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”
There is only so much land for reforestation, bio-char is limited and needs time and land, sci-technical solutions are not practicable and we have no reason to act as if we can be assured they ever will be, whether in 300 years time or sooner. It does not matter how much is charged/taxed – things have to be possible and practicable first – and they are not. That is why people need to cut down consumption now and tell the government they are obliged to make appropriate laws etc. so we get to zero emissions ASAP – they need to take proper scientific and engineering advice on it because most of them have not studied these sort of physical sciences.
We are also obliged to not cause so many animals and birds to die and go extinct as looks like to be happening at this stage.
Okay, Faust. Do you agree with me that human agriculture is able to draw CO2 out of the atmosphere for significantly less than $2,500 a tonne?
Thanks for the support Val, but the aetiology of who started the attacks on others’ reasoning is a little murky. Arguably, I did, responding to Watkin Tench’s observation that assertions about the provenance of ecosystem harm in capitalism were ‘undergraduate nonsense’. That’s an implicit attack on the reasoning of unspecified persons (by implication people here — I assumed he was mainly swinging at Ikonoclast) and I responded with a kind of tu quoque taking up his meme and directing it back at him. Watkin Tench then escalated.
It probably doesn’t matter who started it. I’m happy to be guided by PrQ on decorum here. I wws more troubled by the evident attempt at misdirection/strawman — that because non-capitalist systems were not entirely benign in their environmental impacts, that capitalism must be acquitted. Yet WatkinTench cites examples of capitalist remediation, acknowledging that capitalism was a source of environmental harm.
People can infer without my help how robust such reasoning is and the politics motivating Watkin Tench to offer it here.
James Hanson favours 350ppm as ‘safe’ which would put us back at about 1990 levels. This was the original Kyoto benchmark. Given that the UNFCCC was established in contemplation of a problem that had been identified ten years earlier when concentrations were around 340ppm I’m unclear why 450ppm would be regarded as safe. It might be the best we can realistically hope for but as our current 400ppm is already causing serious distress to ecosystems, surely we need far better than that.
We should not be talking about stabilising until we have returned to pre-industrial levels, IMO.
Not so fast.
I cited the example of socialist East Germany compared with capitalist West Germany. West Germany provided a vastly superior standard of living but without anything like the environmental damage in East Germany.
I note you’re a Marxist and a former member of the Spartacist political sect, so I rather doubt you’re interested in a meaningful and objective assessment of capitalism.
Nonetheless, if you believe that there is something inherent in capitalism that makes it environmentally destructive I wonder why you bother participating in these discussions.
I’m disappointed that Hunt and Xenophon want ‘international permits’ to mop up the residual should Direct Action fail to achieve the magnificent 5% emissions reduction 2000-2020. To his credit the PM (who may have good instincts) thinks they are dodgy. I reckon they are a scam and indeed most of the Wiki article seems to discuss this
Many perhaps most of these carbon credits may not be new absolute emissions reductions for the world as a whole. These nebulous ‘savings’ are perverse because they cheaply exonerate real emissions. A side issue is whether China will ever become a ‘developed’ country for this purpose.
Questionable offsets can be added to the other bugbear of carbon pricing schemes, namely free permits as a transition measure. They give out too many and hang around too long. The two carbon pricing schemes we know more about, Australia’s carbon tax and Europe’s ETS are weak in design and implementation due to political tinkering. I despair of ever getting it right.
“I note you’re a Marxist and a former member of the Spartacist political sect, so I rather doubt you’re interested in a meaningful and objective assessment of capitalism.
.. I wonder why you bother participating in these discussions.”
Tut tut Mr Tench
I wasn’t having a go at Fran.
My point is that if someone genuinely believes capitalism is the enemy of mankind and that democracy is merely a charade that disguises the interests of the ruling class-which is the classic Marxist formulation- why would you bother playing in a game that you cannot win? It doesn’t make any sense.
This is largely why Marxists and social democrats originally split, if you know your history.
Then followed with:
I want to observe the constraint proposed by PrQ and so I am choosing my words especially carefully here. It seems clear at best that you fail to understand why the objection you raise above is of no value in rebutting the claim that capitalism authors environment.
I restrain a laugh. Marx hardly spoke about socialism. His work can be summarised as trying for a meaningful assessment of capitalism.
