Your consumer choices won’t save the planet

The climate catastrophe is capitalism.
The climate catastrophe is capitalism.

Surely if we were all more committed to buying green, fair trade, or ethically produced products, there would be less environmental and economic exploitation in the world, right?

The idea that our consumer choices are ‘votes’ for the kind of world we want to live in is a powerful one, but it is an idea that is gravely mistaken.

Our current economic system, capitalism, is eating away at the ecological basis of our existence, whilst exploiting and dominating the lives of billions of people. This destruction, domination and exploitation is driven not by consumer choices, but by the logic of capital accumulation.

All businesses are confronted by the need to remain profitable. Businesses that do not generate a healthy return on investment will soon go bankrupt and be replaced by those enterprises that are profitable. But it is not enough to simply be profitable, all businesses are in competition to achieve ever greater investment and profit. Capitalists invest their money in enterprises based on their understanding of what will deliver the highest return, whilst businesses seek bigger returns by achieving greater market share. They achieve greater market share by lowering prices, selling more, and driving their competition out of the market. It is this process that drives capitalist enterprises to consume larger and larger quantities of resources, in order to produce more, and sell more, whilst pay workers less.

The logic of ethical consumerism assumes that the destructive waste of capitalism is caused by the demands made by consumers (most of whom are in turn workers). The argument goes that it is our desire for more stuff that has pushed capitalist firms to produce in ever greater quantities, and at ever lower costs no matter the ecological or human impact. This assumption is incorrect.

Capitalism is driven towards expansion, irrespective of the level of demand that exists for the goods and services that capitalist enterprises produce. It is for this reason that capitalists first chased new markets for their goods (and new sources of raw materials) across the globe. Capitalism now embraces the entire world in what is, more or less, one capitalist economic system.

Despite the fact that capitalism now embraces the globe, the logic of capitalist expansion remains unchanged. Individual capitalist enterprises must strive to produce greater levels of profit, or they will be replaced by those that do. Whenever capitalism as a whole is not growing, it is in crisis. In order to continue clearing the market place of this over-abundance of production, capitalist enterprises engage in a continual process of inventing and manufacturing new needs and new wants among consumers. There is even a whole industry that specializes in this practice; it is called marketing.

The decision by a minority of people to buy this type of product over that type of product will not challenge the accumulative logic of capital. It is capitalism’s drive toward perpetual growth that is consuming the ecological basis of our continued existence.

But capitalists love the logic of ethical consumerism. When a concerned group or NGO calls for a boycott of this or that product or practice, capitalist enterprises can profit from selling us the greener, more ethical alternative at a higher price! The “more ethical alternative” is rarely better than a greenwash that serves to improve corporate image and assuage middle class guilt whilst doing little to change underlying practices in production. The wealthiest may have been sold the image of social good, but the bulk of us can do little other than put food on our tables and clothes on our backs at the cheapest possible prices.

A particularly pernicious strand of ethical consumerism is expressed in relation to climate change and energy consumption. Those wealthy enough to afford “green energy”, solar panels, or household lithium battery arrays gleefully finance wasteful new industries. The wealthy enough eco-warriors then turn their noses up at the destructive ‘choices’ of the great mass of people just struggling to maintain access to heating, cooking and light from any available energy source.

Even as larger numbers of the middle class in the developed world pour money into “clean energy”, they don’t somehow reduce the consumption of coal, oil or gas. Lower demand for non-renewable energy lowers the price of coal, gas and oil inputs, which is readily sucked up by industries that will always consume the cheapest available energy source, or be replaced by the manufacturer that does.

Ethical consumerism is worse than useless. The false choice of “ethical consumption” gives those firms most exposed to the risks of consumer backlash a ready source of green wash, and it provides new opportunities to sell “ethical” products at higher prices. Whilst doing this, “ethical consumerism” diverts attention away from the dynamic that is destroying our environment, exploiting workers, and wasting resources. Capitalism requires and is driven towards ceaseless, unending, economic growth. This requires ever an expanding consumption of the earth’s resources, the production and sale of ever more products, and the subordination of the mass of the world’s population.

I fully understand and accept why people with the ability to do so might wish to minimize the impact that their consumptive choices have of the planet, on the environment, or on working conditions. But we cannot simply end sweatshops, or the burning of fossil fuels, or destructive agricultural practices, by boycotting this or that product. If we are to save a planet worth living on, we have to end an economic system that is making our planet unlivable.

