Why I support a carbon tax.

Climate change and what response Australia needs to take to it is on the agenda. One of the recommendations of the multiparty climate change committee has been the introduction of a carbon tax. (The committee consists of Labor, Greens and Independent MP’s. The Liberals and Nationals were invited, but their leadership chose obstructive oppositionism to constructive cooperation)

Being an active conservationist with a reasonable level involvement in local state and federal Green politics, and having a circle of friends on the same wavelength, I have not had the notion of support for a carbon tax challenged, except for by people who deny climate change at all. So it was a pleasure and an opportunity for reflection when a friend of mine, whom I believe accepts the need for action, to challenge my support for it as opposed to other options. Their reaction to my support seemed strong and impassioned, but I think we agree on more than we don’t, and it is in respect for that person that I articulate this response.

Where to start? Well. This person suggested that a tax would drive business offshore and recommended a reduction in consumption/spending to governments the same as they would to a person. This seems like a good place to start, and something I couldn’t agree with more.

I am a classical anarchist. Or anarcho-socialist, or feminist-anarcho-syndicalist, one of those, I’ll let some uni student define it. I just know what I know. By that I mean I subscribe to a world view and a vision which hopes, works and strives for a society without hierarchy, where through voluntary association goals are achieved through co-operation. This link is a good summary. Cheers to the Auckland anarchist community.

I’d love to see the end of industrial capitalism, built as it is on inequality, within and between nations, a dependence on debt and endless expansion of capital and greed ignoring the natural limits of its environment. I despise the effect global industrial capitalism has on indigenous cultures and even how it homogenises culture into consumable trend driven purchase units. This “story of stuff” is a real eye opener on our consumer culture. Worth a watch. I hate what industrial capitalism does to the environment. That we cut down ancient forests to wipe our arses, that we rake the sea floor for cheap fish fingers, that the planet is covered in cows to feed the rich while there is not enough grain to feed the poor.

I hate war. I hate how much money is made by global capitalism perpetuating a continuous state of war in the world, the fear cultivated by governments to justify it, I hate the violence inherent in patriarchy, that 1 in 3 women is a victim of sexual assault in our society and that it isn’t the most pressing concern of our lawmakers and leaders, I’ll stop. I could go on but this is getting off topic.

Yes I am an anarchist. And proud. There is a lot wrong with the world and it is all to do with money and power, not community and caretaking.

As an anarchist I don’t really believe in the notion of the nation state, or of capitalism at all, so the idea of taxing to a solution might seem counter intuitive.

As well as hoping global industrial capitalism will collapse I genuinely believe it inevitably will. Like the plague of insects that booms in an abundant crop, overpopulates consumes everything in sight then starves, the system we have made is reaching beyond capacity and we are on borrowed time. But I remain an optimist. Whilst I believe that our society will change completely, and the massively consumptive and destructive capitalism we have will fall regardless, I still believe its worth trying to transition to the new world, the way it will be after, as least traumatically as possible.

I’m not sure current governments are up to the challenge. For too long they have been corrupted by corporate interests, and many sovereign rights have been signed away in ‘trade agreements’. Most policy is written to benefit the “them” of massive wealth, exploitation and profit and not in the best interest of “us”, the people of this planet.

So yes, reduce unnecessary spending. I can name some savings straight away.

$8.1 billion a year is spent GIVING MONEY to the big polluters!

This is an immediate and easy saving, unpopular with the major parties donors of course, which is why neither of them support it, but the logical answer.

All around the world at the moment, governments in debt due to the global financial crisis are responding by cutting social services. This is the wrong way to go. Was the global recession caused by governments spending too much on the sick, young and unemployed? No, it was rich protected bankers speculating recklessly with no consequence, yet it is these vulnerable people who have to wear the cost.

If we want to reduce government spending then cutting the money wasted by giving it to polluters whilst supporting and enhancing social services and supporting communities is a step towards a new cooperative society, one not dominated by the view that we are all in cut throat competition with one another, a world of community. Money for schools, hospitals, public transport, adult education, community gardens, and research and development for resilience for adapting to the challenges ahead. These are simple common sense ideas, but because of the vested powers entwined through the system, completely revolutionary and a threat to the status quo.

