<a href="http://www.gmagazine.com.au/blogs/leon#">The Business of Green</a>

The Business of Green

Money matters in the green world, by Leon Gettler.

Carbon conflict

Old Parliament House Australia

Australia's Old Parliament House in Canberra, with the flag of new Parliament House behind.

Credit: sxc.hu

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So the Government has announced we will have a carbon price in the lead up to an emissions trading scheme and the carbon wars have begun.

Part of the government’s problem is that the carbon tax will be coming in at a time when people are already paying higher prices for petrol and electricity. A carbon tax will make life more expensive and voters will be furious, some even more so because of what they see as Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s broken election promise of not introducing a carbon tax. Even though energy expert and RMIT professor Alan Pears says a carbon price of $30 per tonne would only cost about $3 - 4 each week.

That hasn’t stopped Tony Abbott and the Coalition from turning it into an election issue, pledging to scrap the carbon tax if they win office. "They'll be so appalled at this assault on their standard of living," Abbott says. "We will have a massive mandate to rescind this tax should it come in." Not surprisingly, business leaders have welcomed this.

The problem with this is the lack of certainty. The former United Nations climate change chief Yvo de Boer says we need a bipartisan approach and has questioned Abbott’s strategy. Business, he says, wants certainty. "What I hear from companies around the world is huge frustration that whenever an election happens somewhere in the world, policy is altered or reversed," he says.

The problem is there is about as much chance of bipartisanship as there is of Charlie Sheen pulling his head in.

Independent MP Tony Windsor has received a phone message calling him a liar, a dog and a rat, ending with "I hope you die, you bastard" and Liberal frontbenchers Sophie Mirabella and Senator Eric Abetz have compared Prime Minister Julia Gillard to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Why are things so polarized? Part of the problem, I believe, is that people have difficulty thinking about the effects of climate change 20 years down the track. As I point out in my column
here, the delicate psychology of climate change is an enormous issue. Most people have trouble thinking of a future 10 years away with many believing the far distant future would happen in their life time. This is a problem for governments which can only tackle climate change with a 30-40 year horizon. And they know voters will punish them if they try to do that.

Or as commentator Shaun Carney puts it, a carbon tax and emissions trading scheme will require us to change our lifestyles, and most people have trouble with that. Getting a carbon price policy in place will require the kind of leadership we haven’t seen from either party. "Man-made climate change is less tangible and requires faith in the science, and will involve vastly greater sacrifices and changes in behavior,"’ Carney says. "To get a carbon pricing policy across the line, political leadership of a quality that Australians have not seen for a long time will be needed."