I’ve had a super hectic week, and a large chunk of it has involved reading freight trains full of mainstream media content on the carbon tax announcement. I’ve also been attending a conference at the ANU on the Asia-Pacific, with a particular focus on China.
I should start by saying that I took a pretty in-depth class on Climate Change Policy and Economics at the ANU this year, so I would say I am relatively informed on the carbon tax issue, though not a climate change specialist by any means (or an economist). I have an interest in market-based carbon pricing initiatives and international architectures for climate response. I’ve tried to make a real push this year to really inform myself on climate change, as I don’t think it is an issue that is going to go away and the dynamics at the international level between developed and developing countries on issues such as allocations and offset schemes particularly interest me.
That being said, drowning in the mainstream media coverage around this issue has just been exhausting and depressing. The lack of balance, the lack of analysis, the lack of anything except pulling random numbers out of the scheme and quoting industry leaders screaming about job losses (in sectors that are quite frankly unlikely to see any shift in demand for at least a decade or so, carbon price or not, or sectors that are relatively inelastic in terms of demand, raking in large profits over the past few years and unable to move offshore *cough cough* i.e. THE AUSTRALIAN ELECTRICITY SECTOR THAT IS NOT POOR *cough cough*).
If you bring it up with a so-called “Average Australian,” who has been informed by the mainstream media (MsM) hysteria circus on the carbon tax (OMG Julia said we would never have a carbon tax… even though she said we would have an ETS and the carbon tax is designed to transition into a trading system three years after its implementation… SHE IS A LIAR! etc) you can’t have a conversation about the topic. If I try to mention something like “well, the proposed starting price is moderate and will probably need to rise to encourage a larger shift away from coal fired power… plus with the simultaneous tax system adjustment, Australians earning less than $100K a year are actually better off financially under the carbon tax” I’m branded a communist Greenie who is against Australian values.
You see the same old incorrect “facts” trotted out again and again by the MsM… things like “Australia will be the only country in the world with a carbon tax!”. Are you freaking serious? Just Google “countries with a carbon tax.” There’s a Wikipedia article on it for Christ’s sake. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have recommended journalists use Wikipedia for research, but geeze, it’s better that you use Wikipedia as a source instead of not using a source at all.
I don’t love this current government and I think the carbon tax probably has too many exceptions for industry that will impede a larger reduction in emissions (I support some for trade-exposed sectors, but it’s politically difficult to ‘take back’ exceptions as we progress), but at least they’ve had the balls to start something, even though sadly it is probably political suicide unless some other big distraction comes along between now and election time. If the opposition gets in at the next election, the whole policy could be rolled back as well…
But this whole debate has been a frustrating reminder of how political discourse in this country is somehow going downhill as our standard of living continues to increase (even though we cry poor and everyone brands themselves a ‘battler’) and how the media (with the exception of public broadcasters ABC and SBS, sadly not the media outlets of choice for most Australians) is relying more and more on creating the divisiveness that you see in the US along party lines, using punchy (incorrect) headlines rather than being the information providers they are supposed to be.
Perhaps the worst part of the debate is that disdain we have seen for the educated and for thinkers… the threats against climate scientists and policy makers etc. A hyper “tall poppy syndrome” whereby the educated are disregarded as out of touch elites… even though in Australia, I think it is safe to say that the overwhelming majority of Australians have access to quality government-funded education. It’s a mysterious drawing up of some sort of non-existant class war. Dear Australia… barely any of you are poor these days. People working in trades can earn far more than people working in academia, the media or the information industries. There is no class war except for the one you make up to distract yourselves from recognising your own affluence because doing that would clash with the underdog narrative.
It’s also astonishing to see how your “Average Australian” is still so parochial in their world view, despite the fact that our impressive growth has been driven by our engagement with other nations such as China. There is still this idea that Australia doesn’t need to take a lead on international affairs or issues. We’ve seen this reflected in criticism of Foreign Minister Rudd’s extensive international travel over the past year. Seriously. Criticism of the foreign minister going overseas. I still have the bruises from banging my head on the table after reading those stories…
It’s tiring to watch and I’ve found myself disengaging from the “debate” (mud slinging)… I think to myself “really should write something for insert media outlet here on this” but then the thought of trying to argue with a brick wall is so unappealing that I find myself descending further into the academic realm, bundling myself up with books in the library. Which is a bit lazy and goes against my feelings that we need to bridge the disconnect between academia and the mainstream. But honestly, further fueling the craptastic debate in the mainstream media around the climate tax depressingly feels as pointless as leaving your lights on when you aren’t at home…
Edit: I’ve just found someone who agrees with me and articulates it even better… check this one out.