Towards democratic eco-socialism in Australia

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During a discussion of the draft Towards a socialist Australia in the Melbourne district meeting, I noted that I had presented a paper “Toward democratic eco-socialism in Australia as part of a global climate change mitigation strategy: a utopian vision” at the Fourth Australian Conference on Utopia, Dystopia and Science Fiction that focused on the theme “Changing the climate: utopia, dystopia and catastrophe” at the Monash University Conference Centre in late 2010.

Sue Bolton suggested that I share it as part of the pre-conference discussion. Here it is, along with the power point.

Toward Democratic Eco-Socialism in Australia as Part of a Global Climate Change Mitigation Strategy: A Utopian Vision


In Requiem for a Species Clive Hamilton (2010:226) counsels that on the issue of anthropogenic climate change “only by acting, and acting ethically, can we redeem our humanity.” While on this note I agree with Hamilton, he does not leave us with a vision for getting humanity, including Australia, out of the quagmire that climate change presents all of us on numerous fronts.

Inspired by the dystopian image of Australia as a continent ravaged by climate change presented in George Turner’s The Sea and Summer, I seek to “push the envelope” by proposing a utopian vision of Australia based on the concept of democratic eco-socialism (See Baer, Singer, and Susser 2003; Baer and Singer 2009).

In part, my thinking is guided by Erik Olin Wright (2010) who has called for ‘real utopias’ which challenge capitalism and can serve as transitional steps to achieving a renewal of socialism around the world. Achieving such an Australia would have to be part and parcel of a larger global effort in which various anti-systemic movements, including the climate justice movement, would play a role.

The achievement of an alternative Australia would entail the following transitional steps: (1) the creation of a new left party that would assume the reins of state power, (2) public ownership of productive forces, (3) greater social equality, (4) heavy reliance on renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency, (5) sustainable transport, (6) green jobs, (7) sustainable agriculture and forestry, (8) resistance to the culture of consumption as an act of resistance, and (9) a shorter work week.


In my dual roles as a scholar pursuing a critical anthropology of climate change or global warming and a climate activist, I have often felt rather fringe in both the academic world and the larger Australian society in my advocacy of democratic eco-socialism as an alternative to global capitalism. Fortunately, I have found both in Melbourne and Australia others who more or less share this vision. Yet, repeatedly, I am often struck how often many of my fellow academics who are also interested in climate politics, most of whom view themselves as progressive people, have resigned themselves to the notion that climate change mitigation ultimately must be solved within the parameters of the “market” or capitalism, whether in the Australian national context or the global context. Their perspective echoes the following remarks by John Foster, not John Bellamy Foster (a renowned eco-socialist):

For a long time many people thought, or hoped, that proper attention to our environmental responsibilities would have to mean an end to this system, which had so plainly generated ecological crisis. This has been the implicit, and often explicit, political rationale of a great deal of vigorous environmental campaigning over the past thirty years. But the overthrow or voluntary abdication of capitalism on environmental grounds was never remotely likely and now, given the political and economic history of the last twenty years, such a prospect looks merely visible. Concerned people of all shades of green simply need to face this fact. . . For good or ill, the global market economy is where we have to operate to save the planet: it’s there, or nowhere (Foster 2008:13).

While global capitalism has resulted in impressive technological innovations, it is a system fraught with contradictions, including an incessant drive for economic expansion; growing social disparities; authoritarian, militarist, and imperialist practices; depletion of natural resources; and environmental degradation (including global warming and associated climatic changes). It has become increasingly clear that human societies, including Australia, will have to adapt to the reality of climate change in a variety of ways, including technological innovations, reliance upon renewable energy resources, significant expansion and improvement in mass transit systems, more efficient forms of heating and cooling, the development of buildings and dwelling units that are more energy efficient, the redesign of cities to control their energy demands and heat outputs, restoration of degraded environments, reforestation, protection of biodiversity, and less reliance on airplanes and private motor vehicles as form of travel. As important as these and other strategies will be in mitigating climate change, they are insufficient if they ultimately are not part and parcel of a longer-term effort to transcend global capitalism. Simply adopting capitalist solutions to the contradictions, including green capitalism and neoliberalism, is a kind of fool’s paradise that misdiagnoses both the extent and the ultimate source of the threat facing the ecohealth of the planet and its inhabitants.

Dystopian images of Australia as a result of climate change

Despite various portrayals by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Commonwealth Science, Innovation, and Research Organisation, and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, and other agencies of how climate change will impact upon Australia, science fiction perhaps constitutes the best means for envisioning what Australia might look like if climate change were not to be effectively contained here and obviously elsewhere around the world. Melbourne and its surrounding environs served as the prop for N. Shute’s (1954) classic novel On the Beach that portrays the annihilation of last affluent human beings on the planet in the wake of full-scale nuclear war. The novel was was made into a film starring Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire as the principal Australian protagonists and Gregory Peck as the principal American protagonist. When asked her opinion about Melbourne, Gardner reportedly asserted it to have been “well suited to a movie about the end of the world” (Milner 1994:191).

With assistance of a writer’s fellowship from the Literature Board, a federal government body, George Turner (1987) wrote another dystopian portrayal of Australia and particularly Melbourne as a result of climate change in a book titled The Sea and Summer. As a result a global temperature rise of 4.5 degrees Centigrade than in 1990, winter had disappeared as a season for most of the world by the 2040s in a world which had passed over ten billion people. In the case of Victoria, winter lasted only a few weeks and the climate fluctuates between drought and torrential storms and floods (Turner 1987:153). By 2044 shortages of all sorts had become a normal part of Australian social life but a class divide persisted in Melbourne between the Swell and the Swill, with the latter having retreated to the higher elevations and many of the latter residing in high-rise towers in Newport and Richmond. A new middle-class called the Fridgers had emerged but they were “seen by the Swill as fake Sweet and by the Sweet a Swill tainted” (Turner 1987:157). Australia had a nation-state had given up its upper third in order to accommodate climate refugees from Asia (Turner 1087:29). The global financial and exchange systems had collapsed and the Australian state had responded to the social chaos by becoming a totalitarian system with Police Intelligence Officers seeking to keep the Swills under control in the various high-rise apartments. The state had implemented a coupon system for obtaining goods and services under which the Sweet were able to obtain luxury coupons. The Yarra had risen over its banks due to rising tides, coastal roads had vanished, and the lower floors of many tenements had to be abandoned because of the water below (Turner 1987:20).

