

    Given that reducing emissions is a long term job, and that Europe seems substantially ahead of Australia, would a European ban on “dirty” Australian imports damage our economy?

  8. Keiran (banned)
    July 19th, 2008 at 19:05 | #8

    sggst y tk gd lk t th Sthrn Hmsphr tmprtrs, th plc whr w lv f y ddn’t rls, nd f y r s srsly lrmd wth crbn mssns y wll s tht r vst lndscp nd srrndng cns sly mk strl crbn ntrl.

  9. Chris O’Neill
    July 19th, 2008 at 21:22 | #9

    Keiran:

    our vast landscape

    Those deserts absorb so much carbon don’t they?

    and surrounding oceans easily make Australia carbon neutral

    Yes, other countries will let us claim credit for the southern oceans, won’t they? Sure. What other jokes do you know?

  10. conrad
    July 19th, 2008 at 21:50 | #10

    Perhaps we could claim credit for our fridges too, because they do something even better than absorbing carbon, they turn hot air into cold, just like magic — It’s a pity they are all made in China now, since they will be able to claim the credits and not us.

  11. Tony G
    July 19th, 2008 at 22:44 | #11

    The Litterbug argument.

    “so they may as well dump it.” the big floor in that argument is that carbon is meant to go in the atmosphere, just as litter is meant to go to the tip.

    A better name would be the

    The Dizzybug argument.

  12. Mark
    July 19th, 2008 at 22:48 | #12

    Keiran, who I thought was banned, your point is silly. The deserts and oceans pre-date industrial pollution.

  13. TM
    July 20th, 2008 at 00:15 | #13

    To what extent can nations impose import tariffs on goods from countries that don’t implement a credible carbon pricing mechanism? Does this violate WTO agreements? If carbon tariffs can be enforced, then this seems to be the logical way out of the prisoner’s dilemma. It also suggests a mechanism for compensating carbon intensive exporters: they are refunded their carbon tax, under the presumption that the exported product will be subject to a carbon tax in the receiving country.

  14. observa
    July 20th, 2008 at 02:45 | #14

    “The EU set a good example and have shown the world that wealthy countries can easily afford to reduce emissions.”
    Since we’re on the topic of rubbish-
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/07/18/2307331.htm
    eg. in Britain with those EU morally uplifting and exemplary emissions caps-

    “The [British]Government has even admitted that it has been badly underestimating national emissions, noting that if carbon embedded in imports from China were included then far from falling they would actually have risen sharply.

    A report issued by DEFRA ahead of last week’s G8 summit in Japan said CO2 emissions fell by 5 per cent between 1992 and 2004.

    But it said they actually rose by 115 million tonnes or 18 per cent over the same period when the carbon emissions linked to imported goods were included in the calculation.”

    “I do feel that the focus on global warming and emissions reduction is too narrow. There are too many opportunities for the skeptics and delusionists to make things difficult and waste time.”
    Don’t blame the skeptics of ETS when the blame lies fairly and squarely with the ETS delusionists
    http://www.news.com.au/adelaidenow/story/0,22606,24041344-2682,00.html
    Origin signed up my 88yr old father for this ETS induced sleight of hand with a box of CF globes, a low flow shower head and fluro green footy(made in China no doubt), as long as he signed a paper to say he’d instal them(presumably for more carbon credits) and pay the higher power rate. Welcome to another glimpse of the ETS delusionists’ brave new world.

    “I do feel that the focus on global warming and emissions reduction is too narrow….
    The issues of resource conservation, sustainabiliy, needs of future generations, pollution and ecological footprint, all need to be up there along side or even ahead of global warming, as reasons for reducing the use of fossil fuels.”

    Couldn’t agree with you more SG but it’s these ETS evangelists you need to convince on that score.

