Climate Change Honesty Needed 

This letter is to Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has a dubious and inconsistent record on climate change beliefs, policies, and action. His government is taking Australia along an unprecedented path of retreat from carbon pricing and reversal of climate change law. This letter seeks answers - WHY?

 

The Hon. Tony Abbott MP                                                                             20 June 2014
Prime Minister                                                                                             
Parliament House
Canberra  ACT  2600


Dear Prime Minister

When my forebears emigrated from Prussia and arrived in Port Adelaide in 1865, they were immediately sent 140 miles north to commence farming. They were a part of the wave of immigrant European farmers desperately sought by colonial governments in South Australia and Victoria at that time to establish an agricultural economy.

This new economy was founded on a policy of widespread land clearance. Nothing was sacred, all vegetation (well, most of it) had to go … and it did. No thought was given to the ecosystems that had survived for hundreds of thousands of years. My forebears, and all like them, knew nothing about the damage they were doing when, as with all the farming fraternity of their day, their hard work resulted in environmental imbalance, the destruction of ecosystems, and the beginning of degradation of natural resources that today has reached a zenith.

The legacy of all this persists today. It has been extensively documented in South Australia in a number of reports, the most recent being "State of the Environment 2013", "Prospering in a Changing Climate:  A Climate Change Adaptation Framework", and "No Species Loss". It is similar in other states of Australia.

One of the impacts of native vegetation clearance was the release over a relatively short period, of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when the cleared vegetation was burnt. A consequence was, and still is, the removal of oxygen-producing and carbon-sequestering living matter. 

CO2 that has been released into the planetary atmosphere has had an enduring global impact. 

Should we condemn the actions of those who fractured a fragile landscape all in the name of economic progress? Should we condemn the decisions of those 19th century governments? No. That time is long past. They did not have the knowledge of science, natural law, ecology, and the environment, before they set out on their ventures to conquer the environment and to establish an economy.

This example illustrates the impacts of intentional environmental change and unwitting damage. 


IT IS A DIFFERENT STORY TODAY

It is a very different. Today, there is substantial knowledge in earth and climate sciences, the environment, natural resources, and the economy - sufficient to make considered decisions for national and global good. 

There is a large body of evidence about future climate scenarios if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their present trajectory. 

The great concern therefore, is that your government has not articulated a case why this knowledge should be ignored … to Australia's peril.
By your government ignoring scientific knowledge on climate change, demonstrates complicity in intentional environmental change and intentional harm and damage to humans and ecosystems.
If individual humans were to do intentional environmental harm, they would be prosecuted with the full weight of the law. 

Why should governments, your government, be any different from individuals?

So, here is a question.

Why have you and your government ignored the findings of the IPCC Report 5 (and previous reports), that to limit dangerous climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions will need to be reduced by 40% to 70% by 2050?


"LIES" AND MORE UNTRUTHS

"I've repeatedly said that the carbon tax is a bad tax based on a lie but it's increasingly obvious that it's a stupid tax that will never work." (Your speech to Australian Industry Group, 20 April 2012 - sourced from the Liberal Party website).

Prime Minister, what is that "lie" you referred to? Was it climate change?

When people understand that there has never, ever, been a "carbon tax" in Australia, then they will show their scorn. A carbon tax has never been law in this country. The "carbon tax" term was invented by your government (when in Opposition), but it is an untruth. Is this the real lie?

It is a carbon pricing mechanism, not a carbon tax, that is enshrined in law (the Clean Energy Act). It is a mechanism that targets the big emitters, that transfers to an emissions trading scheme, and that is in step with many of the rest of the world's economies, particularly Australia's trading patners.

When people are given the full facts, many may come to understand that to refer to the "carbon pricing mechanism" as a carbon tax is deceitful. Nowhere in the Act is "carbon tax" mentioned. To then seek to repeal that same Act and call it a "Carbon Tax Repeal Bill" is wrong. Indeed, it could be argued that your government has proposed a bill to repeal nothing.

