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Tributes to Barry Commoner, radical ecologist

Barry Commoner, “a powerful critic of capitalism”, “a leader among a generation of scientist-activists” and possibly “the greatest environmentalist of the 20th century”, died in New York on September 30, aged 95.

Below is a selection of recent tributes to Commoner, along with articles, films and radio broadcasts about his ideas, and key articles and book excerpts from Commoner himself.

* * *

Scientist, Candidate and Planet Earth’s Lifeguard, New York Times.
“Dr. Commoner was a leader among a generation of scientist-activists who recognized the toxic consequences of America’s post-World War II technology boom, and one of the first to stir the national debate over the public’s right to comprehend the risks and make decisions about them.”

Remembering Barry Commoner, The Nation.
” Commoner viewed the environmental crisis as a symptom of a fundamentally flawed economic and social system. A biologist and research scientist, he argued that corporate greed, misguided government priorities and the misuse of technology accounted for the undermining of “the finely sculptured fit between life and its surroundings.”

Barry Commoner, 1917-2012, Climateandcapitalism.com.
“His 1971 book The Closing Circle was a pioneering analysis of the economic and social causes of environmental destruction. At a time when most writers were blaming individual behaviour or overpopulation for pollution, Commoner exposed the role of capitalism and profit.”
Includes a excerpt from the 2011 book Too Many People?, by Ian Angus and myself, which describes how Commoner replied to the populationist arguments advanced by Paul Ehrlich in The Population Bomb.

Barry Commoner, scientist and influential environmentalist, dies at 95, Washington Post.
“Time magazine put Dr. Commoner on its cover in 1970, saying he ‘has probably done more than any other U.S. scientist to speak out and awaken a sense of urgency about the declining quality of life’.”

The greatest environmentalist of the 20th century, Greenpeace USA.
“Ralph Nader calls Barry Commoner “the greatest environmentalist of the 20th century.” It’s hard to argue with that.”

RIP, Barry Commoner: A scientist who wasn’t afraid to make some noise, Grist.org
“In 1993, Commoner explained to the Chicago Tribune that “the Atomic Energy Commission turned me into an environmentalist.” He had raised alarms about the levels of radioactive material in the atmosphere after atomic bomb tests, but officials brushed him off. From that point on, he would become a vocal advocate for people’s right to know about toxins in the environment and in the products they bought.”

Barry Commoner’s Legacy, The American Prospect.
“Commoner believed in addressing multiple issues, such as racism, sexism, war, and—most importantly—the failings of capitalism at the same time as environmentalism because they were, and still are, all related issues of a larger central problem.”

Commoner in Context, Michael Egan.
“My instinct is that we will hear the same references over and over again in the coming days and weeks: Commoner introduced the Four Laws of Ecology, he ran for President in 1980, and he was called (by TIME magazine in 1970) “the Paul Revere of Ecology.” All true, but I should like to stress a much more fundamental point: Commoner invented the science information movement”

Barry Commoner: The Paul Revere of Ecology, Michael Egan.
“I submit that Commoner’s big contribution is not the Four Laws of Ecology or the Paul Revere of Ecology stuff. Rather he committed his entire career to the science information movement”

Barry Commoner’s Uncommon Life, Andrew Revkin, NTY/Dot Earth.
Quoting Michael Egan: “He should be in any top five list of American environmental leaders, up there with Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, John Muir, and Alice Hamilton. It may be heretical to say it, but I think he’s a more important figure in American environmentalism than Rachel Carson.”

Barry Commoner, pillar of environmental movement, dies at 95, Los Angeles Times.
‘Commoner was particularly known for boiling down his philosophy to four simple principles: “Everything is connected to everything else. Everything must go somewhere. Nature knows best. There is no such thing as a free lunch,” he wrote in “The Closing Circle.”‘

Barry Commoner and Our Interconnected World, Legal Planet blog.
“You might say that, even when Commoner first wrote, it was clear that the world had a complex set of links. Today, however, we are beginning to have glimpses of the wiring diagram.”

VIDEO: Last Word, Barry Commoner, New York Times.
“Dr. Commoner, an early environmentalist, warned of the dangers of nuclear weapons testing. He was an early champion of recycling, organic food and reducing fossil fuel use.”

PODCAST:‘Paul Revere Of Ecology’ Sounded Alarms On Pollution, NPR.
“Melissa Block speaks with Michael Egan, environmental historian at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and author of the book, Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival: The Remaking of American Environmentalism.”

