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81 responses to “The carbon price committee”

  1. Razor

    Meetings should be nice and quick.

    “All agreed? Adjourned.”

    PM shouldn’t need to send her Advisors too often in her place.

  2. Incurious and Unread

    Parliamentary members of the Committee will be drawn from those who are committed to tackling climate change and who acknowledge that effectively reducing carbon pollution by 2020 will require a carbon price.

    I think that this is a mistake. It is unnecessary and simply gives the Opposition ammunition to attack the government as undemocratic (or “Marxist” as Sophie Mirabella so stupidly put it on Q&A)

    What is the purpose of it?

  3. akn

    Mirabella stupidly called it a Marxist plot on Q+A because that is the best they’ve got. What a joke.

    It would be a mistake to allow on to the committee persons who disagree with the fundamental premise that there is a need for action on climate change.

  4. Incurious and Unread


    It would be a mistake to allow on to the committee persons who disagree with the fundamental premise that there is a need for action on climate change.

    The first part of the membership qualification that I quoted above (up to the word “and”) achieves this. It is the second part that I think is unnecessary.

  5. John D

    The last parliament achieved very little in terms of climate action because most of the effort went into seeking the magic bullet that was going to be “the answer to everything” in the form of some version of the seemingly simple ETS. Far more may have been achieved if the government had pursued two lines of action. Firstly, a line of action aimed to meet short term targets for the tangible action to be completed before the next election. Secondly, a line of action aimed at setting up a plan aimed at meeting longer term targets.

    We seem to be heading for the same mistake this parliament. Once again the high powered effort seems to be going to the longer term line of action with nothing much being done about doing something practical in the life of this parliament. Keep in mind that most of the problems associated with the CPRS will apply equally to a carbon tax. Also keep in mind that a carbon tax is unlikely to get through parliament before July next year and might be dropped after the next election – So, even if a carbon tax is successfully introduced, it is unlikely result in much action before the end of this term of parliament.

    Keep in mind too that the Greens are talking about an interim tax of about $20/tonne CO2. It is not clear what this will achieve apart from irritating everyone by putting up the price of power by about 2 cents/kWh. Experience with RMET suggests that a price of $40/tonne would be required to drive investment in renewables.

    By 2015 we need to be halfway to meeting our 2020 target. Given the time it takes to build and commission new power plants we would need to have the contracts signed for enough cleaner power to meet our 2015 targets by the end of this term of parliament.

    If we are going to be on target by 2015 we need to be starting serious action now, not waiting while the “we must put a price on carbon” committee dribbles on.

    Greg Hunt had the following to say about climate action the other day. He should be on a climate action committee that is not limited to putting a price on carbon.

  6. wilful

    Small attempt at framing there in the press release, it’s not a carbon tax but a carbon levy.

  7. wilful

    John D, you’ve ignored the realities of where we are with this Parliament and this electorate right now. This committee should by rights be completely unnecessary, however the fact is it is needed, so must be pursued.

    The government does have a range of other short-term programs. Unfortunately their best ones have been (politically) disastrous – pink batts “debacle”, green loans fail, etc.

    Incurious, I agree that the para you quoted was unnecessary. it’s time to shut the door on denialists, declare them irrelevant, non-serious, a joke. For that’s what they are, intellectually.

  8. TerjeP

    If we are to have a carbon tax then it should be limited to power generation and domestic transport, it should be modest (ie no more than $30 per tonne) and the revenue should be allocated entirely to tax cuts elsewhere. Anything else, including an ETS should be opposed.

    Having said that it will be a symbolic waste of time in climate terms whatever form it takes. If we were serious we would remove the ban on nuclear power and open more uranium mines.

  9. Incurious and Unread

    @John D,

    Some of Greg Hunt’s arguments are rather spurious: eg the comparison with the water market.

    However, I agree that Greg Hunt should be on the committee and that his proposals should be part of its discussions.

  10. Sam

    Even if Greg Hunt wanted to be on the Committee, Abbott wouldn’t let him. Greg Hunt has much chance of being on the committee as his brother Michael.

    Re [email protected] and complaints by the horrid Mirabella: The Liberals had a chance to deal themselves in to climate policy, but last December they chose to deal themselves out. That was their decision, and now they are on the outside looking in as the Greens get to influence climate policy. Needless to say, the deal that finally gets struck between the Government and the Greens will be well to the left of the deal that Turnbull struck but Abbott rejected.

    Let this be a lesson to the Liberal Party and their acolytes.

  11. Trevor

    It is difficult to imagine that should an LNP member have been included they would not have been given the same marching orders as Turbull. IE Destroy, Discredit, Demolish. After every meeting there would have been leaks to media concerning “Chaos, Sky Falling” etc etc.

    In fact the press releases are probably already written and there has been no meetings.

  12. Incurious and Unread


    Agreed, but so what? Does Labor think that the case for a carbon price is insufficiently robust to withstand hysterical attacks from the Coalition.

  13. Razor

    Sam @9 – you are making two heroic assumptions. First, that any deal will be done despite the furious agreement of all members of the committee. And second, that the ALP/Greens Coalition will retain power at the next election and any policies put in place won’t be revoked.

  14. Stephen

    Incurious and Unread @ #11,

    That rather assumes that Australian political debates are won according to who has the best evidence.

    I don’t think it matters too much from a PR point of view if the coalition runs the “We were excluded from the marxist process by those socialists” or “We were prevented from putting our case in the committee by the group-think nazi communists”

  15. Incurious and Unread

    Stephen @14,

    But, conversely, can you win a political debate by not having a debate?

    It frustrates me that Labor is unwilling to contest the spurious propositions put up by Greg Hunt (linked @5). If I were an uninformed bystander, I would be tempted to assume that they are not being contested because they have some “inconvenient” merit.

    I would love to see these propositions tabled in the committee and then shredded by the likes of Garnaut and Sims.

  16. Fine

    I think this committee is fantastic. Sadly, there was no point including the Coalition when you have a leader who thinks that climate change is ‘crap’. If the terms of the committee had been such that the Coalition would have joined it, all they would have done is attempt to wreck and destroy it.

    This is our opportunity to make some real changes and once a carbon price is in place people will wonder what the fuss was about.

  17. Sam

    Razor @12, repealing legislation requires a majority in the Senate. Regardless of what happens at the next election, that aint gunna happen.

    Of course, Robert is right. It’s exactly like the GST. Pre July 1 2000, the GST was going to end civilization as we knew it. Afterwards, it was a giant yawn. The Liberal Party – assuming they win the election – will make their excuses (“the business community has made investments”) and move on.

  18. Razor

    GST was a tax that was taken to an election and was offset by reductions in a range of inefficient state taxes and lowering of income tax. It is designed to give the States their own growth tax and has done that.

    A Tax on CO2/ETS whatever is a completely new tax. It will not cause any change in Australian or Global climate and any miniscule change it might make will be more than overrun by growth in developing nations use of carbon based resources. At the same time it will put Australian producers at a direct disadvantage to countries without CO2 taxes. The largest CO2 emitters are continuing to increase emmissions and there is miniscule chance of any form of effective global environmental, political or economic agreement being reached in the near future.

    This a ridiculous waste of time for Australia.

    If you really believed that CO2 emmissions are so bad and the ‘scinece is irrefutably right and disaster is unavoidable’ you would just push for an immediate ban on mining coal, oil or gas.

