compiled by the Victorian Climate Action Centre

March 2010 10 lessons redux • Hazelwood • carbon tax • words that work • rising seas • movement strategy • talkclimate • March 2010 • 1

it’s hard to avoid rising sea-levels

it’s hard to avoid rising sea-levels
March to Hazelwood power station, September 2009

This collection of provocative ideas, reflections and science has been assembled by the Victorian Climate Action Centre as a contribution for participants in the second national Australian Climate Action Summit held in Canberra in March 2010. Why the national movement should support the campaign to close Hazelwood power station It’s hard to avoid rising sea levels 11 9 CONTENTS Ten lessons for the climate movement redux Looking forward: looking back (2009) 8 3

Climate Action Centre phone 03 9639 3660 Published March 2010

Is The Greens proposal for a carbon tax our priority? 15 A circuit-breaker 16 19

Language of a clean energy economy

2 • talkclimate • March 2010 •

For the 2009 climate summit, I wrote a short article titled “Looking back - moving forward: ten lessons for the climate movement” (a summary is reproduced on page 8). It attempted to articulate some of the challenges and opportunities for the community climate movement after two years of rapid growth in scope and capacity. A lot has happened since the last summit: the dominance of the debate on the government’s carbon-trading plan, the failed Copenhagen conference, the division over climate in the Liberal Party and the emergence of the climate denier Tony Abbot as leader. In many ways the harsh reality of the terrain in which we are working is even more stark than it was a year ago, and requires us to face up to the enormous challenge we face. Much of the discussion in the 2009 article remains important. In particular, the emphasis on deep mobilisation of society as the key to achieving the transformation we are seeking. If we have learned nothing else in the last twelve months, it should be that there are no short cuts. Only by building our political power through community organising, real alliance building and splitting of the political and business elite will we have a hope of achieving our goals. So here is an attempt to articulate some of the challenges and further lessons we might draw from the last year.

We should not be blind to the fact that our lack of unity as a climate movement (with the Southern Cross Climate Coalition minesweeping for Labor) meant that the polluters gained the upper hand and used the failed trading scheme as a springboard to push back against the case for urgent action. This was made worse when the CPRS opponents failed to consistently articulate opposition to the scheme. The positive moments – the release by the environment NGOs of an alternative Plan B and the coordinated actions at MP’s offices by community climate groups — were not backed up with a strategy or ongoing coordination. This experience should highlight the importance of developing a common set of concrete goals for the climate movement and a positive, united agenda. This platform cannot simply be set in the abstract, or necessarily a long period in advance, but must be developed dynamically in the “real world” with consideration to the evolving nature, politics and capabilities of the various forces in the movement. The carbon tax debate kicked off by The Greens is an opportunity to develop a strand of that common agenda. We should use this opportunity to form a common goal across the whole climate movement of supporting a good carbon tax plan.


The need for common goals


Transitional thinking

Diversity is crucial and inherent to successful movements, but movements that are divided generally fail. We need to wrestle with this paradox if we are to achieve our aims. Last year we got comprehensively rolled. While it was important and correct that we opposed the polluterfriendly carbon trading scheme, we failed to successfully communicate why we opposed something that most people didn’t understand in the first place. Barnaby Joyce had no such trouble, and in the US James Hansen gained public traction by posing one simple, positive alternative to cap-and-trade.

The idea of transition is increasingly popular, but transformations will not happen just because we wish, hope or even pray for them. A transition will need to be built and often this will involve small and painful steps. That does not mean we should lose sight of our big goal or end aim, but only that successful movements are built through mobilising support for specific concrete actions and wins that intersect with the existing political terrain and exploit its contradictions and weaknesses, not through abstractions. So let’s “demand the impossible”, like closing Hazelwood power station or building a new smart grid, but let’s make the impossible capable of being both imagined and • talkclimate • March 2010 • 3

10 lessons for the climate movement redux

10 lessons for the climate movement redux

10 lessons for the climate movement redux

politically relevant in the here and now so it helps build the movement. This is what old socialists used to call a “transitional program”, linking the current possibilities and realizable practical gains to the desired future.


Climate change is THE issue

Across the country every weekend thousands of people are engaged in local sustainability projects, such as bush regeneration. Thousands more are mobilised and supportive of a range of other conservation issues such as opposing whaling or campaigning for new national parks. Many others are engaged in social or human rights issues of one kind or another. All these issues and problems have an inherent worth and value. But are they more important than climate change? Local habitats are rapidly moving towards the poles and up mountains, stranding many species. (Eventually many of the local weekend conservation projects will be for nought if there isn’t radical emissions mitigation.) This is the underpinning of what may be the mass destruction of ecologies, another Great Extinction. Whales, for example, face the likely collapse of the food chain that underpins their survival if temperatures rise by 4 degrees, the Copenhagen outcome. Humanity itself, as a species, is also at threat. At the very least, billions are at a high risk of death and great misery. Given this reality, is it time to be making the case that climate change is THE issue and that those who do not place it at the top of their list have their priorities wrong? Should we, perhaps gently at first, be pointing this out to those who would rather save a whale than save the planet?

judging from where their resources and advocacy have been directed. For them, carbon taxes, clean energy pricing and renewable energy targets mean increased prices, and increased prices must be opposed at all cost. I am amazed that, with some notable exceptions, the welfare sector has been blind to what the realities of climate change will mean for their constituencies. The ravages of super-droughts and heat waves, bush fires and floods, sea level rises and other extreme weather and economic dislocation will fall disproportionately on Australia’s poor. But where are the welfare sector conferences and publications, media releases and submissions on the impact of climate change on the poor, and calling for stronger action? Instead, we have had campaigns to derail feed-in-tariffs and a singular focus on the quarantining of carbon trading revenue for compensation. Of course mitigation options have equity implications that need to be factored into the policy design, but in the absence of strong advocacy for action on climate change, the welfare sector ends up becoming a tool in the campaign of the delayers and deniers.


Warming to labour


Harming the poor?

There is a strange dichotomy in the climate debate. On the one hand, international aid agencies such as Oxfam and World Vision increasingly seem to understand the disastrous consequences of climate change for the world’s poor. They have engaged with the danger of sealevel rises for the delta regions of the world, and the threat to water security from melting glaciers. They have pushed hard for stronger pollution-reduction targets. And although at times still locked into the incremental paradigm that grips most NGOs, they have, more than most, looked catastrophe in the face and been willing to articulate its consequences. On other hand, the welfare lobby that claims to advocate on behalf of Australia’s poor has not, for the most part, seen climate change as a threat to those in poverty. Rather it views climate change mitigation as the danger,

Very few profound policy changes have been won by social movements in Australia without the involvement of organised labour. So far we have failed to significantly involve trade unions in our movement, and particular unions have been a barrier to action by opposing any attempts to curtail the coal industry. The ACTU’s approach has been, at best, reduced to cheer-leading for the Rudd government. This is the danger of box-ticking alliances that have no little depth or broad engagement. When, in the end, the ACF was finally turning against the government’s carbon trading plan, its ACTU ally in the Union Connectors campaign was enlisting its climate delegates to lobby in favour of the Senate passage of the polluter-friendly CPRS! The union movement’s peak bodies will not play a more transformative role unless until a block of unions is built that “get the problem” and the scale of the required solutions. To do this, we need to work first with those unions that have no interest in blocking change. White collar and service unions, emergency and health workers, and building unions all could be part of this block. And many have a material interest in mitigation actions, such as improving building and industrial energy efficiency. We have already seen the NTEU and the ETU endorse a more realistic approach, the LHMU and the ASU engage with the climate movement, and fire fighters really take a lead. We need to seek tactical alliances around particular events and actions, as we have with the fire fighters. This

