Review of Hans Baer's Climate Change and Capitalism in Australia

Climate Change and Capitalism in Australia – an Eco-Socialist Vision for the Future, Hans A Baer, Routledge, Abington and New York, 2022

Hans Baer, an anthropologist at the University of Melbourne has in this book developed his many earlier writings on climate change in a specifically Australian setting. It is a timely overview of climate change’s debt to capitalism, an examination of the responses to the existential threat climate change poses and a suggested agenda. In sum, only an urgent radical, systemic change from global capitalism to eco-socialism will fit the bill. While many support this revolutionary message, it is not just the perspective but the details and Baer’s personal experience which make this book especially valuable.

Chapter 1 “The Impact of Climate Change in Australia” goes over the environmental stress and events of recent times beginning with the Millennium Drought (1997-2009) highlighting the experience of remote Indigenous communities. By specifying who is getting it worse or will get it worse than others, we introduce climate justice and identify alliances.

Chapter 2 “Australian Capitalism as a Driver of Climate Change” begins to examine the enemy, the various industries and practices generating greenhouse gas emissions which on a per capita basis Australia produces more than the USA. In addition we are a major exporter of fossil-based fuels such as coal and natural gas making ‘we are only bit players’ a lie.

Chapter 3 “Corporate Politics at the Top. The Corporations and the Two Major Parties” goes a step further to identify the key enemies – mining and energy producers - and exposing their collaboration with the LNP and ALP through industry lobbying and fossil fuel levies. There is also the ideological warfare of climate-denying think tanks such as the Institute of Public Affairs and the greenwash of corporate environmentalism. Baer could add the Murdoch media. Social ownership/control of these corporations is then imperative.  One could also add an effective ICAC coupled with restrictions on political donations.

Chapter 4 “Climate Politics at the Margin: The Greens, Labour Unions, Environmental NGO’s and the Grass-Roots Climate Movement” looks at these groups and with a few exceptions finds them avoiding any clear expression or understanding of the need to bury capitalism. Baer, a member of the Socialist Alliance, is quite frank about its current impasse and efforts by Left Renewal in The Greens.

Chapter 5 “Engaging with the Australian Climate Movement: An Autoethnography of the Climate Justice Activist” reflects on his own involvement. The chapter describes discussions he has had with friend and comedian Rod Quantock on the prospects for change.

Chapter 6 “System-Challenging Transitional Steps to Shift Australia Toward Eco-Socialism” examines mainstream and radical strategies together with the visions involved. This includes eco-feminism, eco-anarchism as well as Indigenous understandings. It is in this chapter, Baer outlines guidelines to “provoke discussion and break the impasse encountered by many eco-socialists on how to get from A to B…”, guidelines such as challenging the culture of consumerism, shortening the working week, establishing worker’s democracy, providing a steep emissions tax, expanding public ownership and creating green jobs.

In the final Chapter 7, Baer looks at Australia’s role in the global drive to eco-socialism making social justice key to ensuring we do not surrender to the growth paradigm of capitalism. It is the egalitarianism of the social justice movements that is central to the eco-socialist vision and an effective strategy of systemic change.

The overall direction Baer points us in is convincing, bringing a perspective to the debate which SEARCH is helping to develop. Above all it is the need for urgency which Baer stresses that is most valuable.

However the book remains handicapped by the focus on climate change and not the broader issue of sustainability which includes matters such as deforestation, biodiversity and environmental degradation. While climate change grabs the headlines, it is only part of the challenge to secure a sustainable future.

The book’s emphasis on systemic change rather than reliance on market-based technological fixes, all of which leaves power in the hands of capital, is compelling. Without genuine social control of the economy led by workers and the communities affected there is no chance of a lasting effective solution to the environmental challenge.

Baer sees our best chance of survival with ever-increasing crises deepening public concern and wide-spread campaigns to build an effective eco-socialist movement and party. Campaigns on the suggested guidelines must now incorporate an urgent environmental message to succeed on this pathway.

While the book could use a serious editing to remove errors and repetition, Baer has made a very useful contribution to the debate which everyone concerned about our future should read.


Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.