  19. Razor

    And as for the certainties of elections – 8 months ago the Coalition was supposed to be unelectable and the ALP was all powerful. Things aren’t looking so good for the great saviour Obiwan either, are they?

  20. Sam

    Razor, do tell, what is the electoral arithmetic that can deliver control of the Senate to the coalition at the next election?

    And no scenarios with winning-lotto type probabilities, please.

    Now, as for arguments against CO2 taxes/ETS, wrgergndzb fbsngsfjhsgnngnfgdsvvAFVbdfznfgmghxcSDwXNGHMFHX

    Sorry, I was so bored by your rehashing the old denialist arguments I fell asleep and my head hit the keyboard.

  21. Incurious and Unread

    Razor raises one interesting point. Is the carbon pricing mechanism to come out of this committee intended to be legislated in this term or “taken to an election”?

    Stephen Conroy on Q&A stated the latter, but some comments upthread seem to assume the former.

    My comments above are predicated on the latter scenario and the consequent need to inform and engage the community on carbon pricing before the next election campaign. But perhaps I have missed something.

  22. Fran Barlow

    It’s absolutely appropriate that those who don’t share the key objective of the committee — to find the best suite of mechanisms to price CO2 emissions — are excluded. Anyone who is convinced that pricing CO2 will end civilisation as we know it cannot possibly do anything but act as a wrecker.

    They will do the committee equivalent of disruptive trolling, and the first “leak” will certainly focus attention on them.

    Look at the probity the Liberals showed during the election with their claims on insulation, on their budget costings, and of course what they’ve done with RSPT and GBNT. Could we realistically expect them to do anything but lie and misrepresent the committee’s work?

    Of course not. I & U is simply naive to imagine that what would be going on would be an open and transparent debate. What the committee quite rightly, is entitled to tray to achieve is something that can get to the heart of the pros and cons of various options with as little rancour and time-wasting as possible.

    I’d not even allow Turnbull to be on it. The whole “let’s use the Climate Change issue to wedge the opposition” was largely what went wrong in 2009. The committee should be about getting a workable and adequate set of measures in place as quickly as possible so that it can be legislated in July 2011 and perhaps be in place by mid-2012 if not earlier.

    Sidenote 1: I’d want the committee to make clear. All parties support a price on carbon. The only difference is that whereas the committee believes that this price should be explicit and its impacts expressly contemplated and accounted for, the opposition believes the externalities of emissions and the various “direct action” response impacts should be obscured from public view. There policy is that the community cost of the mix should be randomised and left to fall where they may.

    That is the way to answer Abbott’s memes about the cost of carbon.

    Sidenote 2: HMV McCrann, writing for that organ went particularly troppo over Kloppers, accusing him of selling the soul of BHP Billiton and putting the company and Australia on the path to ruin, and demanded to know what use he was as CEO all over a price on CO2.

    Apparently OZ writers are now able to campaign to run businesses from the pages of the organ.

    Strange days indeed.

  23. murph the surf.

    “If they keep on getting polling suggesting the electorate wants action, they’ll probably act.”
    Hey pick an issue , any issue!The polling will lead us into the future…..
    At least it is evidnece based action of a sort.

  24. Dave McRae

    Ta Razor. I rarely read your rants but you’ve demonstrated here exactly why the committee’s entry requirements are necessary.

    There was a comment made on this blog some time ago that displayed, using a PDF to polling data, when Rudd’s polling collapsed. It was inbetween 2 points, Labor’s abandonment of climate change action till at least 2013, but before mentioning mining tax. Thus I also don’t think it’s in the ALP interests to continue to be cowards on this issue. I hope they’re getting the message too.

  25. terangeree

    I may be thick, but how can the Opposition say they were excluded from this committee when there is a standing invitation to them to participate?

  26. Fran Barlow

    Interestingly, the RSPT and the abandonment of CPRS might have been connected Dave, in just the way someone who bowls a half volley on the pads and get hit for four behind square will pitch 2 feet outside off stump and short and get cut over gully for four more.

    Rudd, it seems, was urged by the Gillard coterie to abandon ship on climate change. When he saw that this trashed his brand he went hard for RSPT, trying to look tough and reforming coming out of Henry. This allowed a new GBNT campaign to be run, potentiating both especially in the places where he was most vulnerable — QLD & WA and looked like a desperate and hasty plan to boot.

    When Bligh jumped ship on RSPT, he now had an already unpopular premier undermining him and there really was no good way out of that. He could scarcely bag her out, and she was never going to be able to cover for him.

    Wounded as he was, the press circled and suddenly “boats” were now going to be the difference between him hanging on or not. When he was dumped, Gillard felt this constituency might be make or break.

    They basically handed Abbott, a man with no material, a coherent right-wing script.

    The ALP was so battered that they completely forgot about the fact that they’d just done a huge health reform and almost forgot about NBN.

    They did however, manage to irritate some liberals over internet filtering, again in a pitch at reactionaries who were never voting for them anyway.

    They didn’t forget to cosy up to Keneally with some timely porkbarrelling either. Gosh that was clever.

    Had they not dumped on climate change, all the rest would not have been needed.

    So really, the abandonment of climate change as a serious concern was the key to his demise as PM and the subsequently shambolic election campaign.

  27. Peter Wood

    Oakeshott said not long after the election that we should go back to the Garnaut Review, so I am optimistic about his support.

  28. Dr_Tad

    The committee hinges on carbon pricing, and that is the problem here.

    The Greens could well come to rue their participation, but it is driven by their MPs’ (and many party members’) reflex commitment to a market-based solution to climate change.

    The biggest danger is that they will get a “carbon price”, even a better one than the ALP would want. Because after that it is very likely that the climate crisis will continue as before because a carbon price is relatively ineffective and the costs are merely passed onto working class consumers.

    It is not at all certain (except in neoliberal theory, and look how well that works) that a rise in prices related to carbon will necessarily cause decreased consumption of those most-taxed products, as they may instead cause people to constrain other consumption to make up for the increased cost in essentials (petrol, transport, etc). If there are no alternatives at hand there may be no impact at all.

    And the Australian state’s lack of interest in direct investment in renewables (which the Greens largely share) means that we will depend on spontaneous interest in these industries by the private sector to create alternatives. So far that has been a losing strategy.

  29. Dr_Tad

    Nice to see it will deliberate in secret too, so the public can’t be privy to the discussion that arrives at a particular result. A big contrast with Hawke’s economic summits that prosecuted the argument for Canberra’s economic rationalist turn.

    Talk about “taking the people with you”. Shows you how weak the players think their position is.

  30. silkworm

    A carbon tax provides a revenue stream. One of the tasks of the committee should be to determine where this revenue should be spent: either at renewables development, at compensation for the poor, or possibly even at reducing the GST.

  31. Dr_Tad

    Robert @34, there are many examples of price elasticity around limited aspects of our carbon-based global economy that simply cannot be transposed to a putative tax or ETS. I have little doubt that both systems will have some effect, but they will fall short of the transformative claims being made for them (implicitly or explicitly).

    I am also familiar with price elasticity arguments in public health that come true, all other things being equal. But all other things are not equal here.

    We are talking about the carbon at the very centre of global capitalist functioning, and the scale of the retooling and the timeframe available to us are not conducive to a market approach.

    Worse, there is an implicit agreement that consumers will really have to bear the burden because we are too terrified to challenge the power of the massive capitalist concerns that profit from fuels, transport, construction, etc. Yet a fundamental decoupling of production from carbon-based energy sources is what we need to really address the problem. That will affect those highly profitable and very powerful interests.

