According Dr Nick Dallas we’ve forgotten something vital: the reason why the carbon tax is here at all.
Fears over the cost of living and scare mongering by politicians who should know better, he says, have derailed our understanding of the tax and why it’s being applied.
In what the Melbourne author described this week as “a wake up call to snap us out of our complacency,” Dallas launched into a robust defence of the carbon tax, and the part it is playing globally to turn the tide of greenhouse emissions.
“I’m concerned that the media is distorting the picture by giving too much air-time to sceptics and denialists,” he told Neos Kosmos.
“When critics of climate change – who don’t have appropriate scientific credentials or whose opinions are not based on research that has a track-record in peer-reviewed scientific literature – come up with various arguments, these catchphrases can latch-on and linger, and this distorts public opinion.”
As author of Climate Change Basics: 24 Lessons Revealing the Fundamentals, Dr Dallas has followed the climate change debate more closely than most.
In a Melbourne forum this week, he took the opportunity to reappraise the Gillard government’s most controversial policy.
“To address climate change, if you’re not feeling discomfort, [as a government] you don’t have the right policy,” he said.
“People are still saying ‘why are we jumping the gun, why are we giving away competitive advantage?’ But we’re not.
“There are around 50 other jurisdictions globally that are using carbon taxes. Australia’s not alone and we have to do this because we are one of the biggest polluters per capita.”
Dallas’ comments come following the government’s announcement that it is ditching its earlier plans to impose a floor price on carbon when the current fixed-price carbon tax moves to a floating market mechanism in July 2015.
Climate Change Minister Greg Combet said the Australian carbon market would instead be linked to Europe where more than 500 million people are covered by carbon trading schemes. A tonne of carbon in Europe currently costs about $10, while Australia’s carbon tax is set at $23 a tonne.
Dallas says the government’s shift on the floor price is significant.
“The government can get away with not having a floor price as other measures have been tightened up: business will be restricted in the number of cheaper overseas credits they can purchase. With this in place it’s unlikely that the carbon price will go down over time in an expanding economy.
“Ideally you want the carbon price always rising, making fossil fuels more expensive, and renewables more competitive, thus promoting an energy shift.”
It’s the transformation in energy production behind the pricing of carbon, that Dallas believes the Australian public has lost sight of in the much-publicised debate surrounding the carbon tax.
As for the Coalition’s position, Dallas describes its proposed “Direct Action” policy, involving reducing greenhouse emissions from soil carbon and tree planting (and Australian companies buying carbon credits on the world market) as “Mickey Mouse”.
“Even if Tony Abbott wins the next election, I think he will do a backflip,” says Dallas. “By then so many countries will be using [carbon taxes] and the public will have become used to it.”