Monday, February 16, 2009

Climate Emergency or a Crisis of Democracy

Clive Hamilton, Feb 4, 2009, Crikey

When the authorities put the figures together, the death rates in Melbourne and Adelaide will show a spike in response to the record temperatures over Eastern Australia last week.
As in the European heatwave of August 2003, when 35,000 people died, the elderly are most vulnerable as the heat overwhelms the body’s natural cooling mechanism and organs fail. Swamped by the disaster, undertakers in France were obliged to take over a refrigerated warehouse on the outskirts of Paris.

Across central France the temperature reached 40°C, and in Britain 38.5°C, or 100 degrees under the old scale, an all-time record.

In Melbourne and Adelaide last week temperatures of 44 and 45°C were recorded. Forty is the new thirty. One night in Adelaide the minimum temperature was 34°C, perhaps the first time the city has experienced a nocturnal scorcher.

In Melbourne the wail of ambulance sirens was heard up and down every high street. Brush-tailed possums expired and fell out of the trees.

Australians are already dying from climate change. As Professor David Karoly, one of our most respected climate scientists, said: “The system can’t cope now, and it is just going to get much worse”.

Anyone who is not very scared about global warming is not listening to what the scientists are telling us. It is not enough to be vaguely worried.

The scientists are telling us we have only a few years left for global emissions to peak, then decline sharply, if we are to avoid catastrophe. But now the widely agreed ‘safe’ level of warming, 2°C above pre-industrial levels, has been challenged because even that amount won’t prevent summer sea-ice in the Arctic from melting, with knock-on effects in Greenland and the Siberian permafrost.

If he serves two or three terms, by the end of Mr Rudd’s time in office it will be too late to get serious about warming. His Clayton’s emissions trading system, which rewards big polluters for polluting, is nowhere near what the science demands and is better rejected outright.

When the world’s scientists concluded before the Bali conference that rich countries must cut their emissions by 25-40 per cent by 2020 if we are to have a good chance of stabilising at 2°C of warming, they were not putting in an ambit claim.

Yet when the Prime Minister says, as he has more than once, that his task is to ‘balance’ the claims of industry and the sceptics against those of the scientists and environmentalists he is saying that the scientists are political actors and the facts of climate science are up for negotiation. Echoing the post-modern approach to truth, Mr Rudd seems to believe that the science is not objective but relative and contestable.

The election of Labor at the end of 2007 seemed like a breakthrough; after all, climate change was one of the three big points of difference between Labor and the conservatives.

For years I have written about the extraordinary power of the self-described greenhouse mafia in Canberra, yet even I believed that its influence was on the wane because it had over-played its hand under Howard. How wrong I was.

It was apparent early in 2008 that behind the scenes the fossil fuel lobby was organising. They martialled their troops and rearmed themselves with arguments, fighting funds, lobbyists and dodgy economic studies.

They rebuilt their networks in government and the public service, insinuated themselves into policy processes, schmoozed back-benchers and dined privately with ministers and their staff. They whispered about how important the old energy industries are to the economy, how Labor voters value their jobs, and how they will take their business offshore. And always hanging in the air was the unspoken threat that if the Government went too far they would unleash the most virulent campaign to punish it.

So 2008 saw the new government run from its commitment to be a bold leader on climate. Contrary to Kevin Rudd’s declaration to the world at Bali, in 2009 Australia does not stand ready to assume its responsibility and his Government is not prepared to take on the challenge and deliver a sustainable future.

It turns out that Peter Garrett’s indiscrete prediction before the election that “once we get in we’ll just change it all” has come to pass, except that instead of pursuing a bold secret agenda the Rudd Government has reneged on its promises. Instead of going too far, as the conservatives feared, it has not gone far enough.

The climate emergency has turned into a crisis of democracy. The government is meant to protect the interests of the people, but it has instead protected the interests of the big polluters. The Government is in the thrall of a powerful group of energy companies and it is apparent even to the most dim-witted observer that these corporations are, as Thoreau wrote, “more interested in commerce than humanity”.

The scientists are beginning to understand that human-induced climate change has disturbed a sleeping giant. Mr Rudd’s belief that he, along with other leaders, can legislate to tame it is reminiscent of a syndrome Marx called ‘parliamentary cretinism’.

Paraphrasing Engels, parliamentary cretinism is an aliment whose unfortunate victims are permeated by the lofty conviction that the future of the world is determined by a majority of votes of the institution that has the honour of having them as members.

The announcement of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme was a king hit on the mainstream environment groups that had invested so much in working on the inside of the parliamentary process. Seduced into believing they can influence the Government, in truth they were crushed by the greenhouse mafia. Fossil fuel delegations could get an hour of quality time with the minister, while environment groups felt lucky to have 15 minutes with a bored staffer.

