I was fortunate enough to get out in Adelaide last night and see Professor Ross Garnaut deliver his first presentation post the handing down of his final report. For the international readers, Professor Garnaut is the man chiefly responsible for designing an emissions trading scheme for Australia, or at the very least, making all the recommendations for the Government to then adopt, ignore or hopefully not water down too much with input from big business

You would never describe Garnaut as succinct, but he was cogent, clear, impeccably well reasoned and really, really knows his stuff. He was also a strong voice for national interest over vested interest. It was incredibly refreshing and inspiring to see that the unbridled idiocy that has characterised the public debate on the airwaves, on the floor of Parliament, and in newspapers bears no resemblance at all to the very serious work that is obviously taking place at the same time. I came away feeling a great deal more confident than I went in.

I maintain that in applying a market-based system for reducing emissions in the name of minimising costs, Australia must open itself to all the solutions the market can offer in order to derive full benefit. By arbitrarily excluding the biggest one of all in nuclear power, perverse outcomes can only ensue. I didn’t make a charge for the microphone last night in QA time though; a little voice inside told me it wasn’t the night. Pricing carbon is a very important enabler of solutions, and I did not wish to crash what was a pretty good party in terms of over 1,000 people turning out to voice their support for it.

Get out and see him present if you can. Thanks Professor Garnaut, nice work.


  1. I’m sorry to pour cold water on your enthusiasm fresh from being garnered by Garnout,Ben, but Garnout is an economist who happens to believe climate change is real.Given the Neanderthal state of the economics profession at present that is in itself remarkable (apologies to the Neanderthals who were apparently a fairly bright bunch).

    Moreover,I suspect Garnout is a member of the currently predominant neo-classical school of economics which has done,and continues to do,untold harm to nations,economies,societies and citizens worldwide.
    Perhaps one way of describing this cohort would be the saying – “when you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail”.
    Hence Garnauts prescription for climate change is a dose of tax + financial manipulation.

    I would be interested to hear what Bill Mitchell (Professor of Economics at Newcastle University,NSW) has to say about Garnout amd his cure,which basically amounts to blood letting.

    Mitchell,in case you don’t know,is a leading proponent of Modern Monetary Theory (look it up) which is to economics what nuclear power is to energy.

    But I guess Bill Mitchell wouldn’t want to waste his time getting involved in this carbon tax cat fight.Especially as once the noise stops and the fur ceases to fly all the cats will go home and nothing will have changed on the real issue,which is a drastic and urgent reduction in carbon emissions.

    1. Uh-huh.

      Perhaps when he gets to QLD you might get along to see him, we can both read the report, and then have an informed discussion about what he is proposing for the country and why? As opposed to supposition, attacks on the man himself, his profession and what you “suspect” to be his intellectual framework?

      “Garnout is an economist who happens to believe climate change is real.” Well for crying out loud, he’s hardly in exclusive company on that front is he? And why does that issue continue to be framed as a question of “belief”, as opposed to simply attending to an overwhelming scientific consensus as the foundation for decision-making?

      For the benefit of Podargus and everyone else, I am hosting an evolved discussion here. There is still buckets of uncertainty in many areas of climate change science which are welcome to be discussed with evidence and references. Whether or not it is “real” is subject to virtually no uncertainty at all and hence doesn’t qualify. The blog space will not be wasted with discussions of such; there must be a million blogs out there doing that. Feel free to go there, just be aware that such postings will have a very short life at Decarbonise SA.

      Ben Heard Director

      ben.heard@thinkclimateconsulting.com.au M- 0411 808 202 W- http://www.thinkclimateconsulting.com.au

      1. I don’t think Podargus is casting doubt on climate change science Ben, more aspersions on orthodox economics.

        But the broader point is well made. Framing about climate change is important. I use the term “accept climate science”, I certainly don’t say “believe” because that’s not appropriate, it’s accepting someone else’s framing. Jilia Gillard has bought into the framing debate, she’s a “believer”.

