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Pricing carbon: short term losses for long term gains

Meld Magazine

Wed Jul 20 2011

Australian landscape

IT’S possible a price on carbon may make us worse off, at least in the short term. But we should be able to look beyond that, argues Charles J Tan.

Australia’s attempts to put a price on carbon are a hot topic. Twitter is (still) overloading with tweets mentioning #qanda #carbontax and #priceonpollution. If you tuned in to last week’s Q & A with Tony Jones, you would have joined millions of Australians watching on as our Prime Minister Julia Gillard fielded questions from the audience, both in the live studio and Australians throughout the internet. Since the carbon tax announcement by the Gillard government, Australians at every level have been debating its merits.

I’ve been impressed with Gillard’s composure throughout. She’s faced what’s seemed like a never ending onslaught of grueling questioning. She and her government will introduce a pricing scheme in the form of a Carbon Tax to discourage carbon emissions which are harmful to the environment, which will directly affect 500 top polluters.

Tony Abbott and much of the opposition have opposed the scheme, painting a picture that makes it look like a very bad idea. That jobs will be lost. That prices will rise. That we will be worse off. That there are people who will get left behind. There have been talk about towns and industries getting wiped out as factories, power plants shut down in response to the reform. It’s all been very apocalyptic.

The reasons against the Carbon Tax sound very convincing and it’s true, what if it falls over? What if it back-fires? We will be worse off, won’t we?

But as the live audience fired these concerns to the Prime Minister tonight, I can’t help but agree with a sarcastic tweet. “Me. Me. Me.” It seems there are enough people who are responding from a position of anxiety and uncertainty.

Consider the possible repercussions and the future could look bleak. Businesses may move their operations overseas to avoid the carbon tax. Plants may shut down to be replaced by renewable energy run power plants. Lay-offs aplenty. If it ends up costing businesses and polluters more to manufacture things, if those costs get passed on to the consumer and inflation occurs, everyone becomes worse off.

It’s true, we will probably feel the pinch. But I think we’re missing the point here. The carbon tax and this whole debate on climate change (why are we even still debating it?) is not about making our immediate lives better. We are in an age where we are all called to look beyond our immediate comfort and wealth to invest into the future of our children and their children. The planet is dying. What used to be an environmental concern has revealed itself as a huge crisis we as a human race have long ignored. If we don’t do something about it now, we may not have much left for our children and generations after us.

Julia Gillard held her composure throughout, no matter where she got cornered. Her eyes never flinched and what came across was a positive leader who believed in what the future holds. Her faith and belief won me over. Especially to the young boy, who asked the last question, she said with warm conviction that what we are doing today is for his generation and his children.

When we respond with fear, we leave very little room for progress. Or, we can respond with faith and take a journey into the unknown, measuring the risks, while changing our mindsets – that is far better way to live than buying into fearful, negative possibilities.

We are human. We falter and we may fail along the way. But we’re also creative. We can innovate and roll with the punches. We’ve done it before.

I am looking forward to where this adventure is going to take us as a nation. The world is looking on. I want to be able to say to my kids, that we as Australians made some tough decisions and did something to make the world sustainable for them to carry on and take over when we are gone. That faith and belief drove us and that is the legacy we will leave behind for our kids. Yes, we may have paid a price, consumed less, but it was worth it.

Today, I am proud to be an Australian.

Charles J Tan is a singer-songwriter based in Melbourne, and  a freelance contributor to Meld Magazine.