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Ian Plimer Pens Aussie Geologist Gish Gallop #2 of the Week

Posted on 1 June 2012 by dana1981

We recently discussed Australian marine geologist Bob Carter's Gish Gallop, published in the Canadian Financial Post on May 23rd.  On May 25th, another Australian geologist, Ian Plimer published an exceptionally politically-charged Gish Gallop of his own on the social and political debate website Online Opinion.  As is our usual practice at Skeptical Science, we will not comment on Plimer's political rhetoric, but instead will focus on the many climate science myths contained in his piece, which similar to Carter's, exhibited several of what we have described as the 5 characteristics of scientific denialism.

Misrepresentation of the Australian Carbon Pricing System

Toward the end of 2011, the Australian government (primarily their Labor Party) passed Clean Energy Bill 2011, which implemented a national carbon pricing system (starting as a tax, then becoming an emissions trading system).  This was a major achievement for Australia, but one which political conservatives tended to oppose, and which the Liberal Party (Australia's main political conservative party) vowed to overturn.  Plimer's opposition to the legislation is the basis of his article.  However, in attacking the carbon pricing system, Plimer displays one of the the 5 characteristics of scientific denialism by misrepresenting the legislation.

"Once Labor had blown billions on various unsuccessful populist schemes, it needed a "Carbon Tax" to maintain the diet of excessive wasteful spending. Not only does Labor's climate policy lead to unemployment, higher electricity, food and fuel costs..."

An important component of the Australian carbon pricing legislation was the Jobs and Competitiveness Program.  This program devotes $9.2 billion of the carbon price revenue over its first three years to assistance for affected jobs in carbon-intense industries.  The intent of this program is to shield these business activities from the impact of a carbon price while maintaining incentives to invest in cleaner technologies - essentially buying them time to reduce their emissions while remaining economically competitive with foreign companies in the same industry, without having to lay off employees in the meantime.

This program earmarks a large chunk of the carbon tax funds which cannot be spent on "populist schemes," and will prevent the policy from leading to significant unemployment.  Additionally, as we have noted many times, carbon pricing systems do not lead to significantly higher energy costs.

As is characteristic of scientific denialism, Plimer has badly misrepresented the effects of the policy he opposes.

Conspiracy Theories

In his article, Plimer displays one of the two characteristics of scientific denialism which Bob Carter managed to avoid - that of conspiracy theories, which John Cook describes thusly:

"When the overwhelming body of scientific opinion believes something is true, the denialist won't admit scientists have independently studied the evidence to reach the same conclusion. Instead, they claim scientists are engaged in a complex and secretive conspiracy."

In this case, Plimer accuses climate scientists of conducting fraudulent research.

"...scientific fraud by those claiming to be climate scientists was repeatedly exposed..."

Plimer does not provide any examples or evidence to support his accusations of fraud.  We can only assume he refers to the stolen Climategate emails, but nine separate investigations found the climate scientists guilty of no scientific wrongdoing, and concluded that the stolen emails did not undermine the scientific evidence supporting the human-caused global warming theory in any way.

Plimer's article contains several other conspiracy theories which do not warrant being dignified with a response; suffice it to say they are very political in nature.

Echoing Bob Carter's Denialism

Plimer then echoes the same misrepresentations of paleoclimate and climate change attribution research made in Bob Carter's article.

Plimer: "Construction of past climates over geological, archaeological and historical time from observation and measurement show that modern climate changes are well within variation..."

Carter: "...numerous high-quality paleoclimate records, and especially those from ice cores and deep-sea mud cores, demonstrate that no unusual or untoward changes in climate occurred in the 20th and early 21st century."

Plimer: "...a human signature can not be identified in major trends and cycles of climate..."

Carter:  "...no compelling empirical evidence yet exists for a measurable, let alone worrisome, human impact on global temperature."

As we noted in response to Carter's misrepresentations, current climate changes are quite rapid in comparison to most historical changes, and both fundamental physics and empirically observed 'fingerprints' demonstrate the current human impact on global warming.  For further details on these issues, see the Carter rebuttal post.

Plimer vs. Plimer

In Plimer vs Plimer, Skeptical Science has documented many of Plimer's self-contradictions.  In this article, Plimer raises one of those contradictions (emphasis added).

"...all past major glaciations were initiated at times when the atmospheric carbon dioxide content was higher than at present and there is no correlation of temperature over time with atmospheric carbon dioxide content. Without correlation, there can be no causation."

Plimer has contrarily previously claimed (emphasis added):

"The low lumunosity of the early Sun was such that the Earth's average surface temperature would have been below 0°C from 4500 to 2000 million years ago. But, there is evidence of running water and oceans as far back as 3800 million years ago. This paradox is solved if the Earth had an enhanced greenhouse with an atmosphere of a lot of carbon dioxide and methane."

and

"...Carbon dioxide-induced overheating of the atmosphere appears to have destroyed land plants and the animals that lived off them. This is the earliest geological clue that extreme global warming can be a killer."

and

"The Sun and atmospheric carbon dioxide were certainly major factors that controlled ancient climate."

and

"The global warmth of the Cretaceous has been attributed to elevated levels of CO2 in the atmosphere."

So apparently Plimer believes there is no correlation between CO2 and temperature...except when CO2 is driving global temperature changes?

Plimer is of course factually incorrect in his Online Opinion comments.  CO2 is currently at about 392 ppm, and at the start of recent glaciations, has been around 280 ppm.  The correlation between temperature and CO2 is also a rather obvious one (Figure 1).

co2 vs temp vostok

Figure 1: Temperature (red) and CO2 concentration (blue) reconstructed from the Vostok ice core.

Impossible Expectations of What Research Can Deliver

Another of the five characteristics of scientific denialism displayed by Plimer involves impossible expectations of what research can deliver:

"For scientists to claim that they believe in human-induced global warming uses the language of religion and politics, not the language of science. It matters not whether one or a thousand scientists believe that human activity drives global warming. It is the sum total of the evidence that determines a scientific conclusion, not political populism, noisy scientific grantees or activists. An accomplished scientist believes nothing, is anarchistic, tentatively supports conclusions until more evidence is unearthed, actively and dispassionately participates in debate, criticism and analysis and has no treasured ideology."

In short, Plimer believes scientists should not "believe" anything until it is 100% proven.  But of course nothing in science is ever 100% proven.  The sum total of evidence overwhelmingly supports the human-caused global warming theory, which is why it has convinced the vast majority of climate scientists.  This is not akin to religion or politics, as Plimer ironically accuses in a politically-charged article he has published in a political media source.  It's simply a matter of being convinced by the full body of evidence, as opposed to cherrypicking and misrepresenting the data, as Plimer and Carter have done.

Denying the Paloeclimate Record

Plimer wrongly asserts the paleoclimate record supports his position.

"My objections to the unfounded idea of human-induced global warming are that the idea is not scientific and that promoters of this concept chose to ignore past climate changes. It is only geology that leads to the ultimate understanding of climate change."

In reality the paleoclimate record is wholly consistent with the human-caused global warming theory, as recently demonstrated by Hansen and Sato, for example (Figure 2).

HS12 Fig 6

Figure 2: Black curve: calculated surface air temperature change for climate forcings in Hansen and Sato (2012) and climate sensitivity 0.75°C per W/m2. Red curve: estimated global surface air temperature change based on deep ocean temperatures and assumption that LGM-Holocene surface temperature change is 4.5°C. Zero point is the 800 ky mean.

Figure 2 shows that past climate changes are consistent with a climate sensitivity of approximately 3°C global surface warming in response to an energy imbalance equivalent to that created by a doubling of atmospheric CO2.  Humans are currently on track to double atmospheric CO2 from pre-industrial levels within the next ~50 years.

Richard Alley has also discussed that CO2 has been The Biggest Control Knob influencing the Earth's temperature and climate throughout its history.  Plimer would do well to watch Alley's presentation.

Ian Plimer Denies Global Warming

Plimer ends his piece with perhaps his worst example of scientific denialism.

"Nature had the last laugh: the planet is cooling"

This is of course a complete falsehood.  Not only do surface temperatures continue to rise, but the oceans, which accumulate approximately 90% of global warming, continue to heat up (Figure 3).

levitus OHC

Figure 3: Time series for the World Ocean of ocean heat content (1022 J) for the 0-2000m (red) and 700-2000m (black) layers based on running pentadal (five-year) analyses. Reference period is 1955-2006. Each pentadal estimate is plotted at the midpoint of the 5-year period. The vertical bars represent +/- 2 times the standard error of the mean (S.E.) about the pentadal estimate for the 0-2000m estimates and the grey-shaded area represent +/- 2*S.E. about the pentadal estimate for the 700-2000m estimates. The blue bar chart at the bottom represents the percentage of one-degree squares (globally) that have at least four pentadal one-degree square anomaly values used in their computation at 700m depth. Blue line is the same as for the bar chart but for 2000m depth.  From Levitus et al. (2012)

Once again, Plimer's misrepresentation of the data was similar to Carter's, who falsely claimed there had been "no significant warming trend...since 1958.

