Introduction by Ad astra
In a piece titled: The ragged trousered philanthropist
on The Watermelon Blog
, it was David Horton who suggested that PM Gillard should consider instituting ‘Fireside Chats’. Quoting from Wikipedia
, he related previous attempts at ‘fireside chats’: “President Franklin Roosevelt first used ‘fireside chats’ in 1929 during his first term as Governor of New York. He…would occasionally address the citizens of New York directly. He appealed to them for help getting his agenda passed. Letters would pour in following each of these ‘chats’, which helped pressure legislators to pass measures Roosevelt had proposed…. The ‘fireside chats’ were considered enormously successful and attracted more listeners than the most popular radio shows during the ‘Golden Age of Radio’.”
David urged our own Prime Minister to do the same, particularly to explain the ‘why’ of her Government’s plans. The whole piece is thoroughly worth a read.
Those of mature years will remember RG Menzies’ broadcast essays delivered weekly by radio during 1942. Some of them dealt with matters of continuing interest while others were on issues that were more evanescent. They are well documented in the Menzies Virtual Museum
. It was in those addresses that Menzies referred to ‘the forgotten people’, by which he meant the middle class. They had a profound effect as they reached out to the ordinary men and women of Australia sitting by their firesides in the evening.
The Rudd Government, and now the Gillard Government, has embarked on many reforms that will benefit both our economy and the lives of our people. Many are not well understood and because of that some have been misrepresented. The Government has a need to explain to the people what it has achieved, what it is planning, and particularly why it is proposing the substantial reforms it is. So far, there is not only a lack of understanding in the electorate and a degree of disinterest in these reforms that needs addressing, but also a need to correct the misinformation that abounds. The idea behind ‘Fireside Chats’ is to put the record straight on a number of important issues in terms that all can understand, in the belief that when the average person has matters explained clearly and unemotionally she or he can, and usually will identify with the underlying rationale.
This is the first of a series in which contributors to The Political Sword
will attempt to fashion examples of messages that our Prime Minister might give in her Fireside Chats. The first is on the contentious subject: A Price on Carbon
Before we begin, a couple of disclaimers from NormanK.
This is not a satirical piece. There is no twist in the tail.
This is my first attempt at writing a speech and is not meant to be a replication of good speech writing. There are many tricks to writing a clever speech - word selection, pacing, phrasing and so on. I don't know these tricks.
Finally, this is not meant to be a definitive explication of climate change science. Any errors are of my own making and polite corrections will be gratefully accepted.
No doubt there are many smaller innovations that other federal departments are undertaking which could be brought into this speech to better portray a holistic approach by government. Without access to government staff it is difficult to know what those projects are.
A Price on Carbon
Thank-you for giving me this opportunity to discuss with you one of the most urgent challenges facing us today.
Tonight I want to talk about climate change and what we can do to prepare Australia for the shock that is coming. As well as bringing about changes to protect our own society, we also need to play our part in slowing the rate of climate change and limiting how bad it eventually gets. As good world citizens, I think all Australians are ready to pitch in and do their bit.
The science around global warming has long since passed the stage where experts are arguing over whether or not global temperatures will increase over the course of this century. Climatologists, physicists, meteorologists and other experts in many different fields have been collecting information on the current state of the planet for many, many decades.
These are not fly-by-nighters or Johnny-come-latelies who have suddenly turned their attention to this problem. Many thousands of papers have been written, published in the world's leading scientific journals and subjected to peer review.
Peer review is something which many of the sceptics who wish to pour scorn on the idea of global warming are loathe to subject themselves to. Scientists are a fussy bunch when it comes to endorsing new ideas and theories and they spend a lot of their professional time and energy testing whether a colleague's methods and conclusions are robust enough to be reliable.
After many years, thousands of papers and countless reviews, the great majority of experts working in the fields which study climate activity have come to a joint conclusion. They believe that the presence of significant quantities of pollutants in the atmosphere has altered the balance in ways that will have consequences in the coming years, decades and even centuries.
Much is made of carbon dioxide as the main pollutant but there are many other gases which are affecting the way our atmosphere operates. It is mainly for convenience of conversation that we refer to carbon dioxide as the primary concern.
In simple terms these pollutants have changed the balance of chemicals in the air and although they are a long way from causing us harm by breathing them, they have affected the ability of the atmosphere to protect us from the harmful aspects of the sun's radiation and they are altering the chemical make-up of our seas and oceans.
I won't try to give a science class because it would take far too long but an easy way to understand the problem is to look at the difference between now and say three hundred years ago. In the eighteenth century some of the radiation from the sun would have made its way through the atmosphere, hit an object and then bounced off back into space.
This is the way it has been for tens of thousands of years and all life on Earth has got used to it.
