Climate justice seminar calls for action

Issue 

With the impact of global warming already being felt, it can be hard to feel positive about the future. However, an August 2 "climate justice" seminar at Melbourne University provided some positive directions for the 140 people who attended.

The one-day seminar finished with endorsement of a national week of action in September. Participants also called on the federal and Victorian governments to get serious about climate change.

The seminar opened with a very moving appeal from members of the Tuvaluan community. Emeretta Cross introduced her uncle Kileta Avene, an elder, who spoke of the imminent demise of the islands in Tuvalu and Kiribati. He said that climate change has caused coastal erosion, damage to drinking water, flooding and cyclones in his traditional home.

Hans Baer, a seminar organiser and Melbourne University anthropology lecturer, noted: "The people who've contributed least to global warming are the ones who are suffering the most."

David Spratt, co-author of Climate Code Red, said that many governments have a very conservative approach to climate change. According to Spratt, the office of federal climate change minister Penny Wong uses data that is three to four years out of date. He urged governments to abandon business as usual and regulate to stop carbon emissions. "We have two years to turn this situation around", he said.

Spratt's calls were echoed by Katherine Bradstreet from Resistance and Greens MLC Greg Barber.

The next plenary looked at debunking the myths about carbon trading, clean coal and the impacts of deforestation.

In a little-reported section of the federal government's green paper, Indonesia will be used for carbon offset projects under Australia's emissions trading scheme. Torry Kuswardono from WALHI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia, who addressed the seminar via an internet connection, questioned whether carbon trading would stop deforestation in Indonesia.

Socialist Alliance state convener Sue Bolton explained that "Emissions trading schemes are only likely to function where they are to achieve relatively minor, and slow reductions. We don't have time to wait." Instead, Bolton called for direct government investment in a renewable energy industry and in public transport.

Adrian Whitehead from Zero Emissions Network outlined an incident at the Bali climate conference in 2008 where he approached an economist to see how far the current economic system could cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The economist told him that business-led economics could only cut greenhouse gas emissions to 450 parts per million in the atmosphere. Whitehead responded that carbon dioxide levels of 300-350 ppm in the atmosphere could cause major disasters like the vanishing of Arctic sea ice.

The exchange with this economist confirmed to Whitehead that an emergency response to climate change is needed, and that the current economic system isn't capable of delivering it.

A range of workshops were held during the seminar. One workshop outcome was the development of a network to discuss alternatives to a new coal-fired power station for the Latrobe Valley.

The final plenary discussed future directions for the climate action movement. Speakers included Friends of the Earth activist Ellen Roberts, initiator of the recent Climate Emergency Rally and Socialist Alliance member Ben Courtice, Darebin Climate Action Now convener Carol Ride, Your Water Your Say spokesperson Chris Heisslers and Australian Student Environment Network activist Sam Cossar-Gilbert.