April 17th 2009
“Mafia” controls our greenhouse future
Magnetic Island may be demonstrating an alternative future with its Solar Cities project but Australia's government, opposition, union movement, big business decision makers and much of the media are being manipulated by a “greenhouse mafia” who have for decades been positioning themselves to insure we continue to mine and export coal in ever-increasing amounts regardless of catastrophic climate change and clearly doable alternatives. Given the extreme urgency for action on climate change and particularly its likely impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, Magnetic Times urges readers to read the latest Quarterly Essay, (Black Ink publishers) by former Liberal Party member and ex-Townsville boy, Guy Pearse, who exposes the truth about the “greenhouse mafia” in “Quarry Vision: Coal, climate change & the end of the resources boom” - the most important essay we may ever read about how and where Australia is being led in these troubling times.
Educated at JCU, Harvard and ANU, Guy Pearse worked for Liberal Ministers, Robert Hill and Ian McDonald and has even assisted Townsville City Council and the North Queensland Cowboys. But during his doctoral research (1999-2005) he uncovered damning evidence of the influence of the carbon lobby on the Howard government - including admissions by lobbyists that they were writing cabinet submissions and ministerial briefings.
Now, Guy Pearse goes on to explain just how the carbon mafia have comfortably infiltrated the Labor Party and Union movement to make sure the decisions Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong arrive at will always protect the big carbon polluters and make Australia a “carbon ghetto”.
In Quarry Vision Pearse barrels into some very sacred economic cows and shows just how much a perception rather than reality the importance of mining is to Australia's wealth.
He quotes John Edwards, a former Senior adviser to the Keating government, who wrote in 2006, “Mining is very valuable to Australia, but...the entire industry only accounts for 5 per cent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product)... It employs just 1 per cent of the workforce... is highly profitable but is mostly overseas owned, so most of the after tax profit is sent offshore.”
He reminds us that BHP no longer refers to itself as the “Big Australian” because it isn't Australian owned, just as Rio Tinto, Xstrata and Anglo Coal are also foreign owned and operated.
And if we think China is really desperate and it's our duty to help them power the world's economy with our coal remember that they dig up 90 per cent at home.
But the importance of this essay is its understanding of the game its players and how utterly one-sided the greenhouse debate has been within the circles of power over four decades. He returns us to the 1970s, “when Australian government officials buried the threats, even removing a draft chapter on climate change from a federal energy policy blueprint”. And in the 1990s where a Keating government Energy Policy advisor told him, “...we had to drive energy prices down and consumption up” and “... basically make Australia the homeland for footloose capital that required cheap energy...”
And for those who worry that, if Australia does get serious about emissions cuts, the money spinning polluters will just move elsewhere – “the drug dealers defense,” then, “the rhetoric is completely at odds with the international reality,” and “...head offices deciding where to locate new production...are looking for facilities with operating lives of fifty years or more,” but, while hypocritically predicting calamity unless there are exemptions to keep polluting here, “Internationally, industries are quietly voting with their feet. A competitive long term clean energy contract is more bankable than a carbon price carve-out that might disappear anytime.”
But where Pearse gets really interesting is when he turns sleuth on the mafia who work in concert to make sure policy comes out shining black. In a chapter titled, The Carbon Lobby, we discover the links of how the players and the policies were carefully put in place. The strategy from the early 1990s was to: “prevent (emissions cutting) action by Australia and, if that failed, to delay action, and if delay failed, to shift the burden of emissions cuts elsewhere.”
So, how was this done? First, find a seemingly reputable sources of economic and scientific, advice for the Australian Government. Take ABARE, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, which became in the 90s the principal source of greenhouse economic advice. Representatives from the Australian Coal Association, the Aluminium Council, BHP, CRA, the Business Council of Australia, the Electricity Supply Association of Australia, Exxon Corp, Mobil Australia and Texaco, according to Pearse, literally bought seats on the board. The going price was $50,000 per year!
A senior Keating government Minister told Pearse, “They (ABARE) were guns for hire...(that they were independent ) Is unadulterated crap...they were never impartial to start with.”
The CSIRO was another compromised body and only this week scientists from CSIRO have broken with the organisation's position on climate change to criticise the government's 5 to 15 per cent carbon reduction policy. Pearse reminds us that the CSIRO, “gave polluter clients the right to veto research findings they didn't like being made public.”
Pearse names key government consultants such as ACIL Tasman who prepared, “research backing up its (the coal lobby's) arguments in favour of delay.” CRA International, who were leaders in delaying emission cuts in the US and whose favoured consultants moved to “Concept Economics, and were with ACIL advising almost every major carbon-emitting industry in the country.” ACIL, Pearse finds, were contracted to run government inquiries and task forces and advise, “on a host of greenhouse-related matters to federal departments from the Prime Minister's on down.”
Another front includes groups which have popped up to say the things which might damage the carbon mafia's brands if they said it themselves. One is the Lavoisier Group, launched by Western Mining's former CEO, Hugh Morgan. Lavoisier have claimed that the “Great Barrier Reef may actually benefit from some global warming” and described climate change is a “scam” and “a green religion” and wind farms “monuments to pagan gods” as well as publishing books like “Thank God for carbon”.
Then, getting down to the hard core, there is the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network (AIGN), whose lobbyists revealed to Pearse, at great length - thinking him a fellow traveller - how they had effectively hijacked Australia's climate change response. These were the guys who actually referred to themselves as the “greenhouse mafia” or “the mob”.