In an otherwise non-fiction book titled Crunch Time, Tony Kevin (2009) includes a dystopian chapter titled “The southern Australia, 2060: drowning cities in a parched land”. Under his scenario, average temperatures have risen 4C globally, 10 C in polar regions, and 6 C in temperate regions. Australians have in large numbers turned their backs on the seashore; city centres had emptied out and turned into derelict towerscapes. Thirty years ago world leaders had decided to stop burning fossil fuels, meaning that CO2equivalent was holding at 550 ppm but temperatures had continued to rise. The sea level had risen one metre since 2010 and was still rising at a rate of about five cms per annum. The permafrost in Siberia and Arctic North America had been rapidly melting. Societies around the world had adopted autocratic solutions and the Australia state had peacefully ceded governance of the northern half of the country, making it available to climate refugees from Asia. The southern Australia landscape had been transformed into one of “dissolving coastlines, parched tablelands, and huge inland desert” (Kevin 2009: 256). The regions west of the Great Dividing Range had become completed arid and uninhabitable, with remote highland and tablelands being more densely populated. Australia had finally turned to large-scale reliance of solar, wind, and geothermal energy, all part of a national grid. Private cars had virtually vanished and airplane travel had been abolished but railways had undergone a revival. Australia adopted a “regulated market economy” (Kevin 2009:265) with an emphasis on local economic activity, a greater sense of social responsibility, and a more vegetarian diet.

In contrast to the two dystopian depictions of what Australia may look like in the mid-twenty-first century as a result of climate change, W. Warren Wagar wrote in 1992 at a time when virtually no social scientists were taking note of climate change an enthralling book titled A Short History of the Future which gives a science fiction of the history of humanity into the 21st and 22nd centuries. In his account, the period of 2001 to 2032 is characterised by an economic boom “hinged in part on advances in the production and cheapness of energy” (Wagar 1992:63). Various technological innovations, including the creation of expensive fusion nuclear power plants, permits reliance on fossil fuels to drop to 71 percent by 2030, hardly the 100 percent ‘renewables’ target that many in the grass-root Australian climate movement are calling for, at least for the ‘lucky country.’ Despite various techno fixes, the capitalist treadmill of production and consumption continues to emit greenhouse gases that contributed to on-going climate change. Thus, by 2040, the atmosphere contained 555 ppm of carbon dioxide and even more alarming increases in methane, and CFCs due to the burning of fossil and biomass fuels, fertiliser use, and the decay of organic matter in rice paddies (Wagar 1992:67). The average global temperature increased 4.2C between 1980 and 2040, resulting in on-going melting of the polar ice caps and glacier, a rise of the sea level, heavy flooding in some regions, and the decline of food production. These developments culminate in the Catastrophe of 2044, which was marked by the outbreak of worldwide nuclear warfare and a sudden shift to Arctic cold which Wagar unfortunately does not explain. In the aftermath of the war, the power centre of the world fell to countries south of the 25th parallel. Melbourne becomes the capital of a bureaucratic, technocratic socialist-oriented world government. Failure of this new government to bring about world peace resulted in the development of an anarchistic global system committed to environmental sustainable living, mysticism, and small-scale technology.

If the corporate class and its political allies, including in Australia, continue to resist meaningful climate change mitigation policies, the world is going to become a much nastier place than it already is. Unfortunately, the people who will be the most adversely affected by climate change will be the poor who have contributed the least to it. In addition to the loss of millions, perhaps billions of lives, many climate refugees will seek to migrate to more developed societies, again including Australia. There is the strong possibility that the developed countries will develop an even more profound ‘fortress mentality’ than they already have. The Pentagon and other security agencies have issued reports that express concern about the possible impact of climate change on geopolitics (Baer 2010:167-170).

A vision of an alternative Australia: Toward democratic eco-socialism

My own sense is that in terms of climate change, things will continue in the foreseeable future for most countries in the world, both developed and developing, get worse before they get better, if they ever get better, given that humanity has embarked upon a trajectory to ‘fry the planet.’ My own view is echoed by Clive Hamilton in his recent book Requiem for a Species where drawing upon the latest climate science, such as the those who attended a conference in Oxford in September 2009 and the eminent Hans Schellnhuber, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, he observes:

Without some unforeseeable stroke of luck, a warming of four degrees and more appears very likely. The best estimate is that we will reach that level in the 2070s  or 2080, although if things go badly it could be as soon as the 2060s (Hamilton  2010:196).

While I certainly hope that the warming of the planet will not prove to be this bad and do not want to appear like a dooms day prophet, it is imperative that we come to recognise as soon as possible, the sooner the better and the later the worse, that the existing global economy, namely capitalism, is running its course. As grim as Hamilton (2010:226) sees the future of humanity as it proceeds further and further into the twenty-first century, he urges us not to despair but to move forward, ending his book with the counsel that “only by acting, and acting ethically, can we redeem our humanity.” While on this note I am in total agreement with Hamilton, he does not leave us with a vision for getting humanity, including Australia, out of the quagmire that climate change presents all of us on numerous fronts.

Bearing this thought in mind, in this section, I radically ‘push the envelope’ by proposing a vision of an alternative Australia. While perhaps most readers may find my vision totally utopian, unrealistic, and impractical, I am convinced that it is more visionary than most existing alternative scenarios proposed by the likes of green capitalists and economists such as Nicholas Stern (2009) in the UK and Ross Garnaut (2008) in Australia and even green social democrats such as Bill McKibben (2010) in the United States and David Spratt and Philip Sutton (2008) in Australia.

Anthropologists have long recognised that social systems, whether local, regional, or global, do not last forever. Global capitalism has been around for some 500 years but I believe that it must be transcended if humanity and other forms of life are going to survive in some reasonable fashion. Thus we need to consider an alternative world system based upon social parity or justice and environmental sustainability. I propose this scenario as an alternative to an eco-fascist or at least eco-authoritarian vision that proposes a world controlled by a small global elite that would juxtapose environmental sustainability and climate change mitigation with on-going social inequality, authoritarian statism, and a smaller population. According to Anderson (2006:246), the “radical changes necessary to sustain capitalism could indeed turn out to be an extremely authoritarian counter-revolution.” Indeed Sherman and Smith (2007) maintain that “democratic states” are too dominated by special interest groups and materialism to create effective climate change mitigation strategies. They assert that liberal democracies need to be replaced by authoritarian states, such as Singapore, which will be governed by “natural elites” who have been socialised from childhood to address complex problems, such as climate change. Sherman and Smith (1007:134) maintain that climate change will create an economic and ecological disaster that will require a future government led by “specially trainer philosophers/ecologists” committed to environmental sustainability.

