PASSWORD RESET

Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

For climate change we need system change

Global warming, and the rape of the environment by capitalism, is suffocating our planet. Even Tony Blair has belatedly accepted that “we have… only 10-15 years to take the steps we need to avoid crossing catastrophic tipping points.”

This epiphany by a key neo-liberal leader did not come from realising how much human misery the destruction of the environment will cause, but on the back of warnings by economists that if business carries an as usual, a rise in average temperatures could lead to global economic output falling by 20%. In a moment of clarity, the author of the British Government’s 2006 Stern Report wrote that “climate change… is the greatest and widest ranging market failure ever seen.”

Just in the last year even our own PM has also been pushed onto the environmental bandwagon, and used it to steer debate in the direction of a switch from coal to nuclear power and the vast potential profits that represents. Tellingly, he wasn’t nearly so enthusiastic in proffering magic solutions when the water crisis forced politicians to meet in November 2006. Instead establishing a long-term plan, Howard and the state leaders have asked officials to draw up contingency plans – including emergency measures such as blocking water flows into natural wetlands – to ensure Adelaide and other cities relying on the Murray-Darling river system do not run dry in 2007-08.

Another proposal includes introducing trade in water entitlements which is supposed to use market forces to ensure water is allocated in the most economically efficient way. Let’s hope it works a little better than the Kyoto carbon-trading scheme.

But Howard is hardly encouraging debate on the most sensitive issue – the sustainability of present farming practices – which he has put off until next year’s NSW and federal elections are safely out of the way. The Financial Review (08/11/06) asked: “If these governments are unwilling to confront historic water over allocations in NSW in the depths of the worst drought in a century – one which is drawing $2.3 billion worth of drought assistance – just because of elections, when will they be?”

We have come to the current situation because environmental abuse over the last century was profitable. Despite the potential threat to future profits, at the time there was a lack of political impetus to do anything. Now that this threat to profits is closer to home, we are being asked to believe that the profit system which created and magnified the unsustainable use of resources and environmental destruction will rescue us through the imposition of market forces in water allocation. Sounds a bit utopian, doesn’t it?

To ensure we distribute resources and use the environment in the interests of the majority we must have a participatory democracy which controls publicly owned resources, and could plan at local, national, regional and global level. The changes required to make our very existence sustainable are almost inconceivable under capitalism with its short-term profit motivation. A socialised economy (with democratic public ownership) could shift energy generation to renewable sources and abolish unsustainable production (such as irrigating desert regions) over a comparatively short time, retraining and redeploying the existing workforce in the process.

By Wynand van der Woode