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?
Lateline ran a story on February 2nd on moves by State and Federal Governments to legislate tougher penalties for climate change protesters. It features footage from many actions student climate justice activists were part of in 2007 and 2008.
More than 150 climate change groups have opposed passage of the Government’s carbon trading scheme through Parliament, saying the targets are dangerously low.
TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Well, the Federal Government has lost the support of most of the Green lobby, including influential Australian Conservation Foundation for its key response to climate change. More than 150 climate change groups which met in Canberra over the weekend, announced today they would oppose the passage of the Government’s Carbon Emissions Trading Scheme through Parliament.
They say the Rudd Government’s targets are disastrously low and overly compensate the biggest carbon polluters.
Meanwhile State and Federal Governments are considering tougher penalties for climate change protesters, and tomorrow a major protest march is planned for Parliament House in Canberra.
Margot O’Neill reports.
MARGOT O’NEILL, REPORTER: Australia is set to see more protests like this, about 160 people were arrested last year with some climate change activists chaining themselves to railway tracks to block coal exports and to conveyer belts to disrupt power stations, others climbed smoke stacks.
After meeting in Canberra this weekend activists say there’s more to come.
JOHN HEPBURN, GREENPEACE: We’ll also see a lot more big protests at particularly the brown coal power stations in Victoria, some of the most polluting power stations on this earth, they need to be closed very quickly, and replaced with renewable energy.
We can do that now, we can create adjust transitions for workers in coal communities, and if the Government is not going to take that action then it’s up to the community to do it for them.
Because we simply cannot wait any longer, climate change is too urgent.
MARGOT O’NEILL, REPORTER: Federal and State Governments are reviewing the laws dealing with such disruptions after a request from the country’s State and Federal Energy Ministers.
GEOFF WILSON, QLD MINES AND ENERGY MINISTER: That shows you how seriously all Energy Ministers around Australia, including the Federal Minister see this action that was taken last year in various places.
MARGOT O’NEILL, REPORTER: In 2007 activists shut down Victoria’s Loy Yang Power Station for five hours.
GEOFF WILSON, QLD MINES AND ENERGY MINISTER: This action, they described as being peaceful. Only has the veneer of being peaceful, when indeed the outcome of the action has the high risk that electricity supply will be cut off to large communities with harmful impacts on those large communities.
JOHN HEPBURN, GREENPEACE: The kind of protests that we have seen at coal power stations have not resulted in any of those sorts of problems.
MARGOT O’NEILL, REPORTER: Protesters in the United Kingdom were last year acquitted of criminal damage charges after one of the world’s leading climate change scientists James Hansen from NASA testified that coal fired power stations were causing greater damage to the public good through dangerous global warming.
Now two of Australia’s internationally renowned climate change scientists, health expert Professor Tony McMichael, and climate expert Professor David Karoly say many climate change activists in Australia are unsung heroes, and they’d be prepared to testify in court on their behalf about the urgency of global warming and its impacts.
DAVID KAROLY, MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY: I would be prepared to provide support to provide, if you like, defence, testimony, that says that these activists are providing justifiable responses given the imminent danger associated with climate change.
MARGOT O’NEILL, REPORTER: In a political blow for the Government it’s formerly lost the support of much of the green lobby for its Emissions Trading Scheme, known as the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme due to start next year.
One of Australia’s most influential environmental groups, the Australian Conservation Foundation, as well as other groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth will now actively oppose Government policy unless it toughens up.
TONY MOHR, AUSTRALIAN CONSERVATION FOUNDATION: The two biggest flaws with the proposed Carbon Pollution Scheme is that it will lock in unacceptably weak targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions for many years.
It will also see billions of dollars going to big polluters.
MARGOT O’NEILL, REPORTER: But the New South Wales Minerals Council says the scheme’s targets are already steep enough.
NIKKI WILLIAMS, NSW MINERALS COUNCIL: It is a very tough target and there is no other county in the world that has one.
MARGOT O’NEILL, REPORTER: A draft of the legislation will be released publicly later this month.
This letter was written in response to an e-mail arguing that we should not criticize the emergence of ‘green capitalism’ & that doing so was giving far too much weight too ‘politics and ideology’. Rather we should focus our activism on encouraging ‘swift global co-operation’ to solve the climate crisis.
It has been argued that climate change will be solved not by ‘politics’ but instead by ‘swift global co-operation’. It’s implied that this means prioritising big international climate summits like Poznan recently and Copenhagen next year and seeing them as decision-making forums of the utmost importance. Rather than struggling against them, we have to influence them.
To me this logic means ignoring huge class divisions: somehow attempting to foster ‘co-operation’ between us and the rich, privileged climate delegates who’ll be staying in Copenhagen’s exclusive hotels next December. In terms of the Australian representatives, it means trying to influence a bunch of people whose idea of ‘emergency state intervention’ is almost certainly a lot closer to the NT Intervention than to legislation that will drastically reduce emissions. It also ignores our own history of struggle: since when has the state granted us favors because we asked nicely.
Rather than relying on the state or on elite delegates it’s in co-operation between ‘us’-amongst social movements and oppressed people acting & self-organising from below- that hope lies.