        I don’t “believe” in gravity, I don’t “believe” in bacteria. I accept the weight of scientific evidence there.

        Barry Brook, as a tolerant moderator on BNC, allows his “cause” of nuclear power to take on board science deniers, he only pulls them up when they’re particularly egregious. I welcome a strict policy on being rational about climate science.

        If there wasn’t an emergent cliamte crisis, I wouldn’t be in favour of nuclear power. It’s still better than coal, but it’s not worth the fight otherwise.

        But I won’t be associated with the likes of Andrew Blot, who are pro-nuclear power simply to wind up the greens, and because they’re techno-optimists.

        1. All good points and well made. I similarly don’t “believe” nuclear power is safe. The evidence tells me very clearly that this is so.

          I’m happy for Podargus to correct me if I have misrepresented his aspersions on climate change science. I have a purpose in mind for this blog, outlined in the welcome, and as such I’m happy to be a pretty firm moderator. This virtual house is open full time to challenging assertions and discussions, made from the foundation of what science tells us we know to be true about climate change. Off-hand remarks about the “reality” of climate change will also pass through as this one has, but threads will not proceed down that particular garden path. Non-scientifically based comments on nuclear are, by contrast, welcomed because this site is meant to provide a learning opportunity for those wishing to engage in the issue and starting from where I used to sit.

          I’ll get the hang of my responsibility as I go along, but I like to be clear, early.

  2. I think that’s a completely wrong and unfair characterisation of Australian economists Podargus. It’s hard to think of a professional economist that doesn’t accept climate change and the need for economic reform to deal with it. Henry Ergas, the Coalition’s pet economist, is about the only one.

    Some quite “left”, “heterodox” or social democratic economists (such as John Quiggin) support an ETS and/or a tax.

    Bill Mitchell is very proud to be considered a radical (see his political compass score: http://bilbo.economicoutlook.net/blog/?page_id=2 ).

  3. Hi folks, aren’t we missing something here?
    For me, there’s no doubting Professor Garnaut is a highly intelligent and thoughtful man who has spent a great deal of time thinking about how to solve the problem of carbon emissions.

    His report and recommendations, if fully adopted will provide us with a market mechanism to reduce carbon emissions within the current economic paradigm.

    The elephant in the room though, is that Garnaut, like other economists, politicians, business owners and investors, believe that ‘economic growth’ is central to a healthy economy.

    Whilst we can argue about the efficacy or otherwise of a carbon tax or ETS to curb carbon emissions I believe we’re avoiding the bigger problem of perpetual growth on a planet with finite resources.

    As with any natural system, we need to think of the earth in a holistic way, rather than the narrow abstract way in which economics tells us to do so. There’s no doubt in my mind that Garnut’s recommendations – if not watered down, would result in a reduction in carbon emissions.
    The question for me is – what else fails as a result of this laser focus on carbon reduction?

    Paul Gilding, in his recent book ‘The Great Disruption’ suggests we’re heading towards two crises simultaneously – dangerous climate tipping points, and the end of growth. Whilst the first is likely to be catastrophic, the second will require a much more fundamental change to the way we live.

  4. Patrick, that’s certainly an interesting meta-point. I suppose that most people who support nuclear power for Australia have bought in to the dominant paradigm, this is an attempt to keep the lights on and go about business as usual. That’s certainly my stance. I’ve flirted with nihilism and back-to-nature ideas in my time, but I’ve come to the viewpoint that civilisation is worth saving. See this debate: http://www.monbiot.com/2009/08/18/should-we-seek-to-save-industrial-civilisation/

    1. But could there ever be such thing as a mature (i.e. zero growth) system? Or is there such thing as a growth system that is sustainable? I am hoping that with sufficiently advanced recycling, the latter is very much true. Earth is not a closed system, there is a lot of energy coming in an a lot of stuff grows as a result. If we can keep that in balance, then the main challenge should be keeping the other materials in the loop, especially metals and plastics, and cutting and cleaning up the toxins (which needs energy). We can always achieve “growth” with the same resources, it is simply how we choose to define value e.g. buying a product vs a service.

