Ideas for the global climate movement

Review: Stop Global Warming: Change The World
By Jonathan Neale
Bookmarks, $30.00 from Solidarity

AS ONE of the most sun-drenched continents on the planet, Australia should be a leading solar industry supplier. Instead we are the world’s largest exporter of coal.

It was a big step forward when the climate sceptic Howard government was defeated a year ago and Kevin Rudd signed the Kyoto Protocol.

However, the Labor government’s commitment is to the lucrative coal industry while tinkering with market solutions such as carbon trading which won’t significantly reduce emissions.

Climate change is an international problem, but is particularly significant in Australia because we are more vulnerable to the effects of warming, with an entrenched drought and water crisis.

Wide-ranging social change is necessary if we are to save the planet, according to a new book on global warming, Stop Global Warming: Change The World by Jonathan Neale.

This book shows why governments won’t act because of their commitment to neo-liberalism through running down government spending on services and hesitancy to interfere with the free market, and the power of the fossil fuel industry. Of the ten richest and most powerful companies, six are oil companies and three are car companies.

While most people want action taken to stop global warming, they are not sure how to force governments to act.

Jonathan Neale’s new book offers not just a demonstration of how society could make the changes necessary but also a strategy for building a movement to win these changes, and is therefore essential reading.

People power

Neale provides a convincing argument that the world’s six billion people can and must organise now to force governments to act.

The book re-states the nature of the emergency we face and explains that existing technology could reduce carbon emissions by more than 80 per cent in the richer countries within the 30 years necessary to stop catastrophic warming.

He details how carbon emissions could be cut dramatically by examining solar power, wind and wave power; reducing energy use in buildings, transport and industry and redirecting government funding towards alternatives like public transport.

He also analyses proposed solutions that won’t work, such as biofuels, clean coal, nuclear power, methane-producing hydro-electricity and hydrogen cars. He shows how these options are soaking up government funding and diverting money from real solutions.

Shattering myths

The book shatters two myths that have confused the debate on climate. One is that poor people and the developing world are a problem and the second is that to stop climate change we have to sacrifice.

Where this book is different is in its understanding and empathy for ordinary working class and poor people worldwide. Many environmentalists fear that the poor will not support measures to stop climate change.

Largely this is because of arguments pedalled by governments that want to avoid any action, like the Bush administration. They claim that China and India’s rapidly growing carbon emissions mean any action taken by the rich countries is futile unless China and India are on board.

People often think that you can’t reduce poverty at the same time as confront climate change; the mainstream and broad left environmental argument is that we all must accept austerity.

Neale points out, firstly, that ordinary people in developing countries are not the same as their rulers – there are classes in every country. Reliable surveys show that around 70 per cent of Chinese, Japanese and South Korean people listed the environment as the key problem in their countries.

It is the poor in all countries that will suffer the most from global warming.

They have the greatest interest in stopping it because their homes and workplaces are more likely to be affected by droughts, floods and rising sea levels and they are less able to pay higher prices for food and other goods.

Neale uses the statistics for per capita emissions in each country to show that we can achieve 80 to 85 per cent emissions reductions through all countries moving toward similar per capita emissions. The US’s emissions of more than 20 tonnes per person are far above even the average of European economies where emissions are 8 tonnes per person.

Population growth is not the problem either. UN figures indicate that by 2030, world population is likely to increase to between 7.7 and 8.3 billion people.

But average children per women is declining in Hong Kong (0.9), South Korea (1.1), and all developed countries (1.6), while Sub-Sahara average is 5.5 and the world average is 2.7.

The book shows that cutting emissions does not have to mean austerity, but rather could mean enriching our lives and suffering less.

More jobs not less

The key problem is stopping pollution at the source. While it is true that we can all reduce our own carbon footprint, this will not solve the problem.