There can be little doubt that every first pass attempt to maximise the extraction of resources from the ecosystem and convert them to human usage will be destructive of the environment. That would be true whether the society was characterised by inclusive governance or, as we have now, capitalism. Plainly, I favour the former model as likely to be able to respond more swiftly and aptly to the demands of sustainable ecology than a system based on simply rewarding maximum extraction. It’s conceivable that capitalism could be made less destructive than it currently is, though it’s an open question whether the propertied elite would in practice accept the kinds of strictures that this would imply.
Ronald, you’re presenting hope, not evidence. Human agriculture currently produces about 10Gt/year of CO2. Why should I assume that this will be turned around from +10 to -10 in the next 30 years just because you say so? I need the evidence, or at least a chain of logic vaguely comparable to what I have been presenting here. The IPCC says human agriculture can’t do what you say it will, that the physical limit is 1.1 Gt. You are presenting vapourware!
Yeah saw that Fran, but there’s a categorical difference between ‘that’s a weak argument’ and ‘you can’t argue’. Anyway won’t labour the point any further now.
I’ve spent the afternoon analyzing the constraints on local projects trying to promote environmental sustainability, equity and health. Fascinating but the challenge of getting the analysis right is quite daunting sometimes. (Madly resisting the temptation to make a joke about my inadequate reasoning abililities here 🙂 )
Faust, do you agree with me that as plants grow they use energy from sunlight to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and use it as a source of carbon to make carbohydrates and other molecules and that by mass dried plant matter is roughly 50% carbon that has been extracted from that atmosphere and that I can currently buy dry plant matter in form of low grade barley for about $215 a tonne?
Ronald, this is classic ideological argument. You’re presenting a fact and assuming that this closes the case on your argument. Where is the land for this barley going to come from? What about the agricultural processes to produce it? Are you sure that dumping it at sea will guarantee it remains sequestered from the carbon cycle? What about possible negative effects of dumping millions of tons of barley at sea? Do you have any evidence of this idea in operation beyond proof of concept on the internet? Where will it be grown? By whom? When the population is 2 billion more than it is now, do you think arable land will be available to absorb 20 Gt of CO2 every year? (because this is what you are proposing). Do you know how much land that is? I found a paper on reforestation from 1991 that estimated every person in the tropics would have to plant 46 trees in order to absorb 1 Gt of CO2 per year from trees. That’s a million km2 of CO2. You’re proposing 20 times as much CO2, which then has to be dumped out of circulation in the deep ocean, and is to be absorbed by a much lower grade of CO2-absorbing plant than a tropical hardwood tree.
I really want to see evidence of this scheme in action!
This comment is nonsensical; we have inclusive governance already and it is called democracy. There is nothing stopping our elected representatives from making democracy “more inclusive”, however one wishes to define that concept. There is nothing stopping you from starting a party and getting elected into parliament. If Pauline Hanson can do it, anyone can.
Since capitalists are people who must breath, eat and drink just like everybody else I rather doubt it is an open question.
There is profit and economic growth to be had in renewable energy and various other environmental goodies. If you have solar panels you got them from a … capitalist.
An environmental catastrophe on the other hand would be extremely bad for business and it could even damage the democratic legal and social framework capitalism needs to work well.
Marx wrote a great deal of meaningless junk about capitalism (Labor Theory of Value etc..) that no-one takes seriously and he confected a psuedo-scientific woo theory about how capitalism would burn and some new classless age would take seed in its ashes. He dissembled and waffled when asked what the new system would look like. Unfortunately I had to read some of Marx’s junk and pretend to take it seriously when I studied social science at uni.
The Sparts were hilarious oddsods who achieved nothing but at least they furnished considerable campus entertainment. They most certainly had no ability or interest in or ability to perform a meaningful assessment of capitalism if Norton’s post is accurate. I’m not old enough to remember them, but hopefully they’ll reform and do a stage show out my way. I’ll supply the baked beans.
I think when barley breaks down it emits GHGs. So you would have to find a way to petrify your barley, research would be costly with no definite outcome. They do manage to turn coal into diamonds, but I don’t know if anyone has petrified barley before and what it turns into? And also make sure your horses don’t starve.
Faust, do you agree that I sequester CO2 right now using plant material for less than $2,500 per tonne of CO2 sequestered, or do you disagree with me on that?
I’m waiting for evidence Ronald, evidence. A big pile of low-grade barley is not evidence.
I would add on this point that since both 450ppm and our current 400ppm are warming the planet, then the former ‘stabilisation’ point you have chosen would warm the planet more quickly than the current one which is itself unacceptable.
