Howard’s trump card?

It seems that the suggestion that people should take responsibility for their own impact on global warming has made Clive Hamilton chuck a wobbly and write rather a nasty op-ed.

The answer is that Flannery’s book does not make life harder for the Government, but sends the sort of message the Government wants us to hear.

Flannery is an advocate of individual consumer action as the answer to environmental problems. Instead of being understood as a set of problems endemic to our economic and social structures, we are told we each have to take personal responsibility for our contribution to every problem.

This is music to the Government’s ears. The assignment of individual responsibility is consistent with the economic rationalist view of the world, which wants everything left to the market, even when the market manifestly fails.

Yet it is at best a naive, and at worst a reckless, approach to the looming catastrophe of climate change. The world did not eliminate the production of ozone-depleting substances by relying on the good sense of consumers in buying CFC-free fridges. We insisted governments negotiate an international treaty that banned CFCs. We did not invite car buyers to pay more to install catalytic converters, the greatest factor in reducing urban air pollution. We called on government to legislate to require all car makers to include them.

The idea that individuals should take some responsibility and that we should consider nuclear power has annoyed Clive Hamilton. Apparently Tim Flannery has lost sight of the main game of opposing the government as opposed to actually fighting global warming. As such saying anything the government may like is wrong, even if it is true.

It follows from his argument that Hamilton advocates that individuals should do nothing about the problem because it may stop the government from solving it for us. He goes on to claim:

When pressed, Flannery will call on government to act, too, but his consistent headline message is an appeal to consumers.

which seems blatently false. Its not hard to find numerous articles on the Internet with Tim Flannery advocating not only ratification of the Kyoto treaty but further government action to curb emissions. Consider this section from an op-ed extract from the Weather Makers. Or this interview with Tim Flannery where he states:

TF: It’s a very overwhelmingly large task but the solutions are quite simple. Carbon tax is the way forward. If we raise $1 billion taxing the polluters, we give $1 billion back as an income tax break to all Australians. Noone has anything to fear from that. It is simply making the polluter pay. A very straightforward process and something that would make an enormous difference. Most Australians would hardly register the sort of shift or any impact from that in their lifestyles.

Global warming is serious and should be a non-partisan problem, a problem of science. Yet Clive Hamilton seems to think that people should not state the truth if it sounds like something that his opponents would like. An attitude that questions the integrity of the research of the Australia Institute.

Individual actions unguided by policy from government are very unlikely to be a solution in itself, but might demonstrate people’s real commitment to the issue and push further government action. The idea that individuals shouldn’t be encouraged to express their individual ethical preferences is wrong. The idea that we should be not saying things that are palatable to our opponents is worse.


One Response to Howard’s trump card?

  1. Sacha says:

    Hi Steve,

    I like the new header!

    I havn’t read much of Flannery’s works or Clive Hamilton’s op/ed. If what you quote is a fair representation, then Hamilton doesn’t have his eye on the intended result, which is to reduce greenhouse gasses. I say use whatever way works!

    Changes in each individual’s behaviour can result in big changes in overall behaviour. Put in incentives for individuals to behave in particular ways, and you might get big changes.

    Something that scientifically trained people recognise is that you always have to open to the possibility that you might be wrong. Especially in areas such as politics and government policy, it’s good practise to look at what others say and ask it has merit. If the government is doing something fantastic, then that’s great – congratulate them.

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