4 • talkclimate • March 2010 •

builds relationships and confidence. And we need to confront the green jobs paradigm. Unions have approached the climate problem like other industry-restructuring chal“I came back from the Copenhagen climate talks depressed for several lenges by seeking to protect jobs reasons, but above all because, listening to the discussions at the citizens’ and identify opportunities for new summit, it struck me that we no longer have movements; we have thousands employment. The climate moveof people each clamouring to have their own visions adopted. We might ment’s response has been to spruik come together for occasional rallies and marches,but as soon as we start the green jobs message, while discussing alternatives, solidarity is shattered by possessive individualism. defensively talking about just transiConsumerism has changed all of us. Our challenge is now to fight a system tions. we have internalised.” But climate change cannot and — George Monbiot, “After this 60-year feeding frenzy, Earth itself has must be reduced to just an issue become disposable”, Guardian, 4 January 2010 of job security. If we allow this to happen, we will lose the argument. For most unions, climate change outcome of the Copenhagen summit? This strategy is and mitigation policies will have little now in tatters. direct, immediate effect on job levels, so “green jobs” are International negotiations can and should be used by irrelevant to them. the movement to speak with one voice Nor should climate change be sold as just another globally, and they can also be an opportunity to message moral community issue for unions, like the Iraq war or the problem back into Australia, but they cannot be a refugees. We have to communicate that climate change is substitute for mobilisation here. an existential problem for all of us, including all workers, We will never get a worthwhile international agreea threat so great that for unions also it is THE issue of our ment until we deepen support for action within the nations time. that are party to an agreement. Even something that And when we do talk about jobs, at the very least looks good on paper will have to be implemented, and we should be talking about clean energy jobs, not “green that will need a climate movement capable of pushing for jobs” which is bad messaging (reducing climate to an that change in every big-polluting country. “environmental” concern) and has a partisan flavour (vote We should never again allow our positions to be for The Greens). shackled to the success or otherwise of international negotiations; we have to build support for a solution on the power of community concern in Australia.

monbiot on copenhagen


International rabbit hole

The Copenhagen conference has finally confirmed once and for all the bankruptcy of a strategy built around outcomes from international negotiations. The Australian climate movement has sought to leap-frog community mobilisation by appealing to international responsibility. So while much of the world recognised that commitments under Kyoto were a disaster, in Australia Kyoto was used as a stick with which to beat the Howard government. But this strategy reinforced a public view (and perhaps deluded ourselves) that the international process on which Kyoto was built could save us. How else do we explain the decision of the ACF, Climate Institute and WWF to make their targets for the government’s polluterfriendly trading scheme dependent on the • talkclimate • March 2010 • 5

10 lessons for the climate movement redux

10 lessons for the climate movement redux


Living with denial

We will never get rid of climate George Lakoff, a professor of linguists at the University of California, deniers, at least not before it is Berkeley, and a specialist in “framing” the way language shapes the way we too late, and psychological denial think says that the future of climate change legislation depends on the words deepens as the moment of truth used to explain it. nears. In one sense deniers and “climategate” have failed because, “Global warming applies to climate, not weather, and most people don’t think as Paul Gilding noted recently, of the difference, and so you shouldn’t be talking just about global warming. over 160 leaders – even the You should be talking about the climate crisis. That, I think, is very important Saudis – attended an international and then you explain what a crisis is. But the people who are in the environconference on climate change mental movement are very bad at communication, and they haven’t done in December and accepted that that... global warming is a real problem. “...and it’s very important for the scientists to know that they don’t know However, in another sense, anything about communication. They’re very bad at it. See, the scientists who the deniers are gaining ground study weather don’t study cognition. They’re not cognitive scientists; they’re and we can no longer continue climate scientists. That’s understandable, but they don’t know that they can’t the defacto strategy of ignoring communicate, and they don’t know they need to get some people who know them. something about it. This is not just about a “The idea of climate change, actually, was introduced by conservatives, rational, fact-based debate, and by Frank Luntz in the 2004 (presidential) campaign. He found that ‘global we cannot win with “the facts” warming’ alarmed people whereas ‘climate change’ sounded fine. It was just alone. The deniers will twist and change, as if it just happened, and people weren’t responsible. And climate is turn and throw bombs – like the a nice word. It sort of gives an image of palm trees and nice climate, as glacier story – and then go on to opposed to hurricanes and, you know, and huge snowstorms and floods... something else. They are havoc“I think the climate crisis is a much better way to talk about. You want to makers and work on an emotional say this is crisis. This is a crisis for civilization. It’s a crisis for life on Earth.” level based on paranoia and fear Source: National Public Radio, 21 February 2010 of the unknown (and the state, and the elite), so our response needs to be based on emotion and values too, and on their credibility. Monbiot’s repeated assertion that “you are a fraud”, backed by just two examples, was telling in his (* UK climate camp banner) ‘Lateline’ debate with Plimer because it turn the debate The return and return of the climate deniers highlights the about credibility back onto the denier. importance of us all being willing to educate and conWe need to tag the deniers for what they are: deniers stantly update ourselves about the climate science. It is not sceptics. Deniers come in many forms, including serial contrarians, blogging conspiracy theorists, delusion- and was wrong to ever think that the debate/denial about the science is over. Part of the reason the community is al crackpots, amateurs and grumpy old men (there are susceptible to climate deniers is that we have left it to few women!), particularly from geology and meteorology, who cannot deal with the fact that the body of professional scientists to communicate the climate science, and they are not trained communicators, and vary widely in their knowledge that constituted their identity and their fading capacity to do so. We have a role to play, and people who careers has been overturned by new understandings. are engaged and come to forums genuinely want to know And we should say so, and explain to the audience what is really going on, rather than pretending it’s just a rational more about the science and the detail. By increasing the depth of community understanding of the threat of climate debate about facts. change, the sway of the deniers and delayers will wane And often we also need to respond immediately in Yes, it is frightening and often boring to read about the news cycle to the substance of their claims and use them — as Obama would say — as a “teaching moment”. the science of global warming and teach ourselves to communicate it, but necessary. As Italian philosopher For example, the attack on the IPCC claim about glaciers Antonio Gramsci said, we need “pessimism of the intellect was an opportunity to tell the full story, but too few in the and optimism of the will.” climate movement took it up.

on framing climate change


“Armed with peerreviewed science” *

6 • talkclimate • March 2010 •

There is now a vast array of communications, messages and stories being told about climate change, often in contradictory and complicated ways. But the history of social movements, advertising and modern political communications teaches us that what gets through to the population at large is much more limited. We need some simple messages that correspond with our goals, and that we repeat ad nauseam, if we are to have an effect on public opinion. To paraphrase Frank Luntz, the conservative pollster who coined the phrase “climate change” as a way of countering the frame of “global warming”, it is about repetition, repetition, repetition. As a movement we are yet to agree on a common language that can win over the public, but we do know some of things that work and that could be adopted. So let’s start a conversation about how to have the climate conversation. We should listen to the eNGOs, Get Up and others that have done focus-group work and we should try and agree on some things to repeat over and over. My favourite mantra is “We can Repower Australia with clean, safe and reliable energy”. We know this language works because the polling and focus groups say so, and this is why the government uses some of the language. But we need to do more than just reinforce this framing by connecting it to messages/actions that bite the government and forces them to do more. For example, “We can Repower Australia with clean, safe and reliable energy… That’s why the federal and State government should commit to replacing Hazelwood power station by 2012”. Regardless of the specific message, the point is we should agree on some language and try and repeat it movement-wide. One of our biggest communication and strategic failures as a movement has been to allow climate change to be seen as an environment issue. This has been