This self proclaimed mob were later to include in their ranks, The Australian Trucking Association, the Australian Food and Grocery Council, the National Association of Forestry Industries and the Australian Industry Group. In sympathy to their cause were the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and the Construction Forestry Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU).
These groups Pearse lampoons as Monty Pythons' blood and thunder prophets, the ones in Life of Brian who desperately try to top each others predictions of doom to attract disciples.
True to form, just this week the Energy Supply Association of Australia claimed that Australia would face blackouts and power stations could go broke unless the Rudd government offers an extra $6 billion in free emissions permits. Pearse describes similar past statements from the ESAA which were supported by “independent” research from CRA International.
Building credibility, by using small stakes in cleaner energy to get in the door, oil and coal burners were also able to dominate the Australian Gas Association and the Clean Energy Council.
Pearse claims that millions from the organisations AIGN represents have gone to both Liberal and Labor which has, of course, support from many quarry-powered unions.
The incestuousness of relationships between government, consultants, unions and big business is something Pearse takes to with relish. “...when Woodside's Liberal-leaning lobbyist called John Howard's environment minister, it was the former chief of staff of that office on the line; when Woodside's Labor-leaning lobbyist rang, it was the former general secretary of the Labor Party.” He goes on to identify a network spun from revolving doors which placed the right lobbyists with the right clout beside every decision-maker's ear.
Queensland connections of influence are noted too. Like Macarthur Coal being chaired by former Queensland Labor Treasurer, Kieth De Lacy. Another former Queensland ALP treasurer David Hamill chairs coal shipper, Babcock and Brown Infrastructure, not to mention B & B Power recently appointing Ross Rolfe, the former head of the Queensland Premier's Department as its CEO.
Of course Kevin Rudd's old job as Chief of Staff to the Queensland premier made him “a central figure in the most coal friendly state government in the country,” and, “Having persuaded Labor's national conference to dump the three-mines uranium policy, Rudd made Sir Rod Eddington a key business advisor on greenhouse policy. Eddington sat on the board of Rio Tinto and was far from the only voice in Rudd's ear that was as close to the carbon lobby as those Howard had trusted.”
A “trusted face” approach, Pearse argues, makes the lobby “election proof”. Good examples are the careers of Gary Gray and Andrew Robb who ran the Labor and Liberal parties respectively, and who both took carbon lobby work before getting elected to parliament. “It's no accident,” writes Pearse, “that the carbon lobby has dominated almost every greenhouse-related consultative committee established by the federal government and its agencies.”
Just today, and while a hostile Senate looks likely to scuttle the government's Carbon reduction legislation, Professor Ross Garnaut, the Government's original architect on emissions reduction and author of the Garnaut Report, admitted he is “still agonising” over whether the government's plan is actually better than doing nothing.
Pearse's take on the Garnaut Report cuts through the fine print to reveal a document that sets up two great outcomes for the carbon lobby. The first was Garnaut's linking of “hypothetical Australian emissions targets and global parts per million scenarios” – as if our national targets should reflect an eventual “contraction and convergence” of per capita emissions worldwide. Pearse argues, that while this approach might help with international negotiations, “It has virtually no bearing on whether the world achieves such figures” and that “Our emissions cuts ...are informed rather than dictated by science and economics”. Garnaut provided a flawed but politically useful excuse to take the low road which resulted.
The second favour Garnaut presented was the seemingly attractive option of outsourcing carbon credits to save the tropical forest of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. Attractive as it was to see rainforests preserved, “There is no guarantee the carbon 'saved' through avoided deforestation will not 'leak' elsewhere when timber, palm oil or cattle production moves to the next forest or country,” writes Pearse. For the carbon mafia it offered a very cheap, read $1 to $3 per tonne credits - “a tiny fraction of the carbon price likely to prevail without such credits” Pearse puts it plainly, “If Rudd accepted Garnaut's advice, Australia might achieve its new target by decreasing deforestation in other countries without making any 'actual emission cuts' at home.”
When it came to the Rudd government's release of its white paper on the subject Pearse punctures the hype and appearance of great action on climate that Rudd performed whilst presenting a very Howard-like do-little policy. This would see Climate Change Minister Penny Wong proclaim, “Nobody gets a free ride”, whilst charging the polluters for just one in every five tonnes of carbon they produce and leaving the cost to the rest of us for the other four.
As for the holy grail of clean coal technology: carbon capture and storage (CCS), which the Rudd government's $100million per year, Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute is supposed to address; Pearse unravels CCS and its spin with numerous and compounding facts and scenarios. For Pearse, CCS will achieve far too little, cost much too much and come way too late.
Interestingly, it was reported today, that the GCCSI will have one of its five divisions dedicated to understanding and overcoming negative public opinion as a potential barrier to the new technology. It seems the public are nearly as skeptical as Pearse on this.
But Pearse isn't all gloom. His “what if” chapter: Sunset on coal, where he imagines Australia actually facing up to the greenhouse mafia and phasing out coal altogether sounds radical but the scenario he describes is credible and hopeful. The disappearance of the world's largest exporter would he suggests have consumers wondering about the long term security of supply and who else might follow Australia's lead - leading to greater caution about taking coal for granted. The opportunities for cleaner choices such as solar thermal and hot rock/geothermal - energy sources Australia also has in abundance - might then start to get the attention they so urgently deserve.
Quarry Vision: Coal, climate change & the end of the resources boom, published in the Quarterly Essay is not presently available from Island outlets but can be bought in larger Townsville newsagencies or ordered online (here)
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