Friday 6 September 2013

voting for the climate

My fellow Australians,

As you know, I'm a champion of 'voting with your wallet' to demonstrate support for environmental and social issues. This blog is practically dedicated to the notion that each eco-purchase, and decision not to over-purchase, is a vote toward a sustainable future.  (Thankfully this makes sustainability super fun, as seen in this post about Offspring style and this post about green Nashville.)

I'm even more passionate about the democratic voting process. Perhaps this passion is driven by my American heritage, or perhaps it's a result of hearing so much devastating news about citizens living under regimes and dictatorships in non-democratic nations. Whatever the source of my passion, the cliche is true - it's a right and a privilege to have a voice in how your country is governed. In fact, I've already exercised my right and voted from overseas. I voted for the climate.

Voting at the Australian consulate in LA - the Aussie
accents and news in the lounge were music to my ears!

This election there are a lot of hot button issues at stake. The Carbon Tax. Marriage equality. Refugees. The National Broadband Network. The economy. Did I mention the Carbon Tax?

As an environmentalist I've found this election campaign supremely frustrating. With all the talk about axing the Carbon Tax focusing on economics, the sense of urgency to respond to the realities of climate change has been lacking. UN Climate Science Chief Rajendra Pachauri recently provided a stark reminder of the seriousness of the issue with his statement that the climate fight is '5 minutes to midnight'.

This election, more than ever, the environment needs our help.

It is certainly not my place to tell you how to vote - I had a hard enough time making my own decision. But I would like to offer information on emissions and the Carbon Tax to help clarify the environmental policies of Labor, the Liberals and the Greens.

Climate science
  • All three major parties agree on the science of climate change. 
  • Kevin Rudd once called it 'the greatest moral challenge of our generation' but his passion has been somewhat lacking this campaign. 
  • Tony Abbot said in 2009 'climate science is crap' but now agrees it is happening and some of it is a result of human activity (thank goodness for Malcolm Turnbull and the rest of the science believers in the party). The Liberals will abolish the Department of Climate Change if elected.
  • The Greens, well, they are all about this stuff.

Emissions targets
  • The Greens have the most aggressive emissions cutting policies, committing to 25-40% reductions on 1990 levels by 2020 - the reductions recommended by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to stop temperatures rising more than 2 degrees Celcius - and net zero emissions by 2050. 
  • Labor and the Liberals have more modest targets of reducing emissions of 5-25% of 2000 levels by 2020. Labor is committed to an 80% reduction by 2050, and the Liberals will review the longer term target in 2015.
  • With current commitments from developed nations, we are looking at a 12-18% reduction of 1990 levels by 2020, well below the minimums set by IPCC, hence the increased urgency. (Sorry for the scary stats, but someone has to tell you!)

Carbon Tax
  • The Carbon Tax came into effect July 2012, charging money for pollution. The top 500 polluting companies in Australia are paying the tax, and they are *probably* passing these costs onto end-customers. (Mama Mia has a fabulous 5 minute guide to Carbon Tax and ETS.)
  • Emissions from the power supply (the largest segment of Australia's emissions) reduced by 7% in the first 12-months the Carbon Tax was in effect, though not all reductions can be attributed to the Carbon Tax. Power demand decreased by 5% during that year and has been on a steady decline since 2008 due to: renewables becoming more popular, energy efficient appliances expanding, rising electricity prices, and a spike in solar PV installations. Most experts agree the longer-term policies deserve most of the credit, but a price on carbon is helping the situation. 
  • Due to the decreased emissions, less revenue was generated from the Carbon Tax than predicted. Following a few changes in the budget, the net impact is around $1bn less over 4 years.
  • Both Labor and the Liberals plan to abolish the Carbon Tax. 
  • The Liberals propose the Direct Action policy, which remains vague and relies on government grant programs to achieve reductions. 
  • Labor proposes moving the planned Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) up one year to begin in July 2014. This would cause the price to drop (because of the global low price on carbon, the economic crisis in Europe has not helped), meaning polluters would pay less, potentially saving end-customers money, potentially encouraging more pollution.
  • The Greens want to keep the plan as is and transition to ETS in 2015 to ensure polluters continue to pay for what they emit.
  • The majority of Australians were frustrated with the 'Carbon Price lie' told by Julia Gillard, but now that the tax is in effect, 43% of Aussies believe it should be given at least a few years to work before the scheme changes.
  • Independent research has shown the Liberal's Direct Action plan cannot deliver the minimum 5% emissions reduction by 2020 at the proposed budget, requiring $4bn to $20bn more to reach the target. Tony Abbot has said he will not add more money to the budget, in effect ensuring Australia fails to meet its 5% emissions reductions target if he's elected.
Still with me?

I told you it wasn't looking good for the environment this year.

I know the environment is only one issue amongst a number of important concerns for Australians and will be just one consideration in your decision-making process. I ask you to remember that climate change impacts many facets of our lives now and into the future, and urge you to keep in mind the long-term health, social justice and economic benefits of voting for the climate now when you're selecting your preferences for your member of Parliament and the senate race tomorrow.

Whichever way you vote, I hope you can set aside the frustration that can come with choosing among a number of 'not quite perfect' candidates and appreciate the fact that you do have a voice. Together, we really can change the the course of environmental history. And if it all goes pear-shaped for the environment at the election this weekend, you can expect to see me at many more climate rallies, continuing to exercise my democratic rights.


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