Repower Australia not enough to empower climate movement

November 4, 2011
One thousand young people end the three day Powershift conference, Brisbane, October 17. Photo:

In the context of Australia’s struggling climate movement, the achievements of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) have been significant.

When the Murdoch press would rather report Lord Munckton’s denialist nonsense, a group that connects more than 70,000 young Australians to raise awareness and combat climate change is commendable.

However, AYCC’s politics are not without problems.

AYCC has proven effective in its strategy of appealing to young people, but the way it engages young people in discussions around climate change often lacks depth in political and economic analysis.

This was apparent at the recent Powershift conference, which I attended along with 1000 other young Australians.

At the conference, the tone was upbeat and focused on delivering empowering messages of campaigning success. But this came at the expense of fronting up to the hard facts of the fossil fuel industry’s monopoly within a profit-based system, and the “revolving door” between polluting corporations and government.

Another concern about AYCC’s politics is its assumption of an “apolitical” stance.

On the surface, this is meant to assert the group’s independence from political parties. But to say AYCC is “apoliticial” is still a naive position, which obscures the way any movement is grounded in politics and can often be a way of disguising a conservative agenda with progressive rhetoric.

The AYCC’s apolitical stance was also tarnished given the Australian government’s Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency was one of the principal partners of the recent Powershift conference.

In an article in the September issue of The Monthly, Guy Pearse unearthed how many big Australian climate NGOs, including AYCC, rely on funding from sources that strongly favour market-based solutions to climate change.

The “Purves Environmental Fund and the Poola Foundation … bankroll most of Australia’s best known environment groups,” Pearce said.

AYCC has played down the influence of this funding on its campaigns. But other instances, such as AYCC’s acceptance of funds from Westpac for the 2009 Powershift conference, are hard to dismiss.

Westpac is the largest shareholder in BHP Billiton, the word’s biggest mining company and second biggest coal exporter.

Important in this debate is to understand that whether or not these funding sources directly influence AYCC’s position, accepting this money compromises AYCC’s politics and limits its ability to ask more fundamental questions.

This problem is evident in its new Repower Australia campaign.

The campaign aims to make sure the $10 billion newly available from the Labor government’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation is actually spent on renewable energy and not so-called cleaner fossil fuels, such as “clean” coal and coal seam gas.

Of course, this is an important matter: the money should be spent on producing zero emissions energy.

The renewable energy industry in Australia needs as much support as possible, especially because it faces stiff competition from a booming gas industry backed by Liberal and Labor governments.

However, the one-off investment of $10 billion into a finance corporation has to be put into context.

The government is currently subsidising the fossil fuel industry at $12.2 billion a year, a single $10 billion fund for renewables is not particularly impressive.

Likewise, Australia’s military spending — the armed forces is a huge emitter of greenhouse gas — is now at $26 billion a year.

None of this was openly discussed at the conference, and the specific issue of coal seam gas, potentially the biggest threat to Australia’s environment and future, was barely discussed.

The Repower Australia campaign represents a troubling sign for the climate movement.

While the big environment NGOs’ “Say Yes” campaign in favour of the Labor/Greens carbon trading scheme has dominated the climate movement for the past few years, the explicit position was generally that, once the legislation was passed, the movement would start to get the front foot again.

Most of those who ran the “Say Yes” campaign said the carbon price was very far from what is needed, but that the climate movement needed a win, however small, before it could get back on its feet.

The Repower Australia campaign shows the back foot politics of the “Say Yes” movement is here to stay, even after the debates on the carbon price.

A campaign with the key demand that the government simply keeps its own inadequate promises is not enough if we are to make the kind of drastic changes Australia needs.