Vote ‘em where it hurts

It is easy to have an aversion to elections. They are stage managed, dominated by the big parties and often bring out the worst in our leaders and community. But they are also an opportunity to be heard, because peoples’ eyes and ears are more open in an election year. More importantly, they are an opportunity to exert our power as a movement by causing the government pain, especially if we are able to make climate the issue in knife-edge seats such that a Minister or backbencher could be turfed out because they failed to listen to what the climate movement was advocating. This would create a large number of parliamentarians very quickly becoming advocates for movement policies inside the government, because they fear this would happen to them. Doing this is not easy, but it is possible. It requires organisation, a commitment to prioritising certain seats, and identifying one or two election messages on which to campaign in the community. And it requires door-knocking. There is now a lot of discussion about community organising in the movement and this is a good thing. We have even started to do door-knocking in some of our communities. We need to grow this commitment, learn from each other and implement it in the election lead-up. We also need to commit to continuing it well past the election year. Let’s starting planning next year’s national climate door-knock day now. DAMIEN LAWSON • talkclimate • March 2010 • 7

10 lessons for the climate movement redux


Are they listening?

reinforced by messages about saving beautiful places like the Great Barrier Reef. We need to change our communication strategy. The key is to talk about real, concrete impacts on people in Australia, like the Black Saturday bush fires. Sea level rises, floods and the drought are all key areas to explore because of their social and economic impacts and their tangible effects now and in the near future.

10 lessons for the climate movement redux

“Looking back: moving forward” (2009)
[Lessons for 2009, abridged from “Climate Reader”, January 2009, php?id=12]

knocking, local events and other direct communications. ...the task is to focus on actions that can mobilise large numbers in civil disobedience actions, rather than small heroic groups... Only when we have thousands gathered to sit-in at power stations will such actions move from the symbolic and become truly powerful... 5 Alliance building is more than box-ticking ...alliance building is about being able to mobilise real political force across diverse sectors, and if that isn’t the power than has been gained by building alliances, then in the long run they are not worth the paper they are written on. 6 Propose solutions that will work ... When leading scientists are talking about the safe zone being 280 to 325 ppm and the need for zero emissions, why can’t the leading climate NGOs get on board and put the science first? 7 Stop talking about the reef and start talking about people To make progress, climate needs to be understood NOT as an “environment sector” issue, but as a wholeof-society problem that is as much about human rights as anything else. Fundamentally we need to talk more about the impact on people, not beautiful places... 8 But is it the economy, stupid? The movement was taken down a rabbit hole partly of its own making after the election when we allowed the debate to be about the “economic cost” of climate change... The planet cannot be reduced to the economy. 9 We are activists not policy advisors There is a danger in all movements of being so close to an issue that we start to believe that all we need to do is create and describe a perfect solution and our job is done. But in reality policy outcomes are never about the elegance of a solution, but about power... 10 Our movement is and must be global We cannot solve the problem (just) in Australia and we do need global action and cooperation. For us this means creating more global links and cooperation amongst grass-roots movements and continue to leverage off each other’s actions... We must look for opportunities in 2009 to work with groups and networks locally and internationally which have as a goal the mobilising of the global community around sciencebased demands. DAMIEN LAWSON 19 January 2009

1 Changing government does not mean a change in policy The honeymoon of the Rudd government on climate is over; divorce is in the air... Yet the strategy of most environment NGOs in 2006–08 seemed to be one of mobilising the community to elect a Labor government, and then talk softly to the new government behind closed doors, rather than continue the mobilisation... 2 Continuous mobilisation So our aim must be the continuous mobilisation of the community. Not turning people on and off like a tap when an issue or election comes up... We must also see our efforts to mobilise community as a long-term project of getting every organisation in a particular locality to recognise the full implications of climate change and to put the heat on local MPs until they become advocates for the movement, not barriers to action. We need to create movement resources that can do this... 3 If we are not frightened then no-one else will be For a long time there has been a debate in the environment and now the climate movement about “fear versus hope”... But this false dichotomy is often a mask for conservative positions that seek to maintain a delusional strategy on climate change, which sees advocacy of small immediately “achievable” steps as the only approach that will work... But the desire to propose small steps that can be easily adopted by government not only leads to advocacy of solutions that won’t solve the climate problem, but often also prevents the truth about the real extent of the climate problem being told... 4 Knocking on doors is as important as climbing smoke-stacks ... there is a danger that a one-sided emphasis on civil-disobedience actions can substitute for the less glamorous work of engaging the community. We need to find ways to take the urgency of climate change direct to people in their communities through door

8 • talkclimate • March 2010 •

Why should the national movement support the campaign to replace Hazelwood power station with clean energy? Because we can grow the movement, communicate the problem with coal and have an unprecedented win if we focus on Australia’s dirtiest power station. The biggest single cause of carbon pollution is burning of coal, so replacing coal with clean energy is the key to solving the climate problem. Coal also harms our health. NASA scientist James Hansen estimates over one million people are killed by coal pollution every year. Australia’s dirtiest Victoria’s Hazelwood power station is the dirtiest coalfired power station in Australia, and one of the most polluting in the developed world. It is outdated technology, a polluting dinosaur of the industrial age. Hazelwood is so old and inefficient it produces over 15 per cent of Victoria’s carbon pollution (over 3 per cent of Australia’s pollution) and uses a lot of water, over 1.35 mega-litres per gigawatt hour of electricity produced. It was due to be closed in 2005, but the Labor State government extended its life past 2030 by granting Hazelwood an extension to its mining licence. But the owners of Hazelwood — UK’s International Power and the Commonwealth Bank (8.2 per cent) — have said it could be closed much sooner if the State and federal governments were willing to pay. One of the best and fastest way of cutting carbon

pollution in Australia would be to replace Hazelwood with clean energy alternatives – such as investments in energy efficiency, renewable energy and/or gas as a transition fuel (groups supporting the campaign to replace Hazelwood have a variety of views on the mix of solutions). This shift would also keep jobs in the Latrobe Valley, where Hazelwood is sited, and enable the valley to become a clean-energy manufacturing hub. Under the government’s carbon-trading plan, International Power and other generators would be getting over seven billion dollars in “compensation”, but this type of money should be used to replace power stations, not keep them open and polluting. That’s why we need a campaign for the State and federal government to take up International Power’s offer, and replace Hazelwood now, not in 2030. Politically and financially vulnerable Closing Hazelwood is a real possibility because of the convergence of financial and political contexts. Hazelwood is widely recognised as the most vulnerable to future carbon pricing because it burns brown coal (some of the world’s dirtiest) and is the most inefficient in the country. This combined with the global financial crisis has made the refinancing of the companies’ debts very difficult. A recent decision to shift Alcoa’s aluminium smelting electricity contracts (20 per cent of Victoria’s electricity • talkclimate • March 2010 • 9

why the national movement should support the campaign to close hazelwood

why the national movement should support the campaign to close Hazelwood power station

