One of the arguments that I’ve been hearing a lot as we approach the Government’s release of details about the tax on carbon is: “We shouldn’t do anything because it won’t make a difference.” I’ve heard it from family members, and it’s also a continuing theme in the political debate. The poll cited here shows that many Australians (67%) believe Australia contributes only a small percentage to global carbon dioxide emissions and “a majority (64%) believes that Australia’s proposed carbon tax will make no difference to the world’s climate”, while this article in The Age cites BHP chairman Jac Nasser as warning “against the belief that Australia’s plans for a carbon tax would be influential – environmentally or diplomatically – on a global scale”.
There are plenty of arguments against this perspective. For one thing, Australia has a far better chance of negotiating multilateral or global agreements which require other countries to take effective action on climate change if we’re taking action ourselves. But even if it didn’t make much of a difference, globally, we should do our best to take effective action on climate change because it’s the right thing to do.
We don’t teach children not to steal (but not if you won’t get caught). Or not to hurt others (but go ahead if noone will find out). We don’t teach them to do the right thing (but not if it’s hard). We don’t tell them not to litter (but do it if other people have already done it). We, as individuals, don’t believe (I hope!) that it’s okay to do the wrong thing if everyone else is doing it. As a society, I would like to believe that we support the idea of doing what’s right even when it’s difficult and even when your peers might not support you.
Australians contribute disproportionately to the problem: we produce more carbon on average per capita than the previous most polluting nation, the USA (Lauder). That might not end up having a huge effect compared to larger economies, but it will certainly contribute.
Taking effective action on climate change will make a difference internationally. A carbon tax won’t cripple our economy (even business bodies agree). It doesn’t need to cause problems for lower-income households (learn more).
But you know what? Even if it’s hard, even if it weren’t going to make a difference internationally, we should do our best to take effective action on climate change. We made a mess, we keep making the mess, we should help clean it up. We should do the right thing because it’s what’s right. We should start acting in the way we teach our children to act.