In a piece in The Australian astounding in its incoherency, Greg Sheridan makes a fool of himself attempting to argue against an emissions trading scheme and in favour of direct action.
He starts badly, of course, whining that the media are all on the side of a carbon price or ETS. Considering that Murdoch owns most of the Australian print media, that’s a hilarious lie. But more substantively, he tries to make two points: that the Coalition’s Direct Action policy does more than is really necessary compared to the rest of the world, and that it would be crazy to enter into an ETS. On the first, he misses the point, and on the second, he makes embarrassing blunders.
Arguing that we will already be doing more than everyone else, Sheridan decides to play ignorant. The point that responsible commentators have been making that he never acknowledges is that no-one is doing enough to counteract the serious damage climate change is poised to inflict on the world over coming decades. Even if it were accepted that Australia was doing more per capita than other nations, it’s hardly an honour to just be slightly less bad than everyone else.
Or to indulge Sheridan’s apparent love for bad analogies: it’s like having a smashed table and using a bit more sticky tape than the other guy to try to fix it. To state the obvious, sticky tape was never going to be up to the task.
Of course, Sheridan’s underlying sentiment here is that Australia shouldn’t make sacrifices while others aren’t willing. This really is just a rehash of an old dispute between the climate change movement and the conservatives. Is taking action is more likely to lead others to do the same and therefore get the results that are needed, or should we wait until absolutely everyone is satisfied before we do anything? There is extensive commentary on this that I won’t repeat, but I’ll indulge in pointing out that it’s no coincidence that China is committing to greater measures now that the United States is as well. And that this new status quo is seriously embarrassing Australia.
But where Sheridan really shoots himself is with his faux analysis of why an ETS is no good. Besides the usual rubbish about bureaucracy, Sheridan says:
“Imagine you could receive a financial credit for every neighbour you promised not to punch and then sell those credits to people who did want to punch their neighbours. You would have a huge incentive to pretend to want to punch all your neighbours.”
Yeah, just one problem with that, Sheridan. When pretending to want to punch all your neighbours, you would need to first obtain some of those “credits” to be able to sell any, most likely by buying them at substantial cost. That fact in itself really cuts down on that “huge” incentive you banged on about. Not to mention that you would run the substantial risk of looking foolish if you bought those credits at a higher price than you were later able to sell them.
(Yes, Rudd’s CPRS would have given away quite a lot of free permits, but not all permits would have been free, the ones that were would have been given to actors that clearly weren’t going to be able to reduce emissions in a great hurry and therefore be in a position to quickly sell them off for profit, and most importantly, free permits are not inherent to an ETS.)
What Sheridan believes to be a problem that strikes at the core of an ETS is no more than an exaggeration.
This is not to say that any ETS would be flawless or that no-one would try to game the system. But these are problems with the process, not the principle itself. And at least a properly constructed ETS would reduce carbon emissions more substantially at lower cost to the government than some idiotic Direct Action scheme where companies can simply take cash for doing not very much at all.
Sheridan would do us a favour if he avoided cheerleading so hopelessly for the Prime Minister.