US President George Bush and PM John Howard are the world's biggest climate criminals. The United States emits 25% of the world's carbon emissions, and Australia is the largest carbon polluter per person in the world. Both countries are the only two developed nations that haven't signed on to the Kyoto Protocol. For their entire political lives Bush and Howard denied climate change was even happening, but when people all around the world started to see the climate chaos taking place and put pressure on them, they grudgingly acknowledged that it is a reality.
Bush and many other world leaders are coming to Sydney in September for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting at which climate change will be discussed. They tell us they'll be looking for solutions, but APEC isn't going to solve the climate crisis. From past meetings like this one we know that the solutions they'll come up with will benefit their corporate friends and won't make any of the changes we really need.
Climate change is a reality. The global temperature is increasing, causing more intense droughts, heat waves, floods and hurricanes. A seemingly small temperature shift of two or more degrees Celsius will have enormous consequences.
Even if we drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions now, we will still experience the effects of climate change for decades to come. If we don't change our behaviour then we will only increase the chaos of the weather and make large parts of the planet uninhabitable. Climate change is a bigger threat than terrorism, but even though the majority of us agree that we need to stop climate change, we are incapable of doing it without radically changing the system under which we live.
We have enough scientific knowledge to know what is causing it, and we know enough about the alternatives — like renewable energy and energy efficiency — to know what gives us the best chance to solve it. What we don't have currently is the political will to put this knowledge together and take action.
But what action could we take? Individually it is good if we can all do our own bit to reduce energy use, but reducing Australia's or the world's total carbon emissions cannot be left up to each individual. It is no use encouraging people to not drive their cars to work each day if there is no bus for them to catch instead. Likewise it is no use placing water restrictions on households while some corporations in Australia are allowed to use almost half of the amount of their state's household water use.
The solutions need to come from the government; only it is in the position to make large-scale changes that are desperately needed. Instead of giving millions of dollars in subsidies to the coal industry, the government could use that money to make public transport free and increase the number of buses and trains, so that everyone can leave their cars at home and cut transport emissions. It could also invest a lot more money and research into the renewable energy industry, so that we could switch from using dirty coal to using solar and wind power as our main energy sources.
But our governments don't want to do anything about this massive problem because it will bring them into direct conflict with the large corporations who are benefiting most from the cheap energy and large profits it brings. These corporations use their wealth and influence to convince governments that nothing needs to be done about climate change, actively funding climate deniers in the media while using advertising to make it appear they are environmentally conscious.
Any real solutions to climate change will eventually come into conflict with capitalist interests, which is why the government is so quick to look for solutions that don't involve radical change. This is why the Howard government is suddenly trying to convince Australians that we should accept nuclear power, or that there is such a thing as "clean coal". Howard doesn't want to ruffle the feathers of his long-established and powerful friends in the fossil fuel industries. Other solutions we often hear about are carbon trading and carbon offsetting. Carbon trading means a price would be put on carbon emissions, and the idea is that companies will eventually stop polluting or else they will have to pay extra. How it works in reality though is the biggest polluting industries, like coal and oil, can keep on producing carbon emissions while paying others to not pollute as much. (For a spoof on this idea see <http://www.cheatnuetral.com>.) Also the largest polluters are usually issued emissions permits for free, the government's way of making sure it doesn't lost out on too much profit. None of this leads to less pollution, certainly not enough to stop climate change.
Howard is refusing to set a target to reduce carbon emissions in Australia, and said he will launch a carbon-trading scheme in 2011. This is despite scientists saying we have less than a decade to reduce our emissions. We can't wait another five years before we even start, we need to start to now. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry says that taking action too quickly would have "adverse economic implications". What this means is that its huge profits would be hurt if it was forced to stop polluting the atmosphere.
The main problem with these so-called "solutions" is that they try to find a way to stop this ecological crisis within the market. They want us to find a solution without changing the way we consume, or the way we drive our cars or the way our government system works. To expect capitalism to achieve ecological balance is unrealistic and it will not work.
To advance environmentalism requires a shift to socialism. Socialist Cuba is the only country in the world to be recognised by the World Wide Fund for Nature as having a sustainable economy. Socialism is a democratic system that would let the majority decide how we would best use our environment and what limits we would put in place to protect it. Individuals would not be able to destroy the environment for the sake of their own profits.
Climate change exposes the short-sightedness and greed of capitalism. The people who make decisions and prosper under capitalism are a small percentage of the population, while the most powerless people are the ones who will suffer the most from climate change. Combating climate change needs to be an international effort, with wealthier countries supporting the less developed ones. We can save a lot of carbon emissions by making every home in Australia energy efficient, by making public transport free and accessible, and by stopping logging of our old-growth forests.
Individuals cannot do these things along, which is why we need to put pressure on the government to act in the way we want it to. APEC will be our chance to protest Howard and Bush to show the world that we won't accept their weak excuses for not taking action, that we want out planet to be inhabitable in years to come and that we want system change, not climate change.