Leanne Minshull's Op Ed from February 1, 2020: LEANNE MINSHULL: Taxpayers have already done our bit, now others who contributed to this mess should shell out
WHEN the Tasmanian budget was delivered in May last year, The Australia Institute queried the apparent lack of extra money for preparing for, and responding to, fires. In retrospect, we should have been asking, where is the adaptation budget to address the massive economic and social upheaval our human induced climate change is delivering us?
The bushfire tragedy across southeast Australia is almost too much for my brain to comprehend and far too much for my heart to bear. As brave emergency workers battle to protect people and homes and communities show extraordinary humanity to one another, it’s appropriate for those of us not in immediate danger to ask where the resources will come from to help put these shattered communities back together.
All sides of politics now agree climate change is making natural disasters like fires, floods, heatwaves and droughts more frequent and extreme. We learn as children that, if you make a mess, you need to clean it up. It’s a lesson our fossil fuel companies need to learn, and it’s up to our governments to teach it.
In 1988, scientist James Hansen told the US Senate “the greenhouse effect has been detected and is changing our climate now”. The International Panel on Climate Change was set up that year. From then, at least, fossil fuel companies could no longer plead ignorance of the consequences of their products — and some knew about human induced climate change well before then, because they were told by their own scientists. Rather than look at alternative energy, they funded climate denialism and derailed public policy, costing us decades of inaction. To add insult to injury, these activities were tax deductible: you and I helped to fund the climate chaos we are now experiencing.
Rather than fossil fuel companies slowing production, environmental disclosure organisation CDP has found that fossil fuels released more emissions from 1988 to 2017 than in the 237 years before 1988. Half of all emissions since 1988 can be traced to just 25 corporate and state producers. BHP Billiton is one of them.
The Australia Institute is proposing a National Climate Disaster Fund, funded by a levy of $1 per tonne of carbon dioxide on all coal, gas and oil produced in Australia. A $1 levy would currently raise about $1.5 billion a year.
Natural disasters have cost Australians more than $13 billion a year on average, and costs of this fire season is not yet known. Costs have been driven by a small number of events. The 2011 Queensland floods are estimated to have cost $14 billion. This event alone caused higher costs than the average annual cost of all disasters in Australia.
The Federal Government has promised a $2 billion reconstruction fund and has accepted more could be needed. A levy of $1 per tonne of carbon dioxide from coal, gas and oil is a small fraction of the economic harm caused by their emissions. The Social Cost of Carbon, a measure of social, economic, health and environmental harms, is conservatively estimated at about $60 per tonne. Fossil fuel companies have made a lot of money in the course of creating the climate crisis – it’s about time they were made to clean up some of their mess