We need to change the system, not the climate

June 29, 2018
Anti-Adani protest in Sydney on June 29. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Climate change is already impacting our lives. As it gets worse, we will be affected by more floods and storms, bushfires and droughts.

Globally there will be less clean water and farmland available. This disproportionately affects those who have the least — women, Indigenous people and those living in exploited nations.

Climate change is a result of an economic system — capitalism — in which private companies’ profit-making is privileged over the real needs of communities and their environments.

Capitalism will not resolve the climate crisis because it cannot. It cannot because of its structured social and ecological irrationality. This is why, regardless of what the science tells us we should do, fossil fuels are still being burnt and sustainable energy systems still have to be fought for.

Capitalism, in which global inequality is the norm, also avoids real democracy. This is why, to overcome climate change, we have to transform society into one based on democracy and economic equality. Central to this is expanding Aboriginal land rights, poverty reduction, refugee rights, gender equality and workers’ rights.

There is already too much carbon in the atmosphere. The warming already in the system risks the crossing of various natural “tipping points” that would change the earth’s life support systems irreversibly on human timescales, and could raise temperatures further and faster.

If these points are crossed, it would raise average temperatures to levels that have not existed for millions of years, at a speed that many species would not be able to adapt to. The already dangerous rate of species extinction would accelerate.

In this warmer world, maintaining large-scale agriculture would be difficult or impossible. Without a secure food supply, we can expect outbreaks of famine, disease and war.

Bringing greenhouse gas emissions under control will require fundamental changes and concerted efforts at every level — international, national and local.

As world temperatures are already creating dangerous climatic events, there is no amount of new greenhouse emissions that is safe. We must stop greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.

Australia is one of the world’s worst culprits, with the highest per-capita rate of greenhouse gas emissions among advanced economies: it has a disproportionate responsibility for the historic emissions that have caused the current dangerous warming.

The policies adopted by both Labor and the Coalition are too weak: both have set targets too low to reduce emissions at the rate needed.

Carbon trading schemes in general are not a solution. These schemes are riddled with loopholes and are a dangerous distraction from genuine measures. They are designed to allow some polluters to delay emissions cuts, when we need all emissions to be cut as fast as possible.

Nuclear power is not a safe, clean, sustainable or viable energy solution. The nuclear industry has huge problems not faced by renewables.

The nuclear cycle begins with uranium mining. All the operating mines have a history of leaks, spills and accidents.

However, real options do exist.

Australia has the economic power to change quickly: it could abandon fossil fuels.

We have enough sun and wind to provide all our energy many times over. We also have the wealth to develop a renewable energy manufacturing industry and other appropriate technology. We can also provide this technology to countries with underfunded infrastructure, as a repayment of Australia’s climate debt for its historically high emissions.

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

Business-as-usual, pro- capitalist politics cannot solve this crisis. We need to look at radical measures adequate to the challenge.

The Socialist Alliance’s 11-point climate action plan

1. Set immediate emissions cuts targets to reduce net emissions to zero as soon as possible, including a target to achieve 100% renewable energy within a decade. Introduce emissions reduction targets of at least 5% a year. Nuclear power is not a clean energy solution.

2. Begin new international treaty negotiations aimed to get all countries to agree on a global target aiming for 90% emissions cuts on 1990 levels by 2030. Prioritise emissions cuts to rich industrial nations, and increase aid to exploited countries to help them to use clean energy for their development.

3. Start the transition to a zero-waste economy. Legislate to end industrial energy waste. Improve or ban wasteful consumer products, such as those with built-in obsolescence. Engage with workers and their unions to redesign their products and jobs so they are sustainable.

4. Require advanced energy effi ciency measures and solar photovoltaic panels be fitted to existing buildings with measures to subsidise owner-occupiers for excessive costs. Require landlords to progressively install the same technology in rental properties. Improve mandatory energy efficiency standards for all new buildings.

5. No to nuclear. End uranium mining. Close Ranger (NT), Roxby Downs and Beverly (SA) and no new mines to be approved. No dumping of nuclear waste. Shut down the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor and switch to clean, safe medical technologies.

6. Ban fracking. Shut down and cap unconventional gas wells. Begin phasing out coalmining and coal-fired power immediately. Provide replacement jobs and retraining on full pay for affected communities. Build new sustainable industries in these areas.

7. Redirect heavy industry, including remaining steel, aluminium and traditional car manufacturing industries, to manufacture essential products and infrastructure for the transition such as renewable energy generators, public transport vehicles and infrastructure and electric cars.

8. Bring power industries under public ownership. Set up public bodies to coordinate local, regional and national energy networks/grids. Plan and build a mix of renewable energy and energy storage technologies to supply 100% renewable energy. Technologies to be used include wind turbines, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal and storage, pumped hydro storage and batteries. New technologies such as wave or geothermal power should be included as they become available. Support community-owned renewable power generation and grids and upgrade the national grid to facilitate the new renewable energy system.

9. Ban the logging of native forests and move to tree plantations and alternative crops for fibre and timber. Begin an urgent program of agroecological revegetation to sequester carbon and restore and protect biodiversity in the face of a changing climate. Promote synthetic-fertiliser-free and pesticide-free cropping pastures and decentralised farm forestry instead of industrial plantation monocultures where practical.

10. Create measures to support farmers to move from industrial agriculture to agroecology and integrated pest management, starting with less productive land where practical, for carbon sequestration and biodiversity. Provide education, research and direct assistance to move to “carbon farming”, which stores carbon in soils, or causes reduced carbon loss from soils. Encourage new farming practices ending the use of chemical fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides for pastures, organic and urban food production. Oversee the process to enhance regional employment and maintain or improve food sovereignty.

11. Transition to free public transport, starting with elimination of fares for concession holders, and expand services to enable all urban residents to use it for their regular commuting. Electrify all public transport networks. Encourage urban bicycle use through more cycleways and better facilities for cyclists. Nationalise and upgrade interstate freight, passenger train and ferry services including high-speed rail from Adelaide and Melbourne to Sydney and Brisbane. Transition to making all new private cars and other road vehicles electric other than special-use vehicles, such as long distance vehicles for remote areas. Replace petrol stations with charging stations.

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