Youth lose out as pollies squabble over climate change action

Originally posted by Sydney Morning Herald, National Times 

So much for the image of the booze-swilling teen, the derelict university student or the pampered college student. According to the recently released findings of the Lowy Institute, young people are very much willing to put their money where their mouths are, particularly on action to mitigate climate change.

The institute’s annual poll canvassed the opinions of 1000 people on a rage of topics — including climate change. While its findings are being touted as evidence for declining public support for action on climate change; more likely the results are simply evidence of the issue’s three-year stint as a political football.

The one stakeholder, in fact the largest stakeholder, whose support for strong action on climate change has not waivered, is young people, who have the most to lose from inaction. They face declining job opportunities, financial security and environmental stability if politicians in Canberra fail to put a price on pollution and take action on climate change to the next step.

As a rule of thumb young people are less financially stable than most older people because of lack of long-term employment and juggling studies with part-time jobs as well as managing the high cost of living in rental properties in cities. That’s not to say that older people do not incur the costs of supporting families or meeting mortgage payments, or that some young people don’t have it easy. Simply, young people often struggle to subsist.


Yet, despite the lack of secure or regular employment and the absence of a safety net of savings; it is young people who are willing to pay a little extra to fight climate change. Young people have the most to gain from action on climate change, and the most to lose from political games and indecision. They understand that a price on pollution now is not only a wise economic decision, but is critical for the development of new, renewable industries that will provide jobs for young people and ensure the survival of our planet.

Ultimately, the reported increase in the number of people not prepared to pay for action on climate change is probably not a big a worry. This is partly because there is evidence to suggest that public opinion is once again in favour, with more than 45, 000 Australians hitting the streets a few weeks ago in support of a carbon price; and partly because (notwithstanding the pending policy itself) all signs indicate that Australian families are not going to be hit with a jacked up electricity bill.

The proposed carbon price targets the top 1000 biggest polluters in Australia – not small businesses who will go under as a result; not middle-tiered businesses who will pass down the cost to consumers. The carbon price targets the biggest 1000 polluting companies who have been pumping emissions into our air for decades, paying nothing for their waste. Those businesses make up less than 1 per cent of the businesses in Australia; yet they are responsible for 75 per cent of the carbon pollution that is contributing to dangerous climate change.

The Gillard government has committed to making sure that the carbon price really does hit that tiny 1 per cent and not the average Australian family. Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has promised that at least half the revenue made from the scheme will go to helping families struggling with household bills, and the rest will be used to help industries move to a sustainable economy.

The multi-party climate change committee is expected to finish its deliberations on the carbon price this week, maybe next, and the political process of tweaking and reforming the carbon price will begin. It is during this period that politicians will be especially responsive to the views of the Australian public. Not the lists of condensed and over-simplified A, B, C or D options presented by the Lowy Institute – but the concerns of Australian families wanting to safeguard their children’s future but not compromise their standard of living, the views of farmers concerned about a future that’s more natural disaster prone and the risk that poses to their livelihoods, and the views of young people who have everything to lose from a lack of political leadership, and everything to gain from a little long-term planning and decision making.

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