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Carbon price will cause pain


When it comes to cutting carbon emissions, one can use the image of a sports trainer in full voice: 'If there is no pain there is no gain.'

To allay fears and gather support from poorer households, Labor government spokespersons have told them that they will not be worse off when a price is put on carbon. They say big business and the wealthy will have to pay and poorer household will be compensated. A spokesperson added, 'You may even make money'.

This is playing dirty. It hides the fact that when a price is put on carbon our way of life will be changed. Perhaps it will be just as happy or even happier, but it will be changed nonetheless. Pain will be involved in adapting and redirecting where we spend money. As homes and transport are redesigned to become more efficient, as new job opportunities and the new training needed to do those jobs expands, as the real cost of producing food is reflected in the supermarket and the supply of cheap imported goods slows, life in Australia will be changed. Even cheap and frequent overseas trips will slow. The inconvenience of readjusting our life plans will be a part of adjusting our expectations. Some will enjoy the venture in developing new lifestyles despite the pain. But others will hanker for the way things were.

Some years back, Professor Derek Eamus, Director of the Institute for Water and Environmental Resource Management, spoke at the University of Technology Sydney on the Australian lifestyle under the title, 'Is the Australian Dream killing us?' Buying into unreal expectations has given us a busy lifestyle.

In our exhaustion we look for more and more exotic holidays to soothe our frenetic psyche, disregarding the carbon footprint. In the Wallace Wurth lecture, Kerry O'Brien laid much of the blame on politicians and the media for a race to the bottom. Politicians form policy to placate the latest fad proposed by focus groups; the media searches for news-entertainment to titillate the masses. Both fail to present what is real and of value. But responsibility must be shared by ordinary people and their blinkered demands.

Facing up to rapid climate change is the great challenge of our times. The physics of increased greenhouse gases is clear. That human induced fossil based economics and its associated First World lifestyle is the main factor causing the increase is also clear. The impacts on food production, more frequent severe weather events causing storms and floods, droughts and fire storms have already begun. This is the reality which no amount of denial will take away. D'nile is not a river in Africa. Denial is not a response owned by St Peter alone.

Many people do not like religious ideas, such as the place of human suffering, to be brought into public debates. But the declared atheist A.C. Grayling speaking on his recent publication, The Good Book, says that philosophical writings from the continents over millennia prompt us to think for ourselves and ask questions about what constitutes the good civic (civilised) life. These writers speak of the human virtues needed for us to grow a peaceful and happy human society. They tell us that each person can choose to practice the virtues needed, including resolution in striving with pain and anxiety.

Philosophy is not foreign to religious traditions. Siddhartha (the Budda) chose the ascetical journey on his path to enlightenment and changed to a humble non-grasping style of life. Gandhi led his followers to accept beatings as they confronted colonial salt taxes and exposed the moral bankruptcy of the British investors. Jesus suffered in confronting the accepted arm-twisting ideas on religion of his day to affirm the giftedness of life. Francis of Assisi chose to reject the empty frivolity and flamboyant consumerism of his day. Mary MacKillop took a little brandy for her health but chose to bear the opprobrium involved in confronting the accepted educational practices in her day and the place of women in church leadership.

Given the present state of cultural values in Australia, perhaps the spirit behind the carbon debate is as important as any debate on the mechanics of a carbon tax or carbon trading. That busy and grasping spirit may hold us back  from imagining an economy and lifestyle based on alternative energy.

The increasing claims for compensation from flood victims to live cattle exporters suggest a distorted grasping Australian spirit. The pain of these victims is real and sad to see, but are the cries misplaced? To dismiss responsibility for building on flood plains or for being slow to teach humane animal practices is to deny reality. The risk assessments used by insurance companies accept that climate change poses huge and imminent risks to the nation. The  dithering and failure to act by our civic and business leaders may well feed future compensation claims.