  15. observa
    July 20th, 2008 at 02:59 | #15

    Meanwhile back with those really, really delusional delusionists-
    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,24036736-7583,00.html

  16. TerjeP
    July 20th, 2008 at 05:16 | #16

    Observa – David Evans is clearly a fallen angel. He must be in league with Satan. He reminds me of that Scott Ritter fellow. ;-)

  17. Tony G
    July 20th, 2008 at 07:10 | #17

    Breach of comments policy deleted. Tony, you’re on a warning

  18. July 20th, 2008 at 11:28 | #18

    Observa, thanks for pointing out the article about green power and its problems. IMO there are problems with both baseline and credit schemes (e.g. GGAS and CDM) and with carbon offsets which mean that it can be dubious that emission reductions are real. There is an accreditation standard for offsets called ‘Greenhouse Friendly’ managed by the federal government, offsets with this accreditation may be more likely to meet standards of additionality, measurability, permanence and so on.

    Baseline and credit may always be dodgy – cap and trade and carbon taxes are more reliable. IMO the main issue that needs to b e sorted out is emissions from forest degeneration and rangeland degeneration. Under the Kyoto protocol, emissions from logging an old growth forest are not included, because deforestation and not forest degeneration are included. The Green Paper recommends including carbon stored in forest products but not forest degeneration – this could seriously undermine any ETS.

    David Evans’ article is stupid – I remember seeing papers in Nature that dealt with the heat island effect about a decade ago. Global warming is still very real. There is uncertainty, all of the latest science is (e.g. Hansens work) is suggesting that we are in the bad end of the tail of the cost function of the IPCC’s impacts. Uncertainty is a very strong argument for more action on climate change mitigation.

    Unfortunately, Evans’ article seems to have been taken seriously by people such as Tony Abbot (he referred to it on Lateline). Good thing he is in opposition now.

  19. observa
    July 20th, 2008 at 12:08 | #19

    Personally Peter, I hope David Evans change of mind on the evidence is correct, because I don’t see any recourse to CO2 AGW than adaptation, given the fatally flawed attempts at imagineering solutions to it to date. However, even if he’s on the right track now, the use of fossil fuels to convert our natural environment to our wants was always an underlying problem for me and I suspect the new ETS evangelists too. In that sense I still see the whole issue of AGW as more a catalyst for fundamental change to our current flawed constitutional marketplace, rather than futile attempts to redeem it with some some pretty ETS tinsel. Or as Ed Glaeser put it so well-
    “Ironically, the very success of environmental alarmism has convinced many of us that the environment is too important to be left to the environmentalists.”

  20. July 20th, 2008 at 12:09 | #20

    Mark @ 8.

    IF the EU reduces emissions and (say) does not go broke, the drops the boom on imports which do not meet their own standards, how will they cope?

    The socially aware minority will just have to live without fair trade coffee, big deal. But how will the rest of the punters take to life without any imports from Eastern Europe, East Asia, and especially nothing from China?

  21. Stephen L
    July 20th, 2008 at 13:06 | #21

    David Evans may have had a senior role in Greenhouse accounting, but that does not necessarily mean he knows anything about climatology. The two are related, but use largely different skill sets.

    Given his repetition of arguements previously demonstrated to be bogus, and the fact that virtually every relevant peer reviewed article published in genuine scientific journals since 1999 provides more evidence, not less, for AGW I would be very interested to know if Evans actually does have relevant qualifications to comment on the topic. Anyone know anything about him? Its a hard name to google?

  22. swio
    July 20th, 2008 at 13:37 | #22

    The argument that cutting Australia’s emmissions will make no difference only works if you assume that reducing (or not reducing) Austrlia’s emmissions has no effect on the decisions of others countries.

    As a wealthy first world nation the cost of cutting emmissions will be easier for us to bear than for poorer countries. If we do not cut emmissions then China and India will feel it is not fair to ask them to do so. And even the United States is affected by our decisions as they are reluctant to be the sole first world hold out against reducing emmisions.

    So our decision to cut emmissions can have a significant multiplier effect by increasing the likelihood of big emmittters like the US, China and India cutting emmissions too.

  23. MH
    July 20th, 2008 at 15:10 | #23

    The ‘our reductions will not make a difference’ proposition denies the benefits of: reducing our dependency on fossil fuels by pricing carbon, boosting the price incentive to substitute clean fuel, make significant efficiency gains in the fuels we use, change our consumption and spending patterns and plantary eco-footprint so as to begin genuine sustainable investment in renewable energy sources.