    Whether we do it within capitalism or have to transcend it (and I don’t rule out the former), there’s no tax or permit system that will make that happen. Only states can play that role through direct intervention.

  32. Fran Barlow

    And it works in other areas too. Increasing the price of cigarettes by $1 per packet decreases consumption amongst the bottom three deciles by about 2.6% – a lot less in the top 3 deciles obviously. Alcohol taxation works in a similar way.

    Price rises affect discretionary purchases because by definition, price is relatively inelastic.

    The effect of CO2 pricing is likely to be weaker though because in all probability the consumers are going to have significant refunds and because in the absence of good alternative sources within the price point, people simply have to pay the higher price when all lifestyle changes that are viable have been exhausted.

    That’s why, IMO, the compensation for those towards the bottom half of the income scale should be relatively illiquid — given in social services that they have inadequate access to and that can be delivered in ways that are low footprint. Sustainable housing comes straight to mind as ticking both boxes. It’s non-discretionary, the energy services are bundled and many who would qualify for the highest support on fair means tests are tenants and in no position to change the footprint of their housing. With the right housing in the right place they can radically reduce car reliance, and these measures improve both relative equity and quality of life. In a sense, the community bulk buys good things at a discount on behalf of the disadvantaged out of both the welfare budget and the carbon revenue.

    The relative illiquid nature of this choice also means that you don’t get the kinds of unintended and unwanted consequences that cash compensation would inevitably produce.

  33. Razor

    @ 29 – because only Opposition members with acceptable views are allowed on the committee – dissenting voices are not allowed.

  34. Fran Barlow

    Robert said:

    The change to low-carbon transport will be a little bit more noticeable, but by 2020 electric cars are going to be good enough for most people most of the time.

    Fair comment, especially if we reconfigure cities so that not as many unscheduled vehicle miles are required. Public transport, bikes, & walking should be viable first choices, most of the time.

    Trucks and ships are a bit more difficult, but also solvable;

    Refrigerated vans are tough, but again, biodiesel from WVO or algae, or maybe biogas from ADs running at sewage treatment or putrescible waste dumps.

    plane travel will be the toughest but in the long term there are several plausible solutions (including hydrogen, biofuels, and atmospheric carbon capture to deal with the problem post-hoc).

    I agree. The aircraft could be configured to deliver tiny amounts of SO2 into the stratosphere, following Paul Crutzen’s suggestion too. I am thinking we should do that anyway. The clock is ticking and I don’t see us making the deadline to protect the permafrost.

    Beyond that, the remaining challenge is probably methane emissions from ruminant animals. Eating less beef and lamb is likely to be a more profound change than anything else, assuming we don’t find an alternative solution.

    Indeed, though as I’ve said a number of times, the methods used by Joel Salatin of the Grass farmer movement sound very interesting, and if we ate a lot less beef, these would be viable.

    If we ate a lot less meat, then the number of miles driven by refrigerated vans could radically decline and since that is an area of difficulty, that is a good thing. We’d also need less refrigerated space in supermarkets and homes.

    I’ve long wondered as I’ve browsed Dick Smith why literally dozens of plasma TVs need to be on at the same time, and given how much they warm the shop, how much AC is run to keep the shop at a temperature ideal for shopping. A serious price on CO2 might encourage a more frugal approach by stores — Just one sample TV out of every five on show, perhaps rotated on 30 second intervals?

  35. Fran Barlow

    PS I’d like to see the large bulk carriers have nuclear powered engines. That would put a pretty big dent in the combustion of some of the dirtiest oil.

    Perhaps they could feed power to the grid in ports!

  36. Fran Barlow

    Robert said:

    In any case, Fran, the point is that capitalism doesn’t really have an innate preference for emitting carbon, it has an innate preference for making money.

    Or, more specifically, protecting the trade value of assets. Since some of this is the relative value of fossil fuels created by the ability to dump industrial waste from the extraction of chemical energy for free, then those parts of capitalism sharing in that benefit like it a lot. They are profiting from an externality (embezzling the commons really).

    CO2 pricing subverts this embezzlement by putting something approaching the community cost on the dumpers and making those sources that entail less dumping more competitive, ceteris paribus. Of course, in those circumstances where the extraction of chemical energy from FF would make relative sense even if the beneficiaries bore the full externality (i.e. internalised it) then FF will continue to that extent to be used.

    That’s one of the main strengths of the system. It tends to predispose usage to cluster close to the point of equilibrium in the market. Providing one gets the community cost right, and we have good real time compliance and auditing, then the business of relieving the community of free riders is simplified.

    Getting that community cost right is easier said than done of course, because the full impact of CO2 emissions is hard to quantify, and because there are other coextensive community impositions associated with resort to fossil fuels.

  37. quokka


    We are talking about the carbon at the very centre of global capitalist functioning, and the scale of the retooling and the timeframe available to us are not conducive to a market approach.

    Yup. Most importantly, there is no real evidence of a market approach doing the trick – anywhere. In Europe, carbon trading has had at most a trivial effect on emissions.

    There is however a state driven approach that has delivered essentially carbon free electricity and that is the case of nuclear energy in France.

  38. Sam

    capitalism doesn’t really have an innate preference for emitting carbon

    That’s not what they say over at Green Left Weekly.

  39. Salient Green

    Dr Tad, I think most of the Greens making policy realise that this is all just baby steps. You seem to be ahead of the pack here, and no prizes for that unfortunately, so you must know that a carbon price will be more of a tool to enlighten the ignorant masses, a gentle grabbing by the ear and holding the evidence in their faces, as to what an enormous task is ahead of us.

    Capitalism and Growth are the enemy of Sustainability.

    Sustainability is the enemy of our current way of life.

    The end of our current way of life will entail much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but we must become sustainable.

  40. John D

    I am only a dumb engineer so to me it seems to me that the average increase in the price of electricity has to be higher if you drive investment by increasing the price of dirty electricity instead of using a system that leaves the price of dirty electricity unchanged and only pays the higher price for the cleaner electricity. To put it another way it is smarter to put a price on clean instead of putting a price on dirty (carbon.)
    While Abbott is opposition leader the government will probably get away with putting a price on carbon because Abbott has no credibility on climate action. However, Abbott is looking less and less like a long term leader. The combination of Greg Hunt and a leader who supports serious, direct climate action could be quite threatening.

    On the issue of cars I would agree that there will be a SMALL reduction in car related emissions if the price of fuel were increased. However, it makes a lot more sense to leave the price of fuel unchanged and use an MRET style offset trading system to control the average fuel consumption of new cars. There are plenty of low cost cars that consume less than 50% of average fuel consumption so there is scope for dramatic reductions without the collateral damage caused by increasing fuel prices.

  41. Dr_Tad

    @ Robert Merkel

    The point is that capitalism doesn’t really have an innate preference for emitting carbon, it has an innate preference for making money. In the long term, a low-carbon world doesn’t represent any particular barrier to making money.

    Unlike what the people at Green Left Weekly apparently believe, I think capitalism’s historic relationship with carbon is contingent. But unscrambling the egg and breaking that symbiosis is not as simple as you are making out.

    Talking about “in the long term” misses the political problem of the pain of transition, especially for certain sections of the capitalist class.