What we need to stabilise is not atmospheric CO2 concentrations but global temperatures. That implies returning those concentrations to the point at which the global temperature was stable — which was around 280ppm.
I assume that even if we did that, global temperatures would not return to what they were in about 1800 because we would merely be in energy balance, and heat in the oceans would equilibrate with the atmosphere, continuing to underpin atmospheric temperatures and undermining remaining glaciers and ice sheets, with consequent negative implications for albedo.
One can even argue that we will need for a time to go into energy deficit — which would imply getting CO2 below the 280 mark — perhaps to 240 ppm.
Faust, what evidence are you looking for? I could explain the basics of plant biology to you but I’d rather not do that if I don’t have to. Currently I don’t even know if you understand the points I am trying to make, so narrowing things down would help. So, to help narrow things down, do you agree with me that I can sequester CO2 right now using plant material for less than $2,500 per tonne of CO2 sequestered?
How are you going to keep it sequestered in the plant (which naturally decays) for time immemorial?
This is why I suggested investigating the petrifaction of barley, because I do not think it is good for the ocean to put in so much plant material. It might cause algae blooms or something else. But I am not sure barley can be petrified at all, let alone the cost and energy used. Plus you would have to acquire extra land for barley grown for petrification.
Also – the horses – what will they eat when you’ve petrified all the barley?
ZM, no one would ever use barely to sequester carbon. If you check over what I’ve written earlier, you’ll see that’s not what I am suggesting. Grain is just an agricultural product that we have convenient prices for. In reality we would use lower cost materials, so the cost of grain is a maximum price. We know it would actually be cheaper than that. Basically any plant matter would do. It is not even necessary to use plants, there are other methods of capturing and sequestering carbon, but biological methods are currently the cheapest.
I read about a sort of salt bush that they thought about planting in desserts to draw down carbon – but scientists said this form of salt bush had proved disappointing in the past and they didn’t think it would work very well to re-shrub deserts with.
That is the problem – we should be researching the plant types, the land to turn over to reforestation etc right now, but not enough funds and resources are being purposes that way.
If we don’t do the appropriate research and planning ASAP instead of just talking about taxes, someone might plant deserts full of disappointing salt bushes, they would disappointingly die, and then all the carbon would be released all over again as they decompose in their desertish deaths.
ZM, growing plants where there are currently none is certainly a way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. It can even be done at a very low cost in the right locations. Great strides have been made in the Loess Plateau in China in reforrestation for reasons other than drawing down carbon, and similar successes could be repeated elsewhere. However, this isn’t actually what I have been discussing. What I have suggested could be done is growing plants, sequestering the carbon in them in one way or another, and then using the same land again to sequester more carbon. I’m not saying that this activity is a wonderful idea, I’m just suggesting that it may be better than leaving the carbon in the atmosphere. Now plants don’t have to be used to remove carbon from the air, but as I mentioned it is the lowest cost method at the moment.
C4 Plants such as miscanthus are fast growing, fix carbon in their extensive roots so they don’t need much nutrient, and can even block fertiliser run off. They can be coppiced and presumably if you harvested them, dried them and buried them deep under some inert material the carbon would stay locked up for quite a while.
I’m not sure how much this could be scaled up or what it would cost but as with algae, I’d like to see.
But you have to work out how to preserve the plant if you want to sequester the carbon forever in it. Plants biodegrade quite easily. I am not sure composting them can prevent them emitting GHGs – so once you have grown the plant how are you going to preserve it forever?
I suggested petrification, and there is a play/movie called the petrified forest (I have not watched it) – but how do you petrify all the trees if the forest? And even if you could – where would you keep such a great lot of petrified trees?
It is not reasonable to flood the ocean with unwanted plants, you will likey put it all out of balance, and the fishes and dolphins and whales and sea lions and seals and so on are suffering greatly from overfishing and pollution already.
ZM, there are a couple of main ways to sequester the carbon in plants. The first is to turn them in charcoal. This can benefit farmers as it can be used to improve soils. The other is place the plant material where the carbon will remain out of the atmosphere for a long time. One method is to sink them in deep ocean water. While I appreciate that it might be better not to litter the oceans, this is better than what will happen to the oceans if we continue to allow CO2 levels rise in the atmosphere. The plant material could also be placed in areas of sedimentation so they will be buried. Another option is placing it in cold water lakes such in Canada. Material could also simply be buried on land, although that’s probably not the best choice.