      We certainly need a solution, because both endless population growth and the current consumption model lead to trouble. Yet population growth is only reigned in slowly (I can have 20 children, but I can only die once!), and only through development… which then leads to the unsustainable levels of consumption!

      Ben Heard Director

      ben.heard@thinkclimateconsulting.com.au M- 0411 808 202 W- http://www.thinkclimateconsulting.com.au

  5. See also http://www.earthscan.co.uk/?tabid=849

    On the one hand, “Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist. ” (Kenneth Boulding).

    On the other hand, “the stone age didn’t end due to a lack of stone” – Sheik Yamani

  6. I knew I would tread on some corns with my comment however I have said what must be said no matter what the level of denial of the reality is.I make no apologies.

    Some clarification may be in order –

    (1) I was not casting any aspersions on climate science.I don’t know how my comment could be construed in that way – ? straw man response.

    (2) I certainly was casting aspersions on Garnout and other main stream economists and with good reason.Perhaps,Ben you need to read more about what has been and is going on overseas. Australia has been lucky up to date in avoiding the worst of the global recession.That can not continue and the present complacency will result in a very rude awakening.The mainstream economic conventional wisdom,for at least the last 30 years, bears a large part of the responsibility for the global financial crisis as well as all the other shenanigans which have been going on with the IMF and the World Bank etc.

    (3) When I said that I suspect that Garnaut is a member of the neo classical school of economics I was being charitable.In fact,given his history of in depth association with federal governments which can only be described as conservative in the worst sense of the word I am quite sure that I have accurately described his leanings.

    (4) Arguing over the semantics of “belief” does not advance your case one millimetre.

    (5)In my opinion, Ben,you wrote a blog article which displayed an inappropriate enthusiasm for a person (Garnaut) who has more than a few question marks hanging over him re his integrity,not to mention his professional and political leanings.I’m not inclined to let an article like this pass without challenge.

    (6) You have displayed your own ideological leanings to some extent in this and previous articles and comments.I will take that into account in future.I don’t waste my time reading blogs or anything else for that matter where the writer displays muddle headed thinking or major blindspots.

    (7) Patrick Greene,you sensibly raise the question of growth and the attitude of economists like Garnaut and others in the “establishment”. I call them the Growth At Any Cost Crowd and they are in the drivers seat.The result is an appalling level of myopia in many areas of national importance if not survival.
    I support nuclear power,the ostensible raison d’etre for this blog, not because I believe in growth per se but because I see it as a logical and necessary step in an orderly power down process.Power down is inevitable because our present system is not sustainable.If the fools who currently run the show are allowed their way this process will be a shambles and we will all be great losers thereby.Even the wealthy,the powerful and their lackeys who,in their stupidity,ignorance and hubris, think they have their hands on all the levers and are exempt from suffering.

    That is enough for tonight.

  7. (1) I was not casting any aspersions on climate science.I don’t know how my comment could be construed in that way” Yep, straw man response, though didn’t realise it at the time. For which you are owed an apology (which that was :)). Stay with me, I am learning in the blog hosting role, and will hopefully get better every day.

    “(4) Arguing over the semantics of “belief” does not advance your case one millimetre.” Not sure which particular case you are referring to here, but I prefer to reject that bogus premise of belief whenever it comes up. Nothing personal intended there really.

    “(5)In my opinion, Ben,you wrote a blog article which displayed an inappropriate enthusiasm for a person (Garnaut) who has more than a few question marks hanging over him re his integrity,not to mention his professional and political leanings.I’m not inclined to let an article like this pass without challenge.” Go your hardest mate, that’s what comments are for. In return though, don’t expect me to take it lying down, as 1)I haven’t drunk Garnaut Kool Aid as you seem to think. I have been following this issue for a decade now, both personally and professionally having contributed (in a team) to the original Garnaut Review, with far more dissappointments than any thing else. I have a perfect right to an opinion when I sense some good work has been done, particularly in light of a national discourse which has, at least in the public realm, been quite pathetic for some time now. 2) I was there listening and you weren’t!!! As I suggest, perhaps get out and see him or bring to the post a specifc point or thrust of his work that you want to contest (I found what you posted this morning to be rather vague and cynical)? Not being faecestious, serious suggestion.