This failure underlines the importance of the ‘new environment movement’, a surprisingly large network of community-based activist groups that came together in Canberra last weekend for the Climate Action Summit.

Led by a new generation of young people whose politics have not been shaped by the old movement, they represent a return to radical activism. They are determined, angry, savvy and brave.

They believe that baby boomers are bequeathing to them a world much worse than the one the boomers inherited. Their objective was perfectly captured in the words on a T-shirt worn by one of them: “Unf-ck the world”.

Clive Hamilton is the author of Scorcher: The dirty politics of climate change (Black Inc.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Message of President Evo Morales to the Continental Gathering of Solidarity with Bolivia in Guatemala City

October 9, 2008, Reproduced from Bolivia Rising

Sisters and brothers, on behalf of the Bolivian people, I greet the social movements of this continent present in this Act of Continental Solidarity with Bolivia.

We have just suffered the violence of the oligarchy, whose most brutal expression was the massacre in Panda, a deed that teaches us that an attempt at power based on money and weapons in order to oppress the people is not sustainable. It is easily knocked down, if it is not based on a program and the consciousness of the people.

We see that the re-founding of Bolivia affects the underhanded interests of a few families of large landholders, who reject as an aggression the measures enacted to favor the people such as a more balanced distribution of the resources of natural gas for our grandfathers and grandmothers, as well as the distribution of lands, the campaigns for health and literacy, and others.

To protect their power and privileges and to evade the process of change, the ruling elite of large landholders of the so-called Half Moon (Media Luna) clothe themselves in the movements for departmental autonomies and the rupture of national unity, lending themselves to the yankee interests of ending the re-founding of Bolivia.

However, in the revocation referendum of August 10, we just received the mandate of two thirds of the Bolivian people to consolidate this process of change, in order to continue advancing in the recovery of our natural resources, and to insure the well being of all Bolivians, to unite the distinct sectors of society of the countryside and the city, of the east and the west.

Sisters and brothers, what happened with this revocation referendum in Bolivia is something that is not only important for Bolivians but for all Latin Americans. We dedicate it to the Latin American revolutionaries and those throughout the world, reaffirming the struggle for all processes of change.

I was going to express the way to recover the life ways of our peoples, called Live Well (el Buen Vivir), to recover our vision of the Mother Earth, that for us is life, because it is not possible for the capitalist model to convert Mother Earth into a commodity. Once again we see the profound correlations between the indigenous movement and the organizations of the social movements, which also throw in their lot in order to Live Well. We greet them so that together we can seek a certain balance in the world.

Along these lines, I want to share and propose for debate some 10 commandments to save the planet, for humanity and for life, not only at this level but also to debate among our communities, and our organizations.

First, if we want to save the planet earth to save life and humanity, we are obliged to end the capitalist system. The grave effects of climate change, of the energy, food and financial crises, are not a product of human beings in general, but rather of the capitalist system at it is, inhuman, with its idea of unlimited industrial development.

Second, to renounce war, because the people do not win in war, but only the imperial powers; the nations to not win, but rather the transnational corporations. Wars benefit a small group of families and not the people. The trillions of millions used for war should be directed to repair and cure Mother Earth wounded by climate change.

Third proposal for debate: a world without imperialism nor colonialism, our relationships should be oriented to the principle of complementarity, and to take into account the profound asymmetries that exist family to family, country to country, and continent to continent.

And the fourth point is oriented to the issue of water, which ought to be guaranteed as a human right to avoid its privatization into few hands, given that water is life.

As the fifth point, I would like to say that we need to end the energy debacle. In 100 years we are using up fossil energies created during millions of years. As some presidents are setting aside lands for luxury automobiles and not for human beings, we need to implement policies to impede the use of agro-fuels and in this way to avoid the hunger and misery for our peoples.

As a sixth point: in relationship to the Mother Earth. The capitalist system treats the Mother Earth as a raw material, but the earth cannot be understood as a commodity; who could privatize, rent or lease their own mother? I propose that we organize an international movement in defense of Mother Nature, in order to recover the health of Mother Earth and re-establish a harmonious and responsible life with her.

A central theme as the seventh point for debate is that basic services, whether they be water, electricity, education, or health, need to be taken into account as human rights.

As the eighth point, to consume what is needed, prioritize what we produce and consume locally, end consumerism, decadence and luxury. We need to prioritize local production for local consumption, stimulating self-reliance and the sovereignty of the communities within the limits that the health and remaining resources the planet permits.

As the next to last point, to promote the diversity of cultures and economies. To live in unity respecting our differences, no only physical, but also economic, through economies managed by the communities and their associations.

