System change, revolution and green grandmas

The Sustainable Hour no. 502 | Transcript | Podcast notes

Our guests on The Sustainable Hour number 502 are green grandma and author Linda Mary Wagner and sociologist Terry Leahy.

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Linda Mary Wagner is an author, climate activist and blogger based in Albany, New York in the USA. She has just released a new book. The title is ‘Rear-View Reflections on Radical Change’ with the subtitle: ‘A Green Grandma’s Memoir and Call for Climate Action’.

In the book, Linda has compiled 50 years of her past writing into a decade by decade memoir. Released as an eBook on Earth Day, the book is available in paperback from the bookshop.

To offer her readers an avenue for climate action, Linda has also launched a companion website at There you can find inspiring messages, tips on reducing your carbon footprint, links to organisations to join, and advocacy actions to take. Her weekly Green Grandma blog is also housed on the site. Linda is also a member of Third Act.

Linda spent more than a dozen years as an independent journalist and later worked as a communications specialist for The Brooklyn Historical Society, Consumers Union, and Associated Press. At this stage of her life, her primary concern is to meet the challenge that climate change presents to her children, grandchildren, and the future of life on planet Earth.

→ More information about Linda and her ideas and activities on, where you also can sign up to receive updates on book news, Green Grandma blog posts, and more.

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Terry Leahy has been a lifelong environmentalist. He is a sociologist who is now retired from academia and living in Melbourne. His most recent book is on the permaculture movement, ‘The Politics of Permaculture’, and he is about to publish a new book titled: ‘Talking Turkey, System Change and the Gift Economy’

Here are some links to Terry’s writings and his podcast series:
Terry’s home page, ‘The Gift Economy’ is
Terry’s podcast series ‘System Change Made Simple’ is at
Terry’s book on permaculture is free to download from Pluto Press

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Simon Stiell, a senior minister in the Grenadian government and now Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, opens the Hour with a reminder to us all: “If you want bolder climate action, now is the time to make your voices heard.”

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The guests of The Sustainable Hour no. 502 cover various topics including climate action, plastic pollution, the role of governments, individual actions, and the need for system change.

The guests discuss the importance of Community Independents in addressing climate issues and the need for government accountability. They also explore the impact of our capitalistic system on the environment and the role of the fossil fuel industry.

Linda Mary Wagner discusses the collected wisdom from 50 years of environmental activism in the USA, wisdom she has collated into a book she recently released.

Terry Leahy discusses how capitalism prioritises profitability over environmental concerns and how ordinary people are forced to prioritise economic interests over the environment. He presents three proposals for system change: radical reformism, democratic socialism, and the gift economy. He emphasises the need for grassroots community building, citizen action, and a global revolution to bring about change.

The conversation highlights the need for collective action and solutions to address climate change.

The episode concludes with a three-minute video by Public Citizen where legal expert David Arkush and colleagues talk about the fossil fuel industry’s culpability in climate change and the possibility of prosecuting them for their actions.

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We hope that you enjoyed the century plus of collected wisdom presented in today’s episode by Linda and Terry. They are both constantly sharing their ideas with all those who will follow. They know that the world in which we currently exist serves very few people. They share our desire for a safer, more just, inclusive, peaceful and healthy world and know that it’s possible if enough of us stand up and demand it. Democracy isn’t a spectator sport.

Geelong and district residents have a chance to act on this tomorrow night at the West Geelong Town Hall. Starting at 5:30pm, our current version of democracy is going to be put under the microscope and alternatives investigated. Time for the complaining to stop and actions to start. Can we encourage the people who we elected to represent our interests in Canberra to do just that?

Yes, we all have this opportunity, so let’s grasp it with both hands AND we’ll be back next week discussing how this went, as well as with guests who are truth tellers about the climate crisis we face as well as the solutions they are working on. Till then: Be the difference!

“Firms are inherently in competition with each other. The manager of any business, whether it’s the owner or the delegated management of the business, has to try and make the most possible money because, otherwise what may happen is that some other firm will undercut them and kind of steal their market from under them. This happens all the time and it’s like a normal phenomena in capitalist society. It’s regarded as creating efficiency. It’s regarded as a good thing. Okay, so what does that mean for the environment? What it means is that bosses inevitably cut corners, they cut environmental corners because those environmental problems are not relevant to their firms accounting procedures.”
~ Terry Leahy, author, sociologist and environmentalist

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We at The Sustainable Hour would like to pay our respect to the traditional custodians of the land on which we
are broadcasting, the Wathaurong People, and pay our respect to their elders, past, present and future.

The traditional owners lived in harmony with the land. They nurtured it and thrived in often harsh conditions for millennia before they were invaded. Their land was then stolen from them – it wasn’t ceded. It is becoming more and more obvious that, if we are to survive the climate emergency we are facing, we have much to learn from their land management practices.

Our battle for climate justice won’t be won until our First Nations brothers and sisters have their true justice. When we talk about the future, it means extending our respect to those children not yet born, the generations of the future – remembering the old saying that, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”
The decisions currently being made around Australia to ignore the climate emergency are being made by those who won’t be around by the time the worst effects hit home. How disrespectful and unfair is that?

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Podcasts: “It’s time to talk about capitalism”

By Rob Dietz, Post Carbon Institute

As someone well-versed in the economics of sustainability, which includes some scathing critiques of business-as-usual neoclassical economics, I felt ready to attack the two latest “-isms” in our season of escape routes: growthism and capitalism.

Sustainable economies, first and foremost, have to be right-sized to fit within their supporting ecosystems. That’s why growthism – the pervasive belief that a bigger economy is the same thing as a better economy – makes no sense in a world that has already exceeded so many environmental limits. As for capitalism, it’s all in the way we practice it, which often amounts to abusing the rules to benefit the already-rich and harm the bulk of society.

