Apr 272011

I’ve been having a tête-à-tête over the past few days with a conservative ideologue regarding the carbon pricing issue.

Said tête-à-tête can hardly be described as being honest debate, given the medium is Twitter, my interlocutor refuses point blank to read anything over 140 characters and understands four-fifths of seven-eighths of sweet fuck all about civilised debate, but that aside, it’s an issue which I find dear to my thoughts presently.

I support the activation of a prudent and effective market mechanism to price greenhouse gas pollution. That’s my bottom line. Yes, I understand that some commodities will increase in price because of such a mechanism. Yes, I understand how such a mechanism works. Yes, I understand that pricing greenhouse gas pollution in Australia has no direct impact on the production volume of any other industrialised nation’s polluting output. Yet. Not that a market mechanism is designed to do so anyway. This is the pivotal point climate change deniers like to focus upon, while ignoring entirely the bigger picture. That picture includes the fact that China, India and UK are actively putting together their own carbon pricing mechanisms, the UK in particular is to introduce a carbon tax in addition to the current EU emissions trading scheme in a bid to enhance the worth of carbon as a trade commodity and catalyst to behavioural change among polluting industries. That’s what all these mechanisms are about. Changing behaviours. Stick and carrot. The stick being what industries get if they don’t alter their polluting behaviour via increased costs of production, the carrot being an ability to trade off the cost of their behavioural changes in a competitive marketplace with others faced with similar, but different industrial challenges.

The bigger picture, if one is prepared to stand back & view it, as opposed to examining the minutiae of the individual painter’s brushstrokes, is the long term viability of the planetary environment, which we, as it’s masters, have been progressively fouling with our increasing industrialisation over the past 300 years. However you cut the pie, there are only so many pieces and right now, the pie we’re cutting is running out of pieces to viably continue cutting. Amusingly, not so many decades ago science discovered that chloroflurocarbons and hydrochloroflurocarbons (CFC’s and HCFC’s) – a class of chemical created by American industrial giant Dupont as refrigerants – were collecting in the upper reaches of the planets atmospheric envelope, at the poles, and destroying the ozone layer there. CFC’s and HCFC’s together with Brominated CFC’s were catalysing ozone into oxygen. Lovely, some might have said and probably did at the time. Oxygen is the gas we need to survive so what’s wrong with that? Well, annoyingly it turns out that ozone aids in filtering our harmful ultra-violet radiation from the Sun. UV light, as even the uneducated will know, is used in medicine, among other industries, as a sterilising agent. UV destroys living things. Strip away the ozone layer from Earth’s upper atmosphere and the planet’s surface would quickly become a lifeless desert. Add to those effects the fact that a CFC/HCFC molecule is 10,000 times more effective at trapping atmospheric heat than CO2, and the greenhouse effect becomes an even more pertinent reason to ban CFC/HCFC production. So, science won the day, convinced industry that CFC’s and HCFC’s were bad and production had to stop. Politicians agreed, and production stopped. Almost. The Montreal Protocol came into being with a ‘must have done’ date for abolition of CFC/HCFC’s by 2015. 1987 to 2015….that’s 28 years. Every member nation of the United Nations has ratified the protocol. Changes in the destruction of the ozone hole over Antarctica, where most of the damage has been recorded, have been noted. The hole is slowly reducing. A victory for common sense, science and political courage. But it didn’t happen overnight, as the climate change deniers seem to be demanding occur with the introduction of a carbon pricing mechanism. I think it’s laughably ironic that those exclaiming outrage at the mere idea of the imposition of a mechanism to begin resolving three centuries of human-inspired industrialised atmospheric damage, are exactly the same people who will happily agree that banning CFC/HCFC compounds is the right thing to do for the future of the planet, and life upon it.

So now we face – ‘we’ being the human collective – a very, very similar problem with the realisation that ‘we’ have been, for the past 300 years, pumping the residue of previously stored carbonaceous compounds known as Fossil Fuels, into the same atmospheric envelope, by burning those fossil fuels. Previously stored, you ask? Why yes. Plant and animal matter from millennia past which has been buried under acres of soil & rock, metamorphosing into coal, oil and natural gas. Material from a time when the planetary climate was warmer, wetter and atmospheric gases existed in different combinations to what we have today. As the planet cooled, encountered asteroid strikes, moved in its orbit and 250 million years of previous life forms died out, the detritus  didn’t just vanish. It became part of the planet itself. By digging up and burning that material, we’re releasing that stored carbon. Releasing those gas combinations which existed 250 million years ago & longer and don’t exist today. No species existing on the planet right now, existed when dinosaurs ruled the earth, nor when single-celled amoeba began to replicate 3.5 BILLION years ago. Human beings, or at least the progenitors of our species, arose just 2.5 million years ago, yet our species has changed the face of this planet more than any other species in the 4.5 BILLION years since accretion from inter-stellar dust. We demand growth, technological advancement, to become bigger, faster, in more places, making more money by using more resources. We do that by digging up those resources, burning them, melting them, re-shaping them and throwing them away when we’re finished with them to it all again, ad infinitum. To deny that we, as the only species to have ever evolved to our level of intellect and ability, are not adversely impacting on the environment which sustains us, is irrational.

Therefore, addressing the amount of atmospheric pollution and the means of creating it through whatever means available to us, would appear to be the antithesis. Rational. It is rational to want to sustain life. It is rational to not wish to sleep in a bed which we’ve just shat in. It is rational to not wish to deliberately breath a mixture of noxious gases which we know to be detrimental to a healthy existence. It is rational, therefore, to explore options such as pricing carbon pollution in such a way as to encourage change to the way we do things. Things like generate electricity, make steel, fuel our transport and power the machines of industry such that less damaging pollution is pumped into the atmosphere, foster research into alternative energy sources to those we’ve squandered for 300 years, encourage industry to become sustainable and not increasingly detrimental to the atmosphere we breath and the planet we live on. It’s the only one we know of capable of supporting us. It’s the only one we have until we develop ways and means of getting off it, and onto another, should we be so lucky as to find one. To coin a phrase, the rationality of add
ressing what we’re doing to change the climate we rely upon, is not rocket science.

Instigating a carbon pricing mechanism has nothing whatever to do with what percentage of the global carbon pollution production Australia might or might not be producing at any given point in time, according to any particular set of numbers. There is no invisible barrier at the coastline extending to the edge of space, within which Australia’s carbon pollution emissions are contained, which immediately negates this “why address such a miniscule percentage of the whole” argument. It’s a complete nonsense. Combine that fallacy with the fact that no two sets of statistics portray anything like reality, that argument falls apart. Neither does instigation of a carbon pricing mechanism have anything to do with “Oh my goodness….the cost!”. This argument fails to totter down the runway, let alone take off. Cost is subjective. The object is behavioural change for the betterment of the planet and all who live upon her. The object is not money, nor jobs, nor cost as these elements are all capable of mitigation. Read about the structure of any emissions trading scheme and these mitigation aspects become crystal clear to those prepared accept the obvious.

For the ideologues though, no amount of rational argument will sway them from their dogma. They will agitate against change which in itself is ironic as atrophy is the enemy of progress, yet these same dogmatic individuals will be those who value their profits above all other considerations. Profits which can only come from progress, advancement and innovation. The irony as I continually tell my interlocutor, is as sweet as it gets.