why the national movement should support the campaign to close hazelwood

consumption) to another power company from 2016 is another significant financial blow to Hazelwood. For these reasons International Power has said in submissions to government that it is open to closing if it is given adequate compensation. More importantly the State government is under a lot of pressure and very defensive about coal. Last year, when 500 people protested and stormed fences at the power station, the government went on the back foot. Instead of the usual approach of attacking the protesters, ministers lined up to say the government was doing more on renewable energy. Police and the power company sang from the same song sheet. In December last year, the climate movement took only limited action before the government put a decision on possible coal exports on the back burner until after the Victorian election, scheduled for 27 November 2010. The Age reported on 10 December that: “A senior government source said recent media coverage of the issue had ‘concentrated’ ministerial attention. Education Minister Bronwyn Pike and Housing Minister Richard Wynne, who both face a growing green vote in their inner-suburban electorates, are believed to be among those cabinet members to have shown interest in the issue recently.” In inner-city Melbourne, Labor is facing the loss of three to four seats to The Greens. Wynne and Pike both know they face political death and have been desperately seeking a big green promise from the government. And the recent Altona By-Election with an 11.7% swing against Labor has “concentrated” the minds even further. Federally, with the emissions trading scheme politically dead, there are opportunities for the movement to also push for a “dramatic action” from the Rudd government. They will be under pressure from the Coalition, who could beat them to such an announcement. Alan Kohler, one of Australia’s most prominent business journalists, discussed this possibility in Crikey:
The clever, pinpoint focus of the new Coalition policy that the Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Greg Hunt, has come up with, was actually lost yesterday amid the wildly incoherent antics of politicians back from holidays at the start of an election year. In fact it’s quite simple: the coalition is proposing to pay the Latrobe Valley companies to convert from brown coal to gas. There are a few other ideas tacked on to make it look like a policy, not a deal, but that’s the guts of it. It’s a good idea – first proposed in Business Spectator last November. I’m not sure the amount of money nominated – a total of $3.2 billion, with up to $2.55 billion available for power station conversion – will be enough, but it’s an opening gambit. Hunt spelled it out towards the end of yesterday’s press conference when the journalists were nodding off listening to Tony Abbott, so what he said has been largely ignored.

He said: “One of the large power companies has provided us with their advice. Because it’s commercialin-confidence, they didn’t want it released – but they provided us with their advice that they could convert from coal to gas for $13 per tonne under this system. “Now we want to check that, but … the oldest and least efficient of the power providers has said to us that under the government’s ETS we’re just not going to be able to afford the capital to transition because we will be struggling just to survive… Under this they’ve said that if our balance sheets are clear and there’s an incentive to change from coal to gas, this is very attractive and we are more likely rather than less likely to change under this system.”

This adds momentum to the coalition of environment and community groups in Victoria who are building the campaign for the State and federal governments to commit to replace Hazelwood power station with clean energy by 2012. This will be a key election test for the federal and State Labor governments. As yet The Greens have not announced their Victorian election key promises. Clear and unambiguous support for the replacement of Hazelwood would help them make the ground they need in the inner-city seats. If they don’t have a clear message they face being left behind by the community campaign. Real chance for a win We will be organising in the community, door-knocking key electorates, talking in the media and lobbying politicians over the next six months to make this the key issue in marginal seats. We will be saying we don’t want empty promises to tackle global warming, but a real timetable for action to replace Australia’s dirtiest power station. There is a real chance of success. On March 2, The Age reported “The ALP is understood to be keen on an announcement about Hazelwood ahead of the November state election.” But our campaign has greater chance of success if there is work done around the country to pressure the federal government to also act on Hazelwood. The national movement could hold a day of action on Hazelwood with protests at MP offices or the Commonwealth Bank (minority shareholder), and include the demand to close Hazelwood in other lobbying of the federal government. Closing a coal power station before its life is up would be unprecedented in Australia and would have an impact around the world. It would undermine investments in new coal power and create real political momentum for the big changes we urgently need to properly tackle climate change. TAEGEN EDWARDS, Yarra Climate Action Now DAMIEN LAWSON, Climate Action Centre

10 • talkclimate • March 2010 •

Local and state governments are in trouble trying to work out what to do about sea-level rises and planning laws, making it an effective issue to further engage with the public. We don’t have to sell the topic, it’s already a hot potato. There are court cases and administrative appeals and local election campaigns about the issue; developers and real estate agents are moaning; and local residents are confused about whether they want low estimates for likely sea-level rises (to keep property values up) or high estimates (so that migitation works will be done to stop flooding). And people don’t want to buy and build where future sea-surges will flood houses and degrade land. There is local community concern and activism on the issue from coast to coast: • Vulnerable house owners in Byron Bay fight the council to build barriers at the expense of public beaches, but studies show a sea wall built in one spot is likely to transfer erosion to another; • The risk of rising sea levels has put an end to plans for residential development at Victoria’s Port Fairy after an advisory committee told the State government that the sand-dune development should not go ahead, and other cases are being contested; • At Old Bar on the NSW mid-north coast, landowners threaten to sue council as houses are condemned as unsafe because sea surges are eating into sand dunes on which the residences are built; • The South Australian Supreme Court rules that predicted sea level rises are a valid reason to reject beachfront housing developments in a subdivision on Yorke Peninsula, with cases in other States; • Under pressure from land-owners along 90 Mile Beach, the Wellington Shire in East Gippsland says it is not responsible for preventing construction in areas vulnerable to rising sea levels, as councillors overturn a planning panel recommendation to prevent construction in low-lying coastal areas; • On the other hand, Pittwater council is looking at planning for sea-level rises beyond the benchmarks set by the State government, because they may be too low; and

It is one of four Sydney councils calling for consistency in government guidelines, saying the variations (State government sea-level estimates of 0.9 metres by 2100, but the federal figure is 1.1 metre) leaves the councils at risk of legal action. State governments don’t want to ring alarm bells by talking about the bad possibilities (the opposite approach they take to bushfires), but they risk huge litigation costs if a planning standard is set too low, and building is permitted where it can later be shown the state has been negligent in ignoring the available scientific evidence. And local councils, although subject to State government planning guidelines, don’t want to be sued in the future for allowing developments and buildings where they were clearly inappropriate. The climate movement should intervene in this public debate to highlight the concrete impacts of the climate crisis and the failure of government to act responsibly. Different standards Recently the NSW Government set a planning benchmark for sea levels of 0.9 metres by 2100. In Victoria it is 0.8 metres based on recommendations of the (since abolished) Victorian Coastal Council, but the state is now looking at scenarios for 1.1 and 1.4 metres. In South Australia the benchmark is 1 metre, and the federal government is basing its predicted impacts (247,600 individual buildings valued at $63 billion could be damaged or lost, while major infrastructure, including Sydney and Brisbane airports, are at risk of being flooded by increasingly damaging storms) on a 1.1-metre sea level rise by 2100. While these differing standards indicate confusion, and may also be a legal minefield, they are all too low. The November 2009 issue of Science Update 2009 published by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology reported that “current estimates of sea-level rise range from 0.50 metre to over 2 metres by 2100”. A federal government report (1) authored by Prof. Will Steffen says that: “Sea-level rise larger than the 0.5–1.0 metre range – perhaps towards 1.5 metre ... cannot be ruled out. There is still considerable uncertainty surrounding estimates of future sea-level rise. Nearly all of these uncertainties, • talkclimate • March 2010 • 11