So my next question is - on what basis has your government decided to repeal a "carbon tax" that does not exist?


The next untruth is the repetitive statement about the cost to individual households - $550. It is still being peddled by you and your government today. It is wrong, and I suspect you know it. You still mention it (almost daily) in Parliamentary Question Time. You have said it so often that others, particularly those in the gullible media, now believe it.

So, allow me to put you straight.

You well know that the Carbon Pricing Mechanism was to fold into an Emissions Trading Scheme from July 1, 2015. The floating price, not $25.40 per tonne CO2 equivalent as your government's figures (and that $550) are based on, will apply. The current carbon price is US$7.70 per tonne CO2-e (about AU$8.40 per tonne CO2-e).
Your figure was outdated a year ago. That $550 figure is simply not true. It is deceitful to continue to use it.
Check ABC's Fact Check for an honest appraisal. You will find that the average annual household cost attributed to the carbon pricing mechanism would be about $134 - a tiny amount compared with what your government's other budgetary measures will cost the community. I'll come to these later.

Will you publicly correct (in parliament) your continuing incorrect assertion of the cost of $550 of the carbon pricing mechanism on households?


Your government's proposal in the Emissions Reduction Fund to hand out grants from the public purse to high carbon emitters to clean up their operations is a tax on the public. I say that this is your government's Carbon Tax.

The purpose of the original carbon pricing mechanism is to impose a cost on the 300 or so businesses that emit more than 25,000 tonnes of the three main greenhouse gases - CO2, methane, nitrous oxide. This is not a tax, but a cost on pollution and an incentive for these businesses to reduce their emissions in the interests of national and global climate change responsibilities!  And in the interests of Australia being a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol. 

This is precisely what President Obama is now planning for coal-fired power stations in the US, to reduce their emissions by 30%!

But now, your government's proposed Emissions Reduction Fund is to give such businesses a subsidy paid by the taxpayer. This is wrong, inequitable, and unethical.

I'll put some further perspective on this matter.

When emissions from Australia's annual coal exports are added to annual national greenhouse gas emissions (neglecting agricultural emissions), the result is not 563 million tonnes CO2 equivalent as documented in your government's Emissions Reduction Fund green paper, but 1,400 million tonnes CO2 equivalent (based on Australia's 2013-14 coal exports). Remember, CO2 is not confined to national borders.

Australia can not have it both ways. It can not contribute to a global environmental problem and not be a participant in alleviating it. The actions of the government have compromised its standing as a good global citizen. 
Australia is deriving a huge economic benefit - or at least the coal and gas miners are - from supplying a product (coal and to a lesser extent, gas) that is causing global harm. But your government is unwilling to cost the harmful emissions that result.   

Australia also does not bring to account the global emissions that are produced from the export of LNG (actually methane gas, and conveniently labelled "natural gas") - that's another 51 million tonnes CO2.

By abandoning a carbon pricing mechanism that encourages behavioural change, introduces cleaner technology, supports new investment, and adds to economic growth, merely sends a signal that Australia "is not open for business", just open for dirty business. It is incredulous that you, with your economics qualification, are unable to see the long-term economic opportunities in cost-effective market mechanisms such as the carbon pricing mechanism, that opens up Australia for new business.


What is your comment on this?

What is totally incongruous to me is that you and some, not all, in your government are prepared to place a tax on businesses to support a spurious paid parental leave scheme, for limited social benefit, but you are prepared to not place a price on environmental harm (quite possibly caused by many of these same businesses) that will result in massive social change, human dislocation, increased heat-related deaths, and substantial hits on the economy. 

If you understand what the impacts will be from climate change, then logic says that the ultimate social good will be obtained not from a paid parental leave scheme, but from an economy-wide transition to clean energy and substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Given that your proposed paid parental leave scheme would have limited social benefit, why do you not support a carbon pricing mechanism that would have far greater social, environmental, and economic benefits?

