Hockey's amazing discovery: Bigger households use more of everything

I’m a bit late joining the pile-on to Joe Hockey for his silly claim that poor people won’t be hit by fuel excise because they don’t drive (or not as much). Obviously, that’s true of just about every tax you can think of: poor people, earn less, spend less and therefore pay less tax. The big question, as the Australia Institute and others have pointed out, is how much people pay as a proportion of income. Food and fuel represent a larger than average share of spending for low-income households, so taxes on these items are more regressive than broad-based consumption taxes like the GST which in turn are regressive compared to income tax.

But there’s a more fundamental problem with the ABS Household Expenditure survey data cited by Hockey to defend his claim. In the tables he used, the ABS sorts households by income, with no adjustment for the number of people in the household (the ABS also provides “equivalised” figures, which adjust for household size). To quote the ABS

This difference in expenditure is partly a consequence of household size: households in the lowest quintile contain on average 1.5 persons, compared to 3.4 persons in households in the highest quintile. Lone person households make up 63% of households in the lowest quintile.

This makes a big difference to the figures quoted by Hockey, that top-quintile households spend $53 a week on fuel, and bottom quintile households only $16.

Comparing expenditure per person, the top quintile spends $16 per person and the bottom quintile $11 – a very small difference. Of course, the income figures need adjusting also, but here the difference remains huge. Income per person in the top quintile is about 5 times that in the bottom. And Hockey’s argument would look even worse if the ABS sorted households by income.

This is the kind of mistake that’s easy enough for an individual politician to make, but Hockey has the entire resources of the Treasury at his disposal. If he’d asked them before making his bizarre claim, I’m sure Treasury officials would have warned him off. As it is, they have had to provide him with the statistics most favorable to his claim and watch him get shot down.

Still, it was good enough to fool Andrew Bolt.

The fact that a fuel tax is regressive does not mean that a return to indexation of the fuel excise is necessarily bad. There are good reasons for taxing fuel, and no sensible rationale for allowing the tax to be eroded by inflation. But fuel taxes bear most on the poor, so they need to be put in the context of a budget that it is progressive in total. That’s the exact opposite of what Hockey is doing.

203 thoughts on “Hockey's amazing discovery: Bigger households use more of everything

  1. Ronald, a current model V6 Commodore emits about 220g CO2/km at best. That works out to a tonne of CO2 every ~4500km. So, to be more precise 22.5 Commodores driving 100kms each way to work and back.

    There are V6s out there up to 20% more fuel efficient than that, but I chose to go with the Commodore.

    “Optimistic estimates of the cost of non-biological methods of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere start at $300 a tonne. But if there were no other alternative, paying such a price would be pretty trivial in the great scheme of things.”

    Estimates of cost aren’t everything. Size is a limiting factor in many of these processes. eg. Hermit mentioned ‘gasoline from seawater’ the other day. Those US navy researchers also use cation exchange membranes, and their technique suffers exactly the same problem as Watkin’s link.

    By the time you scale it up to produce a practicable amount of fuel, the physical size of your “seawater processing facility” becomes too vast to contemplate. It doesn’t matter whether they estimated it would only cost $10-20 billion or whatever…

  2. @Nick
    Nick, so you think direct air chemical CO2 capture won’t be used because of problems with size. I think it won’t be used because it’s a lot easier just not to drive a V6.

  3. “Nick, so you think direct air chemical CO2 capture won’t be used because of problems with size.”

    Yep. The only vaguely feasible version of that solution would be to outfit a unit on every car. Now work out the weight of the bag of carbon the driver would have to remove daily…

    “I think it won’t be used because it’s a lot easier just not to drive a V6.”

    Exactly. Hence my earlier posts in this thread about how to discourage people from buying them in the first place.

  4. @Watkin Tench
    “…the increase in world temps are near the bottom of the IPCC estimates”
    Watkin, I think you are mistaking a short term period where short term surface air temperature variability has overwhelmed a longer term trend for a lower underlying long term trend. I doubt Pr Quiggin would agree that a decade and a half of being lower than the projected long term trend is evidence of actual lowering of the long term trend – I know that I don’t. And ocean heat content, where most of the warming goes, has not tracked lower at all, not even for as long as 3 years running.When there’s no global warming temperature goes up and down, up and down; having it go up and not come down when the dominant natural oscillations like ENSO should have caused it to come down is actually a sign of strong warming, not weakening of warming.

    Also I think you are underestimating how damaging the middle of the range climate sensitivity scenarios really are; they really are something to get seriously alarmed about even without the more extreme possibilities that would come with those turning out to be underestimates. It’s not the people who are insisting urgent and serious actions need to be taken who are unreasonably and irresponsibly “alarmist”, it’s the ones who insist urgent and serious actions would be ruinous who are irresponsibly “alarmist”.

    We need political voices who are not willing to be so accommodating and compromising as to be content with calling not nearly good enough and better than nothing “good enough”.

  5. One way to make cars more efficient that hasn’t been mentioned here yet is to make them much lighter yet still safe. There are numerous projects working on this.

  6. Absolutely, Watkin. No disagreement with you there. Cars have become much heavier than they need to be. Compare the weight of a re-release Fiat 500 to the original 1950s-60s version (roughly double).

    And any improvement we can make to fuel-efficiency due to reduced weight, also translates into greater efficiency for electric vehicles in the near future. Less batteries needed to store energy, less solar panels and wind turbines needed to supply it.

