Choice not Mandate – Prime ministerial drivel.
Prime Minister Morrison has declared he will deliver net zero carbon emissions by 2050 the ‘Australian Way’ through ‘choice not mandates’, underwritten by ‘can-do capitalism’. - What a load of marketing drivel.
“Can-do capitalism” has long been the problem, not the solution. Capitalism insists on the removal of limits. Living in a carbon neutral world is about living with limits. Paradoxically, understanding and living with appropriate limits is about more, not less, it is about true freedom.
Governing is about regulating limits, budgets direct money there, but not here. Why is it so hard for the Morrison government to govern in relation to climate change? It is strange that the Morrison government, festooned as it is with self-described Christians, fails to act on one of Christianity’s most fundamental precepts - to live a disciplined life within clear boundaries. ‘What you give away you keep: what you hold onto you lose’. It reminds one of GK Chesterton’s brilliant quotes: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”
Choice is a gift exercised by the wealthy and privileged. Its absence defines what it means to be poor. In the capitalist world choice is about product and profit. In a civilised world choice is about equity and fairness - ethics.
Can-do capitalism avoids paying for the pollution inherent in production. Can-do capitalism hides its profits in the Cayman Islands. Can-do capitalism uses is wealth to extract grants and permissions that enable further wealth accumulation, even when it is clear the permission granted is harmful to the environment, and the lives of others. Can-do capitalism has enabled the top 5 – 10% to grow extraordinarily wealthy (even in a pandemic or global recession) while the rest stagnate. Can-do capitalism benefits from tax provisions and exemptions which by implication place an unfair tax burden on salaried workers. Can-do capitalism seeks ways to minimise wages and maximise profits. Can-do capitalism is inspired by the doctrine of the individual and repudiates the doctrine of the common good.
In face of the covid pandemic the existential threat to health was considered so great that for a time the overriding priority normally given to the right of the individual in Australian political life was overridden by a perceived greater need to serve the common good. Remarkably, both sides of the political spectrum, accepted scientific advice, and for a while at least, governed and regulated for the common good, despite minority protests and screams to the contrary. Notwithstanding mistakes and hiccups, Australia has fared better than most countries and Morrison will be banking what he hopes will be credit for this achievement, as he approaches the forthcoming election.
Why is it that the same dedication and commitment to science and common good cannot be given to the challenge of climate change, which, in the sweep of history, will be shown to be existentially more dangerous than the pandemic?
What Morrison apparently lacks the wit to understand is that it was the mandated restrictions that provided Australians with the opportunity and choice of living relatively free lives compared with the rest of the world. It was the mandating of these provisions and their general acceptance across the breadth of civil life, that saved the health system, the economy, and future lives. The overwhelming majority of Australians opted to make the ethical choice of abiding by the mandated restrictions. A small minority chose non-ethically, causing further restriction and anxiety on many.
Mr Morrison comes from the world of marketing where ‘choice’ is understood in terms of comparing one product with another. It is not a word that carries ethical value, unless perhaps your choice is based on a product being ‘fair trade’, Australian made, or similar category. I suspect only a tiny minority of decisions in Mr Morison’s marketing background carry any ethical value.
But in the challenge of global warming this is far from the case. Indeed, it could be argued the opposite is true. As Glasgow has demonstrably shown, it is only if all players accept that this challenge is a universal moral obligation, that headway will be made. We are morally obliged because everyone must pull their weight. We are morally obliged because we are a wealthy and privileged nation. We are morally obliged because per head of population we are heavy emitters. We are morally obliged because we are deciding for future generations in a matter over which they have no say. We are morally obliged because our neighbours are sinking
From government to business, farming to banking, large corporations to individuals we have a moral obligation to do whatever we can to reduce emissions and restrict global warming. This statement is no longer contestable
For the wealthy there will be ample choice to act ethically. The only inhibitor will be where the wealthy position themselves on the scale of moral maturity. On the bottom of that scale choices will be motivated solely by self-interest. Higher up the scale, choices will be motivated by a desire to make the world a better place.
However, making choices that include care of the environment will be almost beyond reach for the poorest third of Australians without assistance. In my visits to some of the poorest places on earth, I noted that providing a meal often meant denuding the landscape – a terrible and painful dilemma.
The capacity of middle Australia, and the poorest in the community, to make ethical choices must be enhanced through government regulation. Government has plenty of levers at its disposal. It can and should require a minimum standard of vehicular emissions. It can and should immediately cease all fossil fuel subsidies. It can and should legislate the highest standard of insulation in public housing and private rentals. It can and should lower taxes and import tariffs on electric vehicles. Etc.
It is not a matter of demanding that people buy a certain vehicle, live in a certain home, or travel in a certain manner. But it is a matter of making ethical choices accessible to the majority and unethical choices more expensive.
The slogan which the Morrison government is apparently taking to the next election is not about choice as the slogan would have us believe. Their actions, rather than their words, indicate they have no intention of making ethical choices within reach of most people as we face the daunting task of avoiding a much-reduced future for the planet, and all life on it.