Untaxed carbon forever?

My friend Dennis Glover, a former historian and speechwriter, has an op-ed in today’s Australian, comparing the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s response to climate change with the Luddites’ response to the industrial revolution. But the comparison isn’t as harsh as it might sound.

It’s easy for us, who enjoy the long-term economic benefits of their suffering, to ridicule the Luddites, but we shouldn’t. As the historian of the movement, E.P. Thompson, argues in his famous 1963 book, The Making of the English Working Class, their behaviour was a rational response to the callous and often violent way in which change was forced on their communities.

It’s this historical legacy – with its very real stories of 18-hour days, starvation, child labour, mass emigration and transportation to Australia – that informs the moral compass of the leaders of today’s mining and logging unions as they figure out how best to prevent their members from being cast aside as “the price worth paying” for a sustainable economy. Their radicalism is tempered by their responsibility to the vulnerable people they represent in the way the radicalism of some environmentalists is not.

And the unions’ fears of change are all too real. The Brotherhood of St Laurence recently released economic modelling demonstrating that imposing a price on carbon will have the greatest proportional economic impact on the lowest income earners.

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5 Responses to Untaxed carbon forever?

  1. Kevin Cox says:

    We have been advocating an approach where the carbon tax is collected from all but distributed to those who consume less. The other bit of the proposal is that the money received must be invested in ways to reduce emissions.

    A small variation would be that those who lose their jobs should receive some of the tax.

    The energy companies will be OK because they will just switch to a green way of generating energy and they will use the tax money lent to them from the recipients of the tax to pay for the energy infrastructure.

  2. Verdurous says:

    I would suggest that environmentalists care far more about the welfare of the poor than those who would oppose carbon pricing. Does anyone seriously disagree with this? The myth of the “economy vs. the environment” is just that. The economy is ultimately part of the environment. It is mischievous to put workers and the biosphere as an either/or proposition. If a carbon pricing scheme disproportionately hurts the poor, then the answer is not to forget about carbon pricing, but to rework the design. Kevin has shown above that clever minds can find all sorts of ways to do this. If the world banned land mines then many people would lose jobs. Few would argue that this was wrong. But we would be negligent to fail to provide retraining, support and alternative work.

  3. Matt says:

    An interesting article and on a related front Andrew, don’t you think it is hypocritical that Labor is talking about climate change but accepting all those union donations from industries that are supposedly part of the problem that Kevin Rudd keeps talking about?

    For instance how can you accept money from the union who represents autoworkers in Australia while keeping a straight face on signing Kyoto?

  4. Russell says:

    Don’t think I’ll spend any time defending “the moral compass of the leaders of today’s mining and logging unions”.

    I have been reading of this proposal for personal carbon accounts – so many points deleted from your carbon account everytime you buy petrol or pay the electricity bill. I’ve decided that as I don’t have children I should have a gold carbon card entitling me to unlimited carbon points. That’s because those who have children (not referring to anyone specifically) have started whole ever expanding family trees of carbon abusers – think of the perpetual damage! Why shouldn’t I have all those potential descendants’ points for myself?

  5. Sinclair Davidson says:

    One of the benefits of a revenue-neutral carbon tax is that it is likely to be regressive requiring low-income individuals to actually pay for the pollution costs they impose on society.

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