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Progressive politics and a new deal

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Editor-MT-small-image-Aug2018AS WE COME to the end of The District Bulletin’s first year of transformation into a great-looking website — focusing on environment, the natural world and sustainable living; as well as regional life and politics; culture, wellness and science; plus great reporting from ‘around the web’ — I have been thinking about progressive politics and the greater environment.

It’s been another year of extreme weather here and globally — unstoppable fires, big floods (Victoria!), ferocious wind and storms disturbing our expected lifestyles. And what we see now is just the beginning unless policies change. A neighbour, who originally came from Switzerland, tells me the Swiss are now airlifting water to cows on high-and-dry mountain meadows. In Australia, a protracted drought has brought some farmers on the eastern side of the country to their economic knees.

Cynical politicians in the National Party with their enablers in the Liberal Party have taken the opportunity to continue destroying the natural environment as being ‘to blame’ for economic losses. Speaking of the Nats, with the story of married Andrew Broad using taxpayer funds to facilitate his meetings with online dates, the sheer hypocrisy of this Australian-traditional-values party is again on stark display.

In NSW they have revived the scientifically and ethically bankrupt colonial cult of killing the native wildlife, largely the kangaroos, to ‘bring the grass back’ for the graziers. In Queensland they blamed the trees for that state’s recent unprecedented weeks’ long bushfire rampage.

To paraphrase former US President Bill Clinton (he was talking about the economy) ‘it’s the weather, stupid.” In our region, one could practically see the grass grow following heavy rainfall in early December.

The criminal backwardness of some politics brings me back to progressive ideas. We need to mainstream more, fast.

Australia progressive politics nowadays is mostly framed as social policy. Issues like same-sex marriage, lack of personal discrimination, renumeration fairness, a sometimes wobbly support for the public sector. Bread and butter government services that we pay taxes for should be an ‘of course’. Social progress apparently does not extend to our tribal lack of compassion for refugees that the government is torturing offshore in the name of policy and the Opposition is quiet about. Non-human species sometimes get a look in, as when Animals Australia mounts another successful live export campaign to shame the nation. All very good.

But progressive politics is more. There is the whole social democratic governing framework (one this country used to have before neo-liberalism took hold). Elsewhere it’s happening. Look at British social democrat Labour leader Jeremy Corbin who pulled off an astounding win (against all the predictions) for the leadership and then almost beat Theresa May for government.

Self-confessed socialist Bernie Sanders was equally astounding in his close bid for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 US election. In both cases the result pointed to a youth vote. And that brings hope.

Can Australia stand up please?

Dealing with society’s greatest existential threat, climate change, is related to a return to progressive economic and social politics. In Australia, the issue has been mired in wedge political games for so long that it became the norm. For a decade both major political parties have shrunk in fear of being called (what?) by the likes of Tony Abbott and the radio shock jocks. Significant action has come from the electorate and some businesses.

We can learn now from progressive politicians in the US how not be afraid to stand up and how to link economy and climate action.

A green new deal for the economy AND real climate action

Newly-elected New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a democratic socialist, (who along with other progressive winners in the mid-terms caused the Republican Party fits of apoplexy), has teamed up with Bernie Sanders to talk about a Green New Deal that promises climate action and jobs in an economic transformation.

This is the win-win formula we have actually known about since the 1980s (I wrote a book about that… Global Warming, Climate Change, What Australian Knew and Buried — available for download from ANU Press).

Reaching out to the electorate

Recently, Sanders and Ocasio Cortez live-streamed a ‘town hall’ discussion on the climate crisis in a public interest series started by Sanders. The audience is often in the millions. It is said to rival cable news programs that often feature President Trump. He recently vowed he “doesn’t believe in” his own government’s report and the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warnings about looming climate disaster without concerted global action within 12 years.

The town hall programs are not beholden to corporate sponsors, which is a huge thing in the US as here. In both countries mainstream media beholden to advertisers has skirted connecting climate change impacts with extreme events.

Climate change is here and needs a Green New Deal

In Sanders town hall, an IPCC scientific expert told the audience climate change is not a future threat, it is here now. As ice sheets melt, massive sea level rise is on the cards affecting every coastal community including Australia’s.

Carbon emissions will cost economies mega-billions (as well as lives) with health impacts and promise global unrest with people movement.

Viewers were urged to get active as citizens and challenge their politicians about what they are doing, and to stand up to the fossil fuel industries.

The Green New Deal (harking back to the post-Depression job creation New Deal in the US), is very ambitious but is reported to be gaining traction within the Democratic Party. It would modernise infrastructure, invest in more renewables and overhaul food, water and energy systems while creating millions of jobs.

Not a binary choice: we can have jobs, profits and a compassionate society that also cares about its environment 

They talk of legislating for economic AND environmental justice and equality. Needless to say, Republican pundits have slammed it as something “Mao-ist” along with proposals for public medicine, student debt relief and higher taxes on the super wealthy — all of which polls show are highly popular in the US.

Far from hurting an economy, transitioning to alternative energy and production systems creates jobs and will pull ordinary people out of declining lifestyles. It’s not only possible but inevitable, says Octavio Cortez.

It will take state action and a move away from market fundamentalism. But economic ideas are not fixed on society forever as history shows. The Green New Deal enthusiasts (and they are reportedly growing in number) see it as a defining movement for their generation — comparable to breakthroughs like the first moon shot or the US civil rights movement or in Australia perhaps the Whitlam era economic and social reforms. Read more here.

So that is it.  Assuming society still has time, there is a blueprint for linking environmental with economic action, job creation and social justice in a solution-focused vision for the future. This is also progressive politics. We support that direction as being essential.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) and CSIRO’s joint biennial State of the Climate report has just been released and it is not the kind of report card you would want to take home to your parents just before Christmas.


Web / graphic designer Sue Van Homrigh joins me in wishing you a healthy, happy and sharing festive season — along with many thanks for your engagement and encouragement in 2018. We’ll be back in February.

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