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Higher oil prices or carbon tax: Take your pick

Glen Murray, Toronto Star
Complaints about high gas prices flooded across the country and washed up to the door of Parliament last week. ..

Opposition parties dropped all talk of climate change this week expressing outrage at the pump prices and demanding an inquiry. What a difference a few cents a litre can make.

I was under the impression that we were trying to reduce our demand for oil, force more efficient use of energy and reduce greenhouse gases. It seemed like the market was fixing a problem politicians were avoiding. ..

The reaction from the public to higher gas prices has been so hostile that no elected leader wants to talk about what kind of tax on carbon would be required to meet the climate-change objectives every political party now says is necessary. Nor can any of these party leaders give a reasonable rationale on how to get there without some significant tax on carbon emissions.

The Conservative government in Ottawa says its climate- change policy will reduce greenhouse gases by about 20 per cent by 2020 from 2006 levels; the Liberals want to cut emissions by about 20 per cent below 1990 levels by by 2020. Neither plan is likely going to deliver even single-digit reductions in these time frames without a significant tax on carbon emissions.

It is time for all of us to start to get comfortable with two words: Carbon tax. Without it, all these dreams of a green tomorrow are hallucinations.
(27 May 2007)

US and Berlin clash on G8 climate text

Hugh Williamson and Edward Luce, Financial Times
Political tensions between the US and Germany over climate change have worsened sharply, with Washington threatening to no longer “tread lightly” in negotiations on global warming ahead of the Group of Eight rich nations’ summit next month.

The US has sent Germany a harshly worded statement in which it accuses Berlin of ignoring of Washington’s “serious, fundamental concerns” with Germany’s draft climate change communiqué for the Baltic coast summit.

The statement, written in red ink and obtained by the Financial Times, says: “We have tried to ‘tread lightly’ but there is only so far we can go given our fundamental opposition to the German position.” ..
(25 May 2007)

Do Trees Make It OK to Drive an SUV?

Michael Hill, Associated Press
ALBANY, N.Y. — If you plant some trees, is it OK to drive an Escalade? The question isn’t as silly as it sounds. People worried about global warming increasingly are trying to “offset” the carbon dioxide _ the leading greenhouse gas _ they spew into the atmosphere when they drive, fly or flick on a light. One idea popular with the eco-conscious is to have trees planted for them. You get to keep driving and flying, but those trees are supposed to suck in your trail of carbon. ..

But some researchers say planting trees _ while a good thing _ is at best a marginal solution to global warming. Still others decry tree planters who continue to jet off to Cannes, drive their SUVs or generally fail to reduce their fuel-hungry lifestyle. To those critics, plantings and other carbon offsets are like the medieval practice of selling indulgences to wash away sins: It may feel good, but it doesn’t solve much.
“The sale of offset indulgences is a dead-end detour off the path of action required in the face of climate change,” says a report by the Transnational Institute’s Carbon Trade Watch. ..

There are other potential problems, however. Some researchers suggest forests in the snowy North might actually increase local warming by absorbing sunlight that would otherwise be reflected into space. And dead, decaying trees release some of that captured carbon back into the atmosphere.

Maybe most importantly, some researchers say it’s simply not possible to plant enough trees to have a significant effect on global warming. ..

Michael MacCracken, chief scientist at the nonpartisan Climate Institute in Washington, said tree-planting has value as a stopgap measure while society attempts to reduce greenhouse gases. But University of Victoria climate scientist Andrew Weaver fears tree offsets could steal the focus of a problem that requires technological advances and behavioral changes.

“The danger is that you could actually think you’re solving a problem,” Weaver said. “It makes you feel good. It makes you feel warm and fuzzy, like changing a couple of light bulbs. But the reality is it’s not going to have a significant effect.” ..
(28 May 2007)
Next week: Does buying a PlayStation make up for beating your children? -LJ

Farmer earns $1m for trees

Joel Dullroy, News Corp
A QUEENSLAND farmer is $1m richer after signing over carbon dioxide stored in 3500ha of trees to mining giant Rio Tinto for 120 years in a record deal for carbon emissions trading in Australia.
In a historic transaction, mining company Rio Tinto bought the rights to carbon dioxide stored in 3500ha of Peter Allen’s heavily vegetated property, 575km northwest of Brisbane.

