Business As Usual 2.0: Committed Scepticism

It’s been a while…


No silver lining in peak oil: is the realisation we’re running out distorting the global response to climate change?

The recent Canadian elections saw the return the Conservative government of Stephen Harper with an increased majority. For many concerned with climate change, this was dispiriting news. For years Harper’s government has been waging a war on climate science.

DeSmogBlog has been tracking the activities of the Harper government. It makes for depressing reading, as it means Canada has turned its back on global initiatives to control greenhouse gas emissions.

Indeed, the Conservatives have accelerated the dirty and environmentally destructive extraction of oil from “tar sands”.

However, it was comment by Michael Tobis on Canada (Only in it for the gold) that got me thinking:

“…There’s enough “peak oil” phenomenology in the mix to clinch this. I suspect few countries, unless they are oil-rich, will sustain GDP growth in the near future. (Canada’s horrifying defection from climate governance shows that at least one government sees the writing on the wall, albeit cynically and maliciously.)”

The basic concept of peak oil is that oil is “running” out, and as demand outstrips supply it will have serious economic and social consequences for a civilisation so reliant on cheap, abundant oil.

An argument could be made that Harper’s government may understand both the reality of climate change and peak oil, and reads it as an opportunity to promote their country’s standing as an “energy super power”.

Many of us assumed that “peak oil” might have a silver lining and act as a kind of dues ex machina, forcing our hand in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. But this may not be the case. As it has already been noted, we’re pushing record volumes of GHGs into the atmosphere.

But here is a scary thought. Peak oil was bad enough as a concept, but perhaps there is no silver lining: governments are reacting cynically across the board.

Recently the International Energy Agency admitted we may have passed peak oil in 2008 (see Guardian interview here).

We’ve been making up for the decline in “conventional oil” (i.e. from the already existing reserves) and from alternative sources such as tar sands.

We may be witnessing is a global game of “beggar thy neighbour”, with fossil fuel dependent countries and exporters willing to put naked self-interest over the common good. Global warming be damned, national sovereignty first. That large multinationals gain is the by-product of the geo-politics of peak oil.

Rather than forcing us to abandon a costly and polluting source of energy, our dependency is so great that countries are now racing to secure supplies.

One would have hoped our dependence on a dwindling source of energy would prompt the exploration and deployment of “cleaner” alternatives.

I fear this is not the case.

What we see is desperate dash to secure supplies across the globe.

Even in Australia the Federal government is prepared to open up the exploration in such pristine and iconic wilderness areas as the Great Ocean Road (Victoria) and Margaret River (West Australia) to oil exploration.

While talks on “controlling” climate change drag on, individual nations are showing resolve and decisiveness in either securing their oil supplies or enhancing their position as producers.

Might not binding treaty on climate change may have the potential prohibit individual nations from exploiting tar sands, opening up new oild fields and exploring other “unconvential” sources of oil? For some governments ignoring the science would be in their self interest.

The realisation that oil really is running out may have induced panic amongst decision makers. The oil is just sitting “there”, and is a proven source of energy. Why not grab the last “few drops” before its gone?

So governments have a choice.

Explore energy alternatives and agree to sign up for binding agreemetns or drill for more.

It would seem the global community has spoken as one: drill, baby drill!

And drill they will.

They’ll drill until a massive pulse of GHGs pushes the climate over dangerous tipping points.

Beggar thy neighbour?

Beggar thyself.

One thing we can confidently predict: they will be plenty of blame to throw around.

A carbon tax is meant to hurt a little, but we have a choice: we can change.

The media’s war over the carbon tax continues to wage, with Melbourne’s Herald Sun leading the charge with the headline “Carbonated!”

The paper breathlessly warns of how the tax will raise a price on everything.:

CONSUMERS face price rises on well-known brands – including Coke, Cadbury, Mars and McDonald’s – as the carbon tax puts the squeeze on retailers and producers.

While the Gillard Government is preparing to deliver significant compensation to households – especially pensioners and low-income families – supermarket managers are predicting across-the-board price rises for everyday food items.

Exporters, already feeling the squeeze from Australia’s soaring dollar, have warned they will be vulnerable and will find it hard to pass on higher energy costs to their international customers.

Herald Sun calculations show that based on the Federal Government’s National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting paper – which details companies’ direct emissions and the pollution produced in supplying the energy they consume – companies would face significant carbon tax costs before any industry compensation that might filter down.

Cue a litany of complaints and fear mongering by coal miners and junk food manufacturers.