The book argues there are important limitations on individual activity. Most people cannot afford solar panels on their house, and only governments can roll out an alternative electricity system. Many people cannot afford to give up their cars, as governments often do not provide sufficient public transport.

Kevin Rudd is showing what could be done if he regarded climate as much of an emergency as the economic crisis – rather than bailing out the banks we could create new industries and provide decent jobs for the unemployed.

Germany has created a new solar power industry, employing more than 250,000 people. As our car industries sack workers the question is raised about those factories being used to produce different vehicles especially public transport. Victoria used to manufacture trams.

Carbon trading

In theory, an Emission Trading Scheme (ETS) sounds feasible, but in practice it is just a way of creating a market in a new commodity, carbon credits, which will increase the cost of energy for all. This means the poor will pay more, like what happened with the introduction of the GST.

Theoretically, each year the number of credits is reduced so that there is pressure on business and society to reduce emissions, and money that the government makes from selling pollution permits could compensate low income people. That means most workers will pay more for energy plus compensation for the poor. The rich can afford to spend a little extra.

The energy industry players argue that carbon trading will increase their costs and the industry will be uncompetitive on the world market; they look set to get free permits and compensation, or not have to participate at all.

ETS schemes fit within the neo-liberal framework of thinking the market will solve our problems. But they won’t reduce emissions sufficiently. The European ETS which began in 2003 has not led to a decrease in emissions.

Carbon rationing

Carbon rationing combines personal solutions and the market. The idea is to grant all countries a limited set of permits which are distributed among the population each year, reducing in number each year to reflect the suggested decline in emissions.

Like carbon trading carbon credits can be bought and sold. Many have likened it to food rationing in England during and after World War II. But in the 1940s selling your allocation of food rations was seen as wrong, whereas with carbon credits people are encouraged to sell them with the result that the rich will be able to sustain higher energy use through buying up rations.

The main assumption behind all these schemes is that humans need to sacrifice in order to stop global warming, but those who will sacrifice most are the poor. This book argues that climate activists must win over workers and the poor. Rather than sacrifice, humans can develop new industries in an environmentally responsible way and create enough wealth for all of us to be well off.

Green bans and anti-uranium

Using examples of previous successful campaigns, Neale argues to mobilise the world’s six billion people to force governments to act.

In Australia in the 1970s two environmental campaigns linked environmentalists and the trade union movement: workers used ‘green bans’ to stop anti-environmental actions by property developers, saving large swathes of city environments.

In the anti-nuclear movement, workers refused to load shipments of uranium, and engaged in political action which forced the Labor Party to adopt a policy of limiting the number of uranium mines to three. Until the 2007 Labor Party conference, this policy helped prevent a nuclear industry in Australia.

Our history includes more examples of campaigns that mobilised workers and poor people to win major reforms, like a welfare state, equal pay, shorter working hours, votes for women and working people.

This is not an argument for other campaigns to be dropped in favour of climate campaigning, rather the book argues for unity – all campaigns for change should support each other. And if we have the power to stop global warming we can stop capitalism itself and build a new world of human and environmental need in the process.

Ordinary people have changed the world before, and we can do it again.

By Judy McVey


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  1. Judy,

    What about everything else Neale suggests? Like banning cars in cities? rationing flights?

    Sounds like you have picked the ideas that are non controversial within your group for your review.

    Your group is currently split over whether or not to tax 4WDs higher than other cars. I think that you will find banning cars in cities a much more drastic solution!

  2. Hi, whoever you are, Judy has picked they key ideas rather than “the non-controversial ones”, which is what a review should do.

    I would be in favour of replacing flights within a continent, with high speed trains and yes for as long as we dont have a solution for airplanes, I would be for rationing flights between continents, but it would have to be done fairly, with no exception for the rich, for private planes or for military aircraft.

    In terms of banning cars in cities, what Jonathan Neale argues for is a massive expansion of public transport to eliminate the need for cars, and it is the first we need to fight for if we are ever going to get cars off the road. Secondly even with the public transport system of our dreams I think there are a small number of car journeys that will remain necessary, and certainly while that system is being built, for those few journeys I think it means electric cars running off renewable energy.

