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A carbon tax is good for Australia’s mental health

Let’s face it; we just don’t like the word “tax”, do we? Such a brouhaha, such a fuss. But let’s just take a break from the group hysteria to look at the carbon tax from a few different points of view…

Facing up to our carbon responsibilities might make Australians happier. the waving cat/Flickr

Let’s face it; we just don’t like the word “tax”, do we? Such a brouhaha, such a fuss. But let’s just take a break from the group hysteria to look at the carbon tax from a few different points of view and think about why, in the end, we can’t help but love the carbon tax.

It’ll cost either way: let’s take the cheap option

First, let’s get it into perspective.

Unmitigated climate change will be a lot more expensive and the cause of much more anxiety and financial loss than a carbon tax.

The twin impacts of climate change and peak oil will drive up prices of food, water, petrol, electricity, transport, housing and telecommunications, not to mention the huge unexpected costs incurred by increasingly intense and frequent extreme weather events.

A number of authoritative resources (including the Stern Review and the Garnaut Review) have shown the costs of inaction far outweigh the costs of action now.

Perhaps we could see the carbon tax as training wheels, getting us incrementally used to the rise in the cost of living and accompanying lifestyle adjustments that climate change will inevitably demand.

Will a carbon tax make us as sick as climate change?

So much for the financial costs; but what are the health costs? Of a carbon tax? Negligible. Of climate change? Huge.

Costello and colleagues writing in the Lancet, found that climate change is regarded as the biggest health threat of the 21st Century.

Climate change impacts on health in multiple ways: directly, through acute or traumatic effects of extreme weather events and a changed environment; indirectly through distress, anxiety about future risks; and psychosocially (that is, chronic social and community effects of heat, drought, migrations, climate-related conflicts, and post-disaster adjustment). Doherty and Clayton summarise this well.

Ultimately, there is no health on a dead planet.

Perhaps we could see the carbon tax as one small but necessary effort towards reducing the human contribution to the emissions driving climate changes that are already having such significant physical and psychosocial impacts around the world.

Acknowledging the truth and taking action is good for your mental health

This is the leadership that so many Australians have been waiting for: the political will to acknowledge the reality of climate change, start to take responsibility for cutting the fat off our own shamefully high per capita emissions, take a proportionate part in an effective global agreement, and join the pioneering countries in global efforts to reduce climate risks and protect the most vulnerable people and environments around the planet.

Psychologically, this goes some way towards lifting the morale of the Australian people. For many Australians, our past pitiful performance on global climate change has been an embarrassment. Over the last few years, on the global scale, Australia has contributed little or nothing to global efforts to mitigate against climate change.

Now, finally, we have a counter to the dread, anxiety, and overwhelming helplessness that so many Australians experience when they face the realities of climate change.

Psychologically, it is very hard to face the fear if we have no way of reducing the threat. Individual efforts go only so far; deep down, we all know that we have no chance unless governments and big businesses adopt pro-environmental policies and behaviours.

So perhaps we should really be jumping for joy at the proposed carbon tax - finally, a genuine effort by our own government to reduce the pollution that big businesses contribute to our national emissions.

Perhaps, marginally, this effort can reduce our anxiety, and stop some of us from turning away and denying the climate change problems. Behaviourally, it supports our own individual efforts to reduce emissions.

An extra $3 on airfares, an extra $9.90 a week on living expenses for some of us: let’s not forget that Australians spend an average of $4000 a year on alcohol. It won’t kill us. It won’t even threaten our way of life.

So let’s not sweat the small stuff. A climate tax will have a very small financial effect on householders, and the less energy we consume, the less it will cost. It might even act as an incentive to begin transferring to zero carbon services and products, an urgent and necessary change we must all make if we are to limit global greenhouse gas emissions in the hope of avoiding the worst impacts of runaway climate change.

Let’s let the carbon tax afford us a glimmer of hope that maybe, together, we can limit climate change to a degree where the planet can still sustain life in all its wild and wonderful forms. Gotta love that carbon tax!

This article was co-authored by Dr Susie Burke, who is Senior Psychologist, Public Interest, Environment and Disaster Response at the Australian Psychological Society.

