11 october 2011

Australia Gets a Price on Carbon Despite Toxic Anti-Science Campaign

by Graham Readfearn, Desmogblog, October 11, 2011

THEY paid millions of dollars for adverts on television, in newspapers and online. They flew in climate change deniers from across the globe. They held rallies, engaged prominent right-wing media personalities, threatened scientists and turned the cold non-partisan findings of peer-reviewed science into some kind of blood sport.

But despite what was surely the dirtiest and most dishonest campaign ever waged before the Australian public, from next July major industrial emitters of greenhouse gases (about 500 of them) will have to pay $23 for every tonne of their pollution under laws passed earlier today.

The torrent of self-interest, archaic so-called "free-market" ideology and unmitigated greenhouse gas pollution, will give way to modest payments for the right to continue to pollute, while placing billions into funds to finance clean energy projects.

Away from the propaganda, the bare facts read like this. The laws now pass to the Senate for a vote in early November.

The previous Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation also got this far but was voted down twice in 2009 before it was deferred permanently by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

This time though, the Greens who helped forge the bills which make up the Clean Energy Future package hold the balance of power in the upper house. Barring something extraordinary, which noone - not even the Opposition - is able to envisage, the laws will pass.

From 1 July 2012, Australia's largest emitters of greenhouse gas emissions will have to pay a fixed price of $23 per tonne of pollution produced here. The price will rise to $25.40 per tonne in 2014/15. From 1 July 2015, an emissions trading scheme will be introduced where the government releases a fixed number of permits which major emitters will need to purchase through auctions. In the early stages, major industries will be given permits for free, but the assistance gets scaled back. The number of permits released by the government will be capped to enable Australia to cut its emissions by five per cent by 2020, based on 2000 levels.

Despite Prime Minister Julie Gillard promising in the run up to the 2010 Federal election that she wouldn't introduce a price on carbon under "any government I lead", a hung parliament left her no choice. The Greens and independents demanded the carbon price be put back on the agenda, in return for a deal that would keep Gillard in power.

Labor and the Greens say the carbon price will open the floodgates for investment in renewable energy. Renewable energy advocates Beyond Zero Emissions have claimed that unless the price gets close to $100 per tonne, then Australia will merely shift from brining coal to another fossil fuel - gas.

And while Australia acts on emissions produced on its own territory, it continues to cement its position as the world's biggest exporter of coal.

But what of that anti-tax campaign? The one which failed?

Earlier today, Greens Senator Christine Milne told me

This has been an appalling campaign of dishonesty with deliberate misinformation both on the science and on the economics - even to the extent of what is happening on climate change around the rest of the world. It has been highly personal. It is the same suite of interests that have undermined action on climate change for years - they moved on from cigarettes and tobacco to climate change.Essentially this year's campaign had two aims. The first was to claim the tax would be a jobs destroyer and raise the cost of living to unmanageable levels - claims which didn't bear up to scrutiny. The second, was to undermine the science of climate change.

In June, the Association of Mining and Exploration Companies revealed it had helped to pay for British climate change sceptic to fly to Australia for a tour, starting with a speech at their annual conference. But before Lord Monckton arrived, he was in hot water after it was revealed on The Drum that he had compared Australia's former climate change policy advisor Professor Ross Garnaut to a Nazi - displaying a large swastika next to a quote from Professor Garnaut.

Also supporting Lord Monckton was Hancock Prospecting chairman and mining magnate Gina Rinehart, Australia's richest person, who paid for him to give a lecture at Notre Dame University near Perth.

As reported in Crikey, Rinehart also sprung prominent climate change sceptic, mining entrepreneur and geology professor Ian Plimer on an audience at a lunch at her own home, which included WA Premier Colin Barnett and the Chinese Ambassador.

Then in July, the Australian Coal Association and the Minerals Council of Australia joined with other industry groups to form the launch a campaign against the tax. Reports suggested the group was willing to spend at least $10 million on the campaign (we won't know how much was spent, until the Australian Electoral Commission publishes its annual figures on political expenditure, which for the current financial year won't be until February 2013).

In July and August, the "free-market" think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs, a proud long-time advocate for climate change denial, also started running full-page adverts in The Australian.

The IPA also organised an Australia-wide tour for Czech Republic President Vaclav Klaus, who told audiences human-caused climate change was a "dangerous faith" rather than an issue backed by every major science academy in the world.

Former UK finance minister Lord Nigel Lawson, now chairman of the climate sceptic "think-tank" the Global Warming Policy Foundation (which, like the IPA, refuses to disclose its funders) was flown out to speak.

All the while, climate change scientists continued to receive abusive and threatening emails designed to get them to withdraw from the public space - a campaign which they have endured for several years. One young researcher had excrement smeared on her car, another researcher was sent a message suggesting the sender would be happy to introduce her children to the local paedophile.

Many rallies were organised, where Prime Minister Julie Gillard was depicted on placards as a witch and where crowds chanted "ditch the bitch". Opposition politicians lent their support and spoke at the rallies, including Liberal leader Tony Abbott, Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella, Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce and Liberal Semator Eric Abetz.

There was also the "convoy of no confidence" which promised thousands of vehicles would descend on Canberra but, in the end, delivered a couple of hundred, prompting Labor Minister Anthony Albanese to re-title the rally the "convoy of no consequence".

In return for asking Alan Jones if he was being paid to appear at one rally, Sydney Morning Herald journalist Jacqueline Maley was publicly intimidated. When ABC Radio National journalist Wendy Carlisle attended one rally to hear Lord Monckton speak, she was physically jostled. Lord Monckton even threatened to sue the ABC because many of its presenters had asked him questions he didn't like, at one point calling the organisation's chairman Maurice Newman a "shrimp-like wet little individual".

There were fightbacks, with community advocacy group Get Up! running their own adverts and organising rallies and a group of environmental charities getting behind a "Say Yes" campaign.

The final push from the deniers of human-caused climate change went totally unnoticed. On September 29, president of The Climate Sceptics Party Leon Ashby sent an email to his supporters, indicating they had joined with seven other anti-carbon tax groups in a letter writing campaign to MPs.

The attachment with the email contained a template letter and one page of instructions to supporters. The template's author was Malcolm Roberts, the project leader for the Galileo Movement, whose patron is radio shock-jock Alan Jones with an advisory panel which includes News Ltd columnist Andrew Bolt and a swathe of climate sceptics including Lord Christopher Monckton.

"Help Make Two Weeks of Thunder", screamed the letter. Recipients were asked to change the wording because "politicians disregard form letters". Letter writers should "cc" copies of their letters to media personalities. Roberts told them these personalities should be The Australian newspaper's editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell, Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones, 2SM radio presenters Carter Edwards and Grant Goldman and, finally, resources and energy minister Martin Ferguson, who the letter claimed was "strongly sceptical" on the tax. A first letter encouraged supporters to target Minister Simon Crean while a second communication encouraged supporters to target MPs in marginal Labor seats.

But as it turned out, the thunderous campaigning failed to deliver a lightning strike to bring down the legislation, which passed earlier today by 74 votes to 72.

Hours before the laws were passed, Tony Abbott - whose Coalition is well ahead in the polls - managed to turn his anti-carbon tax rhetoric up to 11 on ABC radio by pledging to repeal the laws.

"This is a pledge in blood: this tax will go. We can get rid of it, we will get rid of it, we must get rid of it."

To be continued?

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