    I think what the climate movement needs to fight for first (just as with Judy’s review) are the key things – and I think the two big ones are renewable energy and public transport, alongside rejecting market solutions which will get us nowhere. If we cannot win these, then getting cars off the road, as illogical as each of us driving around in a tonne of metal is, will simply remain a “nice idea”.

    Lastly what on earth gives you the idea that Solidarity is split on “whether or not to tax 4wd’s higher than other cars”?

    Chris Breen

  3. Without knowing what your specific proposal is on taxing 4wd’s (tax new ones? tax old ones?), I’d generally not be in favour of it for a number of reasons, firstly it would be unlikely to work, 4wd’s are already more costly, because they are less fuel efficient & this hasn’t taken them off our roads.

    Secondly the problem is all cars not just 4wd’s, there are some large cars that cause more emissions that small 4wd’s. I think 4wd’s, like plasma TV’s are picked as a symbol, rather than any objective analysis of their total contribution to emissions, & because of that this sort of measure can easily become divisive finger pointing and about trying to make individuals feel guilty rather than solving the problem – particularly if implemented by a government that refuses to even demand serious emissions standards of the car industry, let alone mandate a move to electric cars, or deal with the even larger problem of coal.

    Taxing 4wd’s higher just means those with more money will still drive them – I am not in favour of “price signals” more generally, be that a carbon tax, or carbon trading, because they do discriminate against workers in favour of the rich, and the scale of the problem means they will not work. Rather than pricing carbon I think the political decision to phase out coal-fired power and for government to directly build renewable energy needs to be taken. Similarly the decision to build wide scale public transport & to make it free needs to be made. Moves such as taxing cars or petrol higher could quite literally leave working class people in outer suburbs stranded in their houses.

    I am not in favour of “limits on working class consumption” either, we need to change how things are produced. There are a few problems, for which there are no immediately easy ways to change production, such as airline flights between continents(unlike 4wd’s where public transport combined with some electric vehicles is an alternative), therefore as a last resort, rationing should be considered, but we should always look first at how to change production. We also need to look concretely at the questions, so I think it would be a mistaken focus for the climate movement to campaign for rationing flights before we campaign to build high speed rail between major cities(so airline workers have guaranteed new well paid unionised new to go to & workers have travel alternatives). Campaigning to stop military flights and the emissions of war would be a much better focus.

    In such an unequal world, why talk about limiting working class consumption rather than challenging the priorities of captial? Is it because you think we cant challenge those who currently run the world and the way they run it?

    So in this instance I agree with my comrades in Sydney.

    Johnathan Neale’s’ book also quite clearly spells out the climate movement needs be about jobs and not sacrifice, that the problem is control of production, not limiting consumption, and that neither carbon trading or carbon taxes will work, and that instead we need social solutions, regulation and direct government investment.

  4. The movement against climate change will not get very far by counterposing greenhouse gas reductions and working class living standards. The starting point for any socialist response is to look at how we can restructure the economic system to make production and consumption patterns better serve humanity and the environment.

    Capitalist irrationality derives from the fact that production choices are selected on the criteria of profit maximisation, whilst consumption choices are largely based on, within the restricted realm of capitalist ‘choice’, personal satisfaction.

    In a world where income inequality did not exist, and all costs were born by producers, and all benefits born by consumers, a market system would tend to be rational- producers would respond to price signals and produce the most socially useful products (the ones that give people the most satisfaction, and are therefore prepared to pay for) at the least cost (hence using the least resources), whilst consumers would buy the goods that gave the most satisfaction for the least cost (again, using the least resources).

