Fight coal and gas like life depends on it — because it does

A recent essay by Australian philosopher Clive Hamilton The great climate silence: we are on the edge of the abyss but we ignore it was both moving and frustrating.

Moving because he’s right when he says: “…a calamity is unfolding, that the life systems of the Earth are being damaged in ways that threaten our survival.”

Runaway global warming threatens mass species extinction and the collapse of agriculture. It may bring with it the most traumatic and violent phase of human history. It’s truly scary stuff.

He asks, “How should we understand the disquieting fact that a mass of scientific evidence about the Anthropocene, an unfolding event of colossal proportions, has been insufficient to induce a reasoned and fitting response?”

However Hamilton doesn’t really answer this question. He doesn’t discuss how the response to global warming is determined by the way economic and political power is organised.

He seems surprised that an articulate presentation of the facts has not been enough to sway the “decision makers”. But it was never going to be that easy. How was the system that created the crisis going to solve it?

The solution requires collective action for the long-term good, but this is precisely what capitalism is incapable of. It operates for individual short term gain; it pushes the true cost of production onto society and the environment. It assumes and requires infinite growth on a finite planet.

This is sharply expressed in Australia, where a fossil fuel mafia hold a tight grip on our politics and society. Their response to the looming catastrophe is to expand gas and coal extraction.

Their political response is both denialism and preparation of the worse kind. Take Santos chairman Peter Coates’ recent assertion that planning for a 4°C increase was “sensible”. Four degrees is apocalyptic.

When millions of desperate people, most of whom have contributed much less to global warming on a per capita basis than Australians have, come our way in a desperate search for food and water, then the servants of the fossil fuel mafia in parliament have a plan: “stop the boats”.

The $50 billion they want to spend on twelve submarines and the billions more on fighter planes is their response to global warming. All of it should be spent on removing carbon from our economy. But that’s not going to happen without a serious social struggle.

We are like passengers on a bus careering down a hill towards the edge of a cliff. There’s a sociopath at the front of the bus, driving straight towards the cliff. Waving peer reviewed scientific papers at them is not going to help. The job is to prise their hands off the steering wheel while we still can.

There is a growing sense that a different kind of society based on human solidarity is both possible and necessary.

We see it in countries relatively similar to Australia, with the movements that have galvanised around Sanders, Corbyn and Melenchon. They have not yet broken through but they offer hope that change is on the way.

We seem a long way off that in Australia. But our job here is no less important. Here in the belly of the beast we must fight like hell to stop, or at least slow, every attempt by the fossil fuel mafia to expand their empire.

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