Sunday, November 10, 2013

Sending Australia into reverse

So many of the actions of the new Australian Government seem destined to send Australia into reverse in a world where others are committed to heading in a more progressive, some might claim enlightened, direction.  A particular case in point is the Coalition's climate-change policy. Much has been said about this but possibly not enough about the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.  In systemic terms closing this organisation down makes no sense.

After some hiatus I understand the  Corporation will soon resume lending - it cannot be closed until legislation passes through the federal government and at the moment the Coalition does not have the numbers in the Senate.  This is good news as is the fact that it makes money - i.e., it is economically viable in that it returns money to government at an above average rate. It is also off budget. Evidence for keeping the Corporation comes from South Africa, that other country with a dirty, coal-influenced, economy where:

"The latest Independent Development ­Corporation research projects claim that more than 460 000 jobs could be created by South Africa's green economy — more than by the entire mining industry.

The IDC report, and a second report prepared by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, predicts that 98 000 green jobs will be created within the next two years and 462 567 jobs stemming from green activities will be created in the next eight years.

In comparison, the mining industry currently creates 389 000 jobs, according to Statistics South Africa's most recent Quarterly Labour Force Survey, published on Tuesday.

The utilities sector employs less than one-third of that, providing 129 000 jobs.

According to the IDC survey, the total number of people employed in South Africa increased by 383 000 between September 2012 and 2013.

Going green will increase the number of jobs by a similar amount over the best part of a decade, the IDC report said."

Depite the power of coal interests in South Africa I perceived, on a  recent visit, that the government is embracing a shift to renewables because of the vulnerability of its current energy system (despite coal), the changing economics and the potential renewables offer for community-based livelihoods, and thus social transformation, that is central to ANC policy.  On the flight from London to Joburg I sat next to a Brighton (UK)-based, German consultant/businesswoman who was involved in a major wind project in the Northern Cape. The scope was impressive.

Of course one should never overestimate the power of Big Coal (see for example the book of the same name by Guy Pearse, David McKnight and Bob Burton).  The power and  hold Big Coal has over rightist governments in the UK, Australia and New Zealand is one answer to Jonathon Porrit's  recent Blog question: Why do right wing politicians fear the green economy?  Here are the  possible answers advanced by Jonathon:

"I honestly have no convincing answer to this question, and can only suggest five contributory (and overlapping) possible causes:

1. History
Deconstructing the speeches of people like Osborne and Tony Abbott (the new Australian Prime Minister) suggests that their overall view of green politics in general is one trapped in a set of historical (and largely outdated) precepts: that all Greens are essentially crypto-communists with a deep hatred of markets and capitalism in general. As former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl once said: “they’re all like tomatoes - they may start out green but they all go red in the end”.

2. Blighted Brains
I’m sorry about this ungenerous thought, but you do sometimes wonder if their intellectual capabilities have been permanently damaged by excessive exposure to the unforgiving orthodoxies of neo-liberal economics. Focusing on the green economy requires a lot of hybrid thinking (as in smart regulation and market instruments) rather than economic mono-railing).

3. Political Capture
The centre-right (without much opposition from the centre-left, it has to be said!) has become the principal cheer leader for the fossil fuel and extractive industries. With both votes and money at stake (vast amounts of money in both the US and Australia), these politicians are in effect the creatures of the industries that have most to lose in the transition to low-carbon, resource-efficient business models.

4. Cognitive Dissonance
So completely are they ‘owned’ by these industries that they seem unaware of their own intellectual incoherence. For instance, like all good disciples of market economics, they espouse the view that markets only work when the price we pay for something reflects its true cost. Yet they go to unbelievable lengths to ensure that markets remain hopelessly distorted by refusing to internalise the cost of carbon into market prices today.

5. The Slippery Slope  I find this one hard to believe, but it was seriously suggested to me in New Zealand that politicians are scared witless of where all this leads - as in “give them a few green inches and next thing you know you’ll have gone the whole green mile into the weird and wacky world of tree-hugging vegetarianism”."

My thanks to Harry Biggs for alerting me to the Sth African article.