Thursday, July 14, 2011

Aussie climate tax and science journalism

Science journalist Fred Pearce has a piece in the New Scientist on Australia's new carbon tax. The gist of the article is that the tax is so full of loop-holes and rebates and exclusions that it is unlikely to make a dent in what he describes as 'largest per-capita emitter of greenhouse gases in the developed world'. It's the usual New Scientist story - nasty industrialists subverting a policy that is designed to save the planet. One wouldn't expect any different from the New Scientist, which seems to prefer acting as a cheerleader for Greenpeace (and yes, there's a quote from Greenpeace in his article) than in digging any deeper or disturbing the status quo.

What is conspciuously absent from Pearce's careful analysis of Australia's CO2 budget, is what effect any of this is likely to have on global temperatures. The 'per capita' figure is a red herring, Australia's population is relatively small and globally its CO2 emissions come in at 1.32%, putting it 16th in the world rankings (as reported on wikipedia).

Even if, (and it's a huge IF), we accept that CO2 emmissions cause warming, the effect of Australia reducing its emmissions is not going to make a blind bit of difference. Or at least not that you'd be able to notice with the sort of thermometer that you or I can use. So, whether there are loopholes and get out clauses, what we have is a massive new tax, an army of bureaucrats to administer it, all kinds of pain and aggravation and for what? To ultimately make no real difference to a projected (not predicted) temperature change at some point in the distant future.

Forget the science, the question that needs to be asked by Pearce and others in the media, is simple. What are the benefits of this policy relative to the costs? Is the massive cost of making a projected difference of fractions of a degree in the future worth it? Arguing over whether these expensive and intrusive measures will reduce CO2 emmissions by x% or not is almost immaterial.

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