Sisters and brothers, as the tenth point, we propose to Live Well, not live better at the expense of another, a Live Well based on the lifestyle of our peoples, the riches of our communities, fertile lands, water and clean air. Socialism is talked about a lot, but we need to improve this socialism, improve the proposals for socialism in the XXI century, building a communitarian socialism, or simply a Live Well, in harmony with Mother Earth, respecting the shared life ways of the community.

Finally, sisters and brothers, certainly you are following up on the problems that exist. I have reached the conclusion that there will always be problems, but I want to tell you that I am very content, not disappointed or worried because these groups who permanently enslaved our families during the colonial time, the time of the republic and this period of neo-liberalism, they continue as family groups, resisting us.

It is our struggle to confront these groups who live in luxury and who do not wish to lose their luxury, or lose their lands. This is a historic struggle and this struggle lives on.

Sisters and brothers, in the hope that the Continental Gathering of the III Social Forum of the Americas culminates with strong bonds of unity among you and a strong Action Plan in favor of the people of Bolivia and of our peoples, I repeat my fraternal greeting.

Evo Morales Ayma
President of the Republic of Bolivia

Translation by S. Bartlett

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Climate change -- the case for public ownership

Trent Hawkins, September 24, Links

Arising out of the UK Climate Camp in August 2008 there has developed an interesting debate between Ewa Jasiewicz, an activist in Britain, and well-known radical columnist George Monbiot about the role of so-called “state solutions” to climate change. Jasiewicz’s article, published on the Guardian website[i] and entitled “Time for a Revolution”, was an attack on Monbiot for a “controversial presentation [at climate camp] … in which he endorsed the use of the state as a partner in resolving the climate crisis”. It was also prompted by a debate between Monbiot and former National Union of Mineworkers’ leader and head of Britain’s Socialist Labour Party Arthur Scargill about what is more polluting: nuclear or coal energy.

Jasiewicz stated:

“State solutions to the climate crisis were presented to us 10 years ago through the Kyoto protocol – what were they? To privatise the air we breathe and turn carbon emissions into commodities, to buy and sell atmospheric poison, to create a new market of trading in the means of ecological destruction. It's no wonder many at the camp reject state solutions to climate change.

“The question is, who and under what conditions, controls decision making, and has climate-changing power?”

In response, Monbiot, in an article on his website[ii] wrote:

“[Jasiewicz] claims to want to stop global warming, but she makes that task 100 times harder by rejecting all state and corporate solutions. It seems to me that what she really wants to do is to create an anarchist utopia, and use climate change as an excuse to engineer it.

“Stopping runaway climate change must take precedence over every other aim. Everyone in this movement knows that there is very little time: the window of opportunity in which we can prevent two degrees [Celsius] of warming is closing fast. We have to use all the resources we can lay hands on, and these must include both governments and corporations. Or perhaps she intends to build the installations required to turn the energy economy around -- wind farms, wave machines, solar thermal plants in the Sahara, new grid connections and public transport systems -- herself?’’

There are some confused notions in these two articles, like the Kyoto protocol was a “state solution to the climate crisis” (Jasiewicz ) and that the role of the state is to “prevent the strong from crushing the weak” (Monbiot). However, the basic point that both fail to comprehend is that we do need the wealth and resources that are currently monopolised by corporations to stop climate change, however what’s needed is for that wealth to be torn from the hands of those corporations and put under popular control.

The reality is that no fossil fuel corporation can be convinced to stop expanding and making profits and instead invest its wealth in a wholesale conversion of its operations to a renewable energy-powered, sustainable industry. At the same time no capitalist government is going to be either willing or able to constrain corporations’ rights to make profits in order to drastically reduce emissions.

In other words, the only way we can make use of the massive corporate wealth that isn’t in the hands of the people is with a revolutionary struggle that institutes a government which acts in the interests of people and the planet and puts control of all sectors of the economy in the hands of ordinary working people.

The real question is what needs to be done to achieve this? There does not need to be a contradiction between what we call for today in terms of immediate measures to combat global warming and building the movement for revolutionary change. Arguing for the nationalisation of polluting industries, to be placed under the democratic control of ordinary people, is essential to constructing a movement capable of halting climate change.

Market anarchy or a planned approach

Since the release of the interim Garnaut Review (a report commissioned to recommend what policies are required by Australia to address climate change) and the Australian federal Labor government’s green paper on climate change, the focus of the debate has been almost solely on what is the best market response to global warming and how much “government regulation” is appropriate to guide this. The role of the government is reduced to determining how much large corporations will be subsidised under an emissions trading scheme (ETS).

