Feb 22, 2011

Hamilton: a new brand of environmental radicalism

While environmentalism has had some very substantial successes, all of the gains are now jeopardised. No one ever achieved radical social change by being respectable.

Never has an effective environment movement been more necessary. In fact it is the only force standing between us and massive climate disruption. While environmentalism has had some very substantial successes, all of the gains are now jeopardised.

The difficulty and importance of the global warming campaign is many times greater than every other struggle. Eliminating carbon pollution requires a wholesale industrial restructuring and defeat of the most powerful industry coalition ever assembled. The ruthlessness of big carbon is known to all those who have watched the “greenhouse mafia” at work. Its influence is apparent in the draconian laws against climate protests passed in Victoria, urged by Martin Ferguson and under consideration in other states.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

53 thoughts on “Hamilton: a new brand of environmental radicalism

  1. dragonista

    In the interests of transparency, perhaps Dr Hamilton should have revealed that he used to be Chairman of the Climate Institute?

  2. Mark Duffett

    …much of the environment movement has no real political understanding of the world. They mistake the superficial argy-bargy dished up by the daily news media for political analysis, and do not truly comprehend the forces they are ranged against. They see environmentalism as merely wiping away the blemishes on the prevailing system, rather than challenging it.

    That cuts both ways, though. If many environmentalists truly, fully understood the implications of what they profess to advocate – “a profound threat to the structure of…the world of free-market capitalism, limited government, unlimited consumption, and the subordination of nature” – they might very well cease to be environmentalists.

  3. D. John Hunwick

    Once again Clive Hamilton has clarified the very heart of the problem. Our present way of life is unsustainable. Having been brought up in it it is extremely difficult to throw it off. To do that requires (for me at least) a group of others similarly disposed to confront, with the science, all those people and structures that are in the way. I would do it for my children and grandchildren and the protection of the biodiversity that enthralls me. Now that I am a declared environmental radical what do I do – stand in front of a coal train? I woud be far more motivated if I could communiate with others who felt th same as I do and not get hung up with all the sceptics that only want to delay any action.

  4. Tony Kevin

    First rate analysis from Clive. My own experience, of looking vainly for any intellectual feedback at all since 2009 to my book ”Crunch Time”‘ , supports Clive’s clear-eyed conclusions about the self-referentialism and limited political vision what we quaintly call ‘the environmental movement’. He is right about the Greens too: they understand the ruthless politics of climate change as no one else does .

    Having said this, the Greens are going to have to compromise this year with Combet’s cautious policy incrementalism, if we are at last to get a carbon price system started in Australia. But at least Bob Brown and Christine Milne go into this tough negotiation with their eyes open.

    If anyone wants to confront with an unflinching clear eye what we face in this country if our profligate carbon-burning and coal-exporting ways continue unabated, try reading Chapter 11 of ”Crunch Time’ – the final chapter, entitled “Southern Australia 2060: drowning cities in a parched land”. With only a small degree of poetic licence, I visualise here a plausible future that awaits our grandchildren born today – if they are lucky.

  5. wilful

    All Hamilton has done here is profess his love of radicalism. He’s provided no evidence that it’s more effective, just that he likes it.

  6. Scott

    I don’t think the world is ready for deep ecology, Clive. We are too anthropocentric. So when you preach your nihlistic manderings, you give up the centre, and hence, the ability to actually achieve change. Stay with the ecological modernisation and you might get somewhere.

  7. Captain Planet

    Thank you for an insightful article, Clive. The world needs radicals like you at the moment. If nothing else, as I said to the Socialist Alliance at the last Federal Election, the truly radical environmental and political activists make the Greens and other, more mainstream organisations, look less radical and thereofore more palatable to the general populace. If you want to look skinny, hang around with fat people 🙂

    Seriously though, I realise this was a speech and so it is strong on the rhetoric, but a few qualifying statements would not go astray.

    An effective environmental movement, “is the only force standing between us and massive climate disruption”. All you had to do is insert “almost certainly” or “on the basis of the best evidence available” and this would be a reasonable statement instead of coming across as a rabid, staring fundamentalist. The fact that I happen to agree with you, doesn’t excuse you from the need to stick to statements of fact or carefully qualified opinions.

    Likewise, “the difficulty and importance of the global warming campaign is many times greater than every other struggle”. I don’t know about that. The struggles to eliminate poverty and war have proven to be somewhat difficult over the last few thousand years, and I personally believe they rival global warming in importance. That is not to say that global warming is not important, and I realise that both poverty and war will become more widespread in a warming world: but there is a clear cut mechanism for eliminating global warming, the same can’t be said of poverty and war. So, your statement is exaggerated and gives the strong impression (whether true or otherwise) that your personal mission has blinded you to the scope and severity of the multitudinous other problems facing humankind.

