Last Friday the debate about the carbon tax hit the height of ridiculousness.
Federal Member for Higgins Kelly O’Dwyer posted a photo of her and Senator Eric Abetz standing in front of a furniture store with its owner. Emblazoned on the store’s windows were the words ‘The thanks to Julia closing down sale’. O’Dwyer later tweeted that the owner had said he had been forced to downsize because of Gillard’s carbon tax, IR and super laws (a claim which was quickly refuted).
While O’Dwyer’s tweet was simply laughable, it is the epitome of the ridiculous nature of the carbon tax debate, particularly when it comes to the issue of jobs. Since the carbon pricing bill was introduced, our political leaders have shown a mix of mass hysteria and a complete lack of courage when tackling the question of what will happen to carbon intensive jobs.
Jobs are probably one of the hottest topics in modern political debate. Unemployment figures are seen as a key indicator of the success of a government. The ability to either create (or destroy) jobs is often included as a major factor indicating the success or failure of almost every government program.
Given the challenge climate policies make to carbon industries, therefore, it makes sense that jobs have been a hot debate topic. We have seen this played out dramatically in relation to the carbon tax. On one side, Tony Abbott has screamed that the tax will be a ‘job killer’, while Julia Gillard has defended it by saying it won’t cost jobs in carbon intensive areas such as the mining industry.
Within this debate, however, one idea is lacking. Very few have been willing to get up and say that ‘yes, some jobs will be lost, but this is a reality that we must face – in fact, as a society we should consider the loss of these jobs as a good thing’.
Beyond the economic benefits they provide to individuals, jobs primarily provide value to our society if they result in the production of a product or service that is of value to the community. Jobs also need to operate in a way that sits within our value systems, and the services and products they produce should not result in significant harm to society.
It is these sorts of conditions that are the reason why people are no longer hired to sell slaves. They are also why we eliminated the jobs that resulted in the production of asbestos and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCS). They are why so many former professions no longer exist. As new knowledge or new social norms have arisen, our society has made active choices that we no longer want particular services or products. As these products and services went out the door, so did the jobs surrounding them.
Yet our climate change debate is lacking this sort of analysis. In acknowledging the harm that greenhouse gasses have the likelihood to cause, many have yet to acknowledge that the jobs that go into producing them are causing enough problems for society that they have to go.
This is highly likely due to the very large-scale nature of the industries we are talking about when it comes to climate change. Fossil fuels underpin our energy systems and therefore there are a significant amount of jobs involved in them.
However, at some point we need to be able to get up and have the courage to say that due to the long-term harm they are causing, the fossil fuel industry and the jobs that are linked to it are no longer wanted by our society. While this is difficult for the people involved, we have to be able recognise that some jobs need to go because they are causing more harm than good.
This of course doesn’t mean that climate policies are bad for the jobs market as a whole. For example, the Clean Energy Package puts significant investment into clean energy projects through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This will help create many new jobs in non-carbon intensive industries. While individual jobs will be lost in the fossil fuel industry, the net benefit on the job market and unemployment as a whole has the potential to be high.
On top of this, when as a society we decide to shed jobs in industries that we are moving away from, it is essential that we provide support for those who have suffered due to this change. While the loss of these jobs will be good for society, it is undoubtedly difficult for those directly involved, particularly for people who have been in the field for a long time.
It is essential therefore that we help the people working in those industries gain meaningful employment elsewhere. The communities that are supported by these industries should also be given support to help build new industries. Putting investment into ensuring these transitions are easy as possible is much more effective than propping up an industry that is causing significant harm.
When discussing climate policies we shouldn’t necessarily fear the loss of individual jobs. Climate policies are about a transition away from carbon-intensive industries and jobs to ones that are cleaner and safer for our community. While this will be a difficult transition, it is not one we should shy away from. Instead, we need to embrace its reality.