Ep 21: in which I chat with Ketan Joshi about EVs: how Norway succeeded in electrifing its transport system; how the Australian Government is failing at it; and why the Victorian Government is trying to tax EVs, FFS
Ep 21: in which I chat with Ketan Joshi about EVs: how Norway succeeded in electrifing its transport system; how the Australian Government is failing at it; and why the Victorian Government is trying to tax EVs, FFS
This is the podcast companion to our latest Honest Government Ad: watch it here
You can also view an edited version of this podcast on YouTube - which we recommend as it contains lots of visuals and graphs to help you follow the story.
👉 Sign the letter to the Victorian Parliament to stop the EV tax: thejuicemedia.com/noevtaxffs
👉 You can follow Ketan Joshi on twitter here
🔹 Ketan's website
🔹 Ketan's book "Windfall"
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Transcript created by Nathan Hall
GN: Hey everyone, Giordano here from The Juice Media. Welcome back to the Juice Media podcast, a companion to the Honest Government Ads series. This podcast is a companion to our latest Honest Government Ad about electric vehicles.
[video excerpt 00:11–00:40]
GN: This Honest Government Ad explains why our government’s policies on EV’s is so infuriatingly shit but the reason I decided to make it now is that in early May the Victorian State Parliament will be voting on a proposed tax on EV’s. In this podcast we’ll be getting into the details of why we so urgently need policies that incentivise rather than discourage the electrification of our transport system, which is one of the leading causes of CO2 emissions and health problems. As always there was a lot of information we couldn’t fit into the video which is precisely where the podcast comes in handy, allowing us to delve into the topic in more detail, and I’m stoked to have as my guest today an expert on the subject, Ketan Joshi.
One of Australia’s most widely respected science and technology communicators, Ketan holds a science degree from SydneyUniversity. He has worked for government agencies including the CSIRO and ARENA and he is the author of Windfall: Unlocking a Fossil-free Future as well as numerous articles in Renew Economy, The Driven, and of course on Twitter where you can follow his work.
Before we get started I want to mention that this is an edited version of my chat with Ketan. I try to keep these videos to under and hour but there was tons of interesting stuff that Ketan spoke about so rather than leave it out we’ve published a full version of this interview on our audio podcast. You’ll find the link to it in the video description.This is also a chance to remind you all that all these videos are also available as podcasts on your podcast app, just search for the Juice Media podcast or go to thejuicemedia.com/podcast.
I also want to clarify for all our non-Australian viewers who might not be familiar with our domestic politics, the Australian government which we commonly feature in our videos is our federal government but just like in the US each Australian state and territory has its own government, such as the Victorian Government for the State of Victoria which is where we live. Also, Victoria has a Labor government whereas the federal government is controlled by the Liberal Party.
I just wanted to mention that because often I see people saying we only ever satirise Liberal policies. We don’t, we satirise shit government policies whether Liberal or Labor. And now that we’ve got those clarifications out of the way let’s get started. I hope you enjoy my chat with Ketan and I’ll catch you on the other side.
GN: Welcome to The Juice Media podcast Ketan Joshi, it’s really awesome to have you here.
KJ: Great to be here! Thanks for having me on, I’m so excited to talk about this topic.
GN: Look, I love your work, you have not only a talent for taking complex information and topics and making them understandable to people, often in a humorous way, but also theability to channel the sheer horror and disgust that so many of us feel when talking about our government’s energy and climate policy shitfuckery and when I read your work on these topics I can sometimes sense the physical discomfort and embarrassment that you feel.
For example, you wrote an article in December about our government’s decision not to use the Kyoto carryover credits and the opening line is, “It’s never easy to explain the sheer horror of where Australia’s government sits on climate, we’ve become badly desensitised, but please let me try,” and that’s exactly the feeling that I have when I try to write the Honest Government Ads, it’s like, my God, how do we convey the sheer horror and disgust and disappointment? So even though we’ve never met in person I feel like we’re colleagues of sorts in chronicling the Australian government’s ‘Department of Shitfuckery,’ as we call it.
KJ: Yeah, it’s a strong feeling and it drives a lot of what I do and it’s always hard to find the balance because sometimes the emotion gets in the way of the analysis, but I try.
GN: But the emotion is such an important part, otherwise it’s very dry stuff and it is important to make clear why it’s so important so I also wanted to mention, you’re very widely cited as one of the most effective, compelling and trusted communicators in Australia’s energy and climate policy scene. Your Twitter threads really command a lot of respect and when he was on the podcast Simon Holmes à Court described you as ‘the next-generation Dr Karl.’How did you come to play this role in the scene, in the Australian climate/energy scene? Perhaps by way of introduction you could tell our listeners a little bit of your background, your credentials if you will, and what inspired you to do what you’re doing now?
KJ: Yeah, that’s very nice of Simon, thank you Simon if you’re watching or listening! I actually started in the wind farm industry in 2010. I started out as an analyst. I did my science degree. I really wanted to do, like, neuroscience or psychology or some sort of socially tuned field of science. I ended up focusing really heavily on neuroscience because it really just seemed very important to me but when I left university I had no idea what to do. Iworked in a few jobs that I didn’t really care that much about and then one day I was, like, oh my God, I really need to find a science-y, engineering type job and one of the first that came up was this job at an energy company.
The ad just said ‘energy company, data analyst,’ and I was like, okay, I’ll give it a go, I’ll apply, and somehow I stumbled my way through the job interview and I got the job. It was essentially setting up this monitoring centre for a bunch of wind farms in Australia and I thought that this job would be this shift-work data analysis type thing and what I found out almost as soon as I started was that this was this incredibly fascinating field that actually touched on all of the parts of science that I’ve always found the most fascinating, when there’s large scale widespread misunderstanding of science, when people actively deny science, when people try to use numbers actually in a nefarious way.This was 2010 and Julia Gillard was Prime Minister, it was right in the absolute midst of this massive climate change politics thing in Australia where there were all these new climate policies.
The amount of misinformation in the media was completely wild so I actually worked in data analysis andgrid operations for about, I think it was, three-ish years but it was pretty quick that I started blogging and writing and Tweeting. Istarted using Twitter, I think it was around 2013, because I knew that there had to be some type of correction to the stuff that was going on in the public sphere.
Generally the people with at least cursory knowledge of, like, energy and climate fell into two categories: there were the people who knew enough to use it for bad ends, totry and make renewables look bad, for instance, and then there were the people who knew a lot about it but didn’t really know how to compete with the other crowd, the other crowd being people who were actually really good at getting into the media, good at being really colourful and interesting with the way they were writing. So I was, like, okay, well, maybe I can be colourful and interesting with the way I write but also, like, not lie, try and be right in the things that I say.
That was a really challenging thing because there’s this whole model of science communication that is always, like, you can only really be passionate when it’s about excitement, when there’s a cool new spider that shoots venom or something out of its face. That sort of science communication, you would have seen it, it’s the only time that science communicators are allowed to be passionate and I thought, okay, well, maybe I should be an activist, a science communicator with a very clear bias in favour of action to reduce harm to human beings through reducing the burning of fossil fuels; maybe I can be that type of science communicator.
Not many people have done that, that’s actually a really weird, new thing. In Australia there’s not so much of it, in other countries there’s actually more and more of it. America, for instance, is a really good example of where there are a lot of science communicators who are, sort of, activists and campaigners at the same time and so I see myself very much in that format. I use the tools of journalism sometimes; I interview people, I write coverage of events as part of my role as a writer for an outlet in Australia called Renew Economy, I also write for The Driven, but I’m not a journalist, I’m like a data driven commentator-slash-analyst so I try to be really careful about how I describe myself or how people describe me because I’m not like a traditional reporter and nor am I a traditional science communicator.
So this is a very strange and interesting position that I find myself in but it seems like there’s quite an audience for this; people really want the passion of activism paired with people who check, people who admit when they’re wrong or put effort into research and trying to make sure that they’re right and understanding that we as communicators are quite fallible as well in the way that we do things and that the constant temptation to make shortcuts and leave things out is always going to be there and you always have to push against it.