    Another problem facing humanity, which I frankly think far more difficult and far more important than the global warming campaign, is overpopulation. At the end of the day, the overpopulation problem is a precondition for the global warming problem, and in the long run I know which I believe is going to prove more intractable, and more devastating. We can generate electricity in different ways and restructure the world’s economy. We’ve undertaken similar political, engineering and logistical challenges before and succeeded. Try messing with the reproductive instinct of 7 billion people and see how far you get. When we solve the global warming problem (and we will, and your article is a valuable contribution to the mobilisation necessary to do so) we will be left with the next symptom to arise out of the underlying malaise of overpopulation. So, I can’t agree that the global warming problem somehow outranks all others.

  8. Ern Malleys cat

    Interesting points, but at the risk of sounding like Frank Campbell, I’m surprised the article didn’t mention any aspect of environment/alism but climate.
    This is obviously Clive’s special area of interest, but to not even acknowledge some of the other damage/challenges to our environment seems weird if he’s trying to rally the movement as a whole.

  9. D. John Hunwick

    Hi Scott, I remember reading “it is better to half right on time than to have the whole truth too late” MY concern is that NOW is the time – to delay will only make it worse. Do I have to bite my tongue and go with the incremental flow knowing full well (from an ecological poin of view) that nature as I know it will be lost to my grandchildren? How can a radical at least get a fair hearing when the messge is NOT what anyone wants to know?

  10. Captain Planet

    Clive has given a thoughtfull analysis of the underlying causes of the present ineffectiveness of the environmental movement at tackling climate change. The fact that the environmental movement is up against the most powerful, and motivated, collective of vested interests ever assembled, is contributing fairly strongly to that ineffectiveness, too.

    Clive’s comments calling for the reinvention of activism in a newer and more radical form may have a role to play, but I would urge caution. As Clive correctly pointed out, Greenpeace and the Greens never swerved in their dedication to achieving the outcomes that are necessary to tackle the climate change problem. Calls for a newer and more radical form of environmentalism than Greenpeace, are something I view with trepidation. If you get much more radical and interventionist than Greenpeace, you risk marginalising the entire movement, alienating the bulk of the populace from your cause and damaging the chances of success. The Greens, on the other hand, are an excellent example of an effective paradigm for successful change: It is easier to change the system from within.

    En Masse, people become engaged in, and support, radical movements for change when they perceive a clear and present threat to their personal wellbeing, or that of their close family. Witness the present movements in Libya, Egypt, Bahrain and elsewhere. The other things which are necessary, to galvanise large amounts of people to engage constructively in movements for radical change, is a widespread, realistic and shared vision for change, combined with a reasonable expectation of popular support, and a good chance of success. So far, the vision is widespread and realistic: It is not yet shared. There is very little perception of popular support for radical environmental activism, largely because people cannot yet perceive the clear and present threat.

    This is why I would advocate that clear and reasonable argument, persistent and engaged but less than radical, activism, is more likely to succeed than the radical brand Clive is calling for.

    We need the warm regard and willing support of the bulk of the populace, most of whom, by definition, have much more mainstream views than radical environmental activists.

    Clive says “no one ever achieved radical social change by being respectable”.

    Having attended several anti logging protests, I can tell you that the protesters who choose to look as outrageous and unorthodox as they possibly can, with huge dreadlocks, tattoos, piercings, and all the attendant counterculture paraphernalia, are as counterproductive to the cause as anything could possibly be. It reinforces the pre existing prejudice in many mainstream minds, that the “save the forests” movement consists of dirty feral dole bludgers.

    I would suggest that many movements for radical social change have been led and achieved by the most respectable means. I would point to Mohandas Ghandi as a fine example: A trained lawyer who advocated peace, non violence, and respect, all through his life, Ghandi achieved more far – reaching change in his lifetime than perhaps any other individual, ever.

    The movements in several of South America’s failed economies, whereby workers who have been made redundant from a collapsed business simply return to work the next day and run the factory as a socialist collective, are respectable in the extreme. These people aren’t burning the factory down, lynching the boss or trying to restructure the industrial system in their country: They’re just going to work and doing business. But the change they are achieving is profound.

    I would suggest we stand to gain more by persisting with a less than “radical” course of activism than that which Clive advocates. A Carbon Tax is just around the corner, thanks to the tireless and respectable efforts of the Greens, who are slowly but surely gaining the support of the mainstream. Remember, in movements for popular change, unless the majority support you, you won’t succeed.

Leave a comment

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details