Standing in line for some shitty nightclub with a friend (pissed off my face), I thought I might decide to whip out a cigarette and start smoking, to the shock horror of the girl standing next to me. After she had a go at me – making a comment along the lines of, “just because you’re deciding to give yourself lung cancer, it doesn’t mean you can give it to me” – and I was told by one of the bouncers to move at least five meters away from the line, I obliged and staggered away. Such is the smoke-free philosophy of our society, in which people are abhorred when someone invades their private space by filling it with second-hand smoke.
But it makes me wonder why there is such an emphasis here in Australia on creating smoke-free zones so people won’t have to inhale second-hand smoke and potentially procure the diseases that smokers subject themselves to and yet there is such a backlash to introducing initiatives to curb the adverse effects of climate change, the biggest self-inflicted and vicariously-suffered disease facing the human race today.
Australia would be to the world’s atmosphere what a short, stocky chain-smoker is to a smoke-free zone. It contributes to approximately 1.5 per cent of global greenhouse emissions but only has a population of around 22 million people (this figure may need verification), which constitutes only circa 0.3 per cent of the world’s total population. This means that if every single human had an equal right to the usage of the atmosphere – as we Australians supposedly do have with our own atmosphere when it comes to the ability to smoke – then Australians would be exploiting five times their fair share of it.
When I look at this scenario, I see it as deeply unfair in two ways. It is unfair for the most underdeveloped countries which are located at the places in the Earth which are most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, such as natural disasters. Unlike how second-hand smoke produces merely a limited possibility of giving an innocent person a disease relative to the smoker who actually inhales the smoke, high-emitting developed countries are contributing to a condition which is more likely to impair developing countries than themselves. Australia is not only chain-smoking and emitting second-hand smoke in a smoke-free zone, it is lighting the cigarettes and shoving them in the mouths of less fortunate by-standers.
But let’s move away from the humanitarian argument for a second because I know I can become pretty monotonous by using that same line all the time. Beyond that, it is unfair even in the sense that the lives and welfare of every single human being on the planet is being jeopardised by the choices of a few. As the girl rightly told me, just because I was willing to ingest toxic chemicals for my own satisfaction, it doesn’t mean I should push that burden onto her, just as how industrialists and politicians – and we, the voters – shouldn’t place a heavy burden on other people – on us all – by contributing to climate change, which affects everyone, in the pursuit of profits.
All I’m trying to say is that we need to treat climate change just like how we try to treat smoking: as if it is a self-inflicted disease which affects everyone around us, not just ourselves. Australia needs to commit to the Kyoto Protocol’s Second Commitment Period (which wasn’t even that bad to Australia in comparison to other countries anyway). It needs to continue on with a Carbon Tax. And the world must be treated like a Smoke-Free Zone, with the largest emitters treated like chain-smokers within it. If this doesn’t happen, we won’t end up reaching our goal of capping the global average temperature rise to two degrees Celsius.
As for me, I should stop smoking – especially around others. But if we as Australians decide to stop emitting as much as we do, effectively subjecting other countries to our second-hand smoke, what kind of role model is my country setting for me when I step into a smoke-free zone?