PODCAST: Saluting Barry Commoner, The Progressive.
Progessive Magazine editor Matthew Rothschild pays tribute to Commoner’s life and ideas.

ARTICLE: Barry Commoner: Ecology and Social Action, Climateandcapitalism.com
“Thus, once we recognize that human beings are not bound to single ecological solutions, but can choose among several, social action – which is, after all, the process of choosing among such options-becomes a reality. It is encouraging that this view of the relation between ecology and social action is, in political terms, liberating; that it calls for societal arrangements which enable political choice; that it fosters democracy.”

ARTICLE: Barry Commoner: The Illusion of Consumer Sovereignty, Climateandcapitalism.com.
“Still, the issue always comes up: Isn’t it up to us? Isn’t it our fault that we buy the big cars, for instance? Well, no it isn’t.”

QUOTES: Barry Commoner: Pollution, affluence and class, Climateandcapitalism.com.
“The favorite statistic is that the U.S. contains 6 to 7% of the world population but consumes more than half the world’s resources and is responsible for that fraction of the total environmental pollution. But this statistic hides another vital fact: that not everyone in the U.S. is so affluent.”

QUOTES: Barry Commoner: Pollution and production, Climateandcapitalism.com.
“If the environment is polluted and the economy is sick, the virus that causes both will be found in the system of production. And that is where their cure can be found as well.”

QUOTES: Barry Commoner: Capitalism versus the environment, Climateandcapitalism.com.
“Thus, the energy crisis and the web of inter-related problems confront us with the need to explore the possibility of creating a production system that is consciously intended to serve social needs and that judges the value of its products by their use, and an economic system that is committed to these purposes. At least in principle, such a system is socialism.”

October 3, 2012 at 3:14 am 1 comment

‘Crazy-hot’ US heatwave matches climate scientist warnings

Throughout June, the United States was hit by freak storms, intense heatwaves, prolonged drought, huge floods and out-of-control bushfires that have burnt out more than 2.1 million acres.

“This is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level,” climate scientist Jonathan Overpeck told AP on July 3. “The extra heat increases the odds of worse heat waves, droughts, storms and wildfire. This is certainly what I and many other climate scientists have been warning about.”

By late June, about 72% of the US landmass was in drought or was classified as dry. US meteorologist Jeff Masters said on July 3: “The ongoing heat wave is one of the most intense and widespread in U.S. history.”

Fellow meteorologist Christopher C. Burt said so many temperature records were being broken that, “there is no point in listing or even attempting to summarise all of the June monthly records set in the region from Missouri to Maryland and south to Georgia during the June 28-30 period.”

The US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) compiled the nationwide records anyway. It said on July 2 that 2440 daily heat records were broken in the past week and 3917 in the past month. The 190 all-time heat records broken almost doubled the total for the past decade, said Climatecentral.org

AP said that since the start of the year, about 40,000 daily heat records have been broken compared with just 6000 daily cold records.

Burt said the heatwave was “especially extraordinary” because 95% of past heat records in the area were set in the typically warmers months of July and August.

Masters said July will bring no respite from the heatwave. By mid-July, weather models predict “the potential for crazy-hot conditions capable of toppling all-time heat records in many western states”. Drawing on US Department of Agriculture reports, he also said “it is likely that a multi-billion dollar drought disaster is underway in the [US] Midwest”.

Perhaps worst affected by the heatwave are the 1.8 million Americans that were still without power on July 3. A huge “derecho” thunderstorm pummelled parts of the US east coast on June 29, cutting power to 1 million homes from North Carolina in the south to New Jersey in the north.

On July 3, ABC news said more than half a million people in the Washington DC area were without power. It said: “officials fear the death toll, already at 22, could rise because of the sweltering heat”.

The US’s western states are “headed into a hot, dry summer of potentially ferocious blazes,” the Los Angeles Times said on July 2. A huge firestorm engulfed parts of Colorado in June, destroying about 700 homes.

The US Forest Service’s Tom Harbour told the LA Times the drought conditions meant: “This year, fires are going big … We’ve had some really extraordinary runs … fires that are running 10 miles in lighter fuels. Fires that are running miles in forested areas.”

US agriculture department undersecretary Harris Sherman, who is in charge of the US Forest Service, told the July 2 Washington Post: “The climate is changing, and these fires are a very strong indicator of that.”

