On Sunday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her Clean Energy Future and the details of the Carbon Tax.
The idea, from what I understand, is that the biggest polluters will be charged a tax based on how much carbon dioxide they emit. The big polluters are required to clean up their proceedings, but because of the extra costs to them, some costs will be passed on to the consumer through raised gas and electricity prices amongst other things. Because prices will be higher, households will reduce their consumption, which in turn will reduce the amount of electricity etc that needs to be produced, and that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The government is restructuring the tax system and increasing family assistance and pension payments to help cover the increased costs for those who can least afford them. The proceeds of the tax will be invested in renewable energies and clean energy production. The opposition to the scheme is that everything will become more expensive, people are being overcompensated and will have no incentive to reduce consumption, it will destroy our economy, and it won't work anyway.
That's it in a nutshell. I think. Correct me if you think I've got it wrong! I think a lot of Australians are a bit confused (at least, I hope I'm not the only one).
I have no idea whether this is a good thing or not. I think we should be investing in renewable energy, and cleaning up our air is a brilliant idea, and if lots of countries do a little bit it all adds up to a lot. I have no idea if this is the right or wrong way of going about it.
However, from what I've seen everyone is talking about how much it's going to cost and avoiding the big elephant in the room: we need to reduce consumption.
This new scheme, if it does indeed come to pass, will cost the average household $10.10 per week, but the average household compensation will be $9.90 per week. See, it's going to cost us all a lot! But hang on, if they average household reduces consumption by $10.10 per week, won't they actually come out ahead? That seems incentive to me to switch off more unused lights.
Cleaning up the air is only half the problem. How have we got ourselves in the position of needing to reduce our carbon emissions? Overconsumption. Whether you believe climate change is real or not, and if it is caused by human activity or not, can you accept that the insatiable desire for more stuff is not good? Personally, I'm a 'climate change agnostic' who thinks it's better that we do something rather than nothing. I am quite certain that there is only so much coal and copper in the ground, and only so much space we can devote to landfill. Eventually we will run out, whether it's very soon or not for a hundred years or more.
Everyone is saying we need to cut our carbon emissions, but no-one is saying that we need to change our lifestyle. We are happy enough to save electricity, but we don't want to give up the good things we've got. It's become normal that every driver has their own car, and that we live 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, two hours away from where we work. We live on our own 'private estate' on a block of land in the suburbs and chew up agricultural land to do so, and so need to import more and more food. We expect to be able to eat apples and tomatoes and bananas and broccoli and beans all year round and so we artificially ripen some, and ship the shortfall from the other side of the world. And the food we do grow here: tomatoes grown in Bowen get sent to the distribution centres in Brisbane and Sydney, then back to Townsville. My tomatoes are being shipped thousands of kilometres when they are grown two hundred kilometres away! And I was horrified to see when I visited Melbourne that tropical fruit cost less than it did here in the tropics. On that, we expect to fly from one city to another whenever we want a holiday. We want a bedroom for each of our children (plus a study) so they can house their own television, iPod and the mountain of toys we are told they need. One cannot survive the Australian summer without a fully air-conditioned house, and pools are no longer for only the wealthy. We expect to do what we want, when we want, any time of day or night. We need new clothes every season because the old ones are 'out of fashion' and we want them dirt cheap, so we send our cotton to China and they send it back as $5 t-shirts. I say 'we' because I'm included.
If we in Australia are only contributing 2% of carbon emissions, and China contributes 20%, but we ship our resources to China so that they can make all sorts of goodies to ship back to us so we can buy them as washing machines and shoes and homewares and dolls so doesn't that make us responsible for some of China's emissions?
Sure, we can slap a tax on the big polluters and make them clean up their act so we can all feel good about ourselves, but we aren't solving the problem.
I am cutting my consumption - and not just of electricity - so that my kids can grow up in the beautiful and prosperous Australia that I love. Will you join me?