I looked at one article about carbon storage in the ocean and it didn’t say puting plants in the ocean was promising – it said piping gas in the gas might be heavier deep under water and not rise to the surface (very experimental and uncertain) – or fertilizing the ocean with iron (but no one knows what happens to the carbon once this is done or whether it is secure or not – also experimental and uncertain).
Does anyone really say to grow plants and throw them in the ocean?
As well as affecting marine ecosystems – plants are not very heavy – you would have to use an awful lot of metal to anchor the plants deep in the ocean.
I which people would take the tine to read both Karl Marx and Adam Smith. Would not make such stupid statements.
Don’t be patronizing Ronald. I know exactly what you’re trying to say, I understand how the process works, and I don’t need to be asked patronizing questions about photosynthesis. I want evidence of some kind that your idea works, that is: published studies of the feasibility of the process, estimates of how much CO2 it would capture and how it would degrade, judgments about the effect on the deep oceans, quantities of land required, risks and so on. I want to see a report or a publication that makes clear that someone other than some dude on the internet has thought of this beyond “what if!” scenarios.
Look at yours and Fran’s comments here, and the wishy-washy language contained in them. While I’m providing you with detailed estimates on the effect of the taxi industry of a $120 carbon tax, you’re saying “we’ll put it somewhere or other,” “we’ll store the carbon in it one way or another,” “any plant will do.” You sound like one of those thorium reactor booster dudes, who’ve been singing the praises of this miraculous 4th generation tech for years even though they have no evidence it works.
here are some specific questions:
1. how much land will be required to sequester a Gt of CO2?
2. where will you put it, how long will it last there?
3. If in the sea, have estimates been made of the effect on the biosphere?
4. if on the land, have estimates been made of the effect on the water table?
5. What plans will you use?
6. What about biodiversity concerns from having huge fields of monocultured scrap?
7. Has anyone got a plan to manage fires in remote locations? What are the total carbon leakage risks from this plan?
8. Do you know it will be just as cheap at the 3rd and 4th Gt of CO2, or will land speculators begin to pounce?
9. Will it compete with agricultural land? Why not? Are you really serious about this?
10. Do you know if costs scale down with the size of this project, and not up?
11. What about indigenous populations? I have a strong suspicion that your millions of km2 of land are going to eat into the homes and farms of the poorest, not hte wealthiest segment of society
12. Are you going to use fertilizer? What are the run-off risks?
You haven’t presented any evidence that your plan is off the drawing board. I found this review article (pdf) which suggests that the amount of wood that would need to be grown and then buried to sequester the total annual CO2 emissions in 2010 roughly
equals the area of primeval forests lost in the last century.
You think we can do that?
I would also ask this: why are economists so hung up on using a carbon tax to achieve this goal? We know what the goal is: elimination of carbon from our industry. We have no alternative end point. What is the possible benefit of using a carbon tax – rather than just direct intervention – to do this, except to delay the inevitable?
If the goal were to reduce the weight of everyone on earth to prevent NCDs, I can understand it. You tax food by its calorie content and then let individuals decide how they want to spend their food money, or if they want to reduce their calorie intake at all (and use the extra money to pay for their healthcare). But if the goal is to eliminate some poison from their food, and the poison is in all their food, with a cumulative effect as it is ingested, no one in their right mind would suggest taxing the poison, to encourage people to sell foods with less of the stuff. They would ban it.
The same applies with carbon. Our goal is to eliminate coal from the world’s power plants. Not to reduce it, or to pettifog around with limiting it. We aim to get rid of it. There are two ways to do this: we can ratchet up the price until it becomes so expensive that people decide not to use it; or we can ban it, so people decide not to use it. The end points are the same. There is no efficiency question here.
The only way a carbon tax is going to be as effective as straight-out banning coal is if an alternative negative source of CO2 exists that we can put our money into. It has been made abundantly clear in this thread that no such source exists, so why are people banging on about levying a tax with the intention of giving people a choice about that negative source?
And even if it does exist, what are you going to do if people don’t make the rational choice to go for the lower carbon method? In the end, you’ll have to ban the carbon sources if people don’t play along, or make the tax so punitive that you’ll never win election in the first place. So why waste everyone’s time with this charade? We need to stop digging up coal, all that’s required is for someone to step forward and take the shovel away.
This belief that a carbon tax will solve the problem is the ultimate victory of economics ideology over sense. It’s as if the economists actually believe that by passing a tax they will stop cows from farting. How did the world leave of its senses in such a way that people could actually believe they can stave off civilization collapse with a tax?
