11/16/2011 01:13 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Australia Acts With a Carbon Tax


I was having a bad day last week and Australia was nice enough to pick up my spirits. Thank you, Australia. Oh -- by the way -- they took the heroic step of laying down their own hard-earned money to help the future of mankind. That was nice too.

As you may know, last Wednesday was an emotional roller coaster for folks concerned about anthropogenic global warming. The news day started with the International Energy Agency's (IEA) determination that mankind has five years to take aggressive action to combat climate change. Beyond that, our climate could become a runaway train, inspiring the use of scary words like, "irreversible" and "catastrophic."

"After 2017, we will lose the chance to limit the temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius," says the IEA's chief economist, Fatih Birol, who is skeptical world leaders will take the kind of action we so desperately need.

One can't argue with such skepticism. President Obama campaigned for office with promises to take strong action against global warming, and his decision to delay a verdict on construction (or rerouting) of the Keystone XL pipeline is certainly an encouraging choice, but not the kind of sweeping, aggressive decision-making needed to avoid being flattened by the climate change train.

But just when I was feeling a sense of dread about the likelihood of bold action in the next five years, I saw an uplifting video from Australian activist group GetUp. The video announced that Australia has approved a carbon tax to be paid by the country's 500 biggest polluters. The average Australian is the most intense carbon polluter in the industrialized world -- and this tax is substantially higher than similar taxes in Europe - so successful passage of the Clean Energy Act is no small feat.

Critics argue the tax will cost jobs. Proponents claim it will lead to innovations in clean energy. There's one thing this tax undoubtedly does: Assign a tangible price to our carbon emissions. It shows that destruction of our climate comes with a price.

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