The Rudd government’s response to climate change is being revealed daily as more and more painfully inadequate, as it caves in steadily and surely to powerful business lobbies. This is not surprising, given that, among a multiplicity of other things, the wife of Rudd’s Chief of Staff, Sandra Eccles, is one of Canberra’s key lobbyists, with links to mining and energy giants.
Regardless of the predictably expedient manoeuvres now being conducted by both Labor and business, though, the actual basic premise of the Labor response is under question by sectors of the environmental movement. They claim Emissions Trading Schemes (ETSs), based as they are on a market paradigm, simply fail to deliver the goods when it comes to environmental protection. For example, Sharon Beder, visiting professor in the School of Social Sciences, Media and Communication at the University of Wollongong in New South Wales, Australia, points out that in tackling sulphur dioxide emissions, the German regulatory approach in the 1980s and 1990s achieved a 90 per cent reduction, while their US counterpart program, using an ETS system, achieved only a 50 per cent decrease.
As the Emissions Trading Scheme paradigm comes increasingly under fire, though, it begs the question: what kind of scheme can provide us with sufficient reductions in greenhouse emissions fast enough to extricate us from the current climate crisis?
One such alternative has been proffered by James Hansen, head of the NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Science, and perhaps the best-known climate scientist internationally. Hansen is notable for the rigour of his science, while at the same time becoming increasingly outspoken and adopting an activist stance in light of the climate emergency that his teams data are revealing.
Familiar as he is with Washington’s machinations and big business’s ability to sidestep and rework any ETS scheme to suit their interests, he has proposed replacing necessarily Byzantine ETS schemes with an alarmingly simple model: the Carbon Tax and 100% dividend plan.
Essentially, it involves an increasingly heavy tax on fossil fuels at point of sale, the revenue being returned to the public as a monthly deposit. Hansen comments:
“A carbon tax will raise energy prices, but lower and middle income people, especially, will find ways to reduce carbon emissions so as to come out ahead. Product demand will spur economic activity and innovation. The rate of infrastructure replacement, thus economic activity, can be modulated by how fast the carbon tax rate increases….. The tax is progressive, the poorest benefiting most, with profligate energy users forced to pay for their excesses.”
Hansen claims that this form of scheme will put direct pressure on the big polluters to clean up their act rather than buy permission to pollute, it will not require an inflated bureaucracy to administer, unlike the ETS schemes, and it will be extremely difficult to circumvent, owing to its simplicity.
It’s just one scheme amongst many possible alternatives to the market-oriented Emissions Trading Scheme model. And it is not presented here as a preferred alternative above all others; rather, it’s a possible option to be debated. Above all, it’s a contribution towards stimulating part of a very necessary debate among the left and environmental movements — if ETS is insufficient, what then? We urgently need to posit workable alternatives and build campaigns around whatever proposals emerge as preferred options. It is necessary, but not sufficient, to be critical of ETS, and so other positive ways forward need to be put up and made part of the public lexicon.