The Sunday Telegraph”s “Carbon Cate” headline should have come as no surprise. Sure, it was a clever journalistic line in response to news that Cate Blanchett was heading the TV advertising campaign in support of a carbon tax. But Don Henry, the foundation”s executive director, should have seen it – or something like it – coming.
On ABC radio on Sunday, Henry seemed unprepared for the criticism, which demonstrates just how out of touch some inner-city environmentalists are with predominant views in the suburbs and regions. Blanchett is an admirable and successful Australian. Even so, many Australians who struggle to pay their power bills each quarter do not want to be lectured to by a multimillionaire film star.
Some supporters of a carbon tax have declared that Blanchett has a right to say what she likes and said that the Academy Award winner should not be criticised on the grounds that she is rich. Both points are obvious. However, at issue is the double standard.
Irrespective of her wealth, if Blanchett lived like Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa, it is unlikely there would be any reaction to her telling Australians that it is time to do something about climate change. But those Australians who know who Blanchett is well understand that she has a very large carbon footprint. Not only does she live in a Hunters Hill mansion but she travels the world to practise her art.
Granted, at some cost, she has put solar panels on her family home. And she may offset her travel by arranging for someone to promise to plant trees somewhere. Yet the fact remains that she believes carbon emissions threaten the planet, and if everyone lived her life, carbon emissions would soar.
Australians in the suburbs and regions understand this. They also feel that many who live in the inner cities or wealthy suburbs close to the CBD look down on them. Blanchett and her husband, the director Andrew Upton, gave a talk to the City of Sydney in March. They looked back in happiness at the inner city of the 1980s but said that, at this time, “the suburbs could feel flat and dry and filled with sinister silence underneath the crickets and sprinklers”. What snobbish bunk. (A personal declaration – I lived in the suburbs in the 1980s.)
One of the problems facing Julia Gillard is that so many of those who speak the loudest about the need to reduce carbon emissions have a personal carbon emissions footprint that would be the envy of most Australians.
Tim Flannery, head of the Climate Commission, travels the world calling for a reduction in carbon fuels. Tim Costello, World Vision Australia”s chief executive, is another inveterate traveller. So is Dick Smith, who apparently feels the need to travel the world, sometimes flying his own aircraft, in order to save the world.
This is a common phenomenon. The Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore, is a proselytiser for the environment. But she has been photographed travelling to work in a chauffeured car (even though she lives in the inner city) and owns a car with an off-street garage.
Shortly before Al Gore and his wife, Tipper, separated, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Gores had bought a mansion in Montecito with six fireplaces, five bedrooms, nine bathrooms and one pool. An eco-catastrophist such as the former United States vice-president should have been able to manage with, say, three fireplaces and a mere four bathrooms. Al Gore also claims to offset his emissions. But, again, who would offset what if everyone lived like Gore?
This year Sting made yet another visit to Australia as part of his Symphonicity tour. Interviewed by Julian Morrow on Radio National, he was asked whether he felt a tension between his “environmentalist beliefs and the lifestyle of an international entertainer”. The answer was, well, yes – but not really. Sting acknowledged that carbon offsets did not really work and that the criticism was justified but concluded: “I”m not given an alternative to do this life without burning fuel.” Morrow accepted this.
Support for the carbon tax is highest among well-educated Australians who enjoy relatively secure employment or comfortable retirement – many of whom live in the inner cities. Concern about a carbon tax is greatest among Australians whose jobs are not so secure or who live on retirement incomes where life is a daily struggle – many of these Australians live in the suburbs and regional areas.
Viewed from the perspective of the ABC studio in Ultimo, the top 1000 emitting companies tend to be regarded as the big polluters. Viewed from Wollongong and Campbelltown, they tend to be considered the big employers. Of all the members of the Gillard cabinet, the Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, understands this best.
Writing in her Open Salon blog last year, Ann Nichols put it this way: “It is very easy to preach about the value of the grass-fed, the solar, the phosphate-free and the organic when you are in a position to afford it all – or willing to decide for yourself that you can live without cars, meat or a washing machine.” That is a question of affordability. Double standards add to this frustration.
It is true that the wealthy miners such as Gina Rinehart and Andrew Forrest publicly opposed the Rudd government”s proposed mining tax. But they were urging others to do the same. It was a case of: “Do as I do.” The problem with the Australian Conservation Foundation”s advertisement is that the Blanchett line appears to be: “Do as I say but please don”t do as I do, lest the planet burn.” It”s not a credible message.
Gerard Henderson is executive director of the Sydney Institute.