Review
Bookmarks, 2008, $30.00 from Solidarity

As one of the most sun-drenched continents on the planet, Australia should be a leading solar industry supplier. Instead we are the world’s largest exporter of coal.

It was a big step forward when the climate sceptic Howard Liberal government was defeated a year ago and Kevin Rudd signed the Kyoto Protocol.

However, the Labor government’s commitment is to the lucrative coal industry while tinkering with market solutions such as carbon trading.

To achieve a cooler planet humans must act more quickly to phase out the fossil fuel based energy system, the main cause of CO2 emissions fuelling warming, according to well-supported scientific arguments.

Social change is necessary if we are to save the planet, according to a new book on global warming, Stop Global Warming: Change The World by Jonathan Neale.

This book shows why governments won’t act because of their political commitment to the capitalist market, and the fossil fuel industry. Of the ten richest and most powerful companies, six are oil companies and three are car companies.

The biggest companies have major influence and often control over the trade and distribution networks. The effect of profitable coal and oil industries is to prevent governments investing in solar, wind and wave energy.

Even though these renewable energy solutions are available right now, those with the power won’t act. Despite the recent economic meltdown, Kevin Rudd remains committed to neo-liberal practices: profit before the planet.

This is an international problem, but is particularly significant in Australia because we are more vulnerable to the effects of warming, with an entrenched drought and water crisis, and, on the other hand, we produce about 30 percent of the world’s coal supply.

While most people want to stop planet annihilation caused by global warming, they are not confident that governments and big businesses will do what’s needed. We need an effective political strategy for the movement. Jonathan Neale’s new book is therefore essential reading.

People power

Jonathan provides a convincing argument that the world’s six billion people can and must organise now to force governments to act, or to be replaced.

The book re-states the nature of the emergency we face and outlines the solutions that will work and, if implemented by the public sector, could reduce warming by more than 80 per cent in the richer countries within 30 years.

These ideas are familiar with Solidarity readers: solar power, wind and wave power; reducing energy use in buildings, transport and industry; redirecting government funding towards alternatives like public transport.

He also analyses the proposed solutions that won’t work, such as biofuels, “clean coal” experiments, nuclear power, methane-producing hydro-electricity and hydrogen cars. Yes, these are all the options soaking up the government’s funds and diverting money from real solutions. None challenges the fossil fuels industry; they are politically safe while leaving the world unsafe and dangerous.

Shattering myths

The book shatters two myths that have confused the debate on climate. One is that poor people and the developing world are a problem and the second is that to stop climate change we have to sacrifice.

Where this book is different is in its understanding and empathy for ordinary working and poor people in all countries around the world. Most environmentalists fear that poor people will not support measures to stop climate change.

Largely this is because of the argument being pedalled by the rich about China and India’s reluctance to jump on board a global carbon trading scheme. But also people often think that you can’t reduce poverty at the same time as confront climate change; the mainstream and broad left environmental argument is that we all must accept austerity.

Jonathan points out, firstly, that people in developing countries are not the same as their rulers; there are classes in every country, North and South. Reliable surveys show that around 70 per cent of Chinese, Japanese and South Korean people listed the environment as they key problem in their countries.

It is the poor in all countries that will suffer the most from economic crisis and global warming. They have the greatest need in stopping global warming because their homes and workplaces are more likely to be affected by droughts, floods and rising sea levels and they are less able to pay higher prices for food and other goods.

Failure to reduce global warming is illustrated by what has already happened in two major climate crises and their aftermath – Hurricane Katrina in the US and the 25 years crisis in Darfur, Sudan. The book details these crises to show that our rulers would rather make profits than save populations.

But we are told through the media that the Global Poor are more interested in economic growth, that ‘they’ want to grow rich like America, and that, because of population growth, ‘they’ will be more of a carbon problem than the west. It’s part of George Bush’s argument that it doesn’t matter what the western nations do, the developing countries will create a worse situation – ‘they’ are the problem.

Jonathan provides basic statistics to show that developing countries don’t need to get rich in the US way polluting 5.9 billion tons of carbon (more than 20 tons per person). Perhaps they could choose the European way to growth; Europe pollutes 8 tons per person and a total of 4.7 billion tons. Perhaps they will choose another way.

Population growth is not the problem either. The UN figures indicate that by 2030, world population is likely to increase by between 18 and 28 percent, to become between 7.7 and 8.3 billion people. Even today average children per women is declining in Hong Kong (0.9), South Korea (1.1), and all developed countries (1.6), while Sub-Sahara average is 5.5 and the world average is 2.7. For USA and China it is 2.0.

