Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Cross posted at The Real Ewbank.

At the weekend, Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed called for increased direct action campaigning to encourage governments to act on climate change. “What we really need is a huge social 60s-style catalystic, dynamic street action,” said Nasheed in the Guardian. “If the people in the US wish to change, it can happen. In the 60s and 70s, they’ve done that.”

President Nasheed emerged from the last year’s Copenhagen Climate Conference with considerable clout among climate change campaigners, and rightly so. In the process of drawing attention to the plight of his homeland the Maldives, a chain of small islands threatened by rising sea levels and storm surges, Nasheed became a leading voice for the vulnerable and poor in the international negotiations. Nasheed has since received several awards for his commendable efforts.

The Maldivian President’s comments will no doubt be music to the ears of some climate advocates in Australia, however, the merits of such an approach should be carefully considered. Is direct action likely to be as effective for climate change as it was for social issues in the 1960s? Is Nasheed’s optimism that renewed grassroots action will compel governments to implement effective climate policies well founded?

Nasheed points to successful direct action campaigns that occurred in 1960s America as a model, and this provides a good starting point for exploring these questions. Let’s take a quick look at the civil rights movement. The civil rights movement used various types of direct action between 1955 and 1968 to overturn Jim Crow laws that permitted racial segregation and other forms of discrimination in the United States. The largest of the marches, the March on Washington in 1963 (where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the historic “I have a dream” speech), is credited with helping build momentum to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the National Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The successes of American civil rights movement support the notion of grassroots movements driving change, but the world has changed since the 1960s, and so have the issues. While freedom and dignity where at the heart of the civil rights struggle, the role of freedom is not as clear-cut when it comes to climate change.

Climate change doesn’t readily lend itself to direct action campaigning for two reasons. Firstly, the impacts of unmitigated climate change do not affect citizens from the largest carbon emitting nations in a visible and direct way. Attempts to link climate change with specific storms, bushfires, and heatwaves, have been of limited use because these ‘natural disasters’ have been experienced throughout history and live in our social memory.

Unlike the civil rights movement, climate change has a complex causation. Its effects are indirect, systemic, difficult to perceive, and will increase over time. This is compounded by an absence of directly affected and disgruntled citizens in developed nations to demand action. The fact that future generations and people that are living in the developing world are, and will be, hardest hit by our changing climate, means that this crucial driver for effective grassroots mobilization is missing in the west.

Secondly, in contrast to the emancipatory civil rights laws, the dominant climate policies could be framed as limiting freedom to those in developed nations. The key climate change policies advocated involve carbon pricing in one form or another. Whether it’s a market price or carbon tax, a direct action campaign would require a critical mass of people to protest for measures that increase the cost of energy.

In this scenario it is possible for opponents to frame demonstrators as attacking freedom, rather than promoting it, as was the case in the protests of the 1960s. This framing would be achieved in a similar way that Opposition Leader Tony Abbott rebranded the government’s emissions-trading scheme as “a great big tax.”

Putting aside these challenges, we should consider that recent grassroots demonstrations in Australia have a mixed record.

In 2003, between 800 thousand and one million Australian’s demonstrated against the US-led invasion of Iraq and the Howard government’s commitment to send the Nation’s armed forces to war. This massive demonstration was the largest since the anti-Vietnam war protests of the 1970s, but was it enough to pressure the government to withdraw Australian troops? No. Was it enough to build a movement capable of voting out the conservative Prime Minister at the next election? No. Did it translate into a legislative victory that would ensure governments require the approval of the Australian Parliament to wage war? No.

On the other hand, in the lead up to the 2007 election a successful grassroots movement was formed in opposition to the Howard government’s unpopular industrial relations reforms.  In contrast to the anti-Iraq was protests years earlier, the reforms directly affected millions of Australian workers. The WorkChoices reforms threatened the rights of citizens and presented a risk to financial security. The effective campaign used direct action alongside other grassroots organising methods. A combination of intelligent campaigning by a galvanized union movement, progressive online campaigning, excellent messaging (‘Your Rights at Work’), and a revitalised Labor party deposed the Howard government.

President Nasheed’s brief comments pose interesting questions about the effectiveness of 1960s-style direct action for climate change campaigning, but are not detailed enough to adequately gauge the role it might play. Direct action will continue to perform a cathartic function for climate change activists, but its ability to lead to transformative change like the civil rights movement in the US, or more modest victory for Australian workers against the Howard government, is limited. It is good to look to the past for inspiration but we mustn’t be blinded by nostalgia.


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Published by On Line Opinion, Australia’s leading e-journal of social and political debate.

Recently, the Australian Greens challenged the Rudd Government to “break the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) deadlock” by implementing an interim price on carbon. The move no doubt stunned many with its pragmatism and has since won the backing of the government’s former chief climate change adviser Ross Garnaut. While the move may give the Greens a PR boost, the proposal will work to strengthen the Coalition’s recent framing of carbon pricing as a “great big tax”. This of course has implications for Labor’s climate policy agenda in an election year.