    The real world deviates from this perfect and abstract model in two important ways. Firstly, due to income inequality, the price that goods achieve on the market is not a true reflection of their ability to satisfy or bring joy to humans. The rich are willing and capable of paying more for entirely useless status symbols, or goods which barely improve their lives at all, than those on low incomes are capable or willing to pay for items which would make a dramatic improvement in their living standards, or even improve their chances of staying alive.

    The second deviation derives from what is technically known as ‘market externalities’. These ‘externalities’ are social costs or benefits which do not accrue to the producer or consumer of a good. For example, if a factory dumps waste into a lake, it may have a very high social cost (farmland may be destroyed, drinking water may be contaminated)but so long as the factory owner does not have to pay for the cleanup or compensate the losers, it will not enter into his or her calculations regarding profit maximisation.

    These twin distortions mean that, in reality, capitalist markets, and capitalist prices, are inherently irrational from a social perspective. There are two possible economic options to remedy this situation. The first is to remove some areas of economic activity from the market and attempt to directly provide services in a way that maximises social benefits and minimises costs. The second is to intervene into market processes in order to impose rationality, through enacting a more equitable distribution of purchasing power and the pricing of externalities.

    Both options are in different circumstances valid and effective responses. For example, several services, such as health care in Australia, work an a largely non-market basis, with service provided under Medicare on the basis of need rather than desire or ability to pay. The downsides of such an approach include the fact that the market still exists on the input side -pharmaceuticals, land and building are all purchased, and may have their own unpriced externalities, and therefore the cost minimising strategies of government services providers will not achieve a minimisation of social costs. Furthermore, under such systems the ‘consumer’ has little choice on the service they receive. This is not a problem in terms of healthcare, as it is entirely sensible to defer to health professionals in terms of how an ailment should be treated, however, there are good reasons to doubt the ability of a bureaucratic institution (or even a workers or consumers council or other body) to allocate you your groceries or otherwise provide for some other services which are currently bought on the market.

    These theoretical limitations, in addition to political limits to the possible extent of ‘de-marketising’ service provision mean that, in both the short and medium term, (in fact, in any other economic system other than ‘full-blown
    classical communism) there will exist a market of sorts that organises production and distribution in some significant areas of the economy.

    In this context, we need to devise ways to make market processes more worker and environmentally friendly. There are a few principles/policies that could achieve this, such as:

    Reduce purchasing power inequality through progressive taxation of income, and the increased taxation at the point of sale of luxury goods, and subsidies to essential items.

    Large subsidies to services, goods, or industries that have large ‘positive’ externalities, such as public transport; green industries; healthy foods; bicycles and related products; sporting club membership, equipment and facilities; energy saving consumer goods; electric cars, small vehicles, motorbikes etc.

    Taxes or outright restrictions on services, goods, or industries that have significant ‘negative’ externalities, such as gas guzzling vehicles, energy wasting appliances etc.

    The last point is perhaps the most controversial. The best possible option is a rapid transition to non polluting alternatives, at the point of production. But there is then a problem of how to balance environmental achievements against the utility of the product in question- for example, how much performance can be sacrificed to achieve a set standard? – this is hard to measure when a good is not payed for. There is also the question of how production can be administratively restructured in an advanced, industrial economy, where production processes are integrated across several countries, and literally millions of engineering and economic decisions need to be made in order to produce a new product.

    In the short term, the most likely and viable options are industrial regulations and taxes. Regulations can be placed on classes of goods, such that environmental improvements can be made without sacrificing choice- for example, there can be quite stringent environmental standards for a series of vehicle classes- from motorbikes to vehicles capable of seating 7 or more people. In such a case, options would still exist for those needing large vehicles or off road capable vehicles, but any options available would be world class in terms of efficiency. Such an approach would phase out 2 seat sports-cars, 300 kw sedans, Hummers, etc, without curtailing the transport options of working class individuals or families.

