The coming political instability: new politics for a new planet

“…global warming is no longer a philosophical threat, no longer a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It’s our reality. We’ve changed the planet, changed it in large and fundamental ways. And these changes are far, far more evident in the toughest parts of the globe, where climate change is already wrecking thousands of lives daily…”  – Bill McKibbin, Eaarth

Extraordinary things are happening in Australian politics today.

Kevin Rudd, who lead the Labour part to a “smashing” victory in 2007 – and was once Australia’s most popular Prime Minister – has been ousted and replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gaillard.

There are far more qualified people who can comment on this, however thinking about this in the context of climate change I believe this is a harbinger of things to come.

In less than twelve months a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Opposition have been deposed because of the politics surrounding climate change.

Late last year, Malcolm Turnbull was ousted by right-wing elements of the Liberal Party who rejected not only the ETS, but the idea that humanity was causing global warming.

Rudd was elected in large part because many Australians wanted action on climate change. There are many reasons for the collapse in public support for Rudd, however the key moment was his “back flip” on the Emissions Trading Scheme that destroyed people trust in him and the governments willingness to take action:

By November, the Rudd government appeared unassailable, enhanced by the faltering state of then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull.

Mr Rudd went to Copenhagen with fading hopes of climate glory on either the international or national stage.

This was to mark the beginning of his slide.

As Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who had been hoisted by the vigorously anti-emissions trading scheme agitators within the Coalition, began to badger Mr Rudd over the ”great big new tax”, his climate ardour cooled.

His backing away from legislation, let alone a double dissolution, on the climate issue became corrosive.

The politics of climate change destroyed two political leaders: what’s next?

The politics of climate change is not the sole driver of these events.

However, I think we can say climate change is no longer an issue politicians can afford to ignore.

The majority of Australians (let’s ignore the highly vocal, but significant minority of “sceptics”) want action on climate change. Rudd disappointed with his ETS back flip.

Conversely, sceptics of climate change backed the new Liberal leader Tony Abbot whose acceptance of the science is at best tenuous.

I think it goes without saying that climate change issues will completely reshape the political landscape over the next few years.

As it’s effects begun to be felt even more, politicians who once chanted the “growth” mantra will struggle to develop policies that will mitigate the effects of global warming and put a price on carbon.

The public will become even more divided on what they believe is an adequate response to climate change. This in turn may drive even wilder swings in opinion polls.

Perhaps politics will become even more partisan. Having delayed action for nearly twenty years, governments and politicians around the world will scramble to develop effective and popular strategies.

But what will this mean for us, the ordinary citizens of democracies such as Australia?

New politics for a new planet: the “Green-Security” political paradigm

As Bill McKibben said in his recent book Eaarth, we live on a new planet.

Thus it makes sense that we will see a new form of politics emerging, one very different from the neo-conservative politics of the last few decades that have placed a primacy on economic growth and management.

It won’t be “It’s the economy stupid” but “It’s the planet, stupid”.

Economic issues, once the predominant concern of politics is going to take a back seat.

The old distinctions between left, right, liberal, green, progressive and conservative will become increasingly meaningless.

Instead, we may see a politics that is focussed on conversation and security.

The politics of green parties will merge into the mainstream, as we see the effects of climate change become even more apparent – protecting the environment will become the central position of most parties. [1].

Twinned to this will be a concerns about security: food security as agriculture suffers under climate change; border security as populations become displaced and waves of refugees shift in response to weather; economic security as we struggle with the costs climate change will wreck on our economics; energy security; and military security, as conflicts escalate.

This hybrid “Green-Security” politics will be a direct product of climate change. [2]

We will lurch between wanting to mitigate the effect of global warming, desperately trying to reduce the volume of CO2 we put into the atmosphere and dealing with the political and economic impacts all this entails.

We’ve left Earth with its familiar climate, cultures and politics.

We’re about to land on Eaarth, a very different planet.

[1] This won’t stop the denial movement, even as the seas rise they’ll claim it’s the sun, faulty weather stations or a conspiracy orchestrated by green-socialist-bankers.