So, that’s sort of a summary of the arc of my career; I worked for a renewable energy company until about 2016, I also worked in governments. I worked for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and since then I’ve done a bunch of freelancing. I work for the CSIRO in data science communications and at the moment I’ve been doing a lot of freelancing. I wrote a book last year, it’s called Windfall: Unlocking a Fossil-free Future, that’s through the University of New South Wales Press. That was basically about what I’ve just described which is: take a decade of trying to grapple with all of these massive industrial and infrastructure issues that blend with public health and safety, social justice, economics and of course the hard data of emissions and climate change. That’s my summary that brings me to now.
GN: I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who struggles to briefly say what it is that I do, I’m always, like, oh it’s a little bit like this, a little bit like that, but also that’s what makes what you do so special and whatever it is that you do, whatever that name of what it is that you do, you do it really well and it plays a really important role and people really do value it and I think you started something here in the Australian scene. I think others have followed in those footsteps and now we’ve got a good range of communicators but you’re often cited as one the ones who’s been there from the get-go.
Can I just ask before we get onto the topic of electric vehicles, which is the topic of the Honest Government Ad that this podcast is a companion to, when you were working at the CSIRO and ARENA, these government agencies, did you ever find that you were compromised in how you could Tweet and have your own public profile, were you able to speak freely about things or were you experiencing pressure about not criticising government policies?
KJ: Yeah, this is a really big problem, I guess, in the way that speech is managed and personal and private communication is managed in government agencies. CSIRO and ARENA were just no different to every single other government agency in that basically you can’t really Tweet in a way that criticises the Australian government so that ranges from criticising politicians, criticising policies themselves and of course criticising the agencies that you work at.
That in itself is pretty controversial but it’s expanded to this odd idea of impartiality. A few years ago, actually more than a few years ago, the Australian Public Service Guidelines were changed. I can’t remember the exact wording but it’s something along the lines of, ‘you can’t instil doubt that you can serve the government of the day,’ essentially so if you work in a government agency and you write that, ‘I don’t trust Scott Morrison to make good policy,’ that would count as a contravention of the Public Service Guidelines for usage of social media because someone could hypothetically read that and go, oh well, but you’re working for this particular agency which means that I don’t trust that you can fulfil your role as a public service officer of this particular kind.
And so first of all it’s a bit selectively applied; there are people who are higher up who have a bit more power who can pretty comfortably breach those guidelines and not expect to get any sort of backlash but when I’ve been working in those roles I’ve always adhered to it as closely as I can because if you sign up for that, that’s kind of what you’ve got to do and if you breach it you’ll probably lose your role. If you work here in a permanent position or whether you’re a contractor or a consultant you’re just not going to get work if you contravene all the packaging that comes with it.
I think that’s really bad, I don’t think that’s actually a healthy thing, I don’t think it’s conducive to good policy or good discourse and it’s part of why it’s actually really hard to hear from experts on this because you get quite a managed messaging and it would be so great to actually hear, to have this confidence of, well, yeah they work at a government agency but maybe they should be free to actually express themselves because then we would get better outcomes from government agencies because there’s a healthier flow of information between people.
This level of sensitivity around what counts as criticism of the government is just tuned way, way too high so it’s a huge problem and you can extend it to the corporate world a bit as well. This goes to a much bigger issue but there’s this odd conflation between discrimination and – someone who works at a particular company and they Tweet out something racist or sexist or homophobic, that gets conflated with Tweeting something that’s critical of the government, for instance, and these are actually two very different things because one is causing some sort of harm to society through discrimination or abuse and the other is hurting the feelings of some extremely rich and powerful people [laughs] and you have to keep those two things separate so, yeah, I actually struggled many times and I probably breached the rules many times because I skewed a bit too far, I sailed a bit too close to the wind.
GN: Is this why you live in Norway now?
KJ: [laughs]Yeah, I had to leave the country!The rules on free speech in Norway are very different in fact, it’s almost a bit too far in the other direction because there is some plenty racist stuff on TV and far right white supremacists are there on panel shows saying horrific stuff. In one particular instance a few months ago here a far right political party was on a panel show and they actually started talking about the host – I think he was a Sri Lankan guy – and they’re, like, you shouldn’t be here because we’re an anti-immigration party and you’re an immigrant and we don’t think that you specifically should be here …
KJ: … and I was like, okay, that’s maybe a bit too much free speech there, I think that’s a horrific thing to say.
GN: I want to get on to Norway in a second but just when you were talking about the pressure that is on scientists and government agencies it just reminded me of this DM that we received from someone and they said – I’ve just got it here – it said, “Dear The Juice Media, thank you for your honesty and your smart analogies of the Kyoto points” – the Kyoto carryover credits video that we made – “I’m a climate scientist,” and later they said, “Please don’t disclose my name or role,” and they said, “I haven’t publicly liked or re-Tweeted your video because my organisation does not tolerate criticism of government policy but please know that many scientists appreciate your comms reaching so much wider than ours to help people understand what’s going on, thank you.”I was, like, oh that’s really nice, but then I was, like, fuck, this really shit.
This is exactly as you said, we have so many great minds in this country who know so much and they feel they can’t speak.But we can speak here and I think you can speak freely now hopefully. The topic of this Honest Government Ad is electric vehicles, the video’s been up for three days, it’s gone crazy, it’s gone viral, it’s obviously touched a nerve, people are really interested in what’s happening because it’s exciting: we’re in the middle of this massive historic epoch-defining shift from the combustion engine to electric vehicles and some countries have embraced it and other countries like Australia are really holding back against it.
I thought perhaps we could start off with Norway which is where you live. You haven’t explained why you live in Norway, I don’t actually know, perhaps you could mention that? But then also in the Honest Government Ad we talked about how Norway’s leading the world in EV car sales, they’re on 56% of new car sales being EV’s, that’s pure EV’s, but when you add in hybrid and battery then it’s 75%. That’s by far the highest rate – this is new car sales – so that’s huge. Now, you live there, you’ve been able to witness this first hand, can you tell us how it unfolded and perhaps you could explain, what is Norway doing with EV’s and this will help put into global context what Australia isn’t doing and specifically what the Victorian government is doing now with this proposed tax on EV’s, which we’ll discuss shortly?
KJ: Yeah, so I’m in Norway. My partner works at the University of Oslo, she got a great role there, and so we’re here for a bit of time. We might come back to Australia at some point assuming that we’ll be allowed back in …
GN: Yes [laughs].
KJ: … if borders open at some point in the future or [inaudible 20:00] they stay closed forever so that’s why we’re in Norway and because I work on climate I can just work from anywhere in the world because the atmosphere is just everywhere. It’s a relevant issue to every single location on planet Earth so I can basically do my work from anywhere and of course it’s been really fascinating, as you say, to get first hand experience of a particular type of de-carbonisation that is happening in Norway.
So, the electric grid here in Norway is already mostly hydro. Most of that development happened in the ‘80s and ‘90s.That was a really rapid change and now because their electric grid is so clean Norway can really start electrifying other parts of its economy. Of course in the past transport ran on combustion engines, a lot of homes here in Norway are heated using fossil fuels, and of course a lot of the industry runs on fossil fuels.
Very importantly the fossil fuel industry also runs on fossil fuels so this is the massive oil and gas extraction industry here in Norway which the government extracts a lot of money from and puts into this pot, this government pot, and that actually pays for a lot of Norway’s policies. In the ‘90s what happened was, Norway started to introduce incentives for electric vehicles so this is a really important point that I want to come back to; Norway started a long time ago and this has been going on for a few decades now. What they firstly did was they removed road tolls for battery/electric vehicles.That was actually kicked off by the pop group A-ha …
GN: I was going to ask you about that, I’m glad you mentioned it!
KJ: It’s so funny, it’s a great story because what they did was they just got this, like, crappy little – I can’t remember the name of the model but it’s something that sounds crappy …
GN: It was a Panda, it was a Fiat Panda.
KJ: Panda, that’s right, it was a Fiat Panda [laughs]. It doesn’t sound like an amazing car but what they did was they just started driving through road toll barriers and they were just, like, stuff it, we’re doing this in protest, and of course they’re so popular they could do that and the government eventually confiscated their car and put it up for auction and they bought it back and just started and then just started doing it again, like, they just started driving through road toll barriers again.
