News that the Austrian Greens made a deal with the hard-right People’s Party to form a coalition government should be a wake-up call to progressives everywhere. It reaffirms that the climate crisis can lead to eco-fascist conclusions just as much as left-wing solutions.
The severity of the bushfire crisis across Australia has driven home the reality of climate change to the world. However, understanding that climate change is real does not automatically answer the question of what is to be done.
Apologists of the Austrian deal are pointing to the agreement to make the country carbon neutral by 2040 – a more far-reaching promise than any Austrian government has made in the past.
However, political scientist Benjamin Opratko pointed out that “only a few concrete measures, such as subsidies for public transportation and the phasing out of gas, oil and coal for heating have been proposed”.
“There will be a new, powerful ministry of the environment, energy and infrastructure ... but the treasury [controlled by the People’s Party] will probably put the brakes on more ambitious projects.”
Alongside this is a proposal to “ban the Islamic veil for schoolchildren up to the age of 14” and to introduce a harsh “detention [system] for asylum seekers”.
Further, none of the neoliberal attacks by the previous government, such as expansion of the legal working day to 12 hours and the working week to 60 hours, will be up for scrutiny.
“The new coalition programme includes tax reductions for big corporations and a commitment to neoliberal trade agreements.”
Coupling the limited climate measures with racism and neoliberal cuts will do nothing to challenge the corporate establishment in Austria. Rather, it will inevitably undermine support for real climate action, as well as the authority of the Austrian Greens.
Here, Prime Minister Scott Morrison initially tried to rehearse his argument that genuine climate action is unnecessary since Australia only produces 1.3% of global carbon emissions. This is absurd.
Since then he has changed tack to make it seem like he acknowledges the climate science. However, it is his rhetoric, not policy, that has changed. Government MPs are talking about reducing “the impact of the change, not [reducing] the actual change”.
Morrison’s tactics are based on the calculation that, if the government can get away with doing nothing, people will become demoralised about the prospects for real action. In such a scenario, the right-wing politics of fear — locking up refugees and more anti-protest laws — can quickly gain ground.
The Labor “opposition” is helping bring this about by studiously refusing to offer an alternative. At the height of the bushfire crisis, Labor leader Anthony Albanese toured rural communities pledging support to the coal bosses. More recently, he said that Labor was wrong to pledge even its extremely low 45% emissions cut by 2030.
The only antidote to this is to build a grassroots and independent movement around clear demands for climate action.
The recent mobilisations, spearheaded by the Uni Students for Climate Justice, are a good start. But the movement needs to be bigger and more broadly organised. In particular, it needs to draw in trade unions and community-based groups to truly maximise the pressure on the government.
This is the practical plan we need today to avoid eco-fascism and win genuine climate action in this country.
[Alex Bainbridge is the national convenor of the Socialist Alliance.]