    These are all reasons why we should go first and not wait for everyone else, why not begin to introduce sustainable energy processes with renewable energy sources into business,transport, manufacturing, lifestyle, and agriculture.

    We could simply start by turning of lights in office buildings, lighting for aesthetic reasons, the spacing and number of street lights, the number of appliances operating in the home, all would lead to substantial immediate savings in electricity from coal fired power stations. We could try the novel german approach of one town and get rid of traffic lights and signage all together. We could rebuild our intra state, inter state and suburban rail systems to carry people and freight in a convieniant and efficient manner and reduce road haulage to a hub and spoke distribution system from towns. We could invest in shipping for long distance freight and passenger transport, and so on.

    We could harvest and store water locally instead of using huge amounts of fossil fuels to pump it around the countryside. We could implement a program to install solar/bartery systems on every house in the country by 2015 and significantly reduce our reliance on centralised fossil fuel power sources.

    I know we are up against serious vested interests to not do anything when we deny ourselves savings, fuel efficiency dividends, rebuilding sensible tranport systems and networked noded power grids based on our homes.

    We are already pass a dangerous climatic tipping point, we are on the downhill run to extract avaialbe oil resources and we are desparately in need of some genuine environmental care and attention, to feed ourselves, warms and cool ourselves and have a reasonable life from here on we need to adapt and change and in a hurry.

    ON that basis bring on the Garnaut proposals but give even more of the credits to the consumer and less to the producers, carbon stamp everything and let the market directed by an independent carbon and climate authority take the politics out of the science and listen to the scientists. Finally we could begin to really make some efforts to develop ecological-economics as discipline to fit the new paradigm.

  24. crf
    July 20th, 2008 at 16:05 | #24

    By dint of being White and Rich and Smart and Advanced and Democratic, we have the inherent right to pollute at several times the levels of the hoarde of anonymous Asians, for all of eternity.

    This is nearly the same argument of Canada’s globe & mail newspaper, thought they put it in much silkier language. Editorials rag on China and, soon, India for being a larger emitters than than the USA. They rarely note that Canadians have been, per capita, emitting at several times that of China and India, and nearly every other country, over many decades, and even after global warming was considered a quite serious problem. The Globe editorial page only deigned to acknowlege the correctness of the theory behind AGW after the 4th report of the IPCC. Prior to that they were denialist/delayers, consistantly misleading about the current practice of climate science. Most of their commentator columnists, save one, are deeply invested in GW pseudo-scepticism-agnosticism.

    In contrast, on an issue like the war in Afghanistan, they do not note that if Canada left, the situation in Afghanistan would not be considerably worse, as the small role we play would either be taken up by the US, or let slide. Instead they (quite rightly, in my mind) point out what small good the country is doing in Afghanistan.

  25. Paul
    July 20th, 2008 at 17:38 | #25

    The other advantage of developed countries going it early and alone is that they can use that time to develop and more importantly scale-up low-cost low-emissions technology.

    Developing countries are probably only going to chose low-carbon options if the additional cost is low and the sooner those options are available the better.

  26. melanie
    July 20th, 2008 at 20:24 | #26

    observa @15. “if carbon embedded in imports from China…”

    If you want to count it in the UK, you have to deduct it from the Chinese emissions. You can’t count it twice.

  27. jack strocchi
    July 20th, 2008 at 21:53 | #27

    Pr Q says:

    Many critics of an emissions trading scheme have embraced what might economists call a ‘free rider’ policy, but might better be described as the ‘litterbug’ argument. This is the claim that since Australia contributes only a small portion of emissions, it does not matter whether or not we do anything to reduce them. This is much the same as a litterbug saying that their beercan or chip packet is not going to make any difference, so they may as well dump it.

    The fallacy in the litterbug argument (actually it is a superficially plausible analogy) is obvious. This is because legal coercion rather than moral consent will be required to solve the AGW problem.

    All citizens of this nation accept their political obligation to the sovereign state. Littering is against that state’s law. And effective policing and penalties for littering are already in place.

