We can't have climate action without dismantling capitalism

The Greens interrupted business in the Upper House for a Matter of Public Importance - Labor's failure to act on climate. Read Abigail's speech. 

Abigail said:

"Climate action is not a luxury but a must." That is a quote from the head of the World Meteorological Organization. The devastating irony is that it is the luxury desires of the capitalist ruling class that are driving our global climate, the common good and the base reality on which we all rely to a state of chaos and collapse. For decades we have been painfully and excruciatingly aware of the harm caused to global climatic conditions as a result of the uninhibited release of carbon and other greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Politicians and industry lobby groups have worked hand in hand to seek to distort and conceal that reality, first with outright denialism, then through obfuscation, misdirection and excessive complication, of which certain elements of the professional academic class are also guilty. In its latest iteration of climate avoidance, we are seeing rampant greenwashing, corporate spin and nonsense terms like "environmentally sustainable practices" [ESG].

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission has announced it has launched proceedings against the $11 trillion global investment giant Vanguard for greenwashing, alleging it made false and misleading statements in representing the climate and ESG credentials of its securities products. Those so-called environmentally, socially and governance-friendly products were packed full of investments with ties to fossil fuel projects like oil and gas exploration. This is the modus operandi of exploitative global capital, with major investors like Vanguard and BlackRock hiding behind a veil of corporate spin, claiming planet-friendly credentials while continuing to funnel hundreds of billions of dollars into the carbon-rich death cult of the fossil fuel industry. They cannot be trusted.

However, it is almost not their fault. The forces of capitalism hold no loyalty to anything or anyone but the pursuit of profit. They will repeatedly and inexorably drive our society to the brink of collapse in pursuit of economic advantage. Capitalism is a system built on the rhythms of rampant wealth extraction to a point of economic collapse. It is those moments of crisis and collapse when the biggest institutional investors cash in, scooping up more assets from the rubble and further consolidating their power through capital accumulation. Yet it is those very same mega investors that we are apparently now relying on to deliver us to a safe and habitable future. Apparently gone are the days of interventionist government with a social conscience and a vision for a future society.

Yesterday I was told that my plan to require this Government to foreground economic and environmental fairness and sustainability in its budget planning was an attempt to deliver State socialism in New South Wales. As embarrassingly incoherent as the Leader of the Opposition's criticism was—I wish he would look up what socialism means and stop sounding like a 1950s capitalist propaganda pamphlet—I do not intend to shy away from accusations that I seek to advance the cause and principles of socialism as a movement for liberation, democracy and justice, both economically and environmentally. It is a far sight better than the dictatorship of the capitalists under whom we are currently ruled. The simple and unassailable reality is that the climate crisis is being driven by corporate greed.

Very few people actually desire to see the world slip past the looming tipping points, or to condemn future generations to increases in global temperatures north of two, three or even five degrees, yet that is the trajectory we currently find ourselves on. An overwhelming majority of people in New South Wales, Australia and around the world are concerned by the impacts of climate change and want more done by governments to arrest its advance. Of course, workers and their unions are profoundly concerned by the implications of that change. Without a strong interventionist government charting a robust and well-resourced transition plan, workers will be prey to the brutality of the private market. They deserve certainty and respect, but that does not suit the desires of big capital and so nothing has been done.

In a moment of peak crisis, we are finally seeing private investment in renewable energy projects. When the pressure of the world has reached fever pitch, governments have been given permission to acknowledge the climate crisis and swing open the door to the private market to undertake the most fundamental restructuring of our economic and energy systems since the industrial revolution. Armed with a suite of tax breaks, grants and zero‑interest loans, governments at a State and national level are overseeing an immense transfer of public wealth into private hands that will see our energy network reach total private ownership and leave workers and communities entirely prey to the price gouging of big business. The potential energy from the sun and wind is free and constant but those companies not only have to turn a profit every year but also increase their profits, otherwise they will entirely collapse. The only logical result of this impossible paradox is that consumers will get screwed over again and again.

Across this continent the Australian Labor Party is in government at State and Federal levels. It has recently been reported that the New South Wales Liberal Party will fall well short of its fundraising targets, driven by an exodus of donations from big business. Is it any wonder? More than a year into the Federal Labor Party's term in government, it has proven itself to be a safe home and a more than a willing accomplice for the interests of big business. Time and again the once mighty Labor Party, born of working-class struggle, has shown itself to be the toadies of the bosses. I can think of no greater betrayal of a political party's history than the case of today's enfeebled and diminished Labor Party. At this time of peak crisis we are standing at a juncture and we have a choice to make. It is a moment for hope, as every moment always is. Every day, every policy and every choice can take us towards a better world.

Over the past few years fossil fuel companies have enjoyed a period of outrageous profits, charging households extortionate prices for access to their most basic needs, like lighting, heating and cooking, driving up inflation and condemning households to energy poverty. The Government has been more than willing to stand idly by and witness this theft, making a deal with coal companies to leave their profits untouched in exchange for a wholly ineffective coal price cap that has done nothing for household bills and paying over $800 million in compensation to those same companies for the privilege. As long as the donations keep flowing, the major parties are willing to make themselves complicit in the bleeding dry of households.

Far from providing the welcome and urgent change we need at this time of immense climate crisis, the Labor Party has been a heartbreaking disappointment for so many across Australia. Just like the Coalition, the Labor Party is continuing to act in a manner entirely contrary to climate science. It is continuing to approve new coal and gas projects; destroy our forests, the lungs of our planet; allow broadscale land clearing; and double down on all the mistakes of the past, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge the reality and urgency of the crisis that we are facing. I am deeply sorry that we are living in this reality.

Good intentions are simply not enough. I know so many of my Labor colleagues are convinced that, with their good intentions and shared concerns when it comes to the climate, we will soon see the changes we need to decarbonise our economy and mitigate and adapt to climate change. But those good intentions are nothing in the face of the power that our economic and political system has gifted to climate-wrecking corporations. They are feeble and ineffective compared with the well-orchestrated campaign that is embedded within the very fabric of our economic and financial systems by big capital to extract every last bit of profit out of our dying planet.

Nothing less than disentangling our political system from those big businesses and building a new economic status quo will achieve the change we need to avoid climate catastrophe at this point. That brings me back to yesterday's incredibly disappointing debate on The Greens' wellbeing budget bill. It was a stark reminder that governments in power across the country are determined to shove their good intentions down the laundry chute of capitalism and hope that what comes out in the wash will be clean and sparkly. Climate change is a class war. To deliver meaningful climate action, we must push back, pull out and break off the fangs of capitalism. We have the world to win, and in winning we will save it.


Read the full transcript in Hansard here.

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