Its been quite remarkable to watch the Coalition tear itself apart over climate change.
The issue has become so politically charged that one of the potential leadership candidates (Joe Hockey) is considering reversing his position on climate change due to agitation from the Coalition base.
This highlights the deep political divisions this issue creates, which while they are too complex to be fully explained by the left/right dichotomy, seem to align somewhat with David Burchell's assessment:
We know that we believe in climate change because we also believe in solar energy, social welfare, indigenous culture and women's rights. We know that we disbelieve in it because we believe in the coal industry, personal thrift and responsibility and the traditional family. There never was a catechism more hypnotic, more elemental, or more purely devoid of thought.
I'm not denying some people approach the issue more rationally and scientifically than described by Burchell. But how many people do you know who've waded through both the IPCC's reports and Ian Pilmer's musings on the matter?
I would argue most of us, whether consciously or subconsciously, use shortcuts to decide how we stand. I guess the trick is to try, as much as possible ,to use intentional and informed (rather than random) shortcuts when deciding how we will respond.
So here we go... I am in favour of policies which seek to reduce carbon emissions. The key questions I've considered and the shortcuts I've used to answer them are:
Q. Does the science support the idea humans are causing climate change?
A. Yes but this point is contested. Not being a scientist all I can really do is listen to climate change scientists and major international scientific bodies. I'm yet to hear of a climate change expert who has published peer-reviewed research that refutes it*.
Q. Is an emissions trading scheme (ETS) a good way to address climate change?
A. It seems to be a good start. People say an ETS is a waste of time because Australia's emissions are so small in a global context. But this is like saying Australia's relatively small contingent of troops in Afghanistan doesn't impact the political and military reality on the ground. Also, an incremental (rather than revolutionary) approach is consistent with how Australia usually approaches these things.
Q. Will an ETS hurt households and/or the economy?
A. Yes and no. According to Meganomics' predictions in the Aus, the vast majority of households will be better off once government compensation is taken into account. In terms of the broader economy, clearly high-emitting industries will face higher costs. This is inevitable when you are trying to re-align incentives and internalise the cost of 'externalities' (i.e. carbon emissions) that would otherwise continue to be costless due to market failure.
Q. Are we getting too far ahead of other countries in signing up to an ETS before Copenhagen?
A. I don't think so. Quite apart from the outcome of Copenhagen, the EU has had an ETS in place for several years, the US has one before Congress and Japan has a target of an 8% cut in emissions by 2020. China and India tend to be the countries most people talk about - India probably won't cut its emissions and fair enough - 50% of the population doesn't have access to electricity. Re: China, after the recent high-level US-China talks there is growing confidence China is moving to curb emissions due to the obvious effect climate change is having on the country.
I'd be interested in hearing how you would answer these questions using your own 'shortcuts'.
*Of course there is a possibility of a conspiracy theory involving all reputable climate change scientists across the world. But I consider this less likely than the proven track record of high emitters paying less reputable scientists to come out against anthropogenic climate change.