It was just so, like, I don’t give a fuck, like, they were so brazen about it and that’s what it took, it took this really properly anti-authoritarian angry, frustrated tone, this action. This was activism and that was actually a really huge part of why Norway decided to take action to introduce incentives for electric vehicles. The way that this has happened is that they basically started taking off little elements of the price of an electric vehicle. They took off the really significant part which is, Norway has a very high level of tax on most things, it’s a 25% VAT, so you don’t get charged value added tax on electric vehicles and there’s a range of other things. Initially they had a thing saying that you don’t pay road tolls and that you can actually use the bus lane if you’re an electric vehicle, so you can skip past traffic.
So Norway has been doing these incentives for a long time and the tail is quite long so if you look at this on a chart and you go back in time you can see that it’s been a steady growth, it hasn’t just been an explosion over the past five years, and this data refers to the number of new car sales each year that were comprised of electric vehicles, so this is pure electrics, this is excluding hybrid. This is a really important thing: Norway’s use of incentives has created this change in the type of cares that people are buying and of course the consequence is that that results in a change in the type of cars that sit on the roads and in driveways here in Norway so the proportion of cars that are electric here in Norway is pretty significant.
The consequence of all of these incentives for Norway’s electric vehicles is that a very large proportion of the cars in Norway are now becoming electric. Where I live, Oslo, has among the highest share between all the different regions of Norway of electric vehicles and comfortably the highest number because of course Oslo has the highest population and so what this means is that the experience of being out on the roads is very, very different.
I don’t drive a car, I use a bicycle and I walk and pretty much all I do these days is drop my kid off at childcare – no one’s really going out and doing stuff – and I use public transport where it’s needed but I try to avoid that in COVID and so it’s actually a really interesting experience because you get to experience cars from the outside so you get to see how electrification changes the experience of being on a road. First of all air quality is a really noticeable thing here. Norway, of course, is already a clean country, Oslo is a clean city, but the lack of air pollution specifically from vehicles has had a really, really significant impact.
That’s not just experiential, it has an impact on the health of people living in Oslo. The sound is really interesting as well, you can’t hear electric cars coming sometimes so you’ve got to be a bit more wary but at the same time the lack of noise pollution – I live next to a relatively busy road and most noise pollution actually comes from skateboarders and local scooters because they make the most noise on the road. Cars are extremely silent and so that’s a really noticeable thing and then of course …
GN: Do you know what they should do, because it is a safety issue that you can’t hear cars, it could be dangerous, so what they should do is, just every car should play an A-ha album …
KJ: Yeah [laughs].
GN: … coming out of the rooftop so you can hear it coming, as a tribute! Anyway …
KJ: The Renault Zoe has this sci-fi hum and so when it’s rolling down the road what you get is this [respondent imitates Renault Zoe 27:03] and it’s very creepy and weird but you get used to it because [inaudible, overspeaking 27:07] …
GN: Sounds like something out of Bladerunner or something.
KJ: It really is but you just become accustomed to it and I’m, like, okay, well, that’s how a car sounds now and it only makes that sound at low speeds; actually at high speed the road noise, the sound of the tyres on the road, becomes a lot louder so that signals that a car is there but at low speeds with EV’s all you can hear is the crunch of the gravel on the road and so if there’s no gravel – sometimes you just turn around and there’ll just be a big car behind you and you’re, like, oh I had no idea you were there, and because it’s Norway and people are extremely patient and no one will ever yell at you, no one will ever honk at you, even if you’re doing something wrong. People are just, like, I’ll just wait, I’ll just wait patiently, and so you’ve got this silent electric vehicle, sort of, haunting you from behind.
It’s a funny experience and the other really interesting thing that I’ve noticed since I’ve been here is that electric vehicles are not a status thing, they’re just normal. This was a criticism of Norway’s electric vehicle policy, that it was unfair, that it unfairly favours the wealthy, but that was the case when there was very, very low availability of different models of electric vehicles so I think it was sort of a fair criticism maybe a bit more than five years ago but what we see now is that the cheap EV’s are actually winning. If you compare to the pricier offerings like the Tesla Model S or the Model X they’re actually becoming an increasingly lower share of the total of electric vehicles that are being sold in Norway and more and more people are buying, like, a small Nissan LEAF or the BMW i3 or the Volkswagen ID3.
All these cheaper models are coming onto the market and they’re actually becoming the norm, it’s actually becoming a bit rarer to see a Tesla – or at least an expensive Tesla, the Model 3 of course is a bit cheaper – so this is a really noticeable change. And then the other thing that’s really worth noticing in terms of what it feels like to be in a city dominated by electric cars is that it’s not just cars; delivery vans are electric, garbage trucks more and more are becoming electric, buses are electric. I feel so great whenever I ride on an electric bus because I really like taking public transport, it’s cool, and I think electric vehicles are cool and a bus is a really great combo.
Actually just a couple of weekends ago I went down to the harbour here to have a look at the new electric variant that’s just been made operational. It just looks like a normal electric ferry, it’s physically identical, but right next to the port there’s a five megawatt charging tower, this big rectangular prism that sits on the harbour. The ferry docks and then this charging port automatically inserts into the charging thing of the ferry. It doesn’t fill the battery up entirely, it just charges it up enough to get from the thing to the next thing and because it’s a fast charger it happens in a minute or two, basically the time it takes for people to get on and off the ferry so that’s a really noticeable thing.
Electric bikes are really, really common.Oslo is full of hills, it’s so, so hilly and I very badly underestimated how hilly Oslo is before I got a bicycle because I didn’t get an e-bike, I got a normal – let’s call it a ‘muscle bike’ to make it sound really, really cool but …
GN: A ‘muscle fuel bike,’ mm-hm.
KJ: [laughs] … but it’s not cool because I’m weak and hills are difficult, and I’m getting better at them but this is really – there’s electrification at every single level here down to what I see when I drop my child off at child care, it’s just a completely ordinary sight to see someone else with a bicycle with a really meaty battery on it and the bicycle itself is massive with this tray and there’ll be a ten-year-old, a five-year-old and a three-year-old all just plonked in the front of this bicycle. The type of thing, if you can imagine in Australia, that family would have a four wheel drive …
GN: An SUV, yeah.
KJ: Yeah, they’d have a Prado or whatever and it’ll be gargantuan and this elegant, beautiful vehicle which is only a fraction of the cost is really common and really just accepted as completely normal here so it’s way beyond Teslas.There was a time when the ‘rich person Tesla’ was the archetype of this, like, half a decade ago but it’s changed and it’s really, really noticeable and it’s a really, really positive thing.
The only gripe I have about Norway’s transport thing is that e-bikes don’t have incentives here. There are corporate incentives so if you work at a job and they want to encourage people to use e-bikes you can get a corporate incentive but I’m a freelancer so I don’t get that stuff, so I just wish that I could get a subsidised e-bike because, as I said before, I’m weak and it would be nice to have one of those.
GN: It’s really good for us to hear that. I think, living in Australia, we just sometime are completely oblivious to what’s happening in the rest of the world and what you’ve just described, Ketan, is the future, like living in a different dimension completely to Australia and we don’t even know that it exists.
The things that you’ve described – and thanks for describing not just the technology, the electric engine and so on, but also the way it sounds and the point about the ferry and you haven’t mentioned but also the way it smells, I imagine, is probably different, the fact that you don’t have those fumes in the air. About the ferry I just re-Tweeted somebody from Norway who posted a photo of the ferry and it looks pretty amazing, 144 metres long, 200 cars, 600 passengers.
I know Norway has its own problems in terms of addressing climate change and so on, they’re not ‘climate heroes’ by any means but compared to Australia at least they’ve embraced this incredible revolution of de-carbonising transport but let’s come to Australia which is a completely different world, like, we’re literally living in another century or planet, however you want to describe it.
The topic of the video was inspired by the government’s – in inverted commas – policy, the Future Fuel Strategy which isn’t really a policy, it’s a discussion paper about a possible policy so we’re not even on the fuckin’ starting line here and the acronym is FFS. We didn’t make it up; often we make up acronyms for policies but we didn’t have to this time, the government’s just making it easy for us. It’s a very appropriate choice of abbreviation however, it’s actually quite honest of them to do it because when you read it that’s exactly what you want to say: for fuck’s sake.