At any rate, in the nineteenth century, various revolutionaries and reformers sought to develop alternatives to an increasingly globalising capitalist world system. Efforts at the national level to create such an alternative started out with the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 and included subsequent revolutions in other countries, including China in 1949, Vietnam in 1954, Cuba in 1959, and Nicaragua in 1979. Scholars have spilled much ink and printer cartridges trying to determine whether these societies constituted examples of ‘state socialism,’ ‘actually existing socialism,’ transitions between capitalism and socialism that required further democratisation, ‘state capitalism,’ or ‘new class societies’ and why many of these societies eventually became fully incorporated into the capitalist world system beginning with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern-bloc countries in the early 1990s. Suffice it to say that their failure to achieve authentically democratic socialist societies was ultimately related to both internal forces specific to each of these societies and external forces that created a hostile environment for equitable development.

The collapse of Communist regimes created a crisis for people on the left throughout the world, including Australia. Many progressive people had hoped that somehow these societies would undergo changes that would transform them into democratic and ecologically sustainable socialist societies. Various progressives have advocated shedding the concept of socialism and replacing it with terms such as ‘radical democracy,’ ‘economic democracy,’ and ‘anti-capitalist society’ (Aronowitz 1994). While efforts to replace the term socialism with new ones are understandable given the fate of post revolutionary or socialist-oriented societies, progressive people need to come to terms with both the achievements and flaws of these societies and to reconceptualise the concept of socialism. According to Miliband (1994:51), three core propositions define socialism: (1) democracy, (2) egalitarianism, and (3) socialisation or public ownership of a predominant part of the means of production. Although some areas of a socialist society and ultimately world system would require centralised planning, coordination, and governance, democratic socialism recognises the need for widespread decentralised economic, political, and social structures that would permit the greatest amount of popular participation in decision making possible.

Over the past two decades or so, leftists have become more sensitive to the environmental travesties that not only have occurred in both developed and developing capitalist societies but also in post-revolutionary societies. As a result of this, various leftists have sought to develop an eco-socialism (Panitch and Leys 2006; Kovel 2007; Foster 2009). Democratic eco-socialism rejects a statist, growth-centred, or productivist ethic and recognises that humans live on an ecologically fragile planet with limited resources that must be sustained and renewed as much as possible for future generations. The creation of democratic eco-socialism or what world systems theorists Terry Boswell and Christopher Chase-Dunn (2000) term global democracy would entail the following components: (1) an increasing movement toward public ownership of productive forces at the local, regional, national, and international levels: (2) the development of an economy oriented toward meeting social needs, such as basic food, clothing, shelter, and health care, and environmental sustainability rather than profit making: (3) a blending of both representative and participatory democratic processes; (4) the eradication of health and social disparities and the redistribution of human resources between developed and developing societies and within societies in general; (5) the curtailment of population growth that in large part would following from the previously mentioned condition; (6) the conservation of finite resources and the development of renewable energy resources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal energy; (7) the redesign of settlement and transportation systems to reduce energy demands and greenhouse gas emissions; and (8) the reduction of wastes through recycling and transcending the reigning culture of consumption.

Many have argued that socialism has been tried in places like the Soviet Union and China and even Cuba for that matter and has proven wanting. While of these three societies, Cuba comes the closest to embodying socialist ideals and practices, socialism, let along democratic eco-socialism, remains a vision rather than an existing social system per se. Nevertheless, developments in Latin America, particularly Venezuela, Bolivia, and certainly Cuba, raise the hope of creating a “socialism for the 21st century” (Katz 2007). As John Bellamy Foster so aptly argues,

[I]It is important to recognise that there is now an ecology as well as a political  economy of revolutionary change. The emergence in our time of sustainable  human development, in various revolutionary interstices within the global  periphery, could mark the beginning of a universal revolt against both world  alienation and human self-estrangement. Such a revolt, if consistent, could have
only one objective: the creation of a society of associated producers rationally  regulating their metabolic relation to nature, and doing so not only in accordance  with their own needs but also those of future generations and life as a whole.  today, the transition to socialism and the transition to an ecological society are  one (Foster 2009:276).

While at the present time or in the near foreseeable future the notion that democratic eco-socialism may be eventually may be implemented in Australia or any developed society for that matter may seem utterly ridiculous, history tells that social changes can occur very quickly once economic, political, and social structural changes have reached a tipping point.

The vision of democratic eco-socialism provides people everywhere with an alternative as the existing capitalist world system continues to self-destruct due to its socially unjust and environmental unsustainable commitments and practices. Ultimately, the shift to democratic eco-socialism in Australia or any country would have to be part of a global process or a “permanent revolution” that no one can fully envision. The history of the Soviet Union and Stalinism tells us that the socialism cannot be created in “one country”. The struggle for a safe climate needs to be part and parcel of a larger struggle for social justice and environmental sustainability, both internationally and within specific nation-states, including Australia. As Magdoff and Foster (2010:25) so aptly argue, “Everywhere radical, essentially anti-capitalist, strategies are emerging, based on other ethics and forms of organisation, rather than the profit motive: ecovillages; the new urban environment promoted in Curitiba in Brazil and elsewhere; experiments in permaculture, and community-supported agriculture, farming and industrial cooperatives in Venezuela, etc.” The time is ripe for the Australian climate movement to more fully join in the struggle for social justice and environmental sustainability both globally and at home and expand beyond its focus on ecological modernisation which, albeit important in seeking to mitigate climate change, will not in and of themselves counteract the capitalist treadmill of production and consumption and drive for continual economic expansion.

Transitional reforms or non-reformist reforms

Obviously the transition toward a democratic eco-socialist world system of which Australia could be a part is not guaranteed and will require a tedious, even convoluted path. Nevertheless, while awaiting the ‘revolution’ so to speak, progressives can work on various transitional or what Gorz (1973) terms ‘non-reformist’ reforms. While much discussion by no means exhausts the litany of possible transitional reforms toward creating a democratic eco-socialist alternative in Australia, it seeks to promote a dialogue that hopefully will serve as a series of climate mitigation policies that would be part and parcel of creating a socially just and environmentally sustainable social system. As Stillwell (2000:134) observes, a “socialist alternative must embody inspirational ideals while also offering down-to-earth proposals for dealing with the problems of contemporary Australian capitalism.”

