Category Archives: taxes and climate change

A man exploiting the moment, or a man for all seasons? Tony Abbott’s legacy will be defined by climate change

A_man_for_all

On September 7 2013, the Australian voting public put into high office a man known for his scepticism of climate change, for surrounding himself with a coterie of fellow sceptics and for turning his back on partisan efforts to introduce a price on carbon. 

It is scarcely acknowledged today, but as late as June 2009 Tony Abbott argued for a price on carbon. In Sky News interview, Abbott stated: 

“If you want to put a price on carbon why not just do it with a simple tax. Why not ask motorists to pay more? Why not ask electricity consumers to pay more? 

And then at the end of the year, you can take your invoices to the tax office and get a rebate on the carbon tax you paid. 

It would be burdensome, all taxes are burdensome, but it would certainly change the price on carbon, raise the price of carbon without increasing in any way the overall tax burden.” 

Abbott’s repudiation of his own position and that of perceived wisdom is one of the most stunning turnarounds in Australia political history. The question, though it may never be answered, is what prompted Abbott’s about face? There are clues given to us but the man himself. 

Following the defeat of Howard Government in 2007 Abbott found solace in writing what should be regarded as his manifesto for the government he leads, Battlelines. 

Of it’s almost 200 pages, Abbott dedicates a scant four of them to climate change. And yet those four pages tell us all we need to know about Abbott the man and his view on the issue.

Abbott cites notable climate sceptic Ian Plimer as an authority, regurgitating many of the same arguments made by Plimer that have been widely dismissed by the scientific community. He also cites the equally discredited economist Bjorn Lomberg, of “sceptical environmentalist” fame. Lomberg acknowledges global warming but cherry picks facts without reservation to downplay it’s seriousness. It is an argument Abbott uncritically adopts in Battlelines, and without doubt guides his actions on climate change.

A clue to Abbott’s radical shift can be found in his concluding sentences on the issue, where he notes:

“Australians will continue to tell pollsters that they want action for a cleaner environment, but they are unlikely to support policy changes that they think might make daily life harder or much more expensive” (Battlelines, page 173).

Perhaps climate change is real. Perhaps not. Perhaps technology solutions and nuclear energy is the answer. Or not.

Regardless, it seems Abbott has cynically read the mood of parts of the electorate and played to them. Abbott is now in a position to impose the views expressed in his Battlelines manifesto upon the country.

There is much irony in that Abbott, the man who grudgingly acknowledges the science (in public at least), who will dismantle the carbon price and who has closed institutions such as the Climate Commission is defined by the politics global warming.

Without doubt Abbott, his government and his legacy will be measured against his policy approach to climate change, the very issue he denies is a genuine risk to Australia or the world. 

A man for our time, or a man for all seasons?

In the play A man for all seasons, playwright Robert Bolt muses on questions of identity and personal conscience in politics.

Based upon the life and death of Thomas More, Bolt suggests via the narrative of the play a person of conscience will stand by their principles regardless of external pressures and the temptations of short term gain.

By abiding by their principles, such individuals forfeit the temptations of power and its abuse. They remain true to themselves, a person “for all seasons”,

In the plays most famous scene, More argues against those who would put aside laws for the sake of expediency. He argues with his son-in-law, who urges the illegal arrest of a man who would eventually go on to betray him:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

It is well known tony Abbott has yearned for the Prime Ministership all his life. 

When the opportunity was presented to him, Abbott recognised the thicket of laws he needed to cut down to achieve his ambitions. He read discontent is some parts of the electorate, and played to their fears.

At this moment of writing, fire-storms are wiping out communities across New South Wales. There is no respite at this point, conditions such as these may last for weeks.

It is early spring, Australia’s extended fire season is upon us. The ill winds of climate change are upon us. 

Against this background Prime Minster Tony Abbott moves steadily, without pause or consideration to cut down laws. 

Who is Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a man cynically exploiting the moment or a man for all seasons?

Death, taxes and climate change: the three things now inevitable – or what does the insurance industry have to say about climate?

The tragic fires in Tasmania remind us of the profound impacts a disaster can have on individuals and communities.

As I’ve stated many times I view climate change through a risk management prism: increasing levels of CO2 and other green houses gases lead to higher temperatures as more heat is trapped in our atmosphere – this changes the climate system, raising the number of extreme events. These events can shatter lives, property and communities.

Of course I’m not alone in this view: for many years the insurance industry has been alert to the risks posed by climate change.

The above graph clearly shows an increase in climate, meteorological and hydro-logical related catastrophes in North America since 1980: note these are contrasted to geophysical events which remain relatively steady for the same period.

It looks like a pattern to me.

What do you think?

Cue the sceptics excuses and hand waving…

That hot bed of socialism and advocates for the New World Order, the Insurance Council of Australia published a paper on the issue of climate change in 2008. It provides an insight into how that industry perceives the risks associated with climate change:

In Australia 19 of the 20 largest property losses in the previous 40 years have been weather related. It is in this context that general insurance products provide essential risk cover for Australians. The industry provides a financial recovery mechanism from weather related catastrophes by evaluating, pricing and spreading the risk of such events, and then paying claims when they arise.

The general insurance industry therefore has a heightened awareness of climate change driven by predictions of an increasing number of extreme weather events.

For some decades the global industry has been involved in research concerning the impacts of extreme weather events on communities and has keenly followed the results of climate change research as it has been matured by the scientific community.

There is agreement in the scientific community that a level of climate change can now be described as ‘locked in’ or as ‘unavoidable’. This is regardless of even the most aggressive of mitigation and greenhouse reduction proposals. 

These ‘locked in’ changes will arrive on the back of an Australian environment that already has a rich history of weather related natural disasters. On this basis there is a strong need to adapt human behavior to not only predicted increases in extremes but to the current level of extreme weather events that occur in Australia.

The focus for the general insurance industry is to assist in increasing community resilience to extreme weather events as they manifest now and how they may manifest into the future.

Climate change is not a belief or a religion. It is not a hoax cooked up by scientists, or part of a decades long plan by the Illuminati to take over the world.

It is a risk to business, personal property and communities.

It’s that simple. 

Climate sceptics are like uninsured home owners pretending there aren’t any risks and that all that talk about burglaries, house fires or personal illness are phantom menaces cooked up by the greedy insurance industry. It is not merely folly, but a fantasy version of reality.

In life three things are now inevitable, of which none will escape: death, taxes and climate change.

For those with the clarity of vision and courage to embrace this truth it is time to plan and adapt to this reality.

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