Now, we covered a couple of the reasons why that is the case in the video but you’ve really done some in-depth work on this policy; can you tell us in a little bit more detail why you said ‘for fuck’s sake’ when Angus Taylor, our so-called ‘Energy and Emission Reduction Minister’ launched it in February of this year?
KJ: Yeah.Australia has a bad history with energy and climate policies and awful acronyms. There was the National Energy Guarantee, which is shortened as NEG, which is something that abusive men do to women to say something negative about them as a way of reducing their self-confidence so I don’t know why they thought to call it the NEG, that would have been nice to avoid. And then there’s also the Federal Underwriting New Generation Investment Scheme, also known as FUNGI, that has been used to justify investment in new fossil fuel power stations so they don’t have a good track record on this.
And now there is the FFS, the Future Fuel Strategy and this really slots into the Australian government’s current approach to climate policy which is basically they want to try and figure out a way to do nothing, to basically leave it untouched so that they’re not going to put any effort into trying to stop change too much, they’ve directed money towards – they’ve done fuel subsidies, they’re keeping oil refineries open, things like that, but they’re not going to put too much effort into that side of things.
What they really want to do is try and pretend like they’re doing something when they’re creating these policies that don’t do anything at all. The Future Fuel Strategy is basically a document that tries to figure out a justification for doing nothing and so what they do is they point to the falling price of battery packs, which is the biggest costing component of an electric vehicle, and they say, look, battery pack costs are falling so we don’t need to do anything, why are you getting mad at us when we don’t need to create a policy, this will just become cheap and everyone will just buy an electric car by default and everything will be great and we don’t have to create any policy at all.
Of course what matters here is not the eventual end point, it matters when you reach that end point, because the emissions problem is a problem that happened because emissions add up in the atmosphere which means you need to take action sooner rather than later. That is why a country like the UK has created a date that it wants to ban the sale of fossil engines by, which is 2030. You actually need to do that to put some pressure on the system to make it change sooner.
This is really, really, really important.I talked a bit before about how Norway started really early and because it started early, that’s why it could use incentives, that’s why you could just be, like, well just shave an extra element off the cost of electric vehicles and then just let it feed into the system over the decades. Most countries don’t have decades. Even the UK was having this debate about whether or not to put a ban on combustion engines and they opted to do it because they knew that they would have to do that to make change happen sooner.
They have run out of time so you can imagine in Australia’s situation not only has Australia run out of time, it’s eating into its climate debt for every day that it refuses to take action on transport emissions and so with Australia’s vehicles what they’re proposing is very small parts of climate solutions and pretending that that’s everything you need.
So instead of trying to replace the government’s fleets of vehicles with electric vehicles they’re going to do – what did they call it – a ‘feasibility study,’ I think it was, into doing that.We know that it’s feasible, this is a mature technology, we know exactly how an electric car works, we know about all of the market dynamics, you don’t need to do a feasibility study and stuff.
GN: Just a stalling technique, right?
KJ: Heh, exactly. And so when that document came out my attention immediately turned to where there was a bunch of emissions calculations in it and they’re, like, look, we don’t need to incentivise electric vehicles, they’re just going to happen by themselves and we don’t need to put any pressure on it; what we do think is going to happen, and that is the better pathway, is to actually focus more on hybrids.
A hybrid is a vehicle that has a fossil fuel engine inside it but also has a battery pack and you can kind of switch between using those two things to power the vehicle. You get very different types of hybrid vehicles, so you get ones you can plug in that charge, you can get ones that are actually older and they don’t plug in at all, you just rely on the petrol engine to charge the battery.
This is a really big problem because hybrid vehicles have some emissions footprint but not as much of an emissions footprint as a standard fossil car so when you choose to get a hybrid vehicle you’re doing some good and actually a lot of people are choosing this at the moment in Australia because they just don’t have an option, they can’t afford to get an EV because of course Australia has a particularly high cost for EV’s and this is causing a huge problem because now the government is fulfilling their own prophecy.
Because they suck so much at incentivising electric vehicles people are really forced into this corner where they’re like, I just want to do something good, I want to do as much good as I can, but all they can do is get a hybrid. It really sucks because I’ve had so many people message me and talk to me about it and they’re, like, I hate this feeling of trying to do as much as I can but then being forced into the system where I have to rely on a hybrid vehicle instead of being able to charge up an electric vehicle so what the government’s policy does is absolutely nothing and we know from the government’s own modelling what nothing looks like.
Every year the Federal Government, the Department of Environment, releases this thing called the Emissions Projections and it breaks it down sector by sector so what we have is data that shows what Australia’s transport emissions are going to be, based on the existing policies of the government, and it looks like essentially there’s a big drop thanks to COVID-19. Of course the usage of vehicles dropped significantly in 2020 and there’s going to be a relative drop in 2021 as well but even if you account for that emissions are going to flatline from vehicles.
What we can also see is what emissions need to be to align with the goals of the Paris Agreement so an organisation called Climate [inaudible 42:37] did this study last year and I refer to it constantly because it’s just a fantastic baseline for understanding what needs to be done. Australia’s transport emissions need to reduce very, very significantly over the next decade and that needs to start now, that needs to start today. What we find is that even if you have a really high percentage of new car sales that are electric vehicles that still actually takes time to feed into the fleet of cars in a country because of course people don’t buy a new car every day.
There’s actually a time lag between getting that new car and getting the next new car and so these policies for electric vehicles, first of all they need to be extremely aggressive because there’s that delay problem and secondly they need to be taking into account all of these emissions targets, they need to be about emissions. This is why we’re doing this entire project of electrifying transport, of getting things connected onto the grid, it’s because we want to reduce emissions, and so the government’s policy very successfully does neither.It doesn’t make any change to the forecasted growth of electric vehicles in Australia and most significantly it doesn’t talk about emissions except to argue that hybrid vehicles are better, and that’s based on some dodgy statistics for the grid which I won’t go into but you can sort of imagine what they’re doing.
They’re sort of saying, well, you know, we think that hybrids will be better in the short term because charging up a vehicle on the grid is so bad but of course they should also be de-carbonising the grid much faster, right?
KJ: That same study says that Australia’s grid needs to be between 97–100% zero emissions by 2030 and that requires a lot of heavy intervention. It’s entirely possible that it requires a lot of heavy government intervention and of course it should be cleaner to charge your car from the grid than to run it on a combustion engine but in some states it isn’t and that’s because of the fossil fuel industry that the government is also trying to protect so if we …
GN: Right, so the argument is, we can’t use EV’s because they feed from the grid and the grid is shit because we’re shit and therefore we shouldn’t have EV’s.They’re using the fact that we’ve got such a dirty grid as a justification for not supporting EV’s which is just completely – it’s perverted.
KJ: Yeah, it happens a lot where they use their own failures to feed into their own arguments. They’ll say something like, oh look how great renewables are doing in Australia, but that’s because another government implemented a renewables policy and the current government tried and failed to stop it, so because they failed to stop the growth of renewables they now point at that and go, look, how great it is that renewables are growing so much, and it’s, like, well, they’re only growing so much because you are not good at enacting your own ideology that renewables shouldn’t be growing in Australia. So you can see where the frustration comes from [inaudible, overspeaking 45:45]
GN: Yeah, no, totally, this is the stuff that makes my blood boil and I’m sure it makes your blood boil and you just want to say, everybody, do you get what’s happening here? And the problem is that this strategy of obfuscation, it’s kind of evil in a sense, the way that the government really preys on people’s lack of knowledge and understanding in that we can’t expect the general population to have such a detailed understanding of policy and all those sorts of things but you trust that the government isn’t going to do these mind tricks.
This is the stuff that confuses a lot of people and I see this a lot even in the comments to our videos, like, how are you idiots promoting electric vehicles, did you realise that when you plug your electric vehicle into the grid, what do you think it charges from, electricity is burning coal so you’re just burning it somewhere else, and that’s not an argument against EV’s, that’s an argument for shifting our electricity production to renewables …
KJ: Yeah, exactly.
