Government lies about emissions, power prices

Late on the last Friday in September, while the attention of the media was focused on the imminent AFL and NRL grand finals, the federal government quietly released a report showing it has failed to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. 

Environment minister Melissa Price is trying to downplay the coincidental timing, but documents obtained by the Australian Conservation Foundation under freedom of information laws reveal that the government sat on the report for seven weeks before releasing it on the eve of the long weekend. 

In the past, the Liberals have released the latest climate data the week before Christmas and late on the Friday of budget week. 

What are they so afraid of? The facts. 

A quick flick through the quarterly update of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory is damning. In the first three months of this year, Australia had the highest levels of carbon pollution since 2011; there has been an upward trend in annual emissions since 2013. 

Prime minister Scott Morrison has argued that emissions per person have fallen over the last 28 years. As many have pointed out, this is irrelevant. Climate change is driven by the total of greenhouse gases released, not how much each individual might be contributing. 

The government’s response to the rising emissions has been deception and obfuscation. The press release announcing the report was titled “Australia on track to meet emissions targets”.

But the government’s own data show this is rubbish. The Environment Department’s projections reveal that, under current policies, emissions will continue rising until 2030. 

Faced with all this, the Coalition has mostly dropped any pretence of trying to combat climate change. The final flimsy fig leaf fell when they dropped the National Energy Guarantee and turfed out Malcolm Turnbull.

The government says that its main concern is energy prices. But this concern is characterised by the same lies, hypocrisy and grandstanding as its approach to the environment is. 

It tries to tie rising energy costs to fairytales about the failures of renewable energy. But the corporations polluting our air, water and land are the same ones that are gouging working class people on electricity costs. 

The real reason energy prices have skyrocketed is because of the privatisation of the sector, which has resulted in a massive shift of control away from the public and into the hands of corporate retailers. 

Since it was in their hands, they have been sucking as much money out of the industry as possible. A favoured tactic is “gold-plating” financial assets, i.e. including unnecessarily expensive costs in their budgets and then passing the costs onto consumers. A 2017 Australia Institute report blamed methods such as these for Australian electricity prices increasing at three times the rate of the consumer price index – 183 percent – between 1996 and 2016.

What else was going to happen when governments gave control of our power to corporations? Their whole point is to make profit, not to do what’s in the public interest. 

Sections of the Liberal Party are increasingly hysterical about the “need” to continue investing in new coal-fired power plants. They say this is the key to bringing down prices. It’s rubbish. The prices of renewables have dropped rapidly over the last 10 years.

Greg Jarvis, Origin Energy’s head of energy trading and operations, told the Energy Insiders podcast on 2 October: “I have been in this game for so long … the one thing I have seen is just the cost of renewables really change the game. It is amazing what we have been seeing. Renewables are cheaper than the marginal cost of black coal at the moment. They are very cheap”.

So what’s the alternative? On one level, it’s simple: massively invest in renewables, shut down the fossil fuel industry, retrain workers so they can get jobs in alternative energy and ban fracking and other environmentally devastating practices.

Standing in the way is not just the fossil fuel industry, but the whole economic structure of contemporary capitalism, which has been shaped by coal, oil and gas. Everything – transportation, infrastructure, urban planning and consumption – is centred on using fossil fuels. 

To break with that quickly would mean challenging the entrenched vested interests of the ruling class. This is why bringing the economy under public ownership and, beyond that, under democratic control, is necessary if we are going to defeat the fossil fuel establishment.