Thursday, July 02, 2009

Quarry Vision: Coal, climate change and the end of the resources boom, by Guy Pearse

Guy Pearse wrote a pretty comprehensive book covering the pressure carbon lobby groups have put on government to keep the status quo, that is, to keep emitting away as if all the science on global warming had never been written up.

Pearse had a lot of insider experience to back up his argument. In the past, he’s been involved in some rather alarming conversations with some of the key players, which gives his writings a rather visceral feel. Actually, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say he’s an angry man.

Pearse worked as a former speech writer to environment minister Robert Hill. His blurb on the back of this Quarterly Essay confesses to work as an industry lobbyist and spin-doctor. He used to belong the Liberal Party, and was proud of the party’s more progressive view on the environment, pre-Howard Government era that is. Alas, his writings made his membership untenable, and from memory, he quit the party.

This essay comprises a lot of the themes he wrote about in High and Dry, whilst updating the current debate about the emissions trading scheme and Australia’s global responsibility. Pearse argues that digging up stuff and selling it to the rest of the world is not the backbone of the economy that everyone believes it to be. Our ‘quarry vision’, an inability to see beyond this nineteenth century component of our economy, has skewed the way we look at the mining industry, giving it more importance economically than the numbers reveal.

Yes, closing down or reducing our mining sector would result in a lot of jobs being lost. In the past, however, we have swallowed job losses when reforming the economy. Remember all those manufacturing jobs that went during the Hawke / Keating years of reform. (Another point I would add: anyone who believes in our capitalist economy will admit that the nature of the beast is that it is always changing, that is, being re-structured. Industries and technologies come and go, as do the jobs that go with it. This may sound rough, but until someone comes along with an idea for a brand new type of economy, this is the simple reality.)

Pearse argues that if we closed down coal mining, that many new jobs would be created in the so-called green economy. Australia would have to be more innovative and create new green technologies that we could sell and export to the world.

When Pearse does his economic sums, he seems to be saying that we would have a slightly reduced GDP if we downgraded our emissions to the required cuts (if I have read correctly, although numbers are not my strong point). Anyhoo, the point to remember, according to Pearse, is that we’ve all been dudded into thinking that mining is the be all and end all of the Oz economy. In employment terms, it accounts for about 2 percent. Ask yourself, how many people do you know who work in mining or its related industries?

Another good point Pearse makes in answer to those who say that our population is so low that it won’t make a jot of difference if we reduce our carbon emissions: it would be a politically impossible position to sustain. Imagine if countries like the UK, the US, Canada etc. all adopted drastically reduced emissions, and we just went on increasing ours. We couldn’t do it and still consider ourselves part of the global community.

Pearse’s last point is that we have a moral duty to reduce our emissions. Indeed, we are amongst the world’s very worst emitters on a per capita basis. To refuse to acknowledge we must reduce our emissions is extraordinary arrogance. Unless of course the so-called climate change sceptics are right, then we can all party on forever.

This is a high quality Quarterly Essay full of information you need to know and extensive footnotes that will allow you to follow through on your own research.

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