  7. In case anyone thinks eliminating fossil fuel use from private transport is difficult I’ll mention that the battery cost per kilometer for a Nissan Leaf electric car is now about 4 cents. Charge it with new solar that has a 6 cent feed-in tariff and that’s a little over 5 cents a kilometer in battery and energy costs. That’s almost half the fuel cost per kilometer of a car that get 15 kilometers to a liter and less than half of vehicles of average Australian fuel economy. And before anyone feels the need to point out that it is impossible for them to charge an electric car during the day, I’ll mention that the majority of Australian private cars are parked at home during the day or for most of the day. Charge it from the grid and it’s still cheaper than the petrol cost of a car of average fuel efficiency.

  8. @Ronald Brak

    Eliminating fossil fuels is certainly necessary and probably feasible. The changover won’t be quick or easy though. Much of the global economy’s existing fixed assets and transport assets will have to be phased out and scrapped and a new entire electrical economy build-out (with solar and wind power etc.) and new transport fleet will have to be completed. This will be a gargantuan transformation.

    Note, I am not being negative or saying it’s impossible. I am just saying it will not be easy. We will need 20 to 40 years to do it. Have we started too late to save the climate? The numbers say it will be tight at best.

  9. @Faustusnotes

    Fran, that geoengineering proposal is extremely reckless. No one knows what effect dimmed solar radiation will have on plant growth and productivity, we don’t know what feedbacks might occur, we will have to keep doing it if we don’t concurrently reduce co2, we don’t know what acid rain or ocean acidification effects it will have, and most importantly it won’t stop ocean acidification which is the first and potentially most devastating disruption to the human food chain.

    Firstly, I don’t propose to start dumping SO2 into the upper atmosphere tomorrow. I would be keen to be guided by good science on the technical and mission feasibility of such measures. Self-evidently, if it turned put such measures would in practice have consequences for the integrity of the ecosystem as bas or even nearly as bad as doing nothing, I’d be wanting to hold off. Also, this is not a measure a single nation ought to take, precisely for the reasons you outline. Politically, you’d need all of the major countries of the northern hemisphere at least on-board, which would be no easy matter. That’s why we ought to start researching it now. People like Paul Crutzen have suggested it might work.

    SO2 is quite short lived in the atmosphere, and although it is associated with acid rain when dumped in large quantities in the lower troposphere, if releases were made considerably higher up — say at the polar tropause
    @Faustusnotes

    Fran, that geoengineering proposal is extremely reckless. No one knows what effect dimmed solar radiation will have on plant growth and productivity, we don’t know what feedbacks might occur, we will have to keep doing it if we don’t concurrently reduce co2, we don’t know what acid rain or ocean acidification effects it will have, and most importantly it won’t stop ocean acidification which is the first and potentially most devastating disruption to the human food chain.

    Firstly, I don’t propose to start dumping SO2 into the upper atmosphere tomorrow. I would be keen to be guided by good science on the technical and mission feasibility of such measures. Self-evidently, if it turned put such measures would in practice have consequences for the integrity of the ecosystem as bas or even nearly as bad as doing nothing, I’d be wanting to hold off. Also, this is not a measure a single nation ought to take, precisely for the reasons you outline. Politically, you’d need all of the major countries of the northern hemisphere at least on-board, which would be no easy matter. That’s why we ought to start researching it now. People like Paul Crutzen have suggested it might work.

    SO2 is quite short lived in the atmosphere, and although it is associated with acid rain when dumped in large quantities in the lower troposphere, if releases were made considerably higher up — say at the arctic or high latitude tropopause (about 12km up) then dispersion could be very wide with minimal impact on ecology at the surface.

    A billion people depend on fish for protein, and aquatic plant life is essential to managing future carbon concentrations. You gain nothing if you stall warming for a few years only to have massive algal die off release huge carbon stores!

    That, and a few other prospective risks to cloud formation, and patterns of air movement are serious concerns. There are also ‘moral hazard’ risks because potentially this technology, if it proved effective, could persuade people to ease off on the phase out of FHC energy sources which both add to global warming and pollute the land and oceans.

    The clock is ticking however and those ticks now sound like drum beats.

    The only safe solution to warming is mitigation, and we haven’t even started.

    I agree, but the window for ‘only safe solutions’ may well have passed. I read that it’s probably too late already to save the WAIS and it may well be too late to prevent massive outgassing from decomposition of the Arctic Permafrost. As you say, our rulers have been pitifully tardy in restructuring for lower emissions-economies, so one has to ask how we can stay under 2degC above pre-industrial by 2100 on our current likely path. For my part, active geo-engineering would be something that would have to be a subsidiary part of a package aimed at permitting decarbonisation over a realistic time-frame (say 80% of global emissions by 2050) without locking in disasters in the period 2030-50 for the next 100-300 years (warmer oceans, SLRs above the 1.4m mark, increasing storm and flood damage, loss of snowpack and run off, declining biodiversity/species loss etc)

    I don’t for a second say this is a safe proposal. It’s a risky one, but now we’re trading risks — big ones — because those of us born between 1940 and 1970 have not stepped up in sufficient numbers to do the right thing by those who have been born since, or are yet to be born. We need to think about this and if we reject it, do so because we have finally made up our minds that there is not a day to be lost in decarbonising and are going, right now, to decommission all of our coal plants by 2025 and almost all of our gas plants by 2035, and cut the number of FHC motor vehicle miles in the advanced countries by about 80% in the same time window and reconfigure our bulk carrier ships to run nuclear-powered engines so as to remove their emissions as well.

    I’d also like to see us make use of algae to draw down CO2 and having done so, dry it blend it with some cheap relatively inert substance, compress it, and dump it at depth in the ocean, where the lack of heat, light, and the high water pressure ought to sequester it for eternity. That seems to me likely to be the cheapest method for drawing down CO2. If this could be done at around $100 tCO2e that would put it at around the community cost of CO2e and make it similar to the alleged cost of CC&S. There would surely be a compelling case because CC&S was going to require massive new energy, inexhaustible aquifers and an escalating delivery infrastructure, so its price was going to rise. And there was always the risk of uncontrolled massive releases of CO2 in concentrated form.

