Tick the youth box with climate change

Originally posted on http://www.onlineopinion.com.au 

The election is merely weeks away: 20 per cent of voters will be younger than 35, and one of their primary concerns is decisive action on climate change. Gillard took a bizarre leap on Friday and estranged all of these voters when she announced that there will be no carbon tax and no reconsidering of Labor decisions until 2012.

Community concern about climate change boosted former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd into leadership in 2007 with a massive primary-vote lead in the youth belt. This community concern also contributed to his recent demise as he failed to demonstrate decisive and effective leadership when it came to following through with 2007 promises to tackle climate change head on.

Gillard has a matter of weeks to cement her stance on climate change and to potentially capture or lose an important constituency in the coming election – the youth vote. Polling suggests she is well on the way to losing it, to the more progressive Greens.

Young people have the most to lose when it comes to climate change, and also the most to gain from strong, immediate action. Despite the direct correlation between this youth imperative and Rudd’s massive decline in popularity, after the shelving of the CPRS scheme, Gillard seems to have failed to realise the political cost – all other more significant costs aside – of not acting on climate change.

Gillard has been working through a checklist of somewhat controversial issues that were left unresolved after Rudd’s sudden departure during his first term. It has been a strange process watching our new PM take two steps forward and one step back.

Gillard acted immediately and with authority when she leapt to resolve the tensions surrounding the mining tax. She did, however, also compromise with one of the most unsustainable and environmentally damaging industries in Australia.

She then cleared the air with assertions that she wanted to end the petty rhetoric surrounding our border security, and then proceeded to try and dump asylum seekers on a country that has neither the capacity nor volition to receive them.

She spoke of the importance of not compromising our freedom to legitimately access information on the internet, and concurrently threw the internet filer bill back into a state of precarious uncertainty by putting it on hold for review sometime after the election.

It seems like Gillard’s going to try and play the same game with climate change. The problem is, young people understand the urgency and gravity of the situation and aren’t going to play ball with politicians focused only on short-term electoral gain; especially not when our long-term future is at stake.

It is looking as though Gillard’s climate strategy has three elements: first, she has emphasised the need for community consensus; second, she is expected to implement a direct action policy involving collaboration between energy companies to ensure households reduce their individual energy consumption; and third, she is not going to put a price on carbon.

To address each point in turn, one must question how much more of a “consensus” Gillard needs when all the research (including Newspoll surveys and CSIRO data) indicates that more than 70 per cent of Australians believe the science that climate change is happening and is caused by humans.

Furthermore, since when does the government need to wait for a “consensus” to act on scientifically proven facts? The whole concept behind having a society that’s based on different groups of people having different areas of specialised knowledge is so that those who have spent years researching and collating information can advise those who implement policy. Our scientists have been very clear about what is going on. Consulting a group of “ordinary Australians” who undoubtedly (like Gillard) lack that specialised scientific knowledge seems to be nothing more than a political tactic in the lead up to the election.

Governments are elected to make decisions based on the best research and best advice, which the community may not have access to. It is the government’s responsibility to act upon this advice, all of which points to immediate action to cut carbon emissions and invest in developing renewable energy.

Second, Gillard’s plan for a national energy efficiency policy is hardly the decisive, hard-hitting climate policy Australia needs. It is necessary and definitely a step in the right direction, but it does not go nearly far enough in cutting Australia’s carbon emissions. Furthermore, it puts the onus on individuals rather than big polluters.

Finally, the refusal to implement a price on carbon has left young people yet again questioning when their government will invest in long term and sustainable reform. A price on carbon is the only way we can sustainably shift our economy away from carbon and towards renewables in a way that holds big polluters responsible. Young Australians understand both the economic and environmental implications of delaying decisive action and are rapidly turning elsewhere for leadership as the latest Herald/Nielsen polls suggest.

One in every 5 votes this election will come from young Australians who are concerned about their future. While the CPRS was not the complete solution, Rudd shelving the plan was seen as symbolic of a back flip on his commitments to climate change. Young Australians turned rapidly away from Rudd looking towards Gillard for potential leadership, but, so far, Labor policy and the weak commitments of the Coalition are looking remarkably similar.

If Gillard wants to secure the youth vote this election, Labor needs to present a comprehensive plan to tackle climate change. Young Australians are aware of the need for immediate action and are tired of political rhetoric and endless delays.

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