Red Earth: A socialist perspective on climate change

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No one in charge. When I was a teenager, I stayed in the Victorian goldfields town of Castlemaine. Even then, it was obvious to me that something was wrong in the way people dealt with the natural world. The ecosystem was so stressed that you could see the box forest disappearing. In that case, unregulated and unplanned mining had lowered the water table in the local area. All but the most robust box gums were unable to send roots deep enough to find groundwater. There was also a drought. There’s always a drought, it seems, but droughts can be managed. No one was managing in 1973. No one is managing in 2007.

But the planet needs management, urgently. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) released a report that shows that 2006 was the third hottest year since records began. In eastern Australia, some areas have had little useful rainfall for ten years. In parts of the west, it’s been a 30-year dry. What else? Arctic sea ice is declining at an increasing rate, and the Antarctic ozone hole is the biggest yet. In the next 20 years, many parts of the world, from India to Africa and even the United States, water use will begin to critically outstrip supply.

Cause and effect. It comes down to this: the operation of the global capitalist economy has brought the planet to the brink of catastrophe. The uncontrolled consumption of resources, in particular fossil fuels and water, coupled with the emission of greenhouse gases, has been unsustainable for over a century. There is some minor scientific argument about some of the detail of global warming. There is no argument about its reality, and no argument that the continuing rise in average global temperature since the 1860s is a result of human activity. Just put that thought at the front of your mind when you hear another of John Howard’s “I’m not convinced” statements.

We are not the problem. But what kind of activity? The activity of an economy organised solely around the maximisation of profits. An economy based on wage slavery, where we, the majority, are coerced by economic necessity into selling our labour power for a fraction of its value. Billions of people live at or below subsistence, with little or no control over their immediate environment. Recall that when you hear that “we” are responsible for the condition of the planet. How so, when decisions about what will be produced, and where, and how they are made by a tiny thimbleful of bosses and politicians, mainly in the United States and Europe. It is they who have brought us to this.

The sustainability myth. The idea that this economic system can be reformed or modified to make it compatible with the global ecosystem is probably the greatest barrier to restoring the balance. It’s why I’m an environmentalist and a socialist. The profit system is not compatible with sustainability. Capitalism produces goods, not for use but for sale. The perfect corporate product is one that is used once and then tossed away. That’s why the arms industry is so profitable. It’s why the packaging industry hates recycling and the fossil fuel burners keep pumping carbon dioxide into the air.

What is needed is a system that produces for use, not for sale. An anti-capitalist economy, if you like. What do I mean by this? Make individual freedom real by abolishing economic coercion. Make democracy real by having decisions about the economy debated and voted on by the population as a whole. Liberate the poor by giving us what we need to flourish as human beings, not to function as extensions of machines. We have the technology to make this happen — now, for everyone.

The solution to global warming requires a planet-wide communal effort that is profoundly incompatible with private wealth. It requires planet-wide management, not the chaos of the capitalist marketplace.

It’s time for the world’s majority to take control. A socialist world is not a utopian, radical fantasy. Another world is not only possible. It’s necessary.

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