Plimer's Unscientific Approach

Like his fellow Australian geologist, Plimer displayed a great many characteristics of scientific denialism in his politically-based article.  As we did for Carter, we recommend that if Ian Plimer wants to influence the climate discussion, he should subject his arguments to peer-reviewed scrutiny, rather than cobbling together Gish Gallops of scientific denial and misrepresentations for the poliitcal media.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 53:

  1. The section "Misrepresentation of the Australian Carbon Pricing System" applies not just to Plimer, but to nearly all the Liberal aligned commentators I've seen in the Australian media.

    An examination of the Clean Energy Bill (Securing a Clean Energy Future - Appendix C: Fiscal tables) shows the following budget for the fixed price "Carbon Tax" period (first 3 years):

    Forward estimates (Total to 2014-15 period, rounded numbers)
    Total Revenue = $27.3 Billion
    Total Spending = $31.2 Billion

    Spending breakdown:
    Household assistance measures = $15.4 Billion
    Support for jobs (Industry assistance including free permits) = $10.3 Billion
    Energy security and transformation = $3 Billion
    Land and biodiversity measures = $1.2 Billion
    Clean Energy Finance Corporation = $0.9 Billion
    Governance = $0.4 Billion

    So unless the government cancels other existing "green" schemes (because of real or perceived duplication) then the CEF package actually costs the government $3.9 Billion over three years.

    The only plausible criticism of the CEF package is that low incomes earners will be overcompensated via the "Household assistance measures", and that could be seen as vote buying.
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  2. Have you noticed how every business failure every decision to off shore production or services is blamed on the carbon tax. This seems particulary so in Sydney, not so bad in Perth.
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  3. CO2 is currently 396 ppm -- according to http://co2now.org/
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  4. rpauli @3, the site to which you linked correctly shows the current CO2 concentration as measured at the Mauna Loa observatory. However, it is deep into the NH autumn, when CO2 levels rise substantially due primarily to the decay of deciduous leaves in the NH. Because that increase will be drawn down by the growth of new leaves in the spring, it is better to use the seasonally adjusted CO2 concentration of 393.41 (second last column in link). Of course, Mauna Loa is just one location on the surface of the Earth, so it is better still to use the seasonally adjusted global average CO2 concentration of 392.19 (last column in link).
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  5. rpauli,

    This article is about Ian Plimer's misrepresentations. I don't see any misrepresentations about CO2 in his gish gallop discussed here, therefore your post is a double-violation of comments policy by being off topic and an unqualified statement.

    So I'm surprised Tom acted as a commenter rather than the admin on it.

    Just look around. You do not have to search far to find OnT thread: just 2 days back where your comment would have been perhaps excplicitly qualified and could draw interesting discussion...
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    Moderator Response: TC: rpauli sort to correct what he thought was an error in a factual claim in the OP. Therefore his comment was on topic. As it happened, however, while his claim as factually correct, so was that in the original post as explained in my comment.
  6. Can someone please call my old boss and tell him he didn't need to retrench me and heaps of others due to the carbon tax? A calculated rise of $9.3 million due to the carbon tax had to be recouped somehow. Oh, I used to work for SCA Hygiene Australasia, heavy energy and transportation users.

    Thanks.
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  7. Dale @6, it's rather odd that I haven't heard about these retrenchments based on a tax that hasn't even been implemented yet. Even odder that there is no mention of them that can be found on a google search. Oddest of all is that while SCA Hygiene Australia did release a press release saying that a Federal Government decision could cost "thousands of jobs", the decision they were worried about was "the removal of dumping duties on rolls
    of toilet paper imported from Indonesia and China", with no mention of the Carbon Tax at all. Indeed, the terms "Carbon", "Tax", "global" and "warming" cannot be found by google search on the SCA site at all.

    In short, Dale, your story does not wash.
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  8. Regarding Dale's claim at #6 about being retrenched, I did the obvious thing and emailed SCA.

    I'll pass on any answer that I might receive.
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  9. Tom @7, reading their other press releases also shows them boasting about the use of geothermal energy to "significantly reduce our carbon emissions". I guess not enough.

    This article quotes the SCA Hygiene president saying that it will "impact profits", but it also mentions two other companies will receive 94.5% of their needed carbon permits for free. (That article also puts to bed the idea that the carbon tax won't have any effect on emissions -- it's full of steps that the companies will take to reduce their carbon footprint.)

    Like you, I couldn't find any mention from SCA Hygiene about the carbon tax causing layoffs -- not surprising, given it hasn't even started yet. They do state how they've been hurt by cheap Asian imports, and a high A$ will no doubt cause them pain.

    The only connection I could find between SCA Hygiene, layoffs, and the carbon tax was posts by another fellow called "Dale" who claimed "SCA Global announced due to rising costs in wages, electricity and the carbon taxes in AU and NZ made the Australasian business unfeasible" without any references -- but again failing to note that the carbon tax hasn't even started yet, and electricity prices have risen in the past few years by far more than the carbon tax will cause it to rise in many parts of Australia without the carbon tax in place. What about the rising wage costs? Perhaps Dale was laid off because he cost more than workers in Indonesia?

    If the announcement was accurately reported, then it seems taking on "and the carbon tax" to every announcement of layoffs or closures will become a cliche. But even if it's the straw that breaks the camel's back of a business that's been put through the ringer due to rising wage costs, rising electricity costs (apart from the carbon tax), and a high A$, it's disingenuous to blame that final straw for the outcome -- after all, a slight additional increase in the A$, or salaries, or coal price, or... could have just as easily been that final straw, and as we've seen in announcements before the carbon tax is even in place, companies seem happy to use it as an excuse regardless of whether it actually has an impact or not.
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  10. Dana,

    "As is our usual practice at Skeptical Science, we will not comment on Plimer's political rhetoric, but instead will focus on the many climate science myths contained in his piece"

    The whole section marked 'Misrepresentation of the Australian Carbon Pricing System" is about tax, legislation, jobs and energy pricing. Since when is this climate science and not politics?
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Given the nature of the OP, some leeway is given to matters tangential to it. Such as the section you outline. Politics not related to the OP, ad hominems and "sloganeering" (and other things proscribed by the Comments Policy) are still off-limits.
  11. Humanity Rules @10, Australia's current leader of the opposition is on record as saying that the science behind Climate change is crap. That does not make defending the science of climate change a political activity, or this a political blog. In the same manner, just because Plimmer makes false statements about a politically contentious issue, ie, the cost and effectiveness of the carbon tax, does not mean there is no fact of the matter; and discussing those facts is not a political act. It is, perhaps, economics rather than climate science that is being misrepresented by Plimmer - but given that the topic falls well withing the range of issues discussed by the IPCC (see WG2 and WG3 reports), it is certainly well within the appropriate range of topics for SkS.
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  12. HR @10 - Skeptical Science covers both climate science and solutions. The Australian carbon pricing system is a climate solution. Discussing climate policy is not equivalent to discussing politics. For example, we did not criticize Plimer for his extreme political rhetoric, we simply corrected his factual errors when describing the policy solution.

    Discussing climate policy/solutions is entirely consistent with SkS guidelines. Discussing political motivations is not.
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  13. @dana1981

    I take exception to this: "the Australian government (primarily their Labor Party) passed Clean Energy Bill 2011, which implemented a national carbon pricing system (starting as a tax, then becoming an emissions trading system). This was a major achievement for Australia, but one which political conservatives tended to oppose".

    In fact, opposition to the carbon pricing scheme is not limited to political conservatives, and, according to surveys, includes the majority of people in Australia.

    Polls I have seen have shown that up to 80% of Australians believe that AGW is a real issue, yet as many as 75% are opposed to the carbon tax. (And despite rumours to the contrary, Australians are not necessarily politically conservative when it gets down to the polling details: http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollytics/2012/06/11/what-australians-believe/ ).

    So I think it is factually incorrect to present opposition to the carbon tax as something associated with political conservatism (or AGW denial) - that is certainly not the case in Australia. The Liberal Party's position on the carbon tax is seen as a populist move, even though most people polled disagree with their AGW-denialist stance.

    I also disagree with the description of the carbon tax as "a major achievement for Australia", and I say this as someone who fully agrees with the science on global warming, and sits far to the left on the political spectrum.

    This is actually a point of contention among the environmentalist movement in Australia. In my own experience, the carbon tax has made the Greens (and environmental issues) quite unpopular, where previously they were seen as having a moral high ground. It has alienated people who agreed with us on AGW, because it is seen as a measure in which average people will be made to pay for a problem created by big business. A conservative government in the next election is a near-certainty at this stage, and the carbon tax is one of the policy decisions that has contributed to this near-certainty.

    macoles wrote: "The only plausible criticism of the CEF package is that low incomes earners will be overcompensated via the "Household assistance measures", and that could be seen as vote buying.""

