What's the Worst that Could Happen?


What is climate change anyway? I think before we get down to the serious business of perpetuating it, we should first try to determine exactly what it is. There are so many different sources out there — scientists, economists, idiots — that it’s hard to know just who to listen to.

But there are some basic facts that we can be fairly sure of. Those who dabble in science and other left-wing ideologies now believe that recent climate change on our earth has been caused by human activity; specifically, the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. To understand the concept better, it may help to imagine the earth as a giant bathtub. Then again, it may not. The main thing to remember is that we are pumping many millions of tonnes of noxious gases into the atmosphere, and that this is causing the world to heat up. The other thing to remember is that, like most of the world’s problems, climate change is China’s fault.

Now, one may well ask: why shouldn’t the world heat up? Isn’t it often cold and uncomfortable here on earth? Isn’t a more balmy atmosphere just what we need to chase away the blues? The answer to these questions, of course, is yes. But it is important to consider the flipside: you like it when it gets hot enough to go swimming, but you probably don’t like it when you catch on fire and die.

This simple example demonstrates a very powerful point at the heart of the climate change debate: there is such a thing as Too Hot. And so, for this and many other reasons mostly involving polar bears, we can see that while warmth is good, warmth is also very bad.

Not, of course, that we are all about to burst into flames; even the most pessimistic projections do not foresee that happening until 2025 at the earliest. But there are alarming consequences in store — drought, rising seas, smug Greens, etc — and this is why action has to be taken immediately to address the looming crisis.

So, what can we do?

Opinions vary widely. The coal industry, for instance, thinks a good response would be to buy lots of coal. On the other hand, conservationists think it would be good not to buy lots of coal.

Which side is right? Frankly, such a question is outside the purview of us in the media; our job is simply to present both sides of every issue, without bias, prejudice or analysis. We make no judgment on whether to believe the scientific consensus or the right-wing columnists, who possess the power of graphs. We leave the reader to make up his or her own mind, slow-moving and inadequate as it doubtlessly is.

The Government, on the other hand, had to make a decision, despite its better instincts. And its decision in this case has been to implement what is known as an Emissions Trading Scheme, or “ETS”, for the time-poor.

How an ETS works is this: the Government sets a cap on the amount of carbon that can be emitted, and companies then buy permits that allow them to emit a certain amount of carbon. This forces the price of carbon-intensive goods and services up, encouraging people towards renewable energy. The Government then gives money to carbon-intensive industries to compensate them for the higher prices, which encourages people away from renewable energy. And thus balance is maintained, and everyone is happy, except for Bob Brown, who is never happy and should probably just go live in a tree somewhere and stop bumming us all out.

But one of the most interesting developments in this story is the news that Australians are apparently willing to pay more for goods and services to help cut emissions.

Pay more? Pay more? I would like to state, quite categorically, that I do not support this madness. When I look at what has made this country great, I don’t see “paying more” on the list. I don’t think “self-sacrifice” or “altruism” or “community-mindedness” are the things that we built our great nation upon. I want to make myself clear: if the Government’s ETS causes me to have to pay a penny more for a single item, I will personally egg Penny Wong’s house. Believe me, I’ll do it; I’ve been trying to get her to notice me anyway, so it’ll be convenient. And if there is one principle I am willing to fight and die for, it is convenience.

So yes, go ahead and implement your precious trading scheme. I am totally on board with the idea of emissions caps, and market-based solutions frankly turn me all gooey inside. I don’t want the ice to melt, I don’t want the bears to die, I don’t want the islanders to sink beneath the ocean. But doesn’t $300 more for electricity seem a little … extreme? Isn’t there a simpler, more painless way to avert disaster, like bombing India?

And what is this obsession everyone suddenly has with riding bikes? My experience driving on the roads of Melbourne has indicated to me that people who ride bikes are, in fact, the most annoying people on earth. Is it worth joining this army of the blighted and godless, just to save a few measly exhaust fumes?

Thus we see once more the eternal tension between competing human interests in the climate change debate: environment versus economy, renewables versus the mining boom, carbon-free transport versus the innate urge to drive your car repeatedly over cyclists’ helpless prone bodies.

Of course it won’t come to that anyway. I mean the ETS — the dead cyclists will probably happen soon. We won’t end up needing an ETS. We’ll build a better solar cell, or cars that run on honey, or move the planet six clicks towards Mars, or something. Something will come up: it always does. Remember how we were so worried about Y2K? And everything turned out fine. Remember how we were so worried about Hitler?

So as abhorrent and downright unpatriotic as the idea of making people pay more for things seems to me, I’m not overly worried. In all my years on this earth, I have yet to suffer from a nightmarish global catastrophe. History’s on my side. I suggest we all relax, try to get some rest, and humour the Government while it goes through its little Save The Planet phase. What, after all, is the worst that could happen?

I mean, apart from that.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.