Climate, jobs and immigration: a solution

May 15, 2010
Ben Courtice. Photo: BCCAG/Picasa

I have been selected as the Socialist Alliance federal election candidate for the seat of Gellibrand in Melbourne’s western suburbs. I have spent much of the last 13 years as a union activist here, working in the manufacturing industry.

This is the “rust belt” — the old industrial heartland, and also one of the most ethnically diverse areas of the country.

Workplace rights, industrial decline, and the treatment of immigrants are all issues that have affected me here. But world events have returned me to the first political interest of my life: protecting the environment — in particular, stopping climate change.

My first involvement in politics was for the Greens in their historic 1989 election campaign in Tasmania, fought over campaigns to stop logging of old native forests and a proposed new pulp mill. Some things never seem to change! Climate change was an issue back then too, but industry-fuelled denialism buried it as a popular concern through the 1990s and until recent years.

I recently had the privilege to attend the World People’s Conference on Climate Change in Bolivia. Like many poor countries, Bolivia is ill-equipped to deal with the disasters that climate change is throwing its way. Its glaciers are melting, affecting the water security of millions, in a country that is too poor to have safe, drinkable tap water to start with.

Unlike Australia, Bolivia cannot simply build expensive (and polluting) desalination plants when water is short. Even if it had a coastline, the country couldn’t afford it.

Australia is one of the worst greenhouse gas polluters in the world. That’s just on our per capita emissions, and doesn’t even include our coal and gas exports.

Australia also has the economic power to change quickly: we could abandon fossil fuels. We have enough sun and wind to provide all our energy.

We also have the wealth to develop a renewable energy manufacturing industry and other appropriate technology. We can export this technology to poor nations, from Bolivia to Papua New Guinea. This is only fair: it is simply a repayment of Australia’s climate debt.

Such a program would revitalise Australia’s dying manufacturing industry. It would provide quality, skilled jobs for tens of thousands. It would also put Australia in a position to go from one of the worst climate offenders in the world to being an important part of the solution.

The current regime in Australia is leading the world in barbarism and not just in climate vandalism. We have troops in Afghanistan, carrying out a barbaric war on one of the world’s poorest people. We are ripping off our poorest neighbour, East Timor, of its oil and gas resources.

Australian-based mining and forestry corporations destroy the environment in poor countries across the world. And yet our borders are closed to the refugees fleeing the poverty and violence that countries such as Australia do so much to create.

Climate change will create many more. We need to create a just Australia that welcomes refugees and immigrants. Each arrival should be seen as another pair of hands to help us build a sustainable future. There is only one planet Earth, and it is time for Australians to be responsible citizens of this planet.

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