The real greenhouse denialists, part 3

George Megalogenis was in an optimistic mood when he wrote this analysis piece on Newspoll’s carbon emissions trading scheme survey. According to George:

VOTERS want to be led on the issue of climate change, and if leadership means higher prices at the bowser, so be it. …

A strong majority of voters (61 per cent) say a carbon emissions trading scheme could help slow global warming. Almost as many again (56 per cent) are prepared to pay more for energy sources such as petrol, electricity and gas under an ETS.

But another poll, also reported today but in The Age, found that half the population had either never heard of emissions trading or did not know what it was. Only 7% claimed to know a lot about it. This did not, however, stop 72% of voters telling Essential Media Communications (a left-wing PR and polling firm) that they supported a carbon emissions trading scheme.

As usual, the closer we get to the specifics the lower the support for greenhouse action becomes. In the Newspoll, when asked if they were prepared to pay more to slow global warming, 56% agreed and 39% were against. When asked if petrol should be exempt, 42% were in favour. What was missing here was any indication of what level of price increases respondents would be prepared to pay. A Climate Institute survey earlier in the year suggested that very few were prepared to pay the kinds of prices needed to significantly change behaviour.

The Essential Media poll found far more in favour of including petrol – 78%, though it is not clear whether that was of the whole sample or just the 72% who favoured emissions trading, despite not knowing what it is. Too little detail has been published to analyse the Essential Media result properly. But one test of whether or not public opinion is real is to get very similar results from differently worded questions on the same topic. These widely varying survey findings suggest that we aren’t there yet with climate change action.

The Newspoll also highlighted another example of the real greenhouse denialists – the people who accept the theory of global warming but not the remedies. People aged 18 to 34 were most likely to believe that a carbon emissions scheme would slow global warming (72%, compared to 52% among the over-50s). But they were most likely to be in favour of making petrol exempt (52%, compared to 38% among the over-50s). Perhaps this is a rogue result of some kind. But given the pattern here of high-level issue opinion being a poor predictor of policy opinion where personal interests are concerned, it could be real.

On these results, Megalogenis seems over-optimistic about the government’s prospects in selling radical greenhouse change.

10 thoughts on “The real greenhouse denialists, part 3

  1. “People aged 18 to 34 were most likely to believe that a carbon emissions scheme would slow global warming (72%, compared to 52% among the over-50s). But they were most likely to be in favour of making petrol exempt (52%, compared to 38% among the over-50s).”

    There’s necessary inconsistency in these numbers.

    They might believe that a carbon emissions scheme will slow global warming, but want petrol exempt because they don’t want to stop global warming.

    Or they might want to stop global warming, and not want to pay more for petrol, but are happy to pay more for electricity.

    Seriously, there’s a very simple solution for the government in all of this. Put petrol in the scheme and cut petrol excise. The important thing is to get the scheme up and running. If that means pandering to people who want inconsistent things, so be it.


  2. Great post. It’s funny how blogs, without fact checkers and not produced for pay often provide a more thorough analysis of an issue than the

    Are people ever in favour of a tax increase ?

    How is this different from other issues? Presumably if you ask people if more should be spent on health, defence, pre-school or whatever the would say yes but then if you said we should raise taxes to pay for it they would disagree. We know there is no such thing as a free lunch, but it doesn’t stop people trying to get them.


  3. Pedro – Actually, in the last few years most polls have shown that tax increases have majority or plurality support if there is a clear objective, such as better health and education or reducing inflation. Some of these polls are reported under the ‘tax & spend’ subject category on this blog.


  4. Thanks Andrew.

    The unfinished sentence in my earlier post should have ‘mainstream press.’ at it’s end.

    Spiros: Isn’t it possible that people know that petrol is already heavily taxed and see it as unfair to increase the tax on it?

    Your solution is a good one. It could be set to make Australian sugar cane produced ethanol more attractive.


  5. Megalogenis has been pushing this line for a while. He pushed it on Insiders the week before last and got into a good stoush with Andrew Bolt. A $40/tonne carbon tax translates to about a 10c increase in petrol prices – not a lot to deal with if oil prices fall and/or excise is reduced, but it suggests petrol prices already reflect any reasonable estimate of carbon costs. Of course, if developing countries don’t join in, the whole exercise is pointless anyway.


  6. It seems to me that the polls should be asking people more about the conditions under which they would be willing to pay a specific percentage increase in energy prices in order to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions. If we are to avoid the worst possible outcome for Australia (all the cost of abatement without any benefit) I think the government needs more feedback on the extent to which the electorate’s support for abatement measures is likely to depend on what happens in other countries.
    For example, would you be prepared to pay an x% increase in energy costs: a) irrespective of actions by other countries; b) if the United States signed up to an international agreement involving a similar reduction in carbon emissions; c) if all major emitters signed an agreement capping carbon emissions d) under no circumstances?


  7. pedro, you need the sugar mills to be converted to ethanol production for that to be a possibility, and even at current poor prices, sugar gives better return, so no bank is going to finance the $100 m needed to convert the mill for a lower return. Ethanol is only a goer in Australia if it is subsidised, or the mzrket heavily rigged with through an ETS.
    It is much cheaper to import ethanol from Brazil.

    Regarding fuel prices, when the ETS comes in, the government merely has to issue a lot of permits onto the market. The carbon price will thus be close to zero, and you can have a few years to settle things down before the screws start to be tightened as the number of permits issued each year is reduced. So the petrol price won’t be too affected initially, but will be ramped up later as the carbon price rises due to the reduced supply of permits. Sort of treating the public like a frog put in a pot of cold water on the stove.


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