Escaping growthism
Grow or die. It’s the governing principle of companies, investment portfolios, national economies, and even philanthropic foundations. Asher, Jason, and Rob lay bare the stats on everything from human population, energy consumption, global GDP, greenhouse gas emissions, and the size of cars and cruise ships, before concluding that the global economy should be named after the Wendigo from Algonquian folklore. They turn to the natural world for examples of self-regulation, along with promising new economic frameworks and on-the-ground models, for how to end Wendigo economics before it ends us.


Escaping capitalism
Capitalism ruins SO many things, from key sectors like college sports all the way down to novelties like people’s health and the environment. Jason, Rob, and Asher rely on their keen insight and otherworldly investigative talents to somehow unearth a few flaws of capitalism. But rather than wallow in the world of profiteering and privatization, they explore the solidarity economy and other alternatives to the “greed is good” way of running things.


These critiques come easily for Jason, Asher, and me (along with critiques of each other’s inane comments), but we also put in some serious work to bring you ideas for changing the infrastructure, policies, and cultures that prop up growth-mania and late-stage capitalism.

I hope you enjoy the episodes.

In gratitude,

Rob Dietz
Program Director
Post Carbon Institute

Decoding the operating system of global capitalism

By Jeremy Lent, author

As I conducted my research for the book I’m writing on an ecological civilization, one of the biggest insights that came to me was: “The system isn’t broken. It’s doing exactly what it was intended to do.” Which is to exploit people and extract resources to pump wealth as efficiently as possible up to the elite, at the expense of everyone else—humans and non-humans alike.

There are very few books that pierce through the extensive layers of cultural hegemony that cloak this extractive system in its shiny veneer, showing the underlying operating system of wealth accumulation that drives it. When I read Marjorie Kelly’s recent book, Wealth Supremacy: How the Extractive Economy and the Biased Rules of Capitalism Drive Today’s Crises, I knew that I had hit pay-dirt. 

Marjorie’s work pierces through conventional norms by “naming the unnamed,” showing how criteria generally taken for granted such as fiduciary duty and corporate profit maximization are in fact manifestations of a profound cultural pathology. Explaining how government’s primary role has been defined to protect wealth, and how financialization has created a computerized superstructure that intensifies extraction exponentially, Marjorie reveals the inner workings of the system driving our civilization to the precipice.

What Marjorie shows is that, if if we want to change our civilization’s trajectory, we have to transform it at the deepest level—all the way to capitalism’s operating system, which is summarized by her book’s title. As we consider the possibility of a life-affirming future through an ecological civilization, it’s crucial to understand what really needs changing. Daunting perhaps, but necessary.

For these reasons, I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be in conversation with Marjorie on the Deep Transformation Network on Tuesday 14 May 2024 at 1:00pm Pacific (USA) to discuss: “Wealth Supremacy: Decoding the Operating System of Global Capitalism.” 

“Individual actions will not solve the climate crisis,” says Clover Hogan – a climate activist, researcher on eco-anxiety
and founding CEO of Force of Nature, a youth nonprofit mobilising mindsets for climate action.

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Transcript – The Sustainable Hour no. 502

Simon Stiell:
Every voice makes a difference. Yours have never been more important. If you want bolder climate action, now is the time to make your voices heard.

Jingle: The Sustainable Hour. For a green, clean, sustainable Geelong. The Sustainable Hour. 

Anthony Gleeson:
Welcome to The Sustainable Hour. We’d like to acknowledge that we’re broadcasting from the land of the Wadawurrung people. We pay tribute to their elders past, present and those that earn that great honour in the future. We’re on stolen land, land that was never ceded – always was and always will be Aboriginal land. We cannot hope to have any form of justice without justice for First Nations people. We acknowledge that there is so much for us to learn from the ancient wisdom honed from nurturing their land and their communities for millennia before it was stolen. 

Mik Aidt:
Community Independents. Should Geelong region have a community independent? That’s the question being asked tomorrow at 5:30pm at the Geelong West Town Hall. 200 people have been writing letters to their local representatives, that’s Libby Coker and Richard Marles, and, well, they’re not really getting any answers. What they’re asking is: ‘What are you doing about the climate? Why aren’t we seeing changes in policy in how many coal mines are being allowed to be opened?’ – and all that. 

This meeting tomorrow was supposed to be a meeting where they would come and give some answers to that, but they both said that they were too busy. So instead, who will be speaking tomorrow is a person who has been helping with organising a community independent victory in Goldstein. We have seven Community Independents now in Parliament, and the question at the next election will be: can we get more?

Could we actually create a government where the balance of power was hanging on the Community Independents instead of one of our big parties? That’s the question. We’ll tell you next week what happened. But better than that, show up tomorrow. It’s at 5:30pm at the Geelong West Town Hall, and it’s free entry. Over to you Colin – Colin Mockett OAM, with the news from what’s been happening around the world.

Colin Mockett OAM: The Global Outlook

Yes, thank you, Mik. And it’s very interesting. It’s probably more interesting because the big news item this weekend was: The government is cutting the HECS debts to thousands of students in Australia. That was a bill that was put forward by an Independent. It wasn’t part of Labor’s strategy at the beginning of the year, but that’s by the by. Here’s the World Round Up:

Our roundup begins in Brazil where three days of record-breaking rainfall late last week swamped the country’s southern regions causing mudslides, collapsing bridges and whole villages being swept away. The latest toll of deaths, the death toll, is 70, with many more missing.

Now it’s noticeable that last year a recurring theme on this weekly roundup was a number of temperature records being broken around the world. Each week I would come through with more of them. This year so far it’s a number of floods that are related to record-breaking rainfalls. We’ve even had record-breaking rainfalls ourselves, where a month’s rain in April fell down in one day over Easter. 

But now, I’d like to take you to Ottawa, Canada, and that news is very different. There, last week, a United Nations meeting on ways to cut plastic pollution found world nations divided among unusual lines. On one side was Australia and a range of other nations, including France, Rwanda, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, and Nigeria, all looking to establish the first ever international treaty to curb plastic pollution. But opposing them was a powerful lobby led by the United States, Russia, oil-rich Persian Gulf states and China. 