it’s hard to avoid rising sea-levels

it’s hard to avoid rising sea levels

it’s hard to avoid rising sea-levels

however, operate in one direction, towards higher rather than lower estimates”. And the outcomes of the March 2009 Copenhagen climate science conference (2) give an estimate of 0.75–1.9 metres by 2100, based on peerreviewed research (3). So if up to two metres is acknowledged, why set planning guidelines around one metre? Just after the federal government released its sea-level report (4) last year, Senator Wong told “ABC Insiders” on 15 April that “1.1 metres ….is about the upper end of the risk” (emphasis added). This was an untruth. What the report actually says is: “Recent research, presented at the Copenhagen climate congress in March 2009, projected sea-level rise from 0.75 to 1.90 metres relative to 1990, with 1.1–1.2 metres the mid-range of the projection. Based on this recent science 1.1 metres was selected as a plausible value for sea-level rise for this risk assessment” (emphasis added). This is not risk management, but betting against the laws of nature. It seems that “plausible value” is a weaselword for mid-range! But we don’t base our fire preparedness on a mid-range “plausible value”. A safety-first approach means we plan for the worst possible outcome, which all levels of government are clearly failing to do. At the March 2010 Australian Coastal Councils Conference Dr John Church, who is Australia’s pre-eminent expert, said sea levels will rise by close to a metre by the end of the century no matter what the world does to combat climate change, but “warned [that] things could get much worse if rising air and ocean temperatures caused a massive ice sheet covering Greenland – so big it could, by itself, lift sea levels by seven metres – to melt.” (5). An upper boundary to 2100 As the world’s oceans warm, they expand and sea-levels rise, but how quickly the loss of polar ice sheets will add to the rise is difficult to estimate, principally because icesheet and sea-ice dynamics are not sufficiently well understood, and they are subject to non-linear (rapid and unexpected) changes, such as is now occurring with Arctic

sea-ice. The estimate of the 2007 IPCC report of about a half-metre sea-level rise by 2100 is now too conservative. The general scientific view is now for a rise of 1–2 metres, but higher levels of 3-5 metres cannot be excluded. The IPCC 2007 report was conservative because it failed to factor in some melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Yet the question is no longer whether the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass (they are!), but if and when they pass tipping points for large, irreversible ice mass loss, and how fast that will occur. New satellite data shows that both Greenland and Antarctica are losing ice mass at an accelerating rate (6). Arctic sea-ice in summer is in a “death spiral” according to Dr Mark Serreze, head of the US National Snow and Ice Date Centre (7); as it becomes thinner (8) and as its volume continues to decrease, the data suggests total summer sea-ice loss in the next three to ten years (9) [See chart, page 13]. As NASA’s James Hansen notes in his recently published book, “Storms of my Grandchildren”: “It is difficult to imagine how the Greenland ice sheet could survive if Arctic sea ice is lost entirely in the warm season” (page 164). So how fast? One recent study (10) found that a 2-metre sea-level rise was the upper bound on how much ice could physically be lost from Greenland and Antarctica this century, but this was based on assumptions that all ice shelves would remain intact, but in fact many are already retreating (11). And a 2009 study by Siddall et al. which suggested a sea-level rise of only 7–82 cms to 2100, and which was criticised as being too conservative, has just been withdrawn due to technical errors (12). On the other hand, recent research (13) examining the paleoclimate record shows sea-level rises of 3 metres in 50 years due to the rapid melting of ice sheets 120,000 years ago, when climate conditions very similar to today. Mike Kearney, of the University of Maryland, said it’s “within the realm of possibility” that global warming will trigger a sudden collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet, which could lead to a rapid increase in sea levels like that predicted by the study. And recent Antarctic ice-core studies of the Pliocene over the last 14 million years (14) have led Timothy Naish of Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand to conclude: “We know that [when] CO2 was around 400 or 450 parts per million in the atmosphere...there was no ice sheet on West Antarctica...That’s where we’re almost at now.” Then on 13 January this year, New Scientist published a story (15) about calculations that the Pine Island glacier (PIG) in the West Antarctic has likely passed its tipping point, with estimates that this one glacier alone could add a quarter of a metre to sea levels by 2100.

12 • talkclimate • March 2010 •

Sea level rises in the long run It was thought that long-term climate feedbacks would only kick in on century to millenia time-scales, but they are on the cards right now. Will Steffen, in his recent report for the federal government (17), notes that:
Long-term feedbacks in the climate system may be starting to develop now; the most important of these include dynamical processes in the large polar ice sheets, and the behaviour of natural carbon sinks and potential new natural sources of carbon, such as the carbon stored in the permafrost of the northern high latitudes. Once thresholds in ice sheet and carbon cycle dynamics are crossed, such processes cannot be stopped or reversed by human intervention, and will lead to more severe and ultimately irreversible climate change from the perspective of human timeframes.

An unmanned autonomous submarine has discovered a sea-floor ridge that may have been the last hope for stopping the now-accelerating retreat of the Pine Island Glacier, a crumbling keystone of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. The ridge appears to have once protected the glacier, but no more. The submarine found the glacier floating well off the ridge and warmer, ice-melting water passing over the ridge and farther under the ice. And no survey, underwater or airborne, has found another such glacier-preserving obstacle for the next 250 kilometers landward.

Several years ago, the experienced climate science journalist Fred Pearce reported geologist Richard Alley as saying there is “a possibility that the West Antarctic ice sheet could collapse and raise sea levels by 6 yards [5.5 metres]” this century, leading Pearce to conclude that the Pine Island Glacier “is primed for runaway destruction”. The evidence is now heading his way, and suggesting that 0.8 or 1.1 metres is a risk-averse foundation for sealevel rise planning and policy-making is now way behind

Given the catastrophic failure to date of global climate policy-making (Copenhagen outcome: a 4-degree warmer world by 2100), big sea-level rises are on the way for the sorts of temperature increases now on the table. NASA’s James Hansen wrote in New Scientist on 25 July 2007 that:
Oxygen isotopes in the deep-ocean fossil plankton known as foraminifera reveal that the Earth was last 2°C to 3°C warmer around 3 million years ago, with carbon

Arctic sea-ice loss: ice volume projections and observations

Modelled monthly mean sea-ice volume (blue line) over the Arctic Ocean for the period 1979–2004. Green line is the mean model ice volume for 1979–1995. Stars show minimum October–November values from the model (blue) and observational estimates (magenta: Kwok and Cunnihgham 2008; cyan: Kwok et al. 2009). Read and black striped lines: calculated (NPS/K08 and NPS/K09) linear trend through 1995–2007. Blue dashed line: model trend through 1995–2004. Projecting the trend into the future indicates that autumn could be ice-free between 2011 and 2016 (Maslowski, 2009). Purple line: An unknown minimum amount of ice volume expected to survive summer melt beyond that time. PAPRERS: Kwok, R., and G. F. Cunningham (2008), ICESat over Arctic sea ice: Estimation of snow depth and ice thickness, J. Geophys. Res., 113, C08010, doi:10.1029/2008JC004753. Kwok, R., G. F. Cunningham, M. Wensnahan, I. Rigor, H. J. Zwally, and D. Yi (2009), Thinning and volume loss of the Arctic Ocean sea ice cover: 2003–2008, J. Geophys.Res., 114, C07005, doi:10.1029/2009JC005312. Maslowski, W., J. Clement Kinney, J. Jakacki, “Toward Prediction of Environmental Arctic Change”, Computing in Science and Engineering, vol. 9, no. 6, pp. 29-34, Nov./Dec.2007, doi:10.1109/MCSE.2007.125. Maslowski, W., State and Future Projections of Arctic Sea Ice, Changes of the Greenland Cryosphere Workshop and the Arctic Freshwater Budget International Symposium, Nuuk, Greenland, 25-27 August, 2009. Source: • talkclimate • March 2010 • 13

it’s hard to avoid rising sea-levels

Richard Hindmarsh of the British Antarctic Survey says PIG could disappear entirely, and “if Thwaite’s glacier, which sits alongside PIG, also retreats, PIG’s grounding line could retreat even further back to a second crest, causing sea levels to rise by 52 centimetres.” The modelling suggests Thwaite’s glacier has also passed its tipping point. Pine Island and Thwaites drain about 40 per cent of the West Antarctic ice Sheet into the sea and are the key to its future. And now comes a new report in Science (16) that an undersea ridge that may have once helped slow the loss of the Pine Island Glacier is no longer doing so:

the times. James Hansen said three years ago that he would bet “a thousand dollars to a donut” that his estimate of a 5-metre rise by 2100 (based on recent climate history) would be closer to the mark that the 2007 IPCC figure of less than a metre, and the grim reality is that he is likely to be right given the world’s continued failed to sharply mitigate.

it’s hard to avoid rising sea-levels

dioxide levels of perhaps 350 to 450 parts per million. It was a dramatically different planet then, with no Arctic sea-ice in the warm seasons and sea level about 25 meters higher, give or take 10 meters.

