The Guardian • Issue #2070


Speeding up

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2070

Things are speeding up.

Climate change has gone from causing the cliched reaction ‘I’m worried about my grandchildren,’ to ‘I worry about my children,’ to making sensible people anxious about their survival right this minute. The world has had its hottest three months ever. Australia is bracing itself for bushfire season while some of the survivors of the worst bushfires in our history are still living in temporary housing, and the rest of us remember four of our major cities having the worst air quality on the planet.

Some people react by abandoning all hope. Others point to signs of progress. It’s common to see electric vehicles on the streets of our cities. You can’t throw a stone without hitting a solar panel. So some think that we’re speeding up and getting there.

Who’s right? Are we going in the right direction? Are we going fast enough?

There is definitely still hope. Every gram of carbon we don’t emit is a good thing, so yes, when you see an EV, an electric bus, or a solar panel, that’s a step in the right direction.

The bad news is that it’s nowhere near enough. We are not going quickly enough. We have a government that is not only going much slower than it should, but also making the problem worse. The ALP are spending eye-watering amounts on AUKUS and tax-relief for the already-rich, and peanuts on renewables. They’re also making the problem worse by subsidising carbon emissions (and, as our Peace Notes column has pointed out, the military is a huge source of carbon emissions).

The progress we can see is in spite of our leaders, not because of them.

We have a government that isn’t as noisily anti–renewables as the one before it was. That’s nice, but we are dealing with the atmosphere here. The atmosphere doesn’t reward Labor for being not as bad as the Liberal-National Coalition was. It just responds to the greenhouse gasses we emit, and Labor is doing the bidding of big donors by letting them emit much, much more.

The atmosphere sets an absolute deadline for its reactions to carbon emissions. It is indifferent to counterfactuals like ‘Morrison would be worse.’

At this point, the usual thing is to list the things the government could be doing, and hope they get the message. Why aren’t all our buses electric? Why don’t we spend the money we’re putting into the AUKUS nuclear submarines into putting solar panels on every rooftop in the country and improving public transport? (As has been itemised in previous Guardians, we could have the best public transport in the world, and max out renewables, and have change over). We are not utopian socialists, so we are not going to just write up an environmental wish-list and hope Albanese sees it.

If you’re not getting somewhere, you might want to look at the vehicle you’re using. Our destination is, we hope, a habitable planet. The vehicle we are using to get there at the moment is a bourgeois parliament totally captured by neoliberalism and corporate interests. We can replace parties and politicians, but we did that last year and got the same tax cuts for the rich and the same expensive commitment to imperialism.

Capitalist market-worshipping parliamentary politicians aren’t going to get us there. Getting to a livable future with a market-oriented liberal democracy is like trying to go somewhere by riding a bicycle through sand while chain-smoking. You’ll probably never get there, and you’re making things worse.

The vehicle we need if we want to get to a habitable planet is socialism. We need an economy that is run by the workers, and organised around people’s needs. We need socialism and we need it fast.

Let’s speed it up.

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