8 January 2020

Australia’s bipartisan commitment to carbon trickery has been called out in the international press: “The conventional view is the one Morrison put to the United Nations last September. ‘Australia is responsible for just 1.3% of global emissions,’ he told the General Assembly. … That statement relies on a rubbery definition of ‘responsible.’ While Australia’s domestic emissions are in line with Morrison’s figures, exports are another matter. This country is the world’s biggest net fossil fuel exporter after Russia and Saudi Arabia, vying with Indonesia as the No. 1 supplier of coal… It’s hard to explain to outsiders quite how little this features in the country’s domestic debate. Thanks to the magic of international carbon accounting, fossil fuel exports are conventionally counted toward destination countries, rather than the place where they were extracted. This methodological quirk is convenient for a country that doesn’t want to look like a climate pariah — but it’s helped to obscure the way Australia has been profiting from undermining global climate targets for a generation. As the residents of burned-out towns and owners of incinerated livestock will know, the warming that results is the same whether the carbon is burned in Australia, or overseas.” It’s like handing the arsonist a box of matches and then claiming the fire had nothing to do with you.

7 January 2020

Kate Galloway argues that increased bushfire risk is an aspect of land degradation that our colonial property law fails to adequately address: “Through both primary production and our metropolises, the land comprising our nation is put to use in a patchwork of ways caught within a variety of legal constructs that segregate one portion from the next. They separate the soil from its vegetation and minerals, the water from the land, and the animals from their habitat. And humans act as lord over this domain in the belief that their human-derived rights amount to control over nature. The fires though, know no boundaries. … Our GDP might look OK, but what is the point when our land is dying and our lives are at risk. In the aftermath of the fires, it is therefore not enough to replace what has been destroyed. In the face of likely increases in the frequency and ferocity of fire seasons, the rebuilding effort must engage with a new way of comprehending our land beyond discrete, bounded parcels. And we must reconfigure our own relationship with land as other than one of dominion. This requires us to unravel the legacy of colonial land laws and to adopt a more mature standpoint as environmental stewards at the very least, or more ambitiously, a standpoint that centres the environment itself.”

Mark Ogge of The Australia Institute is calling for a National Climate Disaster Fund, to be funded by a levy on fossil fuel producers: “The frequency and intensity of natural disasters such as bushfires and floods will keep increasing while we keep pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Australia urgently needs a dedicated, independently administered fund to cope with the ever increasing costs of these disasters. A $1 per tonne levy would have virtually no effect on energy prices or coal jobs, but would be a huge help to everyone being affected by the damage these activities are causing. This policy would help communities to prepare for and recover from natural disasters, but it would also be great for creating jobs and boosting the economy.” The TAI report notes the “an appropriate contribution from the companies making the single largest contribution of any activity in Australia to global warming… While Australia’s fossil fuel resources are owned by Australians, they are extracted and exported mostly by large global coal and oil and gas companies. These companies make virtually no contribution to paying the costs of increasing climate related disasters that are a direct consequence of the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

4 January 2020

Rebecca Solnit writes a letter to a young climate activist: “I have seen change that was unimaginable until it happened and then became so ordinary-seeming a part of everyday life that people forgot there was a struggle, forgot there was a transformation, forgot how we got here, forgot that we are living in the once-unimaginable. I believe that there are many unimaginables in this moment that will become, must become ordinary, including the end of the era of fossil fuel. … We need to understand the worst-case scenarios and the suffering and loss happening now, so we know what we’re trying to prevent. But we need to imagine the best case scenarios, so we can reach for them too. And we need to imagine our own power in the present to choose the one over the other. And then we need to act. I believe that resistance, that standing on principle, that engaging with the trouble, is good for the soul, a way to connect, a way to be powerful. And get results.”