    Taxes are more appropriate where an activity is essential, and cannot be easily rationed. For example, steel is essential to many industrial goods, but its production is necessarily polluting. It would be infeasible to ration its use, as such an approach would require inspecting and analyzing the plans for billions of industrial and engineering processes, in order to make some decision on the necessity of the steel as an input and the priority of the project in question. In this instance, pricing steel and other goods at their true social cost would be the best way to proceed, and would enforce either the industrial economisation of the use of polluting inputs, or tip the balance in favor of less polluting (and therefore less heavily taxed) alternatives. For example, it may turn out to be cheaper, once pollution costs are factored in, to substitute more expensive but technically superior and less polluting material (fibreglass, carbon fibre) for cheaper but more polluting materials (steel, and especially aluminium)in some products. A very similar effect would occur if, for example, it was mandated that all aluminium was produced with green power- the price would rise appreciably. In these scenarios, there can be no real equity objection, as the main purchasers of these inputs are capitalists or governments. Where prices are largely passed on and hit working class consumers heavily and disproportionately, a fixed compensating monetary payment can be made- in this case, there is still an incentive to purchase less polluting goods, but in this case such a choice will mean an increase in disposable income rather than the avoidance of a decrease. For example, you could give everyone over 16 a $500 dollar a year ‘fuel tax and transport’ rebate- if you stop driving to work and ride a bike, or use a more efficient vehicle instead, and therefore never pay much fuel tax, then you may end up financially ahead.

    The trick is to package all of these measures together in such a way that the living standards of the vast majority of workers rise rather than fall as a result of our concrete policy proposals.

  5. This post extends and clarifies my points above in regards to economic planing and regulation, and introduces a discussion of one more controversial topic- that of ‘international competitiveness’, jobs, and green tariffs. These views are entirely my own, and do not reflect the Solidarity position on these matters, which is necessarily less detailed as the proposals outlined below are rather controversial.

    The largest and easiest cuts to carbon emissions can be made through restructuring the electricity industry. Solidarity campaigned strongly against power privatization in NSW, partly on the grounds that privatization will make a wholesale restructure more expensive and difficult. Because there are only a limited number of ways of producing power, and power is a homogeneous good, direct planning of production is a rather simple economic task. Planning under a single state authority opens the possibility of phasing out polluting power plants and replacing them with alternatives in a way that does not endanger electricity supply or unnecessarily cause price spikes or instability (as would occur under a market based transition), and also provides a just transition (alternative jobs and retraining) for coal plant workers.

    However, such a planned transition will also be a rather expensive undertaking, and the marginal cost of electricity production will necessarily be raised, unless rather dramatic progress can be made in terms of new green electricity production technology (which raises the need for extensive, coordinated and state supported research into green power technology). When or if the cost of production rises appreciably, there is a real debate regarding what price a state authority should charge its various customers for use of this power.

    The most sensible option here would be to charge industrial and commercial users the true cost of producing such green energy. If large subsidies were placed on such power, a paradoxical and economically irrational situation could result where commercial operators utilized green power to produce products which are less valuable than the power they use in the course of production. For example, large aluminium smelters might end up paying less in tax, and earning less in profit, than they receive in subsidies in the form of green power delivered below the cost of production.

    Pricing for domestic consumption is a more tricky question. Power is an essential good and whilst use generally increases with wealth, the poor end up paying a larger proportion of their income on power than the wealthy. Thus any rise in electricity prices would have a regressive effect on income inequality. Here, one option would be to simply provide power free up to a certain threshold to all households, with billing only occurring on use past that threshold. Such a system would mean that most lower to medium income households may pay less (or even nothing at all) than under the existing pricing schedule, whilst very large users may pay a larger price closer to or exceeding the true cost of production- any shortfall from billed use in terms of covering the cost of production and transition could be met through subsidies from general government revenue.

