Earlier this year former Prime Minister Tony Abbott claimed that Australia “doesn’t get enough credit for the emissions reduction work that we have already done” (The Age, July 13). It’s unclear whether Abbott wanted credit for Australia being the highest emissions-per-capita country in the world, or for being the only Western country whose government had not committed to a climate reduction target.
Either way, Abbott further cemented Australia’s status as part of the global problem when he announced his government’s new emissions reduction target last month. The target will be set at a 26-28% reduction on 2005 levels (19-22% reduction on 2000 levels). This target is woefully inadequate considering the government run Climate Change Authority had recommended a target of a 40-60% reduction in emissions by 2030. Many climate scientists consider even this target dangerously inadequate.
Regardless of where the target is set, the new emissions reduction target has not come with any policies aimed at actually reaching the target, inadequate as it may be. This was a valid point made by Australian Industry Group executive Innes Wilcox, who acknowledged that Abbott’s announcement is a “major change from anything deliverable by current policies”.
The motivation of lobbyists like Wilcox is to ensure that any emission reduction schemes, no matter how token, are paid for by taxpayers, not business. Abbott has long held the same view, arguing against the taxing or regulating of polluting industries. Yet the Abbott government had not committed any public funds to achieve the emissions reductions.
This reality exposes the hollowness of the announced emission reduction target. If Abbott refuses to make business pay, and refuses to invest substantial public money in renewable energy, public transport and other environmentally friendly initiatives, then how will any reduction target actually be met?
In fact, more important than the figure the government settled on was the rhetoric used to announce it. Abbott claimed that the target showed that his government put “jobs and growth” first, and the environment second.
It is this pitting of jobs against the environment that successfully derailed the large environment movement of the early 2000’s. Of course when ordinary working people are forced to choose between surviving next week with a pay check, or surviving the next century in a volatile climate, they will always focus on the more immediate and personal problem. It is this truth that polluting businesses and conservative politicians have exploited over and over to demobilise genuine attempts to seek action to address climate change.
If we ignore the role and influence of big business in determining what is produced, where it is produced and how it is produced, then we are fighting a battle we will never win. Privately run business will always pursue profit ahead of social and environmental need. Attempts to limit the ability of big business to pollute have driven governments out of office due to the enormous political influence of mining, energy and oil companies. This was demonstrated clearly by the coup orchestrated against Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in regards to his extremely modest mining tax, and the campaign against Prime Minister Julia Gillard in regards to her extremely limited carbon tax.
As socialists, we recognise ordinary working people as the agents of the dramatic social change necessary to address climate change. Capitalism has bred two inseparable crises – the enormous (and growing!) gap between rich and poor and the wholesale destruction of the planet. Both problems point to the same solutions.
It is not the environment that is the enemy of workers, but capitalism that thrives off the exploitation of both workers and the environment.
It is only through democratic collective ownership and introducing a rational plan of production that we can make the drastic changes needed to seriously address and limit catastrophic climate change. It is also on this basis that we can organise the economy to provide jobs, housing, education, healthcare on the basis of social need, not profit. This is why socialists argue that we must rebuild the environment movement as part of rebuilding a workers’ movement to achieve real change. Such a movement could make the case for bringing major industry into democratic public ownership to guarantee jobs while making the changes need to address climate change.
By Tim Tran