On August 27, 2008, a report by the National Snow and Ice Data Center found that the amount of ice coverage in the Arctic was the second-worst on record (the worst being last 2007).[iii] It stated: “With about three weeks left in the Arctic summer, this year could wind up breaking that previous record”.[iv] There is now almost near certainty that the Arctic will be ice free in summer within five to 10 years.[v]

It is clear that we have reached a major tipping point in climate change, which indicates that we are already experiencing dangerous climate change. As Dr Jay Zwally, glaciologist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, put it, “the Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming… and now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died.”[vi]

NASA Climatologist Dr James Hansen has concluded that a safe climate zone necessary to preserve the Arctic lies somewhere within the region of 300 to 325 parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide (CO2) atmospheric concentration. However, we currently are sitting around 385ppm.[vii]

In short we need an urgent and immediate response to the crisis, one which relies on a centralised accounting and coordination of the activities of major polluting industries through the government and enforced by the state. Market mechanisms, corporate handouts and government investment in false solutions like “clean coal” spell nothing less than the death of the liveable planet.

Cuba and Venezuela show us what is possible

Two examples illustrate what is possible when the primary sources of wealth are under popular control.

The first is Cuba, where in the space of 10 years it was able to effect an extraordinary transformation from a highly import-based and unsustainable agriculture and energy sector, to become the most ecologically sustainable country in the world.

With the advent of the film The Power of Community, a number of environmental activists have developed the perception that this transformation was merely initiated by the artificially imposed “peak oil” crisis that hit Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Because of the US-enforced and illegal economic blockade of Cuba, Cuba was forced to rely heavily on the Soviet Union as its primary trading partner. As a consequence, 98% of its oil and oil-based products came from the USSR. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost half its oil imports in two years. Furthermore, 66% of all its food was imported and agriculture operated along the “Green Revolution” model, whereby single monoculture crops where grown primarily for export, using high levels of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides to increase yield. [viii]

The result was an enormous food crisis. While Cuba’s response included community initiatives to grow urban vegetable and fruit gardens, the biggest factor that enabled Cuba to rapidly overcome the crisis was the significant level of state ownership of resources and industry and the existence of a socialist government.

A very useful report conducted by the UK Institute of Science in Sustainability, “Organic Cuba without Fossil Fuels”, documents exactly how the government was able to drive the process of transformation.[ix]

Beginning with a nationwide call to increase food production by restructuring agriculture, the government redivided the land and gave control of that land to the community, to best determine how to respond to the community’s food requirements. One major initiative was in urban areas, where all sorts of land was given over by the government for food production, including old car parks, disused buildings, vacant lots, etc. As a consequence 60% of Cuba’s fresh fruit and vegetables are grown in urban farms. [x]

But the government’s role extended far beyond this. It set up a seed bank in the cities to distribute seeds to urban farmers, it massively invested in biotechnology to develop increased food production without pesticides, and it even passed a law banning the use of pesticides.[xi]

As Cuban permaculturalist Roberto Perez pointed out in an interview with Green Left Weekly, no rapid solution to Cuba’s crisis would have been possible without Cuba having control over the totality of it’s resources.

“When the revolution gained sovereignty over the resources of the country, especially the land and minerals, this was the base for sustainability. You cannot think about sustainability of your resources if they are in the hands of a foreign country or in private hands. Even without knowing, we were creating the basis for sustainability.”[xii]

The second example worth considering is Venezuela.

Venezuela is one of the major oil-producing nations in the world, being the fourth-largest exporter of oil to the United States. Despite this, the country had high levels of poverty and extensive environmental destruction.

While Venezuela’s oil industry was technically nationalised in the 1970s, PDVSA was the only state-owned oil company that ran at a loss. This was primarily due to the fact that the profits of the company where being used to fatten the pockets of the bureaucrats who leached off the industry.

Since socialist president Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998 the government has taken back control of the oil industry and used the wealth from it to fund social programs aimed at alleviating poverty.

It has also been extremely conscious of reducing the country’s dependence on the oil industry and of ending the legacy of putting the needs of the environment behind that of oil production.

This is indicated in the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) program, which includes a section on “Defence of Nature; Planned Production”. This states that “the program of the PSUV proposes the preservation of nature and the planning of production for the satisfaction of collective necessities in harmony with the requirements of the ecosystem.” [xiii]

In 2005 the Chávez government and the PDVSA oil company made the decision to eliminate lead-based petrol. Since then, PDVSA has begun recuperating green areas, reducing emissions and cleaning up rivers and lakes. [xiv]

Under Mission Energy, some 53 million light bulbs in more than 5 million homes have been replaced with energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs[xv], with the next step being to substitute almost 27 million inefficient incandescent light bulbs by energy-saving light bulbs in the official, industrial and commercial sectors.[xvi]

President Chávez has also announced plans for a wind farm to generate electricity on the Caribbean coast[xvii] and in April 2007 the government banned construction of all new coal mines on Indigenous land in the opposition-controlled, major oil-producing state of Zulia.[xviii]

While there are major restrictions on the Venezuelan government’s ability to implement these plans, due to a corrupt bureaucracy within state institutions, it is clear that none of these things would be possible if the government didn’t have real control over the oil industry to be able to fund and enact these programs.

