Good News

Two events to celebrate today:

First, the Australian Parliament passed a carbon tax last week. Although it is relatively weak (oil for cars is exempt, and most emission permits are given out for free), it gets the country off the ground, and will hopefully strengthen in the future. It will be interesting to watch the effectiveness of this tax compared to cap-and-trade systems in other countries.

Additionally, income taxes have been reworked to offset the revenue from the carbon tax, to the point where most households, particularly low-income ones, will benefit financially. So much for “the new Dark Age”!

Secondly, Obama has delayed a decision on the Keystone pipeline until after the 2012 elections, due to environmental concerns with the planned pipeline route. A few months ago, it was fully expected that Obama would approve the pipeline by the end of the year, but opposition from scientists, Nobel Laureates, environmental organizations, and most of Nebraska seems to have tipped the scales.

Canadian coverage of Obama’s announcement is both amusing and infuriating. I read the Globe and Mail, which I would describe as fiscally conservative but socially liberal (really, I just read it because its science coverage is substantially more accurate ahead than my local newspaper). The Globe and Mail seems to define Canada as the tar sands industry and nothing else. Check out this article: a decision regarding a single Canadian oil company is now “a setback for Canada-U.S. relations“, to the point where “Canada is going to have to diversify away from the United States, not just in energy but in everything else we can“, because “they don’t treat us as nicely as their self-interest suggests they should“. And finally, “Canada’s challenge is to ensure other potential markets for Alberta’s crude are not hobbled by the same anti-oil-sands forces“.

Canada’s challenge? How is international anti-environmental lobbying anything but the industry’s challenge? Canada includes millions of young people who will grow up to face the consequences of climate change, millions of Aboriginals whose lives and livelihoods have been damaged by tar sands extraction, and millions of citizens already opposed to the industry. To ignore all of these groups, and to imply that Canada is the oil industry, is frankly quite insulting.

I am a Canadian, and I don’t want this fundamentally unethical industry to define my country. TransCanada’s interests are not necessarily Canada’s interests, and Canada-U.S. relations do not revolve around this single sector of the economy. Maybe the Canadian government doesn’t see this yet, but the American government seems to.

Between Australia and the United States, is the tide turning? Is the pendulum swinging? I’m not sure, but I think I will take advantage of these two small reasons for hope.


8 thoughts on “Good News

  1. I suspect we’ve reached Peak Denial. Let’s not forget that the BEST results have also dented the denialism movement (not because the results were the least bit surprising, but because Muller approached the project as a “skeptic” and is now saying the right things, for the most part). But the question still remains whether we’ll be able to achieve serious emissions reductions sufficiently soon.

    I think we’ll almost surely surpass 450 ppm and 2°C, but it’s still a matter of minimizing adaption and suffering by maximizing mitigation.

  2. Obama is whistling dixie. He’d be damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. This way he can at least have a try at re-election and let the next president make the decision when there’ll be four more years for the hostility to wear off. We should keep this is mind; most Americans want plenty of cheap gas to keep their cars on the road, and they don’t know what climate change means. They think the pipeline will put more gas in their tanks, when the truth is it will put more money in the pockets of a few oil tycoons. The US oil companies will refine the Canadian Tar Sands oil and ship it overseas, and the US Government will not receive any revenu from these transactions. The American people won’t benefit from the pipeline either, because they won’t see any increase in gas supply or reduction in price from this pipeline.

  3. I think there’s cause for hope, due to the OWS developments. More and more Americans are waking up to how much is controlled by huge corporations and how it effects them economically. It’s time for them to also learn how these same forces manufactures climate change denial and misinformation on clean energy. I’m sure this has already happened to some extent. Everyone, who communicates on climate change and the science, should realize the oppurtunity that is presenting itself.

  4. I will choose to hope as well, as what else can we do? I am overjoyed by Obama’s decision to send it back for environmental review. He faced massive opposition to that and still had the guts to stand up for what was right. I knew this about him, somehow, I had a feeling he just gets it. I think he does, it is just up to us to tell him that he has a broad base of support in Canada and the US for that decision. I may just tell him so on FB and Twitter!

