After three weeks of nearly non-stop discussion of a carbon emissions trading scheme public knowledge of it is…decreasing! On 1 July, The Age reported that half those surveyed by a Galaxy Poll had either not heard of an emissions trading scheme or did not know what it was. Today another Age report, this time of an ACNielsen poll, finds ignorance at 60% (I think the inclusion of a ‘slightly’ understand option pushed up those willing to confess to being baffled by the biggest reform in a decade).
Overall, there is a similar pattern here to other polling, which shows that most people are, at least in principle, willing to pay more to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The only question in this poll to yield new and interesting information was on whether Australia should act regardless of what other countries do. A surprisingly high number – 77% – say yes, with 19% saying we should reduce greenhouse gas emissions only if other nations do. I’d like to see more polling that investigates whether people believe that Australia acting alone will have much of an effect or not. With most respondents admitting to at best sketchy knowledge, it is hard to know what factual assumptions are behind the answers they are giving.
3 thoughts on “Spreading ignorance of a carbon emissions trading scheme”
Until very recently, there was clear bipartisan support for proceeding with some sort of ETS regardless of what other countries did. Only in the last couple of weeks have some cracks have emerged on this, with the Liberals’ muddled comments.
At the same time, the debate in the media has frequently been couched in terms of reducing emissions to ‘save’ the Murray-Darling or the Barrier Reef or to prevent future droughts, etc. In a similar vein, many criticise the development of a water desalination plant in Victoria on the basis that, by using coal-fired electricity, it will only make the problem of drought worse by speeding up climate change.
All this suggests that many people have no sense of proportion or perspective regarding what our efforts to reduce emissions might practically achieve in an environment when China’s emissions are rising at 8-9% pa. I think the whole issue of the pointlessness of reducing emissions if other countries don’t is only just starting to dawn on the electorate and they may develop a harder line over time if the Australian economy weakens and China and India continue to thumb their noses at the very idea of targets. Then again, a modest carbon price of say $20/tonne is unlikely to have much effect on emissions or prices anyway. And if the revenue is used to lower more distortionary taxes such as CGT, the economic and political costs may be minimal anyway.
It’s the cutting back on emissions that produces the environmental benefit. The trading in itself does not produce any environmental benefit. What it does is reduce the economic cost of the cut back.
Even if you don’t know much about emissions trading in general or the government’s ETS in particular, you can still be in favour of cutting back on emissions, and you can be in favour of cutting back regardless of what other countries do.
I think that the end game has to be to change the behaviour of the consumer – creating a shift in demand patterns – so that suppliers change their offerings. That means making the nasties cost more.
The weakness in the proposed system is that the Government will “print more money” … that is, the cap is not a cap at all, as it can be expanded by issuing penalties – exacerbated by making the cap a slack fitting in the first place.