The key proposal called for a global commitment to set a target that would reduce primary plastic polymers. That means plastics made from petrochemicals that have not been processed before. The proposal would have set a sustainable limit on global plastic production, with a requirement for countries to transparently report their production.

More than 170 countries agreed to form a treaty on plastics in 2022, and they’ve been negotiating the terms ever since. At that time, our environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, announced Australia had joined the high ambition coalition of 20 nations aiming to secure a legally binding global treaty to end plastic pollution by 2040. But that was then. And then as now, the proposal was opposed by a cartel of oil producing nations led by the US and Russia – and China come to that. They proved to be intractable and the current trajectory, plastic pollution will double by 2040. And the rate of plastics that are entering the world’s oceans is set to triple in that time. Within 30 years, it will surpass the biomass of the world’s fish. There’ll be more plastic in the oceans and there will be fish.

Now, the Ottawa conference failure to agree means that a final decision must be reached in November in Busan in South Korea. Australia imports 90 per cent of its plastics, and activist groups welcomed Tanya Plibersek’s support for a global treaty to curb plastic production. But with the weight of nations that are opposing the move, nobody’s holding their breath that it’s going to be solved in South Korea.

And the last word came from the Worldwide Fund for Nature Oceans Policy Manager, Kate Noble, who said, Vestive economic interests are playing out in these negotiations in a major way. The UN values the global plastic trade at $1.1 trillion with a rapid annual growth, she said. So oil and petrochemical companies are fighting hard in this process to protect profits through growth in plastic production. 

Now in this regard, the 29th annual COP conference will be hosted like the last two COP conferences by an oil producing country. It will take place between November the 11th and 22nd in Baku, Azerbaijan. And this week, the organisers defended their decision to allow oil producing nations and fossil fuel multinationals to speak and take part in the proceedings. They released a statement saying that COP29, like its predecessors, will focus on advancing the goals of the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, including efforts to limit global warming, adapt to the impacts of climate change, and mobilise financing for these activities.

If you remember the last two COP conferences, held in Egypt and the UAE, both were criticised by environmental groups and they were saying that the cop system has been captured by fossil fuel industries. It’s looking to me like this one’s going to be no different. They’re saying the right things, and they’re likely to do the wrong things. 

Now to Manila in the Philippines where public school classes were canceled last week because the power grid on its main island was failing as the country grappled with a heat wave that is also affecting other parts of Southeast Asia. The Philippines weather agency said the heat index, which measures the temperature felt by individuals, and it takes humidity into account, was expected to remain at a record 45°C degrees in the range which is classed as dangerous, as conditions can trigger heat stroke from prolonged exposure.

Manila was expecting a high of 46°C at the weekend, and it could continue hitting record highs for two more weeks.

In Thailand, power demand reached a record 36,000 megawatts on Saturday, last Saturday, the Ministry for Energy said, because of that same heat wave, the country’s northern and northeastern regions are expected to be the hottest.

And final news is from here in Australia. The Federal Court of Australia in Cairns is hearing closing arguments at the moment in what proponents hope will be the first successful challenge to the Commonwealth’s climate policies on behalf of First Nations people. The case was brought by two traditional owners from Torres Strait, Uncle Paul Kabye and Uncle Pabye Pabye from Saibu and Baigou Islands, who’ve taken the legal action on behalf of their communities. They’re seeking orders that Australia cuts its emissions in line with the science. They argue that the Commonwealth, by not taking greater action on climate change, has failed in its duty of care to the people of the Torres Straits. 

In reply, Steven Lloyd, SC, for the federal government, told the court that Australia has no control over global climate change. We’ll await the judge’s verdict on that. It should be later this week. And that legal nice-a-thee closes my roundup for the week. 

Listen to our Sustainable Hour – for the future.

Anthony Gleeson:
Our first guest today is Linda Mary Wagner. Linda is an author, climate activist and blogger. She’s based in Albany, New York, in the USA. She’s just released a new book. The title is ‘Rearview Reflections on Radical Change’ with the subtitle, ‘A Green Grandma’s Memoir and Call for Climate Action’. Thanks for coming on the show! Tell us about your journey so far and the genesis of the book. 

Linda Mary Wagner:
Well, before I do that, I just want to say some truthtalking about actions. We have a Beyond Plastics action here in Albany, New York, to try to convince New York State to do something to reduce plastic availability in New York. So definitely all of the issues are global.

And the United States has a very big role that it should be playing – and trying to get our leaders here to play it is part of the reason I wrote my book. And also I have a companion website that I created in order to give people tools like, ‘What organisations can you join? What advocacy actions can you take? What can you do as an individual lower your own carbon footprint?’ ‘Can you get all of your favorite restaurants that you get takeout food from to stop using plastic containers?’ There are good other options! And so there are so many things that need to be done. 

Part of the reason that I wrote the book was because of my grandchildren. It started as a pandemic project where I realised I had 50 years worth of writings and files and boxes that I hadn’t published – poems, essays, journal entries, stories, and all of those, I wanted to make sure that my children didn’t have to deal with them when my time comes and I go on to my great… whatever.

And, I put that together, compiled it into five decades. So it’s a decade by decade collection where I introduce, these were the things that were going on in my life and the things that were going on in my world from the 1970s up through the 2020s, or into the 2020s. And that really was an effort to call up the kinds of radical change movements that I had been exposed to in the course of my life. And to think about those changes, everything from feminism to organising writers for the purpose of writer organising, up through in more recent times, the Black Lives Matter movement, the Indigenous Peoples movements, which really began for me back in the 1970s where I lived in upstate New York – the Akwesani peoples, the Mohawk tribe really owned this land – and probably my grandfather probably was farming on a piece of land that used to be a tribal land. 

But there are things that we’ve learned through other authors – like the book ‘Braiding Sweetgrass’ teaches us about all of the things that we can learn from native peoples, the most important of which is the most fundamental, which is that we need to be stewards of our planet. And I wanted to convey that in my book for the sake of my children and my grandchildren. 