    In fact, there are more people in tricky economic circumstances in Australia than is commonly reported, as cost of living increases have been eating away at us for some time. There's a lot of doubt that the carbon tax's compensation packages will actually compensate for all the increases, much of which will be difficult to track (as businesses fold their cost increases into the prices that they pass on to consumers).

    Perhaps more importantly, Treasury figures have shown that the carbon tax and cap & trade program is only expected to reduce emissions by something like 2% by 2050 - the reason that higher figures are often quoted is that they include "reductions" from the purchasing of carbon offsets from overseas. This is an especially fraught issue; in some cases businesses will be "purchasing" things such as 'a promise not to log an area of forest that (supposedly) otherwise would have been logged'. One could write essays on the problems with cap & trade (and many already have, so I'll stop myself there).

    Another consideration is the role of economic recession - already in full swing overseas, and definitely en route to Australia (via recent drops in Chinese manufacturing/infrastructure, which partly relies on Australian mining exports; and via the high Australian dollar that has already caused substantial job losses in manufacturing, retail and tourism; a lot of people are already 'underemployed', if not unemployed). Carbon pricing is an incentive scheme to reduce unnecessary production, but recession already raises the price of production and pares things down to a bare minimum (even below the bare minimum, as unemployment & poverty rise). The 1990s economic crash in Eastern Europe did more for carbon emissions than any carbon price has.

    The alternatives I would propose involve nationalisation of energy production & active development of alternatives (rather than using a market incentive system), which I'm sure I don't need to go into (and it'd take me OT anyway).

    So I question the characterisation of opposition to carbon pricing as a hallmark of political conservatism, and the description of it as a step forward for those of us who know that AGW is a problem and want to do something about it. Both implications are factually incorrect.
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  14. dissembly @13 it is impossible to keep a close eye on the Australian political scene without realizing that all left wing or centrist political parties with enough support to have seats in parliament support the Carbon Tax. That even extends to most of the independents in Federal Parliament, with three conservative and one left leaning independent all voting for the tax. The same is true outside of parliament, with all organized opposition to the Carbon Tax coming from conservative political parties, right wing think tanks, and denier organizations.

    Many of the opponents of the Carbon Tax are quite happy to dissemble; and those who are more honest still never call the others on their falsehoods. The result has been a perfect storm of misinformation. Given that, it is no surprise that there is substantial uncertainty about the Carbon Tax in Australia. The question is, then, will you increase that uncertainty, as appears to be your intention, or provide accurate clear information to dispel?
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  15. Dissembly, I'm on other side of Ditch and so not following developments in West Island as close as you obviously, but I had perceived the aims of the scheme differently. I would have thought that the carbon tax was incentive to de-carbonize industry (especially use alternative generation) because you would then have more competitive advantage of industry that didnt. Consumer would buy so as to avoid tax. Not necessarily "reduce unnecessary production" (what defines "unnecessary"). I would have thought biggest criticism was that it didnt hand back 100% of the tax? It seems a lot simpler and cleaner than our ETS which has been further slowed down.

    A 2% reduction by 2050 sounds like a very pessimistic assessment of alternative energy.
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  16. Further to dissembly @13, he suggests that the Carbon Tax virtually pointless because it is only predicted to reduce domestic emissions by 2%. It is however, also predicted to stop emissions growth of 66.7% by 2050. In other words, while not a complete solution it moves us away from uncontrolled emissions growth, and prevents approximately 8 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions.



    Dissembly suggests alternative policies for tackling climate change, and he is certainly welcome to pursue them. Optimistically it would take around 10 years for him to achieve the political capital to implement his preferred solution. In that 10 years, without the carbon tax emissions would have grown by another 60 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per annum. With out the Carbon Tax, therefore, he would face a much more difficult task to reduce emissions because a much larger (and faster) reduction would be required. (This is assuming his plan could in fact be implemented, which I doubt.)
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  17. 13, Dissembly,

    The reality is, however, that cutting emissions is pretty easy. There is so much profligate waste and thoughtless but unnecessary consumption in the system that major cuts are easy if people are simply given an incentive to do so. As evidence, take the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, ten northeast USA states that collectively moved to cut emissions and were very, very successful in doing so. And that wasn't even really that strong an effort, because people were not themselves motivated, cuts came only through government action.

    There is a lot of low hanging fruit to be picked, and all it would take to get there is (a) a little bit of leadership and (b) economic incentives to move people along.

    The same thing happened with litter in the USA in the seventies. It was all over the place as disposable cans, bottles and wrappers became cheap and omnipresent. It seemed like the world would forever be covered in junk because that was human nature. A combination of simple solutions (more trash cans in easy reach), serious littering fines, financial incentives (deposits on aluminum cans) and finally a collective change in public attitude (effective advertising) solved the problem very quickly.

    What really bugs me about deniers is that attacking this problem is really not going to be as hard as it seems, at least not the first level. We could easily be holding our emissions down and in so doing at least buy time for further technology development and further climate research. But instead, the denial alarmists claim that any action will destroy the world economy and throw us all into the dark ages.

    It's insanity. Suck it up, people. It's a problem. Address the problem, and stop running from it and burying your head in whichever hole seems to fit most comfortably (in this case, that's the "solve the problem but don't tax me" hole).
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  18. Further to Tom's #14, this excellent piece by Andrew Mackintosh at The Conversation is worth a read. There may be some uncertainty about the CEF package, and the political Right in Australia, like Abbot, would love to be able to wish it away. The truth is that it's not necessarily actually going to be an easy thing to do, even if he wins office next year.

    Another very interesting point is made in this piece, also at The Conversation - I'll quote:
    "But in December all countries agreed in Durban to be part of a legally binding treaty by 2015. Existing pledges will presumably be used as the basis of this global agreement.

    This means that a future Abbott Government will have to negotiate a legally binding reduction to Australia’s carbon emissions in its first term. It might choose to play hardball and let the burden fall on other countries. This would put Australia in breach of its responsibilities under the UNFCCC. Australia would also be free-riding on the cuts of other countries, which is fundamentally unjust for a rich country and will damage our diplomatic relationships, particularly with the developing world. Australia would then be isolated in global climate change negotiations."
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  19. I got a lot of replies so I'm separating my responses with "----" lines, for readability.

    -----------------------------
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    @14 & 16 - Tom Curtis:

    You wrote it is "impossible to keep a close eye on the Australian political scene without realizing that all left wing or centrist political parties with enough support to have seats in parliament support the Carbon Tax."

    There are no traditional left-wing parties on the Australian political scene (not without going to the fringes, where I sit), and that includes the Greens in practice (if not in words). Support in Parliament does not correlate with support in the general population - the survey I posted had some substantive empirical evidence to the contrary. It would be a mistake to assume that because 45% of seats belong to Party X, the views of Party X must be popular with 45% of the population. That isn't true for any Western country right now, and certainly not for Australia. People are voted out, not in. As I mentioned, the deeply unpopular conservative party is going to win the next election, despite being deeply unpopular, simply because, this time around the ALP is slightly more unpopular. "The same is true outside of parliament" - Well, no, it's not. Talk to the more organised pro-carbon tax environmental campaigners one-on-one, and they will often tell you 'We know it's not a solution, but it's a start' - not disimilar to the argument you made in post #16, in fact.

    But neither the spread of organised campaigning groups, nor the composition of Parliament, are indications of what 'Australians' support (or oppose). Surveys and polls of regular people, talking to average people on the ground, reading what people say when they do get themselves into the media, are much better indications. I am confident that if you do this, you will find that support for the carbon tax is not widespread.

    - "The question is, then, will you increase that uncertainty, as appears to be your intention, or provide accurate clear information to dispel?"

    Perhaps you should have a glass of water before you post anything again, mate. This is insulting and inappropriate. I expect some basic assumption of good faith.

    - "It is however, also predicted to stop emissions growth of 66.7% by 2050."

    A valid point. So what's the good of that if you've taken this reduced emissions growth from people's economic well-being (which is not necessary to reduce carbon emissions, but *is* necessary if you just use a carbon tax to do it), alienating them from the movement, and waved away solutions that will actually provide a meaningful reduction?

    - "Dissembly suggests alternative policies for tackling climate change, and he is certainly welcome to pursue them. Optimistically it would take around 10 years for him to achieve the political capital to implement his preferred solution. In that 10 years, without the carbon tax emissions would have grown by another 60 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per annum."

