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


Solidarity meetings

Latest articles

Read more

Dutton’s nuclear power plan aims to extend coal power

Coalition leader Peter Dutton has attempted to breathe new life into nuclear power as a serious energy policy option.

NSW Labor funds coal power extension in climate failure

The Minns Labor government in NSW has struck a deal with Origin Energy to extend the life of the coal-fired Eraring power station from its original closure date of 2025 until 2027.

Labor locks in gas expansion in new crime against the climate

Labor’s new gas strategy pledges its support for a massive fossil fuel expansion, going all out to back mining industry profits.