A rejuvenated new Left party as a strategy for achieving greater democracy in Australia

Sadly, around much of the world today, to a greater or lesser degree, multi-national or transnational corporations tend to make or break governments and politicians. As Hardt and Negri 2000:31) argue, they “construct the fundamental connective fabric of the biopolitical world” and “tend to make nation-states merely instruments to record the flows of commodities, monies and populations that they set in motion.” Noam Chomsky has asserted the United States has a ‘one party system — the business party’ with two factions, the Republicans and Democrats. In the case of Australia, the two major parties — the Coalition and the ALP have also become factions of the ‘business party’. Fortunately, a system of proportional representation and preference voting makes it more possible for minor parties, such as in the past the Democrats and now the Greens and for that matter Family First to have Senators. The ‘winner take all’ system in the US makes it difficult for an independent or minor party candidate to be elected to either the House of Representatives or the Senate. A notable exception is Bernie Sanders, an independent socialist from the small New England state of Vermont (which progressives have dubbed the ‘People’s Republic of Vermont’) who served as mayor of Burlington, then several terms as a Congressperson, and now is a US Senator.

What Australia, not to speak of the United States, needs is an authentically People’s Party that represents ordinary people rather than the corporate interests. Such a party would be necessary to implement many of the other transitional steps that I am proposing, including a shift from the privatisation policy that the Coalition and ALP have embraced to nationalisation or increasing public ownership of productive forces. Parties that represent ordinary Australians include to some degree the Greens and an assortment of small socialist parties who unfortunately are quite fragmented. A People’s or Alliance Party might constitute an ‘unholy’ alliance of various progressive groups and individuals — disaffected left-wing ALP types, the Greens, Socialist Alliance members, Solidarity members, independent eco-socialists, eco-anarchists, and even eco-socialists who are attempting to tread water within the stifling political confines of the ALP. To long-time Australian progressives, the notion of a Progressive Alliance Party may harken back to earlier social experiments such as the New Left Party that formed in the early 1990s, the Rainbow Alliance that was active between 1987 and 1993, and more recently the Progressive Labor Party that eventually imploded (Stillwell 2000:165-170). Hopefully a rejuvenated New Left Party would learn from the pitfalls as well as the strengths of earlier alliance parties which fell by the wayside and eventually be part of the process of democratising Australia beyond what Australia as a ‘liberal democracy’ has been able to achieve in this regard. Most Greens politicians and very likely rank-and-file members at this time would not support a new left party. At this point in times the Greens are focusing on winning the balance of power at the federal and state levels. Furthermore, as Rintoul (2010:7) observes, “[d]espite having 7000 members, The Greens have little organised presence within social movements,” including the quite disparate climate movement. Green politicians, including Bob Brown and Christine Milne, have spoken at grass-roots climate action conferences and rallies. There are an unspecified number of eco-socialists in the Green Party who would welcome a more a more radical stance on the part of their party leadership. Some of them belong to a Eco-Socialist Network which started out in Adelaide and have been a force along with Socialist Alliance members and other progressive people in forming the Climate Emergency Action Network.

Carbon and other emissions taxes at the sites of production

I propose an emissions tax or a carbon tax with great reluctance because of the tendency of the rich to find loopholes and pass the burden of the tax structure onto working class people. Nevertheless, James Hansen and others have proposed a “carbon tax to be implemented at the well head, mine gate or port of entry” given the flaws in other market mechanisms, particularly emissions trading schemes and carbon offsetting (Frank 2009:36). In 1993 the Clinton administration proposed a British thermal unit (BTU-based tax on energy fuels. The proposal met fierce opposition and was defeated in the Senate Finance Committee (Brohe, Eyre and Howarth 2009:155). Yale economist William Nordhaus and climate scientist James Hansen maintained at the climate change conference in Copenhagen in March 2009 that carbon taxation was a crucial measure to be employed in addressing climate change (Brohe, Eyre and Howarth 2009:292). Advocacy of emissions or carbon taxes remains highly unpopular among conservative forces. In Canada, the Conservative Party, which favoured an ETS, defeated the Liberal Party which favoured a carbon tax. Obviously, an emissions taxation scheme would be difficult to implement. According to Brohe, Eyre, and Howarth (2009:2009), there is “currently little experience with an international regime of taxation, and countries already have vastly different levels of fuel taxation that would be difficult to reconcile in practice under such an international system.” However, in reality, climate-related regulation and climate-related tax codes already exist in various countries (Lohmann 2006:334). Norway has a carbon tax of about $US$50 per ton of CO2, Sweden one of about US$40 per ton CO2 (with industry only paying about half of the tax0, and Denmark one of about US$14 per ton of CO2 (Metz 2010:229). France taxes chemical industries a modest tax for emitting nitrous oxide. Unfortunately, efforts to impose a carbon tax in the European Union met with failure because certain member states, such as the UK, capitulated to the claims of various industries that they would not be able to compete with non-EU industries (O’Riordan and Jordan 1999:84).

Conversely, carbon tax schemes emanating from social movements could incorporate measures to resist capitulation to corporate lobbying, bullying, and nationalist propaganda campaigns. Chris Breen (2008:22), an eco-socialist affiliated with Solidarity, asserts that while a carbon tax would be a simpler scheme than an emissions trading scheme, he argues that corporations could easily pass on the expense onto consumers and would not entail an “incentive to cut emissions and our living standards would fall.” Conversely Diesendorf (2007:296), a green social democrat, argues that revenues “from taxes (and from types of emissions trading that involve auctioning of permits) can fund compensation for low-income families that are vulnerable to higher energy prices.” Dick Nichols, the Socialist Alliance National Secretary, delineates several arguments in favour of a carbon tax:

“[A] rising carbon price is a power incentive for capitalists to move to a less carbon-intensive production methods.”

“A properly designed carbon tax would make possible generous compensation schemes for working people and people on welfare faced with rising fuel and electricity prices.”

“[I]f combined wtih the elimination of the GST [General Services Tax], increases in welfare payments and cutes to income tax for the low-paid, a ‘tax mix’ that puts people and the environment before polluting corporations” (Dick Nichols. Five questions about a carbon a carbon tax. Green Left Weekly, 10 March 2010, p. 11).

Public ownership

Historically public ownership of various productive forces in Australia has not been a particularly radical idea, even under Robert Menzies, a conservative prime minister, who reportedly stated in 1943: “Few people would have any quarrel with government control of railways, or tramways, or water supply, or such other great public utilities” (quoted in Wettenhall 1965:428). While private companies and local authorities owned electricity production in Australia during the early twentieth century, state governments began to control coal-burning power plants and hydroelectric projects beginning around 1914 (Bunting 2003:118). According to Bunting,

State and federal governments encouraged growth in electricity supply to foster industry development, create jobs, and support rural communities. State  governments were particularly pro-development, motivated by their  restricted revenue base (Bunting 2003:122).

