Climate change and citizens' assemblies

The current federal election campaign is proceeding and will proceed until August 21 without the issue of climate change being seriously discussed. Neither the Labor Party nor the Liberal-National Coalition wants a serious discussion of the issue. Julia Gillard announced a “new” policy of doing nothing, except for a Rudd-style talk-fest to be called a “Citizens’ Assembly”. The Coalition are trying to buy environmental credentials with a “green army” while turning a blind eye to the greenhouse gasses spewing forth into the skies from Australian industry.

The Greens, while accepting the seriousness of the threat posed by human-induced climate change, propose achieving a low-carbon economy through “market based mechanisms”, particularly a tax-imposed price on carbon emissions. Even if this was introduced — which is highly unlikely given the enormous political influence of the big coal mining companies — trying to achieve a low-carbon economy through market-based mechanisms, even backed by some regulation, will never happen.

Given that leading climate change scientists say we have only a 10-year time frame to reverse the growth in greenhouse gas emissions, any reliance on doing this through the capitalist market will be futile. Rapid change will only come through direct government intervention aimed at enforcing a rapid phase-out of the use of all technologies that give off large greenhouse emissions, starting with the coal industry. Governments will also have to manage employment and income generation compensation issues caused by such policies.

Before the last election, ALP leaders Rudd and Gillard, as well as then Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull, all declared climate change as the big moral challenge of the 21st Century, requiring urgent action. Then, following a wave of more-or-less unchallenged climate change skepticism during the last part of last year and earlier this year, the issue has been dropped by the major parties. There can be little doubt that this is because of a fear within both parties and the capitalist class whose interests they represent of any serious discussion on the issue.

What would have happened if Rudd and Turnbull had systematically continued to say that a real catastrophe looms, rebutting strenuously the idiotic climate skeptics? A constant repetition and explanation of the impending disaster for human civilisation by the leaders of these two parties would have inevitably created a climate where the majority of the Australian population would have demanded a serious nation-wide debate over what policies were needed. Such a serious discussion would have exposed the simple truth that both coal and oil have to be replaced as soon as possible by non-greenhouse gas emitting energy sources and that the only way to achieve this would be the exercise of a dictatorship of the population as a whole over the coal and oil industry to force them to phase in new energy sources, or if they resisted, to nationalise them. Neither of the two main parties wants a debate that will expose these realities.

In this regard, the statement by Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) candidate in the seat of Lalor, Van Than Rudd, which turns Gillard’s fakery on its head is exactly right. “Yes”, he said,” citizens’ assemblies are a good idea. But we need citizens’ assemblies that are formed from the grassroots upwards, not a hand-picked committee to advise a government that is scared of a serious campaign against the coal and other greenhouse emitting industries. Real citizens’ assemblies organising and campaigning in every city demanding the rapid phase-out of these habitat-poisoning industries, that is what will bring the necessary change — a campaigning movement for radical change.”