Part of the human enterprise is to think beyond the immediate. We should begin by asking what legacy we leave to future generations. Will it be one of increasing climate related disasters in food supply, of rising sea levels and of environmental refugees? Will it be a rapid diminishment of the planet's diversity of plants and animals?  To address either of these evils might lead us to campaign for the worldwide financial transaction tax proposed by Jubilee Australia . Just a 0.05% levy would generate some $48 billion a year in Australia alone. Ordinary businesses would pay a small percentage of this compared with currency speculators.

Speaking to a group of ambassadors recently Pope Benedict XVI used the phrase 'human ecology' to argue that we 'must adopt a lifestyle that respects the environment and supports research and the exploitation of clean energy sources, respectful of the heritage of creation and harmless to humans. These must be our political and economic priorities.' 

Charles RueDr Charles Rue is a Sydney-based priest of the Columban Missionary Society, and coordinator of Columban JPIC (Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation).

Topic tags: carbon tax, emissions trading, climate, human ecology, justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation



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Existing comments

Thank you Charles for a reasoned and profound piece. As you suggest being 'green' demands a profound and significant shift in emphasis not only in our economy, but in our culture and spirituality. Global warming is 'our greatest moral challenge' as a former Prime Minister once said. Perhaps we could begin to use the traditional Christian word 'asceticism' to describe what is required of us?

Paul Collins | 21 June 2011  

The day that Eureka Street starts publishing articles advocating self-denial, self-control, forethought,accepting responsibility etc, in relation to human sexuality, I will think that they are a genuine Christian voice. I would especially want to see this call for accepting responsiblity of one's actions in protecting a natural consequence of sexual intercourse, the life of the unborn.

But I am not holding my breath. Calls for self-denial, massive changes in lifestyle, asceticism and whatever, are almost always only issued when related to the environment. Writers here will tell people they should not travel here or there, or what sort of light globes they should use, what sort of food they should eat. But the bedroom is strictly private. What goes on in their is nobody's business. And the slaughter of cows causes more consternation than the dismembering of human foetuses. That is a woman's right! Dr Rue's article is yet another contribution for the Left Green Weekly.

John Ryan | 21 June 2011  

"Facing up to rapid climate change is the great challenge of our times. The physics of increased greenhouse gases is clear. That human induced fossil based economics and its associated First World lifestyle is the main factor causing the increase is also clear. The impacts on food production, more frequent severe weather events causing storms and floods, droughts and fire storms have already begun. This is the reality which no amount of denial will take away"

This statement is one of rank positivism. There are many eminent scientists who do not believe in any sort of man-made, man-induced climate change.

"Kerry O'Brien laid much of the blame on politicians and the media for a race to the bottom. Politicians form policy to placate the latest fad proposed by focus groups; the media searches for news-entertainment to titillate the masses. Both fail to present what is real and of value"

That statement of the author is correct. Much of the blame of climate change alarmism lies at the feet of politicians and the media. Some scientists put forth a hypothesis that CO2 is dangerous to the health of the earth. but there is absolutely no proof of this. Weather patterns are cyclical rather than some new terrible danger as nature takes its course through many variants of change from matters that are far from the control of men.

When we say the Our Father, we say "give us this day our daily bread." Those climate alarmists must not believe in God or have no faith in God. Only the Father knows when the end of time will come and I'm sure He is not giving a sneak preview right now.

Many poor people will hurt because of a carbon tax. what is the use of taxing the big companies and the rich when they simply pass the extra costs (and maybe more) on to the poor consumers as they always have done.

Trent | 21 June 2011  

The saying is "you must become the change you want to see".Human kind does not 'give up' readily ie.air-conditioning,etc. We have been conditioned to be'soft', mostly against our will. The government is creating another commodity to trade.As with all other commodities, when they were made available. It's quite prophetic when a spokesperson added "You might even make money". Doesn't that say it all?

russell | 21 June 2011  

Thank you Charles.

