Clive Hamilton: We need a new environmental radicalism


Australian author and commentator Clive Hamilton gave the speech below to Australia’s Climate Action Summit, held in Melbourne on April 9.

* * *

The difficulty and importance of the global warming campaign is many times greater than every other environmental struggle. Controlling carbon pollution requires a wholesale industrial restructuring and defeat of the most powerful industry coalition ever assembled.

Yet in the face of this challenge, I think it is true to say that environmentalism in Australia has lost its way. I have put forward three reasons for the failure of environmentalism.

First, like most Australians, some environmentalists find it hard to accept what the climate scientists are really saying. They do not believe, in their hearts, that things can be as bad as the science indicates. Like all of us, they are prone to engage in wishful thinking and cling to false hopes.

Second, some environment groups have opted for incrementalism, the belief that small step-by-step changes are the only way forward because the political system and the public are unwilling to accept major changes.

Third, over the past two decades environmental activism has been professionalised.

The professionalisation of politics has seen a sharp decline in membership of the mainstream parties and the rise of a “political class” of career politicians, staffers, spin doctors and apparatchiks.

Some environmental NGOs have simply adapted to this new landscape. The “political class” have become the new targets of their activities, so NGOs have abandoned activism for the techniques of lobbying and media management and are now dominated by people with lobbying and media skills.

In other words, they have become insiders. As insiders they are subject to all of the pressures and inducements the powerful can mobilise — access to ministers, consultations, the attention of journalists and so on.

In the face of the failure of mainstream environmentalism to achieve significant progress on the biggest issue it will ever face, we need a new environmental radicalism.

Many in the environment movement are fearful of radicalism because they believe it will turn off voters.

Yet given the cavernous gap between the far-reaching actions demanded by the science and the tokenistic actions the public is willing to support, Australians need to be thoroughly shaken up.

I was watching an episode of the TV serial Mad Men, set in New York’s Maddison Avenue in the early 1960s. Betty Draper is the beautiful and self-absorbed wife of the show’s main character, advertising executive Don Draper.

Betty arrives home to find her black housekeeper Carla listening to the radio from which the voice of Martin Luther King Jr can be heard giving a moving speech. Carla quickly turns the radio off.

“Who was that?” asks Betty.

“That was Dr King speaking at the funeral of the little girls.”

In 1963, four black girls were killed in Birmingham, Alabama when their church was bombed by white supremacists.

“It’s a terrible thing”, says Betty. “I am not sure America is ready for civil rights just yet.”

After a strategy in the first half of the 20th century emphasising public education, litigation and lobbying politicians, in the 1950s the civil rights movement embarked on a campaign of mass civil disobedience — marches, boycotts, sit-ins, freedom rides, and nonviolent resistance.

They directly confronted racism in all its manifestations.

Their activities alienated large segments of the white population, who felt threatened and enraged. Their protests and actions created crisis situations that the authorities didn’t know how to handle, but which often played to their advantage.

Like Betty Draper, most white Americans may not have been ready for civil rights, but that did not diminish the urgency or rightness of the cause and the strategy. Americans had to be made ready for civil rights.

The same pattern defined the early women’s movement.

In Britain, after women’s suffrage bills were defeated by the main parties in 1870s, 1880s and 1890s, many activists became frustrated with moderation and reasonableness, of working within a system controlled by men.

Some moderate women’s groups, accepting that many people believed married women already had the vote because “their husbands voted for them”, decided to be pragmatic, to take one step at a time, and advocate voting rights for single women only.

Declaring a commitment to “deeds, not words”, Emily Pankhurst and the suffragettes engaged in direct confrontation with oppressive institutions at every turn. They attacked the major political parties, and refused to become the lapdogs of powerful men.

For their militancy, they were reviled by the defenders of the old order, denounced by the press, and criticised by many who said they supported women’s rights.

Members of the Liberal Party assaulted Pankhurst and her supporters, blaming their radicalism for a Conservative win in a by-election.

So there were plenty of timid people telling the leaders of the civil rights movement and the suffragettes that they must not push too hard or demand too much because society was not ready for change.

But it was only by pushing hard that the civil rights radicals and the suffragettes made society ready for change.

Naming Emily Pankhurst one of the 100 most important people of the 20th century, Time magazine wrote: “She shook society into a new pattern from which there could be no going back.”

That must be our strategy. In the case of climate change, gradualism is fatal.

For women’s suffrage and civil rights the price of gradualism was perhaps two, three or four more decades of discrimination.

In the case of climate change the price of gradualism is the battle lost, because a delay to doing what we must for another one or two decades will lock in our fate for a thousand years.