Under both under Liberal/Coalition and ALP governments, an increasing portion of the means of production in Australia have been privatised. Most Greens, including Christine Milne (personal conversation at the Green New Deal Party on 24 October 2009), dare not even contemplate the notion of nationalisation or public ownership of productive forces. Conversely, Graham Brown, a retired coal miner, climate activist, a member of the Upper Hunter Greens in NSW, is working on building a union and community alliance aimed at creating a “just transition” to a “carbon-neutral economy”. As part of such a transition, he advocates public ownership of power stations, but in his view this could be achieved at the community level rather than the government level (Coal workers, public ownership and a just transition, Green Left Weekly, 15 July 2009, p. 8). While the Socialist Alliance, Solidarity, and various smaller socialist groups advocate an Australian economy based on ‘nationalisation,’ ‘socialisation,’ or ‘direct investment,’ making such as shift will require an Alliance Party along the lines of what I propose above. Furthermore, an Australian government committed to public ownership of the means of production “might be able to mandate the creation of workers’ councils and consumers’ councils and iteration boards” essential to creating a ‘participatory economy’ an an authentically democratic society” (Dominick 2008:385-386).

Movement toward greater social equality nationally and internationally

Although not as socially stratified as the United States, Australia has become one of the most stratified developed societies in the world. According to Stillwell,

Income inequality in Australia is relatively high by international standards,higher than Japan, for example, and most European countries with experience  of social democratic governments. Wealth inequalities are even greater. The distribution of both income and wealth has become more unequal over the last  two [now three] decades (Stillwell 2000:81).

Table 1 below depicts an international comparison of income inequality of selected developed countries.

Table 1 — International comparison of income inequality*

Richest 10% to      Richest 20% to     

Country                            poorest 10%            poorest 20%            Gini coefficient
Japan                                      4.5                         3.4                             0.249
Sweden                                  6.2                          4.0                             0.250
Germany                                6.9                          4.3                             0.283
France                                    9.1                          5.6                             0.327
Canada                                   9.4                          5.8                             0.352
Australia                               12.5                         7.0                             0.352
UK                                        13.8                         7.2                             0.360
US                                         15.9                         8.4                             0.408      

*Source: United Nations Human Development Report 2006: table 15.

According to Meagher and Wilson,

In 1992, the average income of a top CEO was 27.2 times greater than the  average annual money wage of an employed Australian. By 2002, the average  remuneration of a top 50 CEO was 98.4 times the annual wage of an  Australian worker (Meagher and Wilson (2008:227)

The maldistribution of wealth is much more pronounced than that of income. The Australia Bureau of Statistics (2006:11) reports that wealthiest 20 percent of Australian households own 59 percent of total wealth and the bottom 40 percent of households own a mere seven percent of the wealth.

About two-thirds of Australians sell their labour power to employers, either corporate or governmental (Burgmann 2004:64). Oppositional politics in Australia is highly diverse and fragmented, manifested, as Connell (2004:21) observes, in phenomena such as “Midnight Oil, Mardi Grass, the Ernies, post-structuralism, the Sea of Hands, Blues & Roots at Byron Bay, home schooling, home birth, the movement against genetically modified crops, alternative health, Greenpeace, queer theory, self-publishing, ethical investment, support groups for refugees.” Most of these groups and movements are not connected with the labour movement and working-class people in general.

Even Mark Diesendorf, a green social democrat rather than a eco-socialist, argues that:

the dominant economic system is destructive to the majority of people as well as the environment. It is impoverishing the majority of poor countries and transferring wealth from the poor to the rich countries. Within poor countries, it is making the poor poorer and the rich richer (Diesendorf 2009:120).

He argues that radical reform will be a difficult long-term process but that the climate movement organisations (CMOs) and other NGOs can pursue transitional strategies, such as supporting resistance to free trade agreements and government bail-outs of financial institutions that face bankruptcy and introducing alternatives to the Gross Domestic Product as an official indicators of economic performance, such as the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare or Genuine Progress Indicator (Diesendorf 2009:122-123).

In contrast to communism which is based on the adage “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs,” socialism as a transitional phase between capitalism and communism, is based on the ‘adage of from each according to his abilities, to each according to his work.’ Thus, under socialism, individuals who work hard, have greater abilities and skills, and more responsibilities would be rewarded more than others. Socialists have over the years engaged in intense debates as what sort of wage differentials should exist in a socialist society. Stillwell (2000:130) argues that a ratio of the the highest incomes to lowest income of 3:1 would be a tolerable standard for a socialist society. Other socialists, however, would argue for a somewhat larger income differential on the grounds that some individuals may choose to work many more hours than others in order to perhaps obtain certain expensive consumer items and others may choose to work a very short period of time in order to pursue various avocations. Conversely, it is important to note that there are other compensations for meaningful work than material rewards, such as the intrinsic rewards of intellectual and even physical stimulation and the sense that one has contributed to the greater good. Aside of the ideal wage differentials under socialism, there is no question that they should be significantly less than they are in all capitalist societies, including Japan and the social democracies of Scandinavia.

Renewable sources of energy, the need for a green steel industry, energy efficiency, and green jobs

Despite the fact that Australia is well positioned to derive much of its energy from solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and wave power, its reliance on these sources actually has declined over the past two decades. According to Christoff (2009:38), “[r]enewables contributed to 10.2% of Australia’s electricity output in 1990, by 2006 this contribution had declined to only 7.7%.” While renewable sources of energy are not the panacea that many in the climate movement believe them to be, they are part of the mix in achieving climate change mitigation. According to Taggart,

The outback region between Port Augusta, South Australia and Roma,  Queensland contains energy resources that rival anything in the Middle East. This thermal ‘fertile crescent’ holds enough subterranean heat  energy to power Australia for 450 years. Even more amazingly, that same Outback area holds solar resources that could — quite literally — power the  world (Taggart 2009:258-259).

However, even the development of a renewable energy infrastructure will require metals, such as steel and aluminium. As Chris Williams observes, the “transition to a zero-carbon economy will need steel to make buses, trains and wind turbines” (Chris Williams. Can the steel industry be a green industry? Green Left Weekly, 12 August 2009, p. 8). At the present time, steel production tends to be heavily reliant on coking coal. Fortunately, CSIRO is investigating the use of charcoal derived from the oil in mallee trees and other native hardwoods. Renfrey Clarke argues that “biochar technology represents an enormous plus for the effort to sharply cut Australia’s carbon emissions” (Renfrey Clarke, Can biochar help stop climate change? Green Left Weekly 1 April 2009, p. 11).

