Progressing the debate
I am deeply disturbed by the low standard of intelligent political debate about pricing pollution. To see politicians arguing over petty definitions of inclusions and exclusions while using scare mongering to halt rational discussion is just plain embarrassing – for them and for us as a nation.
Why are we still arguing about whether we humans are escalating climate change?
Given the evidence, how can you argue that centuries of smoke stacks fed by our depleting reserves of fossil fuel aren’t harming our environment?
Or that polluted rivers and streams clogged by chemical laden sludge aren’t killing us?
There is only one solution and that is stop being so defensive and get on with the job of slowing this change by ditching yesterday’s thinking, methods and systems.
Because intelligent communities are way ahead of us.
To suggest that Australia should be exempt from global action because we only emit 2% of the world’s emissions is naive. Two percent is the same as Italy, yet we have only half of their population. And that’s before you consider the coal we mine, sell and ship to distant ports across China, India, Asia and beyond. Or all of the single use products we make, the bi-products of which are accumulating faster than we can effectively dispose of them. Or the impact of the chemicals we now need to produce our food – simply because we have depleted soil fertility through poor agricultural practices.
It’s a shame that the power of industries embroiled in such short-term thinking have so much influence over the will to manage and limit our contribution to a global solution.
On the face of it energy production from the vast reserves of coal looks like a cheap source, but what is its real cost?
This industry appears to have disproportionate influence over political decision making when weighted against their impact on the environment and local communities.
Why are we happily selling the environmental future of next generations? Why do we accept it is OK for the coal industry to destroy our hydraulic systems, our farm and grazing lands for a 20 – 50 year window of jobs and profits? It seems to me that what is lacking in the current debate is incentive to change.
All other aspects of production are priced. And yet we don’t seem to be able to translate a pricing practice into one of the key by-products: pollution.
Surely putting a price on pollution is no different to pricing any other element of the production process?
The real challenge, yet to be even discussed, is about what happens to revenue raised. It is vital the funds that flow from pollution pricing do not go to treasury but are invested in development of non-polluting technologies that can compete and eventually replace high-polluting energy sources such as coal.
It is equally important that innovation is accessible for the whole community – not just the fortunate elite able to afford them. This may mean initially subsiding access so we can all convert to less polluting energy.
For too long our environment has been underestimated as the key asset for sustaining human life. In what is effectively a monetary debate driven by short-term greed we forget that this asset has a value. And that value is incalculable until we find another planet that can sustain human life.
Which is why the tone of the current debate is so disturbing. Of all life on this planet, only we humans have the arrogance to think we can fight nature.
My prediction is despite the inane bickering, the bullying, the greed and the destruction, Mother Nature, the greatest scientist of all, will win.
This means that unless we get over this impasse and get on with the business of pricing what is now a free by-product of the production process – we lose.
Ian Kiernan AO
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