Australia passes landmark carbon legislation. Who's next?

Australia's government this week approved the world's most comprehensive legislation so far regarding global greenhouse gas emissions, including a new tax on carbon emissions.

From Reuters:

"Today Australia has a price on carbon as the law of our land. This comes after a quarter of a century of scientific warnings, 37 parliamentary inquiries, and years of bitter debate and division," Gillard told reporters in Canberra.

Australia has spent more than a decade debating the issue, which was instrumental in the 2007 fall of former conservative Prime Minister John Howard and Labor's Kevin Rudd in 2010.

The carbon tax is part of a series of new environmental laws approved by both houses of Australia's government, including the establishment of a Climate Change Authority, and the creation of a Green Fund to spur investments in the renewable energy sector. The bill's passage was a significant achievement for Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Though it only produces a small percentage of the world's carbon output, Australia's heavy industry has made the country one of the highest per capita pollution emitters.  

With the new law, Australia now joins a club of countries including Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Sweden where some form of carbon legislation on the books. The Australian law has a much wider scope and will have a broader impact on the country than the carbon taxes passed elsewhere.  Some local areas such as Quebec in Canada and San Francisco, California have also issued their forms of local carbon taxes. The European Union does have the emissions trading system (ETS), but its implementation has been sharply criticized because of the weak authority given to its regulators.

Some emerging market countries have also proposed legislation towards reducing pollution. Last year, India passed the first levy on coal producers, which was set to raise over $535 million. China and South Korea have also proposed some types of carbon taxes, but many of the details behind have been left up in the air. Last year, the United States attempted a deal on carbon trading legislation, but was scuttled due to political pressures within Congress.

Governments will try once again to reach a broader, more comprehensive deal at the COP-17 talks that are beginning at the end of November in Durban, South Africa.

Ian Waldie/Getty Images


White House: "Searching for ET, But No Evidence Yet"

That's the title of an official statement published by Phil Larson of the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy.

The Obama administration will formally respond to any petition posted and digitally signed by over 25,000 people on the "We the People" section of the White House website.

One example of a recent petition that got 248 signatures is "reform the care system for people with developmental disabilities to prevent additional tragedies." "List the Syrian National Council as a terrorist group" got 347 signatures as of this writing.

The White House's official statement on extraterrestrial life, on the other hand, responds to two separate petitions with a total of 17,465 signatures. 5,387 for "Immediately disclose the government's knowledge of and communications with extraterrestrial beings" and 12,078 for "formally acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence engaging the human race - Disclosure."

Here's Larson's response:

Thank you for signing the petition asking the Obama Administration to acknowledge an extraterrestrial presence here on Earth. The U.S. government has no evidence that any life exists outside our planet, or that an extraterrestrial presence has contacted or engaged any member of the human race. In addition, there is no credible information to suggest that any evidence is being hidden from the public's eye.

Larson goes on to note that the NASA-started Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) continues, though it's now privately funded. Also he reminds us that the Keplar spacecraft continues its search for earthlike worlds and that the aptly named Curiosity rover will soon troll the Red Planet.

One possible foreign policy angle here: the case for cooperation against extraterrestrials, as recently described by Paul Krugman to CNN's Fareed Zakaria: 

There was a 'Twilight Zone' episode like this in which scientists fake an alien threat in order to achieve world peace... If we discovered that, you know, space aliens were planning to attack and we needed a massive buildup to counter the space alien threat and, really, inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months...

Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images for BBC Worldwide