We need a carbon tax to price pollution

March 19, 2011
Climate price rally.
Climate price rally.

The argument for a carbon tax in Australia boils down to two key points.

The first is that a carbon tax puts a price on pollution. Pollution has been officially free for industry up until now. The public purse pays for the environmental damage industry causes.

Finally, big mining and other big polluters are being held accountable for some of their waste. It is a first step towards bringing down emissions.

The second point is that politicians such as Liberal senator Nick Minchin show that if we don’t get the government to take some action to deal with climate change, the skeptics are going to bog us down in time-wasting debates on whether climate change is real.

Minchin said on March 11, “If anything we're more likely to see a tendency down in global temperatures, rather than up", even though the United Nations said 2010 was the hottest year on record.

It is only in Australia, Canada and the US that the sceptics have so much influence in government policy. We can’t afford to waste time.

Supporting government action sidesteps that debate.

The mandate of the climate change movement is to make sure that further steps follow this first step.

The question is not, “is the carbon tax the quick fix to climate change?” The question is, “is a price on pollution a useful step?” And it is.

The challenge facing the climate change movement now is to direct attention and debate onto how the tax is spent (replacing dirty fossil fuels with renewables, subsidising farmers to store carbon in soil and forests), who pays for it (the big polluters), and against a transition to a completely useless cap-and-trade scheme down the track.

As climate research group Beyond Zero Emissions said on March 8: “The highest priority should be on calling for a carbon-pricing-plus framework which alongside the carbon price includes direct support for renewables, such as a Feed-in-Tariff, which can immediately create a portfolio of renewable energy funded through a small levy on electricity consumers, at a significantly lower cost than a so called $50 “high” carbon price.

“Feed-in-tariffs are a proven mechanism for driving large-scale investment in renewables, already in use in over 50 countries worldwide.”

My partner and I survived six weeks cut off in the Queensland floods undamaged because we have a stand-alone solar power system set up with the government going halves in the costs via the Remote Area Power Scheme (a scheme now ended due to government budget cuts). It’s meant no more power bills or blackouts.

We must campaign against this idea of going with the “cheapest” power alternative, to moving to the most sustainable alternative.

And if we’re going to factor costs, factor in all the costs.

Just because gas is what climate change minister Greg Combet says he wants, does not mean that gas is best.

Just because the politicians say it's cheaper doesn't mean that it is. They just want their gas royalties.

We need to tackle these crap assumptions they are pushing head on.

Assumption one: renewables can't supply baseload power — wrong.

Assumption two: natural gas is cheaper — wrong.

Gas is not cheaper because its extraction pollutes the Great Artesian Basin and destroys our food-producing farmland.

Mining companies have set the rules that the cost of resource extraction does not factor in pollution and distribution costs. Sixteen billion dollars alone for a gas pipeline? Billion dollar agricultural industries destroyed? How the hell is that cheap?

We can't let these assumptions stand unchallenged.

Instead of letting Rupert Murdoch, the mining industry and the politicians set the assumptions, we need to go on the attack. We tackle them directly and campaign strongly against dirty gas and coal.

Gas will never be cheapest while its real costs are not factored into its price. Gas is not cheapest if it destroys our Great Artesian Basin. It's suicidal.

Importing our food and cleaning carcinogens like benzene out of our water table is too expensive — if it's possible at all.

We need a price on pollution, and industry needs to pay it, and a carbon tax can be used to achieve this. They haven't set the details on who pays? Good — we set them for them.

We also cannot let them use it as a lead-in for emissions trading.

So, we take the gain — a price on pollution, finally! Then we continue to hammer the government with the mass movement to make the big polluters pay and spend the tax on a serious zero emissions plan and other measures.

And we campaign to make sure it doesn't lead into a cap-and-trade dead end.

We need to take one step at a time — surely we weren't expecting them to find a miracle instant fix so we could all go home and leave them to it? Not with mining royalties involved.


A price on carbon will not bring down emissions unless there is investment in renewable energy sources. If we put a price on carbon it is wishful thinking that more investment will occur in renewables because the price of energy will have to triple to make energy from coal fired power stations more expensive than from most renewable sources. Investors will not invest. To make a carbon price work there has to be positive steps to ensure the money collected from the increase in price is invested in renewables. This can be done in a socially equitable fashion if the low consumers of energy are given the money from the increase and they must invest it in renewables.
I'll quote something from the article: "Pollution has been officially free for industry up until now. The public purse pays for the environmental damage industry causes." 1) Anyone who thinks that "industry" will absorb the cost of the tax and not pass all of it on to consumers has not been paying attention to how industry has behaved for decades. 2) Therefore the "public purse" will continue to pay for environmental damage and on top of that, for the tax itself. A carbon tax is at best misguided and at worst, an unmitigated piece of stupidity. Pollution will continue with the big polluters not changing their behaviours. They will have NO problem at all in making Joe Average pay industry's way. Ergo the Carbon Tax will make no difference to pollution or our changing climate at all. If the goverment and the rest of you were in ANY way serious about this, you would all be pushing for zero tolerance and MASSIVE fines of polluters, and a a solar power system on EVERY new rooftop, as well as continuation of subsidies for those who wish to retrofit solar power. I'd be happy to get taxed extra for something like that, but be blowed if I want to pay extra just so "industry" can continue its antisocial ways, and make profit from it, into the bargain.

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