GN: … but the bullshit is starting to infect people’s minds and they then replicate that kind of logic and rhetoric which is like another COVID pandemic, basically, of bullshit.
KJ: Yeah, so it’s actually really hard sometimes because often what those arguments come from is someone making a reasonable point but it gets so twisted and so abused in bad faith that it doesn’t match what it was in the first place.Of course we need to de-carbonise the grid at the same time that we electrify the grid but often those same people will be the ones arguing, oh no, we can’t shut down coal-fired power stations because it’ll cause blackouts – or whatever – so it’s really frustrating because a lot of those people are operating in bad faith, they’re not really there to figure out a pathway to reality, they’re there to reassure themselves more than anyone else and so you’ve got to just blank them out sometimes because they’re just repeating the same old stuff.
The one argument around electric vehicles which I think is actually pretty reasonable is thinking about the material cost and this is something that is going to happen during the transition, it’s not going to be permanent. When you have to convert that world fleet of one machine into another machine there’s going to be a bump in the usage of construction and mining and materials and things like that and then it levels out as you start making machines that last long and it goes back to what it was before where you just have to replenish cars that get old with new cars.
But electric vehicles in particular have a set of unique requirements; you’ve got to mine lithium and you’ve got to mine copper and there are a lot of places in the world where these companies that do this mining are paying a lot of attention to supply chain issues, human rights, making sure that the environmental issues are treated properly but there are places in the world where they’re not, as well.
All that basically means is that first of all if there are instances in which you can reduce the demand for vehicle usage it’s probably a good thing to do because it eases the pressure on the electric vehicle industry and it gives them a bit more breathing room to go, okay, well, now we can put some time and effort into having a sustainable supply chain process where we make sure that this is mined in a sustainable way from companies that respect human rights and respect the environment and often what you see is that people will take that issue and just go, I hate electric cars, I don’t think we should have electric cars at all because there’s a lithium mine in Chile and the workers are being abused at it.
That’s a real problem because that is also in bad faith; they’re not really thinking about how to respond to an issue and control for it and they’re also not taking the other side of the equation into account. Of course electric vehicles reduce emissions and that’s a major environmental justice issue that reduces impacts on the most vulnerable people in the world, to reduce emissions and transport of course, as you said in your videos, is the second biggest chunk essentially of the world’s emissions.
The other issue that’s really actually more pertinent is another environmental justice issue which is air pollution, which you also mention in your video, which I really don’t think that we have a particularly great understanding of exactly how deadly combustion engines are or combustion in general. Combustion in the home like gas stoves, combustion on the streets, all these vehicles are producing particulates that actually have a really serious and significant impact on our life right now. It’s shaving years off our lives.
Even in Oslo there are still fossil fuel vehicles that are sacrificing human life just so we can have them around and that really, really gets to me so I think while it’s really important to think about the supply chain issues for the cars the only fair way to do it is to have a really holistic and fair view of all the different ways that these two different systems impact particularly on vulnerable communities, communities of colour.
America’s a really horrible example of this where highways just get built. Highways just cut through communities, these massive, massive roads and then the air pollution from those vehicles has a direct impact on those people, particularly black communities in America, and it gets to me so much that we’re not treating this as urgently as we should be. I think actually the Biden administration could be doing a lot more on electric vehicle incentives.
They’re probably going to come up with some sort of emissions standards sort of like Bill Shorten brought to the last election to put pressure on the system and make people buy fewer fossil cars and buy more clean cars as well. It’ll be interesting to see how well they go with that.
Most of their emissions reductions will come from the grid over the next ten years. If they hit that 50% target by 2030 about half of the reductions that they need to make will come from the grid and then probably the remaining – I think it was – 14% of all those reductions will come from transport so, yeah, this is a challenge that is just so urgent: not just making sure that making electric cars is sustainable but also treating it like it’s an emergency, and it really is an emergency not just for emissions but for air pollution and just making sure that this massive, vital function of society which is moving human bodies around is not something that is also killing human bodies. So it’s very frustrating to see all of the potential being squandered in Australia.
GN: Absolutely.You were talking about the health impacts of combustion. When I was researching for this video that’s the one thing that really alarmed me, that I wasn’t aware of that either and in terms of reading up it was, like, if you live within 75 metres of a major road and you have children – children are particularly affected and of course elderly people also and people with illnesses or breathing difficulties but especially children who have developing respiratory systems – if they live within 75 metres of a major street they’re being affected and there are all these studies that are coming out – we cited some of them in the video – mental illness, reduced intellectual/cognitive capacity and it’s mind-blowing.
We have schools everywhere here that are on busy intersections. You literally have crèches and kindergartens that are on four-lane roads, freeways or whatever you want to call them, with trucks passing by. We are completely oblivious as a society to what we’re doing and it really is frightening and when you add to that also – this is the other thing that blew my mind is that our fuel efficiency standards here in Australia are particularly shit; we have a higher level of sulphur in our petrol compared to even China and definitely Europe that banned some of the fuel standards that we still have here ten years ago and we still have the shitty fuel because it’s cheaper and our government quietly postponed regulation.
I think it was in 2019 they postponed a regulation for cleaner fuel here so we’re going to have shitty fuel here till 2027 unless the government changes policy.
KJ: Yeah, it’s so bad. It’s worth mentioning one thing actually on that; I was reading a study last night done by this guy on the US and their fuel standards, called CAFE standards – I can’t remember what the acronym stands for [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] but it’s a lot better than ‘FFS.’It was Obama era fuel standards for vehicles in the US and those had a big impact not necessarily on incentivising EV’s but actually definitely reducing air pollution emissions and greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.
So you can quantify from that, it actually had some impact, but unfortunately that was cancelled out to some degree by this trend among car manufacturers to make cars bigger so it’s not just four-wheel drives but four-wheel drives are a big component of this. Cars are just getting bigger and bigger and so the small cars become medium cars, the medium cars become big cars and big cars become massive cars, and the consequence is that as cars become more efficient for fuel they also burn a larger total amount of fuel per trip and so emissions increase.
The International Energy Agency has been banging on about this for a long time and the CEO of this big international energy organisation, you can just see him getting pissed off. He’s just, like four-wheel drives are a massive part of why transport emissions are rising around the world. Vehicles are just becoming larger and larger and it brings up this debate about consumers: how do we as individuals play a role in worsening climate change and combating climate change?
I think it’s a false dichotomy because marketing happens. Car companies only make bigger cars available and then they market them, they’re, like, this is safer and this is more comfortable and it’s a smoother ride and this four-wheel drive is far more desirable than this wimpy small car, and so these companies play a massive role in determining the choices that consumers make or even limiting the choices consumers make.
And so there’s this interplay that has been happening where of course admittedly people have also been choosing to buy larger cars and that is starting to cancel out a lot of the emission gains. Here in Europe there is a standard of emissions of grams per kilometre for vehicles and there was a target for 2020 for the car manufacturers and it was just going down so beautifully for the first half of the 2010’s and then it has just become this flatline because any increase in fuel efficiency is being cancelled out by cars getting bigger.
What this reminds us of is, first of all, car companies bear some culpability for this; they don’t care about climate change and emissions as much as they say they do, but secondly it’s just urgent to get this happening because whether we like it or not, whether it’s a good thing or not, that is where we are now, is that cars are just getting bigger and emissions from cars are growing. It’s not like this steady state, things are actually getting worse, and so that makes reducing emissions and electrifying transport so, so important.
I haven’t actually done the numbers for Australia. I’ve been looking for a while because I’ve been really wanting to know if Australia has bigger cars than other countries and it’s surprisingly hard to find data on this but I suspect it probably does. I feel like it’s a common sight to see a big car in Australia and Australia …
GN: You’ve got to tow that boat, Ketan, you know?
KJ: You’ve got to tow the boat, yeah, exactly, and it’s not a controversial point at all that EV’s can now not only do the functions of a normal fossil vehicle but it does most of them far better. If all you care about is functionality or style or the status symbol or whatever it doesn’t matter, the market now is so huge that you can find something that fits the bill without the need to have …
GN: And we’re only at the beginning of that whole journey, I mean, who knows, the electric vehicles, even combustion engines, if you compare the Model T Ford to where we are now with the latest one it’s a massive difference so you can only imagine, if there are any problems with EV’s today, like the range isn’t quite as long as you’d expect it to be, well, just wait ten years and you can probably go to another planet in an EV soon.
