A FUTURE THAT WORKS FOR OUR WORLD
by Derek Wall (Morning Star)
On Saturday trade unionists and progressives will be marching for A Future That Works – and many Greens will be joining them.
Some voices in the media suggest that climate change was an issue for the good times. That now we’re faced with an economic crisis environmentalism and alternative energy are unaffordable distractions.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Climate change is with us. The science is irrefutable.
Bertolt Brecht, when driven out of Germany by the nazis, wrote an allegory about the madness engulfing Europe.
“They were sawing the branches on which they were sitting, and they shouted to each other how one could saw faster. And when with a crash they fell down those watching them shook their heads – and kept on sawing.”
How well those words describe the collective political response to climate change.
Every day the evidence mounts of potential catastrophe yet the silence from governments, the media and policy-makers is deafening.
Rising food prices are clear evidence of an unstable climate that is damaging crops.
The melting Arctic ice is another sign of that instability. The oil companies aren’t bothered – less ice makes it easier for them to extract fossil fuels from northern seas.
The ostrich position of pretending nothing is happening is a passionately defended orthodoxy of the political right.
In the US it would have been impossible for anyone to win the Republican candidacy for president while accepting the evidence of climate change.
Science has long been heresy for Republicans, of course – just look at their take on evolution. But denial is also a feature of British politics.
At last week’s conference the Conservative Party celebrated new policies that will accelerate climate change.
Fracking – a highly dangerous process that pollutes water and makes earth tremors more likely – is to be given a tax break by George Osborne.
I wonder whether the money cut from subsidies for solar insulation will directly fund tax cuts for more fossil fuel extraction?
The government has also signalled a programme of road-building, which combined with endless above-inflation rail fares leads to a society which emits more.
Wind farms are seen as instruments of Satan. Conservative-controlled Wiltshire County Council has announced restrictions which campaigners say will stop any new turbines going up across its territory.
It’s as if a suicide lobby is in charge. Policies that accelerate danger to the entire human species are planned, put in place and celebrated.
To point out that we’re sawing through the branches we’re sitting on is seen as impolite or extreme. To note that we’re celebrating policies to speed the process is unacceptable.
Why? Because climate change is no accident.
It’s a direct result of the economic and social system that governs the planet – capitalism.
And to criticise capitalism or point to an alternative is simply “utopian” or extreme.
Capitalism can only survive by continued accumulation, extracting resources as quickly as possible and turning them into commodities that can be bought and sold.
Such “extractivism” is the raison d’etre of our society. As Marx observed: “Accumulate, accumulate is Moses and the prophets.” Question the secular religion of capitalism and you face exile.
We need a transition from a system of organised waste to one of sustainable prosperity.
We could use less energy without discomfort with the right kind of planning.
From funding affordable public transport to insulating millions of homes or making goods that last longer, there are ways of living better without wrecking the future.
Yet the solutions to climate change that are being introduced are largely non-solutions.
Global agreements at conferences such as Rio, Durban and Kyoto are based on carbon-trading.
This is a market solution which leads to a carbon market, eco-bond trading and even climate-change derivatives.
It has provided businesses for banks but it hasn’t reduced emissions. Corporations can buy their way out of effective action. Recently the European Union’s emissions trading scheme has virtually collapsed.
Real solutions involve keeping fossil fuels in the ground and a transition to an economy fuelled by renewables.
But the discovery and extraction of oil is still seen as cause for celebration. Moves away from fossil fuels are marginalised and derided.
In Ecuador the government has launched the Yasuni project, a scheme to raise money to fund an alternative to extracting oil from a rainforest national park.
Ecuador’s a member of the progressive Latin American Alba bloc of nations. Despite the fact that many of them, such as Bolivia and Venezuela, are economically dependent on fossil-fuel extraction they are the loudest voices internationally calling for real change and a sustainable and socially just economy.
Money needs to be used to fund alternatives to extracting oil. Solutions based on bringing a halt to extraction are always condemned as unrealistic, but they’re the only way to stop sawing away at that branch.
Business as usual is rapidly becoming impossible. But simply halting extraction could leave all of us in trouble since we’re so dependent on fossil fuels.
We need a just transition, with workplace conversion to create alternatives to the polluting industries.
The present approach, doing little or nothing, leaves future generations with an impossible bill to pick up.
The logic is just the same as with the banking crisis. Here too, short-term thinking and a system based on greed led to disaster in 2008, yet the debts created are being forced on the poorest in the form of austerity cuts.
Do nothing or accelerate the damage until it’s too late – then make the rest of us pay for the mistakes of the rich and powerful.
It’s an approach that must be challenged across the board.
To tackle both austerity and climate change we need to create an alternative economic logic. There’s no contradiction between opposing cuts and protecting the environment. We all need a future that works.
That’s why this Saturday October 20 I’ll be marching with the Climate Bloc on the TUC demonstration. As the Climate Bloc says: “The climate crisis and the economic crisis have the same root causes in an economy rigged in favour of the richest 1 per cent.”
We’ll be backing the TUC campaign for a million “green” jobs and from defending indigenous peoples fighting climate change to workers fighting for an alternative to climate chaos we’ll be marching for it.
We’re meeting at 11am at St Paul’s. Please join us.
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