    A large fraction of the worlds population do not recognise the sovereign authority of the UN-IPCC in regard to policing climate pollution. Global carbon pollution, unlike local littering, is not against any laws. And no effective global penalties against it are in place or are imminent given the recalcitrant attitudes of the worlds most powerful and promiscuous carbon polluters.

    The literature of global warming is replete with references to economic game theory (free rider, prisoners dilemma, tipping point.) Its worth remembering that these theories emerged from studies of intractable conflict – cold wars or civil wars. Schelling, even more than Olson, is the guide.

    It would be nice if people recognised the moral force of the litterbug argument. But political morality, as Hobbes observed, is mostly just alot of hot air without the sanction of effective force. To get over the prisoners dilemma you need a warden.

    In the current institutional situation our puny efforts at carbon cleanliness will be swamped by “bad neighbourhood” effects. When the “there goes the neighbourhood” effect kicks in you have reached the tipping point. Not much point keeping a tidy house when every other house on the street is afflicted by vagrancy or blight.

    The carbon litterbuggers are correct to imply that there is no global anti-pollution Leviathan. But they are wrong to imply that all anti-carbon measures are therefore hopeless. A Green Leviathan tending to “zero tolerance” is indicated.

    It may be that Kyoto-IPCC is actually a proto-form of World Government cum Green Leviathan, rather than a glorified garbage collector. In which case it would be more honest for its proponents to say so.

    I am more inclined to think that it will require a MASSIVE ECOLOGICAL DISASTER to bring forth Leviathan. I do not think a global version of the USE will work in time. It normally takes a blow to the head to rapidly bring our species to it political senses.

    It is worth noting that the most effective carbon mitigating schemes in recent history have been the result of Big Brother – the PRC’s one child policy and Three Gorges hydro scheme.

  28. jquiggin
    July 20th, 2008 at 22:24 | #28

    Jack, I think this comment would have been unnecessary if you had read the penultimate para of the post. Perhaps you think the sanction suggested there would be ineffectual or wouldn’t be applied, but at least we would be arguing about specific, limited policies rather than invoking the ghost of Hobbes.

  29. jack strocchi
    July 21st, 2008 at 00:33 | #29

    jquiggin Says: July 20th, 2008 at 10:24 pm

    Jack, I think this comment would have been unnecessary if you had read the penultimate para of the post. Perhaps you think the sanction suggested there would be ineffectual or wouldn’t be applied, but at least we would be arguing about specific, limited policies rather than invoking the ghost of Hobbes.

    Over the past decade I have become a fairly gloomy pessimist about the prospect for effective collective public good provision accross many spheres – whether national security, technological novelty or ecological sustainability. This rather tends to make all “comment…unnecessary”, not just mine! I invite optimists to disabuse me of my shallow pessimism.

    I did “read the penultimate para of the post” and I do “think sanction suggested there would be ineffectual or wouldn’t be applied”. The European Union’s vague talk about “border taxes to be imposed on imports from non-complying countries” does not even rise to the level of “specific and limited policies”. It falls under the category of what I call “puny efforts at carbon cleanliness”. Neither vague threats nor homilies about littering is going to stop the carbon juggernaut.

    Especially in view of the USE’s conspicuous failure to control its carbon emissions over the past few years, inspite (or because of?) its ostentatiously launched ETS. That scheme is getting a suspiciously large amount of support from carbon emission traders sensing a financial rorting opportunity.

    I am more interested in raising the spectre of Communism, rather than disinterring the ghost of Hobbes. The PRC’s awesome authoritarian power is a turbo-powered version of Hobbes Leviathan, capable of both propagating and mitigating carbon.

    The melting polar ice caps are a clear case of the “tragedy of the commons. In theory we need some hegemonic agency – a “common power to over-awe us all” – that is capable of internalising the goods and bads flowing through ecological systems. Now I ask you, does the USE sound like it fits that bill?

    I expect that, when the global fridge is well and truly defrosted and the kitchen thoroughly flooded, we will be more than willing to hand over effective powers to a Green Leviathan. It will have to be an agency with an army.

