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Monday, 23 May 2011
Page: 4277

Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (21:10): I have a very different grievance. I find it quite disturbing how much misinformation is flowing around Australia on fundamental questions such as climate change, delivery of the latest information technology, the cost of living and the various reasons for it, illegal immigrants, pulp mills and so on. Many of these are issues that crowd our television, our emails, our news sheets and even our phone calls.

We live in a world of spin because we are restricted to 30-second media grabs, and how we can explain anything properly in 30 seconds is beyond me—especially the complex questions like climate change. It is all right to have opinions, but we really need to have some facts when issues are being put out there. Journalists talking to journalists do not always give us the best facts in a debate. It is great to have a view, and that is what democracy is all about, but if you are destroying people who work in industries, and their families, that is not very good for democracy. Being merely obstructionist and time-consuming does very little to improve things or encourage change in any constructive way.

The climate change argument is one of those issues that has suffered grievously from this sort of debate. I intend here to try to put together some facts for people to make up their own minds as part of this grievance. I will share some readings and thoughts that I have had on this issue. We hear the words 'carbon price', 'carbon tax' and 'carbon cycle' bandied about each day; yet how many of us really know what this is all about? Why has the word 'carbon' been plaguing our lives lately? It is because we blame carbon for climate change.

Many companies recognise that those who have high energy needs, such as smelters and energy producers, contribute to warming our planet. But there is a need to have an understanding of what carbon is and how it is so important in the cycle of life on earth. We rely on a variety of elements for life, including nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, helium, methane, hydrogen and some others that you would not have heard much about. A mixture of these makes up the air we breathe. Carbon dioxide is a minor constituent of air, but it has a major impact. It is the one that helps to keep our planet and us warm and it prevents us from freezing to death. But, of course, there is a bad side. Too much carbon dioxide will cause the earth to heat up and become too hot.

What we call the greenhouse effect has kept the earth warm for millions of years. The natural carbon cycle of the earth keeps a steady amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Some of the sun's infrared radiation is reflected back into space and some is trapped by greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, in the earth's atmosphere. This is good, because it keeps the earth's temperature at a level we can live in and not be too cold.

Because the radiation is trapped, it is absorbed by the double bonds of the carbon dioxide molecules, which transfers the radiation into kinetic, or moving, energy as the bonds stretch and vibrate. The energy is then re-emitted as heat energy, which causes the atmosphere to warm up. If extra carbon dioxide appears, this warming will happen more and the atmosphere will heat up too much. That is what is causing us to query the growing carbon content of the air, as it is said that the world has been growing warmer since the industrial revolution because, as technology requires more energy, so more carbon has been emitted than can be taken up in any of the natural sinks.

So it is important to have some sort of control over the release of carbon dioxide, and setting a price on carbon emissions has been identified by the Stern review and later the Garnaut report, among many others, as a critical policy tool for achieving carbon reductions. Therefore, first we need to be able to measure emissions in some sort of quantitative way, and then a carbon price needs to be set. But we need to allow time for industry to implement measures to limit or offset the costs so that we can continue to compete in the world market.

One way of coping with unduly high carbon emissions is to relate them to how one reduces their impact. The reduction of the impact can be very expensive by itself, or one can try and take up the extra carbon by increasing the size of the sinks. Both our oceans and our forests are natural sinks, but they also emit carbon, so there has to be an understanding of their processes of absorption in order to work out what has to be done to lower the carbon load in the air.

One way has become clear, and that is to grow more forests, allow them to mature to a certain age and then harvest them and start again. This can be demonstrated by a good argument given in the Tasmanian Legislative Council inquiry into forestry by one of my constituents, Mr John Lord. He asks the question, 'What really is wood?' and goes on to explain:

Yes, it has structural qualities but really it is solid sunlight. It is cellulous and hemicellulose cells that are held together by glues called lignins. The chemical elements in here are carbon, hydrogen and oxygen and these are all produced by photosynthesis … the elements required for plants to grow - phosphorous, potassium and nitrogen - are not in the wood here. They [are] in the bark and the leaves in the heads of trees. So when we cut down a tree, we leave the bark and heads in the bush to rot down and we simply take out the wood. My view is that managing our native forests is our most sustainable enterprise. It is the most sustainable enterprise I know of. We do not use chemicals, except for controlling noxious weeds. We do not use chemical fertilisers. We only remove the carbon and hydrogen and oxygen that is in the wood and all of these, I am advised, are replaceable by photosynthesis because we have the sunlight and water.

Using trees to take up extra carbon is not new, and there are many other ways to lock up carbon for use in another form, but it needs to work within an economic framework so that industry can be encouraged to lessen its emissions or to trade them with other industries and the overall amount of carbon in the atmosphere is not increased.

Tasmania is well placed to develop our forest industries to be carbon stores. We can lock that carbon up in wood products such as building materials and wooden furniture. It can help to provide carbon credits to high emitters, but to make this work it must be made an economic plus. We need a trading system and a carbon price. By setting a carbon price we can ensure stability for industries across Australia to set their carbon alleviation costs. But we really need to be able to deal with this in that sort of way. We need to be able to lock up our carbon and trade in it. Economists say that it is costly and that we should plan to help those heavy emitters to try to be less extravagant in their emissions, but we need some economic tools.

Socially, people are concerned about tsunamis, floods, fires and other climate problems that we have faced lately and are saying that they must be due to climate change but they are not sure what to do. I believe the government has got it right: we need to set a carbon price and work out the best way to set a form of trade to try to bring down world emissions. We must also stop the misinformation, the doomsayers and the soothsayers of the world, and try to work together to ensure that we are addressing the many and varied risks associated with any changes in climate. We have to act responsibly on behalf of our children and our children's children, and we should deal with climate change in a responsible way.