A microcosm of madness
4 December 2009
Holy Mother of Marx, why would anybody want to lead the Liberal Party at the moment?
This isn’t going to be a good period for any mainstream politician, but for the right it’s going to be a stinker. The world just isn’t facing the sort of rising economic tide that carried political conservatives ranging from Thatcher, Blair, Clinton, Keating, Bush and Rudd to the brief triumph of market fundamentalism.
Because they carry the seeds of their own destruction, some things can only be done once, and a breakneck expansionist boom like we’ve seen, with a few nasty little interruptions for more than a century, can’t go on forever. Eventually the grog runs out, the music dies, and the sun comes up; the party’s over and everybody must face the consequence of excess.
Just look at the ghastly line up of interrelated problems society faces.
Firstly there’s the GFC. Don’t believe for a moment that it’s history. Last week, stock markets around the world slumped on the news that a construction company in tinpot Dubai was likely to default on it’s US$80b debt. More big collapses and even national defaults are looming. The Great Bailout was just a quick reflation trick – a get-out-of-gaol-free card that’s just encouraged the big looters to start all over again.
Then there’s that great, ugly material fact: the last century of relentless growth was powered by the miracle fuels – oil and gas, but world production of both has finally peaked and we’re now on the downward slide with no replacement fuels of comparable efficiency and cheapness anywhere on the horizon. The resulting spike in oil prices triggered the GFC. At the moment, oil prices are hovering just below US$70 a barrel, but any serious sign of an economic upturn will push it up again and trigger another collapse. So oil and gas prices are acting as a natural dampener on the world economy and, in the background, the running down of supplies continues. In a couple of years time, the rate of decline could be as high as 4 per cent a year.
Ah, but is the decline of oil and gas good news for the climate change front? Won’t it mean fewer carbon emissions? Unfortunately, that’s unlikely. We’re really, really, going to be pushing it to replace electricity supplied by existing coal-fired power stations with renewable sources, but if there’s a move to replace our existing car fleet with electric cars, the only way the surge in demand could be accommodated would be with a couple of dozen new coal-fired or nuclear power stations. Would you want to decide where they’re going to be built? They’ll need copious and reliable supplies of cooling water. Which of our already failing rivers are you going to locate your power stations on?
Did you know that the Wallerawang power station is going to be closed down over Christmas? It normally uses water pumped from mines and the Fish River. The water from the mines is too salty to be used undiluted, so they mix it with the river water, but there’s almost no water in the river so they’re having to use water from the Oberon Dam, which is at 12 per cent. Does that sound bad? Wait for this: by agreement, the electricity company will only take minimal levels of dam water if the dam falls to 5 per cent but, being big-hearted, they’ve decided to cut to minimal levels if the dam only falls to 8 per cent. I don’t know about you, but to this possum it reads like a microcosm of the whole irresponsible madness.
Things would be bad, but not quite this bad, if the idiots who run this society had taken a stand against the widespread installation of air-conditioning, which is what’s driving an increase in power demand right at the time we need to be driving usage downwards. But of course, even in this small matter, nobody in mainstream politics is willing to take a stand against an irresponsible product the big companies want to push into the mass market, so what chance is there that they’ll ever do anything to confront climate change?
Much of our best farmland is sliding inexorably towards dustbowl conditions while the Libs and Nats run around with one hand out for perpetual drought relief, and the other waving a placard that says ‘Global Warming is a Commie Plot’.
So what’s the reason for this collective madness and denial? Our politicians know instinctively that if breakneck growth stops then, under the present market fundamentalist regime they’ve all committed themselves to, the illusion of trickle-down solutions will evaporate, social inequality will spin out of control and socialist solutions will be back on the agenda.