July 4, 2012 at 2:40 am 3 comments

System, not consumers, the big green problem

Cartoon by Winston Cheng

Green Left Weekly, Dec 3, 2011 — Most environmentalists would agree consumerism and consumer culture put too heavy a burden on the planet. Consumer spending is central to the economy, which is why economists and governments also pay it close attention.

But most mainstream economists say endless economic growth, which implies limitless consumption, is both possible and desirable. This ignores how it helps fuel our ecological problems.

Today, most things sold on the market are made to be thrown out and replaced. A big part of economic activity is made up of selling products “designed for the dump”.

It’s not hard to see why this suits the biggest firms with the most market power. They make more money selling new products regularly than they can from products that are long-lasting, repairable and easy to upgrade.

This cycle begins with the extraction of raw materials from the earth. The throwaway economy needs to turn more and more of nature into products for sale: fossil fuels, soil nutrients, fresh water, metals and timber.

The cycle ends with the steady release of waste back into the ecosphere: waste gases into the sky, waste pollutants into water, and waste chemicals and toxics into the soil.

In the rich nations and the upper class enclaves in the South, mass consumer society has also given rise to its own culture, which encourages individuals to define their happiness and social status by the things they consume.

Marketing

Globally, corporations spend trillions on marketing and advertising each year. Advertising doesn’t make people mindless: everyone resists and disregards sales pitches every day. But this huge, continuous sales effort helps reinforce the values of a consumer society.

Advertising fosters compulsive consumer habits and creates new “needs”. And, as Naomi Klein began her classic book No Logo, modern management theory holds that “successful corporations must primarily produce brands, as opposed to products”.

These brands are sold on the promise they can satisfy complex emotional and social needs: happiness and relaxation, belonging and confidence, fun, sex, and respect.

The promise is always an illusion. Having more stuff has not made us happier.

Advertising revenue is the corporate media’s main source of income. Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner and Mark Zuckerberg would be nothing without it. Every media corporation is therefore a giant advertising machine.

The media’s role in the economy adds to the waste and pollution in the physical environment. But Adbusters‘ Kalle Lasn and Micah White say the advertising-driven media pollute the “cultural environment” too.

“The commercial media are to the mental environment what factories are to the physical environment. A factory dumps pollution into the water or air because that’s the most efficient way to produce plastic or wood pulp or steel. A TV station or website pollutes the cultural environment because that’s the most efficient way to produce audiences.”

Perhaps the most glaring lie told is that the consumer society brings freedom and choice. John Bellamy Foster, Brett Clark and Richard York say in their book The Ecological Rift: “The entire marketing system, in which trillions of dollars are spent persuading individuals to buy commodities for which they have no need, and no initial desire … is not a system for expanding choice but for controlling it in the interest of promoting ever-greater sales at higher profits.”

But while most environmentalists agree consumerism is a problem, differences emerge about what do about it and how to overcome it.

Many are tempted to blame consumer choices for causing our environmental problems and insist too many consumers are wrecking the planet because they aspire to affluent, wasteful lifestyles.

Mainstream environment groups run campaigns to convince people to limit household consumption, recycle more and cut down on waste. Others talk of “greening” consumer values and want to channel consumer spending toward green products.

Trainer’s view

Some radical ecologists also focus most attention on consumer choices. In a recent interview with Green Left Weekly, Ted Trainer said consumer “demand for affluence is a key driver of today’s global problems”. He said this meant “the main problem group is not the corporations or the capitalist class … The problem group, the key to transition, is people in general.”

But as monstrous as the consumer economy has become, consumer spending is still not the biggest environmental problem — not by a long shot.

Most waste and pollution is caused by industrial, military and commercial processes, over which consumers have no control. For example, in her 2009 book The Story of Stuff, Annie Leonard said household waste makes up only about 2.5% of the US total — 97.5% of solid waste comes from business and government operations, not consumers.

Limiting personal consumption is a good idea where possible. But it hardly scratches the surface of the ecological problem, which lies in how our stuff is made and distributed.

That statistical fiction, “the average consumer”, does not reveal much either. It’s true that average personal consumption has risen in the West. But the average figure conceals the extent to which the ultra-rich are super-consumers and super-producers.

In 2005, Citigroup analysts decided the wealth gap in Western economies is so large they are best called “plutonomies” — economies powered by, controlled by and reliant for growth on a small, rich elite.

Trainer is a critic of capitalist growth and consumerism. But his focus on “people in general” as the source of environmental problems takes growth and consumption out of this social context. In a 1989 article in The Progressive, US radical ecologist Murray Bookchin said this kind of approach tends to “distort and privatise the problem”.