  10. Oops PRQ …delete last post as my quoting got scrambled.

    Fran, that geoengineering proposal is extremely reckless. No one knows what effect dimmed solar radiation will have on plant growth and productivity, we don’t know what feedbacks might occur, we will have to keep doing it if we don’t concurrently reduce co2, we don’t know what acid rain or ocean acidification effects it will have, and most importantly it won’t stop ocean acidification which is the first and potentially most devastating disruption to the human food chain.

    Firstly, I don’t propose to start dumping SO2 into the upper atmosphere tomorrow. I would be keen to be guided by good science on the technical and mission feasibility of such measures. Self-evidently, if it turned put such measures would in practice have consequences for the integrity of the ecosystem as bas or even nearly as bad as doing nothing, I’d be wanting to hold off. Also, this is not a measure a single nation ought to take, precisely for the reasons you outline. Politically, you’d need all of the major countries of the northern hemisphere at least on-board, which would be no easy matter. That’s why we ought to start researching it now. People like Paul Crutzen have suggested it might work.

    SO2 is quite short lived in the atmosphere, and although it is associated with acid rain when dumped in large quantities in the lower troposphere, if releases were made considerably higher up — say at the arctic or high latitude tropopause (about 12km up) then dispersion could be very wide with minimal impact on ecology at the surface.

    A billion people depend on fish for protein, and aquatic plant life is essential to managing future carbon concentrations. You gain nothing if you stall warming for a few years only to have massive algal die off release huge carbon stores!

    That, and a few other prospective risks to cloud formation, and patterns of air movement are serious concerns. There are also ‘moral hazard’ risks because potentially this technology, if it proved effective, could persuade people to ease off on the phase out of FHC energy sources which both add to global warming and pollute the land and oceans.

    The clock is ticking however and those ticks now sound like drum beats.

    The only safe solution to warming is mitigation, and we haven’t even started.

    I agree but the window for ‘only safe solutions’ may well have passed. I read that it’s probably too late already to save the WAIS and it may well be too late to prevent massive outgassing from decomposition of the Arctic Permafrost. As you say, our rulers have been pitifully tardy in restructuring for lower emissions-economies, so one has to ask how we can stay under 2degC above pre-industrial by 2100 on our current likely path. For my part, active geo-engineering would be something that would have to be a subsidiary part of a package aimed at permitting decarbonisation over a realistic time-frame (say 80% of global emissions by 2050) without locking in disasters in the period 2030-50 for the next 100-300 years (warmer oceans, SLRs above the 1.4m mark, increasing storm and flood damage, loss of snowpack and run off, declining biodiversity/species loss etc)

    I don’t for a second say this is a safe proposal. It’s a risky one, but now we’re trading risks — big ones — because those of us born between 1940 and 1970 have not stepped up in sufficient numbers to do the right thing by those who have been born since, or are yet to be born. We need to think about this and if we reject it, do so because we have finally made up our minds that there is not a day to be lost in decarbonising and are going, right now, to decommission all of our coal plants by 2025 and almost all of our gas plants by 2035, and cut the number of FHC motor vehicle miles in the advanced countries by about 80% in the same time window and reconfigure our bulk carrier ships to run nuclear-powered engines so as to remove their emissions as well.
    I’d also like to see us make use of algae to draw down CO2 and having done so, dry it blend it with some cheap relatively inert substance, compress it, and dump it at depth in the ocean, where the lack of heat, light, and the high water pressure ought to sequester it for eternity. That seems to me likely to be the cheapest method for drawing down CO2. If this could be done at around $100 tCO2e that would put it at around the community cost of CO2e and make it similar to the alleged cost of CC&S. There would surely be a compelling case because CC&S was going to require massive new energy, inexhaustible aquifers and an escalating delivery infrastructure, so its price was going to rise. And there was always the risk of uncontrolled massive releases of CO2 in concentrated form.

  11. Stephen Gardiner gave a good presentation recently on If a Climate Emergency is Possible Is Everything Permitted: Ethically slippery Arguments for Geoengineering

    His Washington uni page gives links to other presentations but not that one.
    Mssi links to some of his papers on the subject.

    One example he gave was of the dilemma posed by Kant (I think) of lying to murderers at the door, with the more modern variant of should you lie to protect Jewish people inside your house if a Nazi trooper knocks on the door and asks if any Jewish people are inside – mostly people see lying as the lesser evil in this instance.

    Except I think we forget that this imaginary householder was alive for all the stirring up of anti-semitism and maybe knew how wrong and evil it was and did not speak out enough or at all? This would be a lie by omission or by commission if the householder engaged in anti-Jewish discourse to for in due to peer pressure etc.

    If more people had spoken out before it came to the holocaust then there mayn’t have been a holocaust and the householder wouldn’t have had to be faced with this moral conflict at his door.

    Peer pressure works the same on climate change – even in educated communities like universities. There is a great deal of pressure not to speak of the requisite things to be done to prevent the most damaging climate change and draw down GHG emissions through returning land to forests. Some Professors and guest presenters pressure students not to speak of these things. If all this bad peer/superior pressure works then down the track we will be like the householder presented with the moral dilemma of what is the lesser evil.

  12. @ZM

    Like most people, in the circumstance you raise (hiding people from putative murderers), I’d have no ethical problem lying to the extent necessary to achieve that end. To tell the truth in such circumstances would aid a heinous crime, and make you an effective accessory to the crime.