Actually the very last thing we need from an environmental perspective is yet more bulky exotic c4 grasses.
Robust exotic grasses are a major cause of failure in reveg programs and I certainly spend a great deal of time and money spraying them in my own reveg project on my 100 acre hobby farm.
Bulky grasses are also a massive fire hazard and discourage people from undertaking reveg because you cannot easily keep the grass down in the reveg areas.
This year I’ve mainly planted the mallees Eucalyptus behriana, E polybractea and larger quick growing smooth gums (for reduced fire hazard) like Eucalyptus scoparia.
I also put in plenty of quick growing indig wattles. Happily, I now have an abundance of sugar gliders and I’ve seen brush tailed phascogales less than one km from my boundary line.
Unlike city greenies, I actually walk the walk 😉
If you genuinely want to know the answer, read the environmental economics literature. Goodstein is a good start.
Or perhaps you could explain in a couple of sentences why it is better to faff around with an intermediary mechanism?
Yes but in this case they’d be part of a managed program, harvested on a cycle and grown on very marginal land. So in this case, the risks could be manageable. I’d like to see feasibility studies for this and for algae.
I would’ve thought common sense would be enough to answer that question; that is to say, we already have a good idea about what approach works based on past successes and failures. Needless to say, some self-important joker, be they a politician, a bureaucrat or whatevs imposing a highly prescriptive wishlist on business rarely leads to an optimum outcome.
I rather doubt you’ll be swayed by my couple of sentences and I have no interest in getting into a debate with you about elementary economics, so I suggest you educate yourself by reading a book like this.
It is impossible to control grasses. All it takes is a storm and the seeds will travel tens of kilometres into the air. Birds and other animals also move them about.
Oz has a terrible problem with introduced grasses that the ag departments etc thought were a great idea at the time.
I think it would be better to restore some of our marginal and back to mallee as some of these plants can live for several hundred years and they can develop massive lignotubers that store carbon underground and because they’ll survive bushfires. Mallees are also great for native birds, something that I care about very much.
Faust, I see you don’t understand what I’ve been trying to communicate. Now if you’d like, you can read through what I’ve already written and then paraphrase it in a sentence or two and I’ll let you know if you have the gist of what I’m trying to get across to you.
Or I could state it again simply for you.
Which would you prefer?
Well, hopefully I am too cynical, but
I am not sure normal stream economists would keep their jobs if they argued for measures other than emissions trading and prices?
The economics library has Marxist/social history texts but I don’t think its part of the commerce curriculum so I’m not sure how many overt Marxist economist professors there are in employment? The famous Marxist academics are in other departments I think?
Are there many Ecological economists or steady State economists that argue for something other than the trading/price approach?
I think if many economics professors started advising other approaches the Deans would face a lot of questions from the vice/chancellor – and also the businesses and people who donate to the university. Maybe if there was a bespoke one or two it would be ok , but I think more than that would cause trouble.
And I think commerce students would worry that even if other than trading/price approaches were more likely accurate that learning this would not assist them in the commerce graduates employment market?
And I don’t think newspaper economists would be popular with the editors and board because non- trading/price advice would likely cause consternation amongst the potential advertisers.
Because dumping a tax on it means that the cheaper-to-replace carbon gets replaced, whereas quotas reduce all carbon equally. Same reduction at less cost, or more reduction for the same cost, because the reduction focusses on the cheaper/easier jobs.
This sort of toy single-factor resource allocation problem is precisely what markets do best, see.
State it simply Ronald, and don’t patronize me again with questions about photosynthesis. Give a link to a functioning example if you can.
Watkin, I have raised it before but I guess I’ll do it again: ratcheting up taxes to huge levels has not stopped people smoking. 16% of Australians still smoke. Young people still take up smoking! We already have a good idea about what approach works and taxes are not it. As I said in the previous comment, you are working on the assumption that our task is to minimize CO2 emission through diversification of sources. This is not our task. Our task is to eliminate CO2 emissions. Including from sources that currently have no alternative. We have to do this within a strict timeline because we have a budget that we have to stay within.
Note that I haven’t said carbon taxes don’t play a role in this; I’m not ignorant of the role of markets in efficiently allocating resources and reflecting preferences. What I’ve said is that carbon taxes won’t do the job by themselves. Do you see the difference between the first steps and the endgame in this? I suspect you are of the belief that we don’t have a budget or a strict timeline. If so the problem here is not one of economic theory but one of basic science; one that you share with our host (450 ppm? really?) Perhaps we should have established that 75 comments ago …
edit: missed your point. Ignore.
