Time to follow in China’s footsteps

April 27, 2011

While watching the item on Julia Gillard’s visit to China on last night’s Lateline, I couldn’t help but feel buoyed by the following matter-of-fact response to Ali Moore’s question:

ALI MOORE: Well, I know in (Julia Gillard’s) speech tonight that she did raise the issue of the proposed carbon tax. Is that carbon tax, the idea or the plan to put a price on carbon, an issue for the Chinese?

STEPHEN MCDONELL: Well the interesting thing with global warming in China is that there’s no debate here, no public debate as to whether or not global warming is happening or that it’s man-made, because the Government just accepts the scientific evidence that both of these things are true. So, you know, you’re not gonna get people here questioning Julia Gillard about this. And the big companies here, the state-owned companies have essentially been told to get on with doing something about this. And so you’ve got the big oil companies here, they’re throwing billions of dollars at renewable energy, huge wind farms, solar energy and this sort of thing, so it’s not seen as such a conflict here in that way.

And I really think that any sort of – people questioning whether or not coal prices might go up, for example, imports, as a result of this is just a little bit at the margins. Essentially, as I said, this is – it’s recognised by the Government that these measures must be taken, and so, I s’pose in that sense, Julia Gillard is amongst friends here.

Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party, are you listening? And Big Business in Australia, and all the other detractors of the carbon tax, not to mention the climate change denialists – are you?

Even in the unlikely event that it is proven that climate change is and always has been beyond our control, surely it is beholden upon us to change our attitudes to the way we treat the Earth. Look at the waste products that we are currently pumping into the soil, the water and the atmosphere. By ending, for example, the further exploration for and mining and burning of coal and moving towards renewables we would, in one fell swoop, create thousands of new jobs, clean up the air, free up valuable farming land for farming and improve human health. Biodiversity might even have a chance too.

But please, let’s not go down the nuclear path. Regardless of whether it may produce cleaner power, why would we even contemplate opting for something which is toxic to all life and which will kill us if we put a step wrong, when there are proven and existing technologies to take us to a clean and healthy, carbon-free future? If we adopted Beyond Zero Emissions’ Zero Carbon Australia 2020 plan, we’d be well on our way.

So far the planet has sustained us quite well, but at what cost? We have treated the place like a quarry that exists purely for our convenience, and in the process of extracting all that we think we need from it we have caused the extinction of a growing number of species that we know about, and an unknown number that we don’t, and the effects of putting increased amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere are becoming more alarming each day as we observe them. 

You’d think by now that we could have learned from our past actions and maybe evolved towards a more thoughtful and caring set of beings, but unfortunately there is no sign of any widespread commitment to abandoning greed and the rights of the individual above almost all else in favour of a way of life that makes plans for a healthy future and is geared towards the greater good.

Big Business in Australia needs to face up to its responsibilities. It must it not stand in the way of the carbon tax, but recognise, like China, that it needs to look to alternatives, thus gradually eliminating its vulnerability to such a tax in the first place. It must also accede to the resources tax imperative in order to give back to the country some of what it has taken. And it hasn’t just taken massive profits. The mining industry has had access to free or subsidised water, Indigenous land, farmland, oceans, etc, etc. Yes, mining provides jobs, but how long can we use that mantra as the excuse for us to continue to plunder the Earth, no matter what the ramifications? 

Surely now, with word getting out about China’s acceptance of human-induced climate change as a fact, and its subsequent commitment to moving away from a carbon future and towards one that is based on renewables, we can no longer feel justified (if we ever could) in saying that it’s not up to us to act when big consumers like China aren’t. We have no excuse but to follow, and the world will be better off when we do.

The full transcript of the Lateline discussion can be found here.

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