Australia Sustainable Food, Environment, & Social Systems 2017

Blog site for the 2017 MSU study abroad program.

15-Sarah M.

Hi! My name is Sarah Marshall and I am a sophomore at Michigan State University studying Environmental Studies and Sustainability and I have a minor in Conservation, Recreation, and Environmental Enforcement.  I am from a small town close to Dayton, Ohio.  I am part of the Leadership in Environmental and Agricultural Fields (LEAF) Club here at school, and I have just recently joined a co-ed honors fraternity.

One of the main reasons I chose to go on a study abroad in general was because the only other country I have been to besides the US is Canada.  I really wanted to have an opportunity to travel far away and immerse myself in a completely new culture and environment.  I have also always found Australia in particular extremely interesting because of their unique animals, political views, cities, etc.  Once I saw that there was a trip related to my major that was going there, I knew it was meant to be!

A possible project topic that I could do that I am extremely interested in is their method of energy use and their contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions.  I would like to study the governmental policy regarding these topics, as well as compare and contrast them to what is typical here in the United States.

3 Possible Questions:

  1. What kind of energy/emissions policy is there in place that you (a specific site or company) must abide by?
  2. Do these particular policies make it more difficult to run your company/site/business more efficiently?  Do you think the governmental restrictions are too loose or too stringent? Why?
  3. What kind of energy do you use here?  (If a nonrenewable source) Would you ever consider switching to renewables?  Why or why not?

3 Potential Sources:

Energy Efficiency. (n.d.). Retrieved March 31, 2017, from http://www.environment.gov.au/energy/efficiency

Environmental Sustainability Policy. (2016, February 5). Retrieved March 31, 2017, from https://www.humanservices.gov.au/corporate/publications-and-resources/environmental-sustainability-policy

Friedrich, J., Ge, M., & Damassa, T. (2015, June 23). What Do Your Country’s Emissions Look Like? Retrieved March 31, 2017, from http://www.wri.org/blog/2015/06/infographic-what-do-your-countrys-emissions-look

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FINAL BLOG POST

While I was in Australia, the focus of my research was on whether or not the business sector of an entity affected their opinion on Australia’s carbon tax, and also how they used renewable energy sources.

The first thing I had to do was do some background research on the carbon pricing system that Australia had implemented.  The carbon pricing plan was implemented in 2011, and was part of the government’s Clean Energy Future climate change plan.  Carbon pricing systems are supported by environmentalists and economists alike because it gives an economic signal to businesses who must then take it upon themselves to stop their polluting altogether, reduce their pollution amount, or continue to pollute and pay the appropriate amount for it (“Pricing Carbon”).  However, not all businesses were required to pay this tax.  An entity only had to pay if one or more of its facilities directly emitted 25,000 tons or more of carbon dioxide equivalent in one financial year (“About the Mechanism”).  So, only Australia’s highest emitters were really required to pay into this tax.

One of the more negative aspects of the carbon tax was that often times, customers were negatively affected.  Businesses that were paying into the carbon tax had to make up for their extra costs in some way.  To do this, the companies would pass along the extra costs to customers, households, and small businesses, who would experience slightly higher prices for goods and services as a result (“Repeal of the Carbon Tax”).

Interestingly, the agriculture industry was left out of the carbon tax.  Farms were not required to pay for the greenhouse gas emissions that were generated on the farm (Davison).  However, this did not mean that they were in support of the tax even though they were exempt from paying.  The price of energy increased significantly because of the carbon tax, and energy is an extremely important component of the goods and services used by farms.  Therefore, the inputs that the farms used to run their business increased in price, and they had to bear these extra costs even without having to pay a direct tax.

An entity that was greatly negatively affected by the carbon tax was the manufacturing industry.  They were at a pretty extreme disadvantage because there was an additional tax on raw materials, and it was difficult for the companies to be competitive worldwide because other countries did not have to pay carbon tax (Kenrick).  Manufacturing companies also tend to generate a significant amount of carbon emissions, so they had to pay in a lot of money to the government.