    Living in Alberta, this decsion has particular importance. Everyone in government is in a flury on what to do next, who to lobby, how to change the message of “ethical oil”. I find it amusing that they are surprised their campaign on the ethics of oil sand did not work. It doesn’t take an idiot to see that there are some serious ethical problems with destroying the land, putting species extinct, wasting massive amounts of precious water and kicking in the bucket on climate change to boot.

    Anyway, the Keystone XL decision and Australia’s carbon tax are two very good reasons to hope indeed.

  5. Your outrage at the way that that one newspaper redefines reality is why I no longer read newspapers. The mass media accuses blogs of being unrealistic because they represent the views of a few, without accepting that the mass media voices are controlled by their editors and owners such that they, too, only represent the views of a few. The main difference, as I see it, is that blogging comes from the heart.

  6. I think you have your facts wrong on the pipeline. How can Obama set environmental policy in Canada? My guess is that the decision to develop the tar sands has been made by Canada’s government, it’s just a matter of where is the oil going.

    The decision to postpone is being called by some equivalent to rejection, while others say they will just approve an alternative route.

  7. Canada includes millions of young people who will grow up to face the consequences of climate change, millions of Aboriginals whose lives and livelihoods have been damaged by tar sands extraction, and millions of citizens already opposed to the industry. To ignore all of these groups, and to imply that Canada is the oil industry, is frankly quite insulting.

    A very good point. If you haven’t already, I suggest sending a letter to the paper. Canada also includes millions of ‘old’ people who know that their children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, etc. will have to face the consequences of climate change.

  8. The path to Australia’s carbon tax was a twisty one!

    In its final years (mid-00s), the Liberal/National coalition government of John Howard commissioned a study of climate change policy, which leaned towards emissions trading and nuclear power (Australia mines and sells uranium, but has a policy of no civilian nuclear power stations), but it never became official policy.

    When Labor returned to power in 2007 (after 11 years in opposition), one of their selling points was that they were actually going to introduce emissions trading. The process was politically very difficult – in the Senate it kept being blocked by an alliance of the Greens, who wanted 350ppm-style targets, and the conservatives, who drifted towards a skeptical/inactivist position. The leader of the opposition (Turnbull) actually lost his position (to Tony Abbott) because he was about to make a deal in the Senate – the skeptics got the upper hand in the party room and he lost the leadership by one vote.

    After the anticlimax of Copenhagen 2009, and in the new circumstances of a global financial crisis, the government’s willingness to campaign on this issue weakened. The least ambitious targets were adopted, the emissions trading scheme was to be delayed by a year, and other topics (such as a mining tax; mining exports to developing Asia are the biggest growth area in the Australian economy) were pushed to the front of the political discourse.

    Then, prime minister Rudd was ousted in a party coup, in favor of his deputy Julia Gillard. This was very controversial, but was rationalized on the basis of (small) Labor declines in the poll. An election was held a few months later, Gillard versus Abbott, in which neither side took a distinctive stand on anything, and the result was a hung parliament and weeks of negotiation in which Gillard and Abbott struggled to cut a deal with the Greens and independents who hold the balance of power.

    In the end Gillard won, and, despite having said during the election campaign that there would be no carbon tax, once in government, introducing a carbon tax became policy. It must have been a condition of the deal with the Greens. Incidentally, during the Rudd administration, when every conceivable tactic was employed by opponents of climate policy to stop the emissions trading scheme, one method was to say ‘what about a carbon tax?’, and the then minister for climate change (Penny Wong) had to take the line that emissions trading is superior to a carbon tax. Then, once Abbott was leader of the opposition, he made a persistent effort to get people to think of any form of price on carbon as a ‘tax’. Also, the huge increase in public distrust of financial engineering and complicated trading instruments since the 2008 financial crisis, actually made a carbon tax an easier sell than an ’emissions trading scheme’.

    So that is the peculiar history whereby Australia ended up with a carbon tax (which Abbott has vowed to repeal if he wins the next election).

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