The great carbon hypocrisy

Blanchett and carbonHypocrisy is embedded in the DNA of the Liberal Party, particularly since the turn from patrician conservatism to a right-wing populism that, by its nature, upholds well-salaried blowhards as the ordained representatives of the common folk. In response to Barnaby Joyce’s attack upon Cate Blanchett as rich and out of touch, it’s easy to point to Abbott’s enthusiasm for billionaire mining magnates, whose anti-carbon tax rally surely represented one of the more grotesque mobilisations in Australian political history: a cabal of wealthy parasites wrapping themselves in the banners of the oppressed, just to lower their tax threshold.

However much dosh Blanchett earns, it doesn’t compare to the wealth of Gina Reinhart – a woman who, let us not forget, inherited most of her pile from her father, Lang Hancock, whose Bedlamite politics she apparently shares.

And yet. And yet. And yet. The idiocies of Barnyard and his crew notwithstanding, it’s probably true that many people will object to a lecture on carbon pollution from Blanchett. And they will not be wrong.

Partly, of course, there’s a well-justified cynicism about celebrity politics, a cynicism that can be traced to two words that send shudders down spines all over the globe. One is ‘Bono’, the other is ‘Vox’.

But let’s leave aside the hideous history of activism by actors and rock stars. The more important point is that ordinary people do worry about tax increases, and they do suspect that well-meaning celebs don’t share their concerns.

The Left does itself no favours by simply dismissing such fears. The Labor Party – and most of the political class – take for granted that the only solution to climate change will be market-based. Yet, in the wake of the GFC, lots of people are deeply sceptical about the market and its solutions, and they rightly suspect that they will bear the brunt of the pain that’s coming.

The crew over at Left Flank have been for some time laying out the radical case against a carbon tax: see ‘The ETS and CPRS: Neoliberalism by any other name’ and ‘Science cannot save us’, for instance). As the climate news worsens, it seems more and more utopian to think that the environment can be salvaged with merely a few tweaks to the business-as-usual of neoliberalism.

But if thoroughgoing changes are needed, they’re only going to be possible with the active involvement of the population as a whole. In that sense, yes, it’s right to take the message directly to the people. But the current approach sees ordinary people as political consumers rather than political agents. Which is why I don’t think it will work.

The Liberals are hypocrites: a party of cynicism and voodoo science. But we knew that, and in and of itself it doesn’t make the alternative any less inadequate.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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  1. Ads are full of actors all the time. The cult of celebrity is all part of the capitalist problem. However, I think it’s any and every actor’s right to follow their passion for activism, if they want to, regardless.

    Though this is possibly NOT the point of the article.

  2. I should have mentioned something about how Barnyard has targeted Carbon Cate and not Michael Caton, presumably because he plays knockabout blokes on the big screen and thus can be less easily smeared as an elitist. It is the politics of make-believe.

  3. Are you on crack? You seem blissfully unaware of the reality of internal Liberal views using the usual tactic of Barnaby bashing to bolster a non-argument. The reason Barnaby hasn’t had a crack at Caton is because Caton responded AFTER Barnaby. BTW, Barnaby is dead right. Why should a rich celebrity dictate how much money I should pay for carbon? The argument isn’t about whether CB shouldn’t have a view but whether she should be using our money to promote this tax the I will have to pay and unlike CB and MC, I can’t afford to. Particularly since it will have ZERO effect on carbon emissions.
    Your last paragraph is typical of red-ragger rhetoric and a disgraceful display of ignorance. If that is your view of the Liberal point of view then you are wrong.

    • “Our” money? It’s not a government ad.

      As for whether a rich celebrity should “dictate” how much the carbon price is, are we better off leaving it to self-interested mining magnates?

      • From memory the “self interested mining magnates” (who have enriched countless Australians thanks to their enterprising activities – unlike either Blanchett or Gillard) are opposed to a tax. So given a choice of supporting somebody who wants me to pay money for something that might do something about something that might be a problem (with no clear outline of precisely what that impact will be), vs somebody who doesn’t want to put their hand in my pocket – I choose the latter.

  4. Carbon Cate does herself no favours – “do as I say, not as I do”. She falls into the Al Gore class of clueless, posturing hypocrite. Does anyone really think that Al flies in a special zero-emission, solar-powered private jet? That the diesel generators at his home run on carbon-free dead dinosaurs?

    Of course Cate has every right to express her opinions on any topic she chooses – but with that right comes the equal right of others to scrutinise those opinions, and to take her to task for her rampant hypocrisy and cluelessness.

    Tell us, Cate, in simple terms – how much warming will be avoided if Australia imposes a tax on CO2? To what extent will global temperatures be impacted? If we compensate consumers, how will consumer behaviour change?

    Enquiring minds want to know.

  5. The wonder of the Liberal party attacks is that we’re now talking about Cate rather than whether she’s got a point. hey presto! The Labor party loses another opportunity to sell their message.

  6. A great post, Jeff, and cheers for linking to Left Flank.

    Lest anyone think that it’s an inadvertent mistake, Ross Garnaut has made clear in his report who will pay for the minimal industry restructuring that will be produced by this price signal approach:

    “Australian households will ultimately bear the full cost of a carbon price. Returns to capital are determined in international markets and any reduction in them by domestic policy measures is temporary, except to the extent that the policy measures fall on rents from natural resources, monopoly or technology.” [Emphasis added]

    It’s monstrous, really: As John Passant points out even a $40 price will only make gas electricity generation attractive to invest in, and a $100 price is the bare minimum to drive investment in renewable energy (which would also drive many families over the edge financially).

    And when people say that this approach is more “efficient” than direct investment in renewables, what they really mean is that it is more efficient for capitalist profitability. To see so many on the soft Left backing this is only illustrative of how neoliberalised their ideology has become, and how despairing they are of real action on climate change.

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