While recognising the value of renewable energy sources, Ted Trainer (2007) argues that they cannot indefinitely sustain a ‘consumer society’ and that Australian way of life is built on an unjust global economy. He argues that the Green movement in general is deeply flawed and is “for the most part only light green.” While both renewable energy sources and improving energy efficiency can play an important role in climate change mitigation, they are not not panaceas if not coupled with a commitment to breaking the treadmill of production and consumption and on-going economic expansion. As Altavater (2006:54) so aptly argues, “the transition to renewable energy requires appropriate technologies, but requires even more appropriate social institutions and economic forms.” In the nineteenth century, Jevons observed that increasing the energy efficiency of the steam engine led to an increase in coal consumption. According to what has come to be known as the ‘Jevon’s paradox, conserving energy by improving efficiency within the context of a capitalist system actually increased its use.

At the present time, many Australian unions appear to fear the possible impact of climate change mitigation policies on their members’ jobs. Various parties within the climate, environmental, labour, and socialist movements have joined a campaign for ‘green jobs.’ Friends of the Earth, the Total Environment Centre, and the Boomerang Alliance endorsed research conducted by Environment Victoria and the ACF and in February 2010 called for a comprehensive green jobs package that has the potential of providing 20,000 new jobs in ‘green industries’ within the next five years:

Energy and water efficiency — 6900 new green jobs by 2014
Public transport — 6650 new jobs by 2014
Renewable energy — 4000 green jobs immediately
Recycling — 3100 new green jobs by 2014
Solar water heating — 1500 new green jobs by 2020 (Friends of the Earth media release. Victoria must invest in green jobs now. 24 February 2010.

According to Diesendorf (2009:52), wind power “employs in Australia 2-3 times the number of job-year per kilowatt-hour of coal power (including the associated coal mining), while bioelectricity employs 3.5 (mostly in rural areas).”

Although Damien Lawson, the Director of the Victorian Climate Action Centre criticises the ACTU and the Union Connectors campaign as essentially engaged in “cheer-leading for the [former] Rudd Government,” he urges climate activists to work with unions, such as white collar and service unions, emergency and health workers, the National Tertiary Education Union, building unions, the firefighters union who have adopted progressive stances on climate policy (Lawson 2010:4). Lawson (2010:5) asserts: “We have to communicate that climate change is an existential problem for all of us, including all workers, a threat so great that for unions also it is THE issue of our time”

Sustainable transport

According to Newman (2009:108), “The biggest challenge in an age of radical resource-efficiency requirements will be a way to build fast rail systems for the scattered car-dependent cities.” The Rapid and Affordable Transport Alliance (RATA) published a report on 23 June 2009 titled Investing in sustainable energy: our clean, green transport future. The alliance consists of 17 environmental, health, and union groups, including the ACF and the ACTU. The report recommended that the federal government spend 2/3 of transport funding to public transport and 1/3 to roads during the next decade. The federal government spent only $1.2 billion on rail, but $14 billion on roads between 2004 and 2009 (See Graham Matthews. Too many cars: expand public transport. Green Left Weekly, 1 July 2009, back cover, p. 12).

In their reports, Shocking the Suburbs (2006) and Unsettling Suburbia (2008), Griffith University researchers Jago Dodson and Neil Sipe found a strong relationship between car dependency, low incomes and mortgage stress in the outer suburbs of Australian cities. They proposed that governments “improve public transport services to match the quality found in the inner and middle suburban areas” (quoted in Graham Matthews. How do we fix public transportation? Green Left Weekly, 23 September 2009, p. 3).

Sustainable transportation would entail many other measures, such as limiting the use of cars as much as possible and making them smaller and more energy-efficient and even banning four-wheel drives except in special circumstances (such as the outback and mountainous areas) and drastically limiting air travel. Last, but not least, a more sustainable form of holidaying would entail trips much closer to home rather ones to distant lands.

Resistance to the Australian culture of consumption — the need for a ‘simpler way’

Stillwell (2000:56) argues that while “capitalism has certainly proven to be impressive . . . as a means of producing a vast array of commodities,” many people have come to recognise that “our principal sources of satisfaction — personal security, social recognition and interesting work — are often destroyed in the preoccupation and consumption.” Furthermore, as I have noted earlier, the capitalist treadmill of production and consumption constitutes a major source of environmental degradation, including particularly climate change which is a global phenomenon, not merely a localised one.

Ted Trainer (1989, 1995), an Australian social scientist and eco-anarchist, provides several proposals that could serve as transition points between the existing capitalist system world-wide and an alternative socially just and environmental sustainable social system. Trainer calls for ‘appropriate development’ for both ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ countries. In terms of the former, this would entail an enormous reduction in consumerism (Trainer 1989:196) and essentially reversion to a ‘zero-growth economy’ in which societies “will work hard at reducing the amount of producing and consuming going on” (Trainer 1995:108). In terms of the latter, this would include a focus on local economic self-sufficiency; the utilisation of “low, intermediate, and alternative technologies processing locally available resources”; and a commitment to environmental sustainability (Trainer 1989:199-201). Furthermore, in the context of ‘simpler way,’ people could shift from production and consumption of material items to less resource-intensive and energy-intensive activities, such as the arts, exercise, meditation, and even alternative therapies such as massage.

Adopting an eco-socialist perspective, Magdoff and Foster argue:

An economic system that is democratic, reasonable egalitarian, and able to set  limits on consumption will undoubtedly mean that people will live at a  significantly lower level of consumption than what is sometimes referred  to in the wealthy country as a “middle class” lifestyle (which has never  been universalised even in those societies). A simpler way of life, although  “poorer” in gadgets and ultra-large luxury homes, can be richer culturally  and in reconnecting with other people and nature, with people working the  shorter hours needed to provide life’s essentials. A large number of jobs in  the wealthy capitalist countries are non-productive and can be eliminating,  indicating that the work week can be considerably shortened in a more  rationally organised economy (Magdoff and Foster 2010:26).