    (6) “You have displayed your own ideological leanings to some extent in this and previous articles and comments.I will take that into account in future.I don’t waste my time reading blogs or anything else for that matter where the writer displays muddle headed thinking or major blindspots.” I see. Well, this is, after all, something I am working very hard on because I believe in it, and researched academia hardly makes for compelling reading; of course I am giving my leanings. You don’t have to suffer in silence; tell me why I am wrong and I will agree or disagree; I think you will find me very amenable to well meaning criticism. I put myself back through school so to speak to change my mind on nuclear. I’m more than capable of evolving in other areas too. If we believe in the same cause, give me your assistance. I’m trying to get something done, I want to be effective. That means I listen, push back, and when convinced, I change. But if it’s really that unbearable…

    As for the growth issue, it’s something I want to explore and I welcome Patrick’s foray.

  8. Thank you,Ben for a more sensible post.My basic point about Garnaut and the people he works for is that he pushes the line that climate change can be addressed adequately through the use of financial incentives/disincentives like a carbon tax and/or carbon trading. I disagree for many reasons,some of which I have mentioned but I am not going to belabour the point.

    You,Garnout et al are entitled to that opinion and to express it.I hold an opposite view partly because I regard the present policy as an abdication of government responsibility.That abdication is not a new phenomenen and is a characteristic of the neo-liberal mindset.The potential tragedy for Australia is that both major parties have this mindset and the Greens,the only viable alternative,are just as divorced from reality only in a slightly different way.

    As for going to listen to Garnout speak,even if I lived in or near Brisbane,which I don’t,I would not bother to attend such a function. I have a pretty good idea what he has to say and I do not get much out of verbal communication of this sort because I have a hearing deficiency caused by being actively involved in a war zone fighting, I was led to believe when I was much younger and much more naive than now,for the right (among other excuses) of the likes of Garnout and others to express their opinions.

    Such,as Joseph Furphy so competently said in his classic work,Is Life.

    1. Every time I present, I get some varient on the question/ statement “You are not addressing the underlying problem of consumption/ You are just proposing we change energy source and carry on/ You are not addressing population/ the whole system is geared towards endless growth and you are not changing that”. To some extent there is a short answer to these questions which is “I am not God”. However they are important issues and having been asked them so many times I am forming my position and philosophy on these matters more clearly. It will be the subject of an upcoming post, and everyone can go to town on me in the comments!!! I am looking forward to taking the opportunity to commit it to writing and seeing how well I think it hangs together. In the meantime though you all deserve to see an update of the Energy Plan and Action Plan, and a progress report for Decarbonise SA more generally. Hopefully these will come on-line next week.

  9. There are so many issues wrapped up the politics of climate change I could write for a week and not cover them all. So… I wish you luck on that project Ben.

    On growth v’s non-growth with respect to climate change, neither a steady-state economy nor a low energy one are inherently CO2 emissions free. We could have a steady-state economy acting like a kind of frozen BAU where we could continue to spew the same (but no more) amount of crap into the environment as we are right now. We could have a Low(er) energy economy which burnt really dirty fuel thus emitting more CO2 than a much higher energy be cleaner fuelled economy. For example, I know Denmark is one developed nation who has achieved amazing results in energy conservation and efficiency but whose per capita emissions are still too high due to their reliance on fossil fuels. If the rest of the developed world equalled Denmark’s per capita emissions the result would still be climate change. A switch to either model, will not, by itself, address climate change. To become climate solutions, both models still need to switch from being oil, gas, coal, peat, wood, dung powered, to being powered by emissions free technology. That means, the most important thing we must do is choose the most effective zero emissions energy technology, only then can we make our political or economic systems truly effective drivers of climate action.

    Well, that’s my opinion anyway…

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