Bookchin said: “It is inaccurate and unfair to coerce people into believing that they are personally responsible for present-day ecological dangers because they consume too much or proliferate too readily.”

It’s not much help to call on more people to choose simpler lifestyles because, “ironically, many ordinary people and their families cannot afford to live ‘simply’” in the present society.

Bookchin agreed that capitalist growth was “eating away the biosphere at a pace unprecedented in human history”. But he also said: “Public concern for the environment cannot be addressed by placing the blame on growth without spelling out the causes of growth.

“Nor can an explanation be exhausted by citing ‘consumerism’ while ignoring the sinister role played by rival producers in shaping public taste and guiding public purchasing power.”

But if appeals for people to consume less or live simply fall short, it’s also dubious that consumerism can be neatly overcome by a shift to a non-capitalist economy, where the profit motive no longer drives production and investment.

In his 1979 book The Self-Managing Environment, Australian ecologist Alan Roberts said overthrowing capitalism is crucial, but is still not enough to fully tackle consumerism.

The ecological disaster that was the Soviet Union, for example, shows that “the mere existence of planned, nationalised industry cannot prevent the gallop towards a destructive consumerism”.

Roberts’ point was that “consumerism is not just a particular organisation of the economy, but a way of life”. By this he meant that consumer culture — or the values of consumerism — “are reproduced by the life experience of people in almost every social sphere they inhabit, not just on the job, in their neighbourhood or in political life”.

So the problem of consumerism is not just about advertising and corporate power in the marketplace, as important as these things are.

Consumerism endures because it is also a kind of compensation for an alienated existence. Consumerism thrives when most people — the producers, the workers — are powerless in politics and society.

Roberts summed up his argument in this way: “Ecological values are those linked with consumption, but they are in fact substantially derived from the way in which people experience life as producers. It is that exploited, alienated and relatively powerless period, the working day, which reduces them to settling for commodity satisfaction in their ‘free time’.

“The bargain just struck — the deprivation of goods related to human community and creative effort, in exchange for commodities or the promise of them — extends its influence throughout all levels and institutions, marking out the shape of the ‘consumer society’. It is this society which threatens the environment with its unlimited appetite — unlimited precisely because its objects are so unsatisfying.”

Real control

To really tackle the consumer society and to stop it from reemerging, today’s powerless consumers need to win real control over their lives and labour. Roberts said a new system based on grassroots democracy — worker and community self-management — is the best ecological alternative.

This view of consumerism and how to tackle it also raises strategic issues for environmentalists today.

Roberts said it means environmentalists have a stake in “every struggle in an industrial society, whatever the immediate issue”.

How these struggles develop is key. Are they powered by grassroots activists or led by unaccountable functionaries? Do they try to build mass movements for change or do they focus mostly on lobbying politicians?

These are important ecological questions because it is by taking part in such struggles that people can begin to throw off their imposed social role as passive consumers.

After all, asks Roberts: “What sort of self-management, what turn from consumerist values, could be expected of workers who meekly accepted a cut in real wages, or of women who surrendered to others their right to decide on child-bearing?”

This is a very different conclusion to Trainer, who said in his GLW interview that “the essential aim is not to fight against consumer-capitalist society, but to build the alternative to it”.

It is a mistake to separate the fight against present conditions from the building of an alternative way of life. It is through struggle against the injustices of capitalist society that the new values, ideas and institutions of an alternative, ecological society will emerge.

[Simon Butler is an editor of Green Left and author, with Ian Angus of Too Many People? — which tackles the myth that population growth is a major environmental threat.]

February 8, 2012 at 5:46 am Leave a comment

Annie Leonard: Occupy movement is taking back our spaces

When Annie Leonard put her groundbreaking cartoon The Story of Stuff online in late 2007, she would have been really happy if 50,000 people had watched it.

“To my utter amazement we got 50,000 viewers on the first day,” she told Green Left Weekly during a recent visit to Australia. Almost four years later, more than 15 million people, in every country in the world, have watched The Story of Stuff.

The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute cartoon with a serious message. Leonard said: “It takes viewers on a journey of where all our stuff comes from and where it goes. It’s a really quick whiz-through the lifecycle of all our stuff.”

The story begins with extraction, how the raw materials needed to make our products are taken from the natural environment. From there, Leonard looks at how stuff is manufactured, how it is distributed, how it is consumed (“the very short time we actually own and appreciate our stuff”) and finally how it is disposed of.

