Going green Politics and activism

Five percent?!

Letter of note in yesterday’s Age:

IT IS interesting to note the objections and opposition to the Government’s climate plan, particularly from more affluent groups and individuals. They see it as up to industry, particularly the power industry, to lower consumption of energy and reduce emissions.

What effort are these people prepared to make to reduce their use of energy and to lower carbon emissions? In fact, what sacrifices are they prepared to make, other than changing light bulbs or installing a more efficient shower head?

It is highly improbable that many would consider markedly reducing their reliance on climate control devices (such as air-conditioning), or even buying a smaller or more efficient car. Have you noticed how many four-wheel-drives there are on the road? Would they be prepared to walk to shops, rather than drive? Of course not! Any and all fault lies solely with others. Certainly not with the mass over-consumption lifestyle and expectations that have become, to a large degree, the entitlements of suburban culture.

Unless and until people are prepared to alter this unsustainable culture, it would appear we are headed towards a dangerous climate, with continual depletion of resources.

Philip Brown, Ormond

Firstly, it’s not just about what I do as an individual. It’s about lots of individuals — as many as possible — the vast majority of the population — doing the right thing, and making sure that the government enables those people to do the right thing. And, significantly, it’s about making sure that profit-driven companies do the right thing too.

I walk and use PT a lot and drive less half the distance than the, um, average Australian. But I’m lucky enough to have easy access to PT for some of my trips. What about all the people who have nothing but an hourly bus service? What about those in suburbs where there are no shops within walking distance? Are these people expected to resign from the human race?

I buy green power and have solar hot water. So do lots of other people. But some people can’t afford it. I can’t figure out why the subsidies which will go to our filthy brown coal power stations don’t just go to buy everybody green power and solar panels.

Secondly, until the government forces the power generators to switch, they’ll keep churning out the emissions, as long as it’s profitable to do so. As The Australia Institute pointed out:

The problem for households keen to ‘do their bit’ to reduce climate change is that if they have shorter showers or put solar panels on their roofs, all they will do is reduce their personal demand for electricity. If less coal is burned to provide households with electricity, the coal-fired power stations won’t need as many permits and they can then sell their ‘spare’ permits to the aluminium or steel industries so that these polluters can INCREASE their emissions.

And that really gets at the problem with Mr Brown’s argument.

Sure, he makes a good point about over-consumption (something to remember, especially around this time of year). But you can’t expect everyone (people and companies) to change their behaviour if the right carrots and sticks aren’t applied.

That’s why Rudd’s 5% reduction target is so disappointing. It appears the compensation scheme will be so generous that it won’t actually encourage a move to low-carbon alternatives.

I’m not the first one to draw the analogy between GHG emissions and smoking, but I reckon if a 20-a-day smoker said they would cut down to 19, it would be rightly viewed as having little effect. In that context, cutting back by 5% would make no difference to that person’s health, nor in influencing others to quit.

I suppose I was hoping for more from Kevin ’07. Shame.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

8 replies on “Five percent?!”

I wonder why the reduction target is so low. What are the reasons behind that? Would it really shatter Australia’s economy if it were higher, or is there some kind of other pressure that’s weighing on Rudd’s decision?

I agree with you about the individual stuff. I think most of us are taking steps to be more green. But I think we need to feel the government is behind us.

I think the same goes on an international level. I think each country will have a higher target if other countries have one as well. It’s hard to have the incentive to make a big change when you know another person’s or country’s behavior is going to outweigh all the good you’ve done.

Looks like Kevin07 was a huge con. I hope all those people who voted for him and The Age columnists are happy, who were originally praising Rudd as a saviour. Rudd is all rhetoric and no action and has not made any real tough decisions. 40% of his own staff have already left him.

Speaking of outer suburbs PT on Sunday I caught a bus from Box Hill central that was originally supposed to go to Doncaster Shoppingtown but ended up going somewhere else and winding through uncoordinated back streets of Templestowe and East Doncaster. The timetables do not even tell you when the bus is coming and you could be waiting for hours. I had to walk through the main roads like George St and back streets of Templestowe to finally, by chance catch a bus to shoppingtown that I had to sprint for. Buses are very infrequent and the government could at least invest in light rail in these hilly areas.

I think target setting is unrealistic and there should be a “faze out” system replacing coal-fired generators with renewables from a number of energy sources be it solar, wind, hydro, or waves. You could design a faze out target over 5-10 years.

I sometimes think it’s the wrong approach (or not entirely the right one, anyway) to focus on the hardships / sacrifices instead of the individual benefits that can accrue with a less resource-intensive lifestyle.

We keep telling everyone that they have to tighten their energy belts, so to speak, suck it up in terms of water restictions, and pay for climate remediation. We paint decisions like having one family car instead of two as noble and painful sacrifices, rather than accentuating the positive for the households that go down that road. Living a more energy-efficient life reduces your costs and your reliance on consumer goods. Having one family car drastically reduces your transport costs and increases both your fitness (you walk more – believe me!) and your family unity, as there are just more times when you are all together and more times at home. Reducing or at times eliminating the need for heating and cooling, through insulation, common sense, and a change in expectations, not only reduces costs, it is much better for your skin and lungs (which don’t get as irritated or dried out). Saving water saves money as well as encouraging the use of water-savvy plants, which are often those that are most attractive to native birds anyway (our bottlebrushes and wattles, which are NEVER watered – EVER – attract a gorgeous array of birdlife throughout the 8 months of the year they are in flower).

I’m not saying that government doesn’t have a role to play – it does, and a major one – but at the end of the day, until people and industries can see the benefits as well as the costs of change, it won’t happen to any measurable degree. Individuals and the market can be extraordinarily stubborn if they feel they are being pushed in a direction that is antithetical to their interests for no compelling reason. (Yes, I know the reasons ARE compelling, but I contend that the majority of people are yet to be convinced of that).

Gee, I could write (almost) endlessly on this topic – as i have in the past in comments on Daniel’s blog (sorry Daniel). But I will limit myself couple of points.

– We can engage in debate the percentages in the CPRS and it’s all numbers. You can make them say what you want, to a certain point at least. I’m not saying that’s invalid, but I think we are being suckered into this. Bottom line is the CPRS – esp as it stands today, it’s design and how it seeks to (sometimes over-) compensate so many parties and other design weaknesses is not going to achieve the real carbon reductions we URGENTLY NEED. No matter whether the target is set at 5 or 40%. Colbatch speaks to this in The Age yesterday “One little word undoes the PM’s claims on greenhouse gases”. I’m with him an Mobiot et al who want carbon taxes or personal carbon rationing.

– Read Hamilton’s ‘Scorcher’ or Pearse’s ‘High % Dry’ and tell me that what happened with Rudd and the final design of the CPRS was not what happened with Howard regarding his lack of action on climate change. Our government is captive to vested interests – this is their MO. We have to change that if we want to change the governments response to climate change.

I have this argument with hubby all the time. I think the governments are chosen by us, to represent us, and thereby do things that are in our best interests for survival i.e. NOT letting the coal industry off the hook. The analogy would be parental ‘tough love’.

Of course as individuals we must do our bit. But individuals are sometimes clueless, sometimes selfish, and sometimes (as you rightly point out), don’t have a lot of choice about these things.

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