Monday, March 05, 2007

Don't blame the Holden

Climaction, a protest coalition formed to push for action against global warming, held an event called 'Carmaggedon' on K Rd last Saturday. Protesters took over a section of the street, smashed up a car, and frolicked in ice and foam. A report posted on indymedia complains of a 'fairly small' turnout. I'm not surprised.

The imagery and slogans of the publicity for the event, and some of the actions of protesters on the day, did seem to send out the message that cars and car owners are the enemies of Climaction. The protest organisers seemed to be in danger of buying into the arguments of groups like the Green Party and Greenpeace, not to mention individuals like Al Gore, who lay the blame for global warming on the consumption choices of ordinary people in the West. The Greens and people like Gore want us all to pay a 'carbon tax' and buy the products of 'green' capitalists in a (futile) effort to stop global warming. (Not coincidentally, it is these 'green' capitalists who provide much of the funding for organisations like the Green Party and Greenpeace.)

In reality, the cause of global warming is global capitalism, not the bloke filling up his Holden at the Swanson BP. The Welsh Marxist Alan Woods made the point very well last October, during a polemic on the Socialist Appeal website:

It is big capitalist firms who pollute. The fact that we consume the energy (for example) that they produce does not in any way argue for reduced consumption. It demands the profits of these big companies be spent on improving the quality of their production and distribution, creating more jobs, as well as safer and cleaner production. Furthermore it points out that capitalism is unable to do this, that only the socialist transformation of society, the rational, democratic and scientific planning of production will allow such a development.

While capitalism continues pollution will get worse and so will their contribution to climate change, with all the attendant destruction and devastation that brings with it. We will all pay the price but will not enjoy improved living standards as a result. The capitalist class will improve its profits at our expense, with no concern for the wages and conditions of the workforce, or the destruction of the environment.

Far from arguing for limiting consumption, we do indeed believe in a society of superabundance, but point out too that this can only be achieved by the pooling and planning of the world's resources.

In other words, the solution to ecological problems like global warming is not a change in consumption choices by individual workers but a change of economic and social system. Cars are not to blame for global warming; nor are their drivers. Members of Climaction might point out that their group has in the past pointed to capitalism as the root cause of global warming, and criticised the pseudo-solutions to the problem offered by Al Gore and others. Fair enough, but why has Climaction now organised which uses the language and symbolism of the green capitalists who blame workers for ecological problems?

The Green Party's proposed carbon tax is supported by parts of the National Party, which is not surprising - just like GST, the carbon charge would be a flat tax that hurts workers and the poor far more than the rich. A freezing worker in Otahuhu earning $30,000 a year would pay the same rate of tax as an organic farmer making $100,000 a year in the Coromandel. Even if some of the carbon tax revenue were used to improve public transport, that fact is that truck and taxi drivers drivers, couriers, working farmers, and anyone living in one of New Zealand's many isolated regions would face potentially ruinous bills.

At the 2005 election the Greens argued that the revenue a carbon tax would bring in would enable the government to cut taxes for business. Green MPs like Nandor Tanczos are interested in forming a government with National after the next elections, and the carbon tax could well be measure that seals a deal between the two parties. The pathetic peformance of the Green Party in working class electorates at the 2005 election shows how enthusiastic ordinary people about attempts to blame them for global warming and make them pay a carbon tax.

All in all, then, I'm not surprised that Carmageddon didn't attract hordes of working class Westies in Holdens. I doubt whether the demonisation of cars and their owners could appeal to anyone beyond a fringe 'alternative'/hippy audience and a few green capitalists. That's a pity, because global warming is an important issue and Climaction's demand for free public transport is a good one.

Climaction should distance itself from the policies and language of the Green Party and green capitalism. Instead of demonising cars, it should target the capitalist corporations responsible for most pollution. Loudly rejecting the Greens' proposed carbon tax would be a good way to start winning the support of ordinary New Zealanders.


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