SEE a story in the Fairfax press about the coming Low Carbon Economy and experience warns to brace yourself. Here it comes, you think, another exercise in opacity by some kid crusader who will be burying the grim news in a compote of clichés, determined dissembling and incoherent writing. That has certainly been Adam Morton’s schtick in the Phage, which on Saturday allowed its environmental editor to heave a weary sigh and help his newspaper’s remaining readers see through the “smoke and mirrors” of the ecosphere’s enemies. The result in that instance was a streak of incontinent advocacy that dribbled down the page and pooled in a pair of final paragraphs astonishing for their evasions:
…each Chinese is responsible for about one-fifth of the emissions of each Australian. Australia continues to have the highest per capita emissions of any major developed nation.
For a fellow who, earlier in his column, sniggered at sceptics for not comparing “apples with apples”, such immediate recourse to the per-capita sleight of hand might strike some as rather brazen. Are a billion closely packed and mostly poor Chinese the best yardstick for judging 21 million thinly smeared and rather wealthy Australians? Morton seems to think so, or at least hopes he can persuade you to do so.
Despite this, China is acting. This week it again signalled it would pilot an emissions trading scheme, expected to expand nationally in 2015. And estimates suggest it is on track to meet its UN target of a 40-45 per cent cut in emissions intensity by 2020. At some point soon after that it is going to have to do much more, but government bureaucrats have said its 2020 target equates to Australia cutting emissions by 25 per cent by 2020, far more than either major party supports.
Catch the trick? Spot the artifice? China is “on track” to a “40-45 per cent cut”, but not in actual emissions, just “emissions intensity”. Morton neglects to explain what this might be, so take it from a Bunyip: China will be burning lots and lots more coal, much of it dug up in Australia, but its next generation of ravenous power plants will make the combustion process far more efficient. In other words, more of the wicked gas that keeps Morton tossing and turning of a night between his organic cotton sheets. That’s emissions intensity, folks, and it has no closer relationship with reducing CO2 than the Phage does with clear and honest English.
All of which means there could be angry words if Morton encounters colleague David Potts over a cup of fair trade coffee in the Phage cafeteria. For perhaps the first time in the newspaper’s coverage of the Gillard Gouge, a Fairfax journalist goes with facts and hard numbers. The whole piece is worth reading, but these quotes are its nuggets:
* It's a permit to pollute - just like getting a licence to drive - for a fee. Who calls that a tax?
* It's a funny tax where a government hands back more than it raises
* Gas and electricity utilities ''may have to bear some additional costs in the near term but longer term there should, ultimately, be full pass through [to consumers]''
* The Housing Industry Association estimates a carbon price will add an average $5500 to the cost of a house.
* [Food] prices will rise but, hey, what was that diet you were thinking about?
* Winners would have to be companies that can sell carbon credits and all this puts a new perspective on those dodgy, I mean tax-dodging, June 30 tree-plantation schemes.
* [for investors] green chip stocks … need to be well run [companies] with strong balance sheets, a proven technology and not continually calling for more capital … Unfortunately, most green chips fall foul on at least one of these.
* the biggest problem is that the carbon price needs to [almost triple to] $60 a tonne before it is profitable for electricity generators to switch from coal to gas and renewable energy.
* The carbon price will rise by the inflation rate plus 2.5 per cent a year … Treasury's guess is $131 a tonne in today's prices.
* over time "it might slow the rate of increase" is the most the prime minister is promising.
* China and India buy most of our coal, so any pollution created is for them to fix.
* as some products and services become dearer the budget-conscious among us will switch to something cheaper.
Apart from ruining his chances of landing a job at the ABC as Fairfax goes under, Potts can expect much grief when he applies for one of those Fit & Proper Person permits which Christine Milne is so keen to introduce.
Morton’s application should sail straight through.