Trainer (1998:8) argues that the “fundamental cause of the accelerating destruction of the global ecosystem is overproduction and overconsumption” of material goods. He argues that developed societies such as Australia exceed sustainable levels of production and consumption (Trainer 1998:8). Trainer (1998:10) asserts that Australians “can only live as affluently as we do because we are taking and using up most of the scarce resources and preventing most of the world’s people from acquiring anything like a fair share.” Trainer (1991:124) has for a long time called for a ‘conserver society’ committed to great equality in income and wealth — one with “much lower than present rates of per capita income and resource use” that contributes to the creation of a “world order that is peaceful, just, ecologically sustainable and in which inequality and poverty have ceased to exist” (Trainer 1991:124). His notion of a Simpler Way incorporates the following principles: (1) far simpler material living standards; (2) high levels of self-sufficiency within households, national and especially neighbourhoods and town; (3) relatively little trade, transport, or trade; (4) small-scale economies in which most of things we need are produced by local labour from local resources; (5) cooperative and participatory local systems; (6) an alternative economy that does not entail growth and requires far less work and production and consumption than presently; (6) a commitment to human rights and social justice, particularly with regard to developing countries; and (7) a radically different culture. Trainer (1996:143) argues that ‘consumer-capitalist society’ cannot be repaired and proposes a blending together of social planning, a cooperative economic endeavours, and even an opening for a small “enterprise sector.”

Unfortunately, Tony Kevin expresses opposition to such a stance which he criticises segments of the climate movement as having embraced:

People do not have to reject Australia’s affluent consumerist society to oppose  global warming. People can legitimately support a high-consumption but  renewable energy-based society (Kevin 2009:190).

Unfortunately, not unlike even substantial segments of the climate movement that he so vehemently criticises, Kevin subscribes to a variant of ecological modernisation that ignores the environmental unsustainability of the capitalist treadmill of production and consumption. Fortunately, a growing number of people in developed societies, including Australia, albeit not enough, are opting to ‘down shift.’ (Hamilton and Mail 2003; Hamilton and Denniss 2005:153-177).

In reality, the majority of people in developed societies will need to scale back their consumption of material goods. In one of his popular on-line commentaries, Immanuel Wallerstein (2007):1), the principal architect of world systems theory, delineates two overarching obstacles to overcoming climate change: (1) the “interests of producers/entrepreneurs” who act as the purveyors of the capitalist treadmill of production and consumption: (2) the “interests of less wealthy nations,” like China and India, which are emulating the developed countries; and (3) the “attitudes of you and me.” While it is important not to place the burden of climate change mitigation strictly on individuals by urging them to merely become ‘green consumers,’ as Wallerstein asserts, climate change mitigation starts at the individual level, particularly for the affluent people in both developed and developing countries.

Jonathan Neale (2008:45) cautions climate activists to not talk about sacrifice to ordinary people and on this score I am fully in agreement with his assertion that “they will find themselves without the support of ordinary people.”My comments of resisting the culture of consumption are directed primarily to the affluent, even the affluent in the working class, who turn to consumerism as a compensation for alienation in the workplace and in everyday social life in modern capitalist societies, including Australia. As Neale (2008:46) so astutely asserts, it is imperative that climate activists the “idea of social justice and sacrifice” be a central theme in the climate movement and that they be part of an effort to “mobilise the people of the world to survive, share, help each other and make the established powers of the world sacrifice.”

A shorter work week

Despite the historical fact that Australia invented the forty hour week, most full-time employed Australians in various occupations and professions are working over forty hours week, often well over forty hours a week. In a similar vein to the United States which has become the land of what radical Harvard economist Juliet Schor (1991) calls the the ‘overworked American,’ the land down under has become a country of ‘overworked Australians.’ According to Hamilton and Denniss,

Only 28 per cent of employees [in Australia] work a standard week of between  35 and 40 hours. This is partly because of the growing importance of part-time and casual work but also because of the fact that 42 per cent of men in full-time  jobs work more than 45 hours a week..., more than 30 percent work more than 50 hours a week ... and nearly 15 percent work more than 60 hours a week ... women are less likely to work long hours, but they are catching up fast: between 1978 and 2004 the proportion of women working more than 45 hours a week more than doubled, from 12 per cent to over 25 per cent, and in the same period the proportion of women working more than 50 hours a week doubled, to more than 15 per cent (Hamilton and Denniss 2005:86).

Whereas full-time workers worked 44 hours per week in both Australia and New Zealand in 2007, ones in the UK worked 43 hours, in France and Germany 41 hours, in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden 40 hours, and in the Netherlands and Norway 39 hours (Tiffins and Gittens 2009:82). In a comparison with the average weeks worked in 2005, Australian workers put in 46.0 weeks, only slightly less than American workers who put in 46.2, but more than workers in most other developed countries. In 2005, Irish workers put in 43.9 weeks, Italian workers 41.3 weeks, German workers 40.6 weeks, Norwegian workers 37.0 weeks, and Swedish workers 36.0 hours (Tiffins and Gittens 2009:82). The reason that workers in various Scandinavian countries work fewer hours in a week and weeks in a year than in Australia appears to be related to the fact that the latter have a higher percentage of their workers belonging to trade unions. Whereas in 2003 23 percent of Australian workers belonged to trade unions, 78 percent of those in Sweden, 74 percent of those in Finland, 53 percent of those in Norway (Tiffen and Gittens 2009:86). As part of resisting the culture of consumption, a return to a more laid-back Australia with reduced working hours may prove to be an important climate mitigation strategy.

Redesigning Australian cities

In many ways modern cities have evolved following the dictates of capital with its need for manufacturing, financial, commercial, distribution, and communication centres as well as the multifarious operations of the capitalist state. Australian cities have become regions of urban and suburban sprawl, committed to the notion that each family, including single people, have a quarter of an acre and that each dwelling unit has one or more automobiles on site in order to transport its occupants hither and thither. This spatial arrangement has made commuting and moving around particularly Sydney and Melbourne increasingly difficult, despite the existence of elaborate mass transport infrastructure in both cities. The ever-expanding proliferation of cars contributes to the congestion and driving gridlock in at least the larger capital cities. In Melbourne automobiles generally make travel on increasingly-crowded trams incredibly slow, except on the light-rail stretch between the City and Port Melbourne. Yet, even various cities in the United States, such as Portland (Oregon), St. Louis, San Diego, and Salt Lake, have developed light rail systems. Adelaide has developed a light-rail line between its City and Gleng on the its shoreline. Most Australian capital cities could emulate the few light-rail lines that already exist in Melbourne and Adelaide. Canberra, a city that American Walter Burley Griffin designed in part with the emerging automobile culture in mind, is long overdue for a light rail system. In 2004 I had a conversation on a Canberra Bushwalking Club walk with an ACT urban planner. When I posed the question as to why the ACT has not developed a light-rail system, he said that the idea had been considered but the powers-that-be deemed it too expensive. In the meantime, the ACT continues to spend more and more money on constructing roads, not to speak of maintaining the existing ones.