Instead of clearing the land to run cattle, Mr Allen, a third generation farmer, will preserve the trees for 120 years to ensure they soak up carbon dioxide. ..

The carbon industry is expected to boom after the Prime Minister’s Task Group on Emissions Trading hands down its blueprint next Thursday.

But as the carbon industry gears up, questions have been raised about the lack of regulation over the voluntary offset market – the system through which airline passengers, rock festival patrons and motorists can pay for their pollution.

Green watchdogs say the voluntary market is open to exploitation, with no controls on who can sell carbon and no checks on the work carried out.

Further questions have been raised about the effect of tree-planting, the popular method used by most carbon offsetters.
(26 May 2007)

$23m ad blitz to save planet – and the PM

Marian Wilkinson, The Age
The Howard Government is planning another huge advertising campaign, spending $23 million to sell its “leadership role” and “balanced voice” on global warming while persuading Australians to cut their power use.

Details of the proposed campaign undercut the Government’s repeated assertion that its advertising strategy is designed only to inform the public on important issues. The brief for the climate change campaign lists a chief objective as being to “increase awareness of the Australian Government’s leadership role … by building awareness of the Australian Government’s climate change strategy”.

It would also “position the Government as the primary balanced voice on climate change”, showing it as taking a middle path between global warming “sceptics” and those the Prime Minister has called “doomsayers”.

The campaign comes several months after John Howard did an about-turn on the climate issue, installing Malcolm Turnbull as Environment Minister and dropping the Government’s scepticism on the science of climate change.

Details of the brief were given to the Herald as the Prime Minister faced renewed pressure over government advertising after his department said this week there were 18 current campaigns, with a total budget of $111 million. Labor has launched its own campaign, accusing the Government of spending “like a drunken sailor”. ..
(25 May 2007)
See also Australian PM tight-lipped on climate change ads. Glorious Leader programming aside, observers are awaiting imminent report from PM’s Carbon Trading Taskforce with the smart money betting on a pollution credit giveaway for the generous donors to Mr Howards Liberal-National COALition.
Also relevant: PM should sack [Federal Water Minister Malcolm] Turnbull for incompetence. -LJ

‘Wacky’ drought solutions axed

Emma Chalmers, Sunday Mail
BRISBANE residents will be encouraged, not forced, to adapt to climate change after City Hall yesterday united to strip many of the controversial and binding policies from an expert report.

During a special four-hour sitting of council, most of the so-called “wacky” ideas were axed from the $70,000 report, prepared by a taskforce headed by Australian Conservation Foundation president Professor Ian Lowe.
In a rare display of political unity, the Labor majority agreed to all of Lord Mayor Campbell Newman’s editing, despite admitting to concerns about some omissions.

The council rejected more ambitious targets for cutting the city’s greenhouse emissions, increasing the number of bus lanes, imposing road tolls and parking levies, and suggestions that homes be limited to one airconditioned room.

The final draft is a much more budget and community-friendly plan but Mr Newman defended the editing, saying council needed to promote practical and sensible initiatives.

“I think people are beyond all the scary stories now. They’ve seen so many shots of polar bears falling off icebergs and hearing about rainforests being cut down,” he said. ..
(1 May 2007)
Contributor SP The report referred to above is the Climate Change and Energy Taskforce Report, covered previously by EB.
The “wacky” remark by Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, and the capilulation of opposing Councillors, is indicative of the sad state of affairs in local Southeast Queensland politics, while Emma Chalmers’ report illustrates the poor standard of parochial journalism prevalent in the Murdoch newspaper monopoly in Brisbane.