[2] I’m struggling for an adequate definition, happy for other suggestions

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5 thoughts on “The coming political instability: new politics for a new planet

  1. Phil M says:

    Looks like Gillard plans to go to the polls with the ETS back on the agenda, so get ready for the Liberals “double, great big, massive, ginormous new tax” etc etc.

    I guess its good that she is putting it back on the table sooner than later. However, they need either a majority in the reps & senate to pull it off, otherwise the Liberals will knock it on the head as they did the last 3 times, as they will oppose ANY climate change.

    The next best thing would be to see the Greens get enough votes to be able to get the numbers with Labor to defeat any Liberal opposition.

    A win by the Liberal/National Coalition will see any climate action resigned to the dustbin for at least another 3 years until another federal election.

    Andrew Bolt on last weeks insiders was keen to talk over the top of anyone mentioning climate change & bellow “climate change is dead, its a shot duck”.

    He thinks that if he repeats that mantra enough that people will believe it. Which may have a ring of truth to it. The Murdoch, IPA & Liberal funded attack on science & attempt to direct opinion to their political & financial advantage was disgusting, but effective. Throw enough mud, do it daily, lie, exagerate, inspire fear & loss of freedom, you know the drill.

    Mothincarnate, its sad the Barry & the guys at Brave new climate cant take any constructive arguments. Ive tried to do the same & was met by the same sort of criticism. It smacks of “we have investments in this & no there isnt another option”.

    If you take the danger of nuclear waste & the chance for disaster out of the equation, then clearly Nuclear is our best option by far. But no one wants waste that can kill for 500 years no matter how deep you put it & no matter how far away from civilization you send it. They need to be realists in this debate. People dont want ANY power station built near their communities, let alone nuclear.

    Once we get 4th gen reactors, then nuclear will come back in fashion and there will be little opposition, as the waste takes 10 years to become safe & the reactors are virtually disaster proof. But they are at least 20 years away.

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      My concern is that we delay for too long and then rush to a technological decisions without fully understanding what we are committing too.

      Geo-engineering is going to enter the public consciousness even more, and seen as a “quick fix” – especially by conservatives.

      Even now, think tanks such as Heartland are actually showing interest.

  2. It will most likely be a very messy process, as you suggest. Made more so by incompetence and short-sightedness. Practical measure can ensure a great deal of security. However, we need much more honesty and willingness to change social habits based on what is little more than laziness.
    I recently “had the gall” to ask about the place of efficiency in a nuclear age on BraveNewClimate, which resulted in my being labelled a hairshirt green while they concluded that it is practical to buy ever being vehicles in a new age of abundant energy. This concerned me a lot – indeed it demonstrates that even some whom call out for a shift away from fossil fuels still hold onto the delusion of sustainability under business as usual.

  3. Interesting piece and I’ve also been left wondering what the changes this morning will mean to Aust – I’m especially interested in what it’ll mean come the next election (which show now be very close at hand). I am really hopeful, however, that Abbott is left in the shadow – his election would put us back a long way.
    I’ve been thinking about growth, the environment and water/food security a lot recently. I certainly feel that the first thing that needs to be addressed is this long held divide between our species and the rest. I don’t think Eaarth needs to be a backwards and heavily conservative world. It can be productive – but on a different playing field (and one that doesn’t just replace fossil fuels with nuclear greed).

    • Watching the Deniers says:

      I have to admit, the post encapsulates some very rough thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head some time. However, career, blogging and other activities mean they’re just that: rough thoughts.

      And I agree, it does not have to be a heavily conservative world – the actually reality will be much more messy.

      Our passage through to more sustainable practices, sources of energy and a different focus will cause political upheaval. After all, we have to wean ourselves off cheap energy and the idea that “growth” is our only option.

      And for many parts of the world, food and energy security are going to become growing concerns.

      Thanks for comments, I’m hoping for some robust criticism to help sharpen my understanding of the broader issues.

      Some books on the issue:

      When the rivers run dry: http://www.amazon.com/When-Rivers-Run-Dry-Water/dp/0807085731/ref=pd_sim_b_4/175-4117061-5720012

      Rising powers, shrinking planet: http://climatechangepsychology.blogspot.com/2010/06/michael-t-klare-bp-style-extreme-energy.html

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