    I would add that not all people are entitled to the truth. Some truths are none of their business or (as in the example you cite) would prejudice the compelling interests of others.

    We really don’t know if the person lying in the example fell short of his or her ethical obligations prior to the arrival of Nazis at the door. Perhaps they met them but even if they didn’t (out of cowardice or even some combination of ignorance, dissonance, xenophobia or ethno-nationalism) but now realised the horror their ethical failure had wrought and were moved to attempt to mitigate the harm, that would be a good thing. Humans should always strive to be better than they have been.

    On the question of climate change mitigation, I suspect a combination of dissonance, inertia, and greed has combined to limit support for robust mitigation. It is true that the mass of the populace is not anywhere near having the kind of political power needed to effect positive change because they see themselves as largely passive — bystanders in a system that principally concerns the wealthy and well-connected, at most invited periodically to offer some guidance between one set of options or another offered by those who rule.

    Most people simply adapt (or maladapt to be precise) to that reality, becoming apolitical and attempting to have as easy a life as they can. That maladaptation nurtures ignorance, dissonance fear and greed and as we see, shapes the political parties we have. Australia presents us with a particularly stark example of what can happen.

    So although in theory, one can attribute responsibility to the mass of the populace for the mess we have — plainly if they had focused on becoming engaged with public policy, and informed about its implications and adopted a paradigm around justice and equity Australia (and if it happened globally, the world) would be an immeasurably better place — this is unrealistic. Elite rule is not an accident. The structures of property have predisposed it for millennia. Regrettably, it now threatens to author a catastrophe and thus a return to barbarism before working people come to realise how important it is to sweep it aside.

    I seriously doubt that elite rule will be swept aside in time to author a climate safe world, so my hope is that elite rule can be forced to author that world before it is swept aside.

  13. “So although in theory, one can attribute responsibility to the mass of the populace for the mess we have — plainly if they had focused on becoming engaged with public policy, and informed about its implications and adopted a paradigm around justice and equity Australia (and if it happened globally, the world) would be an immeasurably better place — this is unrealistic.”

    This is what people said about women getting the vote too, but the suffragettes won the vote for women. People also said it about the abolition of slavery. To get needed change people need to agitate and build support in communities. A mass is just lots of conscious individuals who make choices everyday , they used to call the working class people the masses to disparage them, but eventually they won the vote. Even Horace the rural poet agitated the emperor of his day by writing him odes to do the right thing.

    A group of women have put together a Monster Petition for proper action on climate change like the Monster Petition to get women the vote. They are asking for people to download it and collect signatures before the G20 in November.

    http://monsterclimatepetition.com.au

  14. @zm

    Right now the number of people who have the material resources, confidence, intellectual and ethical acumen and willingness to challenge the elite insistently in pursuit of social justice, equity and the integrity of the ecosystem is vanishingly small. That group is trying to organise those who tick some of those boxes into a coalition large enough to force the hand of those who have the actual power in favour of climate safety. That is the ugly reality we face.

    I would love to believe a better one was open to us but I know from bitter experience that that’s just not so. We need to keep pushing for a better context, and each little victory really does help, but an emergency is in progress and we just can’t wait until all the ducks are neatly arranged.

  15. @Ikonoclast
    Ikon, eliminating CO2 emissions will take some effort. We’ve seen already there can be a lot of inertia opposed to even the most basic of actions such as putting a mild price on carbon. But the economic cost, while not at the moment non-existent, is small. This is because our fossil fuel infrastructure has to be replaced anyway. Australia’s coal plants average over 30 years old and are due for the scrap heap. And since new renewables are cheaper than new coal or natural gas capacity there is no pain there. It’s the opposite of economic pain. It’s new technology improving our lives. This does happen evey now and then. So while some piggies in the Australian electricity sector are squealing, more than 23 million piggies are better off. And I’ll point out that there’s no massive assembly line out there that puts together coal plants. Those things are bespoke. We can walk away from them without a loss. As for cars, yeah there’s going to have to be some changes to assembly lines and supply chains. But you know what? They do that stuff anyway. Compare a car from 1970 or 1980 to a 2014 model. Huge changes there and all done for “free” by the manufacturers. Going electric is a big change and some auto manufacturers will make money and some will lose money, but such is life, and it’s not a big deal for those not in the auto industry, particularly now we know know that electric driving is not expensive. (And robot cars will slash the need for new cars, so most automakers are doomed anyway.) And then once we account for externalities and not just climate but improved health from lower ground level pollution, we’re looking at economic win. A NSW estimate from 2009 was that air pollution inflicted costs of $4.7 billion in that state alone. So while we are currently looking at costs to rapidly decarbonize our economy, as a portion of GDP they are trivial.

  16. I’ve been out having fun all weekend, but thought I’d drop in to argue against the “we can just plant trees” idea. This is craziness for four reasons:

    1. It’s too slow
    2. Trees are a carbon risk as well as a carbon sink. Forest fires can return that carbon very quickly to the atmosphere
    3. Trees will very quickly run into land-use limits, as they butt up against agriculture (in e.g. Japan, about 70% of the country is already forested, and the remainder is for human habitation and agriculture. There is a limit to how many more trees can be planted)
    4. Given these limits, trees should be reserved only for carbon emissions that cannot be eliminated by substitution: jet fuel, mineral smelting, emergency vehicles, maybe shipping. That alone will probably account for 10% of our carbon budget. We should not be wasting this precious tree space and expense using trees as a sink for e.g. coal-fired power that can be substituted with solar and wind.