Now, there might be a logical case to support new parents in an equitable and affordable way, but I have deep concerns about your government's logic for the paid parental leave scheme.

Why does your government support a tax on business for a scheme that ostensibly encourages population growth and the rise of the next generation, but your government is not prepared to take appropriate action to ensure that that generation is protected as far as possible about the greatest problem (climate change) that they will need to confront?

I do not understand your logic, so I would appreciate your answer to this question.


And then there is the very low level of dialogue with the populace of a very big problem - i.e. all the impacts that climate change will bring … health issues, heat-related deaths, increasing wild fires, more heat waves, declining rainfall in agricultural areas, impacts on agricultural production, impacts on the economy, potential future extinctions, impacts on biodiversity, impacts on national security … and the list goes on. I'll come to several of these matters later.

My great concern is that I have yet to observe any scientific, coherent, and logical explanation from you and any in your government, which supports the abandonment of a carbon pricing mechanism in favour of the discredited Direct Action Plan. 


It was disappointing to hear you say during your recent international tour that the government's proposed $2.55 billion to be expended on direct action over 4 years equates to $40 billion expenditure in the US. 
This is stretching the truth beyond rational limits.  It is nonsense. Even Ambassador Beazley made this statement, thus declaring his lack of knowledge of the truth. 

Your government's recent budget for 2014-15 has slashed this funding to $1.14 billion over 4 years (an average of just $285m annually). That is a very significant retreat from your policy position, and is a broken promise. The government is NOT accounting for the real CO2 emissions (1,400 million tonnes annually) attributed to domestic emissions and coal exports combined.

And the promise of an additional one million roof-top solar systems has been abandoned, along with all the other programs and systems that have been shut down. A litany of broken promises.
Direct Action will not work, and I think you and your government knows it.

On what basis can you compare $1.14 billion over 4 years with $40 billion in the US?

Given that your government has a target of 5% CO2 emissions reduction by 2020 (based on year 2000 emissions), what evidence has your government used to frame its climate change policies? And what about beyond 2020? What is planned then?


You have stated that you are a "conservationist" (it's on the Liberal Party website). Genuine conservationists do not ;

  • disband the long-running, innovative, and successful Landcare program
  • abandon funding to local community environmental programs
  • slash the Biodiversity Fund
  • terminate the Office of Water Science research programs
  • reduce funding to the Australian Institute for Marine Science
  • abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA)
  • cut hundreds of jobs at CSIRO
  • campaign to wind back World Heritage listing of 170,000 ha of Tasmanian forests
  • defund all international environment programs
  • scrap the Home Energy Saver Scheme
  • abolish funding support to environment groups
  • dismantle the world-leading marine protection system
  • overturn the "critically endangered" listing of vitally important parts of the Murray Darling Basin
  • approve more mega coal mines such as Clive Palmer's in the Galilee Basin
  • approve the largest coal port in the world in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area
  • abandon Australia's emissions reduction targets of 25% reduction and stick to a weak 5% reduction 
  • deny the link between climate change and more severe bush fires (scientific research has proved the link)
  • abolish the Climate Commission

And so much more …

Prime Minister, you surely can not be serious in calling yourself a conservationist.


Please allow me an attempt now to appeal to the conservationist you that there are deeply serious global issues that MUST be confronted from this day on, to avert the consequences of climate change. I will not go into detail what these are; they are readily available for anyone to read online.

By the way, I have been following the greenhouse effect and climate change science for 30 years (about the time Barry Jones first raised it in Parliament), so I hope that I can reveal myself as being reasonably informed. 


JUST 3 MINUTES

Prime Minister, if I were allowed just three minutes of your time, this is what I would give you, and I would ask that you read it as a matter of urgency.

Assessing  "Dangerous Climate Change": Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature (December 2013). 

