Academics James Goodman and Stuart Rosewarne have delivered a welcome salvo against market-based solutions to climate change.
Their new paper, written for Friends of the Earth’s Chain Reaction magazine, points out the dangers for the climate movement in supporting carbon pricing, through measures like a carbon tax. With The Greens burying themselves in a carbon price committee with the government, fully supported by most of the climate movement, it could not come at a better time.

They note that carbon taxes in practice, as introduced across Scandinavia during the 1990s, have mostly failed to reduce overall emissions, due to ongoing growth in overall energy demand.

They show that there is no reason that a carbon tax is immune from the kind of capture by corporate interests that fatally compromised Rudd’s CPRS. For instance in December last year the, “French constitutional court ruled that the proposed Sarkozy carbon tax unfairly favoured corporates (through exemptions for 93 per cent of industrial emissions).”

Just as importantly, they focus on the unfairness of carbon pricing, noting that it will increase the cost of power and that, “the price hike is passed on to consumers.” The dominance in the climate movement of these market solutions is already doing damage. They argue that the most important reason for the resurgence of climate scepticism is a backlash against this “patently unjust climate policy.”

Their alternative to carbon pricing is also commendable—“non-market direct action measures.” In addition to public investment in renewable energy they advocate tough regulations on polluters and a range of other measures. For instance, “minimum reductions in emissions could simply be announced for the 1000 companies and agencies listed under the Rudd CPRS, which account for about 70 per cent of emissions in Australia.”

Demands for movement
However one thing missing from their approach is a clear idea about how to get there. They advocate an immense sweep of policies, from climate debt repayments to localised energy production, carbon sinks and ending coal exports.

All of these are worthy, but they do not give any sense of how the movement could begin to campaign for a non-market approach. As they show, the problem with market solutions is that they are incapable of winning wide public support.

What needs to be drawn out is how a non-market approach is different. Their call for “progressive direct taxes” to fund renewable energy is part of the answer.

A solution based on climate justice would force corporations and the rich to pay, and provide millions of new jobs.

Goodman and Rosewarne seem to put equal weight on phasing out coal power and coal exports. In fact their number one reason for rejecting a price on carbon is that it would not “penalise the extraction of fossil fuels.” If we already lived in a post-capitalist society and could introduce an immediate blueprint for slashing emissions this would be fine. But the actual problem we face is building a movement to force a government that has been shown to work wholly and solely for the corporations, to act.

Putting equal weight on shutting down coal mines and fighting for new jobs in renewable energy is the wrong approach. The fact that the climate movement is so wedded to market solutions means that many working class people already see it as part of a corporate scam to cut their living standards. This means the movement has a fight on its hands to show working class people that we are on the same side.
Campaigning to close down mines, and jobs, before the movement has proven that it is serious about fighting to win new jobs, won’t help achieve this.

Nevertheless Goodman and Rosewarne have done the climate movement a service. Their discussion of the idea of “climate justice” is an important step forward. Mostly “climate justice” has meant a focus on the divisions between nations in the global north and south. Important as this is, climate justice is just as relevant within rich industrialised countries like Australia, with their class divisions and disparities of wealth.

Hopefully it can push forward this discussion within the wider climate movement.

By James Supple

Read the paper online at the link below
“Climate policy: from carbon tax to direction action?” Chain Reaction 110, November 2010

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