If we are going to succeed in remaking the world, or even just generally improving the one we’re in, we must get corporate influence out of politics. Labor, Liberal and the Nationals have been polluted. They represent their donors not their members nor society in general. The Greens’ policy of not accepting money from corporate interests should be law. Recent wins like the ending of tobacco funding political parties in NSW will already be having effects, if it went further politics could clean right up. Integrity could return to politics. I believe Labor, the Liberals and the Nationals would behave much better once weaned off the dirty money.

But anyway, back to closer to the point. My friend, and a lot of opponents of taxing pollution point out the fact that faced with higher costs and or regulation business can relocate. This is a freedom that capital enjoys but people don’t. Personally the idea of heavy industry shutting down or leaving doesn’t bother me, except of course that they would be meaner and dirtier were they to go to a different country with weak labour and environment regulations.

A good way to look at it is like ecology. Business is like an animal. It will seek out opportunities and move to better conditions if they come up. Carrots and sticks work, but often to the effect of driving jobs to countries with lower wages and less regulation, the global economy relies on such differentials.

You know, I didn’t think much of a carbon tax at first, but after talking to other conservationists, particularly those dealing with the threats that mining brings to areas, as well as being involved with Climate Action Groups I came around to the idea. It’s all about the money. Polluting business is being given tonnes and tonnes of your money to contribute to the problem that is threatening us all. If subsidies were ended many conservation battles would not need to be fought as it would not be worth it for the extractor companies to go in and destroy. And therein lies the key. Having the true costs of an enterprise factored in, through a tax with the revenue directed towards other good measures is the only way to get the rapid changes in society needed to avoid the worst of what could happen. Allowing markets to decide would be too slow, or even completely ineffective. That’s why I don’t support free open carbon trading, like an ETS. Speculation and trading is part of what has gotten into this mess, and a lot of people could end up making a lot of trades and a lot of money without actually reducing the amount of atmospheric carbon in the world!

[similarly, my friend asked “what about a law (against pollution)?”. I ask, how did prohibition work for the US in the 30’s? and has criminalizing marijuana stopped its consumption? Profit disregards laws]

You see the simplicity of a tax is that businesses do not like tax. It is like they are allergic, they will do anything to avoid paying it. So business will adapt in a number of ways. If mining leases are not renewed or granted then mining would cease. It is sensible to say no to any new coal ventures and to make that clear to the market. Businesses will adapt, change there core activity, dissolve, or in some cases move overseas to avoid the tax. Let’s address this last part now.

Polluting business simply up and moving overseas, or even competing businesses outside the regulatory regime of a pollution tax taking lost market share is a serious risk when imposing a new tax, but one that can be curtailed by restricted access to the market. Yes, I’m talking tarrifs. I know this flies in the face of neo-classical liberalism, but again I have literal respect for that world view, especially when it blocks action on the challenge of our time. If a carbon tarrif was imposed on imports from countries without a domestic carbon tax at an equivalent level, then the motivation for business to flee off shore and the exposure of businesses at home adapting and or paying the tax to competition they cant compete with is negated.

I know Australia is export driven but the domestic market is still big and desired for being a first world consumer. Ideally for a global solution Europe would set up a tariff regime which would stimulate compliance and/or complimentary schemes in the other countries wishing to trade with the bloc, this would be a good use of that trade bloc, and a good complementary policy to the Australian domestic carbon tax.

I have heard Greg Combet (Labor minister for climate change) back pedal away from suggestions of a Carbon Tarriff, Labor being as wed to free trade as the coalition, but I know it to be Greens policy. Labor would prefer to exempt trade exposed industries from the tax by up to 95%, making the whole thing useless for its goal, just like Kevin Rudd’s ETS, which no environmentalist or anyone serious about real climate action could have supported.

Really, the way I see it, the Australian Greens have the only credible and sensible policy response to climate change, of which a carbon tax is only one part, along with the cleaning up of politics from corporate interests, protecting biodiversity, strong emphasis on social inclusion and community development, ending the subsidies to polluters, pricing carbon with associated tarrifs, and involving experts and the community every step of the way. Their long sustained and recent phenomenal growth shows that their real message for a better future is finally getting through, that people are tuned into it and that it is in agreement with the current mood. I look forward to what’s happening in Australia particularly after the 1st of july when the new Senate with the Greens proudly sitting in the middle adding a sensible community voice to that place.

Peace.

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