The Forgotten War

White Australia has a Black History
White Australia has a Black History

The First World War is the war the Australian ruling class wants us to remember. They are spending hundreds of millions over the next two years making sure we never forget. It’s the war they would have us believe created Australia. And Australia was created in a war. But it was another war. A war our rulers would rather pretend never occurred.
Continue reading The Forgotten War

The Politics of War Graves

"Sacrified to the fallacy that war can end war", one family's protest at the theft of their son, both in life and in death.
“Sacrified to the fallacy that war can end war”, one family’s protest at the theft of their son, both in life and in death.
The way in which the dead are remembered is a political act – the commemoration of war is never neutral. Australia has commenced an orgy of official remembrance; the ANZAC commemoration industry is expected to consume the larger part of a billion dollars of public and private money over the next two years (1). The reformist left is already bemoaning the crass commercialism of it all, and the more critical amongst them point out that ANZAC and Gallipoli were mere side shows to the “countless white crosses” that in “mute witness stand” in the muddy fields of Belgium and France (2).

But there is no such thing as an apolitical commemoration. The endless white crosses served their imperial masters in the aftermath of four years of slaughter, just as the ANZAC industry serves the Australian state today.
Continue reading The Politics of War Graves

Call for submissions: The Platform winter edition

We plan to have The Platform issue 2 out towards the end of June. If you loved issue 1 and you’d like to contribute to issue 2, get in touch with editor at anarchistaffinity dot org.

Submissions of ~700 words are invited on or before 25 May. If you have an idea you would like to discuss with our editorial collective, get in touch by email.

Attacks on Medicare and Health Care Inequality

Published in issue 1 of The Platform, 8.3.2014.

By Kieran Bennett

The Abbott government is busy laying the groundwork for a massive attack on the conditions of the working class in April’s federal budget. In charge of preparing the ground is Abbott’s hand-picked Commission of Audit. In the line of fire: Medicare and your right to access a GP. The plan: Rob $750 million from Australia’s poorest whilst giving $5.9 billion dollars to private health insurers.

The Commission of Audit

The Commission of Audit is an assortment of business lobbyists and Liberal party mates. The Commission is headed by Tony Sheppard, president of the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and (until October) chairman of Transfield services. As head of the BCA he argues for lower taxes, abolition of the fair work act, and various attacks on the social wage. As chairman of Transfield Services, he profited from mining, coal, and up to $180 million in government contracts for the operation of refugee prisons in Nauru.

Commission member Peter Boxall is a former Chief of Staff to Peter Costello, who spent time working for the IMF during the “structural adjustments” of the 1980s, and played a key role in implementing John Howard’s “Work Choices”.

Amanda Vanstone joins this disreputable bunch bringing her experience as a Howard government minister responsible for attacks on the unemployed, students, and pensioners, the abolition of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ending any semblance of self-determination, as flawed as that body was) and of course, the imprisonment of many thousands of refugees.

What’s in a co-payment?

The first shot across the bow aimed in the new attack on Medicare was fired by former Abbott advisor Terry Barnes of the Australian Council of Health Research (ACHR). The ACHR is a “think tank” funded by Australian Unity, a health insurer with a lot to gain from any attack on Medicare. Barnes published a paper to coincide with the election of the Abbott government which called for the private health insurers dream – compulsory upfront fees for Australians utilising Medicare.

Barnes wants a six dollar Medicare “co-payment”. His argument is that poor Australians go to the GP too often, and that an additional six dollar upfront fee would send a “price signal” that would harmlessly discourage over use of GPs. Barnes claims that his proposal would save the Medicare budget $750 million over four years.

But a six dollar GP tax is not the only health co-payment that Australians are already slugged with. Australians already pay “out of pocket” for a raft of health care services. There is no dental care coverage under Medicare leaving most Australians unable to see a dentist unless they can pay upfront. There a significant “gaps” between the cost of services and what is covered by Medicare, and access to medical specialists routinely involves significant upfront expense for Australians on Medicare.

The effect of all of this is frightening. Co-payments fund 17% of health care in Australia. One in six dollars of health care expenditure in Australia is not covered by any insurance, public or private, and is instead forked out directly by those who can afford it least. In the United States, so often denounced for its backward and regressive healthcare system, co-payments only account for 13% of health expenditure.

And the Liberal government is gearing up to whack another six dollar charge on top of this. Far from sending a harmless “price signal”, a six dollar co-payment is a brutal measure that would reduce access to GPs by those who need them most, and already use them least.

Under Utilisation

The idea that Australia’s poorest over use GP services is both obnoxious and untrue. Terry Barnes is on the record as saying that a six dollar upfront payment would not stop anyone who is truly sick from attending a GP, as this only represents the price of “two cups of coffee”. Anyone who thinks six dollars is nothing has never attempted to live on the minimum wage, let alone the dole, family payments or a pension, in Australia.