Colin Mockett:
Yes, the biggest lesson, Linda, that we can learn from our indigenous people is that, I think, worldwide they never used up the resources of their lands in the way that we have under our capitalist system. They didn’t have the same mindset of absolute growth – that everything’s got to be growing each year and with no idea that anything might be finite. It seems to be an insurmountable hurdle because we can’t get across inside the capitalist system that we’ve got to reduce the amount that we use of everything. And as you started out by saying with plastics, plastics is a big problem. We have all swallowed the line that has been given to us by our leaders and the plastics and the oil industries that they are all separate. ‘The plastic is separate to the fossil fuel industry.’ It isn’t. Plastic – the majority of plastics – are made from fossil fuels, petrochemicals mostly, and they don’t need to be. There are other chemicals, there are other substances that can become the base for plastics. It’s just that the petrochemical industry has got it in its grasp but it’s not letting go.

Linda Mary Wagner:
It’s a big challenge trying to reduce the use of it at a time when they keep producing it. So no matter what we do as individuals, and it seems the fossil fuel industry has now taken up this way of blaming the human race for this problem, as opposed to… they keep pumping it out. And they know better.

And it just reminds me because the last real full-time job that I had, I was working for public health officials. And we were still dealing with the consequences of all the lies that the tobacco industry told about how there was really no problem with health effects from tobacco. 

And what’s going on with the oil industry and other fossil fuels is the same type of thing, where they’re pretending that it’s because we’re addicted, not because they’re telling us there’s no problem. And they’re the ones that are making the profit from both the burning of fossil fuels, the making of plastics.

The reality is the problem underlying it is the money in politics. Wherever we live, whether we’re in a decent democracy or not, we still have too much influence of corporate funding, corporate dollars that influence our political leaders. 

Mik Aidt:
But Linda, isn’t it so that most people have this attitude that ‘What can I do as an individual and how much impact will that have?’ You know, we rely on our governments to take care of us. ‘They keep us safe. If there’s an enemy, they will protect this country. And if climate change was such a big problem, they would take care of it.’ Isn’t that what we’re thinking? ‘Our governments will protect us. That’s why they’re there.’

Linda Mary Wagner:
That’s what we wish they would do. We’re being duped, in a way, because they’re aware. I’m quite sure that, you know, the leaders in the United States are aware of what we’re facing. And President Biden has done more than previous presidents. We’ve got a problem with the Supreme Court. I think if Al Gore had been the president, elected president instead of the Supreme Court deciding that George W. Bush would be president, then we would be in a different place right now. But we are where we are. And we’ve got to influence the people that we can and we have to influence who gets elected. 

Mik Aidt:
But Linda, what has happened is that the story in society has been hijacked. The story, the overall story. Like you said, with the tobacco company where we are thinking that, ‘Well, it’s probably okay, you know, I’m buying petrol for my car, I’m buying gas to heat my house and so on. As long as it’s legal, as long as you know, I can afford it, it must be okay.’ So the story in society is, like with the tobacco: ‘It’s probably all right’. 

Linda Mary Wagner:
If we think back to what happened to all the people who thought that it was all right with tobacco and developed lung cancer, all of the things, the problems that we have to remember. We can’t remain addicted to fossil fuels and all of the products that fossil fuels develop the way that people got addicted to tobacco. 

Colin Mockett:
Linda, can I just come in here very quickly? You’re there on the ground. You were right when you said that President Biden’s plans are much bigger and much greater than anybody has done before. But I’m more concerned about Trump. You’re there in New York with him. What are the chances of a Trump victory, really, that you can see?

Linda Mary Wagner:
I can’t believe that he would win again, but the polls say otherwise. Obviously the situation in Gaza with Israel has upset the apple cart in terms of the youth vote. It’s really hard to tell. We’re still far enough out from the election and far enough out from the consequences of litigation, where our former president is sitting in courtrooms all the time. It’s hard to know where that’s going to end up. It does seem like there’s quite a fracturing in the Republican Party, what we call here the Republican Party, which has become the party of Donald Trump. And it’s very different than when I was a kid and we had Eisenhower as a Republican president that I remember, who was a reasonable person who actually tax corporations at a rate that they should have been taxed at. But now we’re dealing with a very… it’s almost like a mass suicidal impulse. When you look at: Why would you follow this person? But it’s a realistic prospect. It’s realistic prospect enough that people like me are looking to where else could we go if we had to. 

Colin Mockett:
I can tell you there, Linda, I’m a tour guide in Geelong and we frequently get tour liners coming in to our, well, infrequently, during our summer we more frequently get tour liners coming. The Americans are now all looking and asking, among the first questions is: ‘How much is the real estate here and how easy is it to come here?’ And Trump is never far away from when they’re talking about why they’re looking to move. 

Jingle (voices of two former Australian prime ministers and an American senator):

Scott Morrison: This is coal. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be scared. 

Malcolm Turnbull: We are the land of droughts and flooding rains. We recognise that it is a very volatile and often capricious climate.

Senator Whitehouse: At the heart of this conflict is a battle between truth and science and power and lies.

Anthony Gleeson:
You’ve brought this book out. How does that feel for you? And what’s the reaction been to it so far? 

Linda Mary Wagner:
Well, I’m very pleased at some really great reviews I’ve gotten on Amazon. So that’s a good thing. A lot of people don’t like to buy through Amazon because they are definitely… They have their problems. They have their issues. So you can buy it also through, which is a way to kind of bypass the Amazon overtaking of the entire book industry. 

So I feel like the book itself was also, again, it’s… Doing a memoir is always somewhat cathartic. It gives you a chance to look back over your life and really try to put things into place and help yourself make sense of your own life. My daughter loved it. My brother called me to say he loved it. So those are the people that are most important to me, my sibs and my family. 

Colin Mockett:
And your grandchildren?

