SAY YES—to a fight for renewables! A carbon tax won’t stop climate change

Rallies for climate action will take place Australia-wide on Sunday 5 June. Solidarity put together this statement about the rallies demand for a carbon tax and what it means for climate action and the campaign.

AS THE details of the carbon tax emerge from negotiations, it is becoming more and more obvious that this carbon price is not going to provide the renewable energy we need.

Labor and The Greens are preparing a carbon price of $19-$23 dollars.

A price this low won’t have any noticeable effect on coal-fired power generation: in fact, the Victorian Envrionmental Protection Agency has just approved a new coal-fired power plant, to be built by the private company HRL. HRL has already factored the cost of the carbon tax into their business model and plan to pass it onto consumers. Labor has repeatedly said the coal industry has a “healthy future” under a carbon price.

Business is pushing to make the policy even more useless, with the Business Council of Australia demanding exemptions for exports and a “third tier” of compensation on top of the billions already expected for industry (Labor has indicated they want to provide the same level of compensation they were going to under the CPRS—up to $35 billion in handouts to polluting companies over ten years).

Understandably, many people support a carbon price in the face of Tony Abbott’s hypocritical call for a “people’s revolt” against it. Abbott’s campaign against the tax is climate denialism dressed up as concern for people’s living standards—from the party that introduced WorkChoices and the GST! Abbott’s campaign is driven by the Liberals’ desire to do as little as possible about climate change.

But simply “saying yes” to a carbon price is not an alternative to Abbott. Under Garnaut’s proposals released this week, a carbon tax would see only a miniscule amount of funding go towards renewable energy. The $11 billion dollars in subsidies to fossil fuel companies would remain untouched. Some companies will even make a profit from the compensation arrangements.

The Greens rejected the first CPRS for reasons like this, but this time, they have been drawn into supporting the tax relatively uncritically. But there is just the same danger that this tax will lock in failure and there is no evidence it will be better than the CPRS. We need a campaign that does more than back Labor’s carbon tax—we need a campaign that is fighting for direct government investment in renewable energy, and green jobs. Carbon taxes in northern European countries have not produced emissions reductions. It required serious government investment in renewables.

The reason that Tony Abbott’s campaign against the carbon tax has any traction is that it is hitting a real nerve. Electricity price rises because of the tax are “inevitable” according to Julia Gillard. This is a context where wages are already well behind living costs which rose 4.9 per cent in the last year, while wages rose only 2.9 per cent. Many people support climate action, but don’t want to be slugged with huge bills.

That’s why the climate movement can’t afford to be shackled to the carbon tax.

Putting forward demands for climate solutions that provide jobs and improve living standards could undermine Abbott’s sloganeering.

A carbon tax has been an obstacle to winning widespread public support. An Essential Media poll in March showed that only 35 per cent support a carbon price, while 47 per cent still wanted action on climate change as soon as possible.

We need to build support for climate action by raising the demand of direct government investment into renewable energy infrastructure and thousands of new green jobs. The government built all the coal-fired power stations that currently provide our power. Renewed government investment could provide publicly controlled renewable energy. Beyond Zero Emissions’ stationary energy plan has shown how Australia could install renewable energy for 100 per cent of our energy needs in ten years, for $37 billion a year. This could be generated through taxing the profits of big business and industry, not working people’s wages.

The response of governments to the global economic crisis shows that large spending programs are perfectly possible. The Labor government poured $57 billion into its stimulus measures—which included school buildings, housing and council projects. It is also spending $43 billion on its national broadband network. This year the federal government is spending just $1 billion on climate programs.

Gillard is stalling on renewable energy and The Greens are being dragged behind. Gillard is does not have the political courage to challenge the fossil fuel giants. For her, their profits come ahead of our planet. The disregard for our future is astonishing.

The EU emissions trading scheme is about to enter into its third phase without any clear record of emissions reductions. In 2010, carbon emissions rose to the highest ever rate. The result of leaving the planet in their hands will be climate disaster. NASA climate scientist James Hansen estimates that if we continue to burn fossil fuels at the current rates, the earth will head to an ice-free condition, with sea level 75 metres higher than today.

So-called “market solutions” to climate change haven’t worked. Now more than ever, we need to build a movement that puts the future of the planet before the profits of big business.


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