Apr 282011

Gary Johns was a Labor parliamentarian.

That doesn’t mean he’s immune in my view from making gratuitous attempts at spinning particular points of view which are opposed to the party he was once representative of. He does so today in that disreputable Murdoch rag, The Australian. Johns is another of the crew who hail from the Institute of Public Affairs, which in my view speaks volumes for his partisan views.

Johns’ whinge today – and seriously, that’s what it is for he makes no attempt to academically refute the matters he whinges about, is all about this document from Vivid Economics. He claims it’s filled with false premise, shaky numbers and is being used by the current Labor government to support it’s case for pricing carbon emissions.

Combet, on ABC’s Lateline this year, cited the Chinese and Australian implicit price for carbon from the 2010 Vivid Economics report for The Climate Institute: $8 per tonne for China and $2 per tonne for Australia. The idea is to tell Australians they are not pulling their weight. The Chinese must think Gillard a fool. Vivid Economics has been colourful with its analysis. They wildly overstate China’s and wildly understate Australia’s implicit carbon price. For a start, Chinese energy policies have not been developed with the aim of promoting greenhouse gas emission reductions.

Johns, as with all of the climate change nay-saying crowd, attempts to use economics as a foil for the arguments in support of pricing carbon. Anyone who reads here will know what I think of economics. A poorly understood & wielded tool, especially so by those who carry the letters B.Econ in their email signature line. The subject has more credence in regard to astrology then it does to predicting future economic movements at any given point in time. The Vivid Economics report is entitled “The implicit price of carbon in the electricity sector of six major economies”. That’s ‘implicit’ carbon price, not actual carbon price. Implicit being derived from the latin implicitus meaning involved but obscure, potentially contained within but not expressly stated. The report is 113 pages long, yet Johns dismisses it’s content in three paragraphs oozing with disdain.

The crux of the report is an assessment of public policy within six industrialised nations which encourage low-carbon electricity generation, and by definition, fostering research and development into low carbon energy generation technologies. The implicit carbon price, which is the measure employed by Vivid to compare different industrialisation levels and relevant economies, whilst far from an accurate measure, is as close a measure as economists can come up with when comparing disparate economic and socio-political structures. Yes, it’s true that what Johns has to say about China’s drive in power generation is not necessarily geared toward addressing climate change, however, that isn’t the focus of the report he bags, nor is it the focus of the Lateline interview he claims Greg Combet spun the report on.

But Australia is not going it alone here. We’re not out on our own. We’re not leading the world, but we shouldn’t be left behind. A report released some months ago by Vivid Economics, a UK-based firm, had a look at the effective carbon prices in a number of countries, and I mentioned $29 in the UK. It was actually $14 a tonne in China and about $5 a tonne effectively across the US. And guess where Australia was: $1.68 a tonne.
TONY JONES: OK, I’ve got to interrupt you there. So you’re saying that Australia is doing less to fight climate change than China?
GREG COMBET: Well China is doing quite a lot. In several weeks’ time …
TONY JONES: But in terms of a carbon price.
GREG COMBET: Well, according to this report by Vivid Economics, the effective carbon price in sectors of the Chinese economy was $14 a tonne compared to $1.68 in Australia. This is why the Government has commissioned the Productivity Commission to do an independent study of the effective carbon prices in the economies of our major trading partners. Let’s shine the light on a few facts so that we can have a little bit more informed debate about this in Australia, because it is certainly not the case that we are the only ones doing something or endeavouring to do something about climate change. There is a range of things going on in the economies of our trading partners and we need to be well-informed about it.

In fact, we need to be better informed about it, given that currently we’re not being ‘informed’ at all. If there’s a reference in that passage, which is the ONLY part of the interview where the report is mentioned, to Australia not doing as much as China to address climate change, it comes from Tony Jones, not Greg Combet. Notice the language being used by both persons. Jones makes a deliberate attempt to achieve a desired end, whilst Combet spots him coming & doesn’t entirely avoiding the trap by referring to the ‘carbon price’ in the Vivid report as implicit, Combet does NOT make the references Gary Johns claims he does. This is the spin we’re being subjected to and it’s not coming from government. Frankly I seriously doubt that this government has the capabilities to accurately & effectively spin any topic, let alone the biggest public policy challenge faced by any government in the last thirty years. The spin we, the great unwashed ignoramuses of voting Australia – according to focus groups & pollsters – are being subjected to is coming from the anti-government, conservatively oriented sources both in the media and among the climate change denialists. It’s patently obvious that both groups will use any means available, and spin just as hard as they can go in the arrogant knowledge that very few people will do what I’ve done & explode their claims by researching the issues.

That’s what is required, not just of some of us, but of ALL of us. We cannot afford, with decisions as important as addressing climate change, and how we ought to go about it, to listen to partisan players who have ideological or fiscal barrows to push. We have to do our own research, develop our own understandings and be confident in our own abilities to decide for ourselves.