Nationalisation, a transitional demand

As socialists we recognise that the only way out of the mess of climate change is for the vast bulk of the economy to be put under public ownership and control, with the creation of a workers’ government that can oversee a thorough and detailed process in which the entire community can have democratic control over how the economy is run and for what purposes.

However this doesn’t prevent us advancing the demand for the nationalisation of strategic industries even before we reach that stage. In fact this demand is extremely important for posing the possibility of working people having complete and democratic control over the wealth of society (which after all was created by the labour of working people and has been stolen by a tiny number of capitalist owners), and building a movement that can win this.

Given the state of the crisis and the urgency with which we need to act, any effective program of action advanced by the environment movement to stop climate change must include the demand for nationalisation – that is to put the key energy-producing and energy-consuming industries, and other unsustainable industries, under public ownership.

But first we need to make it clear that we aren’t arguing for a public sector operating like the commercialised, profit-making enterprises we see all too often today.

Most of the public sector, if it already hasn’t been sold off and converted into privately run companies, has been turned into more or less the same thing in preparation for the time when it becomes politically possible for governments to privatise it.

Second, the public sector under capitalism is run by a big bureaucracy that the people have no control over. While we can vote for people to be in parliament who can introduce new laws, we don’t have any say over who the state employs to implement those laws. Not to mention the fact that the major parties in parliament are the representatives of big business and act to preserve profits. This means that such a struggle for nationalisation needs to be accompanied with a push for real democratic control over how the public sector is organised.

What would real government action on climate change look like?

Currently, governments in Australia, both state and federal, aren’t just sitting on their hands on climate change; they are funding and pushing for the expansion of the very industries that contribute most to the problem.

So the question is, what kind of government response is needed to avert the catastrophe?

Electricity sector

First it is essential that the electricity generation sector be put under public ownership, instead of sold off to private companies, as is being attempted by the New South Wales state Labor government. The majority of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from coal-fired power generation. In order to stop global warming we need to halt the construction of all new coal-fired power stations and effect a rapid conversion from coal to renewable energy, primarily wind and solar, within five to 10 years. Yet this will be virtually impossible unless the government has complete control over the electricity sector.

Furthermore, a national network of publicly owned electricity generators would ensure that the electricity produced actually meets people’s needs. A board could be elected democratically by the people and given the task of drafting a plan to transform the sector to meet the needs of the environment. This plan could be ratified by referendum and if those in charge fail to implement the necessary measures there should be the right to recall them.

The government could also set up programs to roll out energy-efficient light bulbs and whitegoods, and ban the selling of inefficient ones.

The government should adopt stringent limits on how much greenhouse gases private companies are allowed to emit and take serious measures to curb energy inefficiency. If a company continues to break the rules it should be made clear that it will be nationalised.

Public transport and freight

In Victoria, the public transport system was sold off to the multinational company Connex under the Liberal government in the 1990s. Connex’s contract is due to expire next year, but despite the atrocious state of Melbourne’s public transport system, the state Labor government is now toying with the idea of renewing Connex’s contract.[xix]

A recent article in the Melbourne Age newspaper showed that there had been a 70% increase in public transport use in last 10 years, but only a 9% increase in services, and very few new services in peak hours.[xx] Instead of re-nationalising the public transport system, the government is considering the construction of a new road tunnel at a cost of A$9 billion, and the introduction of “congestion taxes” and new tollways.[xxi] Meanwhile the major “City Link” tollway nets the Transurban corporation $1 million a day![xxii]

The federal government should nationalise Australia’s vehicle manufacturing industry, and retool the factories to pump out new trams, trains and buses to provide the massive needed expansion of the public transport system and, if necessary, produce electric cars that can be plugged into grid for those who can’t access public transport.

A publicly run public transport system is essential for rapidly expanding public transport, so that we can take millions of cars off the road, while providing the necessary levels of alternative transport. This must extend to rural areas and involve the development of high-speed, long-distance trains to drastically reduce need for carbon-intensive flying.

Another major task is the moving of freight. It was recently revealed that the state government is planning to expand Victoria’s roads to allow more “B Triple” trucks – three-carriage freight trucks.[xxiii] Such a plan is ridiculous in the context of climate change, when what’s needed is the development of a thorough system of freight-train lines to drastically reduce emissions. Such railways can be electrified with renewable energy, which could cut emissions significantly.