This is a paper by James Hansen (Earth Institute, Columbia University, New York) and 17 other climate scientists, that encapsulates the enormous risks to humanity and every economy in the world if there is not a drastic retreat from the exploitation of fossil minerals. 

Access and download the report by searching the report title online. It is in the public domain.

If all you do is read the final four pages commencing with "Economic Implications: Need for a Carbon Fee", followed by "Fairness: Intergenerational Justice and Human Rights", and concluding with "Discussion", you will then have the essence of the enormous challenge confronting nations around the world. 

This paper is what should inform climate change policies, not just economic paradigms. If you are unable to read the paper, please alert your daughters to it so that they can download and read it. They will be affected in the future by your government's decisions on climate change. They and their progeny will need to confront their own climate change scenarios, well after you and I are both dust.

In my 3 minutes I would also lead you to this report.

"Unburnable Carbon: Australia's carbon bubble (2013)"

This paper by Carbon Tracker and The Climate Institute looks at the investment risk of stranded assets as a result of changing fortunes and dynamics in fossil  mineral mining. Treasurer Hockey  and Environment Minister Hunt would be well advised to read this report. The implications for Australian businesses and state governments involved in the fossil minerals sector would surely be very worrying to them. 

But could this be the reason why there is frenetic activity by miners in pulling coal and gas out of the ground as quickly as possible?

The potential exists right now for big investors and bankers to deploy capital to more prudent sectors of the economy. Already, a number of fund managers including AMP Capital and Hunter Hall here in Australia are excluding fossil fuel companies from their portfolios. More recently, Royal Bank of Scotland, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and Credit Agricole have publicly walked away from funding the Abbot Point coal terminal near Bowen in Queensland.

This is just the beginning.

It will only be a matter of time when the fossil minerals sector will have a growing list of stranded "assets"? What will happen then?

This is an illustration that old energy will be old business. Australia has embarked on a very risky path of fossil mineral exploitation. The future is renewable energy, technology, applied science, low emissions industries, and behavioural change.
But there is one probing question I seek an answer to.

Is the fossil minerals "stranded assets" scenario the reason why your government does not support a carbon pricing mechanism (carbon tax in your vernacular), just to support a fading industry sector?


In the last 30 seconds of my time with you I would ask you this.

What is your and your government's response to the recent US report "National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change"?

This report by CNA Military Advisory Board is deeply disturbing and should be a huge wake-up call to all in your government and to everyone in parliament. This report by 16 retired high-ranking US military personnel begins …

The nature and pace of observed climate changes—and an emerging scientific consensus on their projected consequences—pose severe risks for our national security. During our decades of experience in the U.S. military, we have addressed many national security challenges, from containment and deterrence of the Soviet nuclear threat during the Cold War to political extremism and transnational terrorism in recent years. The national security risks of projected climate change are as serious as any challenges we have faced. 


We are dismayed that discussions of climate change have become so polarizing and have receded from the arena of informed public discourse and debate. Political posturing and budgetary woes cannot be allowed to inhibit discussion and debate over what so many believe to be a salient national security concern for our nation. Each citizen must ask what he or she can do individually to mitigate climate change, and collectively what his or her local, state, and national leaders are doing to ensure that the world is sustained for future generations. Are your communities, businesses, and governments investing in the necessary resilience measures to lower the risks associated with climate change? In a world of high complex interdependence, how will climate change in the far corners of the world affect your life and those of your children and grandchildren? If the answers to any of these questions make you worried or uncomfortable, we urge you to become involved. Time and tide wait for no one. 


Prime Minister, you must read this report. The future for Australia is not just in the remaining two years or so of your, and your government's, term. It is about engaging with every citizen, every community, every nation, to articulate the truth, dispel avoidance of meaningful action, and to find a way to arrest the worst scenarios of climate change.


THE FUTURE

Decisions made today by state and federal governments will be scrutinised in less than a half century from now and will almost certainly be condemned for their retreat of action on climate change, including the dismantling of decades of progress on the environmental front. 