Also the federal government funds universities, I do not think the minister responsible would be pleased with the chancellors if the economics professors started to argue in different directions, and he is already talking of the benefits of private for profit colleges.
Having said that, the university is required to teach for the local, national and international good, so legally other approaches would be on solid ground.
A flexible comprehensive plan is not going to be made up by a single politician or bureaucrat. You would have to have something like the parliaments and councils working together and multiple metropolitan and rural boards of works networking together and with producers, consumers, communities, families etc
Faust, with a $2,500 a tonne carbon price:
1. Emissions would be much less than they are currently.
2. What emissions remain can be removed from the atmosphere and sequested for less than $2,500 a tonne.
That’s about as simple as I can put it. You asked about what it would take to sequester a gigatonne of CO2, so I think you haven’t taken in point number one.
We’re just talking in circles then Ronald, because you haven’t presented any coherent and scientifically defensible plan for part 2, and you refuse to do so.
Watkins: “I think it would be better to restore some of our marginal and back to mallee as some of these plants can live for several hundred years and they can develop massive lignotubers that store carbon underground and because they’ll survive bushfires. Mallees are also great for native birds, something that I care about very much.”
And when they do die, it could easily take them another fifty to hundred years to decompose naturally.
Fran: “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.”
Definitely later in many cases, Fran. Lignin is tough stuff. It doesn’t break down overnight.
“Lignin plays a significant role in the carbon cycle, sequestering atmospheric carbon into the living tissues of woody perennial vegetation. Lignin is one of the most slowly decomposing components of dead vegetation, contributing a major fraction of the material that becomes humus as it decomposes. The resulting soil humus, in general, increases the photosynthetic productivity of plant communities growing on a site as the site transitions from disturbed mineral soil through the stages of ecological succession, by providing increased cation exchange capacity in the soil and expanding the capacity of moisture retention between flood and drought conditions.”
There are Australian natives listed here that are over 500 years old, and still have a good 100-200 years of life left.
Putting a price on something stimulates innovation.
A dictatorial highly prescriptive wishlist stifles innovation and invariably causes negative unintended consequences.
Faust, do you agree with me that emissions would be much lower under a $2,500 a tonne carbon price? That no one is likely to burn coal or natural gas to generate electricity or use oil to power a car?
Watkin, what was the price that stimulated the development of the Prius?
“And invariably causes negative unintended consequences”
Like climate change perchance?
Those are not the only ghg emission areas. In Australia stationary energy is an easier challenge but will take time and issues of recyclability and toxicity remain to be sorted out. Intermittency especially for lengthy grey spells in winter is an issue – manufacturing might need to be more flexible, everyone needs to be more conservative. We had an energy engineering professor who told the tale of him buying a leaf blower instead of raking his leaves – he rued it because if he had raked instead it would have helped his back and saved energy.
Transport is not yet sorted out – personal vehicles are very extravagant uses of materials and energy – more social transport, walking and cycling is better. Airplanes have no alternative but to be phased out except for sea rescue and flying doctors maybe that could use a bit of bio-fuel. Long haul road transport to areas not big enough to be serviced by rail is an issue not resolved. I am not sure of heavy machinery?
Nitrous oxide from artificial fertiliser and methane in farming and waste need to be sorted out. Pasteur needs to be reforested to draw down emissions. And we need to be ready for the increasing bush fires and droughts etc now built in.
Thanks for this article, Prof Quiggin, which touches on what I think is an even bigger issue: the down-sizing and consequent de-skilling of the Australian public sector.
You write that
I’d suggest that cutbacks, made year after year in Department after Department, has left us with institutionally incapable governance. Joe Hockey appears wobbly on Budget details, as Peter Martin writes on Fairfax Media, because there is insufficient expertise left in Treasury to explain issues to him.
This was Ross Gittins’s argument in his 8 August Fairfax Media article, “Econocrats advise false economy”, in which Gittins argues that the reason the Budget is so replete with deadset moronic ideas is that there aren’t enough people with any nous left in Treasury and Finance to come up with anything but ideas so daft you’d think they were straight from Tony Shepherd’s playbook.
The problem’s not just confined to Treasury and Finance; there are insufficient people left in Greg Hunt’s Environment Department to even provide adequate compliance monitoring, as the Department’s review of the Gladstone dredge spoil SNAFU shows.