Susan Austin gave this speech at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart on September 21 as part of a global day of action on climate change. She is a member of Climate Action Hobart.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called a special Climate Summit at United Nations Headquarters in New York City on September 23. Shamefully, Tony Abbott will not be there, even though he will be in New York the next day for a security meeting. The security of our future is at stake due to climate change but he, and many of our other political and business leaders, is ignoring that.
As you know, a coalition of hundreds of organisations, spearheaded by 350.org, is holding a People’s Climate March today in New York. It could be the largest gathering of climate activists in history. There are climate protests happening in more than 2300 places all over the world this weekend.
There are 132 events happening today in Australia alone, including five in Tasmania. As well as this one, people are also gathering in Burnie, Deloraine, Lorinna and Flinders Island.
Our unified demand is this: we want action, not words. We are urging our world leaders to take the action necessary to create a world with an economy that works for people and the planet — now. A world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities.
In short, we want a world safe from the ravages of climate change.
We know that climate change needs to be confronted at all levels — the individual, the community and at state, national and global levels.
Before it was abolished, the Climate Commission warned us that this is the “critical decade” to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Based on the climate science, business-as-usual, “leave-it-to-the-market” policies cannot solve this emergency.
There is already too much carbon in the atmosphere to guarantee a safe future. We already risk crossing various tipping points that would bring average temperatures to levels that have not existed for millions of years. Most species would die out. Large-scale farming would be difficult or impossible. Natural disasters will continue to become more catastrophic and more frequent.
The hard truth is this: most of Australia’s fossil fuel reserves – coal, oil and gas – must stay in the ground if we are to avoid this. Yet the Abbott government has given the go ahead to building the world’s biggest coal port in central Queensland which endangers the Great Barrier Reef and may mean doubling our coal exports within the next decade.
Clive Palmer surprised us all and stood beside Al Gore and committed himself to join the fight to combat climate change, as well as promising to save the Renewable Energy Target. But at the same time he has been fighting to build a massive coal mine in Queensland's Galilee Basin.
The bad news is that the carbon price is gone. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Climate Change Authority, the Department of Climate Change and ARENA have all been abolished, defunded or are at risk depending on votes in the senate. The government wants to cripple or scrap the Renewable Energy Target even though it has been has been very effective at supporting the growth of renewables. It needs expanding, not scrapping.
Thankfully, due partly to our campaigns, Labor, Greens and Palmer United Party senators have vowed to block any changes to the scheme. But we have to keep the pressure up to make sure they do, so by turning up today you are helping to get the message out loud and clear — save the Renewable Energy Target.
We need a target to power Australia with 100% renewable energy within ten years or as soon as possible. No new coalmines or coal-fired power stations should be approved. Governments can and should build big solar thermal plants and wind farms now, and support community renewable projects, and they should upgrade the grid as needed. The funds can be found partly from ending all government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry – which add up to more than $10 billion each year.
Public transport should be massively expanded and made cheap or free. A few months ago Beyond Zero Emissions released an exciting report detailing how we could slash emissions by building high speed rail between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane at a cost way lower than the government estimated. They have also shown how we can get to 100% renewables within ten years, and move to low-carbon housing.
At a state level, there’s so much we could do, starting with protecting the amazing carbon sinks of our old-growth forests which are under threat again.
The good news is that in Australia the fossil fuel divestment campaign is doing really well. In mid-July, the peak body of the Uniting Church in Australia voted to sell its investments in fossil fuels. The World Council of Churches and the Anglican Church of Australia are also moving to divest.
There are campaigns at 19 universities, including Melbourne, Monash, Latrobe and RMIT, calling for them to sell their investments in fossil fuel companies. A fortnight ago, the University of Sydney announced it would suspend further investment in coal companies while it reviews its ethical investment policy. The same week, over 80% of students who voted in the referendum at the Australian National University said it should stop investing in fossil fuels.
Market Forces has just launched a website called Super Switch, which helps people compare various funds' investments in fossil fuels. And on the 18th of October, Market Forces and 350.org will coordinate what is set to be Australia’s biggest ever day of divestment action on fossil fuels. We are calling on thousands of Australians to turn out at bank branches around Australia and publicly close their accounts in protest if the big banks won’t stop funding the dirty fossil fuel industry.
Campaigns are also going strong around the country to defend our farmland, water reserves and climate from coal seam gas and other risky gas projects. The awesome victory at the Bentley blockade in Northern NSW shows what can do.
You might be wondering why we chose to hold this event at MONA — well, we thought that it would be good to do something different than the standard rally at Parliament lawns. MONA is an example of what can be done when people take initiative and think outside the square. Now more than ever, we as a society need to be doing things differently.
We need to radically transition to a low-carbon economy. Today we are part of a global movement calling for that. Tomorrow we must continue working with whatever campaign and community groups we belong to, to keep up the momentum for a safe climate future.