The Carbon Tax proposed and implemented by former PM Julia Gillard raised many issues around the much debated climate change issue. Politicians from both sides of the fence are busily either defended or attacked the strategy. This short topic exploration aims to acquaint you with some of the arguments while raising deeper questions by providing links to relevant articles. Sustainability issues are also explored in further detail on RESource in Traces of God at Ceres in the Beliefs Module.
Finding the facts
A Carbon Tax is a tax on fossil fuels, that is, fuels that emit carbon as they are used, thus contributing to global warming and to the degradation of the environment. A carbon tax is one way in which a government can encourage the development and use of other means of power production in response to the desire for a cleaner environment and a sustainable future for the earth and its peoples.
- Begin your exploration of this topic by using the Creative Questions technique to come up with questions around the Carbon Tax that are meaningful for you. You might refer back to these as you explore various aspects of the topic.
Why should we care?
Carbon both pollutes the environment and contributes to the formation of green-house gases which are possibly the cause of a measurable increase in global warming in recent times. This warming leads to erratic weather patterns and to the melting of the ice caps which both endangers environments and threatens many life forms as well as threatening to inundate low lying land and force people from their homes and livelihoods.
However, there is some dispute over the degree to which human activity contributes to climate change. Some argue that records have been maintained for too short a period to be helpful in detecting weather patterns, they question the accuracy of computer generated predictions and point to natural fluctuations in the climate of the earth over the millennia (e.g the Ice Age and the ‘Roman warming’). However, it is indisputable that the last 200 years of human history, triggered by the Industrial Revolution, have seen a massive increase in the impact of human behaviour on the environment, an impact that demands some action.
Shaun Carney of The Age analyses the impact a Carbon Tax or Emissions Trading Scheme would have on everyone’s way of life and how people might respond to these measures when they move from being ideas to actually having an impact on peoples’ lives.
- Use the Stop, look and listen technique to evaluate the claims about the impact of human activity on climate change.
What are the arguments for a carbon tax?
Those who support a carbon tax maintain that making fossil fuel production of power more expensive is the most efficient way of encouraging power suppliers to turn to other renewable and cleaner sources of energy. Another argument maintains that it will make good economic sense and stimulate jobs as alternatives to coal produced electricity are explored.
- Evaluate the point of view of those who support a Carbon Tax using the Compass Points technique.
What are the arguments against a carbon tax?
Some people, scientists included, simply feel that the tax will have no impact on carbon production unless cheap green alternatives are developed. Others point to the expense, the huge hike in electricity costs and the potentially negative effect on the retail sector if it does go ahead.
The Australian Government page provides a summary of the pros and cons of the tax.
- Try using the Claim, support, question routine to evaluate the arguments against the tax.
What are the ethical considerations?
A tax on carbon would inevitably drive the price of essential power up which would affect everyone including the poorest individuals and households. Two bodies who work and advocate for people in need, the Edmund Rice Centre and the Brotherhood of St Laurence both seem to favour the proposed tax despite potential impact on households. The possibility of a negative impact on households cannot be over-ruled however. Ireland is an example of a fuel poor nation and this article outlines the difficulties faced by poor Irish households who sometimes are not in the best position to avail themselves of cuts and compensations.
However there are broader ethical concerns because of the potential impact on the whole planet. These are explored under 12 headings in the Environmental Ethics unit on the Markkula Centre site of Santa Clara University. Each heading introduces a different aspect of environmental ethics and also suggests practical and creative ways of exploring the topic.
Are there other alternatives?
Emissions Trading is a means of controlling greenhouse gas emissions from organisations and companies. Commonly the government places a limit on the total amount of carbon or greenhouse gases that can be released. It then provides a number of carbon ‘permits’ equal to the set limit. Companies then compete against each other to buy these permits. For some companies it is cheaper to develop cleaner production technologies (or reduce emissions) than to buy the permits.
Some people would rather see emission reduction program put in place immediately in preference to taxing ‘dirty’ (i.e coal produced) electricity because they see it as a more immediate and effective response.
- What are the plusses of this option? Use the Tug of War technique to evaluate how it compares with the carbon tax option
What do non-politicans think about the issue?
Peter Singer in his article What Should You Think about Carbon Emissions? supports concerted action to reduce emissions and author Tony Kevin feels the proposed carbon tax is a cause for celebration.
Others think that Australian efforts alone can have little impact on the emissions problem and that such a tax will only cause hardship and damage the economy.
Exploring Sacred Texts
The Bible and Stewardship
Naturally, this particular problem was not around when the Scriptures were written but the Bible does have a good deal to say about the earth and responsible care of it. The Catholic Conservation Centre site which contains a large collection of documents which convey Catholic teaching on the environment has also collected together most of the significant references to the natural world in the scriptures. Both the OldNew Testament contribute to the Christian understanding of the relationship between human beings and the earth, their home. These texts are the basis of both Jewish and Christian attitudes to the environment.
The insights of Genesis
In the first three chapters of Genesis according to the Judaeo-Christian conviction, the earth is created as a place of extraordinary beauty and richness. Human beings are created of the earth and though they are given stewardship of all that exists, there is no suggestion that this permits them to ravish the natural world.
The New Testament and the Natural World
In the New Testament, Jesus’ sensitivity to the natural world is to the fore. Jesus illustrates much of his teaching by references to the rhythms of the natural world. At the same time for Jesus, the human being is of paramount importance. Read Sean McDonagh’s paper, ‘Ecology and Religion’ for a brief appraisal of Jesus’ teachings about living lightly in the world.
Understanding the Catholic Tradition
The Church Response
When Cardinal Pell was Archbishop of Sydney he took a sceptical approach to the issue of climate change and so is not likely to be pushing for a tax on emissions. On the other hand the group Catholic Climate Change Covenant are strongly in favour of measures to limit carbon emissions. Explore the headings ‘Catholic Teaching’ and ‘Resources’ to take full advantage of the site.
What both Cardinal Pell and the CCCC would agree on is that Christians are explicitly called in their Scriptures to be good stewards of the earth. Pope John Paul II and his successor Pope Benedict XVIhave spoken frequently on ecology, sustainability and humanity’s responsibility for the created world over the past 20 years and more. You might be interested to have a look at an article which explores some of Pope Benedict’s thoughts and shows how his teaching has been built on the thinking of Pope John Paul. Both popes have also been outspoken on the priority of human life and its flourishing.
- What would you say are the three key points about the environment made by Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict in their teaching on environmental issues. What might they think about the proposed Carbon Tax?
Respecting Other World Views
You may be interested in The Assisi Declarations – Messages on Humanity and Nature from Buddhism,
Christianity, Hinduism, Islam & Judaism, that were issued at Assisi in 1986.
A further very accessible insight into religious responses to environmental issues is presented on this Inter-faith site.
Examining Personal Experience
What are your own questions about the Carbon Tax and Climate Change?
Can you articulate the main arguments and say what is at stake here?
Where do you stand on this issue?