Labor has a climate policy basically identical to the Liberals. Rudd’s drop in support after junking the CPRS, and the votes heading to The Greens, suggest a substantial minority is frustrated by this. The space is open for the climate movement to put an alternative on the map—but where is it?
The movement is making no consistent call for a plan of renewable energy spending. But the money and the technology are there. Yet there is feeling in the movement that building the social power to force government is not possible.
The major climate campaigns being organised across the country rely on a strategy of lobbying government instead of trying to mobilise people. The Climate Summit earlier in the year called for rallies on World Environment Day, but the movement has dropped these plans, meaning it is planning no major protests this year.
The 100 per cent renewables campaign and the “Replace Hazelwood” campaign in Victoria have focused on door-knocking, asking people to contact local election candidates.
Similarly, in NSW the main activity in the campaign against new coal power stations has been organising to meet with MPs to lobby them on the issue.
But mobilising for the ballot box is mobilising at the weakest point. The bounce in the Greens opinion polls hasn’t seen Rudd turn around on climate.
A small group of activists meeting their MP may alert them to an issue, but it’s easily brushed aside. But it does not show that there is a groundswell in the local area that wants action—to show that the movement needs to mobilise large numbers.
Instead of lobbying MPs, we should be mobilising as many people as possible to rally outside their offices. Local mobilisation has forced MPs to shift their position before. Phil Koperburg, a Labor MP in the NSW Blue Mountains, was pressured into voting against NSW privatisation after unions organised a meeting of 150 locals to express their anger. The climate movement could do the same now about the NSW power stations.
Large city centre demonstrations are also a central part of building a mass movement with the social power to force change. While coal generates huge profits and investing in renewables remains a huge capital expense, we have nothing less than a massive fight on our hands. We have to make it politically impossible for the government not to invest in a program of green jobs.
We need to build the movement’s power through our ability to organise disruptive civil disobedience, and win over sections of the union movement to using strike action to force change.
Protests can draw in people who take the arguments back into their workplaces. Workplace groups mushroomed in the movement against uranium mining in the 1970s because workers had been on mass demonstrations and weren’t scared to stick their neck out at work. Workers had confidence to take industrial action and refused to work with uranium—and it was that action that effectively stopped the export of uranium from Australia at the time.
Rallies are also a way of giving people confidence to take more radical action, like a mass sit-in or other civil disobedience. The feeling of mass support means people feel confident to go further. In the campaign against uranium mining at Jabiluka in the late 1990s, activists were able to organise large groups of people to blockade—both at the Jabiluka mine at company offices in Sydney and Melbourne—by building their power with numerous public protests. The tendency in the environment movement for pre-arranged “non violent direction action” doesn’t generate the same spirit—these tend to be isolated or organised by only those in the know, and more focused on the action itself than the political reason for it.
The thousands-strong climate emergency rallies were bigger than anything else the climate movement built last year—and showed people the size and breadth of the movement united, rather than broken up into small groups doing isolated actions.
We should not be deterred if our early efforts don’t mobilise thousands. The Movement Against Uranium Mining was launched by a small public meeting in Melbourne. But they were clear and uncompromising in what they wanted—an end to uranium mining in Australia—and they set out to win as many people as possible through petitions, fact sheets and debates. They mobilised their numbers as often as they could.
Their work also shows the necessity of being politically clear about demands. The climate movement has fallen behind the Greens’ attempt to negotiate a carbon tax with Rudd, or in the case of the 100 per cent renewables campaign, is calling for a feed-in-tariff (a form of public subsidy for corporations to build renewable energy).
Consumers don’t want to be slugged with a tax—polls show up to 64 per cent who want climate action don’t want to pay for it, and they shouldn’t be made to. Accepting the neo-liberal consensus that only the market can solve the problem has seen the climate movement calling for hugely inefficient solutions. The movement has generated no momentum by calling for this kind of tinkering.
Demanding massive spending on green jobs could win easy support. Yet campaigns like “Replace Hazelwood” have avoided a focus on the issue of jobs. A focus on “shutting down the dinosaur” of Hazelwood ignores the challenge of making sure there are new jobs for the workers in the coal industry who would be thrown out of work if Hazelwood closed.
The movement needs to find ways of campaigning to win new green jobs and defend already-existing ones. The protests to save Solar Systems last year—a factory that was to build the solar technology for a large-scale solar power plant at Mildura—show the possibilities. The closure showed more than anything else the reality of government inaction: solar factories were closing down while the government waxed lyrical about the ETS. The occupation of the Vestas wind turbine plant in the UK last year was a similar example that showed how unions could be won to support the fight for jobs. Trade unions in the UK have now thrown their weight behind a campaign for investment in one million green jobs, unthinkable before the occupation.
The climate movement needs to be uncompromising in the demand for solutions that will work—building renewables and public transport, now. And it needs to be willing to convince much wider layers of people of this. Then we can really put our demands on the political map.