The women’s movement and the civil rights movement had history on their side and were always going to succeed sooner or later. The environment movement also has history on its side; and something more tangible, the relentless force of scientific facts.

Yet incrementalism reinforces a political system that acts above all else to maintain the structure of power — a system dominated by parties that always put the interests of the economy, economic growth, and corporations first, parties that have shown themselves to be dragging the chain at best, or actually taking us backwards.

When Carla turned off the radio after her mistress arrived home unexpectedly, Betty Draper said: “It’s OK. You can listen to your program.” I was reminded of this by an astonishing headline in the business pages of the November 11 Sydney Morning Herald:

“In a blow to environmentalists, the International Energy Agency forecasts world energy consumption will continue to rise sharply and CO2 emissions will jump …”

As long as newspapers think accelerating carbon emissions are “a blow to environmentalists” we know we are losing. One thing is now very clear; in the case of climate change the public has adopted a range of strategies to avoid the truth.

They don’t want real action on climate change; they only want symbolic actions that require nothing of them.

Sometimes coaxing the public to your point of view reaches an immovable barrier. Sometimes people must be jolted out of their complacency by militancy, even if that means a period of rancour, turmoil and danger.

The task of environmental campaigners is not to pander to public evasions but to make those evasions untenable, to blast away the pretences people use to blind themselves to the science, to make them see what is coming down the road.

A wave of environmental radicalism, of uncivil disobedience, will have succeeded when the conservative press begin praising Bob Brown and Christine Milne as voices of reason and moderation, as indeed they are.

The most committed defenders of the status quo are those who most fear environmentalism — the mining corporations, the defenders of the establishment in the Liberal Party and the ALP, and their boosters and apologists in the media.

These conservatives see environmentalism as a profound threat to their world.

Unfortunately, the threat posed by environmentalism is not nearly as great as they imagine, and is diminished by the actions of pale greens everywhere who believe that working within the system and massaging the public can save us from climate catastrophe.

In the 1990s and early 2000 there was some justification for an incrementalist strategy. But climate science now shows that the situation has become so urgent, and the forecasts so dire, that only radical social and economic transformation will give us a chance of avoiding dramatic and irreversible changes to the global climate.

So let me leave you with a final thought. The historic responsibility of environmentalism cannot be overstated. Beyond women’s suffrage, beyond civil rights, its mission is nothing less than saving humanity as a whole.

Today’s environment movement is no place for the faint-hearted.