    '10 years' is a bizarre estimation, which I guess you pulled out of thin air. Right now, there is very little political will to do anything substantive about climate change - despite the majority of people being in favour of doing something. I assume your conception of political capital means lobbying the ALP, Greens, Coalition, etc. to win them over, or something of the sort. This would not achieve much. What is needed is concerted trade union activity and probably the formation of a new party; there are a lot of obstacles to this, but a lot in its favour as well. Under the right circumstances, this sort of thing can happen quite quickly (Syriza in Greece is a recent example; Syriza isn't a new party, but it has taken on a new form, and forced their rivals to the left in that country despite failing to win the most recent election).

    "This is assuming his plan could in fact be implemented, which I doubt."

    If it can't be implemented, then global warming can't be averted. A carbon tax is not going to solve the problem, and now you're saying to me that the development of alternative energies with a concerted public investment is simply not possible? If that's the case, then the game is already over. I prefer to be a little less pessimistic.

    -----------------------------
    -----------------------------
    @scaddenp - "I would have thought that the carbon tax was incentive to de-carbonize industry (especially use alternative generation) because you would then have more competitive advantage of industry that didnt. Consumer would buy so as to avoid tax."

    That is all true...

    - "Not necessarily "reduce unnecessary production"

    ...but it is both. All a carbon tax is, is a market incentive.

    In theory, consumers have an incentive to cut down energy use (buy less stuff, cut out unnecessary production), industry has an incentive to source lower-carbon energy, investors have an incentive to invest in renewables, all at the same time.

    The problems with this are manifold. I only highlighted the problems with the first clause, the effect on consumers. But the also assumes that consumers have renewable-energy-sourced alternatives to purchase from. Without massive investment in alternative energy, the green choices for customers simply don't exist. (At the moment, most green energy options involve offsets & gas plants - woefully inadequate to actually solve the basic problem).

    So the carbon pricing is supposed to incentivise investment as well. But in recessions, owners of capital simply do not invest. Even when you throw massive bailout packages at them.

    Even outside of recessions, they are unlikely to invest in high cost projects with long-term payoffs - which is what alternative energy production is. Carbon pricing would need to be far higher to make this attractive. The current government has already shown that it would rather let private alternative energy companies die a market-led death than supply them with the funds necessary to make something happen.

    Alternative energy is something that requires a lot of investment, with little expectation of short-term profitability. That is a job for public investment and nationalised ownership. It simply will not happen in a market, certainly not without making the carbon tax much higher (and withdrawing government support for other areas of industry).

    Without nationalised public investment, the carbon tax will essentially be driving people to cut down on consumption more than anything else; i.e. simulating a recession, while we are already likely to be heading into one.

    - "(what defines "unnecessary")."

    Exactly. 'Unnecessary' is what we won't (or can't) pay for. I have a problem with this approach.

    This is my problem with this entire approach: treating the problem as if average consumers are the root cause (and creating a situation where they will pay the most for it; proportionate to actual wealth), when the cause is in fact far bigger than individual people.

    - "A 2% reduction by 2050 sounds like a very pessimistic assessment of alternative energy."

    That's not an assessment of alternative energy, but of the efficacy of this specific market-based solution. What I'm arguing is that alternative energy is, in fact, the real solution.

    -----------------------------
    -----------------------------
    @Sphaerica said: "There is so much profligate waste and thoughtless but unnecessary consumption in the system that major cuts are easy if people are simply given an incentive to do so"

    - I disagree with this approach, for three reasons.

    1) This addresses the symptoms of the problem, without addressing the cause. We have an economic system where private profit in certain industries (and the lack of political will to nationalise or publicly invest) has meant that we are stuck with outdated technologies, when we desperately need to move away from these technologies ASAP, to escape a massive environmental crisis. The problem does not lie in individual purchasing decisions - the problem lies in the large-scale systematic reason for the continued dominance of a fossil fuel industry in an age where alternative energies are theoretically able to support people.

    2) This alienates average people, and in some senses rightly so, by placing the economic burden for a giant problem onto them. You speak as if cutting back was just a simple trick - well, for some people, it is. For others, they'll be asking you "how much more can we possibly cut back?" 100,000 are homeless in Australia, many more in inadequately funded public housing, others experiencing massive rent stress. What do they have to sacrifice?

    3) Related to 2), a carbon tax is a regressive tax, a "flat tax". It not only treats most people as if they are both equally responsible for the problem and equally able to afford to fix it, it actually affects those at the lower end much more. Now the ALP has said they will pay some people back - not all people. At the same time, they make cuts in other areas that low-income people rely on. Economically, how are we actually going to police them on this? How do we propose to ensure that nobody truly is worse off? If welfare is cut (currently a bipartisan policy) while the carbon tax is brought in, and then the government offers to pay some people back for the carbon tax, how do you actually disentangle how much worse or better off you are, even if you can force them to maintain the compensation programs indefinitely? It's a bit of a shell game.

    -----------------------------
    -----------------------------
    @skywatcher - You pointed to an article that pointed out: "This means that a future Abbott Government will have to negotiate a legally binding reduction to Australia’s carbon emissions in its first term."

    - I sure hope so. The problem with the piece you link to is that it commits the fallacy of the excluded middle.

    It sees two options - carbon tax, or no carbon tax. The fact is, Australia can reduce its emissions by investing heavily in alternative energies and instituting a large-scale program to bring alternatives up the task of providing baseload power.

    So what do we do? Grab the paltry crumbs off the table that they throw us - the carbon tax - and hail them when they make token gestures in the direction of not outright denying the fact that there is a problem?

    Or say, 'Uh, no, that's not actually a solution, this is.'

    The bottom lines are, only large-scale, co-ordinated investment can replace fossil fuels with alternative energies; only public investment can do this, as market-based strategies rely on profit-oriented investors (who simply aren't up to the task); and hurting a large number of people for a half-assed attempt at a solution is not going to win environmentalists the credibility & support that we need to carry out a real solution.
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  20. Can I just say, because I think some people might not have gotten this, that I do not support Abbott or his party? I personally vote left-to-right, and am a member of a party that is far-left. I'm not saying "this is a bad policy, therefore we should vote for the other guys" (although that is what a lot people will be inclined to do); I'm saying "this is a bad policy, we need to push for a good one."
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  21. dissembly @19, as a matter of etiquette it is preferable to use different comments to respond to different respondents, except where they have made essentially the same argument.

    Having said that, there are two key points at issue. The first is that you took exception to the Dana's claim that

    "the Australian government (primarily their Labor Party) passed Clean Energy Bill 2011, which implemented a national carbon pricing system (starting as a tax, then becoming an emissions trading system). This was a major achievement for Australia, but one which political conservatives tended to oppose"


    You claim that his claim was untrue because many people with left wing opinions also the Carbon Tax, however:

    a) That is irrelevant to his claim. He claims that conservatives have tended to oppose it, and that is false only if many conservatives have supported it. As it happens, conservatives have by an large opposed it; so Dana's claim was true.

    b) Even your claim that left wing people have opposed it is misleading because, without shadow of doubt, the campaign against the Carbon Tax has been organized by people from the conservative side of politics. It is true that many people with a socialist bent have been mislead by those conservatives, and consequently oppose the Carbon Tax, but that is because of misinformation pushed by Conservatives, not because of any fundamental opposition to the Carbon Tax.

    So, your argument opposes a strawman in that even if your claims where correct they would not falsify Dana's claims; and they also misrepresent the political situation in Australia. On the other hand, they do illustrate how poorly Australians have been served by politicians and main stream media in that, it is true that currently elected parties poorly represent the views of and serve the interests of the people who elected them.

    The second key issue is the practicality of the Carbon Tax as an early step in the response to climate change. The simple fact which you are ignoring is that the response to climate change has been so long delayed that it must now be a very fast response to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. To give an illustration of that, the following graph shows the rate of reduction in emissions needed to have a 50% chance of avoiding a greater than 2 degree C increase in global temperature, on the assumption that benchmarks are set on a per capita basis by national grouping:



    Note that dashed line is the reduction required if we exclude emissions trading. The task is obviously substantial, even with emissions trading (solid lines). Butif we do not flatten emissions growth now and we reject emissions trading, we will be placed in a position within one electoral cycle where Australia must end all emissions within a year, or not contribute its fair share to the task of reducing global emissions.

    Actually, it is worse than that. Australia's per capita CO2 equivalent (CO2e) emissions are 28 tonnes per capita per annum. If per capita emissions targets are set on a per nation basis, rather than by national grouping, and without emissions trading, Australia must end all emissions by 2013, or else not be contributing its share to tackling global warming.

    So, if your plan to tackle global warming cannot end national emissions by 2013 (and it cannot), then you need to commit to the Carbon Tax now as a means to keep the task manageable. We need to do it on the ethical ground that we should not expect more of other nations (ie, a lower per capita emissions target) than we accept for ourselves. We should also accept it because if we do not, we preclude the negotiation of a reasonable global response because we shall have already violated the terms of any such reasonable response before negotiations begin if we do not curb our emissions now. Finally, we should commit to the Carbon Tax because only with a Carbon Tax can Australia keep emissions down long enough to arrive at an effective solution.

