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Climate Change and Capitalism in Australia: An Eco-Socialist Vision for the Future

Posted on: September 22, 2021

Author of the new book Climate Change and Capitalism in Australia, Hans A. Baer believes in the solution of eco-socialism:

 

A growing number of climate scientists argue that if humanity does not start to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions soon, there is a strong possibility that the average global temperature will be 4oC or higher than at the time of the Industrial Revolution, a point at which the average global temperature already stands 1.1oC higher than in 1900. Ironically, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a modest reduction of greenhouse gas emissions due to governmental lockdowns around the world temporarily shutting down or curtailing various industries and businesses, including air transportation, not so much for cargo but for passengers. However, the powers that be both in the corporate and state sectors are biting at the bit to return to business-as-usual or in the words of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison “snap-back.”

 

Bushfires in Tasmania

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

 

Recognizing that climate politics has been an increasingly contentious and heated topic in Australia over the past two decades, this book examines Australian capitalism as a driver of climate change and the nexus between the corporations and Coalition and Australian Labor parties. As a highly developed country, Australia is punching above its weight in terms of contributing to greenhouse gas emissions despite rising temperatures, droughts, water shortages and raging bushfires, storm surges and flooding, and the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. Drawing upon both archival and ethnographic research, I examine Australian climate politics at the margins, namely the Greens, the labor unions, the environmental NGOs, and the grass-roots climate movement. Adopting a climate justice perspective which calls for "system change, not climate change" as opposed to the conventional approach of seeking to mitigate emissions through market mechanisms and techno-fixes, particularly renewable energy sources, this book posits system-challenging transitional steps to shift Australia toward an eco-socialist vision in keeping with a burgeoning global socio-ecological revolution.

 

'Climate Justice Now' Sign

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

 

My call for an eco-socialist agenda for Australia is part and parcel of a larger global call for eco-socialism. But if Australia, like other wealthy countries, keeps up its whole-hearted embrace of the capitalist growth paradigm that’s behind deepening social divides and a climate crisis worsening, despite the deliberations at 25 UN climate change conferences, with a 26th one to transpire at the end of 2021 in Glasgow, and despite emissions-trading schemes around the world, the alternative may be dystopia. Achieving an eco-socialist Australia would have to be part of a larger global effort in which a greatly enlarged climate justice movement works in alliance with other anti-systemic movements, such as the anti-corporate globalisation, the labor, Indigenous and refugee rights, and women’s rights movements. The Australian climate movement could more fully join in the struggle for social justice both globally and at home if it were to place greater emphasis on climate justice and less on ecological modernisation, namely a shift to renewal energy sources and other techno-fixes, which has a role to play in climate change mitigation but will not counteract the capitalist treadmill of production and consumption and its drive for continual economic growth. Given the failure of existing international and national climate regimes to date in adequately mitigating climate change, this effort will have to be spurred from below.

 

Climate Protests in Melbourne

Photo by Katie Jowett on Unsplash

 

Climate Change and Capitalism  is available now from routledge.com.

 

"System change not climate change has been an increasingly strong rallying call within climate action movements. But, what does it really mean? In this second edition, Hans Baer details the massive implications of climate change, ten years on — in the climate emergency that we are now all experiencing."

- Anitra Nelson,

Small is Necessary (2018), Exploring Degrowth: A Critical Guide (2020), Beyond Money a Postcapitalist Strategy (2022)

 

"An engaging and persuasive vision of Australia transformed by eco-socialism. Opening chapters explain the impacts of climate change on Australia and the economics and politics behind Australia’s use of fossil fuels. The middle chapters show how mainstream politics has failed to deal with the crisis, as well as giving a detailed analysis of the environmentalist and leftist response. In a pause for reflection, Baer presents an auto-ethnography of activism on climate change, a great description of how these movements operate at the grass roots. Rod Quantock, a left comedian in Australia, is interviewed and explains the likelihood of collapse. This provides a platform to launch Baer’s more optimistic vision of eco-socialism. The detail of these suggestions is impressive and will be much appreciated by all those concerned about our environmental crisis."

- Terry Leahy,

The University of Newcastle, Australia

                                                                              Hans Baer                                                                                       

Hans A. Baer is an anthropologist based at the University of Melbourne. He works extensively on a diversity of research topics, including Mormonism, African-American religion, socio-political life in East Germany, critical health anthropology, medical pluralism in the US, UK, and Australia, the critical anthropology of climate change, and eco-socialism.

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