But I wanted to ask you about this topic because you mentioned choice and you’ve mentioned consumer choice. This is a really interesting angle. I want to get on to the Victorian tax in a second but I really wanted to ask you this first because you wrote an article in Renew Economy where you really approached the Future Fuel Strategy, the FFS, from this angle.
Now, the subtitle of the FFS is ‘Powering Choice’ which we referenced in the video and we gave the honest version which is ‘Powering Fuck All’ but Angus Taylor of the Australian Government has really tried to sell it and market it as a strategy that is in the interests of the consumer as choice and famously Michaelia Cash when she fronted the cameras in that ridiculous performance she was, like, we’ll ensure that you have a choice in the car that Australians drive. Does this FFS actually give people more choice because how does that stack up? And also I just want to read this from your article because I love this paragraph that you wrote, I just want people to hear it.
You wrote, “In Norway where I live it has taken a range of ambitious government policies to ensure EV’s are price-matched with fossil cars. By pricing in the social, environmental and health impacts of fossil-burning cars it has actually created choice. In cities like Oslo a range of initiatives are also allowing people to choose not to drive including new bike lanes, better walkability and safer streets through car-free zones” – things that you’ve mentioned. “I have the freedom to not breathe in substances that kill me, that’s actual freedom.”
I love that because you’ve really turned on its head the rhetoric that the government is using. It’s free market ideology: we want to give people choice, and consumers and freedom, fuck yeah, kind of thing but you’ve really tapped into that. Does it even provide more choice, is it even honest?
KJ: Ah, no, it definitely doesn’t. What it essentially does is it locks in existing boundaries so you can only really choose to purchase a fossil vehicle. You might be able to choose one that comes with an electric motor and battery but it still requires fossil fuels to run and you don’t have the infrastructure where you live in Australia to be able to reliably charge an electric vehicle, you don’t have the ability to afford an electric vehicle because the costs as I mention in that quote, the cost of fossil cars is put onto someone else.You don’t pay for the cost of the solution and the cost of EV’s doesn’t account for the absence of pollution from the operation of the vehicle.
But this actually goes back to a really, really important point. Like I mentioned before, there’s a debate between systemic change, you know, politics and policy and regulation, and individual change like consumer choices, me walking to the shops instead of driving to the shops or whatever, and it’s a false dichotomy. These things are really, really closely interlinked and an example is me choosing to ride my bicycle to drop my kid off at childcare; I don’t want to be in danger, I don’t want my kid to be in danger, and the only reason that I feel safe riding a bicycle on the roads here in Oslo is because there are bike lanes and there is education of drivers to be respectful of bicycles and keep distance.
It doesn’t always happen and I’ve had a few really unpleasant close calls but the majority of the time I feel safe and I continue riding my bicycle because it’s a decision I can make because of the infrastructure, because of the gritty policy fight that happened in Oslo’s Council to get bike lanes installed on these roads, because of the systemic change and just the battle that was undergone to get bike lanes. That’s why I can make that choice. I can still drive a car if I want to, it’s slightly more annoying but I can still do it. If I need to go get a whole bunch of stuff I can use a car-share electric vehicle, use that instead, so that is actually a really important part of this because what Angus Taylor is trying to do here is get rid of any systemic change and then just make it all about consumer preferences so he’s, like, if people want to buy an EV what’s stopping them, they can get an EV if they want to?
But there’s actually this bedrock, this system that you have to fight against if you want to make that choice. We’ve seen this before from fossil fuel companies.BP popularised the idea of the personal carbon footprint a few decades ago where they were taking what is actually a reasonable thing, people trying to take control of their life and control over the environmental harm that they’re locked into, and then basically abusing those instincts and that emotion and saying you’re a bad person if you don’t do it, it’s actually 100% on you, and they’re not taking up any responsibility themselves.
And so trying to re-find that balance and trying to talk about how interconnected all this stuff is is really difficult because people very rightly feel really gross about having any sort of personal capacity for change sometimes; they’re, like, well, it’s not on me now, it’s on those fossil fuel companies that are doing all of the harm.Unfortunately some of it still is on us but that doesn’t mean that we have to be emotionally abused or bullied into accepting our fate.
You can take personal action but that personal action can be voting against the government because that counts as personal action. It can be voting against someone who is acting to remove choice from your life, not giving you the right to live an emissions-free life or an air pollution-free life. That counts as personal action to fight climate change, it doesn’t have to be getting a [inaudible 66:13] or whatever, it can be writing a letter to your political constituency, it can be fighting at local meetings to get bike lanes installed or to get electric car chargers installed on streets. All those things count as personal action and all those things count as you having an impact on the systems that lock you into a reliance on fossil fuels.
This is a really, really important point because Angus Taylor is trying to break this, he’s trying to say there’s not really anything you can do to change the system, we just have to sit back, go with the flow and accept that when electric cars get cheap then maybe you might be able to get one and if you don’t have a charger then whatever, just ask for one and maybe it’ll happen. That’s a summary of what’s going on.
GN: It’s just so perverted. I really love that we started off talking about Norway because I hope that people listening in Australia, hopefully people listening in other parts of the world but especially Australians – you don’t realise how little choice you have until you put it in perspective in a global context with a society like Norway which is actually providing people choice.
You don’t have a choice not to have your kids poisoned by fossil fuel emitting vehicles and that should really make you pissed off and the icing on the cake is that because of the shitty fuel standards that I mentioned earlier, which again are thanks to our government policy, even if you do drive a fossil fuel car we are not getting the latest most efficient, cleanest, cheapest-to-run vehicles because car companies aren’t sending them to us because they can’t run on our fucking shitty petrol.
They’re not only screwing over potential EV drivers but also regular drivers so to call that choice, to use ‘choice’ as the banner to put that under is just [inaudible 68:10] such bullshit and the way that they promote it as choice is perverted. But look, this is exactly what we’re here to talk about. You do it so well and in the Honest Government Ads we really try and expose these perversions of reality.
I also wanted to just highlight a little bit before we go on to the Victorian tax, one of the things that you’ve really helped us understand is that Norway didn’t achieve what it achieved overnight, it’s not a switch that you can just go click, okay, great, now we’ve electrified everything. It takes a long time and the window of opportunity for Australia – this is what should really wake people up – it’s closing. If we don’t move in time with this window and make this change we’re not going to be able to catch up in a decade or two, and that’s lost opportunity not just for health and risks.
One of the studies of emissions linked to dementia. Dementia is the second leading cause of death in Australia and the first leading cause of death among women in Australia and the cost associated with that, we don’t even have any understanding of what that is going to be, but also the lost opportunities for manufacturing industry, the brain drain that so many of the engineers in the car manufacturing industry. They all went off and worked for Tesla. They want to come back here but there is just no opportunity to do that. I read somewhere in an article, if a head of a car manufacturing company of an EV product goes to a country like Singapore or Malaysia they’ll be met on the tarmac by the President but here it’s the head of the Electric Vehicle Council and there is no interest here in bringing back technology, so the lost opportunity, it’s just insane.
I want to bring that now into the conversation about the Victorian tax because I feel like the scene is set now to understand how back to front and damaging this disincentive is, that the Victorian government is now proposing. They’re going to vote on this EV tax in the first Parliamentary sitting in May, so, just around the corner. Can you give us a little bit of a sense of what’s happening on this front?
KJ: Yeah, I can’t wrap my head around why this is happening. I’ve been trying to figure out what is going on here or at least what the thinking or the justification is and I just can’t do it. Basically, cars get taxed through the fuel that they burn in Australia and that money purportedly is going towards maintaining roads, so the amount of money that is taken from cars from the fuel that they use is put towards road maintenance.
When you have an electric vehicle it’s charged on electricity, you can’t really tax that electricity specifically because electricity can be used for just so many things. You’re not going to have a special car charging port at home, that you pay tax on, when you can just plug your car into the other port and you won’t need to pay the tax on it. So this is actually a really interesting and complicated issue because of course maintaining the roads is not free, you need some money to do it, and the road user charge through paying your tax on fuel was one of the ways that policy makers were, like, okay, well, we don’t want to tax people who don’t use the road and everyone who uses the road burns fossil fuel so we’ll just put a tax on the fossil fuels.