    This is not a claim that the Carbon Tax is the best means available to tackle climate change. It is just recognizing the practical fact that a Carbon Tax is currently being implemented, and that no alternative policy can be implemented soon enough to stop the rise of emissions over the next three to five years.

    And if you can't recognize that practical fact, and get on board; you are part of the problem. If you cannot recognize that fact, you are guaranteeing that Australia's policy will be in practice, to restrict global warming to 3 degrees, or more. If you think your solution is better, then by all means argue for it - but your argument should only be that, while your plan is better, we should support the Carbon Tax until your plan can be implemented. To do otherwise it to pull your driver of the starting grid because you think your new car design currently in testing would be better for winning the race she is about to start.
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  22. dissembly @20, I am not assuming you vote for Abbot. I am assuming you want to tear a part an adequate plan implemented now for the sake of a supposedly good plan implemented when the cows come home.
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  23. Tom's point @21 is a critical one. In the USA, some liberals opposed the last attempt to implement a carbon cap and trade system 2-3 years ago because they felt it was insufficient. The reality of the situation was that it was the best we could do at the time from a political standpoint (and in fact Republicans managed to block it anyway).

    Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good. We are very rapidly running out of time to sufficiently reduce our emissions enough to avoid nasty climate consequences. Right now any implementation of a carbon pricing system - however imperfect - is a major achievement. Get a system in place and if you think you can improve it, then modify it after the fact. But the longer we wait to get those systems in place, the more our chances of avoiding catastrophic consequences dwindle away.
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  24. @Tom Curtis, I disagree with your assessment of my original claim. In fact, your own posts only reinforce what I was saying. Even while you pay lip service to the shocking idea that people could have different views to you *and not be conservative*, you say things like "many people with a socialist bent have been mislead by those conservatives", showing that my post was making quite a relevant and important point, because, clearly, you are an example of one of those people who imagine that all the opposition to the carbon tax somehow stems from conservatives.

    More importantly, I wasn't claiming only that "the left wing" opposes the carbon tax, but that *the majority of average people* oppose it.

    It is important, for your argument, that you skip over this vital point, because further down you need to argue that "fair enough's good enough" in terms of having a carbon tax. As if having a carbon tax has no negative effect on our ability to campaign for real action.

    You can only achieve this by imagining the massive, non-ideological opposition to the carbon tax out of existence.
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  25. @Tom Curtis #22 - "for the sake of a supposedly good plan implemented when the cows come home."

    Again, as I said to you earlier, if the plan I outlined can't be achieved, then global warming cannot be addressed.

    You only imagine the carbon tax to be achievable because that's what's immediately on the table in front of you. Do you have no memory of five years ago? Or ten? Or thirty? If we all used your analysis, nothing would ever have changed, in any field, ever. Your constant snarky denigration of the idea of actually pushing for genuine action in regards to global warming only makes me wonder why you are here in the first place. If you seriously do not believe that anything can be done about global warming (except for the carbon tax, of course), then why do you even bother attending a site to convince people of the reality of it? It won't make a difference either way, according to your attitude.
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  26. @dana1981 "The reality of the situation was that it was the best we could do at the time from a political standpoint"

    I feel that this only stems from hidden premises about the way in which the political process actually works. It requires one to resign themselves to the machinations of electoral politics. But elected politicians are forced to deal with the reality of what is happening in broader society.

    A concerted campaign that actually spoke to ordinary people and got them involved (rather than alienating them) could do much better, no matter which party is in power. The carbon tax undermines this process, and makes it much less likely that we will be able to win further action on global warming.

    I have watched this actually unfold in Australia. Only a few years ago, some of the biggest rallies called (not counting the anti-war protests) rotated around climate change. And people were calling for real action, they had their sights set far higher than Tom with his "when the cows come home" remark. The death of this movement coincided, in part, with the raising of the carbon tax (in direct contradiction to what many people were actually calling for). When the environmentalist organisations (and the Greens) started to resign themselves to this policy, the rallies shrunk rather than growing, and I can't think of any that have happened in the last year. Even the Occupy movement here included anti-environmentalist elements - partly motivated by the carbon tax, for all the economic reasons I've given above.

    You write: "Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good" - but you miss one of the vital points that I am trying to make: What you call "good" in this case (and I question whether any of us would categorise this policy as 'good' outside of the rhetorical saying) in fact helps to *preclude* the perfect (what I would call the "adequate").

    I don't think Tom's replies portrayed a realistic assessment of either the local or the global political situation.

    Just a side note to his earlier claim that opposition to the carbon tax is all either organised by conservatives, or by socialists being misled by conservatives; the Greens in fact had a very good position on Kevin Rudd's carbon tax, describing it as "worse than useless" only a few short years ago. The current carbon tax is even more watered down than it was back then. Their position has not changed as a result of any sudden change in the science, they just want to maintain a particular position within parliament - one which they will most likely lose next election as a result of this.
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  27. @21,

    Tom, I'm looking for the source of the graph, and I can't find it. I'm dubious about it's validity, as all of the pro-carbon tax arguments that I've seen on this site assume targets such as 80% reductions. In fact, most genuine environmentalist proponents of a carbon tax have such targets in mind. But this policy will give us something like 2% real reductions (which you hand-waved away saying that this means a 60% decrease in the rate of emissions growth - a substantial shift from the usual metrics used in climate policy recommendations).

    I can't find your source here, but would I be correct in suspecting that the graph you provided models much more substantial carbon taxation models than what we have? I would expect those dashed lines to be much closer to the solid lines, if the graph were based on what is actually 'on the table'.
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  28. dissembly #24: I have a question for you. Why do you think "the majority of average people" oppose the carbon price? Could it possibly be because of a massive right-wing political/media campaign that has successfully reframed the carbon price as a carbon tax? Fueled by the massive right-wing misinformation campaign, the average Australian and small business actually believes they will be poorer - that they are being taxed with no benefits. I'm sure you know this is not the whole story - it's the fallacy of discussing only the costs without the benefits.

    The truth is that (provided the measures are impemented correctly) most ordinary people and small businesses will not be poorer under the carbon price, as they also get a raft of other tax breaks which should compensate them for the goods and services they pay for that have a higher price directly due to the carbon price. How many average Australians actually know this?? How many of the Aussies who are opposed to this actually realise their take-home pay might go up this month because of the carbon price? Because you certainly wouldn't know this if you listened to Tony Abbott and read The Australian, and a lot of other media. I don't blame the average Australian for not knowing this, because they have been royally misinformed by carbon price opponents.

    Do you think that big decisions like this should be reversed on account of half-truths and misinformation, and the fact that many average Aussies have been misinformed?
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  29. dissembly @25, I have discussed your plan elsewhere where it is on topic. For this discussion the relevant question is can you generate the appropriate political will to accept your plan. The minimum cost of your plan amounts to the equivalent of an increase of the GST to 15% plus a 5% tariff on all exports; or alternatively, a 10 year depression (very low or negative growth for 10 years). (See discussion elsewhere.) If you do not have a realistic plan to persuade a major party, and the majority Australians to vote for these consequences as part of your plan before the end of this electoral cycle, you do not have an alternative plan to the Carbon Tax. You only have an unsubstantiated wish list and no way to implement it. If that is the case, my comment about abandoning an acceptable plan for a possibly good plan implemented when the cows come home stands.
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  30. dissembly @26 I have not forgotten the Green's betrayal of principle and Australia when they rejected Kevin Rudd's Emissions Trading Scheme. All they achieved by that betrayal was to delay the scheme by two years, to implement it in a less effective form, and to provide a massive boost to the opponents of action on AGW in Australia, most noticeably to Abbot and the right faction of the Liberal Party.
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  31. dissembly @27, the graph comes from the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WGBU) special report on Solving the Climate Dilemma: The Budget Approach (Fig 2, page 5)

    Also of interest is Fig 5.3-5 (page 31) which shows per capita budgets for select individual nations, shown below as modified:



    Note that in the WGBU graph, Australia is not included with the US. Australia's actual per capita CO2 equivalent emissions are 28 tonnes per annum.
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  32. @Tom Curtis - "The minimum cost of your plan amounts to the equivalent of an increase of the GST to 15% plus a 5% tariff on all exports; or alternatively, a 10 year depression (very low or negative growth for 10 years)."

    Bizarre. Neither a 10-year depression nor an increase to the GST are equivalents of each other, and neither is directly equivalent to any of the many other ways in which a public works campaign can be funded. This is either extremely naive on your part, or extremely poorly intentioned.

    The fact is, an increase in progressive taxation (not even remotely like raising the GST) could fund a substantial amount of this plan. The mining tax alone would have netted billions more under Rudd's scheme than Gillard's, a genuinely progressive mining tax would have done better again. A recent estimate held that even under a UK-like tax system, another $108 billion per annum would be available in the Australian budget.