Professor Hamilton's call for civil disobedience in the face of the imminent climate catastrophe is probably the most sane response citizens can make. Our generation must come together and begin to take real action to force governments and bureaucrats to legislate and drastically reduce co2 emissions. To take Barak Obama's quote, if not us, who? if not now, when? Fear and tendencies toward gradualist approaches must be cast aside. The debates fed by climate change "sceptics", also known simply as "ignoramus'" must be swept aside. The scientific evidence is clear. The debate we need to address with the greatest urgency is not whether climate change is happening or not, but what we are going to do about it. Politicians are hamstrung by their reliance on corporate industries and other monied classes and elements. We cannot afford to wait for their leadership. Nor can we afford to wait for the market to adjust and provide incentives for businesses. If we read the scientific literature that lays bare the facts for layman consumption - books by James Hanson and James Lovelock, as well as by Fred Pearce and Clive Hamilton - we realise that the scientific consensus is frighteningly stark about the future of our species and the future of other life-forms on the planet. Continuing the debates with so-called "Shock Jocks" and with leaders of vested interests, like Tony Abbott, only serve to play into the deniers hands by stalling action. History will either record that we stood united and marched against those who believed a business as usual approach to climate change was an option - or their will be no record of our failure to take action as our species will have ceased to exist. Let us begin now - generate unity and action - now.
Yes, it's true, we didn't ask for your movement to come to our rescue nor do we need your help to save us. Please establish that there is a problem before offering to fix anything. Again with the ranting commentary devoid of actual evidence yet full of dire predictions far into the future. Wake up to reality, if you can not establish the shape of the problem, you can't put up any kind of solution. No scientific body has yet to put forward a consistent working model or theory to explain the AGW concept. Why should anyone be expected to take on an idea when those promoting it haven't even agreed on what it is they are proposing. So continue to hype up your science fiction scenarios all you like, but sooner or later you will be asked to back up your claims with science, and then what will you do?
Prof Hamilton should show us how it's done by moving to China or India and spearheathing a movement there. I just hope he tones down his religiosity lest the Brights grok that his perspective "saving the planet" needs to have the full force of scientific scepticism brought to bear on it.
Thank you for this article. It confirms my beliefs that at the heart of the environmental movement lay cold hearted totalitarians such a the author of this piece who truly believe a tree is more important than a human being. There was a strong link between Nazism and the green movement during the 1930's and it seems that this vile, festering cancer is still within certain sections of our society thinly disguised as a wish to "jolt people out of their complacency". This article is a warning to anyone who values our current way of life.
"The task of environmental campaigners is not to pander to public evasions but to make those evasions untenable" True to form, more anti-democratic stuff Clive? Perhaps you should live in China, they don't bother to pander to anything like what the majority in society want, sounds like your kind of place. "will have succeeded when the conservative press begin praising Bob Brown and Christine Milne as voices of reason and moderation, as indeed they are." NEVER going to happen Clive. The Greens have good ideologies, but they are completely unrealistic when it comes to implementation. The fact they took no environmental action over a CPRS that they think should have been stronger shows that. Face it Clive, activists like yourself and Flannery have exaggerated the science beyond credibility, and the public aren't listening when you cry wolf anymore.
"No scientific body has yet to put forward a consistent working model or theory to explain the AGW concept." Of course, that's a lie. Responses to this and other typical climate denier arguments have been compiled by Coby Beck here
why don`t all the global warming alarmists donate their disposable income to the carbon tax and save the planet by them selves? that way they really could become heros and make us deniers happy also
Look, everyone with a clue knows the CAGW was oversold, like WMD. Its highly speculative and IPCC modeling has a poor track record of prediction. Intelligent people are not convinced anymore. But to claim that violence is the answer, and that those engaged in 'uncivil- disobedience' are somehow righteous, well isnt incitement to violence a crime?
"In the 1990s and early 2000 there was some justification for an incrementalist strategy. But climate science now shows that the situation has become so urgent, and the forecasts so dire, that only radical social and economic transformation will give us a chance of avoiding dramatic and irreversible changes to the global climate." Umm isnt the opposite actually true? The world appears to be cooling now, the IPCC models which all this fearmongering was based on are discredited, and basically only weak minded eco-loons are left on the left, right? Maybe Clive needs to find another product to spruik, isnt 'biodiversity' the next pseudo-scientific fraud the UN is planning to use to pick peoples pockets?
Hi there Mr Wannabe-Dictator. Either respect democracy, or get the hell out of our country. Cheers James Cushing
"The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it." H L Mencken
Trotsky would be proud.
They've been directed to this site by Australia's climate denier maestro Andrew Bolt As Ben Courtice explains in a recent GLW article, the deniers aren't about the science
Ummm ... how many of you GLW readers actually have a science education? Or did you just see climate change on TV? There is very little actual science in the CO2 terror industry, there are loads of computer models based on apocalyptic assumptions. But there is no testing of those assumptions. CAGW is a fear campaign based on pseudo-science, because CAGW is not falsifiable, therefore it is not science, QED.