Another problem project of the Victoria Labor government is the $3 billion desalination plant, which will have its carbon emissions “offset” by ``clean coal’’ and other “clean’’ energy sources, possibly from interstate.[xxiv] The plant is being used to discourage people from installing rainwater tanks, and failing to introduce tighter restrictions on commercial irrigators who use up most of the state's water.[xxv]

Australia is still in extreme drought, with constantly diminishing water supplies. There is a threat to the survival of one of our most important water supplies – the Murray-Darling river system. It was recently revealed in a report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that found that almost 2 gigalitres a year is consumed on Victorian farms each year. [xxvi] As the Age reported on August 28, “in total the Australian farming sector used 8521 gigalitres of water in 2006-07, with nine out of every 10 litres used for irrigation.”[xxvii]

To preserve future water supplies and the natural environment, it is essential that our water supply is completely publicly owned, and managed in a manner that responds to the needs of people, not of big business.

One major thing the government must do is take over the most water-consuming farms, particularly cotton and rice, and instead use the land to grow less water-intensive crops like hemp. Instead, the government is unwilling to restructure the water allocation to irrigators to help save the Murray-Darling system.

For domestic urban water usage the government could set up a system to roll out free water tanks and fit grey water systems to each home.

There are also a range of big corporate industries like the aluminium industry, logging, coalmining etc., which contribute enormously to climate change. The basis of their profits are processes which are intrinsically harmful to the environment so it is essential for them to be put under public ownership. Only by ensuring that the big industries are no longer run for profits, will it be possible to determine to what extent they are actually needed and to what degree their impact on the environment can be reduced.

Jobs versus the environment?

The bulk of the industries that are the biggest polluters are simply going to have to be shut down, and no corporation is going to willingly accept such a proposition. Furthermore, while some corporations are investing in renewable energy, what’s needed is a massive government investment and commitment to renewable energy, and the direct conversion of the fossil fuel industry not just a gradual “transition”.

The socialist approach puts it clearly that it isn't about putting the environment ahead of jobs, but instead that the only way any sustainable industry can operate is with workers to run it. It's clear there is a huge pool of possible workers to fill jobs in new renewable and sustainable industries, but these workers will be thrown onto the scrap heap unless there is a government plan to utilise these workers and skill them to work in those industries.

The reality is that under capitalism big business regularly chucks workers onto the scrap heap, in order to preserve profits – just look at the 380 workers being axed from the Fairfax newspapers in Australia. It’s not like there is less news to cover!

Some right-wing unions, such as the Australian Workers Union, have been able to tap into this fear by workers that they will be left without jobs. The radical environmental movement must make it clear that the only solution is the nationalisation of those industries which will have to be reorganised or phased out, to allow public boards to be established to plan the rapid industrial transition and retrain workers so that they can be (voluntarily) deployed where they are needed. This is what happens in the public education sector.

What we propose also includes a huge investment in education and skills training – to re-skill workers in the fossil fuel industry to run solar thermal plants or build wind turbines etc. There also needs to be serious investment in the research and development of more energy-efficient technology and renewable energy sources.

But it is clear that no demand for nationalisation can be won without a mass struggle of workers that forces the government to do so. Furthermore we know that no industry can operate long term within a capitalist framework as a truly community-controlled public sector. Whenever a private corporation thinks it can make a profit, there will be a push from our present capitalist governments to carve up the public sector and privatise it. Despite the fact that these are necessary services and real public assets, wealth built up by the hard labour of working people, capitalism cares only about finding new areas it can take over and operate for profit.

If we win our demand for partial nationalisation, it would open the way for many more workers to comprehend the advantages of far wider (and even complete) public ownership of the economy and shift the struggle towards achieving real democratic control over entire industries. Only when we have control of the gears, pedals and steering wheels of the economy will we have any real chance to steer us away from the brink of a climate catastrophe.

[Trent Hawkins is an activist with the Australian socialist youth organisation Resistance and a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist organisation affiliated to the Australian Socialist Alliance. He also runs the Inhabitable Earth blog at]




[iv] Ibid.


[vi] ibid.



[ix] ibid.

[x] ibid.

[xi] ibid.
















[xxvii] ibid.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Climate Emergency Rally

These are the photos from the very successful Climate Emergency Rally held in Melbourne yesterday (July 5).

About 4000 people attended the protest, which happened the day after the Final Draft Garnaut Report was released.

This rally was significant for three reasons:
1. It was the first mass rally organised in a clear democratic manner by a broad coalition of groups (over 60 Victorian and interstate groups endorsed the event).
2. It had a clear political focus and fairly radical (although not overly contraversial) demands, inc. *Renewable Energy Not Coal Power
*Public Transport Not New Freeways
and was centred around demanding that the State and Federal Government take real action on climate change now, not in 2-4 years as proposed under the Garnaut Review
3. It was able to draw on the strength of two single issue campaigns that are not about climate change directly, but are projects that in the context of climate change have galvanised large amounts of community opposition. These were the Desalination Plant that the State Labor Government has forked out $140 million for, which will create unnecessary carbon emissions to without really improving the water supply, and the campaign to stop the dredging of the bay in Melbourne. The other issue implicit in the second demand, was the Eddington Review that sought to address the overflow of vehicle and public transport traffic into the city. Its main proposal was to construct a massive underground road tunnel to link up the east and the west.