    People here are presenting pathways to zero carbon that are basically vapourware. There is only one pathway to zero carbon: electrify the economy and carpet the world with solar panels. We can do this quickly, or we can we faff around for 30 years pretending a modest carbon tax will get us there, then panic and do the job anyway, plus some super dangerous geo-engineering to make up for the extra carbon we dumped in the air while we were being stupid.

    Trees? Dumping grain in the ocean? Tell ’em they’re dreamin’ …

  17. The bottom line re climate change and environmental destruction is that these are the results the capitalist system has given us. We will not be able to address these issues properly until the capitalist system is dismantled. Capitalism is non-responsive to the environmental crisis. We have seen this proven for the last 20 or 30 years. Every attempt to move away from damaging practices is thwarted or delayed at every turn by the capitalist minority.

  18. Faust, you have stated that a $240 a tonne carbon price, or a $2,500 a tonne carbon price will not be sufficient to eliminate emissions. If that’s the arguement you want to make, then make that arguement. You do know what an arguement is, don’t you? An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition. So let’s see some statements in support of your proposition that a $2,500 carbon price would not eliminate emissions.

    If you believe that coal will still be burned for electricity at a $2,500 carbon price despite costing about $2.50 a kilowatt-hour then let’s see your statements in favour of that.

    If you think natural gas will still be burned with a $2,500 carbon price then make that arguement.

    If you think oil will be used in transportation with a $2,500 carbon price than present your case for that belief.

    If you think that whatever CO2 is emitted under a $2,500 carbon price can’t be removed from the atmosphere and sequested for less than $2,500 a tonne then state your reasons why. Do you believe that photosynthesis is a lie spread by the bourgeoisie to keep down the proletariat? While at the same time believing that there is some sort of conspiracy by chemists and CO2 doesn’t really react with CaO?

    Or here’s something else you could do. You could admit that you were suffering from derp and change your mind about a carbon price being unable to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. That is an option.

  19. The trouble is carbon pricing can be a bit a like the way they treated syphilis with arsenic before penicillin came along…sometimes the patient died from the cure not the disease. One reason a resource rich country may accept mild carbon pricing (implicit in the case of Direct Action) is that they can still sell the resources and get other countries to do the dirty work. In our case we sell iron ore from the west coast and coking coal from from the east coast. Chindia gets the emissions on their books yet we still make a quid. Ditto alumina and thermal coal. IMO carbon pricing won’t work until we have carbon tariffs.

  20. The claim that capitalism is the cause of environmental destruction and climate change is of course childish undergrad nonsense.

    There are plenty of examples of environmental destruction in non-capitalist systems, including in Marxist command economies like the old Soviet Union; hunter-gatherer systems like pre-colonial indigenous Australia; horticultural societies, for instance those that practice slash and burn and feudal societies, for instance pre-capitalist Europe.

    New Zealand is a good example of pre-capitalist environmental destruction as it happened too recently for “progressive” historical revisionists to produce a plausible alternative narrative.

  21. Ronald, I have given explicit examples of how a $240 / tonne carbon tax won’t work. I have worked through the consequences of a $120 / tonne tax for a specific industry. On my blog I did calculations for the fisheries industry for $240 and $2500 / tonne. I gave links to reports which model the effects of a $240/tonne tax and show it won’t eliminate emissions. You are consistently refusing to engage with the specific calculations I am doing.

    I have explained the problems with trees, just right above the comment you just wrote. Why don’t you engage with that. Do you have calculations showing how much land needs to be used to grow trees sufficient to eliminate more than 10% of our carbon budget, and where this land is? how long it will take to plant?

    I think you are arguing from a perspective of emissions reduction not elimination, and when challenged on the elimination part you fall back on the ambit claim of sequestration and trees. I have shown that a $2500 / tonne carbon price will increase the cost of mackerel in Japan to the current price of mackerel in Australia. Is the Australian mackerel industry buying carbon offsets? Is it making a profit? Do you think the Japanese mackerel industry will go 100% carbon free when the cost of fish will be little more than it is in other developed nations, and the alternatives are expensive?

    Please don’t accuse me of “derp” until you have actually tried to respond to the specific calculations I have done. You could start with the taxi one and work back, if you want to deal with the hardest one first…

  22. @Watkin Tench

    The claim that capitalism is the cause of environmental destruction and climate change is of course childish undergrad nonsense.

    The proof?

    There are plenty of examples of environmental destruction in non-capitalist systems,

    OK … so the existence of environmental harm (unspecified) in on-capitalist systems acquits capitalist systems of causing environmental harm.

    That falls short of undergrad reasoning, IMO.

  23. No time to argue at length right now, but Ronald is right on most points. $50/tonne and some regulatory changes would be enough to decarbonize electricity. You’d need a bit more effort and a higher price to replace petrol vehicles with electric, but . What’s left can be pretty much completely offset with trees and a bigger effort on methane.

  24. Ronald Brak,

    “If you think that whatever CO2 is emitted under a $2,500 carbon price can’t be removed from the atmosphere and sequested for less than $2,500 a tonne then state your reasons why. Do you believe that photosynthesis is a lie spread by the bourgeoisie to keep down the proletariat? ”

    Only a certain amount of GHG emissions can be sequestered with current known and practicable technology – so your system would have to have that amount as the uppermost limit of emissions – I can’t say what that amount would be you would need to set several scientists to work on the matter to come up with a proper figure. Elsewise people use this argument without making a limit to say we have to do Geoengineering when they should just cut their emissions ASAP to stay within the limit.

    Also I think maybe your sum of money would work fine if we revoke tenure and reforest pasteur and other poor land uses – but what if tenured landholders are allowed to demand yearly fees instead of having their tenure revoked? Then the sum could grow and grow per year and add up to a great figure indeed because you have to keep the reforestation inperpetuity. This could be expensive and unfair.