Read the maths in the book and you’ll see that: “We can achieve…(a)…world where poverty is history and still stop climate change. It would need cuts of 80 to 85 percent per person in the rich countries.”

For some this may seem impossible because people would have to give up too much. Yet the book shows that cutting emissions does not have to mean austerity, rather could mean enriching our lives and suffering less.

More jobs not less

The key problem is stopping pollution at the source. While it is true that we can all usefully reduce our own carbon footprint, this action will not solve the problem.

Activists are trying to change consumer habits because that is something that can be done locally and effectively.

The book argues there are important limitations on individual activity. Most people cannot afford solar panels on their house, only governments can roll out an alternative electricity system. Many people cannot afford to give up their cars, and there is often not sufficient public transport; only governments can build an effective public transport system.

Kevin Rudd is showing what could be done if he regarded climate as much of an emergency as the economic crisis – rather than bailing out the banks we could create new industries and provide decent jobs for the unemployed.

Germany has created a new solar power industry, employing more than 250,000 people. As our car industries sack workers the question is raised that those factories could be turned over to creating different vehicles especially public transport. Victoria used to manufacture trams.

Carbon trading

In theory, an Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) sounds more feasible, but in practice it is just a way of creating a market in a new commodity, carbon credits, which will increase the cost of energy for all. This means the poor will pay more, like what happened with the introduction of the GST.

Theoretically, each year the number of credits reduces so that there is pressure on business and society to reduce emissions, and money that the government makes from selling pollution permits could compensate low income people. That means most workers will pay more for energy plus compensation for the poor. The rich can afford to spend a little extra.

The energy industry players argue that carbon trading will increase their costs and the industry will be uncompetitive on the world market; they look set to get free permits and compensation, or not have to participate at all.

ETS schemes fit within the neo-liberal framework of turning all products into commodities; some investors will get rich from carbon trading. But it won’t reduce emissions sufficiently. The European ETS which began 2003 has not led to a decrease in emissions.

Carbon rationing

Carbon rationing combines personal solutions and the market. The idea is to grant all countries a limited set of permits which are distributed among the population each year, reducing in number each year to reflect suggested decline in emissions.

Like carbon trading carbon credits can be bought and sold. This seems a fairer scheme, and many have likened it to the rationing in England during and after World War 2, but in the 1940s the rationing was of equal amounts of food which was fair, rather than of credits, which, like a flat tax is not fair.

The main assumption behind all these schemes is that humans need to sacrifice in order to stop global warming, but those who will sacrifice most are the poor. So, these schemes are designed for people who can afford them.

This book argues to join forces with the poor. Rather than sacrifice, humans can develop new industries in an environmentally responsible way and create enough wealth for all of us to be well off. As well movements of poor people have actually changed the world in the past, through collective action.

If we make climate activism expensive, we won’t win their support.

Green bans and anti-uranium

Using examples of previous successful campaigns, Jonathan argues to mobilise the world’s six billion people to force governments to act. That means political action that illustrates a different social organisation for humanity, an economy and political system that benefits people and planet not profit.

In Australia in the 1970s two environmental campaigns linked environmentalists and the trade union movement: workers used ‘green bans’ to stop anti-environmental actions by property developers, saving large swathes of city environments.

In the anti-nuclear movement, workers refused to load shipments of uranium, and engaged in political action which forced the Labor Party to adopt a policy of limiting the number of uranium mines to three. Until the 2007 Labor Party conference, this policy helped prevent a nuclear industry in Australia.

Our history includes more examples of successful campaigns that mobilised workers and poor people to win major reforms, like a welfare state, equal pay, shorter working hours, votes for women and working people and the union rights that made it possible.

This is not an argument for other campaigns to be dropped in favour of one big climate campaign, rather the book argues for unity – all campaigns for change should support each other. And if we have the power to stop global warming we can stop capitalism itself and build a new world of human and environmental need in the process.

Australian energy industries should combine with the government to start phasing out coal and setting up new renewable industries. This book shows how the government can lead a re-shaping of our society, which would be great if it happened. But it is unlikely to happen and that’s why the book also advises us to organise independently, now.

We can join forces with people around the world and put pressure on the governments to use their resources for alternative energy, to stop global warming. Ordinary people have changed the world before, we can do it again.

Judy McVey

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