And we are now almost at 400 parts per million! The simple fact that seems to evade policymakers is that sea-level rises measured in tens of metres are in the pipeline for current greenhouse levels. Even more compelling, Professor Eelco Rohling of University of Southampton says: “Even if we would curb all CO2 emissions today, and stabilise at the modern level (387 parts per million by volume), then our natural relationship suggests that sea level would continue to rise to about 25 metres above the present”, based on his research (18). These predictions fit a simple but alarming pattern evident in the climate history. During the last ice age 20,000 years ago temperatures were 5–6 degrees cooler and sea levels 120 metres lower. If human emissions continue along their current path, global temperatures will be 4-5 degrees warmer, enough to eventually melt all the polar ice caps and push sea levels 70 metres higher than today, as was the case in the Oligocene, 30 million years ago. While ice-sheets can take long periods of centuries and more to disintegrate, the conclusion is unavoidable: On average, each one-degree temperature rise will in the long run increase sea-levels by 15–20 metres. On average, the coast line retreats 100 metres for every 1 metre of sea level rise. The Insurance Council says 425,000 Australian addresses less than 4 metres above sea level and within 3 km of shoreline are “vulnerable” this century. Already houses and property in Australia are being abandoned. Much of our infrastructure and many of the world’s largest cities are on the coast and huge river deltas are densely-populated farming lands. Climate scientist prof. Konrad Steffen says “A onemeter sea-level rise by 2100... will affect up to 600 million people.” And Sir Nicholas Stern says rising sea-levels will result in forced migrations: “You’d see hundreds of millions people, probably billions of people who would have to move and (probably) cause conflict… around the world (for) decades or centuries.” DAVID SPRATT

1. Climate change 2009: Faster change & more serious risks, Department of Climate Change, May 2009 2. Synthesis report: Climate change - Global risks, challenges and decisions, Copenhagen, March 2009, International Alliance of Research Universities, June 2009, 3. Vermeer and Rahmstorf, “Global sea level linked to global temperature”, PNAS, 7 December 2009 4. Climate change risks to Australia’s coast: A first pass national assessment, Department of Climate Change, April 2009 5. “Rising sea levels put us at risk”, Northern Star, 3 March 2010, 6. Velicogna, “Increasing rates of ice mass loss from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets revealed in GRACE”, GRL 36:19503 7. 8. Kwok & Rothrock, “Decline in Arctic sea ice thickness from submarine and ICESat records: 1958-2008,” GRL 36:15501 9. “The freshwater budget of the Nordic Seas”, handout_freshnor.pdf 10. Pfeffer, Harper et al, “Kinematic constraints on glacier contributions to 21st-century sea-level rise”, Science 321:1340-43 11. “Climate change melts Antarctic ice shelves: USGS”, Deborah Zabarenko, Reuters, 22 February 2010,; Coastal-Change and Glaciological Map of the Palmer Land Area, Antarctica: 1947 - 2009, US Geological Survey, http://pubs.usgs. gov/imap/i-2600-c/ 12. “Climate scientists withdraw journal claims of rising sea levels”, David Adam, Guardian, 21 February 2010, http://www. 13. Blanchon et al., “Rapid sea-level rise and reef-stepping at the close of the last interglacial highstand”, Nature 458:881-84 14. Naish, Powell et al, “Obliquity-paced Pliocene West Antarctic ice sheet oscillations”, Nature 458: 322 15. Katz and Worster, “Stability of ice-sheet grounding lines”, PRSA, 13 January 2010 16. Kerr, “Antarctic Glacier Off Its Leash”, Science 327:409 17. Climate change 2009: Faster change & more serious risks, Department of Climate Change, May 2009 18. Rohling, Grant et al., ,“Antarctic temperature and global sea level closely coupled over the past five glacial cycles”, Nature Geoscience, 21 June 2009


14 • talkclimate • March 2010 •

On 21 January, The Greens proposed a “levy on polluters” or carbon price/tax to break the Senate deadlock on climate change. The Greens are currently negotiating with the government on the plan. Over 30 local community climate groups have thrown their support behind the Greens’ plan, in a statement released in February:
Neither Kevin Rudd nor Tony Abbott’s policy can deliver a safe climate. It is time for Plan B, starting with the Greens fixed carbon price. Australia needs a new direction if we are to urgently tackle the climate crisis. Labor’s Carbon Pollution Reduction scheme is failed policy, it gives too much compensation to the big polluters and relies on overseas credits on the international carbon market to produce a reduction in emissions. It would lock in a high polluting economy. The Coalition’s policy is no better, it also hands out money to the big polluters and relies on techniques to increase soil carbon to produce most of its claimed carbon dioxide reductions. We need to increase the planet’s capacity to absorb carbon and keep coal in the ground, not one or the other. While a carbon price is only a small part of driving the necessary transformation to a zero-carbon economy, the Greens plan to set a two year carbon price could get the ball rolling on real carbon reductions in Australia. We call on all parties in the Parliament to back the Greens proposal and get moving on a transition to a safe climate. [See carbon%20price%20statement for list of signatories.]

2011, increasing to $24 from 1 July 2012, and after that escalating at CPI plus 4 per cent a year. It would be reviewed after two years but the proposed legislation would be ongoing (no sunset clause), so the levy would continue unless revoked or amended (as is the case with all legislation). Greens Senator Christine Milne said that once the interim scheme was implemented: “We can then discuss the longer term solutions Australia will need over the coming two years, secure in the knowledge that a carbon price is already in place, helping to unleash innovative and job-creating climate solutions”. [It seems The Green’s position, as reflected in their Safe Climate bills, is that a “good” emission trading scheme is better than a carbon tax, but a carbon tax is better than a “bad” ETS, such as Labor’s proposed CPRS.] The Greens say their plan would generate $5 billion to compensate households, with the same amount for renewable energy and energy efficiency. There would be no compensation for domestically-consumed production and limited exemptions (20% of emissions) for emissionsintensive, trade-exposed industries. Is a price on carbon effective in cutting emissions? A carbon price seems necessary, but not suffficient. It’s of limited use for liquid fuels/transport because there are at present few technological alternatives, and petrol prices are “inelastic”. This means a large increase in price produces only a small drop in demand. [It would require a carbon tax of around $500/tonne to double the price of petrol!] But for electricity generation, a price of $23 a tonne ramping up towards $40 in a decade is enough to make renewables (especially wind) more than competitive now, and more so with innovation. As energy consultants keep on saying, a price in this range will kill off investment in coal-fired power stations now, and drive investment instead towards renewable energy. This change will start as soon as it is understood that the price is coming: even the possibility of the CPRS with a low price held back NSW from announcing new coal-fired power stations.

National and State wide environment groups – including Australian Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace, Environment Victoria, Nature Conservation Council of NSW and Friends of the Earth – have also welcomed the plan. GetUp is looking at a campaign for a carbon levy also. What is the Greens proposal? It is for a standalone carbon levy of $23 a tonne commencing 1 July • talkclimate • March 2010 • 15

is a carbon tax our priority?

is the greens’ proposal for a carbon tax our priority?

is a carbon tax our priority?