    But your statements are incorrect from the other direction, as well; a massive public works campaign would stimulate the economy (and, in fact, is precisely what many economists advocate during recession), and the economics of nationalisation make the process both cheaper and less wasteful (and entirely removes one of the glaring holes in the carbon cap & trade scheme - simply because you try to incentivise investment doesn't mean investors will actually do what you need them to do, and in fact, right now they are hoarding their money against a rainy day; you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink).

    You seem to believe that an economy is a bucket that can be filled and unfilled, and nothing else. But progressive taxes are different to flat taxes, and government spending is different to private spending.

    And again, you seem to be arguing not simply that the carbon tax is a good idea, but that alternatives don't exist - a ridiculous position, but especially from someone who seems to think it's worthwhile spreading information about global warming.

    You wrote: "If you do not have a realistic plan to persuade a major party, and the majority Australians to vote for these consequences as part of your plan before the end of this electoral cycle, you do not have an alternative plan to the Carbon Tax."

    Again, a naive and unrealistic assessment of how politics works, and one which ignores each and every point I made on this subject in earlier postings.

    A "realistic plan" is not limited to an electoral cycle (as governments can be pressured at any stage during their tenure) & not limited to a political party (as parties only deal with the situation they face).

    Furthermore, and once again, the carbon tax is not an alternative plan to what I've outlined - it, in fact, makes the plan I've outlined more difficult, by sucking strength from the push for alternative energy as a way to address climate change.

    That's why the government of the day proposed it, and that's precisely the effect it has had on the environmental movement.

    Regarding the graphs; thank you for linking me to the source. It appears that this is not related to any specific model of a given carbon pricing scheme (as i incorrectly thought), but in fact, is modelling carbon trading between countries based on their respective energy budgets; it's dependent upon the emissions trading actually being relatively unproblematic, which in turn depends very heavily on the nature of carbon offsets, which in turn depends on what alternatives are developed in any given country. The graph describes the target we want to reach. Well, great! The argument is about how to get there.

    I am familiar with the second graph you posted, in fact I just saw it in Beyond Zero Emission's "Zero Carbon Australia" - a plan that outlines the theoretical capacity to completely eliminate fossil fuels from Australia's energy grid within ten years.
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  33. @skywatcher #28

    "I have a question for you. Why do you think "the majority of average people" oppose the carbon price? Could it possibly be because of a massive right-wing political/media campaign that has successfully reframed the carbon price as a carbon tax?"

    The right may have sowed the seeds, but they fell on fertile ground. They conducted a dishonest and malicious campaign, yes, but they also conduct such campaigns on many other issues without changing most peoples minds. This campaign spoke to people because people have genuine cost-of-living concerns right now.

    People were nervous about the idea of a carbon price beforehand, by the way.

    - "the average Australian and small business actually believes they will be poorer - that they are being taxed with no benefits. I'm sure you know this is not the whole story - it's the fallacy of discussing only the costs without the benefits."

    But you're committing the fallacy of taking a stratified, highly heterogenous society and treating it as if everybody received the same benefits and paid the same costs. In fact this isn't true.

    A carbon price resembles a flat tax (like the GST) more than it resembles a progressive tax (like income tax); which means it will affect you more by a disproportionately greater amount the further down the income scale you go.

    Which brings us to the tax cuts and welfare benefits that will supposedly offset the carbon price:

    You wrote: "most ordinary people and small businesses will not be poorer under the carbon price, as they also get a raft of other tax breaks which should compensate them for the goods and services they pay for that have a higher price directly due to the carbon price."

    I've already addressed this in part, I'll make three more comprehensive points here;

    1) It is difficult to see exactly how much more people will be paying due to the carbon price - and thus very difficult to decide what fair compensation is. The bakery chain Brumbys made itself famous recently by having an e-mail leaked from a manager instructing stores to blame price rises on the carbon tax. This is precisely what the mentality of every other business will be; pass on every increased cost, including costs that may be someway back down the chain from raw materials to store shelf, to consumers - even when they haven't even incurred such costs yet.

    2) We are currently under a long-term downward trend in terms of welfare payments, both in terms of how much is paid, and who is eligible for payments. How much of weflare increases are increases the government might have been forced into anyway? Will we received a breakdown of what percentage of welfare increases in the future are to be labelled "carbon tax" and what percentage "cost-of-living increases"? Money is fungible. Both cost-of-living increases, and welfare cuts, are happening anyway. People feel they deserve income tax cuts and welfare increases whether or not there is a carbon tax.

    3) So let's imagine a model, in practice, in which business pays more, so their customers pay more, so the government reimburses the customers - leaving the government with less to spend on public services and welfare. In the end, the government is paying the carbon price with no corresponding increase in taxation on businesses or on the highest income earners. The net distribution of wealth is from poor to rich, and the entire process is extremely wasteful - relying, as it does, on a market to allocate investment in alternative energy in an indirect way (which i've already argued is far from guaranteed).

    Society, as a whole, loses wealth, the wealth gap is greater, and the benefits - at the end of this whole messy process - are not even guaranteed anyway.

    "How many average Australians actually know this??"

    Everyone does. It's been on the front pages of newspapers (even the Murdoch press), and it's been included in every discussion of the carbon tax that I've seen in the tv media.
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  34. "in which business pays more, so their customers pay more, so the government reimburses the customers - leaving the government with less to spend on public services and welfare. In the end, the government is paying the carbon price with no corresponding increase in taxation on businesses or on the highest income earners."

    - I'm sorry, this was misleading. I got a bit carried away there. Of course business pays more *to the government* through the carbon tax (which, of course, is why it is called a 'tax'). The leakage in the system is not here, but in the cap & trade scheme, and in the wastefulness of the market allocation of investment.
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  35. This might be interesting to people: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=a-path-to-sustainable-energy-by-2030

    The article is called "A Plan to Power 100 Percent of the Planet with Renewables", and makes direct comparisons with the US's wartime munitions production and the construction of their highway system.

    When they bring carbon taxes into it, it is as an after-thought, because it "makes sense" to tax environmental damage (hardly a sustained economic analysis), and it is introduced as a part of a coordinated plan involving tariffs and the removal of fossil fuel subsidies.

    This, as I remember it, was reflective of the level of discussion within the environmental movement only a few years ago, the context during which the Greens opposed Rudd's version of the carbon tax. The fall in line behind the carbon tax policy has almost killed us.
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  36. Working properly, a carbon tax should be redistributed back on a pure per-capita basis. If you are using less carbon than the average citizen (by, for example, buying electricity from renewable generation or using non-carbon methods of transport to commute), then you should be better off under such a system. Australians should be pushing for that. Blaming carbon for price rises is only a viable business option if every competitor does exactly the same thing. Otherwise the consumer buys the cheaper product and you lose market share.

    Using wartime spending has a model has the problem that Americans are still paying for it. The money has to come from somewhere.
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  37. Dissembly, I try to avoid discussing topics with people who persistently misrepresent what I have said - as you have done. Such people are either incapable or, or uninterested in rational discussion. In either event, discussing things with them is a waste of time.
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  38. dissembly,

    Honestly, you write so much with no clear statement of point or purpose that it's hard to follow exactly what you are arguing for, but the bottom line is this:

    1) In the USA, people are programmed to shake in fear at the word "tax."

    2) In the USA, people are programmed to believe that because "we won the cold war" that capitalism is God and any problem is best solved through the free market.

    3) Carbon has a large, hidden cost to society which does not affect the seller or the user directly.

    4) Because of these hidden costs, there are some things that governments must accept as within their sphere of influence because the free market has no way of addressing or even recognizing them.

    This has always been the case in any society in terms of the common defense, fire/police/emergency provisions, foreign commerce, education, regulation and law, and other things. There are simply things that the government must do.

    A carbon price is an attempt to address all of these issues... to avoid the fear of taxation, to allow the free market the maximum flexibility in addressing the problem (rather than the government-bureaucratic-5-year-plan-Soviet-style solution), to make sure that that hidden cost does affect both the supplier and user directly, because it is being paid by someone, eventually and last of all to make sure that the problem is engaged and not simply ignored because people don't want to think about it until it's too late.

    Imagine a world where you have no army or navy because you don't want to pay the tax that provides for it. That's great until you are invaded.

    Imagine a town where you have no police or fire department, because you don't want to pay the tax that provides for it. That's great until you are robbed, murdered or watch your house burn to the ground.

    Things need to get done. Money is the lever in all of today's society. Supply and demand and exchanges are how money is allocated to problems in the free market. Taxes, tariffs, fees and markets are how money is allocated (or re-allocated or funneled) to problems by governments.

    Not all problems are "how do we make, transport and market more widgets at lower prices, so that everyone in the world can enjoy a vast collection of widgets."

