10 July 2011

A Bad Analogy in Australia's New Climate Policy Proposal

Australia has released its much awaited carbon tax proposal (here in PDF).  I am just now browsing through it.  This analogy in the document strikes me as particularly unfortunate:
The Government has committed to reduce carbon pollution by 5 per cent from 2000 levels by 2020 irrespective of what other countries do, and by up to 15 or 25 per cent depending on the scale of global action.

Meeting the 5 per cent target will require abatement of at least 159 Mt CO2-e, or 23 per cent, in 2020 (Figure 2.4).1 This is equivalent to taking over 45 million cars off the road by 2020.
Why do I say an unfortunate analogy?

Well, Australia has only about 12 million cars (and 16 million total vehicles), so using a reduction of 45 million cars "off the road" to illustrate the unilateral emissions reduction goal simply illustrates the impossibility of the task. Under this analogy, even getting rid of all of the vehicles in Australia would leave the country about 30 million vehicles short (for better ways to illustrate the magnitude of the Australian emissions reduction challenge, more see this paper). In any case, at current rates of growth Australia will have 5 million more vehicles in 2020, and not any less.

Back to browsing -- I hope that other aspects of the policy don't prove to be similarly impossible.


  1. How is this different from saying that in order to meet a carbon-cutting goal, you'd have to build 'x' number of wind turbines? The criticism of such statements is that you wouldn't do it all the replacement with wind turbines. What's wrong with stating that it would take 'x' number of cars taken off the road to equal the amount of carbon-cutting that will be done? It's not a policy - it's a descriptive analogy. When they say that the cost of something is equivalent to a stack of dollar bills from here to the moon, you don't criticize them because the stack would fall over or float free in space. Just sayin.'

    The problem isn't that there aren't enough cars in Australia to fill the quota. The problem is that the goal is too grand, and the cost of attempting it is not stated.

  2. Once again AGW extremists are pushing a policy proposal of vast cost and dubious-at-best benefit.
    A decent way of roughly summing up your book is that not one mitigation policy really does what its promoters claim.
    This Australian mess is a good example of just that.
    The analogy, as you point out, is ironically effective because it shows that even in descriptive terms, AGW believers are pushing for policies that cannot work.

  3. Alcoa 640 thousand tons of idle aluminum smelting capacity in Washington State which is about 30% of total Australian smelting capacity. The industrial rate for Electricity is currently competitive in Washington State. Alcoa has already announced they will be expanding production in Washington State.

    About 9% of Australia's electricity consumption is Aluminum Smelting.

    Australia doesn't need to build any windmills or solar panels to make a 5% cut. All they have to due is raise the industrial price of electricity high enough so that Alcoa concludes it is no longer welcome in Australia.

  4. .

    The first thing you need to do is differentiate between the goal and the sales pitch. The goal is more money for the politicians to play with. The sales pitch is saving the planet. The fact that the planet may or may not be saved by the proposed tax is incidental to achieving the goal.


  5. Roger: you missed a far bigger impossibility. The report says it will reduce 'carbon pollution' by 5%. If we accept human -made atmospheric carbon dioxide is 'carbon pollution' (I can accept this in principle), then they have predicted that Australia will by its unlateral actions alone reduce atmospheric CO2 from 380 ppm to 375 ppm by 2020.

    Approximations: CO2 levels without human action ~ 280 ppm; current atmospheric CO2 ~ 380 ppm.

    If the entire population of Australia committed suicide tomorrow, it would not accomplish this. Unless, perhaps, we all were so saddened by the human tragedy we gave up driving.

    Of course, what they're really going to do is reduce Australia's emissions by 5%, an entirely symbolic and useless gesture that makes Don Quixote's attack on the windmill look like a marvel of decisive action.

  6. There's an interesting short analysis of this by Tim Worstall at The Register.