How can the Government sell its CPRS?

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.


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9/02/2010How can the government sell its ETS/CPRS? It can't. For 2 reasons. 1.It's a lousy scheme for cutting emissions. The bar has been set too low for any meaningful contraction of the pollution related to the levels necessary. Its too little. And its too late. Too many exemptions to too many of the major polluters eg coal and farming, projected too far into the future. The govt,in seeking to straddle the fence and adopt contradictory positions eg don't scare the [polluting] horses whilst simulataneously reining them in, lost the battle to the vested interests and denialists about 18 months to 2 years ago when Penny lost to the big polluters. Check out this link: That is when and where the battle was lost. Its been a slow erosion since. Consequently supporters of action re AGW and generally supporters of the ALP, eg myself, cannot support the ALP scheme. The govt has saddled itself with a do nothing [where the polluters want even less or more money or both] scheme that satisfies no one. 2.The govt. is not in control of the message sending process. Its a common theme of this site, rightfully so, that the OO and the mass media in general in this country, has an anti-AGW stance that is strongly influencing the 'debate'. Tim Lambert's "The Australian's War on Science" series gives chapter and verse on that. Any message the govt tries to send has to go through massive filtering and 'noise' elements which simply ignores the key elements of AGW and amplifies the denialist nonsense. Again, if they had been on the front foot about 2 years ago they may have been able to sell the message better, but its too late now. I can see where most people, cos most are still in favour of action against the generally accepted threat of AGW, lets not forget that polls show most people are not denialists, will prefer the ALP rhetorical stance to the emptiness of the COALition smokescreen but as an issue it will splutter along on a few cylinders whilst peripheral issues [tax or not, sustainable energy, nukes] will drop in and out of the 'debate' but its no longer a vote deciding issue. As Possum points out, its pretty much set in the concrete of rusted on party viewpoints. Sad.


9/02/2010The government has to get the messaging, memes and its mantra right. For a start, I'd be referring, 'til I was blue in the face, if I was in the government, to the Coalition's 'Great Big New Climate Con Job'. * I'd be asking Tony Abbott every day for his modelling, and if he refers glibly to the NSW Government's scheme as the basis for his, then I'd be reminding the public how much it has blown out in cost already. * Harp on the costing issue. * Quantify and exemplify that Abbott's plan is a 'Climate Fig Leaf'(a la Hartcher). * Refer to the costs of mitigation as 'Climate Insurance' against the catastrophic weather events occurring as a result of Climate Change, that we need to cover ourselves for, just like we do with our Household Insurance. Except Climate Change Insurance funds will be used to prevent them happening. Hence, 'It's Insurance, Not A Tax', could be stated, over and over, and over again. * Co-opt an old truism to become, 'Make the Polluters Pay for the Results of Their Actions'. * Also, 'Do You Want the Big Polluters to Pay? Or, Do You Want to be Paying Them?' How's that, AA?

Bushfire Bill

9/02/2010YMbK, what I was saying was that when CO2 is presented as nothing other than "benign" and even "vital" for life - completely irrelevant to the harm it can do as an infra-red absorbing, Global Warming agent - - the implication is that deluded politicians acting on the advice of snake-oil selling scientists are out to nobble a wonderful natural substance. If you nobble or reduce a natural substance that plants need, then you potentially harm plants. All of this is by implication, of course. CO2 may be odourless and colorless, and mostly non-toxic in small doses, even vital for life, but it is very, very dangerous in large amounts in the atmosphere as it causes it, and hence the rest of the planet to gradually heat up. The fact that plants need it is irrelevant to the Global Warming issue I doubt that with the spread of urbanizationand the hunger for resources we could ever plant enough trees to soak up the excess CO2 in the atmosphere. To say that GMother Nature or whatever will take charge, and that we can do nothing about Global Warming now that it is happening is preposterous, and rather self-serving. Your sudden conversion to the ranks of the Gaia worshipping kum-ba-yah Greenies, with regulation reference to the living spirit and consciousness within "Mother Nature" would be touching if it were not so disingenuous. If Mankind caused Global Warming, Mankind can fix it. Mother Nature didn't dig up millions of years worth of fossilized plant growth, with all the carbon it had sequestered, and then re-release it into the atmosphere. Mankind did. It should not be beyond our ken to come up with a solution to the problem that we created. We did it on a smaller scale with CFCs, we should follow that framework and try to fix the CO2 problem on a larger scale. Mother Nature may have "decided" what to do when previous climate events threatened the Earth's equilibrium. Mostly a vast majority of species was wiped out. Are you happy for that to happen again? Might not the consequences for the proliferating human species be somewhat more drastic today than during the last Ice Age, when the total global population was miniscule? If climate warms more than a couple of degrees there will eventually be megadeaths, mostly of us humans. It could be argued that mega human deaths would be good for the planet. A brutal proposition but one worth considering. But the Global Warming debate is not about quietly lying down and accepting some kind of "inevitable" fate. It is about reversing the process, taking a hand in our own future and trying to sustainably fix the planet we have damaged by our excesses, and which we all, especially our descendants, have to share.


9/02/2010I just caught up with what Bushfire Bill had to say, and it inspired me to come up with a killer argument. That is, it doesn't matter how rich you may be, you won't be able to buy yourself protection from the effects of Climate Change. We'll all be in the same boat. To which I might add, that maybe that's why so many devout Christians are so sanguine about the future, in all its Climactic potential...they believe in the Biblical story of Noah's Ark, and 40 days and 40 nights of rain is to be expected!


10/02/2010When in need of a pithy one-liner, go to the Subbies: 'Carbon-cost surge under Libs' ...from the Oz today.


12/02/2010I just had a great idea that might help the government in putting their case for the CPRS and action on Global Warming. As Tony Abbott has given the Shadow Finance Minister the imprimatur to range across all portfolios in his commentary, so should Kevin Rudd let Lindsay Tanner do the same in public. He could be put to work, outside parliament, explaining the costs and benefits of the CPRS to the people. Almost in similar terms to those that were used to sell the idea of the stimulus, which the government did very well. Call it 'An Investment in the Future'. Explain how the money from the 'pollution surcharge' will be used to not only compensate families for the shocks to their household budgets, which will occur in the initial implementation phase(just like the GST), but also how the money raised will be used to spur innovation and R&D into new technologies, keeping the Intellectual Property in Australia, for Australians to collectively benefit from; with higher standards of living, productivity growth, and job creation on a massive scale, as we sell our new technologies to the world.
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