Politics of the Climate Crisis - Australian Fabians

Politics of the Climate Crisis


David Leith
29 November 2019
by: David Leith
Environment and Climate Change

The conflation of effective action on the environment/climate change with the agenda of the Australian Greens has made the task of responding to climate change much more difficult than it otherwise would be.

The original New Deal was essentially aimed at restoring the US economy to health in some very particular ways - with respect to jobs and wages, in housing, in the regulation of banking, in the State-provision of physical infrastructure, with a Federal guarantee for retirement incomes, and by protecting the rights of workers to organise freely and bargain collectively.

If Labor were to commit to a New Deal it should be aimed at these same kind of things - the health of the labour market (overtly reviving full employment as the defining goal of economic policy), restoring affordability to the housing market, protecting and improving the social security system generally, defending the industrial rights of workers - while also committing Labor to effective environmental action. The less this is styled after “Green” anything the more likely it would be to attract political support. This is an agenda for a worker-centred economy.

The path to effective action in relation to climate change must include protecting jobs and increasing real wages, while also promoting the adoption of renewable technologies in electricity production and the application of techniques that will draw GHG from the atmosphere. These are achievable and measurable steps. They enjoy public support and they can be effected without relying on, say, the Commonwealth alone.

We should concentrate on using renewables to displace coal and then other fossil fuels in ways that drive down energy costs to households and industries. This will work. It is already working and offers very big payoffs to both the economy and the environment. This does not rely on the use of Carbon Pricing, industrial compulsion or synthetic carbon trading - that is, it is not necessary to take measures that have been rejected by voters more than once. The accelerated adoption of renewables and allied systems can be accomplished by regulatory as well as technical innovation; by competition and by the commitment of State-owned enterprises to change.

None of this is “Green” in a political sense. The “Green” agenda is to put an embargo on the supply of coal and then to close down other industries. This would fail as both a market and as an environmental strategy. But such goals will also fail politically. They represent a direct threat to workers and their communities, and they have rejected by them very forcibly in electoral terms. These kind of goals have to be abandoned.

If there is a political cry to be raised it is that we must protect jobs and incomes as well as protecting the environment. We have to do both.

This distinguishes Labor from the Liberals, who champion jobs "at any cost”, and the Greens who have been prepared to advocate the sacrifice of jobs for the sake of environmental goals.

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