Hi Liam, I completely agree that "A campaign with the key demand that the government simply keeps its own inadequate promises is not enough if we are to make the kind of drastic changes Australia needs." That's why the demands of our Repower Australia are that Australia moves to 100% renewable energy (excluding nuclear, coal, coal seam gas, natural gas and all fossil fuels). The first step is making sure the CEFC gets cleaned up (we don't just want it passed, we want it improved, as you'll see in the petition asks). Good campaigns have SMART goals and wins along the way to their final goal, which is why we've chosen the CEFC as something tangible we can win, which is on our path to the ultimate goal of 100% renewables. Also, a petition is a great tool to enable people to have conversations about why we need to go to 100% renewables, that it's possible, and talk about some of the deeper issues. You'll see we provide resources on our Repower page (with more to come) about why conversations are powerful and how to have meaningful conversations about climate change. You'll also notice on our policy webpage that we do look at deeper issues and explicitly mention coal seam gas. In fact, I recently attended a 3-day strategy session on how to get Australia off our addition to coal power and exports - and AYCC will be playing a big role in that in future. We are also definitely not 'apolitical'. We are highly political but non-partisan - because we offer our support to the best ideas and policies, not to one political party. We have never mentioned that we are 'apolitical' and in fact in our mission (clear on our website) we explicitly state we're about creating 'political change'. Your analysis of our campaign and of the AYCC in your article leaves out many of these important points. Cheers, Ellen (National Director of AYCC).
Thanks for the article Liam and it's nice to see that not everyone who attended Powershift was won over by shiny marketing and flash mobs. I just wanted to bring it to your attention and everyone else who may read this article that earlier in the year Ellen Sandell, AYCC National Director, went on a business trip to Israel with the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce to try and source more funding for AYCC Whether I agree with it or not I can understand that a big part of AYCC's position is to change the system from within by working with governments, large companies and corporations, but in my opinion seeking contributions from companies who support and potentially sponsor the occupation of Palestine is a step too far. It seems as if AYCC has potentially forgotten what justice means in relation to climate change.
Dear Ellen, Thanks for your response. I appreciate your arguments and don't have any intention to be divisive in the climate movement. Critical and respectful debate is key here if we are to find the correct strategies to tackle this problem. However, none of what you have said speaks to the heart of my argument, i.e. that the Repower Australia campaign is much too much on the back foot at a time when we need to be pushing the envelope (no doubt you've heard the news about global emissions in 2010: ). I know AYCC's position on this, and that is to be strategic, as you say, and make incremental steps - fight win-able battles. I feel, and many others in the climate movement also feel, that this strategy is increasingly counterproductive, as it allows for the field of debate to be pushed much too far to the wrong direction and the entire perspective of the movement to become skewed. And rather than empowering people and the movement, I believe it cuts it off from its true (and necessary) potential. At a time when people all around the world are realising that what they thought was impossible has now become possible, opening up hope for a truly better world, the environment movement itself must get on board or we will be stuck trying to convince ruthless CEOs and politicians to be less destructive to the environment, and we will allow opportunities to pass by for uniting the people around demands that are adequate to the scale of the problem. The radical nature of our problem requires much more radical (though not unstrategic) solutions. As for your claim that AYCC does not pretend to be apolitical, I dispute that. You don't have to use the word 'apolitical' to be more or less explicit on this. For instance, on the About page on the Powershift website: "Climate change is the challenge and opportunity of our generation – it’s not about politics, its about ensuring a safe future for young people across Australia." Kind regards, Liam.
I'm getting very sick and tired of people with other agendas trying to take over the movement against global warming. You know full well that forcing other agendas on the movement will destroy it, but you do it anyway. This is an apocalypse. There is a 99% chance that we will fail and the entire world will be destroyed. It's time for every emergency measure we can think of. It doesn't matter what it costs, or how much it harms our other causes. This is the ONLY cause that matters at this point. All the other causes are meaningless without a planet. AYCC says "That's why the demands of our Repower Australia are that Australia moves to 100% renewable energy (excluding nuclear, coal, coal seam gas, natural gas and all fossil fuels)." It's an emergency, it doesn't have to be renewable! We urgently need to buy some time. Sustainability is a noble cause, but when the world is ending in a few decades it is not the time to quibble about whether a solution can be kept up indefinitely. We only need to buy time, or there won't be any future generations to worry about sustainability. Coal, coal seam gas, natural gas, and all fossil fuels, work by burning carbon. But nuclear very obviously does not. Yet it is put in that list because stupid cold-war era anti-nuclear activists would rather destroy the entire planet than make an honest attempt to save it without bringing on board their other agendas. If people want to campaign against nuclear power, they can do so in their own anti-nuclear movements, but keep it separate. Socialist objections to market based mechanisms also belong elsewhere. There is no chance that we can build a socialist revolution (for socialist reasons) before the world ends in a few decades. It might be possible to overthrow some elements of capitalism, BUT ONLY if they are directly necessary to stop global warming, and the campaign against them is marketed purely on those grounds. If you don't like a "solution" because it is a total fraud put forward by corrupt people with a vested interest in destroying the world, then say that. But stop making it sound like you dislike it because it offends your socialist ideology. Most people couldn't care less about your ideology. As for the military... The military WILL BE NECESSARY. Other countries are not going to stop emitting greenhouse gasses voluntarily, and we will need to force their hand, or at least be able to threaten to do so. We also need solutions that go against current so-called "progressive" dogma (destroying the world isn't very progressive). Including population control, stopping third world people from adopting a western lifestyle or moving to the first world and increasing their carbon emissions, and emergency geo-engineering projects to cool the globe by some other method even in the presence of greenhouse gasses.
"I'm getting very sick and tired of people with other agendas trying to take over the movement against global warming." Like those people who want to promote the disastrous nuclear industry as a "solution" perhaps? Oh, sorry, that's you. Your assertion that "We also need solutions that go against current so-called "progressive" dogma" is in itself pure dogma. Do you have any proof of the effectiveness of your proposed (and bizarre) ideas to enforce emissions reductions at gunpoint? It's quite correct that any measure (capitalist or otherwise) that actually helps stop or slow global warming is worthwhile. I hope the AYCC repower campaign goes really well and I wish them all the best.

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