As a general whole, businesses that are small and do not emit a lot of carbon are usually either neutral or in support of the carbon tax because they are not required to pay into it directly.  However, large companies such as manufacturers, are not in support because they must pay a hefty sum to the government in order to account for all of their emissions.  In addition, to make up for these costs, the prices of goods and services provided by these companies generally increases, which negatively affects the consumers because they must then incur that extra cost.

While in country, I observed many things relating to my topic.  I made observations and wrote down notes while we were on site visits, and if I did not feel I had enough relevant information, I reached out to the various businesses by email.

The main response that I received from where we visited was that many of them were not required to directly pay the carbon tax.  However, this did not mean that they didn’t have opinions on whether or not they supported it.  Mark Yates from Yates Electrical Services expressed that he thought it was a good idea to hold companies accountable for their pollution.  He also said that he believes the implementation of the carbon tax was a big contributor to the investment and use of renewable energy sources (Mark Yates, personal communication, July 28, 2017).

This leads to the next part of my research topic – which was whether or not business sector affected whether or not renewable energy was being used.  What I tended to find was that many of the small businesses still found ways to use renewable energy sources, even if they did not have to pay a carbon tax.  As discussed previously, the carbon taxes would often make energy and electricity more expensive for consumers and small businesses, so it made financial sense for them to use renewable energy sources in any way they could.

Overall, my experience in Australia taught me a lot of things – specifically about my topic and about sustainability in general.  Sustainability must account for the environment, social sphere, and economics – we cannot just place emphasis on one of these.  The carbon tax was a positive thing for the environment because it did tend to lower the carbon emissions – but was not so great for some of the larger manufacturing business’ economic sector.  However, regardless of business sector or size of business, there seems to be a large push to use renewable energy sources, and this is an extremely positive thing that I think the United States could take notice of.

Solar panels from Yates Electrical Systems - Part of Redmud Green Energy

Solar panels distributed by Yates Electrical Services as part of Redmud Green Energy, which utilizes redundant pieces of land and builds solar farms.  These solar farms create additional energy to add to the grid – an example of a company that does not have to pay into the carbon tax but still uses renewable energy sources.

Western Treatment Plant - uses renewable energy even without paying carbon tax

An information board from our site visit to Western Treatment Plant. Another entity that did not pay carbon tax – but still uses renewable energy. Covered mats were placed over the waste, and the resulting methane was used to generate 95% of the electricity. Any excess was burned rather than released.

 

References:

About the Mechanism. (2015, May 11). Retrieved July 15, 2017, from http://www.cleanenergyregulator.gov.au/Infohub/CPM/About-the-mechanism

Davison, S. (2011, August). Agriculture’s Excluded, so a Carbon Price won’t Add Cost. Right? Farm Institute Insights. Retrieved July 17, 2017, from file:///C:/Users/Custom/Downloads/20110727_Insights_Aug11_cropped_web3.pdf

Kenrick, V. (2011, December 19). Impact of the Carbon Tax on Australian Business and Economy. Retrieved July 18, 2017, from https://www.environmentalleader.com/2011/12/impact-of-the-carbon-tax-on-australian-business-and-economy/

Pricing Carbon. (n.d.). Retrieved July 15, 2017, from http://www.worldbank.org/en/programs/pricing-carbon

Repeal of the Carbon Tax. (n.d.). Retrieved July 16, 2017, from https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/pages/59388d77-a9b5-4e4c-87b7-d732baf7c45b/files/factsheet-impacts-households-and-businesses_0.pdf

 

Additional Links:

http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/Browse_by_Topic/ClimateChangeold/responses/economic/carbontax

http://www.aon.com.au/australia/thought-leadership/currency/carbon-tax-impacts-and-outcomes.htm

https://www.thestar.com/business/2016/10/04/how-trudeaus-carbon-price-plan-will-affect-five-canadian-industries.html (to compare to another country)

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-07-15/carbon-tax-farmers/2795816

http://www.alantudge.com.au/Media/Speeches/tabid/72/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/611/language/en-US/The-Impact-of-the-Carbon-Tax-on-Manufacturing.aspx

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