Linda Mary Wagner:
Well, my grandchildren are too young to read this book at this point. They’re like from two to eight years old. And I have five. So, I’m hoping that my website though, which I look at as a companion to the book, and that you can find at – that is something that I hope will continue to go on beyond the kind of natural lull in my book. And I’m planning to continue to blog there, and there I talk about everything from… Most recently, my piece on Saturday was about so many young people and what we call Gen Z, which I guess is 2012, people who were born from 2012 to something… At any rate, that generation are seriously considering not having children to the tune of almost 80 per cent, 78 per cent, partly because of climate change, largely because of climate change. So, you know, it’s affecting that anxiety that we talked about before is affecting everyone, particularly young people. 

I’ve written about climate anxiety as well on my blog. People may be surprised that the book doesn’t really get into… I mean, it’s not a book about the science of climate change. I am not a scientist. There are plenty of scientists out there and there are plenty of good books to read about what really is happening, why is it happening, and books that can be used to counter the claims either that climate change isn’t really happening or it’s not really caused by people or it’s not really caused by fossil fuels. There are plenty of good books about that. 

Mine is really about how you can make radical changes in your life. You can get through them and you can have positive outcomes from that. And that’s another reason why I try to always keep solutions in mind whenever I’m writing the blog pieces because we can’t fall into despair. We have to take action. We have to keep ourselves…. We also have to get out in nature and remember what it is that we’re trying to protect.

[Music jingle]

Anthony Gleeson:
Our next guest is Terry Leahy. Terry has been a lifelong environmentalist. He’s a sociologist who is now retired from academia and lives in Melbourne. His most recent book is on the permaculture movement, ‘The Politics of Permaculture’. I think today though, he’s going to talk to us mostly about a book he’s currently working on that’s just been sent to the publisher. Terry, welcome and thanks for coming on!

Terry Leahy:
Thank you, Tony. The book I’m working on at the moment is called ‘Talking Turkey, System Change and the Gift Economy’. So like, as you know, in the climate movement, people often talk about system change, you know, like, ‘System change, not climate change’. Like, especially the Socialist Alliance, they’ll be saying that, but not just them, lots of people in the climate movement are beginning to realise that capitalism is a huge problem – that we need to change the economic system.

And so that’s like a founding idea, if you like, a really central idea in the book that I’m writing.

And I wanted just now to kind of briefly explain that idea. Okay, so like capitalism as a sort of system of class, a kind of class society, you know, it’s not that much different to the Incas or the ancient Egyptians in some ways, but it’s got a very distinctive economic structure. And the thinking, what it is is that the means of production, the things that people use to make things, firms and businesses are all owned privately. And the way this works is that they either borrow money or they have money to begin with or they have equipment or whatever, and they put that money to work, or that equipment to work, in order to produce products and services, which they then sell onto the market. And that’s how the whole system works.

Now, what that means is that firms are inherently in competition with each other. The manager of any business, whether it’s the owner or the delegated management of the business, has to try and make the most possible money because otherwise what may happen is that some other firm will undercut them and kind of steal their market from under them. This happens all the time and it’s like a normal phenomena in capitalist society. It’s regarded as creating efficiency. It’s regarded as a good thing. Okay, so what does that mean for the environment? What it means is that bosses inevitably cut corners, they cut environmental corners because those environmental problems are not relevant to their firms accounting procedures. 

In other words: they’re only interested in one thing, because they need to be interested in that one thing, and that’s how to make money. 

If something… if they’re causing some other kind of problem that’s not not having any impact on their money making, they don’t worry about it. And they can’t afford to worry about it. That’s the thing.

So like, let’s look at all of those companies that have been selling PFAS chemicals. These are long lasting damaging chemicals that are used for firefighting foam and they’re used to protect waterproof couches and God knows what, they’re everywhere, right? These have been manufactured for about 30 years, something like that. And basically the companies that have been doing that have been knowing all this time that these chemicals cause cancers, that they last forever in the environment, and they’re causing damage not just to human beings, but also to wildlife, right?

So the reason why they’re doing this is not that they’re evil people or massively greedy or any of those things. The reason that they’re doing this is because those damages, those environmental damages, don’t come up in their accounting books as a loss. They’re not a loss to them – in terms of their competition with other firms. They’ve got to maximise their profitability. 

Okay, so that’s how firms are looking at it, right? Now let’s now look at how ordinary punters are looking at the situation. 

Capitalism also creates a situation in which ordinary punters don’t worry and can’t afford to worry about the environment. Let’s look at that.

When people go to vote, what they vote for is a party that they think is going to look after their economic interests. Because it’s a capitalist society, they have to have a job. They have to have to earn money to go out and buy anything that they need like housing or whatever, food, et cetera, et cetera. And so they’re gonna get rid of any party… they’re not going to vote for any party that they think is gonna have a bad impact on their economic situation. 

Now, I’ll just give you one example of that. I mean, there are… examples are everywhere. But in Australia, we had a situation where Bill Shorten, the Labor Party leader at the time was fighting an election, and what he was aware that the kind of middle-class environmentalist electorates in Australia were likely to vote for the Green Party. And what was happening was that in Queensland, an Indian businessman, Adani, was going to set up a huge mine and export vast amounts of coal to the rest of the world from Australia. And Bill Shorten was in a very difficult situation because if he went with the green voters in the inner urban electorates of Melbourne and Sydney and so on, that would play very well with them. But what actually happened was that the working class, both in Queensland, but in all parts of Australia, they voted in alliance with members of the working class who they thought could possibly get a job in the Adani mine. We’re talking about a small fraction of the Australian workforce, but the rest of the Australian workforce, voted in solidarity with them to oppose Bill Shorten and vote for the Coalition, the other party, like the Conservative Party, because they were angry that these middle-class greenies were going to take working-class jobs. This is an inevitability in a capitalist economy: People have to worry about their jobs. That’s one problem with the way capitalism works in the environment and in an ordinary punters.

