The climate emergency is the biggest existential threat facing humanity. The continued rise in global temperatures has already caused more extreme weather events, rising sea levels and significant damage to entire ecosystems.
The catastrophic floods that have devastated the eastern coast of Australia, particularly around Lismore, are a direct result of climate change. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report reiterated that rising atmospheric temperatures would lead to more intense storms.
Yet governments here, and around the world, resist allocating the significant funds needed to make the structural changes to prevent the climate emergency from worsening. Residents trying to mop up after the floods rightfully feel abandoned and angry at Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s slow response.
How often will we be told that disasters like these are “one-in-1000-year events”, as New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet claimed?
Morrison downplayed the 2019–20 bushfires, ignoring warnings from the NSW fire chief Greg Mullins, and taking off on a holiday to Hawaii.
Young people are sick of this blasé attitude from people who claim to be leaders. A 2017 video of Morrison praising coal as something to “not be afraid of” has gone viral on TikTok, with young people dubbing audio over the top of the flood and bushfire footage.
Although Morrison and the Coalition government have been disastrous for the climate, Labor has also failed to take it seriously. Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has granted approval for 18 new coal mines and struck a deal with the serial climate criminal corporation, Adani. Labor supports the Kurri Kurri gas-fired power station, with federal leader Anthony Albanese saying that, if elected, he will pump more money into it.
Labor’s climate policy is a 43% reduction on 2005 emissions by 2030; this shows the main opposition party is not listening to the scientists.
A study by the University of Bath last year found that climate change is causing severe mental health concerns among people aged 16–25 years. It found that nearly 60% were “extremely worried” about climate change and that the concerns were exacerbated by governments’ lack of action.
Both the major parties are refusing to act on climate fast enough to avoid disaster, refusing to rapidly phase out fossil fuels or invest significantly in renewable energy. These steps are the bare minimum.
We cannot wait for yet another disaster; we need proactive, people-driven solutions. We need to reduce emissions across every sector of the economy, invest in public transport and public housing, put energy systems back into public hands and with communities given a real say on how they are run.
Land rights for Traditional Owners are critical for any new relationship to the land. It is also vital to ensure fossil fuel workers are guaranteed new sustainable and well-paid jobs. We must adopt First Nations-led land and water management systems and deploy regenerative and sustainable agricultural practices.
Australia, one of the largest exporters of fossil fuels, is holding back international progress by stalling climate agreements and refusing to meet targets. Australia is rich in renewable energy sources with lots of sun, wind and ocean that can provide sustainable and ongoing energy sources.
Polluting industries are still heavily subsidised by governments: the Australia Institute estimates that fossil fuel industries were subsidised $10.3 billion in 2020–21. This is public money and it must be used to help pay for the transition.
Seizing the assets of and taxing Australia’s billionaire oligarchs on the obscene profits made during the pandemic is another good way to fund the changes we need. It is also vital to tax the super profits of big corporations.
Our so-called leaders are aware of such solutions, yet they refuse to act. Without a powerful people-driven movement supported by unions, students and workers, they will continue to block and obfuscate any chance at change.
Young people are leading the modern climate movement. Greta Thunberg and others’ school strikes for climate have drawn millions of people into protests for the first time.
Fridays for Future (FFF), the organisers of many of the student strikes, have drawn together the climate and anti-war movements, calling huge anti-war demonstrations in Europe against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
These young climate activists understand the link between war and climate destruction, including the enormous greenhouse gas emissions of the United States military, and the geopolitical ramifications of a reliance on fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
Nuclear power plants in Ukraine are threatened by Russia’s invasion and any significant damage to these sites could have disastrous consequences. It is worth noting that these plants are fuelled in part by uranium from Australia.
We know the most vulnerable, those least responsible for the climate emergency, will be the first affected. According to the Red Cross, at least 1.7 billion people already face serious food and water shortages.
FFF has called an international day of action on March 25 and students around the world are preparing to take to the streets around the main slogan #PeopleNotProfit.
The strikes are calling for the replacement of the “flawed socio-economic model”. The call to action says: “The catastrophic climate scenario that we are living in is the result of centuries of exploitation and oppression through colonialism, extractivism and capitalism, an essentially flawed socio-economic model which urgently needs to be replaced.
"A system where rich nations are responsible for 92% of global emissions, and the richest 1% of the world population are responsible for double the pollution produced by the poorest 50%” needs to be junked."
Make sure you get to a School Strike 4 Climate Australia protests near you. Visit schoolstrike4climate.com/upcoming-actions to find your nearest strike.
[Isaac Nellist is a member of the Socialist Alliance.]