Flat White

Talk is cheap – just like we want our electricity to be

2 December 2020

6:10 PM

2 December 2020

6:10 PM

Guardian Australia staff have been doing cartwheels around the office after the latest Essential Research findings. “Three-quarters of Australians back target of net zero by 2030, Guardian Essential poll shows,” its headline screams.

The article itself is similarly restrained:

Public support for action on climate change is higher now than it was at the peak of the catastrophic bushfires last summer, according to the latest Guardian Essential poll, which shows a strong majority supporting a net zero target by 2050.

The latest survey of 1,034 voters has 81% support for the Morrison government adopting a net zero emissions target by 2050 … a 10 point increase in the level of voter support for the policy recorded back in January.

The survey suggests a majority of voters would favour stronger climate action earlier, with 75% of the sample supportive of setting a net zero target by 2030 rather than mid-century … an 11 point increase…

But — and there’s always a but — down in the second half of the story, you find these paragraphs:

[V]oters were also asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement: “It doesn’t matter how electricity is generated, as long as prices don’t go up, and the supply is secure”.

Nearly half of the sample agreed with the statement (47%) and about a third (29%) disagreed.

Let’s do a quick de-spin. Nearly half of the sample agreed and fewer than one in three didn’t.

Talk is cheap — and that’s how Australians like their electricity. Cheap and reliable. We are largely agnostic about how it is generated “as long as prices don’t go up, and the supply is secure” — and by a big margin. That 47% who agree is a figure more than 47% larger than the 29% who disagree.

The second part of the polling effectively contradicts the first.

Look at the question the first part of the article is based upon, as presented in the Essential Report:

This is effectively the equivalent of being asked: “Do you approve of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens?” The respondents are scarcely going to say “Bugger bushfire hazard reduction. Give me the booze any day!”

Now look at the question that forms the later part:

This is where the rubber hits the road — or, rather, where the hand has to dip into the pocket or purse.

This is about household budgeting, not utopianism, so the responses are far more cautious. It’s fascinating to see that even a quarter of Greens voters refuse to commit on the issue, ending up in the “neither agree nor disagree” column.

There’s a third question, too — also fascinating:

See that? There’s been a significant lift, beyond margin of error territory, in the percentage of people saying “The government should let the coal mining industry and coal-fired power plants continue operating as long as they are profitable, but not subsidise them or support the expansion of the industry.” Indeed, it’s the majority view. In contrast, the utopian position has slightly slipped.

So, to recap. Australians are a practical people. We’ll take our electricity supplies where we can get them — but very, very clearly “as long as prices don’t go up, and the supply is secure”.

Talk is cheap. That’s how we want our power.

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