    Some of the biggest economic players on the planet, like Toyota, are intimately tied to long-term investments in industries that are based on fossil fuel production and/or use. The idea that decades worth of valuable plant and equipment, not to mention access to vital resources, will be abandoned by them to search for apparently more profitable outlets for their funds gives too much ground to the fantasy of footloose, weightless capital. Furthermore, the development of things like oil extraction and private transportation routes (esp. roads) has depended on tight relationships between even the most internationalised corporations and specific states.

    Obviously derivatives (like carbon credits) can be traded across continents in the blink of an eye, but commodities require transport across spatial dimensions and chains of distribution to exist for their successful sale. And when it comes to productive capital there is even more tied up geographically.

    “Making money” may be capital’s preference, but in the real world most capitalists can’t and won’t just pull up stumps in the way you suggest. They will look at their options in cold dollar terms, use market leverage to maintain their advantage and wield political influence to get states to delay what is portrayed as inevitable change. Meanwhile the clock will tick and the climate tipping point will get ever closer (if it hasn’t already been passed).

    Restructuring is a painful process involving deeply vested interests and the potential to hurt plenty of ordinary people as capital tries to push the cost onto workers. That’s what happened in the Hawke-Keating era and the recessions that bookended it, resulting in a massive shift of wealth upwards as Australian capitalism tried to restore faltering profitability. And the reforms then were about capital’s direct profit interests, not an environmental crisis.

    The challenge of building a movement that can overcome these roadblocks is where the Left should be focusing, IMHO. Demanding state intervention in the common good is a much better starting point than looking to a market fix. The latter is a dead end because it leaves those who have caused the problem in the strongest possible position to sabotage solutions. We on the Left shouldn’t be selling such snake oil to ordinary people who want to see real action on climate… the capitalist class already has plenty of ideologues to do that for them.

  42. Brian

    Tony Windsor made it clear to Kerry O’Brien that he had no preconceptions about a carbon price. What he’s looking for is a substantial review of all the options.

    It sounds as though this might take most of 2011. I doubt that implementing something in 2012 would be a problem for Labor. Probably an advantage.

    Abbott can keep bleating about Gillard changing her promise, but she’s always said that something needs to be done about CC and has in fact always said there needs to be a price on carbon. She’s also said that not controlling the numbers means you have to consider the views of other actors in the game. The Committee was part of the agreement with the Greens where both have agreed to look again at the positions they took into the election.

  43. Brian

    Laura Tingle on LNL thinks Abbott may have dealt himself out of the game with Kloppers coming in behind the need for action on climate change.

    She also thinks the NBN train has left the station and may well have critical mass by the time of the next election.

  44. Kim

    @Dr_Tad – I think you’re mostly right but surely it’s a matter of what can be achieved.

  45. Dr_Tad

    Kim @52 – My frustration, I guess, is that social democrats used to argue for serious (reformist) state action on issues of national concern. Now I find many of them rejecting what states could do in favour of giving the capitalist class its preferred neoliberal formula.

    And when catastrophic climate change eventuates what will we say to people then? “Oh, we didn’t think much more was achievable at the time, so we didn’t push a stronger case”? They won’t be listening to us by then.

  46. harleymc

    The Rudd ETS model was a sham with too many sectors firewalled. The carbon tax/levy ia a small step in the right direction, there will be additional incentives for energy efficiency.

    The combination of an all sectors ETS and a carbon tax will create new industries and new systems of land management.
    At $20/tonne CO2 I know I can break even on carbon sequestration. At $30/tonne CO2 I’d be rakeing it in with biodiversity increases, lots of employment opportunities and drops in Local Government rates.
    What I need is the certainty of the base rate and an all sectors ETS to be formally in place to go and get that bank loan. I can’t be the only person who has this modelled.

  47. Dr_Tad

    Robert @ 54. Three things:

    (1) I’ll repeat: I think capitalism’s addiction to carbon-emitting is contingent, but I don’t think it’s peripheral. There is a reason that oil and auto companies are some of the biggest in the world in terms of value, which is a much more important measure than numbers of workers employed directly by them. To expect them to restructure swiftly, to abandon long-nurtured and expensive investments, is pie-in-the-sky. The US could “technically” shift to renewables very quickly. Instead it wages wars in no small part to maintain control over access to geopolitically vital oil supplies.

    (2) Politically I argue for state intervention because it is a much more reliable approach to doing what needs to be done. The Zero Carbon Australia report can be carried out by a government in a timely and orderly fashion. Leaving those tasks to indirect market signals is bound to cause delay, inefficiency and partial battles every step of the way, with no guarantee of positive private investment. Direct state intervention is also more able to predictably ensure that working people don’t end up being the people to pay the “bribe” to the capitalists who have most to lose.

    (3) The most important thing is that like you, I recognise there will be major resistance to action on the part of those narrow but powerful interests. I strongly believe that unless we mobilise an extra-parliamentary movement to force the state to act, there is little guarantee that action will occur in time. I think it is a sign of preemptive despair and defeat if we expect that movement to fight for indirect, unpredictable and easily subverted mechanisms that favour the elite who got us in this mess.

    I fear your approach starts by raising the white flag in the first instance. That’s where we really disagree, I think.

  48. John D

    RM @48: To some extent my support for “putting a price on clean” is the poor politics associated with higher than necessary price increases that result from the putting a price on dirty (carbon) approach. Would you seriously want to be a political leader arguing for a higher than necessary price increase by saying:

    Trust me I am a politician. Most of the difference between the higher price increase required by my scheme will be returned as compensation after we pay administration costs

    Sorry but you haven’t got my vote.

    Abbot would probably have won if he had run hard with a direct action plan that supported his emission reduction target. Seems a bit risky to be betting your political career on Tony lasting till the next election.

  49. John D

    Brian @50: I think you are right when you say:

    Tony Windsor made it clear to Kerry O’Brien that he had no preconceptions about a carbon price. What he’s looking for is a substantial review of all the options.

    It sounds as though this might take most of 2011. I doubt that implementing something in 2012 would be a problem for Labor. Probably an advantage.

    Deferring any action on carbon pricing until/if a consensus builds up in support makes good political sense. However, the drop in the polls every time Labor weakened its climate action stance suggests that it doesn’t make good political sense to defer serious climate action.

    Greg Hun’t piece in the Australian started by saying that

    IF the Coalition had formed government, we would be negotiating with Hazelwood and Yallourn power stations about converting from brown coal to gas.

    Hazelwood would have yielded 12 million tonnes of annual emissions savings and Yallourn about 10 million tonnes.

    There is no guarantee either company would have bid into the Coalition’s abatement purchasing scheme or that they would have been successful in offering the lowest cost abatement, but they are the tangible symbols of direct action that could begin immediately under the abatement purchasing market proposed by the Coalition.

    We can expect the coalition to hammer the “if we had been elected serious action would have been started by now” message between now and the next election. We can speculate about whether Tony would have allowed anything serious to happen but direct action and a focus on replacing coal fired with gas lends itself to rapid action.

    Labor needs to push a parallel climate action plan while the put a price on carbon committee rambles towards its conclusion.

  50. Brian

    John D @ 58, I’m thinking that Labor would be well-advised to implement something substantial coming out of the committee process in 2012 and go to the election with it bedded down.

    By that time, of course, we may have Turnbull back as leader of the Libs.

  51. Fran Barlow

    Dr_Tad wrote as follows:

    I fear your approach starts by raising the white flag in the first instance. That’s where we really disagree, I think.