Australian workers already make choices between rent, food and health care on a weekly basis. Cost already dissuades Australia’s poorest from accessing medical services when they need it.

Current research on working class Australian’s use of health care already shows that “poorer people are already under-utilising healthcare, and their rate of under-utilisation corresponds to their level of illness”. Mapping health care use against average income in Australia already shows that people living in Australia’s poorest neighbourhoods are “three times more likely to delay medical consultations than those living in the wealthiest suburbs”.

The highest use of GP services in Australia, and the highest concentrations of GPs, are not where people are poorest, or where people are sickest (which coincidentally is where people are poorest), but rather where people are wealthiest. The richest use GP services the most, there are more GPs in wealthier suburbs, and Australia’s wealthiest are less likely to fall ill and die young.

Being poor and working class, attempting to live on a shitty wage or poverty level pension, is a major health hazard in Australia. The wealthiest 20% of Australians live an average six years longer than those of us surviving in the ranks of the poorest 20%.

Health Cash for big business

We’re told that Medicare costs too much. A six dollar copayment, effectively a tax levied disproportionately on Australia’s poorest and sickest, might save the health budget $750 million over four years. But there is one area of health spending bloat that the Abbott government will never touch. This year alone the government will spend $5.4 billion subsidising private health insurance.

The private health insurance rebate is an enormous transfer of wealth from tax payers to private, profit oriented health insurers, such as the one funding Terry Barnes’ sick attack on what remains of universal healthcare in Australia.

The private health insurance rebate was meant to make private health insurance more affordable by keeping premiums low. Introduced in 1999, this massive payment to health insurers has occurred at the same time that average health insurance premiums have risen 130%. Average prices (inflation) in the same period have only risen 50%.

The justification for this massive rort was that subsidising private health insurance would save money in the long run by reducing costs to Medicare. The most recent analysis shows that this $5.4 billion subsidy does little to shift costs from Medicare, and its abolition would save the government at least $3 billion a year.


The class self-interest of the government’s health policy is blatant: Tax the poor, throw money at the rich. The so-called Commission of Audit is stacked with the same big business cronies and Liberal mates who have always attacked the conditions of working class Australians, and now they are coming for what remains of Australia’s public health system. If the health budget is unsustainable, and the poorest really do have to be slugged with an additional six dollar GP tax, it is only because the government continues to throw bucket loads of money at private health insurers. The truth is that private health insurers want Medicare dismantled, so that more Australians are forced into their health insurance rackets, paying ever greater premiums for a diminishing health service.

Blood Money for Art – Transfield and the Sydney Biennale

The Guardian has broken the news that the Biennale of Sydney (BOS) has severed ties with detention centre operator Transfield Services. Transfield Holdings chairman Luca Belgiorno-Nettis has resigned from his role as chair of the BOS. Belgiorno-Nettis has acknowledged the success of the artists led boycott of the Biennale in forcing him out.

The following article on the links between Transfield and the Sydney art world was written for issue 1 of The Platform. It is interesting to note that whilst Transfield and the BOS have now formally severed ties, Transfield remains a principle sponsor of the Sydney Chamber Orchestra and Luca Belgiorno-Nettis remains its chair.

Transfield Services has hit pay dirt. Indefinite detention is big business and the contracts are flowing in. Transfield has already made a whopping $215 million in just twelve months, building the fences, erecting the tents, and employing the guards that keep hundreds of vulnerable refugees detained in the tropical heat of Nauru’s former phosphate mine. Meanwhile, Transfield’s Nauran employees are paid a pitiful $4 an hour.

And the contracts keep coming. For the first time one company will be responsible for providing the guards who do the beatings, and the social workers who mop up afterwards. The Salvation Army has lost its contract to run welfare services on Nauru, and Transfield is set to replace them. This ‘proud’ Sydney company is now positioned to run every aspect of an immigration detention service – everything from the substandard accommodation to the substandard food and the incompetent unmotivated “welfare” staff can all be yours, direct from Transfield Services!

But it’s all for a good cause, the torture of refugees funds art and culture to enrich the lives of Sydney’s richest! Transfield Services is enmeshed in the Sydney arts scene almost as heavily as it’s enmeshed in destroying the lives of people fleeing persecution.

Since its establishment in 1973 the Biennale of Sydney has become the most prestigious visual arts event on the Australian calendar. It’s internationally prominent amongst the two hundred such events held annually, and is perhaps comparable in scope and influence to the oldest arts biennale, that in Venice. And it’s brought to you by Transfield.

