Have we lost the plot?

This week Colin Barnett, the premier of Western Australia, was quoted in the Australian from a speech at a business leaders forum in Perth as saying that “We’ve lost the plot as to what we are trying to do here” implying there were other ways to reduce emissions than imposing a carbon tax.

“Why would we have a carbon price of $23 when the only somewhat credible trading market in Europe has a market price of $10?” he said.

This is the sort of thing you might expect a premier from the contrary political code to the Federal government to say. More so when it is the colossal revenues from mining that has been the engine of the WA economy for decades. The last thing a Liberal government wants is to dampen that particular fire.

At the same forum and quoted in the same article, the head of Westfarmers, who own a big chunk of Australia’s retail sector, described the carbon tax as “unnecessarily complex” and that “you have to be a rocket scientist to understand this stuff.”

Oh well, you could say, it’s just a couple of browns in a brown newspaper having a go at what they see as a constraint on the golden goose of capitalism. It’s to be expected.

And that would be a big mistake.

What everyone has forgotten to explain is why such a cost is necessary.

A few years ago we knew it was the “biggest moral issue of our time” at least according to Kevin07. Unless we took action global warming would consume us. And the majority believed that action was necessary.

Then the government prevaricated, forgot whose behviour they needed to change and introduced complex legislation that was more about plugging leaks than achieving a result.

It is emission reduction. Remember?

We thought that if we reduced greenhouse gas emissions then there would be fewer of the molecules that can trap long wavelength back radiation in the atmosphere than under business as usual and, if we managed reasonable reductions, we might slow global warming.

And then there is the real and far more critical reason. In a relatively short time we will run out of oil. If we haven’t at least begun the transition away from our dependence on oil for transport and fertilizers then we risk economic collapse everywhere. This is a huge deal, easily as important to the global economy as spiraling sovereign debt. Emission reduction might seem a bit left field as a means to transition away from oil but it starts the process of introducing and incentivizing alternative fuels and it starts to set the price signal that will come in a hurry when supply cannot meet demand.

Australian politicians must know this. They are well-educated, can interpret a graph and have a day job that puts this sort of issue front and centre.

Only they come up with a clunky policy that they have chosen not to explain to any of the people who really matter.

Maybe they think that because we have seemingly endless coal reserves, and now natural gas too, all will be well.

Or they just cannot bring themselves to explain the details behind the necessary pain of a transition – even though we already know that transitions are painful.

Perhaps they can’t explain something that they do not understand themselves.

Whatever the reason no one in the government has stood up to calmly, and with clarity, tell us why.

Then again, perhaps they really have just “lost the plot.”