Australian socialists on the climate change crisis

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A defining feature of politics today is the refusal of the capitalist class and its political representatives to confront the global climate crisis. 


The following is from the Perspectives for 2013 resolution adopted by the Socialist Alliance’s 9th National Conference, in Geelong, Australia last month. C&C has added some paragraph breaks to aid on-screen reading.

A defining feature of politics today is the refusal of the capitalist class and its political representatives to confront the global climate crisis. Their wilful negligence promises to devastate nature, kill most of humanity and reduce civilisation to scattered remnants. The Socialist Alliance does not believe this refusal is due to ignorance or chance. It stems from the fundamental need of capitalism to prioritise near-term private profit – even when the eventual cost to the system is its own destruction.

The effects of climate change are forcing themselves upon humanity on a scale and at a pace unanticipated by scientists only a few years ago. A fair assessment of the thinking of climate experts is that keeping the rise in global average temperatures to less than 2ºC is now impossible. This puts us already in “extremely dangerous” climate territory. In the rapid decline during 2012 of Arctic summer sea ice – until recently, predicted for late this century – we are very likely seeing the crossing of the first of the climate “tipping points” that threaten to trigger feedbacks able to accelerate warming regardless of human actions.

The crucial measures that decide whether the climate dilemma becomes insoluble must be initiated in the next few years. The only chance humanity has of keeping advanced civilisation more or less intact lies in an emergency global mobilisation of social and industrial resources, aimed at rapid transformation of energy systems to ones based on renewable energy, resource conservation, energy equity and public ownership.

There is no serious reason to think that global capitalism is able to carry out the changes needed, or that key sections of the capitalist class even want to carry them out. In all capitalist countries including Australia, the debate on carbon mitigation in the mainstream media and within the bourgeois political camp retains a delusional character, with no relation to the findings of climate science.

In Australia, both the conservative opposition and the governing Labor Party set goals of reducing emissions by 5-25%, relative to 2000 levels, by 2020. Repeated on a global scale, this course would not halt dangerous climate change. It would lead to mass starvation, economic disintegration and population crash.

The conservative Liberal-National coalition spouts a “direct action” plan that would use government revenues to pay polluters for cutting their emissions. Its central tool would be a competitive grants scheme, of a type which experience shows would work badly. Enterprises that continued to pollute would not face penalties. For the bulk of carbon mitigation, the coalition proposes to rely on sequestering carbon within soils. Raising soil carbon levels is necessary and important, but the potential for mitigation using this method remains inadequately researched, with scientists’ assessments guarded and tentative. Further, such mitigation means nothing if fossil fuels continue to be burned.

The Labor government has put its trust squarely on market mechanisms, with an emissions trading scheme to be linked to its European Union counterpart. Any carbon mitigation that results from this scheme will clearly be too little, too late. Such schemes do not reduce emissions at anything like the rate now required. Nor are they effective for making deep cuts, let alone cutting emissions to zero.

Meanwhile, weak carbon prices are in any case likely to stop Labor’s scheme from doing much to deter polluters. The link to the European scheme means that instead of cleaning up their processes, large-scale carbon emitters in Australia will be able to buy the “right to pollute” at rock-bottom prices set by markets in countries likely to remain in or near recession for years to come.

Labor’s scheme is further compromised by large-scale giveaways of emissions permits to big polluters. By turning the “right to pollute” effectively into corporate property, it also multiplies the difficulties and costs of breaching policy log-jams. Finally, it allows for a proportion of emissions offsets to be derived from mitigation schemes in developing countries. Such schemes have repeatedly been exposed as conceptually dubious, haphazardly run, socially unjust and at times simply fraudulent. Offset schemes also allow organisations to deceptively promote themselves as “carbon neutral” avoiding the need to make drastic reductions in their own emissions, and misleading the public about the scale of transformation required for true carbon neutrality.

In crafting their emissions reductions schemes, the large Australian political parties have acted in bad faith. Their proposals are not meant to work, merely to create the impression that the climate danger is being addressed.

Meanwhile, the Australian Greens have failed to persuade or force the big parties to adopt policies that can actually stop climate change. The Greens leaders are familiar with the science; in interviews and press statements, they call for lowering atmospheric carbon dioxide to 350 parts per million, as dictated by research findings.

But the Greens do not articulate the stringent requirements spelt out by the scientists for avoiding catastrophe. Instead, the Greens vigorously and uncritically support Labor’s emissions trading scheme, voicing confidence that a European recovery will lift carbon prices and induce Australia’s capitalists to renounce polluting. That amounts to denying the science, and embracing catastrophe.

Against all the evidence, the Greens continue to support the current system and seem committed to preserving it – even though the only strategies now capable of preventing climate disaster lie outside the context of parliamentary deals, in mass popular mobilisation.

Stopping climate change cannot be achieved while simultaneously trying to save capitalism. As an indispensable element, an effective strategy to halt climate change must include a democratic and socialist alternative to the existing system. The key actors in the struggle against climate change and for socialism will be the people who have no personal stake in maintaining the current system – that is, the working class and the poor. The Socialist Alliance aims to mobilise this vast majority of the population in urgent political action, along with any allies who can be enliste

As a party with no commitment to defending capitalist interests, the Socialist Alliance makes the fight to preserve the climate, along with the rest of the environment, a vital thread running through all its activities.  We use our media to tell the truth about the climate emergency, and to publicise the actions of environmental campaigners.

We organise our members to support and take the lead in campaigns to halt climate-damaging industries such as coal-seam gas and other fossil fuels. We support campaigns to build clean, zero-carbon-emissions alternatives to current industry and agriculture. We support campaigns that explicitly target the fossil fuel industry as a “rogue” industry, such as the fossil fuel divestment campaign.

Struggles such as these help generate alliances between farmers, environmentalists, unionists and urban communities, breaking down divisions between country and city and between communities and individuals. They provide an opportunity for socialist ideas to reach beyond the urban centres, challenging the politics of conservative populism in the suburbs and in the bush.

One Comment

  1. Rory Short February 17, 2013 at 10:32 am |

    I like this post. It is very cogently stated and goes straight to the heart of the matter, the disease process, i.e. capitalism, is incapable of curing itself.

    Thus playing along with processes which are acceptable to capitalism such as carbon trading etc. and hoping that they will contribute to solving the climate crisis is not only futile but dangerous because it can lull people in general into complacency.

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