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by John Cadogan

Cate Blanchett is a new ambassador for the Federal Government’s proposed carbon tax. Ms Blanchett is also an established, long-term Audi ambassador. Is it possible to do both of these jobs at the same time?

What do you think: Are these two positions mutually exclusive? Is it possible to be a poster-girl for both the carbon tax and car company agendas, and emerge with your credibility intact? What happens when car companies and carbon tax collide?

See the advertisement below:

Does Ms Blanchett’s bilateral bet-hedging position on carbon and Audi damage her credibility?

If you believe the Gillard Government, the carbon tax is a disincentive for consumers to emit quite so much CO2. Cars emit CO2 in direct proportion to the mass of fuel consumed. So, is Ms Blanchett’s each-way bet on this issue intensely hypocritical? Or do you think car companies are green now?

Audi is the prestige brand of the Volkswagen Group, the second-largest car company on Earth. That company’s single, over-arching imperative is to overtake Toyota and become the biggest car company on Earth by 2018.

Any way you cut that up, the Volkswagen Group is one of the world’s largest automotive emitters of CO2. And it’s planning on getting bigger. This will mean emitting more CO2 – offset to some degree by efficiency enhancements in the intervening time. And here, significant gains have been made.

Audi specifically, and the Volkswagen Group generally, is a fantastic fuel efficiency innovator. It has a recent history of impressive efficiency enhancements that cut both fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, which are flipsides of the same combustion-chemistry coin.

Cars like the Audi A4 2.0 TDI e are among the most efficient, practical cars available. Its official CO2 ‘combined cycle’ emission is a paltry 124 grams per kilometre. It develops just 100kW, weighs 1475kg empty and accelerates from 0-100km/h in a stately 9.5 seconds.

Audi also makes cars like the RS6, which is a rocketship by any yardstick. Its CO2 output is, unfortunately, almost three times that of the frugal A4 above. It develops a brain-bending 426kW, weighs 1985kg and smashes 100km/h from stopped in just 4.6 seconds. Damn the environment: you want one. I know I do.

These two cars exemplify the concept that you can’t own a performance car and at the same time be especially green. Thermodynamics doesn’t support having that particular cake and eating it, too. (Some people might argue that it is possible to offset those extra emissions. It is … but it is still a better bet, CO2-wise, to continue offsetting and not burn all that extra fuel in the first place.)

Above: One way of offsetting your RS6's future CO2 emissions (not the recommended way)

If you look at the bigger picture, developing nations like China and India are what the car industry is really wetting its pants over. Here’s a chilling socio-economic factoid: When China achieves the same per capita car ownership as the west, it will double the number of cars on earth, up from about 900 million today to about 1.8 billion. No amount of automotive efficiency technology can offset the increased emissions from such an extreme absolute increase in cars on the road – particularly as India will independently be forging almost the same absolute automotive increase alongside China.

Locally, Audi is committed to the principal sponsorship of the Sydney Theatre Company until 2012, on which Cate Blanchett and playwright/screen writer husband Andrew Upton serve as artistic directors. People who like the theatre like Audis.

According to the recent BRW Rich List, Ms Blanchett is worth a staggering $53 million. She resides in a $10 million house in Sydney’s uppercrust Hunters Hill. It’s a fair bet she’s unlikely to feel the impact of the proposed carbon tax the way battlers in middle Australia will. It’s easy being green when you’re on the BRW rich list.

Does wealth and success give Ms Blanchett some moral superiority; the imprimatur to tell the rest of us what to do and think? (Support the carbon tax; buy an Audi…)

Above: Michael Caton (centre) in Australian cult comedy classic, The Castle

In the new pro-carbon tax advertising campaign she teams up with actor Michael Caton, urging Aussies to say ‘yes’ to the carbon tax. Why bother? There’s no referendum planned, nor is there one mooted. The government doesn’t need the general public’s permission or endorsement to get the carbon tax over the line. Do you think the ad is just a veiled attempt to improve the Gillard Government’s officially rock-bottom status with the electorate by employing two pop-culture heroes? (Together with the PM’s on-the-nose majority public perception.)

Here’s another thing you might not notice about the advertisement: Mr Caton stands in front of a smoke-belching power station for part of it. If you look closely it’s actually London’s Battersea power station he’s standing in front of. It’s belching soot to exemplify CO2, even though CO2 is actually a clear, odourless gas. And guess what else? Battersea power station is today just a shell – it’s been shut down for ages. The smoke shown emerging from it is historical at best, and an absolute advertising falsehood at worst. Most Aussie power stations are a lot cleaner than Battersea, which is probably why one does not appear in the ad.

Above: Battersea power station, London, today

In fact, in a modern coal-fired power station, the cloud emerging from the stack is actually just water vapour. Particulate emissions (soot) are very well controlled. And you can’t see CO2.

So let’s recap: millionairess Cate Blanchett, who represents one of the largest car companies in the world, and who can live opulently no matter how high the carbon tax goes, is telling ordinary Aussies to support the carbon tax, even though it will be hugely inflationary, and the view of ordinary Aussies won’t affect whether or not the tax is imposed. And she’d also like to suggest by association that you really would like to buy an Audi, if you can afford one. And there’s no conflict there.

In this endeavour she’s joined by Michael Caton, who assists by telling us that saying yes to a carbon tax in Australia will help clear the smoke (even though CO2 is clear). In particular it will help clear the smoke that appears to be emerging from a decommissioned power station in London. And he calls it carbon pollution even though the Department of Environment and Heritage refuses to classify CO2 as a pollutant.

And none of this has anything whatsoever to do with bolstering Julia Gillard’s rock-bottom popularity.

Does it all seem hastily concocted up and poorly conceived to you? We welcome your comments on this below.

I once met Cate Blanchett. Back when I was a commercial photographer I was commissioned to photograph her. I can tell you that in person, she’s absolutely delightful. But, Cate, sorry darling. It’s over. And it’s not me; it’s you. And as for Michael Caton: someone tell ‘im he’s dreamin’.

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