    You can argue all you want about the mechanics behind the best possible solution, but it must address all of these 4 factors, and many others, and in the end it has to work, and it has to get started soon, because the longer it takes, the less it matters exactly what you do and the more you will be forced to live with something even worse than you expected, simply because you took too long to get started.
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  39. dissembly,
    A carbon price resembles a flat tax (like the GST) more than it resembles a progressive tax (like income tax); which means it will affect you more by a disproportionately greater amount the further down the income scale you go.
    This is true of everyone, everywhere, and it will be true of climate change whether the problem is addressed or not. The people who will starve, become refugees, or just plain see their quality of life dissolve will be the poor. And, to a lesser extent but still a lot, the middle class.

    The people who will still eat well, jet around the world, live in climate controlled houses, etc. will be the rich.

    Mind you, a lot of people who are rich are going to see their fortunes evaporate and join the ranks of the poor. One aspect of climate change, whether handled through adaptation or mitigation, is going to be the complete reshuffling of wealth. Today's wine-grower in California or beach-front property owner is tomorrows useless-parched-land-owner or useless-underwater-land-owner.

    Things will change, and many of the rich who are resisting change now are going to suffer for it. But, for the most part, they'll be fine. It is the poor, average folk that you say are so fearful of being taxed who are going to lose one way or the other, either a little by investing some of their money into addressing the problem, or a lot by ignoring the problem and watching their lifestyles change in unimaginable ways.

    Really, climate change is just the grasshopper and the ant fable, all over again, but in this case it's not hard work that the grasshopper needs, but rather choosing to do the right hard work, and accepting that you need to do and invest your energy in what must be done, not what you wish will be lucrative, or what has always in the past been lucrative.
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  40. dissembly @40, I have not at any stage impugned your honesty, and resent the accusation that I did. But I guess that is par for the course from a person who has continuously misrepresented my opinion; as indeed you continue to do in the final comment.

    I will note that had I chosen to impugn your dishonesty, you have certainly given me grounds to do so. Misrepresenting a tax plus compensation package that over compensates the poor, and leave the wealthy ($80,000 plus income) without any compensation, and hence facing the full burden of the tax as "resembling a flat tax" and saying that it will "affect you more by a disproportionately greater amount the further down the income scale you go" certainly represents either dishonesty or massive confusion. You give me no reason to give you the benefit of that doubt.
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  41. @Sphaerica;

    - "you write so much with no clear statement of point or purpose that it's hard to follow exactly what you are arguing for"

    Well, to be honest I don't understand how that's possible, but I take you at your word, which is more than some other people have done for me in this discussion. Here is my clear statement of point or purpose:

    I initially posted to argue that:
    a) Opposition to the carbon tax is not simply a conservative plot, but something that touches average people, regardless of political persuasion,
    b) Most Australians are neither conservative, nor global warming deniers, but still have serious problems with the carbon tax,
    c) Objections to the carbon tax are valid, and not a result of short-sightedness or AGW denial.

    In the course of discussion, I expanded on my point of view, and argued that:
    a) The carbon tax has hurt the environmentalist movement; where once we had tens of thousands of people rallying, forcing governments into making promises on climate change that they didn't want to make, we now have almost nothing, with very little-to-no pressure on the government to act on climate change;
    b) A real solution involves public investment and infrastructural change to convert ours into a low-to-zero carbon economy,
    c) This solution can be achieved by returning to the state of the movement only a few short years ago, but this cannot be done by pushing the carbon tax.

    That is my clear statement of point and purpose. That is where I stand on these issues, what I have presented arguments for, and contains a practical statement of what I think is the way forward.

    You write:

    - "to allow the free market the maximum flexibility in addressing the problem (rather than the government-bureaucratic-5-year-plan-Soviet-style solution)"

    I don't think anybody has ever advocated a "5-year-plan-Soviet-style-solution". I advocate nationalisation and public investment, with democratic ownership, not bureaucratic dictatorship.

    You correctly wrote "In the USA, people are programmed to shake in fear at the word 'tax.'" - in the USA, people are also told to shake in fear at the words "nationalisation" and "public ownership". You responded to my suggestion by invoking a nightmarish dictatorship - I don't think that's a measured response at all. The only aspects of the "5-year-plans" that resemble what I argue for are the raw facts of national ownership and planning (as distinct from the massive top-down bureaucracy, complete lack of democracy, and horrific working conditions imposed on the people made to carry out the plans - contrast this with the fact that Australia is not a totalitarian dictatorship, and that I am arguing for this push to be made in the community upon the government, I believe i even specifically mentioned trade unions) - the only aspects of the Soviet system that actually had a constructive economic influence.

    As for allowing the free market to address the problem, i've given quite a few reasons why this is a bad idea. The free market encourages artificial price rises (we've seen it already with leaked information from three separate businesses in the first weeks of the carbon tax in Australia), it dis-incentivises investment in long-term, large-scale infrastructural projects (thus rendering global warming the textbook example of a problem that cannot be solved with a free market), it enables large-scale fraud with the trading of derivatives (and the idea of carbon permit trading is really a striking recreation of the sort of derivatives trading invoplved in the GFC), it is incapable of operating efficiently (with large-scale losses from the market in the form of profit), but particularly in times of recession (which encourage profit-hoarding rather than 'risky' investment).

    The various carbon market schemes suffer from specific problems in the nature of the schemes themselves, most obviously in the nature of purchase-able "offsets", but also in the fact that the very people who are currently blocking action on climate change are the ones who this scheme utterly relies on to 'do the right thing' in this very corruptible carbon market.

    The rest of your posts, I beleive, responded to arguments that I did not make - you are preaching to the converted!

    On taxes;

    I believe in taxes, so long as they are progressive taxes (not flat taxes). It is absolutely unnecessary for the poor to pay disproportionately to support our roads, public transport, welfare system, power grid, etc etc etc. And it is absolutely unnecessary for the poor to pay disproportionately to support real action on climate change.

    I've given some figures already. We recently had a mining super-profits tax implemented - a watered down version of an earlier proposal, which was killed because, rather than the government using this money for any public purpose, they simply advocated using the money raised to ease taxes on companies (Australia already has one of the lowest company tax rates in the developed world) - so nobody really bothered to defend the government when they came under attack from the mining companies. We should be pushing for that tax to be implemented, in an even stronger form - but for the revenue to be used to address global warming. That would get peoples attention. (Even better, we should calling for the nationalisation of the mining industry - but even without going this far, tens of billions of dollars would become available for new alternative energy infrastructure.) A recent study found that even a modest progressive alteration to our tax system - bringing it into line with the tax system in the decidedly non-socialist UK - would net a further $108 billion per year.

    The idea that any sort of flat tax is necessary to make this sort of thing happen is simply, factually, not true.

    On the impact of global warming;

    Yes, it would disproportionately affect the poor. I'm sold! Trying to convince me of this is like carrying coals to Newcastle, as they say.
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  42. @Tom Curtis, perhaps you should re-read your own comments. I have never been dishonest in this conversation, and the written record is pretty much there for anyone reading this to see for themselves.

    You have continually approached my comments by assuming bad faith, and do so in your most recent comments as well. You seem to think that because someone disagrees with your political assessment of the compensation packages, they must be some sort of dishonest propagandist. In fact I have made my arguments, in good faith, and I stand by them, not yet having seen any counter-argument that I believe challenges them.

    I'm happy to let that stand. But I certainly am not walking away from this feeling that you have responded to my views with the assumption that you're talking to a real human being who is presenting his honest point of view.
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  43. @ #36 scaddenmp;

    "Working properly, a carbon tax should be redistributed back on a pure per-capita basis."

    In an idealised, textbook-model world - which we don't occupy.

    "If you are using less carbon than the average citizen (by, for example, buying electricity from renewable generation or using non-carbon methods of transport to commute), then you should be better off under such a system. Australians should be pushing for that."

    People want to know that they'll be able to support their families and live a decent life; they want to be able to do this while also addressing climate change, but the carbon tax doesn't provide an avenue for this outcome. It neither guarantees constructive change nor addresses quality-of-life issues that are already impacting on people.

    "Blaming carbon for price rises is only a viable business option if every competitor does exactly the same thing. Otherwise the consumer buys the cheaper product and you lose market share."

    And every competitor is incentivised to do exactly the same thing right now.

    "Using wartime spending has a model has the problem that Americans are still paying for it. The money has to come from somewhere."

    And I've outlined at least two substantial sources for it, in a more robust version of the mining super-profits tax and a more progressive income tax regime.
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  44. dissembly,

    I have no idea how your ideas would go over in Australia, but they'd never, ever get past square-one in the USA. We have quite a different view towards "nationalization" (some of it appropriate, some of it fabricated by extreme-right-wing free-market-fascists).

    Similarly, you will never, ever get such a tax in the USA. Ever. The Republicans are still pushing to lower taxes on the rich, and you want to add one. It will never, ever fly, probably not even a flat tax and particularly not a progressive tax.