    Really this discussion is a contemporary analog of the old debates that socialists used to have between those who saw themselves as the Maximalists and the Minimalists. The Maximalists used to harangue the Minimalists as selling out and abandoning positions too cheaply. The Minimalists would respond that progress was to be had by manoeuvering with the capitalist class.

    Which was correct? Sadly, both were correct, and neither. There is no absolutely reliable way that one can draw a fixed line for all times and places and declare one side of it principled and the other treasonable, one side of it outlandish and counterproductive and the other practicable.

    In the end, those who stand for human progress need to make a judgement about which ends are worthy, attainable and can become the basis for further advance and those which sell humanity too short. That in turn entails a judgement about the human and material resources one has or can contrive, the coherence and of one’s own coalition and of the resources and coherence of those arrayed against you.

    Those of us who argue a materialist view of history set great store by features of human social organisation that derive from factors that stand above human consciousness. Marx would speak of the conflict between the forces and relations of production. When the relations of production became a constraint of the development of the productive forces, the basis for new relations of production existed, and old ways of doing things would be cast aside, and a new humanity would be authored.

    Very neat. If so however, one might well wonder why one would need revolutionaries at all. Indeed, one might wonder why human social organisation didn’t advance everywhere at much the same rate.

    The problem of course was, as it is now, the question of human agency — the subjective element in history. We humans are not merely the flotsam and jetsam of the conflict between the forces and relations of production. We are both authored by them and their authors. Not merely progress and retreat is possible.

    The boss classes rule, not merely because they control the disposition of productive assets, but because the working people do not as a whole, see any way in which to collaborate effectively to appropriate production to their needs and the boss classes, whatever their conflicts, have sufficient common interest to regulate their rivalry through the agencies of the state and its coercive mechanisms.

    If we wish to challenge the boss classes of the world from the standpoint of the interests of working humanity, then we must find ways to disrupt the unity of the boss classes, and increase the political coherence of working humanity. Above all we must engage working humanity in the kind of learning that strips from the boss classes their apparent standing as the only possible form of rulership over production. There’s simply no evading that task.

    Roughly 100 years ago, Bernstein (for us serious leftists, the archetype of all revisionist sell outs) declared: the movement is everything. The goal, nothing The position, extravagantly expressed, was a blank cheque for the complete dissolution of socialist activity into whatever was going on at the time. The ALP could well use it today, if they were interested in socialist history.

    As wrong as he was, he did have the kernel of a point. To put the working people and their allies together in a common struggle is an indispensable condition for success. Not a sufficient condition, but a necessary one.

    A sufficient condition of course is to articulate a maintainable program for equitable governance on a world scale that this movement accepts. Yet we are a very long way from even approaching the first of these conditions.

    It’s in this light that we can revisit the question of compromise. It is very clear that all policies short of the abolition the wage labour system and the achievement of ubiquitous satisfaction of all human want, the dissolution of the state and complete human freedom (i.e. communism) are a compromise.

    Rational folks ask themselves: if this is simply impossible, what then?

    That is where we all stand. We note that in the long run, we are all dead, and in the short run, we all have needs and ask ourselves what is possible, now, tomorrow, and for the remainder of our lives.

    We strive not merely to serve working humanity in the long run but working humans in the short run. We want to know how to achieve as much equity and empowerment now as we can without foreclosing more equity and empowerment later.

    That is a judgement call. Yet it is clear to me that given that we who side consciously with working people are (if we flatter ourselves) but a tiny minority and the working people are, by and large, in political thrall to one or other of the servants of the boss classes of the world, that we ought to be very focused on the hard grind of weakening the boss classes, of staying their pernicious acts of commission and omission if necessary by manoeuvering the state and sections of the bosses against each other, in the process allowing the workers to see the system and its arrangements as they really stand.

    No movement that is not a bona fide expression of the interests of a politically empowered and engaged working humanity can hope to step into the breach created by the failures of the market system and devise a set of inclusive governance arrangements with the coherence needed to reconfigure the productive forces efficiently to the service of all of us.

    So it is not a case of “running up the white flag”. Every strike that is settled this side of socialism involves the workers returning to be exploited and the bosses continuing to exploit. In some cases, the workers lose and to avoid catastrophe must surrender as this is the lesser evil. This has happened often. The truth, bitter as it is, remains that the boss classes are in charge and the working humanity currently has very little to say about it. If we cannot find a way to stop the boss classes from destroying the biosphere, barbarism beckons.

    It is the case that the bulk of working people believe that the market system, in some form, is inevitable. Those three words are key. For the foreseeable future, they are absolutely right, because we have no means to sweep it aside without a catastrophe ensuing.

    Yet what does it mean in practice to say the market system will survive in some form? Surely that “form” must serve equity? That is something every rational person can agree on. Surely it must not allow destruction of the commons? Again, all rational people can agree with that. And if it is indeed the case that the market system is the most efficient and effective allocator or public goods, as so many from the boss classes assert, then what better mechanism for resolving an obvious market failure could there be than a market solution? Are we not bound to openly test this hypothesis, and allow the working people of the planet to test the claim themselves?

    We may well say that the market system is imperfect, but it would be better for working people to discover the quality, kind and extend of these in practice than to be lectured on the matter by us. To propose a market solution is not at all to raise the white flag. It is to challenge the boss class to defend its claim to rule, by meeting standards that working people accept. We concede no ground we hold this way, but if we are certain that we are right, then only the rule of the boss classes can be weakened by this response.

  52. John D

    Brian: I agree that the government needs to have something substantial bedded down before the next election. However, to me “something substantial” means sufficient contracts signed and regulations passed (and actually reducing emissions.)

    After at least 5 years in power, Labor will need to go into the election with a record of achievement – Not just another set of promises based on an agreement to put a price on carbon.

    There is no guarantee that both the reps and the senate would not support legislation on direct action sponsored by the opposition. No guarantee either that Turnbull would risk supporting an ETS or carbon tax if he regained the leadership.

  53. Brian

    John D, it seems that power producers need certainty about the price of carbon by about 2012 at the latest to ensure we have enough in 2015-16.

    If Labor gets this sorted and has plans in place so that they are on track to deliver whatever the new targets for 2020 will be, I think that will be sufficient politically.

  54. John D

    Brian: What potential investors need more certainty about is the market for their product and the price they will receive after any new government taxes and charges. The price of carbon only becomes relevant if it is to be used as the basis of new taxes or charges.

    Existing power producers need to know to what extent coal fired power is going to be forced out of the market. (Affects both maintenance and upgrade decisions as well as a companies ability to raise credit.)

    At the moment it is not clear:
    1. Whether additional coal fired capacity is to be approved in line with Labors policy going into the election?
    2. What the attitude to the gas fired power transition will be?
    3. What is going to happen to the MRET scheme/credits will be?
    4. How companies who have committed on the basis of the MRET scheme or other schemes such as the Qld gas scheme will stand if a carbon tax or ETS is introduced?
    5. What is going to happen to the solar PV schemes?

    Most of these questions could be answered fairly easily before decisions are made re putting a price on carbon are made.

  55. Dr_Tad

    Fran @60

    I’m not arguing against “partial” reforms. I’m arguing that the market approach will be (a) ineffective in the face of the climate challenge we face, (b) hand more power to the class which has caused this problem, and (c) will be regressive to the rest of the population.

    That is, I am arguing that the approach you advocate is premised on the idea that “there is no alternative” to market solutions. It’s a Thatcherite approach and not a Bernsteinian one.