Helen Bergen | 21 June 2011  

Both Paul Collins and John Ryan make accurate, relevant points about the Dr Rue's article ,Eureka and the Catholic Church. The vows of poverty, chastity and obedience describe those virtues we need more of in this world. What a wonderful faith we have! It would be fair to see a more integrated approach from Eureka magazine while still producing some excellent articles!

Dale Moore | 21 June 2011  

Sorry, no hair shirt. The compensation means there will be no pain for most households and almost none for most businesses. Electricity will still power our houses and businesses as it does now. All that will change over time is how it it generated — gas rather than coal etc. Most people will not notice any difference, apart from some minor changes to improve efficiency of use.. Same with cars. Overseas holidays will remain cheaper, because of exchange rate, regardless of carbon tax.

Brian Toohey | 21 June 2011  

Thank you Charles. I believe the majority of Climatologists in saying that climate change is with us and that it is now the result of human activity spurred on by our desire to have a good life without regard to the consequences for our planet and future generations.

To change our attitudes to remedy this situation we must accept the fact that it will cost us. The cost is something we need to bear, but it will hopefully result in saving the planet for ourselves and future generations. They will certainly thank us for that.

Tony Santospirito | 21 June 2011  

Thanks Dr Rue for a thoughtful and valuable piece; the threats from climate change require transformations in the way we live and that entails some pain. If real change is to occur, we must all be prepared to give up some things and pay more for others. I worry about the promises from politicians, including the Greens, that 'the big polluters' will pay and everyone else will be shielded and I fear Brian Toohey might be right that for most of us it will be business as usual.

Myrna T | 21 June 2011  

Nobody owns the patent to full knowledge and we can argue about global warming until we have the next ice age. I rather try to forget if the “believers” or the “sceptics” are right. I think what should drive the whole debate is our responsiblity towards future generations. If we really care for our children and grand children, then we do not burn the oil and coal needed to make essential goods in the future. If we love our children and if we care for their future, then we don’t waste natural resources and do everything do protect the environment.

A carbon tax will not reduce the waste of our natural resources and will not protect the environment. A carbon tax just makes it more expensive and to make the issue even more stupid, it even provides “compensation” for its ill effect. There is no incnetive for low income earners to do anything as the Government will pay compensation and for the rich, the tax may be another pain to suffer for so-called “social justice’. A carbon tax provides permits to pollute, nothing more and nothing less.
I prefer a 35-plan in which all energy suppliers have to replace 3% of the energy sold with renewable every year. Large companies and Government Departments would have also replace 3% of their annual energy consumption with renewable energy. This can be achieved by legislation.

A small annual increase in renewable energy production and use will help Australia move towards a low carbon economy. Such a path will provide sustainable and affordable solutions.
We have already a few very good schemes and technologies which could accelerate such steps. For example, rooftop solar installations already help to reduce the demand for fossil fuels and keep electricity costs down, as massive infrastructure projects can be avoided. Other examples are Ceramic Fuel Cells (an Australian invention!). These units are already in production and can be fitted to existing gas supplies to produce electricity, hot water or even heating.

We have the technologies; we have the will and the resources to change. A carbon tax will only make such changes more expensive and slower.

Beat Odermatt | 23 June 2011  

Next step - carbon market. Result, very rich market owners and investors become even richer. Reduction in CO2 generated - zero. Impact on global warming - zero. Real issue - does anthropogenic CO2 affect climate - yes, but miniscule impact only. Should we stop polluting the air, the water and the earth - Yes, yes and yes again. But treating CO2 as 'the enemy' is just plain wrong and blaming anthropogenic CO2 for climatic events is actually silly. But, there is money to made in this one!!

Mike Nelson | 24 June 2011  

I agree with Mike Nelson. The money will be spent to make carbon traders richer, the ordinary Australian poorer and there will be less money available for the environment.
It seems that anyone interested in protecting the environment without more taxes is treated as a heretic.

Beat Odermatt | 24 June 2011