This is an attempt to protect the steep decline in that amount of money as electric vehicles grow in proportion in the transport system. So you say to electric vehicle users, well, you drove four kilometres over the past day so we’re going to charge you X dollars per kilometre for having used that vehicle, and you just see this tone of coverage about this issue.
I mentioned before this narrative of ‘electric vehicles are for rich people,’ it’s like a big, shiny Tesla, Elon Musk fans like rich [Techro’s – technophiles? No idea, can’t find 72:32] or whatever, they’re the ones getting electric vehicles and that’s why it’s fine to treat them as this ‘side issue’ that you can comfortably tax because it’s only rich people using them. You express this so well in the video, that that is so completely freaking ridiculous because first of all we know that it’s not rich people buying electric cars now, the market has evolved from as it was ten years ago, five years ago, and you can get super, super-cheap electric cars now.
Nissan LEAF is a small, beautiful, clean little electric vehicle that has enough range to do everything that you need to do in a city or around the suburbs and that vehicle itself is just getting cheaper and cheaper every year because the battery packs are …
GN: Under 20,000 …
KJ: Yeah, it’s so low and someone with a Nissan LEAF is going to get taxed but someone with an $80,000 Lexus hybrid won’t get taxed with this [inaudible, overspeaking 73:44] …
GN: Or get taxed at a lower rate.
KJ: Sorry, yeah, they’ll get taxed at a lower rate and it’s like, okay, something is just going completely wrong here and I think that this is actually a really interesting example of something that I’ve been, I guess, trying to pay a bit of attention to.
Just to quickly zoom out a bit, in Australia the federal government has been rightly getting a lot of criticism for their levels of inaction but state governments have been lauded as picking up a bit of the slack. All of them have set net zero targets by 2050, a lot of them have really ambitious renewable energy policies.
New South Wales has a conservative government but they have an energy structure road map which hypothetically incentivises a fair bit of additional renewables. Victoria has a renewable energy target and they’re looking to hopefully increase that in coming weeks but what we’re actually starting to see more and more is that certain states actually have these blind spots, so, Western Australia has this huge blind spot towards gas, so, burning gas for power on the grid or extracting gas to sell it to other countries. Of course they have a massive blind spot because this is a major source of the economic prowess of that particular state, Western Australia.
I don’t understand why Victoria would resist switching to electric vehicles. Obviously there’s a couple of oil refineries there. There used to be car manufacturing in Victoria but I just can’t compute why, what it is that would make them look at electric vehicles and say, let’s invert this, let’s start with the disincentive and then maybe somewhere in the future we’ll have an incentive for electric vehicles, because of course there is already a disincentive.
The existing disincentive is that if you drive a fossil car and you cause harm through the emissions, the greenhouse gas emissions, that it produces and the air pollution that it produces you don’t pay a cost for it, and if you drive an electric vehicle and you avoid those harms you don’t get any monetary benefit for it. So what the Victorian EV tax is doing is it’s adding another element to the already unbalanced scale and tipping it further against EV’s and of course every state that is looking at transport systems needs to be looking at ways to reduce demand for vehicle usage, investing way more money into public transport and at the local level investing in active transport, better walkability, bike lanes et cetera but there is absolutely no escaping the fact that even if you do all of those things at absolute max effort there is still just going to be a stock of fossil cars that need to be changed.
There are a lot of people who actually rely on cars; people with disabilities, for instance, often need a vehicle to get around. There are people whose business relies on the use of a vehicle like a delivery van.There’s a lot of Nissan LEAF delivery vans here in Oslo, they’re fantastic, they work brilliantly and so, yeah, I can’t compute this one.
I always try and get to the bottom of why something is happening; what is in the hearts of the people who are really sticking to their guns on this and running with it? This one, I’ve tried to understand it and I just haven’t found an explanation. I don’t know, maybe you have a theory but I can’t compute it.
GN: Yeah, our theory was expressed very crudely in our video, which is that it’s a cash grab.It doesn’t make sense. Firstly, the fuel excise: the government has said their argument is that we need to replace lost revenue – as you said – and it’s like, well, the fuel excise is levied by the federal government, not the state governments, so what lost revenue are we talking about? – and secondly that fuel excess isn’t hypothecated directly to road expenditure meaning it’s not tied to that directly, it goes into general revenue, and then also the argument that, oh well, it’s just a tax on millionaires so don’t worry about it.
The arguments are really flimsy and they don’t stack up and when there is no argument you go, well, what is it?You’re just going to make a lot of money out of this and you’re trying to introduce a tax which you know nobody is going to oppose now because there’s very few EV drivers on the road and you can, sort of, wedge the population by saying, oh well, it’s only rich people so you don’t need to worry about it.
They’ve very clever played a political game because they’ve even called it a ‘clean air tax’ and how can you be against a clean air tax? Of course you want clean air so it shits me but also we’ve seen a really interesting debate emerge around all this, around taxation because people have said, well, tax is good, why are you attacking this? – and I just want to make it really clear that I’m not against taxation per se, taxes are good, they’ve been rightly described as the price we pay to live in a civilised society, but the fact that we have to argue about this, we shouldn’t be rusted onto this position, we should also be able to call out taxes that are badly targeted and aimed and timed and this feels like that’s one of those.
KJ: Yeah.This is a really, really important point for me because what is happening now in Oslo and in Norway in general is that all the incentives for EV’s are being rolled back. You can’t drive in a bus lane anymore if you’re an EV.The road toll, I think, either is proposed to be changed earlier this year or it has already changed such that EV’s pay road tolls; either they already do or they will be paying road tolls very soon, as they should, because a road toll exists to charge the user of that infrastructure for going through it because a road itself has a cost to society, to maintain the road but also the cost on the environment, on the experience of the people living around that road; you should be paying to do that.
The reason that EV’s were not paying is because we needed to force change into the system to give people the option to basically live better lives than they would have without that policy and so the idea is not just that you have incentives for EV’s but that as the balance of vehicles starts to change you then correct that, you actually start removing all those incentives because the majority of vehicles are electric anyway and then you just charge them for the impact that they have.
With EV’s, for instance, that’s some amount of noise, the usage of roads, parking for instance, where vehicles go you charge them for that, and so this is why it really, really bugs me, because I’m watching this play out and there are a few people who gripe about it, oh no we want to keep the incentives, but actually for the most part – like the EV Association here in Norway, they were, like, yeah, of course you should get rid of the incentives eventually because people who use these machines should pay their fair share of tax relative to what they’re doing but the argument that it’s a tax on millionaires really just doesn’t stack up because, as I mentioned before, fossil fuel cars already get a subsidy, they already have an incentive which is that you can drive one and you don’t pay for the impacts of the harm it causes through emissions and air pollution.
So people already are getting basically a bonus in that they get to use the vehicle that has an impact that they know causes harm but that someone else pays for and that needs to be corrected.That is what all climate policy and what all transport policy is doing is correcting this imbalance of who gets hurt and who doesn’t get hurt and so the millionaire argument really bugs me in particular just because I see it. Before I joined this call I was just walking to drop my kid off at childcare and walk back and I was just looking at all the cars on the road and when you look at EV’s here they’re small and they’re cheaper. It’s not flashy, it’s not like you walk down the road and there’s 100 Teslas and then a Porsche Taycan and all the hyper-expensive fancy ones.
You do see them sometimes and I look at them with a mixture of jealousy and hatred but for the most part it’s just people doing regular-person stuff with a modest vehicle, as you see in most cities, except they have fossil cars so it’s disincentivising a project that is there to reduce harm to people. The entire purpose of reducing emissions and reducing air pollution is to make us feel less pain, to let us live longer lives, and it’s just as wild as charging people for getting on a bus because that bus is on the road and they’re not paying, like, a road – I mean, people already do get charged …
GN: I was going to say [laughs].
KJ: But you get the point, right? Charging that extra is [inaudible, overspeaking 83:32] …
GN: I’m sorry to break this to you, Ketan, but here we …
KJ: [laughs] Yeah, people I’ve actually been – sorry, yeah, go on.