The collective who organised the rally have already started discussing the possibility of initiating a national Climate Emergency Rally on October 4, one week after the final Garnaut Report will be released. Members of Resistance will be taking this idea to the Climate Camp happening in Newcastle next week.

Check out the media from the day below:,21985,23973776-5005961,00.html

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Put oil firm chiefs on trial, says leading climate change scientist

Ed Pilkington, June 23, The Guardian

James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.

Hansen will use the symbolically charged 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking speech to the US Congress - in which he was among the first to sound the alarm over the reality of global warming - to argue that radical steps need to be taken immediately if the "perfect storm" of irreversible climate change is not to become inevitable.

Speaking before Congress again, he will accuse the chief executive officers of companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy of being fully aware of the disinformation about climate change they are spreading.

In an interview with the Guardian he said: "When you are in that kind of position, as the CEO of one the primary players who have been putting out misinformation even via organisations that affect what gets into school textbooks, then I think that's a crime."

He is also considering personally targeting members of Congress who have a poor track record on climate change in the coming November elections. He will campaign to have several of them unseated. Hansen's speech to Congress on June 23 1988 is seen as a seminal moment in bringing the threat of global warming to the public's attention. At a time when most scientists were still hesitant to speak out, he said the evidence of the greenhouse gas effect was 99% certain, adding "it is time to stop waffling".

He will tell the House select committee on energy independence and global warming this afternoon that he is now 99% certain that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has already risen beyond the safe level.

The current concentration is 385 parts per million and is rising by 2ppm a year. Hansen, who heads Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, says 2009 will be a crucial year, with a new US president and talks on how to follow the Kyoto agreement.

He wants to see a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, coupled with the creation of a huge grid of low-loss electric power lines buried under ground and spread across America, in order to give wind and solar power a chance of competing. "The new US president would have to take the initiative analogous to Kennedy's decision to go to the moon."

His sharpest words are reserved for the special interests he blames for public confusion about the nature of the global warming threat. "The problem is not political will, it's the alligator shoes - the lobbyists. It's the fact that money talks in Washington, and that democracy is not working the way it's intended to work."

A group seeking to increase pressure on international leaders is launching a campaign today called It is taking out full-page adverts in papers such as the New York Times and the Swedish Falukuriren calling for the target level of CO2 to be lowered to 350ppm. The advert has been backed by 150 signatories, including Hansen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New push for nuclear waste dump

Chris Hammer, June 9, The Age

THE Federal Government is preparing to fast-track a decision on the site for a nuclear waste dump, with every indication it will be in the Northern Territory.

Consultants investigating Top End sites are expected to report to the Government this month.

Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson told The Age that after decades of government indecision, he wants to act soon.

"I know I've got one of the tough decisions of this parliament. It's got to be done. You can't hide from your responsibilities and you can't play politics," Mr Ferguson said.

The minister has left open the possibility of using Howard-era legislation to locate the waste in the Northern Territory against the wishes of the government there, despite a pre-election promise by Labor that it would repeal the legislation.

Mr Ferguson said he would not take piecemeal decisions, such as ruling out locations or the use of the legislation, before determining a final outcome.

But he did promise to consult with all affected parties, including the relevant state or territory government.

If the Government uses the Coalition-era law, it could prove a political nightmare for Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who condemned the law before the election and who would need to approve the site under the Environmental Protection Act.

But Mr Ferguson said: "It's about time we took the politics out of it and front up to our responsibilities. Let the Greens and the fringe groups play their little games, it's the responsibility of this parliament once and for all to resolve it."

He said it was necessary to finalise the site well before the next election because nuclear waste from Sydney's Lucas Heights research reactor sent overseas for reprocessing would return to Australia from 2011.

Under agreements signed in the 1990s, spent nuclear fuel rods are sent to Scotland and France to have their uranium extracted before the remaining medium-level waste is returned to Australia for disposal.

The minister would not comment on particular sites for the waste dump or even canvas which state or territory would host it, saying this had got previous ministers into trouble.

But a Senate committee heard last week that a consultant engaged by the previous government to examine four sites in the Northern Territory was expected to report this month.

The Howard government identified three sites on Defence Department land, plus Muckaty Station near Tennant Creek.