    There is one more major issue with economic planning, and this concerns the problem of properly weighing up the costs of various greenhouse abating projects against their benefits. All things being equal, it is preferential to make greater emission cuts at less cost. But at some point competing schemes will not be cost and emission superior to one another- i.e two or more projects may exist with more environmentally friendly options being more expensive than less environmentally friendly options. In such a situation, there exists the problem of comparing apples to oranges, or carbon to money. It would be very difficult to make such decisions without some price, even if only a shadow price, on carbon emissions. It would be grossly irrational to spend $500 or more to avoid a ton of carbon emission in one project, whilst cheaper cuts elsewhere were not pursued.

    Another related issue regards factoring in the emissions and resources that result from greenhouse abating projects. For example, constructing a railway line may reduce emissions through getting more cars of the road, but emissions will also result from the steel and concrete that utilised and transported in the course of such infrastructure projects. Unless these inputs are priced at their true social costs, including environmental externalities, efficient planning would be impossible. Rational economic planing therefore requires that inputs are properly priced at their true social cost- and where these inputs are bough from the market sector appropriate environmental taxes (or possible subsidies) would have to be applied to modify the preexisting market price and drive it towards the true social cost of production.

    Which brings me to the controversial issue of jobs and environmental tariffs. The extensive taxes and subsidies that I propose above would cause the price of some industrial inputs and products to rise appreciably. The rationality of such an approach would break down if polluting or energy dense imported were allowed to enter at prices below the true (global) social cost of production- i.e where cheaper import were cheaper simply becuase their negative externalities were not properly factored into prices through pollution taxes- rather than being more efficiently produced. In such a situation, the effect of market regulation would be simply to offshore polluting industries. One option here would be to impose a pollution tax equalization tariff – i.e if the Australian government placed a $50 dollar tax on carbon, and imports entered from a country with a $20 tax, then a tariff could be imposed at the rate of $30 dollars per ton of carbon emitted in the course of the production of the good in question. Of course, if the import was a truly green product, and no or very little emission resulted from its manufacture, the good would enter tariff free.

    There are very strong grounds to insulate consumers in various ways from the cost appreciating effects of environmental restructuring. But there is little ground to argue that producers (in both the market and government sector) should be similarly insulated- as unless inputs are priced at their true social cost efficient and rational economic planning in both the market and government sector would be impossible.

  6. So most people agree that workers shouldn’t be able to burn or dump waste and most agree that we should tax cigrattes, but Solidarity doesn’t support taxing/banning polutting vehicles when there are already reasonable alternatives that workers can use (like smaller more fuel efficent cars etc)

    I don’t understand why you would have this position.

  7. You still haven’t specified what concrete measures you are proposing, a tax on existing highly polluting vehicles or new ones? how high should the tax be & what is the cut off emissions level?
    what you are specifically proposing would make a difference to what I think

    for existing highly polluting vehicle owners, when you say there are alternatives, not everyone is going to be able to afford to ditch their existing car and buy a new one (& going out and buying a brand new petrol car even if it is smaller still doesn’t solve the emissions problem). Much better is giving people reasons to get out of their petrol cars (& out of smaller ones as well as big ones), say expanded free public transport or providing access to free electric cars or free electric taxis.

    taxing the production of new highly polluting vehicles is less problematic, but it would still be a second best measure, why should rich people be able to pollute simply by paying a higher tax?
    regulating or banning them which you now mention would be better – actually I think we need to get as many cars off the road as possible not just the worst polluting ones & you cant do that with taxes, you need a planned low emissions (as close to zero emissions as possible) transport system that works for everyone

    the two most important things I think we need to do with road transport are to shift freight to rail, and shift journeys to and from work to public transport – we also need to electrify that transport and run it off renewable energy

  8. All but the least polluting vehicles models should be banned, restricted (as in licensed on the basis of genuine need) or taxed.

    Chris is absolutely right it is best to phase out petrol powered cars altogether, but it is likely to be 5 years or more before a viable mass electric market model and recharging infrastructure is up and running, alongside a significant expansion of public transport infrastructure and services.