GN: No, look, I was just going to say, absolutely, I hear what you’re saying and I feel like the common sense position here is actually it’s actually a bit of both.Yes, we do need a road user charge for EV’s, it’s the timing of this tax that is a problem. Eventually, once 50% of vehicles we have on the roads are EV’s, totally, bring in the tax, start to levy, wind back the incentives and all that.I think what people are really angered about is the timing of it because we’re in a market here where we have 0.7% of sales nationally are EV’s.
I don’t even know what the figure is in Victoria, probably lower, but apparently according to the government’s own modelling a five percent increase in the overall cost of EV’s, which is what this new Victorian tax represents, will result in 2.5% reduction in sales and we already have fuck all sales.
So the timing of this tax, if we want to be like Norway, if we want to get even get off the starting line, we have to make it as easy as possible for people to make this transition. Later we’ll worry about recouping those costs but right now there are so many issues. The health one is just number one, environment, climate, those ones, there are others but fuck, you know, that’s the main thing.
Ketan, I also want to mention that we’ve driven people to a petition, we’re directing them to sign a petition which is going to hand-delivered to crossbench MP’s. The hope is that either the Victorian government repeals this legislation for a tax or at least offers very good incentives because the thing is – and we weren’t able to make this nuance in the video – we said Victoria will be the first government in the world to make it harder to afford an EV and people went, oh well actually other governments have taxes as well, which is true.Sometimes the nuance is too much but what’s true is that it would be the first government to have a net disincentive for EV’s because it was planning to introduce a tax with no significant incentives whereas other countries that have taxes have incentives blah-blah-blah.
So hopefully at the very least if there’s pressure on the Victorian government we will be able to get some incentives along with the tax that make it a net incentive overall which would be at least a good compromise.
KJ: Yeah, I would really strong urge people to sign that petition, get in contact with the Victorian government and tell them and explain it to them because this is just another example of where we actually as citizens – obviously I’m not living in Australia but I very much experience this feeling which is that as a person who lives in a city or a country I want to have the choice to live a safe life and I think the Victorian government actually understands that concept or that philosophy, that government actually plays a role in creating a field of opportunities and a field of choice that lets you decide to live a less harmful life.
That can take many different forms but for the people who need to be using a vehicle for some reason then they should have the option of letting that form be an electric vehicle, an emissions-free vehicle and so, yeah, it’s just so important to get that across to them because the government needs to help make that systemic change that lets people have the freedom to live a safe life.
GN: Yep, exactly as you said, this is one of those opportunities where you can make an individual choice that will have an impact because every car that is sold that has a combustion engine will be on the roads for the next 15 to 20 years so it really makes a big difference.
Ketan, I really want to thank you for joining us, you’ve given us a lot of your time. I just want to end with one final question, I always like to have a big picture question to end us off, just to remind us where we stand, and this one’s an interesting question I wanted to ask you about nationalism and how it fits into the global fight – choice of words is important – this challenge that we face to get the world to really embrace the challenge of the climate crisis.
I was chatting with Richie Merzian, who I’m sure you know, from the Australia Institute the other day. We were chatting about this topic of EV’s and he said he had noticed how there’s this growing trend of using nationalism as a way of encouraging or motivating people to embrace climate solution, so, actually invoking nationalism as a form of competition, like, this is a very powerful form of messaging. I’m not sure, have you seen GM’s recent ad starring Will Ferrell?
KJ: Yes [laughs].
GN: Right, I might put a little bit of a clip up here while I’m talking but basically Will Ferrell loses his shit on realising that Norway is ‘out-EV’ing us’ and he launches an expedition to invade Norway and it all ends with GM all in, 30 new models by 2030, let’s beat Norway, kind of thing, so it’s got this real nationalist thing now.
Obviously it’s problematic because nationalism is often invoked for completely not productive, very divisive, dodgy reasons so Richie was saying it would be interesting to see whether this catches on in more progressive circles but I wanted to end by asking you, what is your feeling on this? Is this how we solve the climate crisis, by invoking this sort of 20th century ideal of nationalism and ‘let’s win’ kind of thing?
KJ: That is a great question and it’s on my mind because it’s happening not just in transport. You see this sort of tone when it comes to discussing Australian climate action, not just from the slightly less conservative parts of the conservative parties but also the climate groups, climate activists and from big names, people who talk about this sort of stuff a lot like Ross Garnaut. They talk about Australia as like a superpower, a renewable energy superpower, and Australia goes from becoming this massive fossil fuel exporter supplying fossil fuels to the world to becoming a massive renewable energy exporter; you produce hydrogen and you put a cable from Australia to an Asian country and you export electricity that way and the idea is, like, Australian wealth and prosperity and Australian citizens experiencing very little change from a country that is fuelled by the prosperity of selling carbon to the world to a country that is fuelled by the prosperity of selling energy, emissions-neutral energy, to the world.
I have mixed feelings about it as you can probably tell. On the one hand I very much understand the power of that message, it’s really important, but unfortunately what happens is sometimes it tends to drown out the really [drop-out 90:40] like environmental justice and climate justice and so maybe there’s a possibility that the countries that have obtained their wealth from fossil fuels like Norway where I am now actually need to pare back what they’re doing sooner than they replace it with something else – does that make sense?
So, fossil fuel exports in a country that is a massive fossil fuel exporter should go down before it is fully replaced one-for-one by exporting renewable energy, for instance, to the world and that is something that is a really big issue because you can’t necessarily replace things ‘under the bonnet’ – does that make sense?
You can’t have this sort of change in a society, that you just can’t detect switching from exporting fossil fuels to exporting renewables without some compromise. You would have greater emissions if you go slower on the transition if it means making sure that Australia constantly stays as like a superpower or Norway stays as like a big exporting country that gets a lot of wealth from exporting energy and so when it comes to electric vehicles I actually think that it’s a bit safer, I think the narratives are a bit clearer and that issues with environmental justice are a little less relevant. I think it’s a bit more okay to turn it into a bit of a race and say, look how amazing the transport system is in this world, actually don’t you want the transport system that another country has?
Norway is always used as the thing, as the ‘jealousy centre’ for the world for electric vehicles, it’s like, oh my God look at what they’re doing, don’t you want to be like what they’re doing? – and of course it was in the Will Ferrell ad. It feels – and this is just a vibe – but it feels a bit healthier and a bit more productive to me than the sort of ‘export nationalism’ that you get in other parts of the energy world and other parts of the climate world.
So in the particular case of transport I think it’s actually mostly okay because what is happening is that even if it’s a bit of nationalistic competition and even if nationalism, of course, leaves a pretty bad taste in the mouths of many people what is happening is that air pollution is reducing in cities and suburbs and children are having longer lives and the process of extracting the materials required to build a fossil car and make fossil fuels and transport fossil fuels, that’s all being replaced by a significantly less harmful supply chain so it just feels a lot better to me, I don’t feel gross in the same way that I sometimes do when nationalism is invoked in other parts of energy and climate.
GN: Thanks for sharing your thoughts on that and for all of the thoughts that you shared with us. I feel like this has really been a wealth of information. We’ve travelled across countries and touched on many different things and one of the things that I really appreciate, and I think a lot of people appreciate, is that you talk about science and technology but you also bring in the environmental justice component and the social justice component so it’s a complex world view that you encourage people to have and that’s really great.
It’s complicated and it’s harder to take in but it’s so much more enriching and you go, oh wow, and really get a three dimensional picture of what’s going on. Thank you so much for sharing it with us and thank you for all the work that you do on Twitter, the threads that you write, the articles that you write.I know that it comes at a cost of psychic health …
KJ: Yeah [laughs].
GN: … because you put a lot of emotion and a lot of your passion into it and you can really tell that you care a lot about these issues and you get other people to care a lot so thank you for all the energy and time and passion that you put into your work.
KJ: No worries! Thanks for having me on and thank you so much all the videos that you create, they’re just amazing and I’m sharing all the time, and they’re really fun.
GN: Thank you so much for taking the time to join us on The Juice Media Podcast, it’s been a real pleasure. Ketan Joshi, thank you.