Guy Pearse’s demolition of carbon tax apologetics

Guy Pearse, a former Liberal staffer turned critic of the influence of big fossil fuel companies, has written a searing critique of the climate movement’s slavish support for the carbon price in The Monthly.

While “environmentalists are cheering as if the clean energy revolution has begun”, he shows that “most of the flaws” of Rudd’s scheme, the CPRS, remain. Big polluters “are again excused from paying for 66-94.5 per cent of their emissions”. The same 5 per cent emissions target is in place, and most of this can be met with offsets (see opposite page). There will be “almost no increase in renewable energy deployment prior to 2020”.

Pearse reveals that the big benefactors to climate groups like the ACF are rich “neo-liberal minded corporate greenies chasing incremental results based on ‘what’s possible’”. He overstates the role that money plays in cementing this conservative political outlook: it is also that there is hardly anybody putting forward an alternative solution to market mechanisms. Pearse quotes someone from the NGO’s “Say Yes” campaign, which has limited itself to cheering for the carbon tax: “We’re all running cover for Labor… it’s about helping Gillard sell the scheme.”

Pearse’s critique is worth a look, but it’s limited because he underplays class. He wants a carbon price “at the bowser”, i.e., to make petrol more expensive. But the backlash against the carbon tax has gained traction because it makes working class people pay. What about a mass expansion of public transport?

Pearse is also singularly obsessed with stopping coal exports. But most of Australia’s domestic energy is itself produced from fossil fuels. Rather than targeting foreign consumption first, the movement could push for the federal government to invest in an expansion of solar and wind at home. This could also improve living standards by providing jobs.

This provides an alternative vision to that of the “neo-liberal” minded greenies. It involves engaging with the union movement (rather than seeing them as part of the problem as Pearse does) to fight for climate action that delivers jobs and protects workers’ living standards.

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