Time for public investment to fight climate change

February 19, 2011

Peter Boyle, the Socialist Alliance upper house lead candidate in the March NSW elections, spoke at an election forum on climate change hosted by Climate Action Central Coast on February 9.

The chief speaker was Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) executive director Matthew Wright. Candidates for the NSW seat of Gosford, Peter Freewater (Greens) and Chris Holstein (Liberal), also spoke. Labor candidate Katie Smith was invited, but did not attend.

The article below is based on Boyle’s presentation.

* * *

So far tonight nobody has mentioned today’s bad news on climate change.

It should have been front page news, but instead it was tucked away on page nine of today’s Sydney Morning Herald: “Australia’s climate change policies will lead greenhouse gas emissions to balloon out of control in the next few years, the federal government says in an annual report to the United Nations.

“Instead of the 5% to 25% cut being offered by the government, the nation would pump out 24% more carbon dioxide by 2020, the Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, said…”

Wrong way — turn back now! That’s what we should all be thinking.

There are three main things the Socialist Alliance would do to address the climate change emergency (and that’s what it is, a global emergency):

1. Begin major investment in renewable energy along the lines proposed in Beyond Zero Emission’s Zero Carbon Australia (ZCA) 2020 plan.

I don’t want to steal Matthew Wright’s thunder, but BZE has done a wonderful job in showing how Australia can respond to climate change. The fact that 100 or so volunteers have developed this practical and detailed plan for a 10-year transition should strengthen our faith in our society’s capacity to rise to this critical challenge.

2. Stop all new coal or gas projects in NSW and begin a just transition away from coal and other fossil fuels.

That means we’d stop the Wallarah 2 coalmine, the offshore gas drilling, coal seam gas drilling and other fossil fuel projects.

There’s some good news here because last month Advent Energy’s offshore drilling off the NSW Central Coast came up dry.

But the bad news is the mess NSW is in as a result of the state Labor government’s privatisation of the retail rights in the power industry.

The power industry privatisation needs to be abandoned, annulled and reversed so that it stays in public hands, so it can be fully shifted over to renewable energy sources.

3. Boost investment in public transport, suburban, regional and inter-regional services, high-speed intercity rail and rail freight.

The Socialist Alliance would cut passenger fares and transition to a free public transport system. We must do this to radically shift away from our dependence on cars.

Most people would respond that this is going to cost a lot. Yes, it will. But it won’t cost nearly as much as it will cost our society if we don’t respond effectively to the climate change crisis.

BZE costs the ZCA 2020 at about $370 billion over 10 years — that’s less than 3% of GDP. It is a necessary and responsible investment.

The Socialist Alliance is for public investment in a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2020, based mostly on long-term public borrowing.

This has been done before to build our national rail network and other infrastructure. It can be done again.

We are not opposed to using price signals and taxes on carbon polluters but this is not enough. They are too inefficient and too slow.

In the first of a series of updates to his 2008 Climate Change Review, government climate policy advisor Ross Garnaut named the elephant in the room and made the link between recent extreme weather events and climate change.

Once again, this was important news that never made page one. I found this buried on page 18 of the business supplement of the February 5-6 Sydney Morning Herald:

“‘There is a general story of the warming of the world intensifying extreme events,’ [Garnaut] said. ‘It’s written deeply into the literature.’

“What is more, Garnaut said that since his 2008 review the science has only become more alarming. ‘The general trend is to confirm that the [UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its fourth assessment report of 2007] underestimated the impacts of climate change.

“‘All the measurable impacts … are tracking right at the top of the range of possibilities identified by the [panel], or in some cases above them.’

“‘Bear in mind that we’re just at the beginning of warming process,’ he added.

“With warming now at less than one degree above pre-industrial levels, and with the sort of emissions growth that is going to follow from the industrialisation of China, India, Indonesia and other developing countries, ‘if we are seeing an intensification of extreme weather events now … you ain’t seen nothing yet’.”

Why is it, when there is overwhelming scientific consensus that current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are already high enough to carry the climate system past significant tipping points, that our political establishment is taking Australia backwards in addressing the climate change emergency?

Garnaut warned in his original report that we were coming up against “powerful vested interests” — such as the fossil fuel companies and the banks that have invested in them.

That’s why Australian governments, state and federal, are not doing what the science shows we should do.

And it is going to keep going like this until and unless the Australian people build a powerful counter-force to those “powerful vested interests”.

The most predictable outcome of the coming NSW election is that the NSW ALP will be crucified in the polls.

But if all that happens is the NSW voters punish the ALP by bringing in a Coalition government equally (if not more) committed to serving those same powerful vested interests, then where is this going to get us with climate change?

The ALP will be pushed into “opposition”, but it won’t be a real opposition.

That’s why, in the coming NSW elections, we need to focus on building real opposition to both the corporate-first parties.

If you are fed up with the lack of choice, you should support parties like the Socialist Alliance and the Greens, which have stood up against the selfish and socially and environmentally destructive agenda of the big parties.

We can’t afford to build such an opposition just in parliament. A real opposition — one that will stand up to the powerful vested interests that are blocking serious action on climate change — will have to mobilise in the streets, in the communities and in the trade unions.

It will have to develop new institutions of effective, direct democracy, such as the right to recall our political representatives, the right to community-initiated referendums on important issues and the formation of community assemblies to give communities a real say.

We need to abolish the dictatorship of developers and give the right to decide on all big projects and issues — especially climate change — back to the people.


G'day Bowen Qld where the port of Abbot Point is predicted to become the largest coal port internationally 230Mtpa whilst being situated on the world heritage Great Barrier Reef. Qld now exports what is the annual emissions of every household every second and this is set to more than double in the next 10- 15 years as Asian markets open up and ports along the Great Barrier Reef are constructed. Our childrens future is being burnt in the coal fired boilers and blast furnaces of Asia and it is immoral! We could be leaders in renewable energies and can afford to do so. We just have no political will or backbone and the public remain largely ignorant. We are being manipulated big time by the corporate spin doctors with no serious action on climate change to date. What will it take after what we have just experienced with catastrophic flooding, cyclones, bushfires to do something?

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