Transfield founder Franco Belgiorno-Nettis is also Biennale of Sydney founder Franco Belgiorno-Nettis. For 41 years the Biennale of Sydney has been the centrepiece of Transfield’s arts empire. Transfield Holdings operates an “art rental program” leasing out works from its expensive private collection. The Transfield Foundation (a joint venture of Transfield Services and Transfield Holdings!) pours money into the Australian Chamber Orchestra, and coincidentally, the Chairman of the Australia Chamber Orchestra is one Guido Belgiorno-Nettis, Executive Director of Transfield Holdings.

Art is a big deal for this company. It’s not just culture wash (although its value as culture-wash is extensive). Art, for Transfield, is about status, prestige and legitimacy. It is no coincidence that the venues for Biennale events include the private residences of Transfield directors and executives.

It is for these reasons that a Sydney Arts educator, Matthew Kiem, has published a call for a boycott of the Biennale of Sydney. If art means as much to Transfield as its entanglements suggest, an arts boycott of this company could at least inconvenience those involved in the corporate facilitation of human misery. At the very least, a public boycott of the Biennale of Sydney could undermine some of the culture-wash that Transfield deploys to pretty up its image whilst it works on the destruction of human lives.

It is interesting to note just how defensive the Biennale of Sydney have been to criticism of Transfield Services. On their official twitter account the Biennale organisers wrote:

“RE: comments on BOS sponsors: BOS brings attn 2 the ideas & issues of our times – objectors only deny the legitimate voice of BOS artists”

The irony could not be more obvious if it were deliberately constructed.

Global Fire – An evening with Michael Schmidt

Update: Statement on Michael Schmidt.

The content that was on this page has been removed.

Deaths in Custody – Thirty years and still no justice

WARNING: This post contains names and images of deceased persons, as well as videos depicting violence and racism by the police.

Eddie Murray (1960 – 1981), NOT FORGOTTEN.

John Patt (1966 – 1983), NOT FORGOTTEN.

Charlie Michaels (1953 – 1984), NOT FORGOTTEN.

Robert Walker (1959 – 1984), NOT FORGOTTEN.

Have you ever heard screams in the middle of
the night,
Or the sobbings of a stir-crazy prisoner,
Echo over and over again in the darkness –
Threatening to draw you into its madness?

Have you ever rolled up into a human ball
And prayed for sleep to come?
Have you ever laid awake for hours
Waiting for morning to mark yet another day of
being alone?

If you’ve ever experienced even one of these,
Then bow your head and thank God.
For it’s a strange thing indeed –
This rehabilitation system!

Robert Walker

Tony King (1953 – 1985), NOT FORGOTTEN.

Lloyd Boney (1959 – 1987), NOT FORGOTTEN.

David Gundy (1989), NOT FORGOTTEN.

Daniel Yock (1975 – 1993), NOT FORGOTTEN.

Colleen Richman (1953 -1994), NOT FORGOTTEN.

TJ Hickey (1987 – 2004), NOT FORGOTTEN.

Mulrunji Doomadgee (1968 – 2004), NOT FORGOTTEN.

Mr Ward (1968 – 2008), NOT FORGOTTEN.

Mr Briscoe (1984 – 2012), NOT FORGOTTEN.

This is list is far far far far from exhaustive.


Discussion meeting: The Greens and the failure of electoralism

The next of our monthly discussion meetings.

WHEN: 3 Oct, 7pm
WHERE: New International Bookshop, Trades Hall

How should anarchists and the radical left relate to the Greens?

In the aftermath of an election which saw the election of Abbott and the Liberals, and a significant slump in the Greens vote, we’ll be discussing:

Can the Greens’ strategy achieve significant social change?
Is the (further) political degeneration of the Greens inevitable?
Do the Greens offer a real alternative on the environment and refugees?

Join Anarchist Affinity and former members of the Greens for a wide ranging discussion.

Anarchist Affinity will be holding monthly discussion meetings on various topics. We’re hoping to encourage greater discussion amongst anarchists and others about strategy, tactics and political ideas.

Irish migrant’s view of asylum debate in Australia

“This casual racism is something I have particularly noticed on the job and among family in terms of hostility to ‘asylum seekers’ and general fear of the other.”