    I'm not saying either of those is right or wrong (although I certainly don't believe that nationalization can work as efficiently as you claim, or that the free market is as inefficient as you claim), just that they will never even be given a chance in the nation that absolutely must engage if the problem is going to be solved (the USA).

    [As a side note, my references to Soviet style 5-year plans were purposeful hyperbole. I never meant it literally. What I did mean is that nationalization is inefficient. It is more prone to corruption and waste than the free market, because when you remove the profit incentive, people just stop trying, or start trying in in favor of the bribes that give them personal profits. The free market profit incentive siphons off resources, yes, but not as badly as the government controlled approach of simply investing those resources in the wrong directions and without adequate perseverance or commitment.]
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  45. dissembly
    "In an idealised, textbook-model world - which we don't occupy."
    There is almost no practical barrier to the pigovian tax other than government will want to take a portion to cover admin. Other jurisdictions have done it (eg BC). This is what you want to fight for.

    If you are on low income side, then probably not jetting round world etc. so very likely on the lower-than-average side of carbon usage. Works that way.

    "And every competitor is incentivised to do exactly the same thing right now."
    That's a "markets-dont-work-to-keep-prices-down" statement implying business conspiracies. I dont think you can support that.

    "I've outlined at least two substantial sources for it," Fair enough but I was objecting to your wartime-munitions model.
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  46. Sphaerica - I heard enough of American rhetoric to believe you on chances of setting up a supertax in States. However, down here its harder for the rich to buy a government so a lot easier to get votes for eat-the-rich schemes.

    That said, I think the left in Aussie is way too weak to get the political capital for any kind of nationalisation. Too much evidence that it works badly for one thing.
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  47. @ #44 Sphaerica;

    "I have no idea how your ideas would go over in Australia, but they'd never, ever get past square-one in the USA."

    The political party I'm affiliated with has a U.S. section that puts forward similar demands, and does get an echo for them. I'm not saying they're winning elections, but it wasn't that long ago in the US that these ideas did have a much greater influence. Times change.

    But the key thing is, if you get a solid plan in place, hold rallies, talk to people (in a way that takes their economic concerns into account), you'll get a response (and i'm not just talking out of my back-end here, this is exactly what me and a few others have started to do; we've had 400 people sign up to our campaign in 4 months, a pretty striking rate of growth). I've seen it happen; until the carbon tax came in, the anti-global warming movement was actually growing in my city. This is how governments are ultimately pressured to do anything at all, regardless of which party is presiding.

    You wrote: "What I did mean is that nationalization is inefficient. It is more prone to corruption and waste than the free market, because when you remove the profit incentive, people just stop trying, or start trying in in favor of the bribes that give them personal profits."

    I don't believe the evidence backs that up at all. I know this is a common belief (especially in the US, but throughout the western world post-Reagen/Thatcher-era), but i've yet to see any empirical example that supports it.

    I live in a state (Victoria) in which both electricity and public transport have been partially privatised, and both have seen massive wastage, over and above anything seen under public ownership. I don't have the exact figures on hand for electricity, but for public transport, the cost of running the system rose by 200 million a year (just short of doubling) in the years immediately after privatisation, and has now blown out to around a billion annually (from a pre-privatisation level of about 350 million, adjusted for inflation). At the same time, services have declined, and, more frightening, assets have been sold off completely, meaning we'll have to spend even more to ever actually recover the infrastructural capacity that we once had.

    The country-next-door (New Zealand) had a similar experience with a raft of privatisations. They've actually suffered fairly significant energy shortages as a direct result of electricity privatisation (in the most famous case, private owners decided to sell off energy generating capacity while rainfall was high (and hydroelectric power was ample), causing energy shortages as soon as the first drought hit; interestingly for our discussion, some of the generating capacity that was done-away-with was geothermal power :/ ).

    On a smaller scale, the municipal council in which I live privatised (outsourced) previously in-house services, and we've seen dramatic drops in quality and service (one example involved mulch with fragments of glass and metal being spread onto playgrounds), while costs continue to rise.

    This isn't even using the model of public ownership i would advocate (a transparent, more democratically accessible one, with positions in the bureaucracy being publicly recallable); - this is comparing a typical Western bureaucratic model to private ownership, and the latter still costs more and delivers less in every case.

    You wrote, "when you remove the profit incentive, people just stop trying, or start trying in in favor of the bribes that give them personal profits"; i don't think that's true at all. To begin with, the majority of people running any given service don't operate on a profit incentive to begin with - only the highest levels (and the owners) do so.

    I work within the public transport sector, and train stations were always run better when the staff where involved in decision-making. These people don't simply not-care about their work - apathy only sets in when all their say over their work is taken away from them, as it has been, increasingly so, as parts of the system have gone into private ownership. Then you see real apathy develop. My partner works in the public sector as well, and her entire department care profoundly about what they are doing.

    The idea that it is the profit incentive that inspires creativity or good work is just a legend, as far as I have seen. Whereas the idea that it encourages scaling-down necessary operations, losing co-ordination between different parts of a service, putting up prices whenever possible (regardless of any operational necessity), is something proven in practise time and time again.

    This is all extremely relevant to the goal of building zero-to-low carbon energy infrastructure!
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  48. @#45 scaddenmp;

    "There is almost no practical barrier to the pigovian tax other than government will want to take a portion to cover admin. Other jurisdictions have done it (eg BC). This is what you want to fight for."

    BC is an interesting example for you to raise (not just because the carbon tax was political suicide at a federal level for the party that raised it - resulting in no action on global warming at all - as is likely to happen next election here).

    It has been in place a few years now (approaching half of the ten year period that has been estimated as a realistic timeframe for the change to alternative energy infrastructure within Australia), and there has been very little sign of any substantial change in the nature of energy production.

    But it's also resulted in employers using the tax as an excuse for sacking workers. This underlines a flaw in the carbon tax model that I haven't yet harped on about. Market-cased measures lack co-ordination. Under a hypothetical public scheme, job losses in polluting industries can be made up for in a coordinated way with job growth in alternative energies; but a market-based scheme relies (assuming it works as intended) on a market-based death for polluting industries, with little chance of sacked workers being offered re-training or public compensation packages.

    "If you are on low income side, then probably not jetting round world etc. so very likely on the lower-than-average side of carbon usage. Works that way."

    I think that's an unrealistic assessment of the spread of impacts on low-income people. Prices for average goods go up, even in the best-case-scenario. That's what people are worried about, rather than being slightly-less-likely-than-before to go to Paris.

    I'll also point out that low income people who don't receive welfare will get nothing whatsoever in compensation. I'm not sure I raised that specific outcome yet. There's just so much to cover on this topic.

    I wrote "every competitor is incentivised to do exactly the same thing right now" and you said, "That's a "markets-dont-work-to-keep-prices-down" statement implying business conspiracies" - but it isn't.

    There is no conspiracy in the fact that business owners have n incentive to raise prices when they are given the pretext for it, it's a basic law of how markets function in practice. There's also no conspiracy (well, not a cloak-and-dagger sort) in the fact that most soft drinks or snacks you'll see when you walk into a 7-11 are owned by a single company, or most of the goods in supermarkets are distributed by a couple of large companies; again, it's just a result of how the market works. I'm not saying there's any secret cabal sitting around deciding things like this, it's just the way the incentives work in the real world, outside of university econ textbooks.
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  49. "I'll also point out that low income people who don't receive welfare will get nothing whatsoever in compensation. I'm not sure I raised that specific outcome yet. There's just so much to cover on this topic."

    - to clarify that statement; the reason for this is that the lowest income brackets are immune (to various degrees) to tax breaks. Those earning under 18,000 a year in Australia (the tax-free threshold), who are not on welfare, will get nothing from the carbon tax compensation. They will still have the pay the same price rises as everyone else. Those in slightly higher tax brackets will get something back, but depending on which bracket you look at, the amount you get back can be proportionately less than those earning more, who pay more tax which can be returned to them.
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  50. dissembly @49 a person with $18,000 a year taxable income in 2011/12 would pay $300 tax after taking account of the 15c per $1 over $6,000 tax rate plus the $1,500 low income tax offset (LOTO). That same person would not be eligible for any tax in 2012/13, a compensation of $300 dollars, of $50 dollars more than the compensation paid to pensioners. What is more, in 2012/13, taking into account the LOTO, that person would not start paying tax until their income rose over $20,400, at which point their advantage would have increased to $660, approximately the maximum compensation under the scheme. Thereafter the compensation progressively declines until it reaches zero at an income of $80,000.

    Your claim that people on $18,000 per annum "... will get nothing from the carbon tax compensation" is simply false, and can only have been made by ignoring the available evidence from relevant government bodies, not to mention all the daily newspapers when the tax was passed. There is no justification for asserting such easily checked falsehoods.
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