Muckaty Station emerged as a frontrunner for the site after the Northern Land Council said it would welcome the waste repository. The council has received $200,000 of a $12 million grant initiated by the Howard government, but won't receive the balance unless Muckaty is selected.

A Labor member of the Northern Territory Government, Elliot McAdam, whose electorate covers Muckaty Station, said he believed Martin Ferguson had made up his mind.

"I think Ferguson is locked into a departmental arrangement between the NLC and the previous government," he said.

The Rudd Government committed $1.4 million in the budget for an environmental impact assessment in 2008-09, with $2.4 million to complete it in 2009-10.

Adele Peddler, of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said such a process could not fully proceed until a site had been determined, suggesting a decision is imminent. "The people in the territory are left in limbo, waiting to see if Labor will repeal the legislation. It's not looking good," she said.

Mr Ferguson was clear that any repository would only be used for Australian waste.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Cuba: The Food Crisis is Systemic and Structural

Address by José Ramón Machado Ventura, vice president of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers, to the high-level conference on World Food Security: The Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy

(English translation by Climate and Capitalism, from Juventud Rebelde, June 4, 2008)

Mr. Chairman:

Two years ago, in this very hall, the international community agreed to eradicate world hunger. It adopted a goal of halving the number of malnourished people by 2015. Today that modest and inadequate goal seems like a pipe-dream.

The world food crisis is not a circumstantial phenomenon. Its recent appearance in such serious form, in a world that produces enough food for all its inhabitants, clearly reveals that the crisis is systemic and structural.

Hunger and malnourishment are the result of an international economic order that maintains and deepens poverty, inequality and injustice.

It is undeniable that the countries of the North bear responsibility for the hunger and malnourishment of 854 million people. They imposed trade liberalization and financial rules that demanded structural adjustment, on a world composed of clearly unequal actors. They brought ruin to many small producers in the South and turned self-sufficient and even exporting nations into net importers of food products.

The governments of developed countries refuse to eliminate their outrageous agricultural subsidies while imposing their rules of international trade on the rest of the world. Their voracious transnational corporations set prices, monopolize technologies, impose unfair certification processes on trade, and manipulate distribution channels, sources of financing, trade and supplies for the production of food worldwide. They also control transportation, scientific research, gene banks and the production of fertilizers and pesticides.

The worst of it all is that, if things continue as they are, the crisis will become even more serious. The production and consumption patterns of developed countries are accelerating global climate change, threatening humanity’s very existence. These patterns must be changed. The irrational attempt to perpetuate these disastrous forms of consumerism is behind the sinister strategy of transforming grains and cereals into fuels.

The Non-Aligned Countries Summit in Havana called for the establishment of a peaceful and prosperous world and a just and equitable international order. This is the only way to an end to the food crisis.

The right to food is an inalienable human right. Since 1997, this has been confirmed on Cuba’s initiative by successive resolutions adopted by the former Commission on Human Rights and later by the Council and the UN General Assembly. Our country, representing the Non-Aligned Movement, and with the support of more than two thirds of UN member states, also proposed the calling of a seventh special session of the Human Rights Council, which has just called for concrete actions to address the world food crisis.

Hunger and malnourishment cannot be eradicated through palliatives, nor with symbolic donations which — let us be honest — will not satisfy peoples’ needs and will not be sustainable.

At the very least, agricultural production in South countries must first be rebuilt and developed. The developed countries have more than enough resources to do this. What’s required is the political will of their governments.

  • If NATO’s military budget were reduced by a mere 10% a year, nearly 100 billion dollars would be freed up.
  • If the foreign debt of developing countries, a debt they have paid several times over, were cancelled, the countries of the South would have at their disposal the 345 billion dollars now used for annual debt service payments.
  • If the developed countries honoured their commitment to devote 0.7 % of the Gross Domestic Product to Official Development Aid, the countries of the South would have at least an additional 130 billion dollars a year.
  • If only one fourth of the money squandered each year on commercial advertising were devoted to food production, nearly 250 billion dollars could be dedicated to fighting hunger and malnutrition.
  • If the money devoted to agricultural subsidies in the North were directed to agricultural development in the South, our countries would have around a billion dollars a day to invest in food production.

Mr. Chairman:

I bring this message from Cuba, a country ferociously blockaded but standing proudly by its principles and the unity of its people: yes, we can successfully confront this food crisis, but only if we go to the root of the problem, address its real causes and reject demagogy, hypocrisy and false promises.

Allow me to conclude by recalling the words of Fidel Castro, when he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York in October 1979:

“The din of weapons, of threatening language, and of arrogance on the international scene must cease. Abandon the illusion that the problems of the world can be solved by nuclear weapons. Bombs may kill the hungry, the sick and the uneducated, but bombs cannot kill hunger, disease and illiteracy.”

Thank you very much.