    On your final claim that there is a hypothesis we must test on the rational kernel of markets I can only shake my head in perplexity. Either you think markets can be rational or you don’t, Fran. But the only real-world market experiment that has been going on for the last few centuries is the one we’re living in. Surely there’s been enough eating to find the proof in that pudding by now.

  56. Fran Barlow

    Dr_Tad said:

    I’m not arguing against “partial” reforms. I’m arguing that the market approach will be (a) ineffective in the face of the climate challenge we face, (b) hand more power to the class which has caused this problem, and (c) will be regressive to the rest of the population.

    Whatever one may make of the above, I note the absence of a key claim: that it is within the power of advocates of CO2 emissions abatement to force a non-market solution on timelines that would be effective in meeting the challenge. Accordingly, even if one could show that all three of the above were so, the question would be moot.

    Although Marxism and more broadly, the politics of class struggle exists within an ethical paradigm, it’s also very clear that a part of the paradigm goes to what is possible, given the conjuncture. Advocacy of forms of organisation that cannot exist serves no practical purpose, however ethically appealing they may otherwise seem.

    Marx notes for example in his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy that:

    No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the tasks itself arises only when the material conditions of its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.

    One may well wonder why, given the glaring flaws in the operation of markets that Dr_Tad rightly draws attention to why market based systems persist. It was often asserted by orthodox Marxists that 1914 saw the end of the capacity for the capitalist system to build the productive forces, but history showed that this was not so. Market systems will persist or collapse not merely because people come to find them unethical or refuted intellectually, but when they cannot deliver outcomes most regard as essential with the result that new forms of social organisation arise. There is here a dialog between human agency and the material.

    As Marx puts this dialog in The German Ideology

    The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends first of all on the nature of the actual means of subsistence they find in existence and have to reproduce. This mode of production must not be considered simply as being the production of the physical existence of the individuals. Rather it is a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite form of expressing their life, a definite mode of life on their part. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, both with what they produce and with how they produce. The nature of individuals thus depends on the material conditions determining their production.

    Dr_Tad’s account above seems to beckon a more idealist view of changes in social organisation — one based merely on showing that markets have been already shown wanting. That is neither enough nor sufficiently widespread, for if it were, we would already have seen on a very large scale the growth of a rival system of social arrangements and an attached political movement. We have not.

    As long as material scarcity and therewith class society, the wage labour system etc. prevail, markets will persist at least in some form. Attempts to force the pace and to break them up, perhaps using coercive and quasi-coercive instruments of capitalist states seem utterly counter-intuitive, for in the end, like those rising skeletal creatures in Jason & The Argonauts they will simply reconstitute and reassert themselves — and that assumes of course that one could wield the states in such ways, which again, seems utterly improbable.

    One need not take a view on whether markets are “rational” or not. Outside of the struggle to improve productivity and to settle the burdens and benefits of social labour equitably, reason applied to social organisation can either have no meaning or is quasi-metaphysical. Markets exist and we cannot yet sweep them aside, in decisive part because the people we take as the starting point for our advocacy have found no alternative to meeting their needs. Our pedagogy — and as minority political activists committed to equity that is what we must be doing — needs to engage and equip working people with the skills and insight they need to meet their needs on a world scale as efficiently as possible, and on that material and cultural basis, if that is optimal, sweep markets aside.

    We need not choose between declarations as sweeping as “market forces are irrational” or “market forces are the way forward”. We do need to work with the human material we have in ways that are plausible to restrain the presenting problems of market failure, and on that basis urge humanity towards rational social arrangements.

  57. Fran Barlow

    Mods: please close ital after the title: Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.

    TIA …

  58. Dr_Tad

    Fran, to describe the current state of affairs (class society, markets, etc) as underpinned by “material scarcity” is, to be as polite as I can, bizarre. Isn’t one of the key problems of emissions that rich nations are producing and consuming too much?

    You seem to be reading backwards from the parlous state of Left politics (e.g. the willingness of so many to accept uncritically neoclassical approaches to climate and other issues) to some mechanical view of how the structure of society will permit nothing better.

    I don’t even know where to start with your idiosyncratic reading of Marx. When he wrote those things he was convinced that the advanced capitalist economies had already developed their productive forces enough to make transcending class and market relations a possibility — one that could only be realised through revolutionary politics. You’ve turned him into the opposite, a champion of fatalistic acceptance of the status quo. Weird.

  59. John D

    Fran: I have worked for a number of successful organizations ranging in size from BHP down one organization that had only 7 of us. Externally, all of them ultimately depended on understanding their markets/strategic environments and responding appropriately.

    Internally, market forces were rarely use to drive the organization. The methods used, the levels at which decisions were made and the extent to which things were driven by “company culture”/accepted approach varied considerably. Companies that got the balance wrong or adopted approaches based on “we have always done it this way” were often heading for trouble.

    The point I am making is that successful organizations were adaptable and open to new approaches. There was no equivalent to the “markets are the answer” or “we must put a price on carbon.”

    It is the same with climate action. Simple answers to everything are no substitute for taking the effort to understand the nature of particular sources of emissions and then considering a number of the alternatives for dealing with this particular source.

  60. Brian

    Fran, John Quiggin did an opinion piece in this week’s AFR entitled Dead ideas still walking” in which he said that governments remain strangely in thrall to the discredited efficient-markets theory. ‘Tis true that he is talking about financial markets specifically and about the Bligh Government’s privatisation of public assets, but I can’t see why his comments do not apply more generally.

    Certainly markets fail. My worry is that we don’t have time for a poorly-constructed ETS to fail.

    My own preference for regulation is based on ethical considerations. If emitting CO2 is a crime against the planet then regulate against it rather than making sin less profitable than virtue by constructing a skewed market.

    That said and given that we can’t regulate that coal-fired power, for example, cease immediately, there is some advantage in a penalty on undesirable behaviour and the encouragement of virtue.

    So I’m attracted to a small but growing direct tax on coal-fired power in order to produce funds to subsidise conversion to gas and renewables, if that is found in a strategic planning exercise to be a desirable way of effecting transition to a low-emission economy.

  61. Fran Barlow

    Foreshadows detailed response to Dr_Tad later …


    My worry is that we don’t have time for a poorly-constructed ETS to fail.

    Let’s unpack that. The “we” you adduce seems to refer to that part of humanity in Australia, when, properly, it’s humanity as a whole who can’t afford to fail. What we advocate here must be something that the rest of the world can adopt as a model (with perhaps some local innovation). Here, the arguments against an ETS point to the EU failure, so what we need is a success here. The EU scheme was, very much like Rudd’s CPRS, a scheme designed primarily to be “better than nothing” while being hardly anything. It was always going to be a damp squib, though that said, it probably did very slightly curb emissions — just not nearly enough. It was the equivalent of facing a megafire with a garden hose.

    What we don’t have any use for is a prolonged argument that opens the door to the kind of dissembling we hear from the Abbottistas — advocacy of schemes that are not transparent, will never be implemented and yet which sound like something will be done “direct action”; “soil carbon [magic]”; “CC&S” etc. This offers no exemplar to the rest of the planet and signals our own lack of intent.

    You surely know Brian that there is a limited pool of funds to do mitigation. Regulation is going to be fragile and expensive. The political challenges of regulation are going to include a torrent of abuse from the right that will make RSPT seem like an exercise in group hugging. How often will we hear of “sovereign risk”? Do you really believe either party at both state and federal level will wear this?

