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Is climate change a socialist plot?

AAP/Matthew Newton

In the past year, we have heard from several right-of-centre members of the media-political elite in Australia - some of whom dined together at Kirribilli House on the weekend - that climate change is exaggerated for the purposes of introducing a “socialist” carbon tax.

One of the Kirribilli guests, News Corp columnist Miranda Devine, wrote a eulogy for the late Margaret Thatcher earlier this year, enthusiastically quoting the former British prime minister’s now dated critique of the Left.

Nowadays, socialism is more often dressed up as environmentalism, feminism or international concern for human rights.

The most recent expression of such harking back to Thatcherism could be found at the Tasmanian Liberal Party conference last week, where Tony Abbott declared:

Let’s be under no illusions: the carbon tax was socialism masquerading as environmentalism.

In doing so, Abbott has tapped into a conspiracy meme that far-Right political voices have been pushing for over a decade. It is a theory that draws on a New World Order fear of a one world government that threatens national sovereignty by inventing a global crisis to which all nations have to respond. Overseas, such a theory has been espoused by the likes of Christopher Monckton and Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

In Australia, Abbott has linked this meme to the carbon tax, and with the help of the denialist press, he has been able to politicise the need to reduce carbon as a “great big tax” - one that even “Electricity Bill” Shorten should be afraid of.

The grand irony-in-the-making here is that the so-called carbon “tax” has always been an emissions trading scheme, based on free market principles of pricing carbon. There is simply not much socialism to be found in such schemes.

A second layer of irony can be introduced here also. Any scheme aimed at reducing carbon emissions is actually deeply conservative, in a way that makes use-it-or-lose-it drives to burn every last tankerload of fossil fuel look radically extreme.

But nevertheless, because of the difficulty in communicating the complexity of emissions trading schemes, even Labor politicians succumbed to referencing the ETS as a tax, which made it an easy target for memory-burn PR in Abbott’s successful election campaign.

But now the contra-climate change conservatives are wanting to go further in tapping into value-added memes of socialist sabotage that hark back to the anti-communism of the Cold War.

But, in so doing, the Abbott government is appealing to a very small audience who are either living in a Cold War time-warp or are lapsed students of B. A. Santamaria.

The broader electorate is not really going to be persuaded by such a reference, unless Abbott was to pitch it another way.

There is no doubt that much of the committed warming we are living with today, created by the concentrations of carbon emissions depicted in the representative concentration pathways of the IPCC, have been emitted by socialist states.

Such single-party states, based on command economies that actually had more of a chance to control emissions than free-market states, have failed to do so. Of course, one reason for this is that the science had not become established in any policy-relevant sense until the end of the Cold War.

If anything, socialist states had inherited a productivist ethos that was at the heart of the socialist program. The largest of these states, China and the former Soviet Union, were set the task of transforming agrarian nations into industrial socialism. What made this task almost impossible was the idea that they needed to compete with the recklessness and efficiency of capitalism.

Today, of course, China has surpassed the United States in its volume of current emissions and will soon catch up in the historical contribution of emission concentrations. But this is understandable, given that China is the new workshop of the world. Consumers in capitalist societies contribute to these carbon emissions every time we purchase a consumer item made in China, and with every tonne of coal that is exported there.

Industrialised states that self-identify as socialist or communist are not going to give up their expansion of industrial production, out of which they produce wealth. So, in a sense, the reality of climate change is a legacy of industrial socialism as much as capitalism.

But carbon reduction schemes are being deployed in China as much as Europe has moved to renewable energy. In China, reducing emissions has been made so much more urgent by the fact that the single-party state has conspired to raise productive capacity to a level that could rival global capitalism. A socialist plot indeed.

The final irony here is being able to conclude that the only thing deniers may be right about is that climate change is, at least in part, a socialist plot.