    If the forest is not kept in perpetuity it doesn’t store the carbon. Because tree products eventually break down and I think they release carbon when they do you have to grow a new tree. Maybe you could prevent tree products from generating emissions by correct composting methods – but I have seen anything stating this is possible?

  25. John Quiggin,

    Sorry I know you haven’t time, but

    “. What’s left can be pretty much completely offset with trees and a bigger effort on methane.”

    Have you seen scientific research on this for Australia, and if so could you give the reference?

    The only body I know of in Australia that has done any land use modelling is Beyond Zero Emissions. It hasn’t been published, I saw a preliminary version in a presentation by them a couple of years ago. The recommendations would have outraged landholders and meat and dairy eaters and industry. I spoke to someone recently and they said they hadn’t so far worked out how to drawdown enough emissions, and that person now was considering Geoengineering. I think we could reforest more than their suggestions but as it hasn’t been published I can’t say for sure – . No public figures are currently advocating these in the public realm – the need to substantially reforest, change eating habits and farming and waste management practices to eliminate methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

    Also I have heard electrifying long distance travel to regions without rail is very difficult – although maybe someone has solved that?

  26. Fran:

    OK … so the existence of environmental harm (unspecified) in on-capitalist systems acquits capitalist systems of causing environmental harm.

    That falls short of undergrad reasoning, IMO.

    I rather doubt reasoning is one of your strong points. The point I am making is that that there is nothing unique and inherent about capitalism with respect to environmental destruction.

    Moreover capitalism is an economic system nested within a political system that puts legal restraints on economic activity and in the advanced world that system is usually democracy.

    Arguably at the moment one of the biggest threats to the environment is green reactionaries who bang on about organic food production and who are waging a massive and very well funded and moderately successful campaign to stifle agro-technology.

    We should be listening to folks like Norman Borlaug (praise be upon him) and not the likes of Greenpeace.

  27. I think John is being optimistic. The IPCC estimates 1.1Gt/year of CO2 can be sequestered as a maximum upper bound on the benefits of afforestation/reforestation. The IPCC estimates that land use change and forestry account for 4Gt/year of CO2 emissions, and cows for about another 2. So if we completely stop all current land use emissions and plant trees like the clappers, we’ll get rid of half the effect of beef, and all the current land use changes. So a carbon tax that led to a 50% reduction in beef consumption, a complete halt to all land use changes, and planting of trees up to the IPCC’s conceivable maximum, would eliminate 3/4 of the emissions due to agriculture alone.

    Which still leaves the entire maritime industry (which has no currently viable alternatives to fuel oil), concrete and smelting. Remember, smelting iron ore relies on coking coal.

    I think the tree-planting idea is a fantasy.

  28. @watkintench

    I rather doubt reasoning is one of your strong points.

    You are yet to westablish that you have the standing to evaluate the reasoning of others. You might try defending your own first. You are off to a poor start — the kind that those with poor reasoning often try.

    The point I am making is that that there is nothing unique and inherent about capitalism with respect to environmental destruction.

    That’s what is called “a strawman”. I’m yet to read anyone in this topic claim that non-capitalist command economies or feudal societies or hunter-gatherer societies were entirely ecologically benign, or claim that environmental harm was peculiar to capitalism.

    You would probably get a consensus here that the scale of environmental harm is proportionate to the rate at which environmental resources are extracted and converted and that in some autarkies (such as the ex-Comecon states, the DPRK today) the harm may be even worse per unit of resource extraction. It’s utterly silly on the other hand to make a general claim that pre-industrial societies did anything like as much harm to the ecosystem in either absolute or percapita terms as industrial societies, so if you’re making that claim, stray examples of harm aren’t going to cut it. These societies were not individually or collectively in a position to terraform the globe.

    What you are doing, as do so many in the climate change denier movement, is misdirecting.

    Moreover capitalism is an economic system nested within a political system that puts legal restraints on economic activity and in the advanced world that system is usually democracy.

    This is irrelevant to the damage being caused by capitalist industrial societies, even if true.

    Arguably at the moment one of the biggest threats to the environment is green reactionaries who bang on about organic food production and who are waging a massive and very well funded and moderately successful campaign to stifle agro-technology.

    No, it’s not arguable at all — at least, not by anyone wanting to avoid being regarded as a crank by people who know about such matters. There is no threat to the environment at all arising from the failure to commercialise GM crops. One may argue in particular cases that GM crops used in a particualr setting may be of net benefit to humans and relatively non-disruptive to natural systems. That’s an entirely different claim.

    As I noted correctly above, your reasoning falls short of that of a good undergraduate. You seem to be keen to pose as a defender of GM technology, presumably because our blog host has expressed some sympathy for it. However those arguments may stand, your attempt to deflect attention from industrial capitalism, which, as currently configured is the most palpable threat to ecosystem services today is utterly unconvincing.

  29. @Watkin Tench

    “… there is nothing unique and inherent about capitalism with respect to environmental destruction.” – Watkin Tench.

    Yes, there is. It is the scale of the destruction and its system-conditioned inevitability, that is unique and inherent to capitalism. Capitalism is expressly designed to consume and destroy natural capital to create wealth without check. For sure, European sailors killed the dodo, maori killed the moa and early man spreading over the world killed some of the megafauna on at least two or three continents. But they did not deforest half the world, destroy wild fisheries globally or change the climate such that dangerous global warming is now probable.

    Capitalism possessed and harnessed the instruments of science and technology which previous systems from hunter-gatherer to feudalism did not possess. For sure, this gave capitalism a greater power not possessed by those earlier systems. However, the logic of capitalism requires endless growth so capitalism possesses no inherent way to plateau physical growth, no inherent way to achive a steady-state sustainable and renewable economy.