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Originally posted at The Real Ewbank.

Australia’s new Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has declared war on the Rudd Government. He has kicked-off his leadership by implementing a polarisation strategy, with the emissions-trading policy forming a central part of the political battlefield. The Opposition’s new strategy provides some insight into the way in which the cap and trade politics might unfold in the United States.


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Kevin RuddLess than three weeks from the Australian Senate’s highly anticipated second vote on the CPRS bill, the Australian Government’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) has revealed new problems with the Rudd Government’s deeply flawed cap-and-trade plan.

Crikey’s national politics correspondent Bernard Keane has found that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) will require a massive $5 billion of taxpayer subsidies in its first five years, not breaking even until 2022. With the Labor Government releasing this crucial data so late in the game, it’s no wonder that Australia’s policy analysts are finding some interesting surprises.


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Japan Politics ElectionsElected less than a week ago, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) may be new to power but according to a recent Bloomberg piece, it has already acknowledged the urgency of the clean energy race. Centered on an aggressive target to reduce carbon emissions 25% by 2020 from 1990 levels and increasing the share of renewables to 10% of its energy mix by 2020, the DPJ has set forth a proposal to achieve those cuts that is on course to outdo its predecessor, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), in both promise and execution.

While many nations’ emissions targets end up as nothing more than empty promises, the DPJ’s proposal outlines plans that include direct investment in clean energy technology that could have a variety of positive impacts on Japan’s clean energy sector and ultimately improve its ability to compete in the clean energy race.

With the intent to expand and improve upon the LDP’s clean energy deployment initiatives and grow the share of renewables in its energy mix, the DPJ is offering increased subsidies for solar photovoltaics as well as planning to extend Japan’s soon-to-be feed-in tariff system, to include all renewables, instead of just solar. (more…)

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Thursday, 10 Senate Democrats sent a letter to the President Obama outlining their position on upcoming climate policy. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Russell D. Feingold (D-WI), Carl Levin (D-MI), Evan Bayh (D-IN), Robert P. Casey (D-PA), Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), Arlen Specter (D-PA), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV), and Al Franken (D-MN) voiced their position to make sure that effective climate policy both reduces emissions and strengthens American manufacturing.  The letter’s signatories want U.S. climate policy to:

  • Include transition assistance as factories become more efficient and as they retool to make clean energy products in a more efficient way;
  • Set negotiating objectives around manufacturing that the U.S. can take to the Copenhagen climate negotiations in December;
  • Establish mechanisms to verify emissions reductions and hold countries accountable for meeting their goals; and
  • Establish a border adjustment (fee) on goods from countries with less rigorous climate provisions.

The New York Times headline editors were quick to ominously label the letter a “threat” to the passage of a climate bill, but that is hardly the case.  This letter was not an ultimatum stating opposition to climate legislation, or even to the Waxman-Markey bill in particular.  The letter states the Senator’s support for climate action and provides a forum for addressing their clearly stated concerns that if anything, should enable the design of an effective and passable bill.  If these critical swing Senators remain “a threat” to climate legislation, it is more due to failure of creative policy design than the evil machinations of industry-funded hacks from coal states.  So before we vilify these ten Senators – every one of whom is likely necessary to secure passage of any climate or energy legislation – let’s take a close look at what they are actually saying…

“short-term transition assistance in the form of rebates provided to energy-intensive and trade-exposed industries”

While it’s unclear whether this is calling for additional emissions allowances for energy intensive industries, the simple fact is that energy is a primary input to our entire economy, making energy costs a major political and economic sensitivity.  This is most pronounced in states reliant on coal for their electricity mix and/or reliant on energy-intensive industries for their economy (e.g. the states whose senators signed this letter).  That’s the simple reality of climate politics.  It’s long past time to internalize that and pursue good policy design that can still succeed in that political environment.  Good climate policy should be able to support manufacturing in the clean energy economy.  Let’s make sure the details of policy design match the “green jobs” messaging. (more…)

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obama-190308_20526tWith this week’s letter urging Obama to ensure “stable support” for a Clean Energy Technology Fund in the climate bill currently before the Senate, America’s top scientists and energy experts signaled that the scientific community will hold Obama to his promise of investing $150 billion in clean energy research and development.

The names on the letter represent a virtual who’s who of the upper echelons of the American scientific community, led by former Federation of American Scientists Board Chairman Burton Richter. Its supporters include Dan Reicher, director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google, former special assistant to the Energy Secretary during the Clinton administration, and a former candidate for Energy Secretary under Obama.

These science and energy experts are insisting that the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) be strengthened from its current form, which would invest just one-fifteenth of the $15 billion per year Obama repeatedly pledged during his campaign. “This is a serious deficiency,” the letter warns. (more…)

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