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It’s a Free Country

November 8, 2013

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I said this today. I haven’t said it for many years but you probably still hear it around, occasionally, even in this era when cynicism about governments is generic and rife. In Australia, as in America (although to a greater extent here), we have freedom of religion, assembly, choice in so many ways. The comparison would have always been to the negative examples of Russia and China, where the spectre of Communism still cast a deep shadow over global postmodernity. Marched out to a gulag or mysteriously disappeared if you spoke out against the regime, these countries (and other examples such as Chile under Augusto Pinochet, Uganda with Idi Amin and more recently Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, or the Cambodia of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge) stood for crackdowns on freedom in the popular imagination. And rightly so – as a long term, paid up member of Amnesty International, I care about the right to free speech, especially in terms of politics, very much.

But as I said this (in a moment of levity), I caught myself and reflected upon how much freedom we have lost of late. We’re nowhere near the ignominy of totalitarianism, but the regime of capital has us caught up almost completely. Either we are enthusiastic supporters of free capital or resistant consumers unable to free ourselves of its unending grasp. And the drive towards profit is literally costing us the earth. Industry keeps on chewing up the raw matter of the planet to transform it into stuff for the market. The black gold of oil and coal is still being burned up for light and power at a furious rate, against all the best knowledge of science and warnings of scientists. The OECD estimates that usage of fossil fuels will actually increase in the next few decades (* below). Let’s not continue too far down the well-known litany of abuses that are still being perpetrated against the biosphere (deforestation and ocean acidification have to be mentioned though), lest we depress ourselves.

Is it a free country if we can’t stop a crime that goes on in the name of freedom? If we can’t stop our politicians acting in cahoots with big industry to destroy the land and sea and fresh water and air? On November 17th here in Australia there will be gatherings in every capital city and many regional ones, designed to send a message far and wide and loud that we care. If it is still a free country, this will get positive media coverage and make one of those little dents on the 24-hour media cycle that stick out and say – stop this, please. Our relative political freedoms can be put to better use than complacent consumerism and more people are waking up to this every day. Let’s keep spreading the word. It’s a free country – for now, in some valuable ways. And we can do better with that freedom of assembly and political belief.

* The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) envisages that greenhouse gas emissions will increase 50% by 2050 (Marchal et al. 2011: 5). ‘‘OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050: Climate Change Chapter’’. Accessible online here.

Quote that caught my eye on page 5: “The Environmental Outlook Baseline scenario envisages that without more ambitious policies than those in force today, GHG emissions will increase by another 50% by 2050, primarily driven by a projected 70% growth in CO2 emissions from energy use. This is primarily due to a projected 80% increase in global energy demand. Transport emissions are projected to double, due to a strong increase in demand for cars in developing countries. Historically, OECD economies have been responsible for most of the emissions. In the coming decades, increasing emissions will also be caused by high economic growth in some of the major emerging economies.”
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