Fortunately, a little bit of sanity is provided by Tim Colebatch over at The Age:

The point of a carbon tax or emissions trading scheme is to maximise our long-term welfare – the welfare of future generations, particularly those at risk from rising seawaters (think Bangladesh, or the Pacific islands) or from hotter temperatures and rising evaporation (think farmers in Australia’s food bowl, the Murray-Darling Basin).

They work by raising prices.

But remember: when the price of emissions rises, it creates the incentive for producers and consumers to change the way they operate, to shift to technologies or ways of life that produce fewer emissions. You face the full impact of the price rise only if you stand still and change nothing. And the purpose of charging for carbon is to drive change.

John Quiggin does even further analysis and destroys the Herald Sun’s poor arithmetic:

But those of us capable of primary school arithmetic can take things a little bit further. There are 20 million or so people in Australia, so the cost amounts to around $3.50 a year, or 7 cents a week for us. For the archetypal (if unrepresentative family of four) that’s around 30 cents a week or 60 cents a fortnight (an increase of 0.4 per cent for the mother in the example). Looking at the illustrative photo, that’s rather less than the difference between the Kleenex tissues in the shopping trolley and the home brand alternative.

That the Herald Sun get’s it so wrong is really no surprise.

In many respects, this is the debate we that needs to happen, however Quiggin’s post is a salient reminder of just how dishonest and misleading the campaign against the carbon tax is. It is also why I’m disdainful of the “deniers” and media outlest such as the “HUN”.

They preach a mantra of doing nothing, of not changing.

Still, one simply can’t impose a new tax on the electorate without a debate. More telling is that the Herald Sun and The Age continue to fight the same “culture war”.

Gillard & Co’s failure

The real failure lies with the Labor government under Gillard.

They’ve tried to soft peddle this change calling it a “reform” and promising all kinds of hand outs, without spelling out the simple message that the tax is designed to raise prices on certain goods and services.

The message needs to be simple, clear and honest: 

  • Yes, producers will pass on costs. 
  • Yes, consumers will have to bear some of those costs

But, if the “market” works as it’s supposed to then producers and suppliers will work out ways to reduce the consumers expose to the tax by offering new “low carbob” goods and services. The tax is intended to stimulate innovation.

But more importantly the messages need to stress how much choice the individual has:

“You can change”

But rather speak plainly, and explain basic economics Gillard and her government continues to flounder by speaking in a that flat, nasally tone tone about “reform”.

Instead, the messages should be crafted around the individual’s ability to change, to take responsibility and make choices.

One of the most important characteristics of most Australian’s self identify is resilience, pragmatism and toughness. There is no shame tapping into these cultural “myths” and stereotypes”.

Instead Gillard & Co. continue to chant the mantra’s of neo-liberalism. That’s why I distaste this “reform” mantra. It does not speak to the individual. It assumes that we’re all good neo-liberals who believe in the value of the market, and make decisions based on rational basis.

We don’t.

We’re emotional creatures, whose decision making and beliefs are driven more by emotion and values.

So why not say:

“We know it’s going to hurt a little but Australians have always been resourceful and prepared to make sacrifices. That’s what makes us a great nation.

We have a choice to make today: to leave Australia a better place for our children, or to shirk our individual responsibilities. What has made Australia great is the pragmatism of its people.

We know climate change is a challenge. But it is better to face that challenge today, when we can do something about it than wish it away or leave it to our children to try and solve.

What matters is the choices we make today, in the interests of our nation, our families and our future.”

Unpalatable Oceans?

Here’s a little thought that struck me earlier today which I initially wanted to turn into a comic for the Business As Usual 2.0 project, somehow. I’ve been playing with it and no matter how I try to arrange it, there doesn’t seem a clear method of constructing it concise enough for such a medium.

So instead I’ll just write it out.

The plight of the ocean is heart breaking. Overfishing is a subject that is far too overlooked. Basically, I envisioned a world where all palatable species had been removed. With only inedible species remaining and many newly open niches available to these species, is it possible that by the year 3000, we will have yet a new ocean, rich with life – all of which are nasty if not toxic?

And many believe the ocean to be a hostile place today!

*Do excuse my taking this situation so light-heartedly. When we have bozo’s like Andrew Bolt telling his sizable readership what he thinks of ecology, when genuine and evidence-based discussions are continually stunted by poll-driven leadership, it’s hard not to have moments of pessimism.

Business as Usual 2.0: Cloudy Affair

Introducing a band new comic series! A Warm Fuzzy Forecast will continue, infrequently I’ll admit, as a general environmental comic, created by computer graphics, while Business As Usual 2.0 will be hand-drawn and focus on the various stupidities in trying to maintain business-as-usual in a world beyond carbon addiction. I hope you enjoy!