First global warming is just hysterical tripe, etc. etc. (take the rest as read). Now for the important point. Yes, politics has become highly professionalised and we have developed a "political elite" who seem to have virtually no contact with ordinary people any longer, indeed, they seem to treat us with a great deal of contempt. In the UK when the government wanted an appointed Upper house I was involved in a campaign to push to have the members of that panel selected at random from the public, so in effect the public would appoint the members. Whether or not you personally like the idea (and I love it even better now than then), the simple fact is that around 10% of the contributions to the consultation proposed this or a similar scheme. So what was the politicians response: "Not invented here" (aka doesn't give us politicians a nice cushy job in the House of Lords just by being a political toady") As for the lobbyists. At the time I was pro-wind, I personally fought long and hard to ensure we went about financing a wind industry which would provide jobs in the UK and help create public support via small community based schemes. However, the big companies (and I mean big like shell and other oil giants) created these paid-for lobby organisation which literally ran the renewable energy bodies in both UK and Scottish Parliament. Even when I supported wind, I thought that was corrupt - a bit like the drug companies running the parliamentary committee on UK health service or military suppliers running the cross party committee on defence (they probably do ... but I'd rather not know about it!) So, basically, the policy on renewables was created by and for the big companies, many of them in the oil industry and the rest were just in it for money-grabbing. And no doubt, to be absolutely fair, the "fossil fuel industry" (which seems to me to be largely the UK wind industry - as we don't have coal) also have their pet politicians and are also pouring their oil into the ears of politicians. Which is why, in the UK renewables employ almost none of the 45,000 people who we were promised "if we adopted wind energy". Ordinary people, the people who rely on jobs whether from producing windmills or from tourists coming to unspoilt countryside (without windmills) were totally ignored and the whole thing was stitched up by the big boys, the big money in a totally undemocratic way.
You’re all about forcing acceptance of your view of the issue, Mr Hamilton, but where is any discussion from you on the challenges to the science?? Can you explain to Australians how you come to be so sure that some time during the last decade, there came a time when the science was settled on the most complex area of study scientists could undertake---the whole earth system---all done and dusted---no need to look at any alternative findings------and when the science is so new, to boot? How could this new science possibly be settled, when even the CO2-induced warming gurus ---Hansen, Schmidt, Mann et al----admit when they’re pushed---that very little is known about so many aspects of climate and the earth system--- clouds, the atmosphere, and especially the oceans. You must know that there’s no acceleration in sea level rise in any region of the world--- and that it would have to be accelerating if the oceans are warming to the extent you and other alarmists claim---that the ocean has to be warming in an alarming way if the earth is warming in an alarming way as you say ---hence the desperation by the alarmists to find the ever elusive ‘missing heat’. And they can’t fined it !! You must know that the celebrated trend from the 1800s to now, fell in a heap, when the correlation between tree ring proxies and temperature ended in 1960, motivating the alarmist scientists to ‘hide the decline’ in order to deceive the world. They don’t know how warm it was back then, so they can’t know how much it has warmed since then ---no trend. You must know that the so-called inquiries into the CRU emails that had revealed the manipulation of the science and the corruption of the peer review process, were biased shams that were so blatant that even a school child could see through them. You must know your whole shameful house of cards is collapsing around you---- so is this call to militancy and insurrection just the last desperate attempt to achieve the real holy grail of the Left----global governance---UN oversight of the pesky democracies who refuse to submit to wealth redistribution to Left wing dictatorial regimes??
sooooooo convincing. How about you tell us your science qualifications? I bet mine's longer than yours! Newsflash: just cos Andrew Bolt and Tony Abbott say it, doesn't mean it's true. something like 97% of climate scientists (i.e. the ones who actually study climate, as opposed to astrophysics or whatever) actually think human-caused climate change is a serious threat. Nuff said. Nuff-nuff.
Strangely, Clive Hamilton is coming over to the left in a way. A bizarre sort of way for such a liberal, but then a pollution problem threatening to completely upend human civilisation tends to do that to anyone who's listening.
Well, that's what you'd expect from a flat disc carried on the back of a cosmic tortoise. I mean, a flat body has a large surface area relative to mass, so can lose heat at quite a rate. Thank goodness for the flat earth society. Oh, hang on. The earth is warming, not cooling. Wasn't it Goebbels who said that a lie, if repeated often enough and made big enough, will be believed? "the IPCC models which all this fearmongering was based on are discredited" - sadly, they are being discredited because they were far too complacent. Climate change is occurring roughly along the lines of their "worst possible scenario" projections. Go and look it up. And not on the 911 Truth/Chemtrails/Flat Earth website, this time.
It's funny to hear an Andrew Bolt fan talking about "totalitarians". Irony? I guess right wingers don't understand it.
Australia has the world's highest carbon emissions, per capita, of any nation on the planet (unless Canada has inched past us again). China's overall emissions are pretty high, but if the world had tracked at their level of per-capita emissions for the past 20 years we'd still be looking at incremental, reformist measures to stop climate change instead of the "oh shit!!!" moment we've reached. And if the world's per capita emissions had tracked at the average for India's we would probably have only begun to notice the problem of climate change by now.
Clive was clearly addressing the majority of people who actually understand that climate change is a serious threat. I've met illiterate Bolivian peasants who get it. The antediluvian cohorts of the first-world radio shock jocks clearly weren't his intended audience. For you, I think a basic course in science up to year 12 level might be where to start if we are to have any hope in reaching you.