Since the time of the industrial revolution, mankind has been pouring more and more pollution into the air and we are doing so today at historically high rates.
What scientists are warning us is that more of the sun's radiation is not finding its way back out into space. Instead it is bouncing off the pollution in the atmosphere and returning to the ground and the oceans. Quite a bit of the sun's radiation is easily converted to heat, that's what a warm sunny day is all about.
As a result, the overall temperature of the planet is increasing. Ice caps which would once have stayed frozen through the short summer months are now melting and flowing into the oceans causing sea levels to rise. The water in our rivers and dams is now evaporating at a faster rate than it would have done in centuries past. The oceans are warming, in particular at the surface and this is causing even more water to enter the atmosphere.
What goes up must come down. It would be simplistic to point to something like Cyclone Yasi and say that it was caused by global warming. But what we can do is look at the recent floods around Australia, the storms in the United States and the bitter winter weather in Europe this year and imagine what the future holds if the weather patterns change in the way that most forecasters are predicting.
Water in the atmosphere plays a large part in generating the winds which swirl around the globe and storms are predicted to become more frequent and more fierce over the decades ahead. The wet times will be wetter and the dry times will be drier.
Another one of the problems created by too much carbon dioxide in the air comes from it joining together with water to form acid. Too much acid in our oceans threatens to kill off the smallest of the organisms living there. Larger creatures, all the way up to the fish that we eat and the dolphins and whales that we love, rely on these organisms and other small animals to survive.
You might hear some people talking about how plants need carbon dioxide to live and that it is a natural part of the environment. This is true but just like chocolate at Easter, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. Plankton, very tiny plants and animals floating in the ocean, rely on carbon dioxide and will help to reduce it from our atmosphere but sadly these little plants and animals are under threat from rising acid levels in our oceans.
Along with the removal of trees, one of the primary sources of the increase in pollutants in the air is the burning of fossil fuels. We burn coal to generate electricity and we burn oil and its by-products to run our engines. It took hundreds of millions of years for the plants and animals on this planet to convert carbon dioxide from the air into the fossil fuels we are digging up today. We are now returning that carbon back into the atmosphere at such a rate that Mother Nature can't keep up.
In order to limit the amount by which the temperature might rise we must stop burning fossil fuels. This is not about us, you and me, but about the children who will celebrate the coming of the twenty-second century on January 1st 2100. If we want that to be a joyful celebration, we must start to act now.
If we want those children to be able to marvel at the wonderful diversity of plants and animals that you and I take so much pleasure in, then we must make the first steps to move away from fossil fuels.
How might we best go about this? It's not something that we can do in a year or ten years or even fifty years. We must slowly phase out our reliance on coal and oil and replace them with other ways of generating electricity and powering our machines.
We could take a massive gamble and hope that the scientists are wrong. Continue on with business as usual even though we know that one day there just won't be any more coal, there won't be any more oil to be found.
Continue on with business as usual, pollute the skies and hope that the planet adapts to the new circumstances.
If, like me, you are a keen watcher of David Attenborough's wonderful documentaries, you will know that many of the world's creatures are specially adapted to the circumstances they have enjoyed for hundreds of thousands of years. They can't change their habits as quickly as the climate is changing. But we can. It is part of our obligation to our fellow-creatures that we do everything that we can to protect them.
But if we do nothing and the predictions are accurate, it will be too late to fix the problem and our 21st Century descendants will curse us for not acting.
We could plant more trees and find ways to put some of the carbon back into the soil. These are good ideas but they are very limited. We can only go on doing them for just so long and then there will be no more land to plant trees on and the soils our farmers use will have reached capacity.
We could protest that we are only a small country, contributing a fraction of the world-wide pollution. This would hardly be acting as good world citizens. As the changes become more apparent, each and every individual on the planet will be required to make sacrifices. As a rich developed nation with a ready source of renewable energy sources it is only reasonable that we take action before some of the poorer nations.
We are also in a position where we can capitalise on our own skills and hard work to develop new technologies that generate electricity from renewable sources. As other nations shift away from fossil fuel dependence, we will be ready to export our innovations to the rest of the world.
We could let the rest of the world move to some form of carbon trading scheme and simply buy our way out of our responsibilities by purchasing someone else's permits. Economists who examine these things are warning us that eventually we won't have enough income to buy our way out of trouble.
Plans which don't put a price on carbon will require billions of dollars of taxpayers' money. Tens of billions to reach our target of a 5% reduction by 2020 and a predicted expenditure of tens of billions every year as we approach 2050.
