Posts Tagged ‘Corporate Lobbying’

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The illusion of the reasonable centre

4 February 2013

Republican strategist Karl Rove in 2002 notoriously disparaged “the reality-based community [who] believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality”. He continued: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

That quote has become a symbol for the Republican Party’s detachment from empirical reality, like Mitt Romney’s recent declaration “we’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact checkers”. I’m a proud member of the “reality-based community”, in that I try to base my views as much as possible on observed facts rather than instinct or ideology. Yet Rove understood something his political opponents don’t: “political reality” is an illusion.

Campaigners who pride themselves on being “political realists”, and voters who pride themselves on being “centrists”, make the fundamental mistake of assuming the political centre is a real thing fixed in one position. Although political scholars talk about an objective centre halfway between the most extreme possible ideological orientations, it has no influence on political debate. In practice, the political centre is a perception that can be manipulated by various political forces. Thus it is possible to shift the political centre, or “political reality”, without deluding as the Republicans do – you only need to change the perception of where the centre is.

Here’s another way of looking at it. The “Overton window” is the range of political positions considered to be the scope of reasonable debate. The perceived political centre is in the middle of the Overton window. Positions toward the edges of the Overton window are considered radical, and positions beyond the edges are considered unthinkable.

A third way of conceptualizing this is “Hallin’s spheres”, three nested ideological spheres illustrating the implicit bias of ostensibly objective media coverage. In the centre is the “sphere of consensus”, consisting of propositions considered by the journalist (or other observer) to be self-evident to all reasonable people. The intermediate shell is the “sphere of legitimate controversy”, matters considered suitable to be debated among reasonable people; journalists generally strive for balanced coverage of the views in this shell. The outer shell is the “sphere of deviance”, positions considered to be outside the range of mainstream debate. In this metaphor it is journalists who (consciously or otherwise) decide which ideas belong in which sphere, and they tend to make those decisions based on the thinking of the political establishment. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Liberals Part 5: Are they hiding a radical agenda?

31 January 2013

This is the fifth part of a series examining the Liberal Party of Australia. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 examine the party’s climate policies. Part 4 debunks their allegations that the incumbent government is illegitimate. This part argues they are hiding a radical agenda of deregulation and austerity.

The countdown has begun: 226 days until an Australian federal election in which the Liberals look likely to sweep into office. Yet we still have very little idea what the Liberals would do in government. Leader Tony Abbott contradicts himself from day to day, apparently depending on who he’s speaking to, and even his party’s official policies are not very clearly explained. At this stage, a vote for the Liberals is a blank cheque. In this vacuum of confirmed information, I am forced to resort to informed speculation. You’ll know whether I’m right when the Liberals finally announce their fully detailed policies (which looks like it will be about 5pm on 14 September).

The deregulation agenda

I fear an Abbott government would be a wrecker government. We already know the Liberals would repeal the carbon and mining taxes, axe most other climate change policies, and delegate environmental approval powers to the states. These policies should be disturbing enough for anybody, but increasingly appear to be only part of a broader agenda of deregulation and austerity which should trouble even those unconcerned about climate change. It would follow the precedent set by the Newman government in Queensland, which blindsided the state last year by sneaking into power under cover of opposing a long-lived incumbent then proceeding to implement massive cuts. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Climate deregulation still on agenda

6 December 2012

It’s called the COAG Taskforce on Regulatory and Competition Reform, and don’t be fooled by the boring name: it could be the gravestone of Australian climate policies and environmental regulation. Today Prime Minister Julia Gillard meets with the unelected Business Advisory Forum (BAF), and tomorrow with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), to advance this radical corporate-driven deregulation agenda.

I was going to write that the federal government intended to hand over its environmental approval powers to the states tomorrow. Fortunately that has been delayed following a campaign by the Greens and environmental groups, though it remains very much on the agenda. Instead this blog post will focus on another, even more important aspect of the COAG Taskforce program, which has received less attention but presumably rolls on inexorably toward an imminent conclusion: reviewing almost all climate policies with a view to axing them.

The process is completely opaque and undemocratic. Federal and state governments are advised by business lobbyists, with no comparable consultation of anyone else, and the public are not told what is happening apart from vague communiqués following decisions at BAF and COAG meetings.

It is not even clear why the BAF was created in the first place, though I can offer an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory. Throughout 2011, business lobbyists campaigned against the Gillard government for daring to rock the boat even slightly by introducing a carbon price (never mind that it was full of holes). Some supported the Liberals’ campaign for an election and no carbon price, and I imagine behind the scenes some supported Kevin Rudd’s leadership plot in return for Rudd’s promise to weaken the carbon price. When Rudd was decisively defeated, the Business Council of Australia called for “a renewed commitment to make Australia more competitive and productive” including “a regulatory environment that encourages business to invest, adapt, and innovate”. Within a week, Gillard announced the formation of the Business Advisory Forum. The whole thing had a vibe of Gillard desperately trying to win the support of business. And what better way to atone for the carbon price than to dismantle all other climate and environment policies? Read the rest of this entry ?

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Obama’s reelection won’t change anything

8 November 2012

What does the reelection of Barack Obama mean for climate change? On the one hand, it is a tremendous relief that Mitt Romney lost; but on the other, Obama’s victory is not particularly promising.

