Everyday we see more commercial and state funded campaigns promoting individual action on climate change. We are told to switch off the light, turn off the tap and switch to ‘green energy’. But can our personal lifestyle choices alone save the environment?
More and more people are working hard to reduce their own personal energy consumption. Schools and communities everywhere are raising awareness on alternative energy, water conservation and sustainable living.
We are also being told to make the switch to ‘Green power in campaigns like ‘You have the power. Save Energy’ and ‘Make the Switch’. However choosing green power is very expensive at around $400 extra a year and is often limited to a certain percentage of over all household usage actually being from renewable sources. In Victoria for example only about 4 per cent of all energy produced is from renewable sources, while coal generates about 84 per cent of available electricity and results in 50 per cent of our greenhouse emissions.
Energy companies have been quick to cash in on the environment crisis, and in our willingness to take action. Green power sales are surging, over 8 per cent of Australian households already pay more for their electricity to ensure it’s environmentally friendly.
The concept that demand for clean energy will drive the increase in renewables is unfortunately limited. Consumer power alone cannot solve the crisis and in fact does nothing to challenge big business polluters such as coal producers and exporters of uranium. Nor does it stop the wastage of water and energy in agribusiness like cotton farming, or in factories. In Australia around 90 per cent of water usage is by agriculture and business while only 10 per cent is used by households. While water restrictions on residential properties are compulsory, big business has not been forced to cut back.
Reducing our domestic demand for coal-fuelled electricity or ‘black power’ is far from the solution when for example in Victoria the State Labor Government has recently increased and expanded our dirty brown coal production. Labor has also given major subsidies to these companies rather than invest in renewable sectors.
Carbon taxes are the other pro-market solution to climate change. These taxes increase the price of power and are a solution that parties like the Greens advocate. Carbon taxes were proposed in the recently released government commissioned Garnaut climate change report. Households are likely to be burdened with a hefty 30 per cent increase in power costs as energy retail giants pass on the cost of carbon. Rudd himself has said that this will lead to higher energy prices for all Australians.
The idea of this pro-market approach is essentially ‘buying the right to pollute’. Big business polluters and rich individuals are able to buy the right to degrade our environment. Carbon offsets and carbon taxes do nothing to actually REDUCE emissions. The obvious need is to stop the problem at the source.
The main culprits in producing greenhouse gases are the large energy giants like Exxon-Mobil, a company that continue to increase their emissions. It has been estimated that the changes we make at the personal level would account for at best 20 per cent of the change required. When scientific estimates say the world needs a minimum of 80 per cent reduction. The big energy guzzlers are not our hot water systems – but big business!
Meanwhile the new Rudd government has signed a Kyoto agreement that allows Australia to increase its emissions by 8 per cent, despite the election mandate for radical action on climate change. A Rudd government will also extend logging, and triple our uranium production. Rudd has clearly demonstrated his support for big business profits before real action on the environment.
Consumer style campaigns are in many ways a distraction to the urgent action needed, it’s going to take more than a flick of a switch, to make the change. While it’s clear that working people and youth are committed to tackling climate change, we need to resist being quietly coerced and co-opted into a commercialisation of the movement.
Clearly we need to make radical changes to tackle global warming and to reduce our emissions. This includes massive public investment in a free, expanded and efficient public transport; enforcement of greater energy efficient design in construction industries; phasing out our reliance on coal electricity, and uranium mining, and building alternative energy sources.
It will require radical action to tackle the big business polluters and to stop the massive government handouts that continue to put profits before the environment. We need to build a campaign that really takes on big business. If we allow the bosses to continue down this path the only guarantee will be that they destroy our planet.
By Kylie McGregor