Frank Bongiorno: “Morrison’s political authority has fallen away more quickly than anyone could have imagined even a fortnight ago, and is unlikely ever to be quite the same again. The giant-killer and performer of miracles of May 2019 is no more. Instead, we have a prime minister whose inability to respond to the bushfire crisis has resulted in widespread national loathing, international ridicule and sharp questions about his capacity for national leadership. The background to his political nightmare is the Coalition’s failure over its more than six years in office to develop a credible climate change policy to replace the Gillard-era scheme, its enduring marriage to the fossil fuel industry, and its hospitality to climate change denialists and their fellow-travellers in its own ranks. But Morrison’s crisis of leadership is also the result of the hollow nature of his leadership style. Fundamentally, he has never established himself as an adult leader capable of dealing with serious things, a dawning realisation expressed by the Twitter hashtag #scottyfrommarketing. It seems likely to stick.”

1 January 2020

As Australia burns and the Prime Minister pretends nothing unusual is happening, I must borrow from James Connolly’s 1916 New Year’s message: “We should in this issue wish all our readers a ‘Happy New Year’. We do so wish them. But such a wish rings better when it is accompanied by a belief that the wish may be realised, and at the present moment the signs of a Happy New Year are none too plentiful. … A happy new year! Ah, well! Our readers are, we hope, rebels in heart, and hence may rebel even at our own picture of the future. If that is so let us remind them that opportunities are for those who seize them, and that the coming year may be as bright as we choose to make it.”

31 December 2019

In David Harvey’s excellent Rebel Cities, he argues that organising communities beyond the narrow concerns of the working class provides the best hope for radical change. He points out that this has always been true, illustrating it by reference to an old film: “There is a wonderful film that was produced by blacklisted Hollywood writers and directors (the so-called Hollywood Ten) in 1954 called Salt of the Earth. Based on actual events in 1951, it depicts the struggle of highly exploited Mexican-American workers and their families in a zinc mine in New Mexico. … The awesome power of unity between gender, ethnicity, working, and living is not easy to construct, and the tension in the film between men and women, between Anglo and Mexican workers, and between work-based and daily life perspectives, is just as significant as that between labor and capital. Only when unity and parity are constructed among all the forces of labor, the film says, will you be able to win. The danger this message represented for capital is measured by the fact that this is the only film ever to be systematically banned for political reasons from being shown in any US commercial venue for many years. Most of the actors were not professional; many were drawn from the miner’s union. But the brilliant leading professional actress, Rosaura Revueltas, was deported to Mexico.” Salt of the Earth is streaming on YouTube.

30 December 2019

Adam Triggs: “Imagine a single policy that could boost our lacklustre economy by $4 billion, create an additional 12,000 jobs by 2021, disproportionately support regional and remote communities doing it tough with drought and bushfires, reduce inequality by benefiting the poorest fifth of Australians twenty-eight times more than the richest, disproportionately support women, boost wages and corporate profits, and increase federal and state tax revenue by more than $1.25 billion. … And suppose the cost of this policy was only 0.6 per cent of the federal budget, meaning it could be funded without losing the politically cherished budget surplus. Sound good? Then, congratulations, you support increasing Newstart.” On the other hand, the only reason not to increase Newstart is cruelty.

Rebecca Solnit surveys the protest movements of the 2010s, and comes away with hope for the next decade: “What lay underneath all this disillusionment was a readiness to question foundations that had been portrayed as fixed, inevitable, unquestionable — whether that foundation was gender norms, heterosexuality, patriarchy, white supremacy, the age of fossil fuels or capitalism. To see beyond what we had seen before, or to change the ‘we’ whose perceptions define the real, the important and the possible. … That capitalism is the best or only way to do things was, in the triumphalism after the collapse of the Soviet Union, affirmed again and again. That mood fell apart in the wake of episode after episode of corruption, destruction and failure — and the rise of a young generation ready to rethink the alternatives and, often, embrace versions of socialism. The nonviolent strategist George Lakey argues that polarisation brings clarity and a volatility that makes positive change more possible. We have the polarisation and the disillusionment, and with perspective about how we got here and when we won, we can claim the possibilities in the decade to come.”

25 December 2019

Some Christmas perspective from Don’t Call Me Ishmael:

So if you’re driving home for Christmas
To spend time with those who care;
If you’re battling in festive retail hell
And you think that’s real despair;
You’ve got food and shelter, a job maybe,
You’ve got somewhere to sleep tonight;
Just remember:
Not everyone’s Christmas will be bright.

(A beautiful song with an important message.)