    Australians currently buy around 1.1 million cars per year. That means that, even if we move now towards public transport, there are probably going to be around 5-6 million new cars on the road by 2015.

    Given that a new vehicle has a lifetime of ~ ten years, we are talking about adding a vehicle lifetime capacity of 60 million car years of use over the next 5 years. The average emissions per vehicle,(on the basis of U.S data), is 5.2 tonnes per year.

    It is reasonable to suggest that stringent regulations and the encouragement of small car purchases- at least until viable electric or mass transit options exist- could lead to a 50 % reduction in emissions per vehicle, simply through a shift towards existing small and efficient vehicles and/or the refinement of existing technology.

    This would means a reduction in per vehicle emission of 2.6 tonnes per car year or use. Multiply 2.6 tonnes by 60 million car use years and you get an impressive figure of 156 million tonnes of carbon dioxide reduction, and also a reduction of 7.8 million tonnes of poisonous carbon monoxide. This obviously does not could the environmental positives associated with the lower volume of steel used to produce lighter vehicles, cost benefits of reduced road wear, etc.

    It would appear from this simple calculation that the policy we implement in regards to vehicle use in the course of a transition away from the internal combustion engine (when other convenient and viable options do not yet exist for most commuters) will have a significant impact on our success in lowering overall emission levels. If a transition takes longer than five years, and some trips are still taken by petrol vehicles after 2015, then the savings of a regulatory regime would be even higher.

    It does matter what sort of petrol powered cars we allow/encourage people to buy now and over the next half decade.

  9. Also, health costs need to be factored in- see this quote from 2004, criticising Howard’s support for diesel fuel rebates:

    “The president of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Bill Glasson, said making diesel fuel cheaper would increase air pollution in cities. “In Europe, the number of deaths caused by vehicle emissions was estimated to be more than twice the number of deaths from road accidents,” he said.

    “In Australia deaths caused by vehicle emissions at least equals the number of deaths caused by road accidents. The Howard Government has made dirty fuels cheaper, our air more polluted and potentially caused the death of many more Australians.”

    A report from the Bureau of Transport and Regional Services last year estimated the health cost of pollution in cities at $3.5 billion per year.


  10. The problem with your approach Kieran (and Andrew) is you are looking for an abstract reformist plan to deal with cutting carbon emissions. But it’s abundantly clear that the vested interests involved in stopping a transition away from fossil fuels are such that it won’t happen without a powerful mass movement. And that the kind of transition we need requires massive state planning–particularly in transport.

    Therefore we need to raise demands that help to set people in action, and point in that direction. Taxing or banning particular models of cars are not helpful because they imply that the problem is individual consumption. This both obscures that only collective solutions based on massive use of planning can work, and, by implying that change is about attacking people’s living standards, hinders building a movement.

    If we had electric cars as a viable alternative restrictions on use of petrol-powered vehicles would make sense. The truth is there aren’t viable alternatives to petrol cars for people to use in a lot of cases. Our public transport systems simply aren’t up to scratch. So there’s no point saying it’s urgent to ban petrol guzzling cars now. Do you seriously think coal-fired power stations will be phased out in five years? Aren’t there better demands–and targets–to help build a mass climate movement?

  11. James- we do need a mass movement to push for a fundamental restructure of the economy. Nothing is going to happen on the basis of capitalist ‘voluntary’ adjustment. Technically, what I outlined above is possible under capitalism, but not without a massive fight.

    Part of winning support for the change that is needed to avert global warming, (as we both have both said here), is avoiding a counter-position between living standards and emissions cuts- and also being quite clear about what we propose to do.

    If you actually read what I wrote above, and in other forums, you will see that all of these measures I have proposed are designed to be workable and efficient, but also be on balance redistributive and improve the living standards of the vast majority of workers.

    Barring some huge technological revolution, greenhouse gas emission reductions are going to be costly- phasing out coal and the construction of replacement base load renewable plants will cost around $50 to $100 billion or more, depending on how effective we are at reducing consumption.