These are taxpayer dollars which could be much better spent on roads and bridges; spent on schools and hospitals or spent on rail programmes to ease congestion in our major cities. There are many uses to which this money could be better put and future governments will be faced with a choice. To find these extra dollars they would have to cut back on basic programmes like health and education, or increase taxes.
There are two other ways that are considered by economists to be viable.
We could put a tax on carbon which means that if a business wants to create pollution they will have to pay a penalty to do so. However, if different governments around the world set different levels of tax then we run the risk of driving some of our businesses off-shore to where they will be paying less tax. Struggling economies might even abandon the idea of a carbon tax in order to coax businesses to them.
The second approach we could take is to adopt a cap and trade scheme otherwise known as an emissions trading scheme.
We as a nation can decide how much we want to reduce our emissions by and set a cap on our annual output. If a business wants to exceed their cap, they must buy permits to do so.
Initially the government would be the seller of permits and therefore the recipient of the money used to purchase them. But as more and more countries adopt a carbon trading scheme, a worldwide market in permits will be established.
Australian businesses will be able to buy and sell permits around the world at a price determined by the market. If they want to avoid the cost of over-polluting they can change the way they operate and reduce their emissions.
The Multi-Party Climate Change Committee has sought the best advice available and determined that the most suitable scheme for Australia is an emissions trading scheme. Because we want to minimise the shock to business and households we have decided to phase in the trading scheme starting with a fixed price which will steadily increase year by year.
The income generated by this fixed price will be used to compensate households considered to be at risk from rising prices. We will also protect businesses which might lose out in the export market because they are competing with products manufactured in countries which have no price on carbon. And we will fund alternate energy projects.
Once businesses have become accustomed to the new scheme we can transition to an emissions trading scheme and leave it to the market to determine the price.
One of the great advantages of this system is that if global warming shows signs of worsening we can reduce the level of the cap to encourage even greater reductions.
It makes more sense to penalise those industries that continue to pollute so that we encourage them to change their ways. It also means that there is no impact on the budget and government can continue to provide those services which you expect of it.
Each of us as individuals will be encouraged to change our habits by purchasing low-carbon products, making small adjustments to our lifestyles and embracing new technologies in our buildings and workplaces. There are already many exciting products out there which recapture wasted energy, especially heat, and convert it back to electricity. Australia can lead the way in the discovery of new products.
Many Australian households will be better off financially and the more you do, the more you save.
The government has already begun preparing Australia for a renewable energy future by building the Smart Grid which will bring electricity from remote generation sources and provide it to our high density population areas. The National Broadband Network will play a significant role in achieving this aim.
At the same time as we are reducing our reliance on energy sources which pollute the atmosphere, we will be investing in cleaner renewable sources like wind, solar, tidal and geothermal.
If Australia acts now we can join in on the technological revolution and become a supplier to the rest of the world. This will stimulate our economy and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Future generations will benefit from the new opportunities presented by clean technologies - through extra jobs, a reliable source of energy and by continuing to enjoy the wonderful lifestyle we love so much in Australia.
By the time our descendants are singing Auld Lang Syne to welcome in 2100 there might very well be no coal-fired power stations in Australia. Australia's Twenty-second Century citizens will be enjoying low cost energy from renewable sources.
The future holds exciting prospects if we are brave enough and wise enough to apply our collective efforts and ingenuity to solving the challenges that confront us.
If we do the right thing and set our sights on the needs of those who come after us and work together as a nation, there is nothing we can't overcome.
Thank-you for your time. Goodnight. Postscript
One of my aims in putting this speech together was to demonstrate that, in the right circumstances, it should be possible to address the Australian public on serious policy issues without resorting to political banter and point-scoring. There are two reasons why I find this concept exciting.
A significant percentage of the population is made up of disengaged voters who need to be addressed by the government in a manner and language that they won't find confronting or predictable.
If the Prime Minister manages to attract viewers who are traditionally more likely to be disengaged from policy debate, the moment she mentions Tony Abbott, the Labor Party, the Opposition or mentions 'the opposition policy' they will switch off - figuratively and literally. By speaking to them in clear, uncomplicated language and avoiding all references to politics (including the ALP), it may be possible for the PM to provide a better understanding of what she is doing and why.
Secondly, as we saw with the PM's speech to the Sydney Institute, the press will trawl through any speech by the PM looking for a controversial 'hook' on which to hang their story. If Ms Gillard avoided making mention of Tony Abbott or the Coalition there is a greater likelihood that the next day's stories will focus on the policy and not the players. We might see some allusions to 'veiled references' with regard to the Coalition policy but that wouldn't be as bad as 'Gillard slams Abbott' which is what they will do if she criticises the Direct Action Plan.
So, what do you think about deliberately creating a forum where policy issues can be discussed without reference to politics?
What do you think about the idea of an informal 'fireside chat'?