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Things I Think About, by Peter Bowditch

That dreadful carbon tax

When are the climate change deniers (not “skeptics”) going to come out and be honest about their opposition to the carbon tax? They oppose it because they are deniers, and for no other reason.

I’m not going into the economic arguments of a tax on carbon dioxide production versus an emissions trading scheme, because both of these are attempts to solve the same problem. The arguments against it are, on the surface, either political or based on self interest, but the underlying thread is denial of climate change.

There are five denialist arguments that get thrown out on a regular basis. These are:

  • there is a controversy within science, with some scientists saying other scientists are wrong
  • the climate is not changing, or if it is the change has nothing to do with human activity and there is nothing we can do about it
  • the whole thing is just an excuse for people to make money
  • Australia is such a small part of the world economy that nothing we do will have any impact
  • nobody else is doing it so we should not be first.

The first of these is the staple of most denialist movements – there are scientists and researchers who dispute facts such as the connection between HIV and AIDS (some even denying the very existence of HIV), the safety and efficacy of vaccines, the historical facts of the Holocaust, the implausibility of homeopathy and the age of the universe. Science is not a democracy where facts get decided by a majority and if the majority of scientists working in a particular field agree on something it doesn’t guarantee it to be true, but the lack of a guarantee doesn’t make crackpottery true either and doesn’t require it being given equal weight and time..

The fact of climate change is almost beyond doubt now. There have been systematic changes in plant flowering times, animal breeding cycles and weather patterns that point to a fundamental and progressive change in the environment over the last century. Climate is a very complex thing to model so there will probably never be absolute proof of the effect humans have, but the fact that over the last century we have liberated into the atmosphere carbon which was captured over hundreds of million years cannot be denied. We need to start thinking about what we do when the oil runs out and finding alternatives to burning fossil fuels can address two problems at the same time.

The other three arguments are just smokescreens to hide the real denialist agenda.

That it is just about money can be easily dismissed. The idea that thousands of scientists around the world are agreeing with each other just to maintain their grant income is no less silly than the idea that all the people involved in some way with the 1969 moon landing could be part of some great conspiracy of silence or that everyone who supports vaccination is in the pay of pharmaceutical companies.

The arguments that Australia is too small to make a difference and that we shouldn’t be first are ridiculous. Australia is only about 1.5% of the world’s economy. So what? My family represents less than 0.00001% of the population of Australia and I could save money by dumping my household garbage in the street rather than paying the council to collect it. Other countries aren’t taxing carbon emissions (except China and India, but don’t bring facts into this). So what? Australia gave women the vote in 1901. Should we have waited until everyone else did it? Being an example to others should never be considered to be a problem.

And I will repeat – denial is not skepticism. They are not even close.

But as the deniers say: “What if it’s a big hoax and we make the world a better place for nothing?”

This article was published on the Yahoo! 7 News Blog on July 27, 2011Yahoo!7 News

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2 thoughts on “That dreadful carbon tax

  • Graham Jackman says:

    We agree on a number of points i.e. “, but the fact that over the last century we have liberated into the atmosphere carbon which was captured over hundreds of million years cannot be denied. We need to start thinking about what we do when the oil runs out and finding alternatives to burning fossil fuels can address two problems at the same time.”
    My concern is that the data are so inherently noisy, that assigning causes is very difficult against a steadily rising temperature since the last ice age. I worry that it has become a political problem and that discussion is extremely polarised. As you point out there are good economic arguments for moving away from fossil fuels, but scare tactics don’t seem to work, although the recent projections for reduced electricity consumption in Australia are encouraging. We encourage the use of solar and wind power, which alone cannot reliably supply base load needs and shy away from nuclear and natural gas, which could make a large difference in the output of carbon dioxide. Then there’s our hypocrisy in exporting large amounts of coal. I don’t see any easy solutions, although the process will slow as we run out of fossil fuels and their cost inevitably rises.

    • Guy Chapman says:

      The rate of change is accelerating, though, and that is the compelling point. Temperatures are significantly higher than the long term trend would predict.