Let’s look at the second one. The second one is this: Ordinary people in a capitalist society are working in what Marx calls ‘alienated work’. In other words, they take a job because it’s the one that they can get, that pays them money, but it doesn’t mean that they enjoy it. Half the time they’re being ordered around by a boss who they think is completely stupid and doing stuff which they maybe don’t think is what they want to do in their life, you know, right?

And so, you could see why in the 19th century, you know, like when people were really starving and hungry and so on, they thought: ‘The answer is a revolution. Let’s get rid of all these capitalists and magnates!’ – and so on. And what developed out of that situation was some sort of compromise. And the compromise is this, that as capitalism becomes more productive and produces more goods and services and more consumer goods, that the wages of the working class would go up.

That was achieved through working class struggle, through trade unions, through the labor parties and so on. And the wages of people, the affluence went up and went up in the rich countries, not in the poor countries. I’m not going to talk about that straight away, but anyway, it went up. So people have become committed to that kind of expectation and they use the consumer goods, which are causing all of these terrible environmental problems as compensation for, you know, like a working life which they don’t necessarily find particularly enjoyable. 

So that’s the second problem in terms of ordinary people that capitalism creates. This is why we need to move away from the capitalist system to something else. So there’s three proposals for system change that you’ll find around in the left, hanging around in the left at the moment, right? The one that’s most popular with environmentalists is what I call radical reformism. And it’s coming from like, okay, in the United States, Bernie Sanders, the Green New Deal, that kind of idea. And also from people like the peak oil writers in the United States and large sections of the environmentalist movement, the permaculture movement, and so on. 

So, okay, what’s radical reformism? So massively regulate the economy and drive down consumption through regulating resource use. You know, like you wind up with a steady state economy. This is Herman Daly’s idea from the 1970s. And you do things like, you know, the universal basic income, because this is going to lead to unemployment. So how do you deal with that? You pay people a wage, which is like three or four times the current welfare benefits. So it’s comfortable to live on that wage. That’s radical reformism. The second idea is coming from the socialist alliance and people like that, democratic socialists, which is basically nationalise everything, take over the whole economy.

And the government decides and plans, democratically plans the economy so it doesn’t cause environmental damage and pays people wages to do useful work and so on. That’s the second alternative. The third alternative is the one that I’m promoting, which is the gift economy, where we don’t have any money and we organise ourselves into voluntary working collectives and coordinate with other voluntary collectives to produce and distribute things.

So in that situation, there’s no alienated label because people are doing the things they think are important and distributing them as they want to do that. So the key question is, why would you prefer the gift economy to these other two alternatives? Well, my answer is like different for these two different systems. Well, okay, so let’s look at the radical reformist one. My problem with it is that I think actually it’s going to destroy the market economy on which it’s premised.

You know, like the radical reformists are saying to us, we can have a market economy, but we’re just going to massively regulate it to create all these environmental improvements. And my problem with it is that you actually destroy the market economy if you do that. And then you don’t know what you’re going to get. I mean, you might get anything else. I mean, you might get the feudal aristocracy or you might get democratic socialism or the gift economy. I mean, who knows what you’re going to get. In other words, you’re not telling the ordinary electorate.

The truth when you say we’re going to do this because you’re not going to be able to do it. Okay, let’s look at something like the UBI as a classic example. Why do we have to have the UBI? Because we’re going to massively reduce production and consumption. As we do that, people who’ve now got jobs won’t have jobs. So we need a UBI to give people a job. The problem is if you make it comfortable enough so that people are still politically committed to the radical reformist program.

It’s going to be comfortable enough that people won’t, either they don’t go to work at all and they say, I’m going to work on the UBI. There’s no motive to go and work for a boss, right? Or alternatively, what they do is when they go to work, they suddenly become very demanding. Right? If you don’t do things the way we want, we’re just going to go on the UBI. And you may say, oh, well, that sounds great. That’s not a problem. And in a way, that’s right. It’s not a problem, but it is a problem if you want to continue to run a market economy.

Because what’s going to happen is that firms are no longer going to worry about whether they’re making money or not. It suddenly becomes a non-issue. So why have money at all? It’s like, that’s one option. The other option is you have economic chaos like you had in Venezuela. That’s exactly what they tried to do. They tried to run a radical reformist program in Venezuela and it ended up with the most horrendous economic chaos and they ended up back with, you know, authoritarian capitalism of some sort.

Okay, that’s that problem. Okay, so let’s go back to the socialist, you know, one problem is it’s massively politically unpopular. Nobody wants the nanny state. So they certainly don’t want government taking over and owning everything and controlling everything through democratic planning. So that’s one problem. Politically, it’s just like a non-starter. The second problem, oh,

I mean, I could go on, but basically a lot of the economic problems of the Soviet Union are caused by that economic structure. They’re not just because Stalin was a nasty guy and Khrushchev was an awful authoritarian and so on. They’re actually a part of that economic structure. What happens is that in some ways it operates like a capitalist economy in ways that cause trouble. The government has to constantly buy off a working class who are alienated in their jobs by giving them more consumer goods and by looking after them. Firms compete to get government favour, so that means it’s not particularly efficient. The government has to create white elephants to soak up unemployment. Look at China. Look what’s happened recently in China. Two interesting things. One is the end of the COVID lockdown in China. Basically, that was because people would not put up with it anymore. What does that indicate? It indicates that the Chinese government has to worry about what ordinary people are thinking about their government. 

The other interesting thing was what happened when there was a huge downturn in 2008 in the global economy. China could no longer sell their industrial products into Europe and the United States and Australia and so on because those countries were going through such trouble that people couldn’t afford to buy things, buy stuff. So what did the Chinese government do? And this is a typical kind of effect of the largely nationalised economy is that they decided to create employment by putting up vast concrete towers of apartment blocks everywhere in China that people couldn’t afford to move into, that they couldn’t afford to live in, that there was no need for, and so on. 

