Carbon trading or carbon tax? It\’s immaterial.

An article in Online Opinion by Geoff Carmody presents the case for a carbon tax rather than a carbon trading scheme.

I\’d agree. But I\’d add: it doesn\’t matter.

Why not? Because until Governments decide tackling climate change is a higher priority than economic growth, any approach is doomed to fail.

Climate change is a big issue and it needs a \”big ideas\” response that will transform society, not tinkering around the edges.

Reducing emissions will reduce economic growth. Emissions continue to rise because we continue to make more and more things, then transport them huge distances around the world. That is what economic growth means, and that is what causes emissions.

At the moment Governments are choosing to pursue growth, while trying to make us – and themselves, perhaps – believe we can have our cake and eat it: that we can have both emissions reductions and growth.

Modern politicians, almost to a man, subscribe to Bill Clinton\’s famous maxim: \”It\’s the economy, stupid.\” Elections are won and lost on the battlefield of economic prosperity.

The ETS (or rather, the CPRS) won\’t work because the targets are set deliberately low, to avoid it impacting on economic growth, and the Government is spooked, by industry claims that it will hit the economy, into handing out free permits and exemptions.

For the same reasons, a carbon tax will fail because the Government will set the tax rate too low to significantly dampen demand for energy, and would give big polluters tax breaks and exemptions.

It all starts with political will. At the moment there is no political will to tackle climate change. You only have to look at the global summits and billions of dollars thrown at the financial \”crisis\” compared to the energy and money put into climate change solutions to see that.

What politician will have the courage to come out and advocate a no-growth economy? Or a contracting economy?

Yet that is, I believe, the only solution to climate change.

But an end to growth needs to be sold in positive terms.

Above all, it does not mean we will be less happy. Indeed, studies tend to show increasing material wealth in Western societies has not led to any increase in happiness, and in fact may have had the opposite effect.

Fulfilling working lives, vibrant and caring communities and nourishing contact with the natural world are, I believe, more important factors in quality of life than material possessions or even material comforts. A country such as Cuba has a healthcare system and life expectancy that equals or surpasses the USA, despite being a far poorer nation.

Nor does it mean we need all become killjoy wowsers. Spend time in any number of poor communities in developing nations and you\’ll find no shortage of laughter, joking and joie de vivre.

Climate change, if what the science tells us is true, will end economic growth anyway. Indeed, indefinite economic growth is not sustainable for a range of environmental reasons, of which climate change is only one. The choice facing us is between a \”managed descent\” to a smaller economic base, or the blind acceleration of continued economic growth until we head off the cliffedge into a nightmare future of runaway climate change, food shortages and resource wars.

This isn\’t a case of left versus right. This is a whole new political paradigm.

This isn\’t a case of the technicalities of tax systems. It\’s a big picture, transformation of society issue.

Carbon tax or carbon trading? We need a much bigger vision than that.

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1 Response so far »

  1. 1

    Nice blog. I think you nicely relate the climatic changes with today’s scenario. It is truly said that politics and environment should be separated. So we have to tackle climate condition along with our economic growth.


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