Twenty years ago, my mother had a letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald. I found the page yesterday: yellowed, tattered, and almost as old as me. The Editorial criticised the Hawke Labor Government’s statement on environmental policy for failing to set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But, it said, “Australian Governments will not be walking away from the greenhouse issue. The electorate will not let them.”
Twenty years later – almost my entire lifetime – this Labor Government has finally set targets, but targets that scarcely aim to reduce Australia’s greenhouse pollution to the day of that Editorial. Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong have walked away from a safe climate future. The question is whether we will let them.
What we hear and learn about climate change is truly alarming – that soon there will be no summer ice in the Arctic; that already, people have been displaced from their lands; and that our greenhouse gas emissions, incredibly, are still rising. But these predictions of doom and gloom tell us that everything we do from now matters – and possibly, more so than any other time in recent history.
Even conservatives something else is necessary. Dr. James Hansen, the top climate scientist at NASA said recently, “It seems to me that people should be doing whatever is necessary to block construction of dirty coal-fired power plants.”
Even Al Gore said, “I believe we have reached the stage where it is time for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal plants.”
These are bold statements, and they are spot on.
Climate change direct action – such as stopping, blockading, disrupting, occupying, or preventing the mining, burning and exporting of coal – challenges the legitimacy of the coal industry. It challenges the license of the industry to operate in ways that are killing the planet and people for profit. Direct action puts a spotlight on coal: it says ‘enough!’ It allows us space to begin to break our dependency from this fossilised industry. Direct action hastens our efforts for a new, sustainable, decentralised economy. It drives the creation of thousands of safe, long-term, unionised green-collar jobs. Importantly, when we take direct action together, we create greater political power for ourselves.
Last December, the Federal Government’s White Paper handed huge compensation payouts and free permits to major polluting infrastructure like coal-fired power stations – polluting industries that already receive tens of billions of dollars of public money every year. They set a measly emissions reductions target of 5% on 2000 levels – or a 13% increase on 1990 levels, the benchmark of the rest of the world.
We cannot let them get away with it. We can make what is “politically possible” to be not what Professor Garnaut and Penny Wong judges it to be, but the political situation we ourselves create. For we deserve more than a public subsidisation of dangerous climate change. We need to create a movement that can force this government to commit to making 2010 the last year Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rise, and begin to decline – and do much more.
When this government goes to the United Nations climate change meeting in Copenhagen next year, they must go knowing the stakes are high – for the planet and for politics. They must go to Copenhagen knowing there will be political consequences when they fail to act with the urgency required.
And we must raise that pressure. We must raise the stakes. We must create unprecedented, unpredictable political consequences. We must build a movement that turns the tide of history and pushes government, industry, and the globe toward a safe and just climate future. We must build a movement that says ‘another world is possible’ – and we will be part of creating it.
Everything we do from now matters. Please, talk to the your friends, people in your classes and communities; ask yourself what you can commit to building this movement across the next few years. Let’s ask ourselves: If not us, who? If not here, where? If not now, when?