Firstly, it is unlikely that Obama will be able to accomplish much even if he wants to. The Republicans will continue to control the House of Representatives, as well as continuing to effectively control the Senate, which means they can continue to block everything as they’ve been doing for the past three years. Why do they effectively control the Senate, you may ask? As explained here, an idiosyncratic rule called the filibuster allows any Senator to prevent a bill being passed (or even being introduced) by debating the motion indefinitely (or secretly threatening to do so). To overrule a filibuster requires 60 out of 100 votes, which the Democrats have not had since 2009 and still don’t have after this election. The Republicans now filibuster pretty much anything and everything, making it almost impossible for the Obama administration to pass legislation. Even if the Democrats had 60 seats, many Democratic Senators representing coal states are unlikely to vote in favor of legislation to address climate change.

It is far from clear that Obama would take the necessary level of action on climate change even if he could get it through Congress. Obama’s first term will be remembered for the failure to act on climate change. The policies he has tried to implement so far have been utterly inadequate. In UN climate talks, Obama has secured a too-high 2°C target and promoted a system of voluntary pledges utterly inadequate to meet it with no intention of ramping them up until at least 2020, when it will be too late (although I say “Obama”, the president himself no longer bothers to show up to climate conferences in person). To his credit, he has invested heavily in renewable energy deployment, but his “all of the above” energy policy also continues to promote and even subsidize fossil fuels. His failed climate legislation, negotiated between Congress and industry lobbyists, was plagued by similar problems to Australia’s policy – weak targets, offsets, free permits for polluters, etcetera – so even if it had passed it was unlikely to be very effective. He delayed that legislation in favor of healthcare reform and financial regulation, after which the Democrats lost the required Senate supermajority. And since March 2009, he has followed a deliberate strategy of not even talking about climate change, instead trying (and failing) to sell climate policies on side-benefits like “green jobs”. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The fossil-fuelled war on renewables

24 October 2012

In recent months, ~2 GW of Australian coal-fired electricity generation has been closed temporarily or permanently (~2.5 GW in winter), comparable to the 2 GW that would have been closed by the abandoned policy of contracts-for closure. Some might conclude Australia is finally beginning its transition to a low- or zero-carbon economy, and we can sit back and watch the federal carbon price and Renewable Energy Target (RET) drive it. But even if decarbonization was occurring fast enough (which is nowhere near the case), now is not the time to sit back, because the established electricity companies see their traditional business model disappearing down the drain, and they are fighting back. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Roundup of RET review submissions

3 October 2012

I’ve been through every submission to the Climate Change Authority review of the Renewable Energy Target (RET), and categorized them by their recommendations (background on the review here).

The categories are as follows:

  • “Increase” = increase the 2020 Large-scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET). This category includes recommendations that the Government recognize the urgency of climate action, set targets of up to 100% renewable energy by 2020, make complementary policies and voluntary action additional to the RET, replace the present Renewable Energy Certificate scheme with a feed-in tariff, and/or limit the scope of future reviews to strengthening the RET. My submission (here, with commentary here) falls into this category.
  • “Strengthen without changing 2020 target” = strengthen the RET without necessarily increasing the 2020 LRET. This category includes calls to increase targets beyond 2020, make Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) investments additional to the LRET, revise the trajectory so it goes up each year, index the shortfall charge, and/or improve the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES).
  • “Status quo” = no change. Usually the justification given for this recommendation is to give investors certainty.
  • “Weaken” = weaken the RET, usually enough to significantly sabotage the policy goal. This category includes proposals to adjust the LRET to lower demand forecasts, abolish or cap the SRES, reduce the solar multiplier to less than 1, expand the definition of “renewable energy” to include low-emissions technologies or carbon capture and storage, link to international renewable energy targets, phase out the RET after 2020, and/or abolish state-level renewable energy policies.
  • “Abolish” = terminate or phase out the RET. The typical justifications were that the carbon price makes the RET redundant, that the RET is inefficient and costs consumers, and/or that it should be replaced with funding for R&D.
  • “Other” = does not quite fit into any of my categories. Submissions in this category may advocate particular technologies, may communicate pertinent facts or discuss issues without making specific recommendations, may be too technical for me to judge, or may just be plain incomprehensible. Read the rest of this entry ?
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Why the RET review matters

18 September 2012

Last week, I made a submission to the Climate Change Authority review of Australia’s federal Renewable Energy Target (RET). In August, the Climate Change Authority released an Issues Paper on the review, inviting public submissions (which closed on 14 September, but you can still have your say in a poll by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition). A discussion paper with draft recommendations will be released in October, followed by final recommendations by 31 December. The Government must respond within six months.

The RET review is the first in a series of independent reviews of climate policies, intended to allow them to be strengthened, secured by the Greens in last year’s Multi-Party Climate Change Committee negotiations in return for agreeing to initially inadequate and potentially ineffective policies. However, a number of businesses and business lobby groups invested in fossil fuels are using the review as an excuse to demand the RET be weakened.

An internal document obtained by the Australian Financial Review in April showed the Australian Industry Greenhouse Network is lobbying for the RET to be to scrapped or weakened. Meanwhile, TRUenergy has joined Origin Energy in its more public campaign to weaken the RET. These two “gentailers” (companies who both generate and retail electricity) argue the RET should be adjusted downward so that it accounts for no more than 20% of 2020 demand. Such a move would cause renewable energy deployment in Australia to stop completely in 2016, with only gas-fired electricity generation built post-2016:


Projected new and retired electricity generation capacity under the reduced Renewable Energy Target advocated by TRUenergy. Green and purple bars are renewable energy sources; dark blue and red are gas-fired; light blue are retirements. (Image source: Renew Economy.) Read the rest of this entry ?