Monday, July 11, 2011

Carbon Price and Repentance

            ‘What will it do?’ This, in essence, is the question many people have been asking about the carbon price.
It may have been asked in very different ways by people with very different concerns and views. ‘What will it do to my hip pocket?’ ‘What will it do to industry?’ ‘What will it do to the economy?’ ‘Will it really do anything if other countries are pricing pollution too?’ ‘What will it do for the future of renewable energy?’ ‘What will it do to cut carbon emissions?’ ‘What will it do to ensure a future for my children?’ ‘Will it actually do enough?’ But it still boils down to that single question: What will it do?
As Julia Gillard has stated, we need action. And so, in one sense, ‘What will it do?’ is the right question to ask. But perhaps another question that is equally important is ‘What does it say?’
In Christianity, repentance is very important. Repentance is not just about saying sorry for our sins. It means turning away from those sins. It is about a change of direction, a new way of living and being in the world. Instead of focusing on outward behaviour, it turns its attention inward, to the heart.
            This does not mean that repentance involves no outward change. It should involve stopping the particular sin we have repented of. It may also mean making reparation for any wrongs we have committed. That is an important part of repentance and, without it, it may be doubtful whether we have truly repented at all.
            However to ask ‘What does it do?’ of repentance would be a shallow question. There may be no outward visible sign that we have repented. It’s not like a magic button that we press that immediately stops us sinning or feeling guilty. We may repent of one sin yet still have a long way to go before that sin is completely removed from our lives. Many Christians have at least one sin that they need to repent of on a continual basis. That does not mean they have not truly repented. They may have genuinely turned away from that sin and yet still be drawn back into that behaviour.   
            ‘So what’s the point of repenting if it doesn’t actually do anything?’ That’s another question that really misses the point. It is the turning away that’s important, not what it actually does. However, when repentance is real and we genuinely turn away from sin, we free ourselves to turn towards something new. It is then that we can affect real change in our lives, change that is based not only on stopping a particular sin, but on a whole new way of seeing things. That kind of change is deeper and more real than the type that is only based on acting or not acting.
            So what does all this have to do with the carbon tax? Obviously Australia is not a person where there can be an inward change of heart. And it would be fair to say that many Australians have not turned away from carbon pollution at all. They are still firmly faced in that direction. However, the fact that the prime minister wanted to introduce this carbon price shows that enough of us have turned away (repented) from a high carbon emitting society. We want to turn towards something new. 
            This new carbon price is allowing Australia to do that. It certainly won’t be enough to save the world. But it means that we have acknowledged that our current level of carbon emissions is wrong. To put it in Christian terms, it is sinful. We have turned away from that sinful behaviour by acknowledging that it is wrong and by realising there is a better way to do things. And now we are moving in a new direction.
            That’s a good thing. What will it do? I don’t know. But I hope and pray that it may be the first step towards not just Australia but the world turning from a way of life that is destructive and exploitative to the Earth and her resources and towards a new reality where we see the Earth as something to be valued and protected.


  1. The carbon price as a form of national repentance, a turning away from a world of ever-increasing emissions, even if this turning needs to happen again and again in ever more decisive ways. I like it. This is a very hopeful way of reading the meaning of the proposal: as a sign of things to come rather than itself the effectual change required.