Fortunately, a new urbanism which seeks to make cities more liveable and environmentally sustainable environments has emerged around the world and has even permeated urban planning in Australia. Richard Register (2001) maintains that cities should be designed for people, not for cars. Furthermore, he proposes the notion of pedestrian cities in which people will not need cars and will be able to walk, cycle, or take public transportation to get around. Community gardens and family unit gardens increasingly are viewed as part of the effort to address environmental problems on a number of fronts, including in terms of climate change. Such experiments have been going on or undergoing a process of rejuvenation in cities such as Dar es Salaam, Havana, Hanoi, Caracas, Paris, Chicago, Philadelphia, Melbourne, and Brisbane (Brown 2009:160-161). Some psychologists have coined the notion of eco-psychology which stresses the indeed need for people, including urban dwellers, to have contact with the natural environment (Brown 2009:162).

Rob Adams (2009), the Melbourne Director of City Planning and Design, proposes ‘saving the Australian dream’ by creating a new paradigm that contains “future development and infrastructure within the current city boundaries to the greatest extent possible, while achieving greater efficiencies and affordability.” Adams discusses the development of “urban corridors” His plan specifies that “all the existing and future major public transport corridors need to be clearly identified,” the appropriate level of developments will be four to eight storeys, “all developers will be required to provide 25% affordable housing in any residential redevelopment,” and “streets will be modified to favour rapid public transport, bicycles and pedestrians over car;” etc.

Sustainable agriculture and forestry

One important form of climate change mitigation would be a strong shift in food production from a heavy reliance on meat, particularly livestock, toward permaculture, vegetarianism, and even veganism. A vegetarian diet reportedly requires about 80 percent less than land than what is needed to feed a person on a meat-based diet (Metz 2010:46). Meat production requires 7 kg of grain for one kg of beef, 3.5 kg of grain for kg of pork, 2 kg of grain for one kg of poultry and 1.2 kg of grain for one kg of fish (Metz 2010:235). According to Metz, “changing to a vegetarian diet can avoid N2O emissions from grasslands, CH4 emissions from livestock and manure, CO2 emissions from fossil fuel use, and free land for other purposes” (Metz 2010:241). Even in those instances where animal production would continue, methane from animal digestion could be reduced through practices such as vaccinations and chemical inhibitors; changes in tillage practice and vegetation cover; may also be possible to reduce NO2 emissions from fertilisers through fertiliser management, soil and water management, and fertiliser additives (Rickards and Tucker 2009:93). Last but not lead, bioregionalism in terms of food distribution and consumption could potentially prevent millions of ‘carbon miles’ and greenhouse emissions in terms of the distribution and storage of food products.

There is a need to maintain and restore Australia’s forests and particularly preserve old-growth forests without exception. Since European settlement, forests on the east coast and Tasmania have been reduced by 30-50 percent and much of the woodland in the south west has been decimated due to clearing for farm land (Steffin et al. 2009:32). According to Brown (2009:195), “Forest plantations can reduce pressures on the earth’s remaining forests [including those of Australia] as long as they do not replace old-growth forest.”

The population bugaboo

In The Future Eaters, Tim Flannery (1994) asserts that Australia was overpopulated and that its optimum population would be somewhere between six and twelve million people when technological development and an affluent lifestyle are factored into the equation. Diesendorf (2009:119) argues that “population growth must be ended as a matter of priority in countries with high per capita emissions and, in the longer term, in all countries.” He argues that in “less developed countries, the main policy needs for reducing births are empowerment and education of women, the provision of contraception and the right to use it, and economic development that provides social security of the aged” (Diesendorf 2009:119). O’Connor and Line argue:

If the world’s resources were ever shared equally, no one would have a first world life-style. Note though, that we could someday reduce world population to 2 billion, then there might be enough resources for everyone to live a  European material standard of living (standard of consumption) which is about  half that of the USA (O’Connor and Line 2008:28).

Such arguments which have become commonplace in Australia, including among some in the climate movement, are specious in that they do not directly acknowledge the fact that most Australians are consuming several times more resources than the vast majority of people in developing countries. Demographers have often observed that the greatest rate of population growth tends to occur among the poor. People in developing countries, both in rural and urban areas, often regard children as an economic asset because they are economically productive on the land or sell products or services in the cities. As Bodley (2008:218) argues, a “more equitable distribution of economic resources would help slow population growth; however, it is crucial that improvements in the economic conditions of households be accompanied by policy changes that give women more control over fertility decision making.”

The former Rudd government’s projection that the Australian population could increase from its present 22 million to 35 million by 2050 met with much fanfare. Some environmentalists contend that such a population would not be sustainable in a country whose resources were being strained by urban growth and drought in various regions, particularly the south-eastern portion of the country. Undoubtedly, if the overall level of consumption in Australia at the present time were to continue or even growth, this argument would be true. Conversely, another Australia committed to a marked ‘simpler’ way could possibly support a much larger population and circumvent the present wide-spread xenophobia about immigrants and particularly refugees.


Obviously the scenario that I set forth in this essay would strike the vast majority of Australians as not only utopian and unrealistic but perhaps even arrogant given that it is coming from a transplanted American who will not be able to apply for Australian citizenship prior to December 2011. Magdoff and Magdoff poignantly describe the utopian nature of socialism in the following observation:

The long transition to fully-developed socialism requires a truly new culture  imbued with a new ideology. A fundamental reversal of the dominant mentality  of capitalist times is crucial for the creation of a new social order. But ideology,  values, ethics, and prevailing beliefs in capitalism are strong and cannot evolve  overnight to something different. We live in a society that promotes and often  requires selfishness, greed, individualism, and a dog-eat-dog competitive spirit.  a socialist society, on the other hand, would require and help produce a collective  ideology adapted to a totally different social practice — one focused on serving  all the people, outlawing hierarchy, overcoming differences in status, and moving  toward egalitarianism (Magdoff and Magdoff 2005:37).

To round out Magdoff and Magdoff’s utopian vision, socialism will need to be environmentally sustainable, much more than capitalist societies as well as post-revolutionary societies which all too often savagely had damaged or still damage the fragile eco-system that is our Mother Earth. It will take utopian visions to transform Australia from a sun-burnt country in danger of becoming even a more sun-burnt place due to climate change to the ‘lucky country’ that Australians have viewed it as being for sometime.

Acknowledgments: I appreciate the helpful comments that Erik Olin Wright made on an earlier version of this essay. He is not responsible for the manner in which I have incorporated his comments or failed to do so.


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