Friday, February 22, 2008

What's conservative?

Garnaut tackles this question in his report.

“Many would argue that the uncertainty requires a conservative rather than ambitious approach to mitigation. But what is conservative in a context where the possible outcomes include some that most humans today would consider catastrophic? Conservatism may in fact require erring on the side of ambitious mitigation. After all, prudent risk management would suggest that it is worth the sacrifice of a significant amount of current income to avoid a small chance of a catastrophic outcome.”

I can see his point.

A conservative would take out fire insurance even if they thought there was only a small chance of their house burning down.


Graeme said...

Yes, that was my MAJOR problem with Howard. I didn't care that he personally thought he be long off the planet before the impacts were felt, but I could not believe the logic of doing nothing... or worse still giving a 'Get out of jail free' card to the US administration. Howard claimed Australia's stance mattered little, in terms of our share of global CO2, but Australia's stance was consistently cited by Bush within the USA to defend their position!
Besides, we'll need the oil for lubrication uses etc, so why not do the first/easy halving in use, through electric cars, hybrids, public transport, passive solar etc... as 30% of Australia's electricity use is used to heat water! Photovoltaics may still just be near breakeven, but roof-top solar water heaters are 'low hanging fruit'.
Howard's nuclear power station plans also did nothing on the demand side, and simply assumed the price of electricity would always remain low, and we must do whatever is needed to increase supply! Nuclear was never goint to be more acceptable to Australians than rooftop solar heaters! For the prior cabinet, those nuclear ambitions should have been a red flag that Howard was growing old and ever-more out-of-touch with the views of the people.
Similarly, the only benefit of NSW getting out of owning the electricity generation sector is that maybe NSW Labor will cease its mantra that another coal-fired plant is urgently needed. Electricity prices will go up, with most of that going to new overseas owners, but the upshot will be some price loop feedback to lessen demand. And perhaps the government, if it does not own the plants, can consider better subsidy plans (or low-cost loans) for alternatives, such as solar hotwater heaters.
As to emissions trading, we need to look after exports (specifically, not by sector - eg the way GST does). But giving free permits to domestic polluters makes no sense, as it isolates those who should be most induced to change. I hope Garnaut gets the balance right.

Post a Comment