Abbott told ABC’s Q&A during the election period that the science of climate change is “highly contentious”. Yet Labor’s attempts to play on his climate denial were totally unconvincing—because unsurprisingly, nobody believes they care about climate change either.
The farce of the citizen’s assembly has only added to the dismay Labor generated when they dropped the CPRS in April. Gillard’s lame attempt to dress up the cash for clunkers scheme as an environmental measure was a joke.
Revealingly, cash for clunkers will be funded by a budget cut of $520 million partly from the government’s Solar Flagships program and a rebate scheme for solar hot water.
If you needed any more confirmation that the climate movement needs to radically shift the agenda, this was it.
10,000 marched nationwide at Walk Against Warming in the lead up to the election, but it was an action limited by the central demand for a carbon tax. The Greens have led the charge for a carbon tax; new MP Adam Bandt has called it “the key to dealing with the climate change challenge.” All the environmental NGOs are pushing the same line. It won’t get us anywhere.
Carbon taxes overseas have pushed price rises onto consumers. Business has found “innovative” ways to deal with carbon, like Sweden’s StatOil who have started to bury carbon underground to avoid paying a carbon tax. They have not stopped pumping oil. In Australia, petrol prices have risen in the past decade, but where are the new, free bus systems? The expansion of the rail system? Relying on the market is a recipe for failure and delay.
Australia is not immune from the economic crisis and it will get worse. Wages are stagnating and the minimum wage was frozen last year. We need a movement for higher living standards, not one that attacks them. There is popular support for a carbon price because it represents a form of action—but there is not support for rising living costs.
In Melbourne before the election a small group of climate activists built a rally for renewable energy at Parliament House, calling on the government to fund renewables. Unions are holding climate action conferences in Sydney and Melbourne in the coming months. Initiatives like this put winning jobs and investment at the centre and can shift the debate.
We can and must win union support for action. The ACTU has been won to opposing the construction of the nuclear waste dump at Muckaty station—if we encouraged the same for the two planned new coal-fired power stations in New South Wales it would put enormous pressure on the state government to abandon the plans.
Many climate activists were excited about The Greens’ high vote, and so they should be. But The Greens argument that it would have passed the CPRS if the government negotiated with it instead of the Liberals shows the movement can’t rely on them. What stopped The Greens voting for the CPRS was the climate action movement. It must now shift The Greens from support for a carbon tax to support for direct investment in renewable energy and public transport. Bold demands can win bold change. There is no shortage of enthusiasm—let’s make it count for something.

Amy Thomas

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