    “Moreover capitalism is an economic system nested within a political system that puts legal restraints on economic activity and in the advanced world that system is usually democracy.” – Watkin Tench.

    Capitalism is now very poorly controlled by democracy. In fact, the capitalist oligarchs have bought and suborned government in the advanced capitalist countries. The capitalist oligarchs control all essential policy and especially economic policy. Ownership of the means of production and the means of propaganda (main stream media) give capitalists the instrumental power to dictate policy. Notice now, how all major parties are pro-corporate, pro-capitalist and neo-concervative. Ours is a one ideology system when it comes to effective power. Governments, bought and suborned by large capitalist donations, do what the capitalists want in the arena of economic policy.

  30. @John Quiggin

    I find your last remarks on tree-planting counter-intuitive. Is there some modelling that establishes the feasibility of use of forests as sinks for a world in which all of electricity production (but not transport or manufacturing) was decarbonised?

    Trees can, while growing, sequester a lot of carbon, but sooner or later, they return it, unless replaced by new trees growing and taking up carbon at the same rate. Trees require management and nutrient and water supply. We probably need to be aiming to sequester all of the added CO2e since 1880 for at least 300 years — at which point we may be reasonably confident that the people of that age will have found a way to deal with existing atmospheric inventories.

    It is hard to imagine how trees could do that, even allowing that we had a zero carbon electricity production system by 2050.

  31. Any system that industrialized with the available resources would have done the same as the capitalist one we have, and would probably be just as resistant to change. The fact that modern capitalist economics can’t adapt to the command-and-control aspects of the response we need does not distinguish it from e.g. communism, which would no doubt handle those parts well but have a big problem with establishing a market for carbon and its offsets. This debate is a furphy. We have the system we have, we need to work within it to fix this problem. Once the world is covered in solar panels we can argue about whether communism would have got us there quicker.

    Furthermore, the idea that a revolution that deposed capitalism would have the political and social space to constrain CO2 as needed is ridiculous. The chaos and confusion of a wholesale change would just delay the reforms that are needed.

    We need real, practical solutions now, stripped of ideological baggage.

  32. our legal system in Australia is monarchy with parliaments and local councils, not capitalism. I suggest forgetting about capitalism and communism altogether and concentrate on what laws need to be made and individual and collective actions taken in which particular locations.

    In Japan there is an Emperor with some sort of parliament isn’t there?

  33. It’s a bicameral constitutional monarchy. Concepts of left-wing and right-wing apply within parties, not between them, over here – they’re both simultaneously liberal and socialist.

  34. I have not used the word “trees” anywhere in this thread. The closest I have come is “wood offcuts”. Just thought I’d mention that in case anyone is waiting for me to engage them on that topic. I’m quite happy to discuss trees but not what you think I think about trees, as my mind reading powers are currently at a low ebb.

  35. Ronald, you have twice referred to photosynthesis as if I don’t understand the concept. I see now you have your hopes focussed on bio-char. You seem to think that a focus on what is at this stage essentially vapourware is going to exonerate you from claims you are over-hyping bio-sequestration through trees? Seems kind of pointless.

    Either plan isn’t going to work. At any cost.

  36. Oh, and I don’t know what you think will happen to emissions from a Prius taxi. I want you to answer my calculations with some actual information or argument, rather than waving biochar around like a magic wand.

  37. Most of the environmental problems the undergrad social sciences/humanities mindset attribute to capitalism are more a result of the tremendous productive forces unleashed by capitalism, productive forces that have lifted much of the world’s population out of poverty over the past one hundred years or so.

    A good starting point for examining the environmental bona fides of capitalism vis-a-vis socialism (which is now thankfully but a ghost) is a comparison of East Germany with West Germany. There is plenty of info on the web about the horrors of the East German industrial system and the inability of its socialist state to clean up the mess. The contrast with West Germany could not be starker.

    Capitalism has shown that it is absolutely superlative at responding to environmental problems on time and usually under budget provided it is guided by the right policy settings:

    The economist Eban Goodstein has done a detailed analysis of past projections of regulatory costs as they relate to a variety of industries. Goodstein demonstrated that in every case, when compared with the actual costs paid, the estimates were grossly inflated. His examples range from asbestos to vinyl, and in all instances but one the cost estimates of regulatory change were at least double the actual cost paid, while in some cases estimates were even more exaggerated. This inflation of estimated costs holds regardless of whether industry itself or an independent assessor did the work, which suggests a systematic source of errors.

    Well regulated capitalism nested in liberal democracy has dealt with every major environmental crisis that has presented itself during my lifetime, including the depletion of the ozone layer and acid rain, and it has done so with magnificent alacrity. As Prof Quiggin correctly acknowledges, capitalism has now gifted us alternative non-fossil technologies that will allow us to tackle climate change provided liberal democracy comes on board.

  38. “We probably need to be aiming to sequester all of the added CO2e since 1880 for at least 300 years”

    That would certainly be difficult, if not impossible. I’m assuming we aim for stabilization at 450 ppm.

  39. Also, to all commenters, please stop insults directed at the reasoning capacity of others, relative to your own. This is a case where “Show, Don’t Tell” applies with extra force.

  40. Watkin Tench to Fran Barlow #27

    I rather doubt reasoning is one of your strong points.

    I’ve seen this sort of thing before in online discussions involving both men and women. The conversation goes along and then suddenly you see, as in the example above, a blatant put-down by a man to a woman. It’s as if these men are operating in ‘political correctness’ mode, whereby they ‘know’ they are supposed to talk to women as equals, but at the same time they ‘know’ that women are actually inferior people who can’t think straight.