It’s a story of the modern, globalised capitalist economy, how little sense it makes and how little it benefits people and the planet.

Leonard said she made the cartoon “after spending more than a decade travelling all around the world, visiting the factories where our stuff is made and the dumps where our stuff is dumped — and I mean all over Africa and Asia and Latin America, and the United States and Europe.

“So by doing that, I got to see firsthand the often hidden environmental, social, economic and even emotional costs, the mental health costs, of our relationship with stuff, of how we make and use and throw away stuff.

“I saw enormous problems, and I saw an enormous amount of opportunities to do things better. And when I came back to the United States I was frustrated at how low the volume was on the conversation about this.

“The mainstream discourse around stuff is just ‘get more’ and you will be happier and better loved and more successful, which is first of all false and secondly it also ignores a huge part of the reality.

“So I was experimenting in different ways to talk about this in a way that is engaging an accessible and fun.”

Leonard’s experiment was wildly successful. Building on the success, the Story of Stuff project has since produced a further five cartoons that “look at key problems in our current materials economy”.

These include The Story of Electronics, The Story of Bottled Water and The Story of Cosmetics. A new cartoon, The Story of Broke: Why There is Still Plenty of Money to Build a Better Future, will be released on November 8.

The Story of Stuff Project films don’t just examine the problems, but also point to solutions. All the cartoons share a common theme: a first step on the road to a sustainable, healthy economy is people taking collective action for progressive change.

Given this, I asked Leonard what she thought of the global Occupy movement and the extent to which it had the potential to raise some of the big questions about our society she raises in her films.

“It’s not just its potential: it’s already raising them,” she said. “The Occupy movement is an inspiration both in process and in content. It is just absolutely beautiful. I’m enormously happy about it.

“The Occupy movement is taking back our spaces, [it is] taking back our discourses, it is striving to take back our government and in many ways it is taking back ourselves.”

Leonard said that one of the things she has noticed based on responses to The Story of Stuff that, as a society, “we are forgetting how to make change”.

“We are bombarded with this depressing list of uncoordinated, individual actions where people say: ‘I can ride a bike’, ‘I can carry my bags to the store’, ‘I can recycle’, ‘I can change my lightbulbs’, ‘I can buy organic’, ‘I can buy PCB free’.

“All of these things are definitely good things to do. But those are not how we collectively make change. Those are how you act as a responsible, functioning adult in society …

“But I feel like we have been bombarded with these messages … that we have lost our sense of identity as collective citizens, who can work together to make change.

“And so I’m enormously thrilled to see people stepping out of their imposed identity as consumers. Being consumers is the main identity we have in the world these days, so much that media often use the words “consumer” and “human being” interchangeably.

“People are stepping out of that imposed identity … and reclaiming that sense of agency. So I’m just absolutely delighted to see the Occupy movement spread all over the world.”

November 11, 2011 at 5:40 am Leave a comment

Why #occupy is an environmental issue

The occupy movement is spreading, and in more ways than one. It’s spreading across the globe — by October 11 occupytogether.org could boast of 1273 occupy events planned worldwide. But the movement, united under its slogan “We are the 99%”, is also reaching out to, and involving, other established social movements.

Environmentalists and climate campaigners have linked up with Occupy Wall Street protests in New York. Hundreds of climate activists joined a 5000-strong march there on October 5. Their message was well received by other protesters.

Justin Haaheim, an organiser with 350.org, told environmental blogger Russell McLendon that the march “was one of the most inspiring things I’ve seen in a long time in terms of the environmental movement.

“I was surprised by how much there was a really common message among all the protesters. It would be really easy for something like that to have a million different messages, but it was encouraging to see that the environmental message was very widespread and very meshed in with the broader Occupy Wall Street movement.”

The coming together of the two movements is a good sign because there is no way out of our ecological crises as long as the world’s richest 1% keep control over the economy and our political systems.

Climate writer and activist Bill McKibben said in an October 10 speech to protesters in New York the global 1% is the biggest environmental problem.

He said: “The reason that it’s so great that we’re occupying Wall Street is because Wall Street has been occupying the atmosphere. That’s why we can never do anything about global warming. Exxon gets in the way. Goldman Sachs gets in the way. The whole fossil fuel industry gets in the way.

“The sky does not belong to Exxon. They cannot keep using it as a sewer into which to dump their carbon. If they do, we’ve got no future and nobody else on this planet has a future.”

