EDITORIAL: Climate change is a political problem

The climate change crisis is not a primarily technical or scientific problem, the key problem is political.
Friday, October 18, 2013

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill told ABC News Breakfast on October 18: “The climatic conditions that fuelled that fire yesterday were just unprecedented ... an unprecedented disaster.”

More than 100 fires broke out across New South Wales on October 17. By October 19, they had destroyed at least 193 homes in the Blue Mountains alone and caused at least one confirmed death.

The bushfire emergency, unprecedented for October, occurred mere days after the Daily Telegraph ran a story on a leaked report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finding that, across NSW, very high and extreme fire danger days will increase by up to 30% by 2020 — and up to 100% by 2050.

Despite this, when Greens MP Adam Bandt made this obvious link on the same day as the fires, he was roundly attacked by the environment minister Greg Hunt and Melbourne shock jock Neil Mitchell for “politicising” the catastrophe and being “insensitive”.

But the time has long since past for this head-in-the-sand rhetoric. Bandt stated what is blindingly obvious — the growing reality of climate change is taking place with more frequent and worse extreme weather events across Australia, with devastating consequences.

The climate change crisis is not a primarily technical or scientific problem. Plenty of work has gone into solutions.

In Australia, Beyond Zero Emissions developed a detailed, fully costed plan three years ago for a 10-year transition to a zero-carbon economy with 100% renewable energy. Ironically, one of the people who launched the plan in Sydney was Malcolm Turnbull — now a member of a government moving in the opposite direction.

Based on such work, and believing the profit-driven private sector cannot make it happen, the Socialist Alliance developed a “climate charter”, a plan driven by public ownership over, and investment in, key sectors of the economy to make BZE's proposals a reality.

In the September elections, the Socialist Alliance raised the demand to nationalise Australia's mining sector and put it under community control to break the power of mining oligarchs and help bring about such a public-driven transition.

In the current political climate, such measures may sound extreme — but it is far more extremist to advocate allowing the status quo to continue, almost certainly condemning the planet to catastrophe.

The key problem is political. Power is wielded by a corporate oligarchy committed to destructive practices.

In Australia, the government refuses to even pretend to act. But on the other side of the equation, the carbon price agreement between Labor and the Greens fell drastically short of the type of measures required to combat the problem.

Not only did it heavily compensate big polluters in such a way as to undermine any potential to force big business to shift to sustainable practices, it was also set to transition to an emissions trading scheme (ETS) by 2015.

It placed the climate emergency in the hands of the sort of market forces that brought us the disaster of the global financial crisis. An ETS in Europe has failed to lower carbon emissions, let alone drive the sort of far-reaching transformation required to deal with the scale of the crisis.

There is nothing for it but to build a movement that confronts the power of corporate oligarchs based on the desperately urgent need for a radical reorganisation to a zero-carbon, renewable-energy fuelled economy.

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