The orthodoxy has taken hold that the economic slowdown recession absofrigginlute disaster will give us more time to wait before doing anything serious about greenhouse emissions. Ross Garnaut has suggested this, but the absolute last word has come from Dennis Shanahan in today’s Australian, where he explains that the Government’s emissions trading scheme:

…was crafted within the bounds of “a world of strong economic growth”, Australian and world emissions continuing to “grow strongly”, “global per capita output increases three times to 2050” and growth dominated by “developing economies” such as China.

All the economic forecasts have changed dramatically and expected global growth of 3 per cent, based on International Monetary Fund projections, will be lucky to be zero. That huge decline in economic activity has led to forecasts of dramatic cuts in global greenhouse emissions, far more than the European emissions trading scheme has been able to achieve.

“The truth is,” Shanahan concludes, “the global crisis is costing jobs and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.” Needless to say, as with every press article arguing the case against doing anything about climate change, Mitch Hooke and his ever-worsening prognostications were liberally quoted.

I was all set to believe it — after all, it’s comforting to think we can wait a bit longer before getting serious about climate change. But then — reluctantly — I decided to do some checking. After all, when it comes to interpreting numbers, Shanahan’s record is not exactly spotless.

Fortunately, this morning the Climate Institute produced the very latest data on the impact of the economic slowdown in Australia on growth in carbon emissions. Carbon emissions INCREASED in the December quarter by 800,000 tonnes, which was about the level expected if the economy had grown by its more usual annualised rate of 2-3%. As we all now know, the economy contracted 0.5%.

The global crisis isn’t cutting greenhouse emissions in Australia. In fact, there’s no evidence that emissions — which are primarily generated by households and businesses using electricity and fuel — have been affected at all, except perhaps that they have not grown by as much as they might have.

Relying on the economic crisis to delay action on climate change is, at best, lazy thinking for a species inordinately good at inventing reasons to avoid unwanted tasks. Even before the economic crisis, when the economy was in danger of overheating, there were plenty of people who thought we should wait a bit longer.

Shanahan refers to “outdated and full of obfuscatory green garble about new-age jobs”. If he doesn’t believe any new jobs will be created in a low-carbon economy, maybe he should talk to the tourism operators who will have to close when the Barrier Reef is destroyed or Kakadu is flooded, or the farmers and irrigators in eastern Australia who will run out of water — or have already done so. They aren’t jobs that might be created in the future, but jobs that exist now, and won’t exist in the medium term because of the impact of climate change.

The only obfuscatory garble is coming from the Big Carbon rentseekers and their media supporters.

Peter Fray

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