    OTOH, it has been the locals who have been taking action whilst the globals have been “acting”. Local authorities, including litter-conscious households, seem to be more concerned about the problem than the Great Powers whatever their concert.

    Whatever the scale of action I do not think the mode of resolution will be liberal.

    Baby boomers have been on the personal and professional party to end all parties for almost two generations. Now we face the mother of all hangovers: (private) biological aging and (public) ecological warming.

    I do not think that our cherished brand of consensual liberalism, especially in its degenerate post-modern “do as we feel then cut a deal” form, will be effective or expeditious to cope with either problem. Coercive corporalism, ie institutional authority given rationing and regimenting powers, is a desperate attempt to avert a clear and present danger. Probably our best hope.

  30. jack strocchi
    July 21st, 2008 at 09:22 | #30

    I should add, emphaticly, that although I do not find Pr Q’s litterbug analogy plausible on a political level it does not follow that it is not compelling on a personal level.

    Authoritarian action will be required to correct AWG on the global level. But that does not excuse autonomous action to correct AWG at the local level.

    Of course we should support Kyoto & ETS, despite the fact that they will not do much good such as they are. And we should also act to constrain our own carbon emissions by driving smaller cars, turning off lights supporting public transport etc.

  31. FDB
    July 21st, 2008 at 11:54 | #31

    Shorter Jack S – think global, act local.

    Who knew?

  32. David
    July 21st, 2008 at 13:27 | #32

    Stephen L @ 22 – re David Evans, see here: http://www.lavoisier.com.au/papers/articles/DavidEvansbio.html and here: http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/2007/07/shorter_lavoisier_workshop.php

    As far as I can see, he has no credibility.

  33. jack strocchi
    July 21st, 2008 at 13:47 | #33

    FDB Says: July 21st, 2008 at 11:54 am

    Shorter Jack S – think global, act local.
    Who knew?

    No, shorter Jack: act local, act global.

    FWIW I am a big fan of more global agencies. The intellectual bark of the UN & IPCC is impressive given their recent good calls. But their institutional bite is pathetic.

    Nor do I have much faith in liberal measures. Given the ecologic state and the economic trends I doubt that liberal measures, such as “innovative trading schemes”, will do the trick. Too much technological and metereological inertia.

    Individual autonomies – including free [!] riding nations – are not fulfilling the promise of freedom. You can see this in such disparate areas as obesity, pollution and indigenous governance.

    Institutional authorities should come clean that corporal, rather than liberal, methods will be required to constrain our unruly appetites. (This goes for obesity as well. The revival of the sadistic PT instructor is surely not far off.)

    So I forsee much more regimentation, regulation and rationing of resources if we are serious about tackling such problems. The indigenous intervention (effectively martial law) is an example of how such leadership works.

    Some global state needs to take the lead in forcing climate mitigation down everyones throat. I cant see the USE being an effective carbon cop. I dont see the USA having either the indvidual will or institutional ability to force its constituents to take the lead.

    By process of elimination it will have to be the PRC. They have the instututional ability. Just need the individual will.

    My best guess is that the PRC will suffer some absolutely dire ecological crisis which will force that nation to take the lead, nationally and globally, and use its considerable economic and military pressure to force others to follow suit. The PRC has a lot of spare cash at its disposal.

    I see that the previous generation of Politburo officers – engineers to a man – are giving way to bean counters. That is probably a hopeful sign.

  34. observa
    July 21st, 2008 at 20:45 | #34

    ‘observa @15. “if carbon embedded in imports from China…â€?
    If you want to count it in the UK, you have to deduct it from the Chinese emissions. You can’t count it twice.’
    Agreed melanie but where’s the benefit of ETS if it merely offshores our dark satanic mills at an even faster rate? We get the AGW and the local blue collar unemployment, but I guess the latter don’t matter to the people who really count these days. Unfortunately we are about to find out that making the things we want does matter I’m afraid. Rising asset prices, financial intermediation and a latte economy will be cold comfort when the debt collector comes knocking.