By a WSM comrade presently living in Australia. Originally published at Update: In case there is any confusion, Kieran just cross posted this, he is not a WSM comrade living in Australia!

we-decide-who-comes-cartoonAn Irish anarchist living in Melbourne, Australia gives his perspective on the ‘asylum seeker’ debate there leading up to the forthcoming elections. He argues Irish workers should be standing in solidarity with the most marginalised and dispossesed in our society. In the words of one Aboriginal activist; ‘ “As people who know what it’s like to be invaded by boat people we are in a better position to judge how the current boat people should be treated. Where the original boat people who took our country were armed to the teeth and bent on conquest, asylum seekers in 2012 are unarmed and seeking sanctuary.”

If there is one thing our barbaric corrupt political class have in common from Ireland to Australia is the need when to keep us divided through the carrot and the stick. There weapon of choice is often whipping up of division, scapegoating of minorities and fear of the ‘other’. In the case of Australia, which I have learnt to well since arriving on these shores, it is the spectre of ‘boat people’ or asylum seekers which dominates the mainstream political discourse in terms of the forthcoming elections. Basically two shades of the same political establishment seek to outgun each other to see who can offer the cruelest form treatment for men, women and children fleeing persecution, hunger and oppression.

You don’t need to dig deep beneath the surface to expose this racist and state sponsored terrorism which has tragically resulted in at least 1376 refugees drowning while trying to reach Australia since 1998. Behind every statistic lies an individual story and a family tragedy. Behind the hysteria of ‘queue jumpers’ and ‘crime influx’, the reality is Australia takes less that 1% of the world’s refugees, people often fleeing conflicts and military occupations created by western imperialism such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the vast majority of refugees there is no queue to join, especially when you are offered the choice of life and death.

In effort to ‘stop the boats’, both the Labour and coalition party policy believes asylum seekers should be ‘processed’ – illegally detained – in detention camps being built in Papua New Guinea who have been bribed and bullied by the Australian government. Until now people have been detained in some of the most isolated islands in the world at Christmas Island, the small island of Nauru and Manus Island. They are detained in crowded and shocking conditions where rape, torture and suicide are rife, conditions that have been condemned by international human rights groups and the UN. A former security officer on Manus Island said; ‘I’ve never seen human being so destitute, so helpless and hopeless. In Australia, the facility couldn’t even serve as a dog kennel…I felt ashamed to be Australian.’ (1)

In an attempt to outgun the Labour Party and its ‘PNG Solution’, Tony Abbot, Catholic fundamentalist educated at Oxford and leader of the opposition claims he will completely stop permanent residency and use the Navy to stop the boats. In this he is following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Thatcherite John Howard.

Drawing parallels between the past and present and use of the race card investigative journalist John Pilger correctly points out ‘In Australia race is all but genetically inscribed, as in apartheid South Africa. The federation of the Australia states in 1901 was founded on racial exclusion, white Australia policy and a dread of non-existent ‘hordes’ from as far away as Russia. A 1940s policy of ‘populate or perish’ produced vibrant multiculturalism- yet a crude, often unconscious racism remains extraordinary current in Australian society and is exploited by a political elite with an enduring colonial mentality and obsequiousness to western ‘interests.’ (2)

This casual racism is something I have particularly noticed on the job and among family in terms of hostility to ‘asylum seekers’ and general fear of the other. While like any ‘community’, the Irish- Australian community is not one monolithic identity, I was struck, but to some extent not surprised, that many first and second generation have quietly assimilated into the colonial context of Australia. All too eager to fly the flag on Invasion Day on the 26 January while forgetting the similar circumstances which forced hundreds of people to flee Ireland due to oppression and poverty which continues to this very day in the form of economic migrants.

The irony of ‘boat people’ and how the tables have been turned has not been lost by some Aboriginal groups who welcome refugees. “As people who know what it’s like to be invaded by boat people, we are in a better position to judge how the current boat people should be treated. Where the original boat people who took our country were armed to the teeth and bent on conquest, asylum seekers in 2012 are unarmed and seeking sanctuary”. Michael Mansell from the Aboriginal Provisional Government goes on “The ancestors of Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbot most likely came by boat. It is certain they never sought Aboriginal permission to enter our shores.”(3)

The other side of the story is an active refugee support movement that has gained some traction in recent months in terms of organising and mobilising, as well the eruption of riots and burning down of some camps.

Without forging real solidarity and having these discussions with your workmates and neighbours empathy and compassion can only sustain a movement for so long. In the face of largely indifference from the wider population and a colonial mentality from the political class, a class based movement must come to the forefront placing the needs and interests of people escaping persecution. While billions continue to spend on military conquests, border security and detention centres that could be better spent of alleviating poverty, job cuts and healthcare we see the interests of the profit come before people. Until we remove this cancer, refuge will always be one option and for many their only hope. In this regard Irish workers should clearly know what side of the fence they stand on.

link for more info: