Greenhouse, governments, Garnaut – and us

The huge crowds that attended each of the public forums held by Professor Ross Garnaut after the recent release of his draft report were quite astonishing, but also very reassuring. I went along to the Brisbane meeting last Friday. It was held in the main auditorium in City Hall. It seats over 1000 people and was pretty much full.

Given how hard it is to get large numbers of people along to public meetings on just about any topic, it was amazing to see people streaming in in such numbers just to hear an economist talk about how emissions trading might work. Professor Garnaut showed that he certainly knows his topic well, but I’d have to say when he comes to public oration, he’s not exactly Barack Obama.  He fact that most people stayed for the majority of the 90 or so minutes shows the level of interest and the desire of people to engage with the issue.

His opening comments went for about 45 minutes, which I think was too long given the generality of what he had to say. The far more interesting segment was the question and answer session. (A podcast of this should be available fairly soon). There was nothing earth shatteringly new in his responses, but he certainly demonstrated that he knows his stuff and had thought through all the issues.

I asked a question about whether the impact of methane needed to be given more weight as some people suggest, and whether the large impacts of methane and livestock more broadly would be left to get worse due to the initial exemption of agriculture from the emissions trading scheme. He basically responded by saying the debate about how methane should be assessed was continuing, and agriculture would be in the emissions trading mix soon enough.

Probably the most important response he gave – which I think is the point that needs most emphasis – was in response to a question from a local economist, asking  whether we basically needed governments to declare a national and global emergency to get the sort of levels of rapid response needed. The Professor’s understated but none the less fairly blunt reply was that it was a matter of politics, and governments could only move so fast without risking losing support of the public.

This is a truism, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to blame politicians or governments. It should be repeatedly pointed to by way of reminding all of us that we need to demand more action and build public support for such moves.

It is a shame the current level of community concern and interest too so long to develop, but it is still a very important component in making sure that adequate action is taken by governments and people at community level if we are to have any hope of avoiding serious and rapid climate change.

Putting in place an effective mechanism for pricing greenhouse emissions is important, but it won’t all be done by market forces. The key part that is missing from the public and political debate at the moment is the emphasis on changing our behaviours. Many people rightly point to the rapid change in water consumption behaviours in south-east Queensland in the last year or two as a way of showing that we can do something similar in response to the threat of climate change. Whilst the changes in behaviour need to be more widespread than just reducing water consumption, I have no doubt it could be done.  But the key point is that water consumption changes occurred almost entirely through a combination of public education campaigns and some targeted financial incentives. It wasn’t done through market forces. Water shortages and consumption are easier to see and understand than greenhouse emissions, and I think using market mechanisms is an important part of the solution. But there is no way that will be enough. We need to be directly encouraged to change our diet, our energy usage and our travel habits – which means changing parts of our culture along with it.

It will be interesting to see if the Rudd government’s climate change discussion paper, due to be released tomorrow, contains much recognition of this fact.

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  1. Andrew:
    Re: ““It wasn’t done through market forces”.
    I’m no more an economist than Garnaut’s a “climate expert” (as seems to be reported by the media from time to tme), but I’d have thought that the increased cost of metered water, the risk of penalties from roaming Council vehicles and the threat of a water audit if you exceed the averages was a form of “market force” (aka “targetted incentives”?).

    ” Water shortages and consumption are easier to see and understand than greenhouse emissions”.
    You’re sure right there. Online dam level stat’s and computer generated water consumption tables for each household are way more tangible than the vagaries of “adjusted” temperatures around the globe and so called “carbon pollution” not to mention the lack of any conclusive causal link between the two.

    At the end of the day with water restrictions, we can still do most things we could before, albeit in a modified manner. In contrast, with your implied low (or no) meat diet, minimal air travel etc, you are almost talking about creating a whole new culture (new world order?).

  2. Reducing our meat and dairy consumption is a cultural shift, but it is hardly a whole new culture. Cigarette smoking was a key part of our culture until recently too, and its hardly a bad thing that that has changed. There has been a massive change in the use of air travel in the last few decades, which has been underpinned by a major change in business practices. It can change again.

    My point about water usage changes was that, while there were measures like penalties for breaching restrictions as well as incentives to get water tanks, low consumption washing machines, etc the actual mechanism of pricing water was not used as a core mechanism for driving change. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be – indeed it is essential in further changing agricultrual practices. Just saying it wasn’t the key factor in getting major reductions in water consumption in Brisbane. (I don’t thikn the fear of fines played much of a role either – I think it was mainly that people were convinced there was a serious problem and reacted to the strong encouragement to change their behaviour.)

  3. I am no economist, but in all this debate about how to control and price emissions, shouldn´t the underlying logic be that each individual has a right to pollute so much greenhouse gas in a period of a year. Each person would be allocated their pollution credits on a yearly basis relative to total population and total sustainable greenhouse gas emissions around the world. An individual would then need credits to go about their ordinary lives but could also sell credits to companies and or other individuals. Wealth and clean living would then have a real economic relationship. Suddenly of course China and Africa would be enormously wealthy – but suddenly also clean living would have a real value. Companies would have to buy credits off ordinary people – yearly. If their operations didn´t clean up, they would struggle to stay in business. Everyone would need enough credits to justify buying that next airfare – or that next flatscreen TV. Of course the repercussions in the short term would be enormous, but couldn´t this be the ideal for post 2030, once the current momentum has hopefully started showing some progress All pollutants would be factored in, not just carbon. Total worldwide allocations would be divided between countries according to population size, and then the trading could begin. This is something I remember hearing about at the time of the original Kyoto negotiations, and it seems to have been nicely buried in the current debate. Obviously because the developed world would have the most to suffer – but individuals would have the most to gain – not corporations or govt.

  4. I admire people who are prepared to pit their intelligence against the status quo, but connecting culture shifts away from polluting and unsustainable habits with a sinister plan to consolidate power and the hands of a powerful and malicious few is a mistake – a forgiveable one – but a deadly one.

    While it could pay to be skeptical of information fed to us by those with material self-interest at stake, there is no harm in genuine environmental concern and adopting healthy lifestyle habits.

    The water issue was and is one of conscience as well as practical need. Like the greenhouse issue, we can see with water that unless things change, one day soon our luck will run out. Not altering lifestyle habits that would otherwise lead us to water shortage would be crazy, How much more so eating and farming habits that will soon require more resources than exist on earth.

  5. With all due respect, I don’t think it’s too difficult to get 1000 fanatics together in the one place, especially if it’s a destructive cult, religious or otherwise.

    Cigarette smoking is about deliberately inhaling toxic fumes. I don’t think it should be discussed in the same paragraph with health-giving, nutrient-dense foods.

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with my diet – maybe even a lot right with it – but if other people want to eat only green grocery items, that’s their prerogative.

    People responded to the shortage of water because they had first hand evidence of at least a temporary need. Climatologists, on the other hand, have a long way to go before they have proven anything other than an interest in control.


    “Like the greenhouse issue, we can see with water that unless things change, one day soon our luck will run out.”

    It could bucket down any time. Heavy rainfall could continue for years. We could get hit by a bus tomorrow. Even hell could freeze over.

  6. Paul Johannessen:

    Paul the problem we have is that India has declared that they dont believe in “Man made global warming”, the Chinese refer to it as the ” Anglo Allumist conspiracy” . Their scientists do not concur with our alarmists and India has said that it wants its country to achieve the industrial output to at least the equivalent of the west today.
    With our scientists having no clear consensus and these countries having an opposite view. (Russia believes that we’re more likely to be entering another mini ice age) We’d look silly implementing a carbon trading/tax regime with nothing to gain. That would be economically devasting and socially destructive. Dont you think?
    Besides we all enjoy a steak on the barby and there’s nothing like a good chocolate thick shake, ice cold on summers day.


  7. Andrew: You say “Cigarette smoking was a key part of our culture until recently too” and I think this was indeed a good example. But Lorikeet’s right, it’s not the same as going cold turkey on meat, and far, far removed from society no longer flying nor traveling large distances, banning motor sports and a multitude of other changes that logically flow on from wanting to put the carbon demon into place.

    Mind you, “logic” is best left out of the carbon trading discussion, even economist Garnaut can’t figure out what the government’s up to!

    Alistair: Re: “each individual has a right to pollute so much greenhouse gas in a period of a year”

    You really do stretch the use of “the word pollute” in my opinion.

    Are you (and Rudd, Wong, Brown et al) using it in the sense of making the environment “foul”, “morally unclean” or “rendering it ceremonially impure”?

    I’ll leave the door open for vitriolic responses by saying that for my part, I hope I’m guilty of none of the above when, like most, I keep breathing day in, day out.

    Lorikeet: Here’s a tasty, inexpensive recipe for Masur Fal. It’s vegetarian, so this should keep Andrew happy, but it involves lentils whose side effects may not please Alistair or other wannabe carbon cops.

  8. Just so that readers of this blog are not ill informed about the carbon footprint of a lentil-involved recipe: GHG produced from crops such as various peas and legumes show up on a chart of anthropogenic emission as a few percent. The GHG caused by meat eating is locally nearly a third- the only third we can cut immediately with no expense or social side effect.

    The 60 billion land animals who are slaughtered annually create both local and global ecological problems. In Australia think drought and salinity. World over, think climate change, desertification, water pollution and overuse, the list goes on.

  9. Alistair:It was a good recipe which I’ve used several times without even thinking of an alleged man made global catastrophe!

    Thanks for the link to the 13 PDF files which I daresay you have read in detail. Which file supports a view that my recipe is “a few percent” and that a meatier butter chicken recipe is “nearly a third” (I’m assuming that the ambiguities might be clarified within the document)?

    Might not be new to readers of this blog, but Alistair, you are right, think climate change, … the list goes on … and on ….and….

    …. on.

  10. Alistair:

    I don’t think livestock cause drought and salinity. I think you can blame those on Mother Nature and farmers who cut down too many trees.

    Think about what happens when we grow food crops. The land gets completely cleared of trees, and the soil gets churned over on an ongoing basis.

    Farmers and food processing companies could keep carrot tops, outer leaves, stalks, pea pods, corn husks and fruit & vegetable peelings to feed to livestock. They will soon “process” it all into a natural fertiliser.

    According to the local paper, people have increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables by 20%. If we cease eating meat, eggs and dairy products, there will be an increasing demand for fruits, nuts, vegetables, grains and health food supplements.

    I think livestock is a lot more resistant to drought than food crops, as they are higher up the food chain.

    In any case, we will need to start growing more foods hydroponically and aeroponically. The use of aeroponics would almost guarantee minimal wastage of water and a maximisation of cropping, especially if solar powered light and warmth were utilised at night. Food could be grown in half the time in a controlled environment.

  11. GMZ: The “few precent” vs the “30%” is a generalisation based on the GHG emissions from animal production vs vege, fruit and cereal and other veggie food. (Australian values, CSIRO “Balancing ACT 2005”)

    Lorikeet: Farmers cut down trees, 95% of the time (in QLD) to graze cattle or grow feedcrop. Aside from the old wives tale that trees bring rain, there’s some

    Globally, 35% of cereal is fed to livestock with a roughly 10% (of the 35%)nutritional return. Basically, it means 30% of grown foods are wasted.

    Carrot tops are actually extremely nutritious to humans. Inedible vegetable matter can be composted locally and put back into the system. I don’t see the argument for eating animals here.

    I’m sure there are lots of great new ways to grow veggies

  12. Alistair: Well that’s cleared things up.

    I can cancel my regular butcher run (to stock up on beef & lamb), but you will need to spell out what vegetable matter remains inedible so I can assign produce to the cooking pot or compost bin in a responsible manner.

    Most would agree that a two degree increase in global temperatures could cause a few worrying side effects (Mt Cootha, here I come). From the Uni of NSW’s sustainability centre comes the good news (for both cows and die hard meat lovers) that we can save the planet and still eat red meat.

  13. GZG:

    Yes, a nutritionist was expounding the nutritional value of kangaroo meat on TV only last week. It was low in fat and contained more iron.

    Agricultural scientists have already found ways around temperature changes with their stocks of seed which are resistant to fungi, moulds and viruses. Farmers can also change what they grow to suit the climate.

    A good aeroponic growth system would exclude most insect pests and diseases quite easily.


    I think it is clear that farmers can raise livestock without feeding them grain. Their natural fodder (grass) can be supplemented with pelletised wastage from the food industry, so your grain argument could easily become redundant.

    I am quite happy to let cattle have my share of the carrot tops etc.

    In addition, in many parts of the world, various types of potatoes are becoming “the new grain”, with higher yields for the amount of work and space involved.

  14. Lorikeet, you appear to be out of touch with current thinking in farming. You said “Think about what happens when we grow food crops. The land gets completely cleared of trees, and the soil gets churned over on an ongoing basis.” .. this may be true, at some times and in some places, but it is not necessary. Minimal tillage and shelter belts, etc, are quite compatible with food farming, in fact more so, since we are also facing a bee crisis in Australia, because of clear felling, and other reasons. With no bees we would be only a couple of years from startvation.

    Another part of what you said is a bit hard to understand. “I think livestock is a lot more resistant to drought than food crops, as they are higher up the food chain.” What do you think livestock eat that would be available in a drought?

  15. DOLPHIN;

    I had a meeting with a small beef farmer yesterday. He has over many years (Like his neghbours) looked after the land and re-planted trees in areas in which once were timber. After a state inspection of his property his was congratulated and was informed he may receive credits for his property. Should he increase his herd (in times of demand) or diversify,IE dairy of pork(If markets demanded)though, he would have to pay a carbon tax if levels rose.So we can see by this that one of the major reasons in introducing a Carbon Emissions Scheme is to control small landholders assets and produce outputs.

    The other Nth Qld farmer I spoke to had been charged with failing to pay duty when he manufactured is own diesel for farm use and shared it with this neighbour. This means that the scheme is more interested in revenue than any enviromental improvement developed by individuals.

    The third thing we all know is that at least 30% of any carbon tax revenue will be handed to corporations to subsidise them. So lets sum up the governments intentions based on these scenarios’

    1. Control small landowners assets.
    2. Reduce amount of food production
    3. Tax the population. (and maintain any duties payable)
    4. Tax revenue to go to corporations.
    5. The Governement is not interested in the enviroment.

    Wow could anybody with a logic mind even contemplate introducing such a scheme.


  16. Dolphin:

    I saw a documentary on TV in which they said the problem with bees related to an insect predator getting into the hives and killing the baby bees. I think it came from overseas. No one mentioned the felling of trees.

    Generally plant and animal species at the bottom of the food chain die out before animals further up the food chain. We’ve just been through a long drought, which broke about a year ago. We didn’t run out of food.

    As Tony has described in his post above, it’s the government that is putting paid to the food supply and pushing up transport costs.

  17. DOLPHIN:

    Well our Queensland government loves crises control, with the deliberate stalling on roadways, water infrastructure and land releases I thought you would used to it by now.
    Just last week the Premier Anna Bligh released more water to cubby station (Corporate Cotton Company) removing desperate water supplies to the nations bread basket.

    Have a look a whats happening overseas as well. Countrys that once were able to feed themselves that got tied up in this whole globalisation mess and are now starving. Many walked out of last months world trade talks and are now trying to correct the stituation.

    The whole government/green system seems to attack the little man at every turn while protecting the corporate Giants. In Queensland its just more obivious.


  18. Generally plant and animal species at the bottom of the food chain die out before animals further up the food chain.

    Lorikeet, its a bit more complicated than that. Individuals of species lower down the food chain tend to have shorter lifespans, but populations of species higher up the food chain are more likely to become extinct as they tend to be more specialised WRT habitat requirements and food sources and so on.

    There’s no shortage of exceptions, but these are the broad trends.

  19. Feral:

    Plants and animals at the bottom of the food chain get eaten first. Excessive competition for food wipes them out.

    Species higher up the food chain become extinct after everything smaller has been eaten. So livestock are going to be here long after a lettuce has met its maker.

    Take away the cow? I don’t think so.

  20. Lorikeet, I think you may be confusing competition with predation.

    I could write a fuller explanation but don’t want to occupy too many column cms with something that is OT.

  21. Co-founder-turned-critic of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, tells how climate change theory became the main focus of extremists after “world communism failed, the Wall came down and a lot of peaceniks and political activists moved into the environmental movement bringing their neo-Marxism with them and learnt to used green language in a very clever way to cloak agendas that have more to do with anti-capitalism and anti-globalisation than … ecology or science.”


    “In a report titled “The First Global Revolution” (1991) published by the Club of Rome, a globalist think tank, we find the following statement: “In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill…. All these dangers are caused by human intervention… The real enemy, then, is humanity itself.”


    Richard Haass, the current president of the Council on Foreign Relations, stated in his article “State sovereignty must be altered in globalized era,” that a system of world government must be created and sovereignty eliminated in order to fight global warming, as well as terrorism. “Moreover, states must be prepared to cede some sovereignty to world bodies if the international system is to function,” says Haass. “Globalization thus implies that sovereignty is not only becoming weaker in reality, but that it needs to become weaker. States would be wise to weaken sovereignty in order to protect themselves…”

  22. Feral:

    I’m not confusing competition with predation. These are overlapping interactive terms.


    Yes, that makes a whole lot of sense. Thanks.

    I think they’re going to help themselves to everyone’s superannuation as well – something I have suspected for at least 13 years.

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