McKibben spoke of the climate justice movement in the Third World, which is leading the fight against dangerous climate change. “They need us to act with them and for them,” he said, “because the problem is 20 blocks south of here. That’s where the Empire lives and we’ve got to figure out how to tame it and make it work for this planet or not work at all.”

In Australia, occupy protests will take place in several Australian cities from October 15. The politics and demands of the Australian events cannot be set out in advance. Part of the occupy movement’s success is to first bring people together and then work out the movement’s shared goals in an inclusive and democratic way.

But, as the Occupy New York declaration says, we live in “a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments”.

The recognition that 99% of us share a common enemy, and that we must organise together to challenge injustice, is a central dynamic of these protests. Like in the US, there’s every reason to think that Australian environmentalists can find a place in the occupy movement.

October 11, 2011 at 7:46 am 1 comment

Coal seam gas well spews foam

This video is of a coal seam gas well near Campbelltown, southwest of Sydney.

Its unclear what this stuff spewing out actually is, but its likely to contain at least some of the poisonous chemicals used in the gas extraction process. But don’t worry, The Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA) insists that the toxic water byproduct of coal seam gas mining could have many “beneficial uses”.

Among these it lists:

“Stock watering”
“Crop irrigation”
“Tree plantations”
“Augmenting town water supplies”
“Aquaculture”
“Industrial and manufacturing operations”
“Dust suppression for construction activities”
“Coal washing and the cooling of power stations”

Who could doubt APPEA’s sincerity? Many people it seems. An audience of about 400 people at a forum on coal seam gas at the University of Sydney on May 16 adopted this resolution:

“This meeting calls for a halt to any further exploration and/or granting of licences for coal seam gas drilling in New South Wales until the state government holds an independent commission of enquiry incorporating an environmental impact study as a background for framing long overdue legislation controlling this controversial new industrial activity.”

Below is an advertisement warning of the dangers of coal seam gas that will soon appear on Australian TV.

May 19, 2011 at 12:28 am Leave a comment

Deniers, pretenders and real climate action

Liberal leader Tony Abbott is a climate change denier. He told a recent meeting in Perth that he still doubted the science of climate change and said: “Whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be is not yet proven.”

His party’s campaign against the carbon price deal struck between the Labor government, the Greens and independent MPs has one central aim: to undermine public support for strong government action to tackle climate change.

Abbott’s campaign is not crazy, even though it promotes an irrational response to the climate change threat. He is running a calculated scare campaign on behalf of Australia’s fossil fuel lobby.

The campaign avoids facts and evidence. It is designed to associate economic hardship, price rises and job losses with any kind of climate policy.

The truth is that a zero-emissions economy would be job-rich. And the “cost” of not cutting carbon pollution fast is a world of climate chaos.

There is a big danger that Abbott’s campaign will have an impact. It must be resisted.

But it’s wrong to think the climate deniers pose the only menace here.

The climate denier campaign works in tandem with the agenda of the climate pretenders — those who defend business as usual “solutions” to climate change.

Tony Abbott is Australia’s leading climate denier. Labor PM Julia Gillard is Australia’s leading climate pretender.

The danger is that the debate on climate will be narrowed to a false choice between two different kinds of inaction — one open, one concealed.

Pricing pollution cannot be the main response to climate change. Not when the climate science says we need to transform the economy rapidly.

Full details of the proposed carbon price plan are yet to be released.

But a carbon price or emissions trading scheme that shifts the cost-burden away from business and on to households would undermine public support for climate action and make it harder to win support for other, genuine climate measures.

It would give weight to the fossil fuel lobby’s hypocritical claims that climate action will always hurt ordinary people.

More compensation to the big polluters is inexcusable. Australian governments already give about $12 billion a year in subsidies to the big polluters. These subsidies should end and the money spent on zero-emissions projects.

In this context, the NSW Greens deserve high praise for their new Solar Thermal Plant initiative — a commitment to build three publicly owned and funded solar thermal power stations in western NSW.

The Socialist Alliance also calls for public investment as a key response to the climate emergency.

The federal Greens should follow the lead of the NSW branch and endorse a publicly funded rollout of renewable energy on a national scale.

Public investment in renewable energy and other carbon abatement programs is the most important and practical response to the climate emergency. We can’t allow the climate deniers, or the climate pretenders, to sideline it.

March 27, 2011 at 10:53 pm Leave a comment

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