Ridiculous propaganda from John Howard
The Federal government has been forced, through sheer weight of evidence, scientific opinion and public awareness, to finally acknowledge the reality of climate change. Problem solved? Well not quite. In their efforts to attack Labor they have been making absurd claims about our options for dealing with global warming.
For example, consider this quote from the Prime Minister’s press release:
The emissions trading plan released by the Labor states and territories would impose significant costs on the Australian economy and have zero impact on global emissions and climate change.
This is not just a one-off error. Federal Liberal MP and Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment Greg Hunt is claiming that short term ‘inelasticity’ of petrol consumption with respect to price somehow equates to a general (including long term) inelasticity, while at the same time claiming that many people would not be able to purchase fuel if the price went up.
For starters, it is impossible to impose significant costs on the economy (in any way) without impacting emissions. Furthermore, Howard’s comments are not just an extreme ‘exaggeration’ of an otherwise well-informed view. It is the opposite of what economists are saying. That is, that carbon trading or taxation is the most effective way to deal with climate change, and that significant reductions in emissions can be achieved at only a small cost to the economy – in fact the cost is far less than the direct costs associated with allowing climate change to continue.
Greg Hunt’s comments are equally misleading. If petrol prices rise overnight people won’t rush out and by a new car or bicycle, they won’t move house so they live closer to work and they won’t go and buy insulation for their roof. But it will affect the next car they purchase and the next house they rent. So his observation of no short-term reduction in petrol consumption during price hikes cannot be generalised to the long term. Furthermore, by highlighting the fact that increased prices will hit people in the hip pocket he is acknowledging that it will affect consumption (at the same time as claiming that it won’t). Electricity accounts for roughly half of our greenhouse emissions, while transport only accounts for less than 20%. A lot of that electricity is used by industry, which will respond very quickly to price changes. Some sectors of the economy will not be affected by the price hike and it will simply be absorbed into prices with little change in consumption. However, this cannot be generalised and many sectors of the economy will find ways to operate without emitting so much CO2. Greg Hunt also tries to pass off Australia's greenhouse emissions as insignificant, when in fact we are the highest per person emitters in the world.
Clearly, Howard’s claim flies in the face of common sense. I find it extremely unlikely that he actually believes the claim of zero impact on emissions, or that he simply failed to read his own (very important) press release. As prime minister, many people look to him and his party for guidance on this issue. Have they adopted a policy of deliberately misleading the public on one of the most important issues facing the country? Why would they do this, and more importantly, are the Australian people so gullible that this will work?