2016 set new global temperature records, showing that the Earth is continuing to warm as a result of the burning of fossil fuels for energy. We saw exceptionally high temperatures across the Arctic, and record low levels of sea ice.
The previously-mythical ‘Northwest Passage’ opened up enough to allow a cruise ship to cross from Alaska to New York. In Australia, the Great Barrier Reef continued to degrade due to ocean warming and acidification.
Public funding into climate research was cut back during 2016, when the Coalition government announced funding cuts to the CSIRO, particularly to their climate monitoring programs. These were a continuation of cuts begun under Labor. The election of Donald Trump has raised fears that key programs operated out of the US will be similarly abandoned and scientists silenced.
However, these are only the latest developments. Capitalist governments have failed to take action on climate change for many decades already. Globally, there is still no serious plan to actually address the issue on the scale that is necessary.
Instead, various half-measures and market-based non-solutions have been pushed forward. There is no large-scale shift towards using renewable energy to replace fossil fuels, renewables continue to represent a tiny proportion of global production.
As neither major party has any proposals to address Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels, a totally new approach is needed.
Some would look to the Greens, however they have rejected a serious approach to climate change, instead preferring market-based approaches. They support carbon trading, which alienated many ordinary people who feared this would place the cost burden for addressing climate change onto them instead of onto rich corporations that cause it.
Carbon trading is a market-based solution that has largely failed where it has been rolled out. Interestingly, this has been openly recognised by a new faction within the New South Wales Greens called Left Renewal.
Left Renewal was formed in response to attacks on left-wing Greens activists by the conservative party leadership. They explicitly reject capitalism, and have issued a statement on Facebook rejecting the Greens support for market approaches to climate change.
While this development is to be welcomed, Left Renewal faces an uphill battle in reforming the Australian Greens. The party’s ability to appeal to ordinary people is undermined by the fact that they are known as a party of austerity in Tasmania and the ACT, and on local council level when they have held power.
Even on a Federal level, they previously used their seat in the House of Representatives to prop up the right-wing Gillard government which made cuts and attacked refugees.
Their commitment to profit-driven capitalism makes it difficult for them to transform into a broad party that prioritises working people and the environment. Without a mass base, Left Renewal will be under constant attack from the dominant right-wing leadership.
Addressing climate change seriously means challenging the very legitimacy and basis of capitalism. It requires us to take the energy industry into public hands. It requires large public investment, as well as planning, co-operation and co-ordination on a global scale. An international, socialist approach is absolutely necessary.
What is needed is a party that explicitly bases itself on the working class, is organised, and is part of activist movements on the ground. It is not enough to campaign only during elections. To start to address the issue, we need to actively engage with people on a day-to-day basis about what kind of politics are needed to save the planet.
We have to work towards the creation of a new worker’s party that is made up of ordinary people and accepts nothing from big business. It would push for a fundamental alternative to capitalism, rather than pursuing the long-since failed approach of working purely within the system.
In the past, the environmental movement has organised demonstrations of tens of thousands of people wanting action on climate change. This movement was undercut by the shift toward carbon trading pushed by Labor and the Greens. The best way to rejuvenate it is to prioritise the demands of public ownership, democratic control over resources and investment into renewables as part of a sustainable plan of production.
These socialist solutions are the only realistic alternative to the ineffective strategies pushed by the establishment parties.
By David Elliott