When I’ve talked with some of the many wonderful environmental justice activists around the country it has previously always been very clear which side we were on. Against corporations who destroyed forests & set up poisonous mines on Aboriginal land. Creatively resisting environmental criminals at economic summits & organising strongly in solidarity against the police repression that often followed. Arguing passionately against Kevin Rudd & Labor as well, and their grand plans for non-existent ‘clean’ coal and for carbon trading mechanisms that will hurt the poor.
For a world that wasn’t only a continuation of this fucking rotten system, but one organised in a decentralised way & without hierarchies and leaders. This wasn’t just about creating new, directly democratic ways of living for a small number of activists – but was a practice essential to helping make a world that could be ecologically sustainable.
Is this all forgotten & is it just ‘politics and ideology’ now? I hope not.
When people write about green capitalism it isn’t something that’s completely abstract and removed from our lives. I saw a small example of it when I got my morning news from the Australian today: they have a shiny new ad putting forward the delights of ‘green business’: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/business/industrysectors/greenbusiness/
My personal favourite is the bit from the notorious polluters at the Australian Coal Association – apparently they’re ‘working to reduce CO2 emissions’. Good on them!
Green capitalism can already be seen much more sharply in the Global South. It works, for instance, through ‘Clean Development Mechanism’ projects, imposed as a requirement of the Kyoto Protocol. These have devastated local communities and have been met with resistance. A waste landfill site in the Clare Estate township in South Africa is a classic example. Extolled by the World Bank as ‘environmentally progressive’; due to the extraction of some methane (one of the most potent greenhouse gases), the site produces toxins that have caused leukemia, tumours and cancer.
Capital is part of the earth we live in, part of the air we breathe: of course a movement for climate justice should critique it.
the night before we locked ourselves onto a coal loader i lay with a sleeping bag over my head, angry and tired to the point of muteness. sick of meetings, of planning and car troubles and people, scared and almost over it. we sleep all together on the floor and I try not to think too much in case I change my mind.
early early in the morning we pile in cars, with large metal tubes and small chains around our ready wrists. we drive to kooragang coal port as dawn threatens pale at the edges of the sky. at the entry to the port a streetlight reveals a car with police prop-legged around it, their feet in it’s open doors. i’m so scared our plans are about to stretch too thin and break. we get confused and drive past the site three times, u-turning in front of the police. i want to not be here now, i want to wake up when its over.
finally we pull up beside the fence and tumble out of the car. we go over the fence one by one. scrabbling with no foothold. an almost laugh. a hand scraped on barbed wire. we pass the heavy bits of pipe through the fence and walk quick across the bitumen together. no one comes to grab us, no one drags us down from the fence like i kept seeing in my head. we climb yellow metal steps, onto the machine that loads coal into ships, coal for burning in places distant. press with a flat hand all the big red emergency stop buttons, the conveyor belt winds slowly still and the sirens start. we keep frantically locking ourselves to bits of conveyor belt, changing our minds, changing place, and repeating. everyone else is calm now but i’m not. finally we are settled, feet dangling, knees brushing conveyor-belt rubber. we are locked with bits of pipe and now its easy, and i’m not scared anymore.
the machine is almost beautiful. draped with yellow lights in the almost fog and the sea sitting blackly close. the sun rises over the harbour and the cold air doesn’t sting. lib and me are wearing bike helmets. libby’s helmet is back to front. we are the hottest people ever. probably.
finally they find us. it’s a little awkard. some of them are condescending, tell us all the lies they said they’d tell. “this machine has been turned off for months. you’re not stopping anything.”
“we know it was on when we came,” i say. “whatevs,” i add. sort of undermybreath, sort of byaccident. lib laughs.
Dwayne comes and chats with us. he’s quiet and friendly and curious, it’s his first time with protesters. he tells us to be careful, follow the ritual and we’ll be okay.
the police are grumpy and not impressed. we smile politely, thank them, and refuse to do anything they ask. we wont lock off, thank you. we understand your concern, thankyou. good morning. etc. etc. they search libby haphazardly. out of her overall pockets come fifteen dirty tissues. meanwhile we stuff our faces quietly with chocolate. they lock off our friends. then they take apart the conveyor belt we are attached to. we apologise to the worker. he says its fine, smiling, he has nothing better to do.
we are no longer attached to anything, but the policeman is confused, and asks us to unlock ourselves. we point out we aren’t actually attached to anything. they make us walk down the steps. we stay locked together, yelling at oli that we love him, in case the police are being mean. finally they ask us to please unlock ourselves from the pipe. ok. then we take our helmets off. they tell us to put them back on.
they forget to search me, and put me in the paddywagon with a bag full of chocolate and an epi-pen. they recognise my novocastrian school jumper and chat with me about uni. i am lucky, processed by the nice cop, an ex youth worker. he makes sure we are ok, and never leaves us on our own. lib and sally dance in the back of the paddy wagon while they process me. they ask tony to put his number in front of his face so he does. the police man calls him a dickhead.
finally they are done and we get to ride home in an APEC bus. just the five of us, giggling up the back. it looks like my old school bus plus bars. it probably is. they take us back to camp, like school children, excited and back from a school excursion. a day well spent, and finally over.