    I’m attracted to a small but growing direct tax on coal-fired power in order to produce funds to subsidise conversion to gas and renewables, if that is found in a strategic planning exercise to be a desirable way of effecting transition to a low-emission economy.

    I’m for bypassing the parties and kicking at the support base for filth-friendly policies. We need a wedge and IMO that wedge is tradeable credits in mitigation. Sure let’s have an interim and escalating tax impost (and remove tax and other state incentives at the same time) on pollution, but let us frame that in a way that drives businesses to demand an ETS, to hammer any party that resists and to have a bunfight within their own ranks about any attempt to water down their value.

    That is what is needed.

  62. Dr_Tad

    Fran & Brian, slightly off track but…

    Just back from seeing John Quiggin speak at Festival of Dangerous Ideas. Shame such a sensible & moderate critique of neoliberalism gets called a “dangerous” idea these days.

    In his book he leaves one thing hanging which I think is the next logical step of his critique…

    One possible interpretation, a pessimistic one, is that business cycles are so deeply embedded in the logic of market economics, and perhaps of all modern economies, that they cannot be tamed.

    He leaves it unexplored, but when I chatted with him afterwards about where Marx fits in his views he admitted that Marx was a pioneer of understanding economic instability. I’m not sure how engaged he has been with Marx, however. Some other comments he made suggest that Marx’s work is not really an area he’s explored, yet it seems that the GFC and Great Recession force us to take more fundamental economic critiques seriously, and this is what Quiggin is groping towards.

  63. John D

    Fran: You say:

    What we don’t have any use for is a prolonged argument that opens the door to the kind of dissembling we hear from the Abbottistas — advocacy of schemes that are not transparent, will never be implemented and yet which sound like something will be done.

    In my book this is a very good take on emission trading, putting a price on carbon and international emission credits. And they all sound so simple yet turn out to be so complex while getting the enthusiastic support of those who see another opportunity to make big profits from speculation games.

    In the meantime, we will stuff around for another three years trying to come up with the answer to everything when it is obvious that a serious cleaning up of power generation has to be part of any credible plan to meet the Labor/coalition emission targets. Is it too much to ask that we get on with it while others waffle on about grand schemes?

    Brian: We can regulate to block the construction and capacity upgrades to coal fired power. (Except in very special circumstances.) We can regulate to ensure that the output of cleaner sources of electricity is used in preference to coal fired power. So we are not entirely powerless.

    The government can also set up contracts for the supply of cleaner electricity – and set up these contracts before the next election if they give it some priority.

    It is interesting to note here how Obama is using his executive powers to make real progress despite the Senate blocking an ETS. There are some lessons here for Labor about getting things done.

    My current thinking is that we should be arguing for the “two cent power plan.” Set up as many contracts for the supply of clean electricity without increasing the average price of electricity by more than two cents/kWh. The figures I have seen suggest that almost all coal fired could be replaced by 2015 using a mix of combined cycle gas turbines. An increase in power costs of two cents/kWh would raise the John D domestic power bill by 20 cents/day.

  64. The Lorax

    Will Hansen’s Fee and Dividend idea be on the table?

    Governments must place a uniform rising price on carbon, collected at the fossil fuel source – the mine or port of entry. The fee should be given to the public in toto, as a uniform dividend, payroll tax deduction, or both.

  65. Brian

    The “we” you adduce seems to refer to that part of humanity in Australia, when, properly, it’s humanity as a whole who can’t afford to fail.

    Fran, this thread is about the ‘carbon price committee’. By ‘we’ I mean we here in Oz. What we need to do, IMHO, is make a decent start on getting net emissions down to zero by 2030. What I’m suggesting is what I see as the most direct and uncomplicated means available. The politics in doing it is is another matter.

    I don’t agree in principle that what we do in Oz must be something the rest of the world can adopt. Each polity should do whatever works in their circumstances.

    Fran, Garnaut, Stern and others keep telling us that mitigation should not cost an arm and a leg. My notion of a modest but annually increasing tax would, along with ceasing subsidies on fossil fuel-based power production, yield a pool of funds to enable collective action.

    John D, I don’t pretend to understand how the power generation system works, but my impression, post privatisation and competition, is that capitalists build new power stations as they see the market requires and in order to make a buck. Structurally the system would seem to be biassed in favour of consumers using more power, not less. Hence the ‘cap’ part of cap and trade.

    My modest proposal of ruling out new CO2 producing power means they could continue to produce as much power as they can convince us to use, as long as it is genuinely clean.

  66. Brian

    Dr_Tad, I followed your links and found that regulation is quite popular on the whole.

    I was also interested in your tale of two little red books. It’s my impression that there was more interest in political economy 10 years ago, when we were all concerned about globalisation, economic rationalism and the Third Way.

  67. Brian

    The Lorax, from your link:

    Science also reveals what is needed to stabilize atmospheric composition and climate. Geophysical data on the carbon amounts in oil, gas and coal show that the problem is solvable, if we phase out global coal emissions within 20 years and prohibit emissions from unconventional fossil fuels such as tar sands and oil shale. Such constraints on fossil fuels would cause carbon dioxide emissions to decline 60 percent by mid-century, or even more if policies make it uneconomic to go after every last drop of oil. Improved forestry and agricultural practices could then bring atmospheric carbon dioxide back to 350 ppm (parts per million) or less, as required for a stable climate. (Emphasis added)

    Then this:

    Hillary Clinton recently signed an agreement with Canada for a pipeline to carry tar sands oil to the United States.

  68. Fran Barlow


    What I’m suggesting is what I see as the most direct and uncomplicated means available. The politics in doing it is is another matter.

    It’s certainly direct and uncomplicated. Whether it would be most cost-effective, speedy and flexible is another matter entirely. Certainly, one cannot neglect the politics involved because that is where the metaphoric rubber hits the equally metaphoric road. Even if one could get agreement on the regulatory fiat approach, it would always be hostage to processes that would bring it into disrepute. While I certainly don’t endorse the hysterical rightwing disinformation campaign around BER, home insulation, stimulus etc can we assume that this would not follow any ALP designed scheme?

    I doubt it. How much of the funds would go into ‘cash for clunkers’ style programs? Quite a bit one supposes.

    I don’t agree in principle that what we do in Oz must be something the rest of the world can adopt. Each polity should do whatever works in their circumstances.

    “Must” is too strong, because plainly, there will be elements that will be driven substantially by local particularity here and elsewhere, but having a broad model that is widely applicable — a kind of turn key solution — is surely appealing.

    Garnaut, Stern and others keep telling us that mitigation should not cost an arm and a leg.

    They have to say that, and while I daresay that most people are keen to hang onto their limbs while fighting climate change, we ought not to be timorous. It costs what it costs.

    I don’t agree that it need cost the proverbial arm and a leg of course, but we ought not to open the door to the question: can we afford it? That way lies all manner of tricks and traps” “balancing the economy with the environment” and so forth. Without the biosphere in rather better condition than it is now, the door is wide open to an entirely foreseeable series of major setbacks in human wellbeing, or worse. We must find a way of affording adequate mitigation and remediation on appropriate timelines and that’s that. A ruined biosphere means ruined humanity. In such a context, worrying about 1-2% or even 10% of GDP accretion over 40 years is utterly moot.

    My notion of a modest but annually increasing tax would, along with ceasing subsidies on fossil fuel-based power production, yield a pool of funds to enable collective action.