    Achieving a zero net emission output, (the demand which the radical wing of the environment movement is proposing), will be dramatically more expensive again. These sort of expenditures will by necessity fall in some way on workers, most likely through increased taxes or through the opportunity costs associated with the public services which could have been provided if billions were not spend on greenhouse abatement.

    However, these cost can be dramatically reduced through simple measures aimed at ‘picking the hanging fruit’. For political and economic reasons, there is good reason to target the most wasteful forms of personal consumption and industrial/agricultural processes first- becuase these demands are winnable, cheap to implement, and hardly anyone loses out. The other advantage is that small wins can create some momentum behind the movement for more far reaching restructure.

    I absolutely disagree that banning or taxing the most polluting vehicles represents an attack on working class living standards, becuase these vehicles are actually not very practical or cheap (to buy or run) anyway. There are perfectly good alternatives already existing and available. As i have said earlier, if we put big subsidies on clean vehicles, then it will actually mean very big savings for many families/individuals and an increase in living standards.

    Currently, today, tomorrow, there will be children being dropped off to school, people driving to work in ridiculously over-sized and overpowered vehicles. I see it almost every day going to work. The rich are the worst offenders, with their idle rich housewives storming around in 4WD to drop off their kids at their private schools, meeting friends for coffee, shopping, clogging up the roads. It is a gross and disgraceful waste of resources.

    Can you explain to me why someone should be allowed to buy and drive a vehicle like a Porsche Cayenne, or a Land Cruiser, (the former uses up to 20 liters of petrol to drive 100 km), when perfectly good small vehicles exist which use less than half that amount? Other less polluting options also exist that can carry more passengers. Working class living standards are in no way dependent on a few of the better off having the right to unleash 300 kw of power, burn lots of petrol, or intimidate other road users.

    If we cannot win an argument about cutting down on the most profligate and wasteful luxury consumption, how on earth are we going to convince people to go along with changes that will actually affect working peoples lives- like asking coal workers to give up their jobs – or rationing flights.

    I think you are right for the wrong reasons- in a desire to be pro worker you have ended up bending the stick too far and ended up defending the most ghastly, socially damaging, useless, and reactionary excesses of consumption that only the most wealthy workers or bosses can afford to engage in anyway.

  12. You’ve missed my point Keiran–I don’t disagree that at some point there might have to be restrictions on certain sorts of luxury consumption (although a blanket ban 4WDs doesn’t make much sens–if they could be run as electric cars they might no longer be a problem–and in parts of rural Australia they are the only viable form of travel). It’s not a question of defending the use of 4WDs.

    But our job at the moment is not to draw up a detailed transition plan–which we are in no position to implement. It is to come up with demands to help mobilise a movement–and campaigning against consumption, whether luxury or otherwise, would be a disaster.

  13. I agree with the basic premise of your argument. But I think campaigning against luxury consumption could be very popular and motivating, and open the space for a populist assault on the rich- who drive the biggest cars, fly overseas more often, use more water and electricity etc. The prospect of big cash handouts or subsidies to those who consume the least (the less wealthy)is also quite inviting.

    The time to crack down on the worst excesses is now, when there is not yet a possibility of a wholesale restructure.

    Particularly in regards to health and safety, reducing the negative impacts of vehicle use is a bread and butter working class issue. Any measures which would reduce smog, respiratory disease, car accidents, etc, without making life more difficult for the majority would have to be heartily supported I think.

    I agree that the micro details of transition plans are not the key political issue. But at present our demands are so unclear, or simply nonviable or unworkable, that they do not present well as a supportable alternative to the CPRS.

    Further, a real movement will eventually have to take positions on these issues, and the labor movement in particular will have to grapple with difficult economic questions regarding industrial restructuring. Better to start the debate now so we have something clearer to contribute.


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