Update on Censorship of Critique of Emssions Trading Schemes

There have been major developments in the story about the attempts of Australia’s CSIRO to prevent Dr Clive Spash from publishing his critical review paper on  emissions trading and carbon offset schemes.  On 2 December, as reported in Nature News, The Australian and ABC Radio National, Clive decided he had been through enough bullying and resigned from his professorial-level position as a Science Leader at CSIRO. That Clive should take such a brave public stand on this matter will probably come as no surprise to Real World Economists who know him as an ecological economist of the highest principles who is concerned about the potential catastrophic irreversibility of climate change if inappropriate polices are adopted. In resigning, Clive called for a Senate Inquity into CSIRO policies. A week before his resignation Channel Nine News reported that he faced ‘punishment’ for presenting the paper a month earlier at that 2009 Conference of the ANZSEE in Darwin

The story about Clive’s paper ‘The Brave New World of Carbon Trading reached the public via an article in The Australian. It was soon followed by coverage on ABC Radio National, with further revelations soon after in another article in The Australian, about the pressure CSIRO has been putting on Clive.

Following the extensive media coverage, it initially seemed, according to reports in The Age newspaper, as though CSIRO had back-tracked and now was going to allow the paper to be published with only very minor changes, ostensibly to ensure that there was nothing in it at odds with CSIRO’s charter. On 14 November, a major feature article in The Australian showed Clive in a more relaxed mood, puzzling over what had been going on.

Shortly after, however, it became clear that something very different was be required by the CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Megan Clark (formerly Vice President Technology and Vice President, Health, Safety, Environment, Community and Sustainability with with mining giant BHP Billiton). Though the amount of text to be removed was much less than previously demanded, the cuts were crucial to the meaning of the paper and various insersions and the removal of half the conclusion completely changed the tone of the paper. I suggested to Clive that it would be interesting to see what resulted if one put the deleted materials together in sequence as a single document. He did this and reported back that, in essence, they flowed together in an uncanny way: thus collated, they looked like a newspaper article that was a damning critique of current policy. New Political Economy has said that it will not publish the version of the paper that CSIRO finds acceptable.

The stand-off between Clive and CSIRO thus continued, leading to a Senate Debate about the matter, led by Greens Senator Christine Milne, on 26 November. On the same day , the ANZSEE published papers from its 2009 conference at its website, including the banned paper. Clive had not asked for this to be done and, because of the ongoing dispute with CSIRO and continuing ban on its publicaiton, he asked for it to be removed from the ANZSEE website.

In the midst of all this, the Australian parliamentary opposition has replaced its pro-ETS leader Malcolm Tunrbull with a new leader, Tony Abbott. Mr Abbott has surprised many by proposing that regulatory policies rather than an ETS are the way to go for controlling greenhouse gas emissions. We live in odd times Down Under, with the ruling Labor party pinning its faith in a market-based solution and the leader of the opposition advocating going down a regulator road that looks more in line with Clive’s paper, though Mr Abbott even rejects a tax on carbon.

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