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20 Comments sorted by

  1. Tom Harris

    logged in via Facebook

    It is very unlikely that global warming will cause increased extreme weather. If the world warms due to increasing greenhouse gas emissions, temperatures at high latitudes are forecast to rise the most, reducing the difference between arctic and tropical temperatures. Since this differential drives weather, we should see weaker midlatitude cyclones in a warmer world and so less extremes in weather, not more.

    It is also a mistake to blame human activities for current weather extremes. For example…

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    1. Byron Smith
      Byron Smith is a Friend of The Conversation.

      Ministry assistant, ecologcal ethicist and PhD candidate at University of Edinburgh

      In reply to Tom Harris

      (a) " Since this differential drives weather, we should see weaker midlatitude cyclones in a warmer world and so less extremes in weather, not more." You confuse cyclones with extreme weather. Droughts, heat waves and floods are not caused by or associated with the strength of midlatitude cyclones. These are the kinds of extreme weather that the IPCC AR4 focuses on as becoming more likely under a warmer climate.

      (b) The NIPCC is recognised as a scientific authority by which other scientific bodies?

      (c) Cyclonic trends are discussed in careful detail in IPCC AR4 and your characterisation is significantly misleading.

    2. Tom Harris

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Byron Smith

      Climatologist Dr. Tim Ball ( answers your question: "I do not confuse cyclones with extreme weather although many of them are related to cyclones. For example, blizzards, excessive rainfalls, and tornadoes all result from cyclonic activity. The cyclones form along the Polar Front and the Rossby Waves that form in the Front determine heat waves and droughts as blocking systems develop. The Waves migrate from west to east on a 4 to 6 week basis. however, when cooling occurs the cold air advances and the Wave amplitude increases and if large enough blocking occurs so the weather pattern changes to 8 to 12 weeks. It is these prolonged patterns that create heat waves or flooding depending on where you are relative to the Wave pattern. In addition, the IPCC claim of more drought with warming is counterintuitive. Warmer air means more evaporation creating more moisture in the atmosphere with greater potential for precipitation."

    3. Tom Harris

      logged in via Facebook

      In reply to Byron Smith

      Byron: You seem to have missed the purpose of the the NIPCC (see It is a compendium of peer reviewed science papers that give views and research results that are generally contrary to many of those expressed by the IPCC. It is not attempting to be a scientific authority in itself.

      The rest of this posting is what Dr. Madhav Khandekar (Canadian extreme weather consultant and an IPCC AR4 Expert Reviewer) has to say about your statements:

      "... climate sensitivity (temp…

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  2. Marc Hendrickx


    Definition of "Unmitigated": Not diminished or moderated in intensity or severity; unrelieved.

    If future climate change were indeed of this order, one might agree that some form of action is necessary, however use of this word as an adjective to describe the likely effects future climate change man made or otherwise, even some of the more improbable IPCC scenarios, is hyperbole of the highest order. Sorry, the use of the phrase "Ultimately, there is no health on a dead planet." as a vision of the…

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    1. Troy Barry

      Mechanical Engineer

      In reply to Marc Hendrickx

      I stopped reading the article at "dead planet". There's no particular shame in a psychologist having a poor understanding of climate, but surely that should have been picked up by the editor? As it is, Ms Gridley's extreme beliefs about climate change probably limit the value of her conclusions about the associated population psychological effects. My unqualified and inexpert prescription for anybody suffering stress at the thought of a "dead planet" is to improve their exposure to mainstream climate science - there is some good information right here at The Conversation, or they could read the whole Stern and Garnaut reports rather than summaries and second hand reports.

  3. Robert Vincin

    logged in via email

    There is no clean energy on horizon, wind solar take 14 years to pay back the energy for raw materials fabrication transport, erection, connect to grid, operate and dispose of in a 15 year life cycle. Coal burning is de-facto volcanoes the emissions ultimately becoming life supporting nitrates and sulphates. As jobs are being lost to other mining nations coming on stream we need to view the bigger picture. There was the Romans, Brits, USA, Japan, briefly Australia now China.
    The goal posts have…

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  4. Andrew Vincent

    Marketing . Communications . Multimedia

    This article seems to think that we will have a carbon tax OR climate change. But if there is no global action on the issue we will have a carbon tax AND climate change.

