Friday, 12 September 2008

Global Approach To Emissions

The debate in Australia over carbon emissions and what we should do about them seems to have devolved largely into a conflict around the facts that we are a small nation, with a small population, and anything we do will have little effect on the overall outcomes. If the big nations like China, India and the US are not on board, any effort we make will be swamped. This is the core of the argument against action. A lot of sensible voices are pointing out myriad reasons why we should act anyway, but those messages don't carry much weight with the people who hold the purse strings.

In reading through some commentary on the Garnaut report this morning it occurred to me that the solution is actually rather simple, though perhaps simplisticly so I do admit. Still, simple ideas are often the best!

We take our internal action, putting in place an emissions tax scheme, rather than trading scheme. We want a penalty, direct, to the point, no mincing words and actions. A tax is a direct way of reducing production and consumption of emissions. It does not allow for fudging and swapping, it gives no favouritism, and like the Terminator, it never sleeps and it never gives up. The dirty coal fired power plant needs to know it's doing the wrong thing, not think that it needs to be a bit more clever in how it trades it's emissions. Trading schemes are another layer of distraction and obscufation, another game for peole with money to play, at the expense of the masses.

Following that action we put in place a series of external actions aimed squarely at those nations that have chosen not to take action. Every import from a country that isn't doing something about climate change is taxed in proportion for the full measure of the emissions it is producing, similarly every export to that country is taxed to make up the shortfall from it's lack of action.

This sends an immediate and undeniable message to the other nation, as well as creating a market signal within the local economy. We are encouraged by prices to shop locally, to manufacture and produce locally. At the global level we are encouraged to trade with nations who have taken steps to deal with emissions, in preference to those who have not.

If the "Made in China" plastic toy in the MacDonalds happy meal is now costing $5 or more thanks to the carbon taxes we are putting in place on them they will swiftly disappear from the meals. Similarly, every tonne of coal sent overseas would need a tax applied that was proportionate to the damage it will do when burned. If they're not paying the tax internally, then they're paying it to the supplier.

No country, and no transaction with a country should be immune, even down to currency exchanges. If a country does not want to do something about it's emissions, it's up to the rest of the global economy to do something for it, to force it's hand in the matter.

In addition to the basic signal, that unless they wish to play climate-change ball their economy will be wound back by external forces, it immediately provides an imperative to implement a carbon tax within their own borders. I know I'd rather have the tax money working in our own economy than someone else's.

It should be mandated that the tax revenue be spent on non-polluting energy projects, and on green manufacturing, housing and transport. It's there to help fund the shift to the new economy. Such actions would hurt, both at home and abroad, but either way we are going to go through a period of pain before we come out the other side. Better a period of swift adjustment than a drawn out and painful alteration under the weight of a changed climate. Better to siphon the funds from the damaging elements of the global economy to support the healing and renewing elements.

Our greatest global challenge at the moment with respect to top-down action is overcoming the inertia and disillusionment created by inaction within the giants of the global economy. If every smaller nation on Earth with a desire to get working on the problem signed on to a treaty to enact such penalties then the recalcitrent nations would quickly realise they'd better get moving to catch up with the bandwagon. If states and towns did it within the borders of countries then it sends a notice to the wider nation.

We cannot nicely ask the powers that be to care for the Earth, we already know they wont listen. They will do as much as they need to do to mollify, and not a whit more. We need to insist that they do it, and if they don't we need to do it for them. The single greatest hurdle at the moment is that the people who can take such high level actions are very unwilling to do so. They're more interested in preserving the economy in it's current state.

It's like a fruit tree, some years you prune a little, other years you need to be more drastic and prune out some of the larger limbs, otherwise future fruiting is going to be seriously compromised or even non-existent. It's time now for the saw rather than the secateurs.

1 comment:

Bron said...

Quite a bit of food for thought there - thanks for sharing.