These kind of white elephant projects are typical of almost nationalised economies or economies that are close to being nationalised, like the Venezuela economy and so on. And environmentally, that’s a huge disaster. I mean, the concrete and steel that was used in these high rise towers was just like crazy. 

Colin Mockett:
Yep. I’ve got a couple of elephants in the room, if you like. The first is multinational companies or multinational people who have got so much money, they can sway governments to their way of thinking and you don’t take those into account. The other thing is that we’ve got this straight wall. We’ve got this situation, world situation now, where the gap between rich and poor nations is such that most of the poor nations are trying to get into the rich nations, causing a refugee problem. And the rich nations putting up walls, getting back to Trump again, you know, saying: ‘We’re not going to allow these people to come in.’

And then you’ve got another parallel problem, which is the the developed nations, the rich West, they’re pretty old, whereas the developing nations are usually much younger. And we’re not taking that into account at all when we’re talking about who’s doing the work. 

At the moment, the situation is: The people that are doing the work are young people in developing nations, and the older people, us baby boomers, if you like, in rich nations, are enjoying the benefits of their work. 

Terry Leahy:
Let’s start off with the first issue that you raised: Yeah, absolutely about multinationals. I mean, you’re absolutely right.

Now, what has happened globally in the last 50 years, or whatever, is that up until the 70s in the rich countries of the world, the working class had a lot of economic and political power because basically by going on strike, and by employing parties which could kind of create an alliance between different parts of the working class and the middle class, they were able to push the capitalist class to create the welfare state and to increase wages and to increase leisure and conditions at work and so on.

What happened then was with globalisation, all of that power of the working class, or of ordinary people in the rich countries, was basically broken. And we have a situation now where in any particular country, if you start to put in place a whole lot of really strong environmental legislation or high taxing regime to pay for environmental retrofit, or anything like that, the money will go… the investment will leave your country and go somewhere else. The multinationals will basically hold you to ransom.

I mean, we saw that in Australia with the carbon tax, like, the way the mining companies and particularly the aluminium industry said, ‘If we have to pave this carbon tax, we can’t possibly make aluminium in Australia. We’ll have to take it overseas.’ And basically they did that anyway.

So it’s true. So what we have, we have a situation now where the kind of gains that the working class or ordinary people achieved in the post Second World War period, 1950 to 1980, is being massively wound back. And as you say, one of the key aspects of that is that manufacturing has been outsourced to low wage countries. 

So like in Britain, it used to be 40 per cent of the working population were doing manufacturing between about 1850 and 1980. And then now it’s dropped to 8 per cent. So that’s across the board.

Unfortunately, what it means is that people are even more worried about where their next meal is coming from and their income. And they’re even less keen on governments that look like they might be threatening our economic situation and wellbeing. And that’s what we saw with the Labor Party’s mild attempts to do something about this, you know, with the mining tax first, and then with the carbon tax. Both of these were wound back in that context.

So looking at the Global South: I mean, it’s absolutely right. People in the global south look for development. That’s what they want. And the whole climate disaster is really calling that situation into question. You know, the optimism which people in the global south have about development, and in some ways, a justified optimism, is being undermined by the climate crisis. 

I’m most aware of two parts of the Global South: One is Indonesia and the other one is Africa.

So in the African context, basically, drought has become such an everyday occurrence that it’s very hard for people to grow the amount of food that they did. What we used to have in these African countries is a situation where people would grow food for subsistence in the rural villages and the young men and middle-aged men would go off to work in capitalist firms in the big cities or on really big land in the states and grow things like macadamias and oranges for the rich Europeans to buy and all this. That’s all been massively challenged by the climate crisis. 

So we’re looking at a situation now where the sort of dreams of affluence, which are so important in the global South in kind of integrating them into the global capitalist system are being undermined. I think that’s all I want to say about that.

And I just agree with what you said about the young, young people of the global South doing the work while the baby boomers are doing well out of it. That’s all for a small fraction of the middle class in the rich countries. But overall in the rich countries, what’s happening is a stagnation of wages and living conditions. 

Mik Aidt:
So Terry, translating everything that you have said now into something that I, as a voter can use, let’s say as advice for the next election, how I should put my vote. What would be your advice in terms of my consciousness about… as you talk about, you know, if we want to protect life on planet Earth, we need to change something in the system where companies also have an obligation to take care of the environment. Isn’t it true? That’s number one. But how do I translate that into my voting? 

Terry Leahy:
OK, so I think the answer is really obvious in Australia. We’re very lucky to have compulsory voting in a preferential voting system. It means that your vote is not wasted if you vote for a minor party. While I think that the Green program is an example of radical reformism and can’t possibly work in the long-term, I also think it’s… The only thing we can do at the moment is to at least show the political elite that we care enough about these things to take a huge economic risk. And that’s why I totally favour voting for the Green party or some of these independents that you’ve been talking about, like the Teal Independents and so on – to kind of indicate to elites that we’ve had enough, you know, we need to do something different.

But obviously I think that’s only a small part of the political program we need. I mean, I think the kind of blockades that XR are doing and so on is also a part of that. You know, like, citizen action to try and shut down the machine in some way.

I think that the third thing we need to do is grassroots kind of community building action whether it’s specifically environmental or not, but it’s like, you know, neighborhood houses, voluntary action where people act together democratically to create work situations. And sometimes that includes actions which are part of the capitalist system, you know, like the workers’ collective, like Earth Workers’ Collective here in Victoria and so on. I mean, I think those, I call those things hybrids of the gift economy and capitalism. I think they’re everywhere, ranging from a belly dancing community group… whatever, right through to a huge commune or the Rojava insurgency in northern Syria. I mean, it’s like, we need to build alternative grassroots situations which move us slightly in the direction of a sustainable gift economy. 

The last thing is we need a revolution, obviously, a global revolution. And so I think we should be out there promoting an alternative system change, because the problem at the moment is people have got no hope. You know, they look around at the alternatives, which they can… you know, like radical reformism or the democratic searches and they all don’t want to do that. You know, like we need something that’s a bit more attractive. 

