Activists meet to build movement for safe climate

Issue 
Panelists said the science of climate change becomes ever more alarming. Photo: Australian Climate Action Summit/Facebook

About 400 activists from across Australia converged on Sydney over June 21-23 for Australia’s Climate Action Summit 2013.

As the science of climate change becomes ever more alarming, and as the refusal of business and political elites to act becomes ever more glaring, the activists met to share ideas and strategies to build a strong movement for a safe climate.

At a main plenary session on the latest climate science, the Climate Communication Fellow at the University of Queensland and editor of skepticalscience.com, John Cook, said: “Our planet is building up heat at an astounding rate.

“Over the last four decades our planet has been building up heat at a rate of about four Hiroshima bombs worth of heat every second.” Watch his presentation here.

Australian Climate Commissioner and ecologist Professor Lesley Hughes said climate change is already driving more extreme weather events and species extinctions worldwide.

“The climate is now very different from what it was 50 years ago. It now contains more heat and more water. So in that way, all extreme weather events are affected by climate change in some way.” Watch her presentation here.

Professor Colin Butler, from the University of Canberra, said runaway climate change will have dire social consequences, particularly for the world’s poorest.

He said fossils fuels “are in fact Earth poisons which we are liberating to poison our atmosphere and oceans and, indeed, our common future”. Watch his presentation here.

Other sessions and workshops at the conference discussed various campaigns across Australia to support renewable energy, cut carbon emissions and keep fossil fuels in the ground. These sessions included speakers about campaigns against coal and coal seam gas, the threat climate change presents to public health, how to best communicate climate change science, and discussions about the wider economic and social changes required to deal with the climate threat.

Environmental journalist George Monbiot addressed the conference via video link on June 22 and called for a campaign against the “political corruption” that has resulted from fossil fuel company campaigning and donations to political parties.

He said no government around the world is “doing the thing that must be done above all others, which is to leave fossil fuels in the ground”.

Attendees at this year’s summit were noticeably older than in past years.

This raises an important issue for next year’s organisers: how to reconnect with a younger generation of climate activists.

Another big difference from previous climate summits was the attitude expressed toward the Labor government’s carbon price scheme. The first Climate Action Summit, held in Canberra in 2009, unanimously voted to prevent an earlier incarnation of carbon pricing — the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme — from passing into law.

In 2011, the summit said it could not support a carbon price that helped roll out fossil fuels (especially gas), subsidised polluting industries, locked in low targets or hindered rapid emissions cuts.

But criticism of the Labor-Greens carbon price scheme — which does all of the above-listed things — was not a strong feature at this year’s summit.

Several plenary session speakers, including Climate Action Network Australia’s Anna Malos, Greens federal Senate candidate Cate Faehrmann and the Australia Conservation Foundation’s Tony Mohr, urged climate activists to support the carbon price scheme, despite its flaws.

But in his plenary presentation, former Green Left Weekly editor Simon Butler pointed to the collapse of Europe’s emissions trading scheme and urged climate activists to “stop saying yes to a price on carbon.

“We cannot deal with climate change through crisis-prone markets that subsidise dirty energy firms.”

Butler called instead for an Australia-wide campaign to build publicly owned big solar thermal power plants and a commitment to a “job-rich public energy sector”.

The summit’s final session adopted a resolution calling for rapid carbon emissions cuts in line with the climate science and agreed that next year’s Climate Action Summit will be held in Brisbane.

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