It was never going to be easy to sell the Government’s CPRS. It is a complex plan to cope with a very complex problem – anthropogenic global warming. But as recent events have muddied the debate about carbon mitigation, the Government’s task is now even more difficult. So far it has not done a great job in selling its CPRS, perhaps distracted by its attempts to get the legislation through the Senate that would have succeeded but for Tony Abbott’s toppling of Malcolm Turnbull, and the Copenhagen saga. Ironically, in a speech in parliament yesterday it was Malcolm Turnbull who described lucidly what the CPRS was designed to do, more so than Government speakers.
CPRS and ETS will be used interchangeably in this piece.
Here are some of the issues complicating the debate:
Climate change sceptics/deniers have grown in numbers and loquacity. Whereas previously they could argue that climate has been changing for centuries and what’s happening now is just part of a natural cycle and has nothing to do with carbon dioxide or human activity, now they can reinforce their position by reference to instances of mistakes in the report of the UN International Panel on Climate Change, the ultimate and until recently unchallengeable authority on the science of climate change. Instances of sloppy, even deceptive science, and incorrect predictions based on poor documentation in the fringe literature or by inexperienced scientists, have also been cited. This has been grist to the mill for those who seek to tear down the validity and reliability of climate science and those who work in it. Well-funded globe-trotting climate change denialists are in full flight and attracting enthusiastic audiences to their heavily promoted performances.
Most members of the public have little interest in the scientific foundation of climate change and scant time to sort it out for themselves. So if they have an inclination to scepticism, these occurrences quickly confirm their suspicions that global warming is a hoax. This is despite the mountain of peer-reviewed scientific evidence in reputable journals that go to make up the first part of the IPCC report which provides such convincing evidence of AGW. It is in the second and third parts of the report that attempt to predict the consequences of global warming that some errors have been found, just a few despite the strident publicity that the sceptical press has given them.
The Opposition has several sceptics among its numbers who have seized on these errors to confirm their views: Nick Minchin, Wilson Tuckey, Cory Bernardi, Dennis Jensen, Andrew Robb, and of course Tony Abbott himself, who seems to waver between ‘absolute crap’ denial and reluctant acceptance of the need to take out some insurance against the possibility global warming might be happening.
Although among the general public there are an increasing number of sceptics, the proportion who want something done about climate change is a still a solid majority, and while support for an ETS has declined significantly, in this week’s Nielsen poll 56% still favoured an ETS while 29% opposed.
The other factor muddying the waters is the Coalition’s abandonment of bipartisanship and the introduction of a new policy that promises to solve the global warming problem with a ‘Direct Action Plan’ that on the face of it seems to cause little pain, is not ‘a great big new tax on everything’, is purported to be less costly than the Government’s CPRS, and uses ‘natural’ methods such as tree planting, sequestration of carbon in soil and algal synthesis, all laudable. It all sounds too good to be true, and it is according to analysts and yesterday none other than Malcolm Turnbull. But that will not stop many voters from giving it a tick.
When presented with a choice between the Coalition plan and the Government’s ETS, 45% of those polled by Nielsen preferred the Coalition plan and 39% the ETS. Yet when asked to choose between the Government’s and the Coalition’s approaches to climate change, the results were the other way around: 43 per cent chose the Government’s approach and 30 per cent the Coalition’s. Pollster John Stirton thought ‘the apparent contradiction probably reflected voters' low level of understanding of the schemes’. In Pollytics, Possum has done a more complex analysis of the answers to the Nielsen questions that will be of interest to those interested in the detail.
The selling of the CPRS therefore has to take into account not only the complexity of climate change, the scepticism surrounding AGW, the complexity of the proposed ETS and the way it will affect people, but it also has to counter the simplicity of the Coalition plan which has popular appeal to those who don’t wish to delve into the details and who don’t want to pay out of their own pockets to achieve success. Few will question the effectiveness and the real cost of the Coalition plan because it is via taxes - just so long as it’s easy to understand and seemingly painless.
So what are the messages the Government needs to promulgate?
First, it needs to convince the sceptical that global warming is real and that if left unchecked will irreversibly change the planet and all life upon it. The hard-core deniers are probably beyond persuasion.
Next, the Government needs to convince the people that the situation is urgent. What looks to be a long way off is so easy to ignore. So the Government needs to show that significant changes are already occurring all around the world, and how acting now will not only begin the process of reversal and avert calamity, but will cost less in the long run.
Then it needs to convince the public that humans are such a significant cause of global warming that it is their activities that must be curtailed to begin to reverse the adverse trends.
Next it must convince everyone that acting independently of the rest of the world is the way to go, that it will minimize costs and will give our industry a head start in creating renewable energy and the technology that reduces emissions, such as CO2 sequestration. There is a strong and persuasive argument that Australia should not go first and jeopardize its economy. Countering this will take a lot of effort. But suggesting the rest of the world are laggards and will eventually have to catch up, might appeal. Unfortunately the Government has used the ‘we’ll do no more, no less’ mantra so often that acting ahead of the rest of the world is now more difficult to sell.
Then the very basic messages about what the ETS is designed to do can be promulgated, namely limit carbon emissions, heavily penalize those who pollute so that they seek to pollute less, and compensate households for any increase in living costs that arise.
Finally, the Government needs to contrast its ETS with the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan and convince the people that the Coalition’s scheme is short-term, unlikely to achieve any mitigation of carbon emissions, is costly, and that it is the taxpayers who will pay the polluters to reduce their pollutions.
When one looks at the strength of the arguments that the Government could mount, it seems like a lay-down-misère, but it isn’t – it is probably the most difficult task for the Government in 2010.
Simplicity is essential in transmitting messages. So let’s try to draft some understandable but brief promotional lines. Please try your hand too.
On the reality of AGW
Global warming threatens our future
It is happening now
Human activity is causing it
We must act now before it’s too late
Acting now will reduce the cost
Acting now will boost our economy and create jobs
Acting now will give Australia a head start
The rest of the world will have to catch up
On the basic CPRS messages
The Government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme:
Sets a limit on carbon pollution for the nation
Penalizes polluters, who pay heavily for polluting
Will reduce pollution
Will compensate households for any increased costs
Does not use taxpayer’s money
If the Government believes it needs to counter the Opposition plan:
The Opposition's Direct Action Plan:
Will allow polluters to go on polluting
Does not set a limit on pollution
Will not reduce pollution overall
Will use your taxes to pay polluters to pollute less
Will be very costly to the budget
Will not compensate you for increased household costs
All of these messages could be embellished by images that reinforce the message, and voice-over that adds impact if they are used in TV ads.
There’s a start anyway. I realize some of you will likely disagree with some of the premises that underpin these lists and no doubt will express your disagreement; you may want to change some of wording. But I hope you will try to improve the messages or add some if I’ve missed any out.
For what it’s worth, the final list could be sent to the Government as the view of bloggers on TPS.
Let’s have your suggestions.