A circuit-breaker
The current policies of the major parties in the federal Parliament are not actually intended to do anything significant about climate change. I see them both as elaborate deceptions designed specifically to baffle the public by creating the illusion of doing something; and wedging the opposite side of politics. The Greens proposal for a carbon tax is a very clever circuit breaker that allows the government to save face and initiate a transition into a more sensible policy direction. Like it or not, we need a price on carbon. One of the things the climate movement has missed in hammering home its (quite justified) opposition to the CPRS was the important disclaimer that no single policy is going to get us there. We are dealing with a completely unprecedented challenge and while many of us feel very comfortable with the evidence on the urgency of the problem, the reality is we don’t have enough detail on what particular suite of policies we need to turn around rapidly escalating climate change. We need to accept and sell the message that a suite of policies is what is needed, and by rolling out many different initiatives we will learn what works. But we haven’t got time to try them one by one. So a carbon tax is important, and it is a better choice than the CPRS. A carbon tax: • creates an incentive to reduce emissions; • is simpler and more transparent than emissions trading; • provides a reward for more long term (and higher) structural changes, while the ETS just encourages low-cost reductions; • provides a steady flow of revenue for governments to direct to lower the costs of further emission reductions (or direct investment into zero emission technologies); • provides more price certainty for business than emissions trading; • doesn’t create any issues with voluntary action so individual reductions still count; • sets no upper limit on emission reductions, unlike an ETS, which creates a ceiling (beyond which emissions will not occur) but also a floor for emissions reductions. And a tax will be more efficient economically. A 2008 study from the US Congressional Budget Office found that on economic efficiency measures, the net benefits of a tax were roughly five times that of a cap and trade (ETS), with reductions achieved at a fraction of the cost (1). But in addition to establishing the right targets and putting a price on carbon, there are many concurrent tasks, including: * developing strong regulatory standards for energy efficiency for buildings * regulation of transport emissions * restoring carbon sinks through reafforestation; * smart grids and smart meters * regulation of waste (e.g. cradle to grave obligations, and mandatory recycling) * initiatives to improve climate literacy, and so on.

Of course we must also throw in investment in education to skill people for new green jobs (and to transition from old brown ones) and invest in research (for innovation + evaluation). Certainly the great big policy package what is required, which will mean lots of different policy tools, and these may vary across sectors. We must also remove the current perverse incentives that work in opposition to these goals, particularly the $10 billion that is currently provided in subsidies to fossil fuel industries in Australia. I think the Greens proposal is nifty politics and sensible policy. The introduction of carbon price will always need to be staggered and $23 is enough to start the ball rolling and start to make existing technologies like solar thermal and wind more viable. It doesn’t allow for any offsets and it will generate much needed revenue to direct into green initiatives, which are all good things. I think it deserves support.
1. Congressional Budget Office, “Policy Options for Reducing CO2 Emissions”, February 2008. ftpdocs/89xx/doc8934/toc.htm

16 • talkclimate • March 2010 •

Aren’t we just responding to someone’s else’s agenda? Yes, the nature of politics at the moment is that we don’t set the agenda as much as we would wish (looking back at 2009, did we really set the agenda at all?), and so our attention is often drawn to organising in response to those issues that are already in the public light and being talked about regularly in parliament, the media and the community. We are more likely to be heard when we participate in a conversation that has already started. The problem comes if we simply respond on “their” terms, rather than also pushing the terms of the debate towards our territory. And there are other, less publiclyrecognised, but strategically important, issues which we seek to move to the top of the public agenda by mobilising broad support for them. The recent public agenda on climate has been dominated by Labor’s CPRS (dying, if not dead in its present form), the Nationals opposition to it and Abbot’s alternative “plan” (which will result in increased emissions), and the “circuitbreaker” proposed by The Greens of a carbon tax. Recently, climate denial, stuff-ups on green loans, energy efficiency (for the wrong reasons, thanks to Garrett), and Wong’s massacre of the RET have also gained public attention, unfortunately more so than renewables and replacing coal. But the big three — Abbott’s plan versus the CPRS, or a carbon tax — will likely be prominent in the next few months’ debate, with the parties and lobbies also launching new proposals as the election approaches. Should we intervene in this current public debate by actively supporting a carbon tax? There are three possible reasons: it’s a good idea; it is a platform to push stronger proposals; and/or building support for good Greens’ policies so that they start to win lower house seats is strategically important, because until Labor materially fears The Greens and others with stronger climate action policies, their agenda of appeasing the big polluters will not change. Won’t the tax be bastardised in negotations and end up being a dud? Of course that possibility is an occupational hazard with everything in politics,

Isn’t this still creating a carbon market? A carbon tax/price in not an ETS and it is not the CPRS. With a proper carbon tax, there is no market in pollution rights, no financial speculation on permit prices, no purchase of scam offsets (through the CDM, rainforest credits and other mechanisms) as an excuse not to cut domestic emissions, banks cannot trade in permits, there is not the disincentive to voluntary action, and it does not create a “floor” on emissions. Won’t a carbon tax increase energy prices for poorer people? Yes, but some of the revenue can be used for compensation, as is the case in The Greens’ proposal. Energy efficiency programmes can also help reduce energy costs. However we also need to recognise that coal and gas-fired electricity is cheap because its price fails to account for its pollution that is killing the planet. [Not that the pollution can simply be reduced to a monetary price!] There is a question of equity, but keeping the price abnormally low for coal-fired power is also an inter-generational equity question. Isn’t the price too low to be effective? It needs in the end to be much higher, but $23 a tonne and rising would straight away change a lot of investment decisions, especially once it was understood the price was there to stay for the long term. Under The Greens proposal, it would get to around $40 in a decade. In 1991, Sweden imposed the world’s first carbon tax at $US100 a tonne and today is one of the four most competitive economies. Aren’t there better ways to cut emissions? When all is said and done, there are only a limited number of ways to reduce emissions, principally: • pricing mechanisms, which can be a tax on carbon pollution so that these technologies become more expensive than the low-pollution alternatives; and/or subsidies (negative taxes) such as feed-in tariffs and direct subsidies for investment; • regulations which outlaw certain emissions, technologies or processes; • talkclimate • March 2010 • 17

is a carbon tax our priority?

As well, a carbon tax now can help undermine the push for carbon capture and storage, because as well as the additional 40-50% cost of this technology, CCS would not scrub all carbon dioxide from emissions, so it would be hit by a carbon tax as well. A carbon tax is not the full answer, but it doesn’t preclude the many other things that need to be done and it raises revenue that makes some other actions (direct investment, feed-in tariffs, energy efficiency) easier to fund.

and support for a carbon tax should be premised on sound foundations, which should not be compromised. But if you only support something when you are 100 per cent satisfied that you are going to get exactly the result you want before you start, you may end up doing a lot of sitting around. The effectiveness of any policy depends on the intent and motivations of the government implementing it, and that depends on the broader balances of forces in the society and how keenly governments feel the pressure and/or reflect the views of the climate movement and lobby. Ditto whether the “polluter pays” or not.

is a carbon tax our priority?