    What I have advocated, at least as an interim measure, is not all that different, but I would really like each mitigation and remediation program costed in comprehensible terms. e.g this measure abates CO2 at $43 per tonne; this sequesters atmospheric CO2 at $62 per tonne-year; this geoengineering measure forecloses radiative forcing equivalent to $29 per tonne of abatement etc … If John D’s proposed measures can fit into that, then fine.

    And I’d like us to stay within the budget for the overall deemed price of CO2, or if that is not possible, then raise the deemed price or admit that we really are moving away from effective mitigation and remediation.

    That is one reason why a cap and trade system (providing the modelling, compliance, auditing and reporting measures are robust) is so appealing. It wedges the holders of auctioned certificates against putative free riders, doing some of our politics for us and it gets people thinking about the problem in a global sense.

  69. Brian

    I doubt it. How much of the funds would go into ‘cash for clunkers’ style programs? Quite a bit one supposes.

    Why do you suppose? Not one red cent, I would say. Worst policy evah! What’s the point?

    It costs what it costs. Couldn’t agree more, but it doesn’t need to cost more than it costs.

    I’ll leave the rest, because I don’t want at the fag end of this thread to repeat what I’ve said before.

    What I may not have said is that I’m interested in sectoral international solutions that might include a price on carbon and carbon import tariffs. Garnaut actually suggests this. In aluminium production, for example, so that investments don’t migrate to where there are no controls on emissions.

  70. The Lorax

    Is your comment supposed to cheer me up Brian? I’m well aware of the two-faced nature of politicians, all politicians, on this issue. e.g. State Labor Premiers will happily announce solar feed in tariffs one day, and new coal port infrastructure the next.

    I happen to like Hansen’s idea because its simple and I reckon its salable to the electorate. Its pretty easy for the mug punter to calculate their quarterly carbon dividend as well: take the total carbon tax collected and divide by 22 million. So when Abbott launches his fear campaign about higher electricity prices, the government can say “But look how much you’ll get back!”.

  71. Fran Barlow

    Dr_Tad said:

    Fran, to describe the current state of affairs (class society, markets, etc) as underpinned by “material scarcity” is, to be as polite as I can, bizarre. Isn’t one of the key problems of emissions that rich nations are producing and consuming too much?

    I find it stunning that someone who claims familiarity with Marxism could make such a claim. Material scarcity is not refuted by “rich nations producing and consuming too much”. Material scarcity in Marxism, refers simply to the fact that the forces of production are insufficiently developed to abolish the distinction between mental and manual labour, the compulsion to sell one’s labour power, and the persistence of the wage labour system in general. Material scarcity, drives the conflict between the forces and relations of production I quoted above. Its antithesis, material abundance marks and enables the beginning of classless and stateless societies (communism).

    On scarcity Marx, for example, notes:

    Just as the savage must wrestle with nature, in order to satisfy his wants, in order to maintain his life and reproduce it, so civilised man has to do it, and he must do it in all forms of society and under all possible modes of production. With his development the realm of natural necessity expands, because his wants increase; but at the same time the forces of production increase, by which these wants are satisfied. The freedom in this field cannot consist of anything else but of the fact that socialised man, the associated producers, regulate their interchange with nature rationally, bring it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by some blind power; that they accomplish their task with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most adequate to their human nature and most worthy of it. But it always remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human power, which is its own end, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can flourish only upon that realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working day is its fundamental premise…. In fact, the realm of freedom does not commence until the point is passed where labour under the compulsion of necessity and of external utility is required. In the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of material production in the strict meaning of the term Capital III,

    I don’t even know where to start with your idiosyncratic reading of Marx. When he wrote those things he was convinced that the advanced capitalist economies had already developed their productive forces enough to make transcending class and market relations a possibility

    This is simply wrong. Firstly, “when he wrote these things” was between 1845 and 1859. i.e one of these things predated the failure of 1848 and both predated German Unification and the Paris Commune. Marx never asserted that classless society was possible in the near term. He claimed that in the advanced countries, the workers had the political resources and integrity to cease being merely a class in itself, and to become a class for itself. It was a call to arms, to commence hostilities, rather than an assertion that on the morrow of victory, classless society was likely or possible. One can see that in the fairly modest demands made by the First International.

    You’ve turned him {Marx: FB} into the opposite, a champion of fatalistic acceptance of the status quo.

    Hardly. He was a revolutionary, but at no stage did he specify the line of struggle that those who followed him should pursue in empowering the world’s proletarians. He would surely have expected us to examine the concrete aggregations of power attaching to the deployment of labour power and to take this as the starting point for our revolutionary analyses.

    No good purpose, Dr_Tad, is served by nodding at how matters should be unless you can specify a vehicle for getting us there. At the moment, we must reconfigure, reconstitute and build the human resources needed to give both voice and force to the claims of the working people of the planet, and we must adopt those slogans and goals that seem most fit for that purpose. Those slogans and goals are necessarily, in the main, defensive, not because of “the parlous state of Left politics”, but because the defeats the working people have suffered over the last 86 years or so have subverted the capacity of working people to articulate a coherent and maintainable response to the world’s boss classes. The parlous state of Left politics is a consequence of these defeats, not a cause.

    And right now, boss class rule threatens to drag all of working humanity and its allies into an abyss which may well render discussion even of this type entirely moot. This we leftists cannot allow.

  72. Dr_Tad


    (1) There is a distinction between scarcity created by social relations and that caused by the insufficient development of productive forces. The passage you quote from Capital is about how communist social organisation allows the former problem to be solved, but says nothing about the latter issue.

    (2) In a draft of 1848’s Communist Manifesto Marx & Engels explicitly address this:

    It is obvious that hitherto the productive forces had not yet been so far developed that enough could be produced for all or to make private property a fetter, a barrier to these productive forces. Now, however, when the development of large-scale industry has, firstly, created capital and productive forces on a scale hitherto unheard of and the means are available to increase these productive forces in a short time to an infinite extent; when, secondly, these productive forces are concentrated in the hands of a few bourgeois whilst the great mass of the people are more and more becoming proletarians, and their condition more wretched and unendurable in the same measure in which the riches of the bourgeois increase; when, thirdly, these powerful productive forces that can easily be increased have so enormously outgrown private property and the bourgeois that at every moment they provoke the most violent disturbances in the social order — only now has the abolition of private property become not only possible but even absolutely necessary. [Collected Works, Vol 6]

    You may disagree with his assessment but you should not use Marx as an authority on “material scarcity” caused by underdeveloped forces of production in the way you do. It is clear that he saw capitalist social relations as a fetter on the development of the productive forces and not the underdevelopment of the productive forces as a block on the possibility of alternative social relations.

    (3) I have not been making my critique of markets because of an “idealist” conception of social change. The defeats of the workers’ movement are real enough, but they have been political defeats, leading to passive acceptance of arguments that “there is no alternative” to markets. If significant groups of workers mount resistance in the face of elite efforts to shift the burden of the Great Recession onto them (as we are seeing in Greece, France & Spain already), the question of what arguments the Left puts to take that struggle forward matters. A lot.

    The demands being articulated in those struggles are necessarily “defensive”, at least for now, but they provide a substantive challenge to market logic.

    What advantage is there then — when it comes to climate or any other issue — in surrendering to market logic? You talk of wedging the “boss class” by using market mechanisms, but it is hard to see anything different in your arguments to those peddled by the neoliberal advocates of climate action.