The Greenhouse-warming Debate is Hotting Up

Ray Evans

[First published in The Canberra Times, 24 January 2002]

One of the completely trivial consequences of the bushfires which caused so much devastation in NSW over Christmas and into the new year is that emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from Australia have increased by between 50 million and 60 million tonnes.

A typical annual emission rate for Australia is between 400 million and 500 million tonnes, although there is considerable argument about the contribution that land clearing makes, or even whether the net result from land clearing is positive or negative.

It seems petty to raise the CO2 issue in the face of so much tragedy, but since the Kyoto Protocol is all about carbon dioxide and its alleged impact on the world's climate, and because ratification by Australia would lead to far, far greater economic dislocation than that wrought by the bushfires, there is some profit to be gained in understanding why the bushfires, and the immense quantities of CO2 they generate, are accepted by environmentalists as the manifestation of a benign nature, but the CO2 emitted by our power stations is condemned as the outward and visible sign of a spiritually bankrupt civilisation.

No environmentalist, or Kyoto Protocol protagonist, has connected the bushfire-generated CO2 with increasing global temperatures. This CO2 is part of the natural carbon cycle, they will say, and will return to earth in due course as new plant life. But does not the CO2 emitted by our automobiles and power stations likewise reappear as new plant life?

Well, yes it does, but, we are told, being anthropogenic, and derived from fossil fuels, its impact will be harmful, not benign. In particular, we are repeatedly warned that it will cause the planet to warm, and thus bring rising sea levels, malarial plagues, increasing numbers of cyclones and tornadoes, and other climatically induced catastrophes.

But did not the carbon that we today are releasing back into the atmosphere, from these fossil fuels, originally come from the atmosphere? The answer is, unavoidably, yes, but that was a long time ago, when the Earth was warm and wet, when atmospheric CO2 concentrations were 10 or 20 times what they are today, and when plant life and biodiversity were exploding.

To justify the continuing oxidation of this underground carbon, merely to support a lifestyle which is extravagant and selfish, on the grounds that we are returning carbon to its prehistoric place in the atmosphere is nothing more, it will be said, than right-wing, sinister, extremist casuistry.

But this distinction between CO2 from power stations as a pollutant---the word regularly employed by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in this context---and CO2 from the bushfires as natural plant food, is one which the Australian voter, who will be asked to accept much higher electricity and petrol prices as part of the Kyoto package, will find incomprehensible.

Of all the political scams of the post-war period, the global warming scam, the attempt to use the fear of climate change to turn our economy from an energy-intensive economy, based on the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, to a pre-industrial economy in which energy is expensive and rationed, and the use of fossil fuels (and nuclear energy) is proscribed, is the most audacious.

This scam is based on the greenhouse theory, which requires the lower troposphere to warm as concentrations of carbon dioxide increase in the atmosphere, as a precursor to general global surface warming.

That no evidence of warming can be found in the troposphere is no barrier to the continuing zeal of the global-warming believers, whose faith is unimpaired by contrary evidence.

Australia's economic contribution to the world is, today, based in significant degree on its very large reserves of low-cost brown and black coal.

Our current prosperity and our future as an independent and sovereign nation will continue to be based, in large measure, on our ability to exploit these natural resources efficiently.

A decarbonisation program for Australia, today, is as sensible as if Chifley and Menzies, in the immediate post-war period, had agreed to an international treaty requiring the destruction of our merino flocks.

But the Australian Labor Party supported ratification of Kyoto as part of its election platform, and the new Shadow Environment Minister, Kelvin Thomson, has just reaffirmed this position.

And the Howard Government supports, with $240 million of hapless taxpayers' money each year, the Australian Greenhouse Office, the energetic officials of which are, through a self-selection recruitment process, committed to bringing Australia into the Kyoto tent, regardless of our national interest.

The costs to Australia if we seriously pursue the Kyoto decarbonisation commitments will be immense, and they will be born in the first instance by electricity consumers, and those whose jobs in the electricity supply industry, and the down-stream process industries dependent on low-cost electricity, will be sacrificed on the altar of decarbonisation.

The Japanese government has recently made it known that CO2 emission reductions by Japanese industry will be voluntary. Since the Japanese economy is already in bad shape, and the cost to Japan of reducing its energy consumption (already low on a per capita basis) is very high, we see here the first sign of Japanese recognition of the costs of Kyoto.

The Howard Government would save $240 million a year if it shut down the Australian Greenhouse Office. It will save electricity consumers some $800 million a year by 2008 if it repeals the Renewable Electricity Act it passed in 2000.

These are matters for the new Environment Minister, David Kemp, to reflect upon in 2002.

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