Climate change is a lot like Christmas. You know it’s coming, in July when you can feel the distant rumblings of Jingle Bells as a friend tells you that there are only X days to go! It’s always there and while some of us make slow and steady plans for it throughout the year, the majority wait until the week before and go crazy trying to get everything done.
Humans in this metaphor are not the people making slow and steady plans for climate change; we know what it is, when it will arrive and what it will look like when it does but we are choosing to wait until the last moment, in the hope that we can pull it out of our collective arses, one last time. It’s been another big week for the global issue, with the schizophrenic US Government rebuking itself for releasing a report on the future economic effects of climate change and major riots in France about rising fuel prices.
But therein lies the headache with climate change legislation, how do you do it effectively but without being too drastic? We’ve seen in this last week the riots in France over diesel prices, which have risen around 23% over the past 12 months to €1.51 a litre. Prices have risen due to Macron’s administration raising the hydrocarbon tax by 7.6 cents per litre on diesel and 3.9 cents on petrol, in a bid to encourage consumers and businesses to use cleaner cars and fuel.
The move is a good one, in theory. In order to reduce carbon emissions, we all need to drastically change the way we travel and consume. Most economists/commentators argue that as consumers we are at the forefront of any action that needs to be taken against stopping climate change. That with our collective spending power we should be able to force governments into subsidizing, and corporations into producing, goods that are recyclable, carbon neutral and not as damaging to our planet and our health. This tax does just that, it is a calculated push onto the citizens of France to use public transport or buy a hybrid or electric car rather than relying on diesel cars that over-pollute. Macron’s policy is a policy that is necessary, taxing polluting fuels can be an effective way to reduce emissions but the policy is poorly executed. The tax burden will fall mainly on the poorest, who are also the least likely to be able to make changes to their lifestyle to reduce their carbon footprint.
But if you’re going to tax people more you need to find money to give back to them to balance the whole thing out. Tax diesel and petrol cars? Great, now electric and hybrid vehicles are heavily subsidized and you get a tax break for buying them, oh, and also public transport is now free in big cities. This policy, like most climate-based policy, seems to be aimed at how the individual consumer can reduce their waste, I.e. the plastic bag tax in the UK and does nothing to target big corporations and those who pollute the most in our society.
Most of the hundreds of thousands of people protesting are doing so because they are currently struggling to make ends meet. Increasing fuel prices does nothing to alleviate that struggle. Most of the protestors in Paris appear to be those who have travelled in from the countryside, those who often have no public transport option and cannot afford that fancy new, green car. The middle class around the world is at its closest to breaking point for a generation and the idea that blue- and white-collar workers alike can change their spending habits in order to put pressure on polluting industries is a fallacy. People don’t have enough money or ‘’disposable income’’ to completely overhaul the way they have lived for their whole lives, on the basis that the planet will become uninhabitable for future generations.
And that’s just it, that’s the sticking point with any climate policy. In order for humanity to survive the next 100 or so years we all need to drastically change the way we do everything, right now, not tomorrow or in 10 years time. But in order to facilitate that kind of change you have to go after the industries that currently do the most damage and those are the guys that currently keep our lights on and boy, are they pushing back against taxes and greater regulation.
That’s why we currently live in this backward world of politicians meeting every 4 years to get all worked up about emissions goals and setting big, ambitious global targets but then continuing to subsidise fossil fuel companies and in this country, allowing fracking to go ahead despite the constant protests against.
The average worker cannot bear the brunt of this change individually and that is why the question of climate policy often goes hand in hand with that of wealth distribution. The top 1% of citizens worldwide largely represent the corporations and industries that pollute the most and it is those individuals who do not want to see global change that will affect their bottom line. Governments need to be strong enough to push back against powerful industries and lobbyists, whilst also developing policies that help the average worker make sustainable and green choices that don’t cripple them financially. All of the interviews I’ve read with protestors in France speak of how they feel that the government does not listen to them or their concerns, that they pay already high rates of tax but from one politician to another nothing changes. It is this push back against the ‘’elites’’ that landed us with Brexit and Trump, as the voting public desperately tried to find a change from within the system. I believe that the only way to have true change is an aggressive policy of wealth re-distribution and a removal of outside money and influence from politics. Only then will people be free to implement the radical changes to our global economy and way of thinking, that is needed if we are to survive the next 100 years.