Left not to blame for climate inaction

November 23, 2013
GetUp rally for climate action. Photo: Peter Boyle

After attending the national day of action on climate change, organised by GetUp on November 17, Sally Rawsthorne wrote in the Guardian that “fringe dwellers” like the Socialist Alliance and the Green Left Weekly participating in the rally “does climate action a disservice”.

It may be true that both organisations are not reaching wider Australia. However, this may have more to do with the misrepresentation and marginalisation by certain powers, including the mainstream media.

What is less clear is her claim that climate change is not a “lefty” cause. In fact, in the dangerous situation we now find ourselves in, it is the most serious cause a “lefty” could devote themselves to.

Socialism’s driving concern is the wellbeing of society and as such, necessarily includes future generations. Far from being a “cause celebre” of the Socialist Alliance and GLW, it is their most pressing issue.

To claim that such organisations ignore “other economic, social or political issues”, displays an ignorance unworthy of serious journalism, particularly in a paper like the Guardian. For the Socialist Alliance and GLW, the link between climate change, politics, economics and wider social issues are intimately related.

Of course, this is not to say you need be a “lefty” to care about climate change. However, an analysis of the situation reveals the interrelationship between the working of capitalism and the destruction of the Earth.  

An economic system based on short-term self interest is necessarily antagonistic towards a push for the wellbeing of future generations. The only genuine possibility of stopping emissions must come from a government devoted to tackling climate change as its number one concern. Such a government will necessarily have to stop irresponsible economic activity that is driving rising emissions and instead restructure the economy along ecologically sustainable lines.

It is interesting that Rawsthorne promotes Denmark and Sweden as countries we ought to emulate, and that “we just need to change the way we think”. Denmark and Sweden are ruled by capitalist classes that might seem much smarter than the one we have in Australia. Instead of denying climate science, they have accepted it and found ways of profiting handsomely from pioneering “green” technologies. 

But if Scandinavian capitalists had coal instead of hydropower and wind, would they be so “green”? As it is, the world-leading Danish wind energy firm Vestas is famed for its hostility to unions, and the centre-right government in Sweden recently reversed a decision to phase out nuclear power.  

That's the way capitalists think, putting opportunities for profit up front. But socialists think differently.
Rawsthrone suggests it is “both possible to maintain our economy, and prioritise climate action too”.  But since Australia’s economy is largely dependent upon activity which is a large contributor to climate change, prioritising climate action will necessarily bring the government into conflict with the private interests of the fossil fuel industry.

The lack of climate action in Australia is not due to an “image problem” as Rawsthorne suggests, but the work of the powerful mining industry, including billionaires such as Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer, who make sure no government takes any action on climate change that will threaten their interests.

Clearly, much more is needed than just changing the thoughts of the average Australian by rejecting so-called radical fringe dwellers.

If Socialist Alliance and GLW yell louder than most owing to their recognition that genuine action on climate change can only be brought about by radical political and economic restructuring, then they might be fringe dwellers.

They might also among the few organisations who recognise the severity of the threat and the means of addressing it.

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