Getting the climate change debate wrong

In an article in The Age (25/11/13): Parliament’s mid-winter sitting hints at carbon tax repeal wait, there was the opportunity for readers to participate in an  Age Poll

What it showed was that 57% of the  14,319 respondents preferring emission trading scheme, that 28% prefer to keep the carbon tax and 4% support direct action. Hardly surprising.

This type of polling disguises the real issues.  Very few people seriously believe that direct action is going to be an effective policy mechanism for halting and reversing climate change. The real question is not which policy is the best for doing it.

The real question is how we can lift the current Australian target of 5%  to a more effective 25%.   Australia’s carbon emissions will rise 24% by the year 2020.  To break even, that is to make no change in the carbon emissions in the atmosphere, Australia will need to cut its emissions by 24%.

To make inroads in the total carbon in the atmosphere, Australia will need to reduce emissions by more than 24% by 2020.

Conducting polls that demonstrate that the current government’s policies are not popular is pointless and  draws attention away from the fact that all current policies are hopelessly inadequate.

The issue that needs to be addressed is the level of carbon emission reduction that will decrease the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Debates about the relative effectiveness of the carbon tax/emissions trading/direct action are merely rearranging the deck chairs.

Given that the amount of carbon that can be absorbed from the sphere by natural processes is likely to be relatively stable, and possibly decline given the rate that deforestation is occurring, it is important to understand that we need to get the rate of carbon emission significantly below the rate at which it is absorbed by the oceans and by the forests. It is only at this point that progress will be made in reducing the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere.

Click here to see a simple example of this principle in action

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