Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Labor survival runs second to sustaining the planet

Today's edition of The Age carries my letter, "Bigger issues than an ailing ALP", responding to Michael Pearce's excellent opinion piece on the future of Australian Labor ("Should the ALP labour on, or is the party over?"), which questions the ultimate survival of the party.

There follows my edit of the longer version I submitted, which makes my point more clearly - that sustainability is a common theme among the issues Pearce considers in his search for a Whitlamesque "crusade" that might unify the ALP. It is also one with a strong basis in fairness and social justice - the traditional values of Labor.

I argue, however, that it is more important to consider sustainability as an imperative for the planet than for its potential contribution as a narrative for the renewal of the Labor Party. Sustainability is also a cause being progressed more urgently by social movements, independents and Greens than by a party that has lost its way.
Michael Pearce has written an eloquent and fascinating big-picture analysis of the Labor Party. We should, however, care less for the survival of the party than for the progress of the growing social movements concerning the vital issues it has so badly failed to capture.

Our federal minority government shows that in an era of converging major political parties, minor parties and independents can help steer the course of government back towards the public good. They may be maligned for doing so, but their measure is not the esteem of so-called "mainstream" politicians, but the degree to which their actions are informed by the values that no longer enliven Labor - and certainly not the Coalition - at state or federal level.

Nor is their measure, as Pearce observes, their position inside or outside the "economic paradigm". Increasingly, that paradigm is being recognised as uneconomic in a far deeper sense than questions of surplus or deficit.

One clue lies in what is common between the issues Pearce considers as potential sparks for renewed "crusades" - the national broadband network, the processing of asylum seekers and the carbon tax.

As Melbourne University's Voice supplement [in the same edition] announces a new research centre to "green" the internet, it is also projected that many more asylum seekers will need to be "processed" by Australia as they flee the impacts of dangerous climate change imposed on them by the spiralling emissions of developed and developing nations.

Yet the effective denial of Labor's weak climate action - with its looming capitulation to the big polluters over the carbon tax - is little better than the Coalition's denial outright. We can sustain civilization fairly and with humanity only if we work to sustain the planet on which we live. Shouldn't that be the business of politics across the trivial divisions of party power?
At present, Labor is masquerading as a climate progressive party to hold on to power by attempting to capture the green vote while placating conservative free-marketeers and the big polluters with weak climate action. Prime minister Gillard instead needs to recognise that a vital object of power is not its own preservation, but sustaining civilization itself.

Comments welcome.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

IPA "remedy" for climate suits big polluters

Last week's edition of The Sunday Age carried another missive from the Institute of Public Affairs on how the world can be saved from the impacts of climate change by making countries rich enough to adapt.

Unfortunately, Chris Berg's free-market prescription amounts to little more than a get-rich-quick scheme for poor countries based on the same high-emissions growth that has led to our current climate emergency. This claimed panacea of profit-fuelled adaptation is deeply flawed.

Aside from the certainty with which the big polluters would flee the queue to pay for expensive adaptive measures, recent disasters give the lie to our ability to adapt to large-scale impacts. Among these, floods and bushfires are set to increase in frequency and severity if we do not act to sharply curtail our carbon emissions.

With Fukushima now adding to Windscale, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, there is also a nuclear cloud over Berg's failure to even mention renewables as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.

A full  accounting of the mortality, health and broader environmental impacts of climate change points to the urgent necessity of a strong carbon price. It also highlights the risks of the proposed compensation and current massive subsidies by the Australian Government for the polluters who work against a safe climate future.

The distraction we must resist is not a carbon price, as Berg would have it. Instead, it is the false reassurance of selective statistics and scant scientific support for doing nothing beyond business as usual.

Growing our emissions so we can get rich enough to supposedly adapt to the climate change those emissions cause just doesn't make sense.

It is to be hoped that Julia Gillard and her government recognise this as a basic physical constraint on how the world works - ignoring it could have extreme consequences for our shared global climate.