This condemnation of my country is already making its mark internationally. In a recent report by Globe International, Australia ranks as the only country out of 66 nations planning to wind back national climate change legislation. 

It disturbs me to think that Australia is retreating to a corner of the planet that many in positions of power think will not be impacted by the decisions of today. And all because of short-term economic imperatives, selfishness, money-making, and ego.

It disturbs me greatly to read some of your recent statements during your overseas excursion. Here one to Canada's PM - "There is no sign - no sign - that trading schemes are increasingly being adopted. If anything, trading schemes are being discarded, not adopted." This is just not true. Whoever is advising you needs to check the facts.

(Look in the sidebar for State and Trends of Carbon pricing - 2014 that debunks the Prime Minister's statement).

Even late-comer US, as announced recently by President Obama, is planning to cut emissions from coal-fired power stations by 30%, in part through a trading scheme.

Prime Minister, I ask what has informed you and your government's decisions that are making Australia the only country in the world that is going in the opposite direction to all others on issues of climate change?
Can you categorically deny that you and your government are not influenced by the fossil minerals lobby?


By continuing down the path that you and your government are taking, will put Australia, its people, businesses, and the economy in a much disadvantaged position. Any reading of reputable sources (and there are many) will attest to this. 

But what is most disappointing is that large Australian businesses who believe in carbon pricing, and believe that climate change is a very big threat to their business, have remained silent. They will be outed in due course. 

To focus just on "jobs and growth and the economy", as your government is doing, is fallacious. It is immoral, unethical, and is reckless. It is reckless because poorer nations are burdened with the impacts of climate change arising from the burning of that coal that Australia mines.

It is reckless because the billions of dollars that are sunk into the mining of fossil minerals should actually be directed to activities that help humanity, and not contribute to destroying it and the global environment. 

It is reckless when no account is made of the impacts that future generations will need to endure.

You have taken Australia on a risky path of condemnation. A nation condemned is a nation scorned. There will be a severe price to pay. A government condemned will be a government scorned. There will also be a severe price to pay. We have seen this happen to the previous government.

My final plea is that your government changes course on climate change policies and make Australia a leader in climate change action once again. To change course takes courage. Have you got it?

I look forward to your reply to my questions. Here they are again.

  • Why have you and your government ignored the findings of the IPCC Report 5, that to limit dangerous climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions will need to be reduced by 40% to 70% by 2050?
  • What is that "lie" you referred to in the speech to AIG? Was it climate change?
  • On what basis has your government decided to repeal a "carbon tax" that does not exist?
  • Will you publicly correct (in parliament) your continuing assertion of the cost of $550 of the carbon pricing mechanism on households?
  • What is your comment on the long-term economic opportunities in cost-effective market mechanisms such as the carbon pricing mechanism, that open up Australia for new business?
  • Given that your paid parental leave scheme would have limited social benefit, why do you not support a carbon pricing mechanism that would have far greater social, environmental, and economic benefits?
  • What is the economic basis where you compare $1.14 billion "direct action" expenditure over 4 years with $40 billion in the US?
  • Given that your government has a target of 5% CO2 emissions reduction by 2020, what evidence has your government used to frame its climate change policies? And what about beyond 2020? What is planned then?
  • Is the fossil minerals "stranded assets" scenario the reason why your government does not support a carbon pricing mechanism (carbon tax in your vernacular), just to support a fading industry sector?
  • What is your and your government's response to the recent US report "National Security and the Accelerating Risks of Climate Change"?
  • What has informed you and your government's decisions that are making Australia the only country in the world that is going in the opposite direction to all others on issues of climate change?


Sincerely

Des Menz
Armagh, South Australia



CLICK THE FOLLOWING TO READ ...

HANDBALLED REPLY FROM THE PRIME MINISTER

REPLY FROM “EMISSIONS REDUCTION FUND DIVISION"


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