Global Warming Demands Fundamental Change, Not Market ‘Solutions’

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There was passionate opposition to Adani at the Coal Out of Politics rally in Melbourne on 7 September. Photo from Stop Adani Melbourne.

“Move along! Nothing to see here!” These six words distill the attitude of the energy cartel, and its payroll of corrupt politicians and journalists, towards climate change. It’s the oldest political trick in the book — repeat a lie until it becomes the truth. The result of this propaganda has been to confuse, to delay, and to prevent action on climate change. Unfortunately, it has been very effective in Australia. Governments have run away from setting policy on carbon emissions for more than a decade.

The evidence is conclusive. Last year was the hottest since the current series of global weather records began. More than 150 years of observations reveal that the planet’s atmosphere is warming because of rising concentrations of carbon compounds. Weather and climate are different things. The first describes events, the second trends. One storm tells us precisely nothing about global warming, nor do a thousand. But millions? Well, that might be a trend.

The case has been heard, the jury has deliberated and determined the cause: human activity. Specifically, the organised mass consumption of fossil fuels as capitalism consolidated in the late 18th century. What is generally termed the Industrial Revolution. 

The politics of denial. The destabilisation of Australian governments can be traced to those who mine and transport fossil fuels. The proponents of a do-nothing policy on carbon emissions are well known. Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott is the most infamous, but there is a whole army of doubt-purveyors, cheerleaders, fake scientists and outright liars in the service of the polluters. The nefarious activities of the lobbyists have ensured that Australia approaches the third decade of the century with no plan to deal with the climate emergency.

We know the extent of the global warming problem, and technology already exists to at least soften its impacts. Working people already possess the skills to design, build and maintain that technology. Let’s all do it! Oh, wait! There’s a tiny faction within the ruling class denying the problem. They don’t “believe in” climate change. And, to quote the Australian rock group, Midnight Oil, they “pay the truth makers.” Their “truth” is that coal is good and renewables are bad. That’s it then — let’s move on, there’s nothing to see. Like hell, there isn’t!

Market tinkering no solution. The Greens advocate policies to move society away from fossil fuels. Like solar panels, wind turbines and energy efficient houses. Hardly revolutionary, it should be noted. Capitalism will always gravitate towards innovation, when there’s profits to be had. Then there’s the completely illogical stuff. 

Carbon Trading is one name for a “market driven” pollution reduction scheme. It’s deceptively simple, almost too good to be true. Slap a price on carbon so that the more one produces, the more tax one will pay. Back this with a system of “carbon certificates” that can be traded on a specialised market. High polluters then buy certificates from low polluters. Non-emitting producers, such as the owners of wind farms, get certificates according to the amount of carbon “offset” by their renewable generation. Which they sell to big polluters, who offset their pollution against their certificates.

The obvious logical flaw in this type of scheme is that it does nothing to reduce actual pollution beyond a certain level in the time needed to prevent catastrophic climate change. Without the effects of carbon pollution, fossil fuels could be phased out over an indefinite period. But we don’t have an indefinite period. The normal operation of the capitalist markets is not enough. Right now, governments need to be actively intervening by penalising, rather than rewarding, polluters. Carbon emissions must be taxed at a high rate, but at the same time, governments must tip the balance towards renewables through massive investment.

There is a larger contradiction. The expansion of capitalism, that is, the market economy, is the recognised cause of climate change in the current era. It follows that any reliance on the markets to cure themselves — like the now abandoned National Energy Guarantee — is futile. Capitalism does not have cancer, to use an analogy. It is the cancer.

Yet there is still some partial rationality in the markets. Despite the odd media release from the Adani company, the markets have almost certainly doomed its proposed mine in tropical Queensland. In the light of ongoing protests, the accountants and actuaries have looked at the prospects for coal generation and decided that no investment capital for the mine should be provided. Which is why the owners are pleading for government subsidies: taxpayers are meant to build its railway, give it free water and land, and clean up its mess. The Adani mine is still a threat, but only if the government funds it. Which is why the protests, backed by union work bans, need to continue and expand. 

Rescuing Our World. I hate the pronoun “we,” in the sense of “we are responsible for the climate emergency.” The piper plays the master’s tunes, and the servant does the master’s bidding. The bidding being capitalist law. Law which expresses, and at the same time hides, the dictatorship of the few. There is nothing to be criticised about partial solutions to the climate crisis. One person with a reusable bag gets to feel good. Twenty million is a trend! But it’s not a solution. Still, the cancer needs to be excised and quickly! 

The Victorian state government recently announced a plan to install solar on a limited number of low-income dwellings. Good idea! It is a proposal that certainly moves towards a sustainable energy solution! But let’s press the demand for solar on the roof of every working person and every small business, for free.  While we’re at it, let’s demand the re-nationalisation of the national grid and its associated generators. Under worker and community control.

Of course, late capitalism has neither will nor means to grant that last demand. But raising it points to the solution — overthrowing the economic dictatorship and its allies. And there is something deliciously communistic about a power plant on every roof, contributing to the common energy pool!

Humans have been symbiotic custodians of the Earth for all but a blink of the eye in the history of our species’ existence. And we have caused climate change before, some of it detrimental to local ecosystems. The ruin of the global ecosystem? That’s not down to the majority of us. It’s down to the normal operation of capitalism.

The ecosystem has not reached an irrevocable, “end of humanity” tipping point — yet. But the evidence of environmental destruction demands that we must fight to mitigate capitalism’s poisonous effects right now. Restoring the balance is a task for quite a few generations to come. So we need a global revolution — to take back our only home. A fundamental crisis demands a fundamental change.

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