Mik Aidt:
Well, certainly here in Geelong, people have tomorrow at 5:30 in the Geelong West Town Hall an opportunity to stand up and call for that revolution if they want to. But we’ll see and we’ll keep you posted, Terry. Thank you so much. I was interested in hearing, Linda, your view from the Trump perspective on what you heard Terry talking about here. 

Linda Mary Wagner:
Well, from the Trump perspective, we definitely need to totally forget about the Republican Party in the United States. They’re basically starting to fight amongst themselves, which I’m happy to see. And we need an alternative as well. I think the majority of Americans are not happy that we have either Trump or Biden as candidates. Personally, I certainly think Biden is fit to be president despite his age. And the important thing to remember about a president is that he doesn’t operate in a vacuum. He has a team. And if you look at the team that Biden has in place now, it’s a lot stronger than the wackos that Trump would bring in with him if he were elected. So I’m hopeful that we’ll make the right choice in November. But that’s just the beginning because we have a lot of work to do towards developing alternative systems definitely to what we’ve got. And I think in the United States, it’s really critical to get the money out of politics, to reverse the citizen united decision, and to not allow that kind of money into politics anymore. I like the idea of collectives also. 

Mik Aidt:
I can tell you, Linda, that I feel that the Community Independent movement in Australia, it feels like a revolution because it’s coming from bottom-up. It’s people with a heart and a conscience who are stepping up and saying, we can make a difference. And then it turns out: yes, they are making a difference. We have seven Community Independents in parliament and they’re making a huge difference. The story is changing in this country. And maybe it’s a model that we can export to America once we’ve showed at the next election here that we were successful.

That’s where I’m coming from – and that’s why I’m optimistic also about, for instance, what’s happening just in our own little town here, Geelong, tomorrow at 5:30pm at the Geelong West Town Hall.

Leonard Cohen has a brilliant song where he’s singing, ‘First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin.’ And maybe here what we have to do is sing, ‘First we take Canberra and then we go to Washington.’ 

Linda Mary Wagner:
All right, I’d go for that. I like that idea. The grassroots here that I’m part of is called Indivisible and the senior movement is called Third Act. And those are essentially community-based bottom-up. So we’re working on it here!


Leonard Cohen: First we take Manhattan

“They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom
For trying to change the system from within
I’m coming now, I’m coming to reward them
First, we take Manhattan
Then we take Berlin”

David Arkush and legal experts – video by Public Citizen:

The fossil fuel industry is killing millions of people a year, both through air pollution and through the harms of climate change. They know that’s happening. They’ve known for decades that it was going to happen. They didn’t tell anybody and they didn’t warn anybody. Instead, they tried to hide it. And you only try to hide something if you know it’s wrong. Killing somebody with a culpable mental state, meaning you did it recklessly or you did it knowingly, that’s homicide.

The fossil fuel industry has known for a very long time, a half century at least, that burning fossil fuels will alter the Earth’s climate in ways that will be catastrophic. They’ve called it globally catastrophic. Not only have they been trying to hide the fact that this is happening, they’ve invested millions of dollars in what many would characterise as disinformation campaigns to confuse the public, to confuse regulators. They chose to launch a campaign of deliberate deception to try to hide the harms of climate, to confuse people about the climate science. 

I think it’s pretty clear from their own internal documents that the reason they did that was because they didn’t want anyone to stop them. They wanted to keep engaging in their business model as long as possible, knowing full well that it was extraordinarily lethal because they also knew it was extraordinarily profitable. They’re causing an enormous amount of death and destruction. They’re doing that with a culpable mental state. That’s homicide in just about every jurisdiction in the United States. They should be at the very least investigated for this culpable conduct. 

The most striking thing to me about the response we’ve been getting to this idea is that no one who’s an expert on criminal law, no one who’s a former prosecutor has told us that we’re wrong about the law. Some people say this will never happen because the industry is too powerful. They have too much political power. They have too much economic power. It’s certainly a David and Goliath story, but prosecutors have brought down lots of very, very powerful defendants. If you take a look at the tobacco industry: They were recently prosecuted. That was a lead counsel for the United States and the largest civil RICO case ever filed against the tobacco industry. 

The tobacco companies were basically lying to the public and had been for 50 years about the harms of their product when in fact their internal records and documents indicated that they knew that the statements that they were making were false. Basically it was fraud on a massive scale that took place over a 50 year period where the companies withheld this information from the American public for one reason. Profits. Money. That’s all it was. We had an uphill battle from the beginning. We had motions from the other side saying it was an impossible case to try and everyone said that it couldn’t be done but to get it done we shut out the noise, we read the cases, we read the documents, we put the case together and we won. 

Climate needs the same kind of attention. It’s not too late. And it’s important because the truth is what’s important.

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Events we have talked about in The Sustainable Hour

Thursday 16 May 2024 at 18:00-20:00 at Beer DeLuxe Fed Square – Sign up on

Events in Victoria

The following is a collation of Victorian climate change events, activities, seminars, exhibitions, meetings and protests. Most are free, many ask for RSVP (which lets the organising group know how many to expect), some ask for donations to cover expenses, and a few require registration and fees. This calendar is provided as a free service by volunteers of the Victorian Climate Action Network. Information is as accurate as possible, but changes may occur.


Stop coal and gas handouts | Australian Conservation Foundation

Students paying off their HECS debts generate more than twice the government revenue than gas companies paying Australia’s gas extraction tax (Petroleum Resources Rent Tax). $4.9 billion from students, $2.3 billion from gas companies like Woodside.
Petition demands: “To the Prime Minister, Energy Minister, Environment Minister and Treasurer: End coal and gas in Australia to ramp up climate action. That means: This decade, replacing existing coal, gas and uranium exports with a renewable-powered exports industry and climate-positive careers for communities. No new coal and gas projects or infrastructure. Stop spending public money on the fossil fuel industry – fund climate solutions instead.”


List of running petitions where we encourage you to add your name

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