First published in Messages, the Newsletter of the French charity Secours Catholique whose world-wide humanitarian organisation is called Caritas, this interview was conducted by Catherine Rebuffel and translated from the original French by Marilyn Kay Dennis.
Michel Rocard, the inventor of the carbon tax, has seen his idea transformed into legislation. He defends the necessity of penalising the production of greenhouse gases on a world-wide scale.
The idea of a carbon tax is very much frowned upon by public opinion. How can it be defended?
Michel Rocard: Public opinion is free to want the Earth to become a frying-pan in seven or eight generations, or to see life become impossible… We are going to have to completely change our way of living. We need to use airtight heating, consume food products which are economic in greenhouse gases or methane, develop electric or biocarburant cars. The role of the tax will be to incite people to change their way of living.
Isn’t the introduction of this tax an admission of the failure of the greenhouse gas emission permit market invented in Kyoto ten years ago?
M.R.: In fact, the European Union is the only group of countries in the world which applied it. On top of that, this system is the object of an appalling speculation by businesses, whose aim is to make money out of it, instead of changing their way of doing things. As it only concerns businesses which are primary producers of greenhouse gases, it doesn’t take into account the transport sector, for example.
For the last thirty years, governments have largely favoured road transport. Today, road users will be the first to be penalised…
M.R.: We are in a democracy and governments are the elected representatives of the people, with mission to transform into law the wishes of public opinion; as long as public opinion doesn’t want it, nothing is possible. On the other hand, the expert opinions of the scientists is conclusive. And they took more than twenty years to reach an agreement on this question. I would add that France has the great advantage over its neighbours of producing 90% of its electricity by nuclear power, which emits practically no greenhouse gases.
Certainly, but the debate on nuclear waste remains…
M.R.: It is true that nuclear activity produces radioactive waste which lasts from 10 to 100,000 years. But the greenhouse effect will make life impossible in less than one thousand years! The scale is not the same! From now until then, we will have learned perhaps to better re-treat the waste.
Won’t the idea of applying a carbon tax to countries which make cheaper products without worrying about their energy use penalise the countries of the South even more?
M.R.: The question of knowing if they have the means to produce “cleanly” is not the right one. The problem is that we are in the process of killing the possibility of life on this planet. That is what we need to avoid. We need to encourage them to develop solar energy, because they have a lot of it. We must arrive at world penalisation of the production of greenhouse gases.
Has this solution any chance of being accepted at the Copenhagen summit?
M.R.: As usual, it will be done too late, not very well, and not in harmony. One of the unhappy things about our civilisation, is the loss of the sense of time. Images have replaced texts in the formation of the collective mentality. And images are looked at only if they transmit emotion. Also, television avoids transmitting any information which might possibly be boring. In other words, we no longer think long-term. The habit of thinking in half-centuries has disappeared from our collective mentality. It’s a pity. But it is however the half-century which is the realistic working unit of time for the subject we are talking about. To prefer one’s own personal comfort only to die from excessive heat, rather than accept a few small short-term sacrifices, is quite simply criminal.