All Australians have a science education, it's taught in schools for 12-13 years. Admittedly GLW readers are strongly anti-science when science gets in their way, but in this case they have the science right. Wishful thinking, and the deliberate lies of corporate propaganda, are the only reasons global warming deniers exist. Loonitarians believe they can do whatever they want and ignore the consequences, but unfortunately, the real world doesn't work like that. There's a limited supply of fossil fuels, and there's a limited amount of atmosphere to dump the products from burning them. It sucks, but inconvenient things have a habit of being true.
As you know, Andrew Bolt has a habit of fearlessly stating the obvious truth about politically correct lies and lunacy from the left-leaning elites. On issues such as crime, immigration, multiculturalism, or aboriginal affairs, you trust him to tell you the bad news... that things really suck and are getting worse but are deliberately being covered up by people who want you to believe the feel-good mainstream mantra of harmony and rainbows. What you don't know is that Andrew Bolt doesn't do that because of an unswerving commitment to honesty and intellectual integrity. He does that because he's a paid propagandist of the right, and propaganda that happens to be true, when its available, is the most effective for his cause. But on issues when the truth doesn't fit the right-wing agenda, Bolt just lies. You can tell when Bolt is lying because he suddenly switches from saying there's a problem that is universally covered up and everyone is pretending things are fine when they aren't... to agreeing with the status quo and saying that there's no problem and you can keep on ignoring your worries. Unfortunately, this is one of those lying ones. Dumping waste into our thin atmosphere is not going to work long-term, but unfortunately our whole infrastructure is based on doing that. A major change will be needed, and nothing in the system we have now will achieve that change.
Global warming was the wrong result, For Professor of nothing Andrew Bolt, He locks his stare onto your eyes, And tells you facts are really lies. Go on, ask, he knows it all, From WMD to the Afghan war, He proves a point with style and grace, By screaming bullshit in your face. For Professor of nothing Andrew Bolt, Global warming is your fault, You made it up you selfish prick, Now, bend over here comes Andrew’s…
What's "actual science"? Do you mean "science". I think you do. I think the issue is not how many glw readers have a science degree, the question is really have people like you been to school at all? You might have heard of the IPCC. It's not just a really hard word to pronounce, it's the International Panel on Climate Change and is a made up of thousands of scientists from around the world. Yes, thousands. That's a big number, isn't it. Have you heard of the Keeling Curve? Probably not. It's not a computer model, it's a graph compiled manually from observation and measurement of Co2 concentrations in the air. Guess which direction it goes... Up! I love it when people like Bolt and idiots that listen to him question people's qualifications. They say, "I bet you don't have a science degree!" Hahaha. They don't realise how ridiculous they are. They ignore people with scientific doctorates, they ignore eminent professors of science like james Lovelock, Tim Flannery and Jim Hanson who tell us that we are heading toward a climatic catastrophe. So, it really doesn't matter at all whether you have a science degree, does it. Not really, if you're honest with yourself, which is highly doubtful you have the capacity to experience. These same poor turkeys can't even construct a meaningful argument. All they say is they don't believe in climate change, as if naturally occurring phenomena relies on their belief! haha you must be joking. It's not religion, it doesn't matter what you believe. There are facts. That is all. Thankyou, and i look forward to more ridiculous, primary school level discussions with you.
Sadly, many primary school students have little or no science for the whole 6-7 years. And at high school, at least in some states, it is possible to do no science after year 10 (I did that). Science education in Australia (like most of our education) leaves a lot to be desired IMO.
It was you who introduced the topic of violence. The only time the word appears in the Clive Hamilton article is where he talks about non-violence. "uncivil disobedience" could mean many things short of violence. Unless you count any breach of the law as "violence" which would be a typical Boltism. And very silly considering most of our current "civil" society was constructed by campaigners who were willing to break unjust laws about slavery, convicts, women's suffrage, equal pay, and so on and so forth.
My gosh, you are a highly qualified scientist! You have cited a report about a poll of scientists whose authorsh eliminated the vast majority of respondents down to only 75 scientists from around the world that they considered "experts" in the field. 73 of them repsonded that humans had an effect. Is that how one does science in your scientific field of expertise? You poll a selection of other scientist. I don't care about how long is your list of qualifications, your logic is moronic.
Actually if you compare Hansen’s 1988 predictions with the actual results you will find that global temperatures are below his scenario C which was the best possible scenario.
Why don't the anti carbon crew kick-off the "saving of the world" by paying my carbon tax until I come around to the idea? Because half of them are smart enough to know a tax isn't going to do anything to the climate and the other half aren't smart enough to have enough money to pay any tax in the first place The hippies always need everyone else to sacrifice something - growth and success is the enemy of the watermelon crew. It has nothing to do with the planet
An assorted group of citizens are gathered in a room. They finish watching a presentation by several scientists that shows the latest evidence confirming the effects of anthropocentric climate change. The group begin asking the scientists questions, exploring the evidence and discussing the answers. The mood is calm, but there is a sense of urgency because of what the scientific evidence is telling them. - Suddenly, without warning, a man bursts into the room. His eyes are raging like a wild animal's. Froth and spittle burst from his lips as he begins ranting almost illegibly. The man is repeating himself over and over and over again. He is yelling "I'm Andrew Bolt, I'm Andrew Bolt, I'm Andrew Bolt, I'm Andrew Bolt, I'm Andrew Bolt, I'm Andrew Bolt, I'm Andrew Bolt!" The adults in the room are shocked at first by the interruption. The man skips around the room before finally exiting from whence he came. "What the hell was that," ask one of the adults. - Stay tuned for episode 2!

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