  35. Ian Gould
    July 21st, 2008 at 22:57 | #35

    Logically, if we’re going to include embedded carbon emissions in British imports in Britain’s carbon emissions, we should exclude embedded carbon in British exports from Britain’s accounts.

    Given that back in 1990, Britain still had a coal industry (of sorts) I wouldn’t be too quick to assume that emissiosn have risen.

    Let me know when somebody does the complete exercise – which will probably show Australia and Saudi Arabia neck-and-neck for the title of world’s largest polluter.

  36. Ian Gould
    July 21st, 2008 at 23:18 | #36

    Actually that last comment makes no sense.

    In fact once Australia debits the imbedded carbon from our aluminium, base metal and agricultural exports fromo ur national accoutns, we’ll probably be amopngst the lowest per capita emitters in the developed world.

  37. July 22nd, 2008 at 10:03 | #37

    Ian, if you want to examine the embedded emissions from our exports, you should examine the latest National Inventory by Economic Sector, which breaks down emissions according to end use and so on. You will have to look elsewhere to see how much these industries produce for exports, although I do recall that 70% of beef production is for exports.

    You will probably find that our emissions would be significantly less, but still greater per capita than many developed countries, including most of Europe. The reason being that our electricity generation is much more greenhouse gas intensive than most countries. For this same reason Australia’s aluminum production is also more greenhouse gas intensive than most countries.

  38. Ian Gould
    July 23rd, 2008 at 09:42 | #38

    Here’s BRendan Nelson’s proposal:

    http://www.spacedaily.com/2006/080722114649.n70xj7o3.html

    Australian politician calls for ‘meaningless’ carbon trading

    “Our policy has not changed, and that policy is we would implement an emissions trading scheme, cap-and-trade, no later than 2012,” he told Sky News.

    “And obviously what you would do, if for example we haven’t got the big emitters on board, what you do is the price of carbon is set so low and the (emissions) trajectory is so low as to be near meaningless.”

  39. Tom N.
    July 23rd, 2008 at 13:08 | #39

    THINK GLOBAL, POLLUTE LOCAL

    Since the ‘Think Global, Act Local’ nostrum has been raised above, its worth pointing out that, if our high-GHG emmitting industries – eg aluminium – really are the most globally efficient, thinking globally could require not only that such production be retained in Australia, but in fact that there should potentially be an increase in the production of such industries in Australia. Of course, this would result in our per capita emmissions going up (showing what a useless indicator, on its own, this is), but, for a given level of global output of such industries, should reduced emmissions overall.

    Somehow though, I doubt that most of the people who one hears sprouting the TGAL nostrum would actually support this logical outcome of the proposition.

  40. Ian Gould
    July 23rd, 2008 at 14:05 | #40

    Tom N – that is a valid argument and one I’ve made in the past.

    Unfortunately aluminium isn’t the best example. The Australian aluminium industry uses coal-powered electricity because our coal-powered electricity is the cheapest in the world. Much of the overseas industry uses hydro because it’s as cheap or cheaper.

    I would expect though that Australian black coal, which is amongst the cleanest-burning on the planet, will take market share away from lignite and other more-polluting forms of coal during the transition to a low-carbon economy.

    Whether that translates into higher actual volumes is another question.

  41. observa
    July 23rd, 2008 at 21:43 | #41

    “Much of the overseas industry uses hydro because it’s as cheap or cheaper.”
    That may be true Ian, but existing hydro(ie Snowy) has alternative uses, which enterprising companies like Origin and Truenergy wanted to sell as ‘green energy’. Why not you may well ask? Well that raises an interesting quandary for ETS fans. Apart from encouraging enterprises like palm oil for biodiesel, corn, etc for ethanol, ETS can also foster damming rivers and flooding wilderness. Close La Trobe and dam the Franklin anyone?

  42. Ian Gould
    July 23rd, 2008 at 22:38 | #42

    As usual, your point, if you have one, eludes me.

  43. observa
    July 24th, 2008 at 12:03 | #43

    Essentially Ian, you should be acutely aware that global ETS has some powerful incentives to conduct counterproductive enterprise with natural terrestial environment, not least in more vulnerable LDCs. There is absolute silence from ETS fans on that.

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