    As a feminist who often challenges sexism on blogs, I’ve unsurprisingly experienced this quite a lot. I have also seen several other women on this blog treated the same way. Until today though I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone try this on with Fran, possibly because Fran is someone who goes to a lot of trouble to make sure her reasoning is evident and clear (I don’t always agree with it, but I do think it is usually very clear).

    I guess my broader question is, to both women and men, what can be done about this? I can see that Fran’s response was to deal with it and move on with the discussion, but I think others have a responsibility to confront it.

    One of the reasons I’m concerned about this is that I’ve noticed in general women don’t seem to be well represented in online discussions about environmental issues. Yet research, including my own, suggests women are both more concerned about and more disposed to act on environmental issues than men. So their absence from online discussions is distorting the debate.

    So what do people think about this problem and what should be done about it?

  41. 350ppm is recommended as the safe increased level (compared to 280ppm pre-industrial revolution. We are not on track currently for even 450ppm however, which is high risk. We also need to keep in mind the temperature delay – while we are at 400ppm now, I understand the delay until this is felt in temperatures and weather events is about 30years.

    “450 ppm (High risk): “The OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: Key Findings on Climate Change” summarizes predictions by climate scientists’ models: we have a 50% chance of stabilizing the average global temperature at a 2°C increase over the pre-industrial period if we keep concentrations of CO2 under 450 ppm. A November 2013 report by PwC, Busting the carbon Budget, says that at our current rate of fossil fuel usage in the global economy, we will exceed that limit by 2034.
    350 ppm (Safe): Many leading climate scientists do not have that appetite for risk. A December 2013 report by James Hansen, Johan Rockström, and 15 other scientists, “Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature,” declares that 2°C of global warming would have disastrous consequences and could cause major dislocations for civilization. (The bold highlighting is mine.)”

  42. John the report i linked to on my blog gives a 50% reduction in US admissions by 2035 if a carbon tax starts in 2015, increasing by $10/year to $240/tonne. If the whole world follows that trend starting next year we’ll reach 420ppm by 2035 and still be increasing at 1ppm a year, with all reductions modeled to have leveled off, i.e. no more gains. You want to get to stabilization at 450 (which, btw, is seen by a lot of people as a very very dicey target in terms of earth systems stability) you are going to be cutting it very fine. Given the incremental gains beyond $240/tonne appear to be minimal, and your tree-planting idea is a non-starter, what to you propose post-2035 to prevent the last 30 ppm?

    That’s if the whole world starts in 2015.

  43. I didn’t see ProfQ’s post at @41 before I made mine @42, but I don’t think a neutral reprimand deals with the issue I’m raising – these kind of insults being directed by men at women.

    If you take the time to read back, ProfQ, you will see that the first instance of a remark about reasoning capacity being directed towards a particular individual was Watkin Tench’s comment to Fran.

    As I’ve said before, I’d do the detailed textual and discourse analysis for you, if I had time! I just don’t at the moment, but I think there is a pattern.

  44. Ronald, I didn’t say it doesn’t. The issue is getting to zero. I think economists are thinking in terms of flow rates, while scientists are thinking in terms of the capped budget.

  45. Thank you for your reply, Faust. And do you agree with me that at $2,500 a tonne there are a variety of methods to remove CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it that would be cost effective at that price?

  46. Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, on the organic con job and the environment:

    Reason: What do you think of organic farming? A lot of people claim it’s better for human health and the environment.

    Borlaug: That’s ridiculous. This shouldn’t even be a debate. Even if you could use all the organic material that you have–the animal manures, the human waste, the plant residues–and get them back on the soil, you couldn’t feed more than 4 billion people. In addition, if all agriculture were organic, you would have to increase cropland area dramatically, spreading out into marginal areas and cutting down millions of acres of forests.

    At the present time, approximately 80 million tons of nitrogen nutrients are utilized each year. If you tried to produce this nitrogen organically, you would require an additional 5 or 6 billion head of cattle to supply the manure. How much wild land would you have to sacrifice just to produce the forage for these cows? There’s a lot of nonsense going on here.

    Reason: Environmentalists say agricultural biotech will harm biodiversity.

    Borlaug: I don’t believe that. If we grow our food and fiber on the land best suited to farming with the technology that we have and what’s coming, including proper use of genetic engineering and biotechnology, we will leave untouched vast tracts of land, with all of their plant and animal diversity. It is because we use farmland so effectively now that President Clinton was recently able to set aside another 50 or 60 million acres of land as wilderness areas. That would not have been possible had it not been for the efficiency of modern agriculture.

    In 1960, the production of the 17 most important food, feed, and fiber crops–virtually all of the important crops grown in the U.S. at that time and still grown today–was 252 million tons. By 1990, it had more than doubled, to 596 million tons, and was produced on 25 million fewer acres than were cultivated in 1960. If we had tried to produce the harvest of 1990 with the technology of 1960, we would have had to have increased the cultivated area by another 177 million hectares, about 460 million more acres of land of the same quality–which we didn’t have, and so it would have been much more. We would have moved into marginal grazing areas and plowed up things that wouldn’t be productive in the long run. We would have had to move into rolling mountainous country and chop down our forests. President Clinton would not have had the nice job of setting aside millions of acres of land for restricted use, where you can’t cut a tree even for paper and pulp or for lumber. So all of this ties together.

    Organic food production may be a little bit of hit and giggle for certain well-fed, status conscious mindsets, but as is clear from Borlaug’s comments, it would mean death and environmental destruction on a hitherto unknown scale if broadly adopted.

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