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Carbon - a debate without end

By Everald Compton - posted Tuesday, 4 June 2013


In his Budget Reply speech last month, Tony Abbott resoundingly confirmed his previously-stated intention to immediately repeal the Carbon Tax if he is elected Prime Minister in September. This means that the nation as a whole now needs to consider the consequences of such an action, and prepare for its impact on business and on the lives of those who hold deep convictions about the environment, as well as those who believe that human activity is not the cause of the problem.

I had only a passive interest in Global Warming and Climate Change until I heard a speech by Al Gore back in 2006. Even though I suspected that he was more a politician than a scientist, I decided that the issue deserved some serious thought. Then, Kevin Rudd declared it to be a crucial policy of his 2007 Election campaign, using a number of statements of such high drama that it convinced John Howard that the time had come to include a plan for an Emissions Trading Scheme in his election policy.

The document that Howard included in his election manifesto was drawn-up by Dr Peter Shergold, an eminent public servant whom I held in high regard. It provided for an Emissions Trading Scheme to be implemented as soon as Howard was re-elected, but I was suspicious of the consequences of this because I reckoned that the wild boys in the financial world would manipulate it with short selling and derivatives, etc. Nevertheless, as Howard is unmistakeably conservative, I decided to go along with his policy, as he must have decided that the issue had to be faced.

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As we all know, Rudd tried to implement it when he became PM, alienated the Greens who reckoned his plan was inadequate, failed to get world support at a Climate Conference in Copenhagen, eventually pulled the plug on it and was fired as Prime Minister. Tony Abbott, who was at the Cabinet meeting with Howard when the plan for an ETS was adopted, cashed in on the subsequent chaos and won the leadership of the Coalition by one vote from Malcolm Turnbull, who had felt the matter to be so important that he had negotiated the terms on which he was willing to support Rudd.

Immediately after she had defeated Rudd, Julia Gillard promised, unwisely, not to implement a Carbon Tax, then did, and finally committed to changing it to an ETS after a few years. This caused Abbott to make a commitment in blood to repeal it if he wins the September Election, despite his earlier support of Howard's plan.

To add to the chaos, the European Community ETS, around which ours was to be linked, has crashed spectacularly. This is due mainly to the general state of their badly-managed economics and currency, not a lessening of climate change urgency or a cooling of support for the need of a carbon market.

This leaves the whole situation in an unfortunate hiatus, and has left us all pondering what should or will happen next.

You are probably like me - thoroughly sick of the pointless passion generated by the extremists on both sides of the climate debate. They are violent and insulting when you ask basic questions of clarification, telling us that we are idiots for not knowing the right answer when it is so glaringly obvious to their closed, often bigoted, minds. So, we have no option but to ignore them all if we want to find a solution to the challenge of achieving and maintaining a clean environment.

I dismiss their nasty outrage and take a pragmatic view. Only three per cent of scientists claim that climate change forecasts are a fraud, so the naysayers seem to me to be overwhelmingly outnumbered. I don't dispute that carbon dioxide is good for plants, etc, but have little difficulty in accepting that a significant excess of it should cause us concern. These thoughts confirm in my mind that responsible people should do something sensible about it. As John Howard is a personal and respected friend who led Australia through a decade of prosperity, I take seriously what he told us in 2007, ie, we should have an Emissions Trading Scheme sooner rather than later.

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Julia Gillard made a grave error in describing her initiative in the matter as a Carbon Tax. The word "tax" invariably puts negative thoughts in our minds, and has little hope of getting us onside. It was bad politics. She should have said that we were going to put a price on carbon that polluters would pay to people who are not polluting, and there would be a trading exchange where all this took place. It will be managed in such a way that financial gangsters would not be able to make money out of manipulating it.

So, I sincerely ask Tony Abbott to take his head out of the political sand and make sure that Emissions Trading happens on that basis as a matter of pragmatic responsibility. He has time to change his mind as he will face a hostile Senate until June 30, 2014, when newly elected Senators enter Parliament. He may not have a majority even then, as many who do not have confidence in him as a leader will vote not to give him power in both Houses of Parliament. His only remaining option will be a double dissolution of Parliament, but he may not get majority support for this in his own Caucus, as members in marginal seats will fear possible defeat at an election based solely on the environment.

In the meantime, let us not scare people by talking about rising oceans, violent weather and scorching droughts - most of which are headline-grabbing chatter. Let us just do the right thing by the planet that gives us life, and work towards a quality of life that is the right of all humanity.

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This article was first published in Everald@Large.



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About the Author

Everald Compton is Chairman of The Longevity Forum, a not for profit entity which is implementing The Blueprint for an Ageing Australia. He was a Founding Director of National Seniors Australia and served as its Chairman for 25 years. Subsequently , he was Chairman for three years of the Federal Government's Advisory Panel on Positive Ageing.

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