Garnaut misses the G-spot

GARNAUT, greenhouse, Garrett and gas. Why is it that just about every word Slugcatcher has seen over the past few days begins with the letter G, and why is it that three of the four G-words are losers, and one a winner.

Clever readers will have instantly identified the direction being taken by the Slug. That the only winner from last week's Garnaut report is gas.

Everyone else, including Professor Ross Garnaut, author of Australia's first major climate change report, will emerge as a loser because of a word beginning with P - politics.

Boiled down, Garnaut has gone too far. He has swallowed the global greenhouse argument hook, line and sinker and has come up with a solution that will sink the Australian economy.

Politically, the Garnaut report is dead in the water before we have even been able to see if it floats.

First shots in the Get Garnaut campaign have, somewhat surprisingly, been fired from the same political party that commissioned the report.

Labor members of the federal and state parliaments have reacted with dismay to the costs associated with the report's recommendations, and the complete absence of any proven benefit.

For non-followers of the great Garnaut debate this is the Slug's potted history of events.

Shortly after being elected last year the new Australian Government, egged on by its chief environment spokesman, Peter Garrett, commissioned Garnaut to write the equivalent of Britain's Stern report into the future implications of a warming world.

Garnaut did precisely that, but there are big differences between Australia and Britain.

Firstly, the British economy does not depend on exporting raw materials, especially coal.

Secondly, Australia is a smaller economy compared with Britain, and miniscule compared with Britain's position in a wider economic alliance, the European Union.

Two other major mistakes were made. Garnaut based his entire report on forecasts - let's be honest and call them best guesses - about the bad things that might happen in the future, and he assumed that if Australia took a lead in the anti-greenhouse debate other countries would follow.

Global warming does appear to be happening. But, whether it is manmade or part of a natural cycle that can be measured over millions of years, we don't know.

As for Australia leading the world, he must be kidding. The only thing Australia leads the world in is cricket - and that's because we have the perfect climate to play the game.

The question now is what to do with the Garnaut report, apart from using it as a doorstop.

This is where politics comes in, because the Australian Government can't simply ditch Garnaut after paying for the report.

What it will do is say (a) what a fine start to the greenhouse debate; (b) let's do a bit more thinking; and (c) why don't we implement the easy bits - and one of the easy bits is produce more gas and less coal because gas is kinder to the environment.

That's why the Slug reckons the big winner out of Garnaut will be gas because the next step for left-wing politicians is much harder - to go down the nuclear power path where greenhouse gas is virtually non-existent.

Of course, whatever happens, Environment Minister Garrett is in a hopeless position. He has been the strongest supporter of Garnaut, and there's little double that he would prefer Australia to become a land of windmills and solar panels.

Over the next few weeks Garrett will discover just how tough left-wing politics can be because the hard-heads from the union movement will be telling him in easy-to-understand language they will not tolerate the job losses implicit in the Garnaut Report.

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