  5. Robert Vincin

    logged in via email

    Having toured with UN most of worlds man made deserts and recognising the mass reflector energy pre heating incoming suns heat and recognising that CO2e (equivalent) has all increased over past 300 years and recognising 54 nations have passed red line of sustainable soil and recognising the UN and agencies are reporting environmental refugees are moving to like impacted nations and recognising that Asia Major are opening up worlds largest copper coke coal and like mines and manufacturing and as they have no soil fodder and sufficient food and potable water and buying up Australian soil for food I would suggest man has made one real impact and putting cables underground and insulating building is akin to moving the deck chairs. Robert Vincin

  6. Gerald Thomas


    Talk of "unmitigated climate change" and "glimmer of hope" just adds to the increasingly obvious fact that the whole issue of climate change is shaping up as a worldwide debate between Climatologists (such as Trenberth) who are no doubt good at forecasting local weather, and Physicists (such as Prof. Nahle, Knox and Douglass and Cotton) who are now coming in on the act and pointing out in no uncertain terms (a) that there has been no climate change since 2003 and (b) that the physics of quantum mechanics…

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  7. Felix MacNeill

    Environmental Manager

    Heather, this article suffers from being incurably rational and honest - no wonder it has attracted the usual denialist nonsense.

    thanks, nonetheless!

    1. Gerald Thomas


      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      I'm more interested in whether Trenberth's data is "rational and honest" - Knox and Douglass certainly didn't think so. It bears repeating that they showed that ocean heat has not increased at all since 2003.

      And NASA sea surface data reinforces what Knox and Douglass said - the last 12 months has (on average) been cooler than the 12 months of 2003.

      The gradient of the temperature trend from 1 Jan 2003 to 19 August 2011 is statistically significantly different from that predicted by each and every model used by the IPCC.

      Now how about talking about these facts Felix?

    2. Andrew Vincent

      Marketing . Communications . Multimedia

      In reply to Gerald Thomas

      The study is 2003-2008. 5 years is enough to constitute a trend now?? You can't talk about 'statistical significance' on such short time scales. Nature is too noisy.

    3. Gerald Thomas


      In reply to Andrew Vincent

      I am talking about over 7.6 years. (Please re-read my post.) And yes that is sufficient to show a statistically significant variation in gradient with over 99% confidence, especially since the gradient is now negative.

      There is a good reason for starting in 2003 because it took until then for the influence of El Nino to get right out of the system. Any trends that include the El Nino period should be ruled invalid (including the build up in the decade or so before El Nino - it being by far…

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    4. Gerald Thomas


      In reply to Andrew Vincent

      Continuing ... The period quoted does of course span 8.6 years, but I only claimed 7.6 years because out Climate Research Group used 12 month running means calculated each tenth of a year from 2003.5 to 2011.1 = 7.6 years.

      Now, to explain why noise is very low, look yourself at the NASA data, select "Sea Surface" and tick all years ....

      You will see a very regular pattern each year (due in part to varying distance from the sun) and, when that annual…

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    5. Andrew Vincent

      Marketing . Communications . Multimedia

      In reply to Gerald Thomas

      You're comparing the mean of two 12 month periods 7 years apart? By eye? And that constitutes a trend? Is that enough to claim that 60+ years of global warming has stopped?

      "...when that annual cyclic pattern is allowed for, the remaining noise is extremely low as you can see visually. This makes for a high degree of confidence in trend analysis..." What of variance in TSI? ENSO oscillations? What of increased sulphate output from China's coal stations? You don't think these should be taken into consideration when drawing trend conclusions from temperature graphs?

      Hey if global warming has reversed I'll be the first to be dancing in the streets but I see no evidence of this.

    6. Andrew Vincent

      Marketing . Communications . Multimedia

      In reply to Gerald Thomas

      "nice level keel since January 2003 until now (up till 2 or 3 days ago.) And all at a time when CO2 levels were the highest on record."

      All you are doing is demonstrating there is not a direct linear relationship between temp and CO2. We know this. Other factors are certainly involved.

      CO2 will never effect climate? Yeah let's hear it

  8. Karen Coghlan


    Recent US research published in the journal Global Environmental Change, "Cool dudes: The denial of climate change among conservative white males in the United States" showed that "conservative white males" were more likely to be climate change deniers than other groups.

    Fess up you fall into this category?

    1. Adam Stevens

      Electronics Engineer

      In reply to Karen Coghlan

      This can be extended to state that conservatives tend to be skeptical of CAGW whereas liberals tend to accept CAGW. This is generally true within the scientific community as well as the general population. That makes this a political, not a scientific, issue.