Yesterday GetUp! responded to Clive Hamilton’s absolutism on climate change targets with a defence of their campaign for the CPRS to recognise and count the efforts of individual consumers in responding to climate change.

Hamilton asserts that all that matters is the low 5% target and that the design of the scheme is relatively unimportant. There are of course other economists who think precisely the opposite — that scheme design can’t be undone into the future but a higher target can be pushed for later. The fact is both are equally important. And we need to get both right.

But Hamilton is entirely wrong about the importance of counting reductions of greenhouse gases which occur outside the mandatory market-based CPRS. GetUp! and many others — including Richard Denniss, Hamilton’s successor at the Australia Institute — are right in calling for voluntary action to be counted as additional to the mandatory targets. A solution that involves only one of three important players can hardly work. Consumer action is needed to help drive business action, and citizen action is needed to drive government action.

Voluntary consumer action is one of a number of actions outside the CPRS that could reduce Australia greenhouse gas emissions. Hamilton concludes that only 10% of Australians will ever act voluntarily, so why bother arguing about it now. The fact is that voluntary action by consumers has already involved over 12% of the population and has already lead to a 0.5% reduction in Australia’s total emissions in 2006-2007. When thinking about the measly 5% target, this is a substantial 10% of this target. But wouldn’t it be great if it were at least 10% over and above the target.

Real action on climate change needs community support and a sense of collective responsibility. Four out of five Australians realise that they need to take more responsibility for their personal contributions to global warming. Millions of them act on that sense of responsibility in one way or another — investing in energy efficiency, purchasing carbon offsets, as well as making deliberate changes to everyday behaviours and purchasing decisions. More than 800,000 households purchase GreenPower — a figure that has grown almost one third in the past year alone.

Flexing their power as consumers is one way to open the door for people to flex their power as citizens. The CPRS as it stands effectively tells Australians that they are not relevant to our response to climate change.