An Activists’ Handbook on Global Warming

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For political grounding and stimulating ideas for action, this small booklet is indispensable. It should be on every socialist campaign stall and bookshelf.

Published by Socialist Worker, New Zealand. December 2006, NZ$5
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reviewed by Ben Courtice

“System change not climate change” reads the cover of the December edition of the New Zealand Marxist journal Unity. The contents amount to a comprehensive overview of the climate change threat — its physical workings, its political causes, measures to overcome it and action to take. For political grounding and stimulating ideas for action, this small booklet is indispensable. It should be on every socialist campaign stall and bookshelf.The scene is set with a dire warning of the scale of the threat. “Vast cemetery or socialist victory?” journal co-editor Daphne Lawless asks in the introduction, paraphrasing Rosa Luxemburg. Australian activist David Spratt titles his article more starkly: “Our world may become uninhabitable.”The stooges who seek to deny or paint a financial gloss on climate change are thoroughly debunked. “When some businesses, faced with the possible disappearance of the entire Arctic ice cap, react with pleasure at the thought of getting a shipping shortcut from Canada to Siberia, we are brought face-to-face with the mindless nature of capitalism,” Lawless writes.

While official international policy is stuck on the (stalled) early 1990s framework of the Kyoto protocol, British journalist George Monbiot explains the drastic measures needed to avoid catastrophic climate change: a 90% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 is his suggestion for the minimum, although even with this “there is perhaps a 30% chance that we have already blown it.”

The dire warnings are followed by a survey of the measures needed to avert disaster. US writer John Bellamy Foster’s article “An ecological revolution” looks at the broad political approaches to the ecological crisis and their likely outcomes, suggesting that what the Stockholm Environmental Institute has termed “eco-communalism” is the only system that can save the planet: all other market-driven and/or fascist solutions are found inadequate or otherwise completely undesirable.

Perhaps the most straightforward contribution is from Monbiot again. “10 steps to save the planet” gives a 10-point plan to bring about by 2030 the 90% cut he advocates. The individual steps are particularly suited to Britain, but could readily be adapted to any other advanced capitalist economy. Perhaps we could discuss whether every one of his 10 points works, or deserves to be in the top 10, but he has started the ball rolling on discussing demands to place on governments.

Further, Monbiot is convincing when he explains the realism of his suggestions. “These time scales might seem extraordinarily ambitious … in contrast to the current plodding pace of change. But when [the US] entered the Second World War, it turned the economy around on a sixpence. Car makers began producing aircraft and missiles within a year, and amphibious vehicles in 90 days, from a standing start.”

The argument that we need socialism, not capitalism, to enact all the necessary changes is probably the most controversial point of the collection. Several of the featured writers, including Monbiot, appear to disagree. “It is quite easy to imagine a capitalism that lived off the profits based on the production and sale of renewable energy”, writes Paul McGarr of the British Socialist Workers Party, but the “problem is not one of principle or logic, but rather … that we are where we are … we have a capitalist society where the fossil fuel corporations lie at the heart.” In defence of socialist change, he continues: “The record of human history is that those who control societies have often been prepared to see the whole of society plunge into disastrous chaos and collapse rather than accept change which undermined their power.”

Given the great number of green activists and politicians who are clutching at capitalist mechanisms such as carbon taxes, the journal leaves space for debate, with an article from Australian academic Mark Diesendorf in favour of market mechanisms such as emissions trading. “We cannot delay our response until the fall of capitalism,” he argues. The journal invites contributions on the topic to continue debate.

The best feature of this journal is that it does not leave action to professional politicians and “players” in official politics. Activist Joe Carolan outlines the beginnings of the ClimAction group in NZ, which has begun to organise vibrant public protest to highlight the inaction of the NZ government, and is pushing for more public transport in coalition with other political groups.

The ideas in this little booklet are powerful and essential. It gives ammunition for any debate with a greenhouse denier or do-nothing capitalist or politician. Numerous articles point to a deeper understanding of how capitalism inevitably causes ecological disaster. And we are initiated into a vision of what we need to fight for if we wish to avert catastrophe. Many of these articles and viewpoints are no doubt already available elsewhere, but collating them into one little booklet puts them into the perfect format and context.

I dare anyone to read it and not come out an inspired climate activist.From Green Left Weekly, March 7, 2007