Poll: Most Australians want tough action on climate – really?

Centre for the Study of Choice, UTS

So says a report in the Sydney Morning Herald today:

MOST Australians want a more ambitious emissions trading scheme than the one abandoned by the Rudd government, whether or not the US and China take similar steps, according to the most detailed study of public attitudes yet undertaken.

The two-year emissions trading scheme study found the majority of the 7000 randomly selected people wanted to see carbon trading operating before 2012, even though it would be likely to lift some of the costs of living.

“The results clearly showed we do not want to wait for the Americans and the Chinese to act, which was a surprise,” Professor Jordan Louviere, director of the Centre for the Study of Choice at the University of Technology, Sydney, said. (source)

Sounds pretty compelling, doesn’t it? A little research and an email to Prof Louviere elicits more information about the study (see here for PDF). It was different from most surveys in that it required participants to choose between alternative emissions reductions scenarios, rather than answering Yes/No questions. All fine so far. In 2008/9 they developed 16 pairs of emissions scenarios, based on five key factors:

  • Start date (lower cost with earlier date): Labour/Greens – 2010; Coalition – 2012
  • What to do with revenues: redistribute (Labour); reduce taxes (Coalition)
  • Allocate 20% of revenue to R&D: Yes – Garnaut, universities, some interest groups; No – Mixed Labour, some interest groups
  • Exempt transport for 3 years: Labour/opposed by Greens
  • Concessions to energy intensive sectors: Which sectors (electricity, exporters, farmers); free permits – how many/how long

The following additional features were factored into the later parts of the study:

  • How fast to cut back to reduce 60% by 2050?
    • Should the 2050 goal be tightened?
  • Use “hybrid” permits with price caps in early years?
  • Role of efficiency/renewable standards
  • How much should Australian actions depend on other countries such as U.S./China?

All looks fairly reasonable up to a point. But what is the obvious flaw with all this? Clearly, it is the assumption that the requirement for an ETS is not up for question, and that implementing one will somehow be beneficial for the environment. The choice is only between different types of ETS, and, naturally, respondents are going to choose the one which they are informed will hurt them least. But there is another option which hurts the economy and their hip pocket even less than choosing between different types of emissions trading schemes, and that is to have no ETS or carbon tax at all. For as we all know, Australian emissions represent less than 1.5% of global emissions, and cutting them to zero overnight will make not the slightest bit of difference to the climate, whether globally or locally (even if we assume for the time being that the climate is sensitive enough to notice). But that option isn’t presented to them – there isn’t a “no ETS” route to take.

So the “choice” is a false choice, and not a realistic choice. The necessity for an ETS is assumed, and the public will clearly take the least worst option. But they will all damage the economy, and are utterly pointless from an environmental perspective. Give them the option of “no ETS with no discernible negative effect on the climate” and see what the results are.

For the Sydney Morning Herald to claim this as supporting an ETS is highly dubious. I will leave the last word to CenSoC, which reveals, at the end of the report, a motive behind the study:

We urge public policymakers to seriously consider the evidence from 7000+ Australians who took the time and put in the effort to evaluate many possible plans.

Sounds rather too much like environmental advocacy to me.


  1. Lord Jim says:

    From the Pdf:

    “We randomly sampled 7000+ people on the Pureprofile online panel of voting age”

    “7000 randomly selected people” from ‘pureprofile’ one of those ‘make money by doing surveys online’ websites. I could be wrong, but is this really going to be a representative sample of the Australian populace? Wouldn’t the vast majority of the people on ‘pureprofile’ be young and in many cases, students and aren’t young students most likely to be radical greens?


  2. Doesn’t sound like a survey which should be relied upon to implement an ETS policy. Looks more like special interest groups trying to once again hijack the debate. Where does the good Pof. get his information that man’s CO2 emissions are warming the planet? From what I can see this has not been proven. Also satellite records do not show warming unless he is referring to the NASA satellite which was not working for a period and showed temps. 15 degs. or so above what was actually being recorded. Land based thermometers cannot be trusted.

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