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Climate change obscures the real moral crisis

  • 12 December 2007

The 2007 election saw the Howard Government caught in a perfect electoral storm. Boredom disconnected the Coalition from the electorate, effectively muting any further policy initiatives or repackaging of their message, while WorkChoices and the refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol left the Government stranded in a kind of moral no-man's land without recourse to some higher agenda or greater moral cause.

But what we witnessed this election year was not simply the demise of a government that had fallen out of step with the values of the electorate. The Howard Government was a casualty of one of the more pronounced trends in global politics today: the simultaneous banalisation of domestic politics and globalisation of public morality.

As the role of national governments is dwarfed by the enormity of trans-national economic flows and the environmental crisis, and as people's habits are more and more enmeshed in the matrix of consumerism, any immediate sense of morality becomes de-localised and cast onto the global stage.

The core imperatives of this global morality are obvious: to mitigate the ravages of free market capitalism on the disadvantaged, and to arrest the effects of greenhouse gases on our environment. Needless to say, WorkChoices and the Howard Government's failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol were unforgivable in view of these imperatives.

By contrast, Kevin Rudd shrewdly aligned himself with the prevailing moral sentiment by revamping his social democratic façade, all the while pledging his allegiance to strong economic growth.

'Neo-liberals speak of the self-regarding values of security, liberty and prosperity,' he said. 'To these, social democrats would add other-regarding values of equity, solidarity and sustainability ... these additional values are seen as mutually reinforcing, because the allocation of resources in pursuit of equity ... solidarity and sustainability assist in creating the human, social and environmental capital necessary to make a market economy function effectively.'

This statement points to the substance of our moral crisis. The values Rudd espouses merely grease the skids of the capitalist machine.

Similarly, for Rudd, Al Gore and most other climate change centrists, the solution to our current environmental woes lies not in radically curtailing our industrial or consumerist habits, but in some supplemental technology that will neutralise the global economy's addiction to high emissions.

The belief in both instances is that the answer to our global problems lies further down the road on which we are already travelling; that capitalism is