We Really Must Talk About Climate Change

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We can learn an essential lesson about how better to pass meaningful reforms in this country from the collapse of the carbon price, writes Michael Chaitow.

In writing this essay, I do not intend to perform yet another post-mortem on the life and times of the carbon price. Ultimately, we know all too well why this policy failed, and we know exactly how to apportion the blame.

It was a perfect storm. An unfortunate confluence of global financial peril, an unrelenting Opposition Party, and an ideologically intractable Greens Party.

But most prominently, it was the Australian Labor Party. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme was an effectively designed suite of policies, developed to address one of the most significant problems that the modern world has ever faced. However, we failed to reflect the seriousness of the issue, by refusing to do whatever was necessary to address it.

In describing climate change as the “greatest moral challenge of our time”, and then refusing to take it to Double Dissolution, we told the public that we simply didn’t believe what our former leader had said.

Is it little wonder then, that despite a firm belief in the reality of human induced climate change, Australians prioritise it almost last among a list of significant issues.

It is of course, frustratingly easy to explain our political failings using the benefit of hindsight. But I am not advocating that we simply undertake a self-indulgent session of intent naval gazing.

What I suggest instead, is that we can learn from this experience. We can learn an essential lesson about how better to pass meaningful reforms in this country.

If the fever of Kevin ’07 took root with the pledge to introduce a carbon price, then it must be possible to progress meaningful action on climate change again, without being punished at the polls. Indeed, not only is it “possible”; I posit that it is advantageous.

As the party that has long represented the needs of the masses, but has also married this with the need for environmental stewardship, it is we who are best placed to enact a marriage of the two.

The first thing that we must recognise is that yes, climate change will come as an immediate cost. There simply is no way around that. But what there is a way around, is the inevitable decline of an economy based primarily around the extraction and export of a finite pollutant.

Not only will meaningful action on climate change allow us to see short term benefits such as a $50 decline on business as usual electricity prices by 2020, it will also grant us the opportunity to restructure an economy which has long reflected an over-reliance on a single, exhaustible sector.

When an economy relies on an individual sector for over 40% of its export base, and a single country to purchase more than 60% of the exports from that sector, it doesn’t take the Reserve Bank to warn that this dependence could be dangerous (although they did).

The misfortune of our squandering the introduction of the CPRS is that we failed to communicate the opportunities that climate change will bring to our economy. Nevertheless, from every failing, at least there is a lesson to be learned.

From the CPRS, we can learn that we need to communicate with Australia. If we wish to bring the people along with us, we need to tell them about the many varied benefits that adapting to climate change holds for Australia.

In the long term, restructuring our economy away from fossil fuel dependency towards renewable energy will mean cleaner air. It will mean a new manufacturing base, greater investment and energy independence. It means that while the rest of the world is scrambling to position themselves within the green energy revolution, we can take a leadership role and become a green energy exporter (a resource that unlike coal, will never run out).

For this reason, we really need to talk about climate change. I only wish we had started talking sooner.

This article was originally published here.


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