investing in innovation and scaling up alternative technologies so they they become price competitive with fossil fuels; and direct government investment in the safe, clean-energy technologies; and • encouraging behavioural change. A carbon tax does not preclude any of the other actions, and can generate revenue to support them. What about feed-in tariffs or paying people to store carbon in soils? These mechanisms also involve carbon pricing. Instead of taxing the carbon pollution, they provide a subsidy to engage in actions that reduce carbon dioxide levels (storing carbon in soil) or a subsidy to produce clean energy (feed-in tariff). Thus they are a negative carbon tax which subsidies the pollution not emitted, rather than putting a price on pollution which is emitted. But aren’t carbon markets bad? A carbon market (trading in the commodity known as carbon pollution rights or permits, such as the CPRS) is very different from putting a carbon tax. A carbon tax does not create tradeable emission permits at all, it simply prices pollution at a point in the production process. But isn’t a price on carbon a market mechanism? Yes, and a few people say they are opposed to market mechanisms (and hence using taxes to change market prices) in principle. Sure, the world would be a different place without commodity and capital markets, but that’s not the reality within which we must make big changes now. The climate system will be longpast big tipping points if we simply wait to abolish the “free market” before acting decisively. If you really thought all carbon prices were bad, then the first thing you would need to do to be consistent would be to argue that the current excise on petrol should be removed, because for all practical purposes, it is a carbon tax too. A feed-in tariff is also a market (negative tax) mechanism, and judging from the experience in Europe, it works. Corporate tax is also a market mechanism (it changes the rate of return in capital markets), but few beyond big business think it should be cut or abolished. Can’t we just regulate emissions out of existence? Some people say “there should not be a

price on carbon and it should be regulated out of existence”. But you can only progressively regulate certain technologies out of existence once there are replacement technologies and sources of energy. So how do you get the new technologies built, when their current cost is greater that the current fossil fuel systems? At the moment, the options are through price mechanisms (RETs/RECs which have prices) and using subsidies such as feed-in tariffs and/or tax concessions (also price mechanisms). If these are also out because one is opposed to pricing mechanisms, what you left with is the state directly investing and building the whole system. That’s one proposition, but in the current political climate, what’s the chances of that alone (as opposed to a suite of measures?) actually being realised in the near term? In an economy with markets and prices, the simple reality is that by making something scarce (prohibition/ regulation/rationing) tends to increase its price, whether on the black market or a legal market for the rationed good (as the experience of war rationing shows). We can’t easily get away from a relationship between the supply and demand for carbon pollution and the price on it. For example, if you use administrative measure to ration everyone to fewer litres of petrol that they presently on average use, what would happen to the black market price? It goes up! Why not campaign for total, direct government investment in renewables instead? Yes we need that as well, at a scale that isn’t on the political radar yet, but it is silly to counterpose one to the other. Saying we need an action that is off the mainstream agenda and is unlikely to be implemented at scale in the near term (massive state investment in the tens of billions of dollars annually) is no reason not to support a proposal for a carbon tax that can drive down emissions, and is on the political radar, and has a chance of being implemented relatively soon. In the end, the question is whether a carbon price helps the transition to the new economy and the new energy system, or not, and whether we can develop the political power to drive a broader agenda.


18 • talkclimate • March 2010 •

language of a clean energy economy

Should be Eliminated from your Vocabulary
People want companies to focus on greater energy efficiency and a healthier environment – not on being carbon neutral
If a company was genuinely interested in energy and environmental issues, which of the following do you MOST want them to focus on?
(Choose 2, Combined Answers)

Total 47% 41% 32% 29% 24% 12%

Greater energy efficiency A healthier environment A cleaner environment Reduced energy consumption Greater environmental stewardship Becoming carbon neutral None of them – it is a waste of time
© 2009 The Word Doctors


Regardless of Beliefs About Climate Change It’s Still the RIGHT TIME to ACT
Which of the following paragraphs about energy costs gives you the most favorable impression? Slightly higher energy costs today are worth the investment if they lead to more affordable, more efficient and cleaner energy down the road

The slides at right are extracted from a presentation by Republican pollster Frank Luntz called “The Language of a Clean Energy Economy”. While the findings are for the USA, some may have useful resonances for Australia. Here’s the backgound: “GOP pollster Frank Luntz used to be famous for advising Bush in 2002 to focus on the ‘lack of scientific certainty’ in the debate about global warming. Fast forward eight years and now he’s jumped the fence, well, sort of. He’s helping the Environmental Defense Fund help figure out how to talk to the American people about global warming in a way that makes them care about it. Luntz’s report, ‘The Language of a Clean Energy Economy’, says generally Americans do believe the environment is worsening—that the quality of our air, water and general environment is deteriorated over the last decade. Ditto for the quality of the world’s environment. Turns out Americans want action on climate change but not for the reasons they have heard over the years.’’ — “How To Sell A Climate Change Bill to Americans”, Eliene Zimmerman,, 23 January 2010

20% 57%


It doesn’t matter if there is or isn’t climate change. It is still in America’s best interest to develop new sources of energy that are clean reliable, efficient and safe

© 2009 The Word Doctors

The cost of doing nothing – of continuing to use dirty, unsafe energy – is actually far more expensive than taking smart, effective action now.

Positive Language Wins… EVERY TIME
Which of the following paragraphs about energy would most convince you that we need to do something about dirty energy NOW? Total

Imagine a future where energy in the U.S. is abundant,

affordable, and clean. Imagine feeling secure knowing that our nation can produce its own energy instead of relying on Middle Eastern oil. Imagine an economic boom that creates high-paying, permanent American jobs. We don’t have to imagine it – clean, safe energy already exists. All we have to do is use it. So let’s start. Now.


Using dirty energy – like that from coal-fired power plants

– is like eating greasy food at every meal… It works as fuel, but it’s damaging to our health in many ways. The longer we feed our economy with unhealthy energy, the sooner we’ll begin to experience the painful side-effects. Just as there are healthier ways to feed our bodies that will help ensure we live long, productive lives, so too are there healthier ways to feed our economy – and the sooner we switch to clean, durable energy the better.


We see the visible damage to the environment

because of dirty energy every day. Climate swings. Tsunamis across the globe. Hurricane Katrina right here on American soil. More children sick with asthma. Polar Ice caps melting. These aren’t assumptions. They are facts. Investing in cleaner, © 2009 The Word Doctors safer, more secure energy now will cost a few cents more a day, but if we don’t, 19 imagine the consequences.

19% • talkclimate • March 2010 • 19

it’s hard to avoid rising sea-levels

“Carbon Neutral”

it’s hard to avoid rising sea-levels

When it comes to American technology, which do you want most? (Choose 2, Combined Answers)
Total Reliable Technology Efficient Technology Green Technology Sustainable Technology Clean Technology Intelligent Technology Cutting Edge Technology Smart Technology Advanced Technology
© 2009 The Word Doctors

Opinion Elite 29% 24% 25% 33% 16% 16% 21% 17% 11% 9%

36% 31% 27% 24% 17% 16% 15% 14% 12% 9%

Ground Breaking Technology

American, American, American
Total Opinion Elite American Jobs Permanent Jobs High Paying Jobs Skilled Jobs Future-Proof Jobs Green Jobs Union Jobs High Tech Jobs 53% 41% 38% 32% 8% 6% 2% 1% 52% 39% 41% 29% 11% 6% 1% DEM 50% 45% 31% 37% 8% 10% 3% 1% GOP 61% 31% 44% 24% 10% 2% 1% 2%

© 2009 The Word Doctors


If we do it right, we get cleaner air. We get less dependence on fossil fuels and enhanced national security. We get more innovation in our economy. More jobs, and more sustainable jobs. And that’s if the scientists are wrong. If the scientists are right, we get all of those things, and begin to solve what could be the most catastrophic environmental problem that any of us have ever faced. That’s a pretty good bet to make -- because it’s a ‘No Regrets’ strategy. It doesn’t mean it’s easy. But it means if we do it, and do it right, we get all of those benefits out of this policy approach. We think that’s why it’s the right thing to do.”
© 2009 The Word Doctors 23

“It avoided dogma and didn’t try to scare us.” -Participant

20 • talkclimate • March 2010 •

language of a clean energy economy

People want technology to be Practical