Tag Archives: Australia

Ideology And Climate Change

Most of Australia appears to be on fire. The extent of the devastation is hard to comprehend–as this is written, 24 people have been killed, 15.6 million acres burned (so far), hundreds if not thousands of homes destroyed, and an estimated billion animals killed.

Yet, as Vox reports, government officials in Australia continue to downplay the link between climate change and the wildfires– Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists that the country doesn’t need to do more to limit its greenhouse gas emissions. The government is apparently willing to shirk its duty to protect the population and the environment in order to protect the country’s powerful mining sector.

There’s a strong scientific consensus that links climate change to the number and severity of the wildfires.In its 2018 “State of the Climate” report,  the Australian Bureau of Meteorology warned that climate change had already ushered in a long-term warming trend and was also responsible for changes in rainfall that increase the risks of wildfires.

It isn’t only Australia. The effects of climate change are appearing everywhere. In Indonesia, the capital city of Jakarta is sinking so quickly that officials are working to move it to another island. Pictures of Venice are heartbreaking. Other examples abound.

Here in the United States, the Trump administration is responding by rolling back numerous environmental measures that had been put in place both to combat pollution and address climate change. It sometimes seems as if the administration is trying to poison the air and water and actually accelerate climate change.

Sane people faced with an existential threat don’t behave this way. What explains it?

The Roosevelt Institute attributes this inexplicably destructive behavior to neoliberal ideology.

In Transcending Neoliberalism: How the Free-Market Myth Has Prevented Climate Action, Roosevelt Fellow Mark Paul and Anders Fremstad of Colorado State University present a coherent account of how neoliberalism has contributed to inaction. To do so, they explore three tenets of neoliberal ideology that have stymied action to address the climate crisis:

Decentralize democracy: A feature of the neoliberal order in the US has been the systematic decentralization of government. Neoliberals have promoted federalism to address “government failure” and subject the state to market forces, exacerbating the race to the bottom in climate policy.

Defund public investment: Neoliberals dismantled the Keynesian consensus that the state has a major role to play in providing public goods, stabilizing the macroeconomy, and solving coordination problems. In the neoliberal order, government investments are rejected as expensive and wasteful, crowding out productive private investments.

Deregulate the economy: Neoliberalism has launched a concentrated attack on government’s ability to regulate the economy. Ignoring the ability of regulations to positively shape markets, neoliberals dismiss government intervention as “red tape” that merely increases the cost of doing business.

Those tenets of neoliberalism have been mainstays of Republican policy at least since Reagan. To them, however, you have to add the rabid anti-intellectualism of the Trump administration–an anti-intellectualism married to an obsessive determination to undo anything Barack Obama accomplished. Trump has persistently worked to drive scientists out of government agencies, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that those agencies’ effectiveness depend upon sound scientific evidence.

As the New York Times, among others, has reported,

In just three years, the Trump administration has diminished the role of science in federal policymaking while halting or disrupting research projects nationwide, marking a transformation of the federal government whose effects, experts say, could reverberate for years.

Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions and in some cases pressured researchers not to speak publicly. The administration has particularly challenged scientific findings related to the environment and public health opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining. It has also impeded research around human-caused climate change, which President Trump has dismissed despite a global scientific consensus.

What is it that Neil DeGrasse Tyson always says? Reality doesn’t care whether you believe it or not.

If climate change makes the Earth uninhabitable–a result that is looking more and more likely– the cause will be stubborn ignorance and the willful elevation of ideology over evidence.

I’ll Walk/Ride With You….

I probably wouldn’t have followed the hostage-taking incident in Sydney, Australia so closely, but my middle son is currently visiting the city. (Knowing his mother–and being a good son–he called even before I’d heard the  news reports, telling me “don’t freak out, I’m nowhere near where this is occurring.”)

We now know that this horrific episode, which cost two innocent people their lives, was not a terrorist act, at least in the political sense; it was a solitary crime comitted  by a mentally-deranged individual. Still, as Reuters reported, the perpetrator’s move to force hostages to display an Islamic flag ” immediately raised hackles in some quarters.”

A man shouting anti-Islamic abuse near the cafe during the standoff was moved on by police, while Muslim community leaders reported women wearing the hijab had been spat on.

Then something heartwarming happened:

Inspired by the Twitter hashtag “I’ll ride with you”, some commuters heading into the city for work on Tuesday gave their support to Muslims who might feel vulnerable amid concerns about a blowback after the hostage drama.

The hashtag was trending around the world, popping up across Asia, Europe, Africa and North America as it featured in more than 300,000 tweets. Actor Russell Crowe, who grew up in Sydney and keeps a home here, added his star power to the campaign.

Sydney is home to around half of Australia’s 500,000 Muslims.

The hashtag began trending on Twitter ahead of the evening commute on Monday, sparked by a Facebook post by Sydney woman Rachael Jacobs who described her encounter with a Muslim woman who took off her head covering: “I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with you’.”

That prompted other Sydneysiders to take to Twitter, detailing their bus and train routes home and offering to ride with anybody who felt uncomfortable, using the hashtag “Illwalkwithyou”.

On Tuesday morning, Jacobs said she was overwhelmed with the campaign she had inadvertently started: “Mine was a small gesture because of sadness that someone would ever feel unwelcome because of beliefs.”

I’d like to believe that something similarly spontaneous and reassuring could happen in the United States–that enough of us would put aside the stereotyping and suspicion of people with whom we don’t share beliefs or skin color or other tribal markers, to see each other simply as humans to whom we should offer reassurance and support.

I’d like to believe that, but given the animus permeating today’s environment, I’m not sure I do.

 

Big Mac Attack

In the face of walkouts by fast-food employees, and negative publicity over the “budgeting advice” provided by McDonalds to its workers, opponents of a higher minimum wage have  gone into high gear, warning that jobs will be lost and prices will rise precipitously if the minimum wage is increased.

What–they ask in ominous tones–would a Big Mac cost if the workers preparing and serving it made 15.00 an hour?

As it happens, we know the answer to that.

The Economist Magazine created and maintains a “Big Mac Index,” making it possible to compare the price of Big Macs in different countries with different wage scales. In Australia, where the minimum wage is 15.00 and the minimum wage for fast food workers is, for some reason, slightly higher–on July 1st, the fast food rate went up from $17.03 an hour to $17.98 an hour–a Big Mac costs 70 cents more than it does in the U.S.

Salvatore Babones is a senior lecturer in sociology and social policy at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia, and an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.. As he explained in a recent interview, 

What you get for that in Australia is you get to go to a fast food restaurant where you know that everybody behind the counter has full health insurance, everyone behind the counter gets a really good wage, they’re treated well, and they have, you know, options in life…

What about the argument that raising the minimum wage necessarily means fewer jobs?

There’s a theory that raising the minimum wage will result in fewer jobs. And that theory seems to make intuitive sense, that when wages are higher, you know, people hire fewer people. And in isolation that would be true. There’s an assumption economists like to make called ceteris paribus, which means all other things remaining equal, this would happen.

 But all other things are never equal. For example, if you raise the minimum wage, people make more money. That’s the first thing that’s not equal. As people make more money, they spend more, they pay more in taxes. The entire character of the economy changes.

As Babones points out, study after study confirms that no matter how “intuitively” persuasive the argument that raising the minimum wage will depress employment, it is an argument that has no empirical support. In the real world, it doesn’t work that way.

Interestingly, Australia was also the only rich country to dodge the Great Recession.