West Antarctica ice melt a lit fuse for the climate

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing twice as much ice now as the last time it was surveyed, and its collapse may now be irrev

Gemma Weedall gave this speech at the March in May rally in Adelaide on May 18. She is a member of the Climate Emergency Action Network and the Socialist Alliance.

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This week I heard some news that really scared and shook me. Believe it or not, I’m not talking about the budget – although that did too.

It was the news that, according to two new independent studies by climate scientists, the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is losing twice as much ice now as the last time it was surveyed, and its collapse may now be irreversible. It would cause a sea level rise of three metres.

This is a climate tipping point – a critical point in the Earth’s system that when crossed, will mean the climate can spiral out of control, beyond the point of no return.

If we wanted a climate wake up call, this is it.

This doesn’t mean it is all over. It does mean we have irreversibly and dangerously changed the climate. But we have a choice about how far down this path we go and whether we take drastic action now to avoid the worst of the impacts.

Climate scientist Richard Alley said in response to these latest findings: “If we have indeed lit the fuse on West Antarctica, it’s very hard to imagine putting the fuse out. But there’s a bunch more fuses, and there’s a bunch more matches, and we have a decision now: Do we light those?”

Then I saw the budget.

I’ll quickly summarise what it held for the environment.

It abolished the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), which was established to support new renewable technologies, such as concentrated solar thermal power, which the Port Augusta community has been campaigning for as a replacement to the city’s ageing coal-fired power stations.

Huge uncertainty remains over the future of the Renewable Energy Target.
Funding for Landcare has been cut by nearly half a billion dollars over the next five years.

The National Water Commission has been axed. Funding to environmental NGOs and grant programs has been slashed.

Even less investment in the useless “direct action policy” than previously promised.

Most criminally, despite rhetoric of a “budget crisis”, the government has made no cuts to the massive subsidies to fossil fuel industry ($12 billion a year), no cuts to the diesel fuel rebate and it will abolish the mining tax and carbon price, and will not implement any disincentives to continue burning fossil fuels.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said: “As a nation we must not leave our children worse off.” Well sorry Joe, but the utter failure of the Coalition to produce credible climate policies will certainly leave our children worse off. Our young people are “entitled” to a world where we have a future, where policy is made on the basis of climate science, and fossil fuels are left behind for an age of renewables.

Forget a fabricated budget crisis, the real crisis demanding urgent attention is the climate crisis.

I’ll admit I was feeling pretty down after these two pieces of bad news.
Then I woke up a few days ago to some news that reinvigorated my faith in people power.

It was an announcement from the NSW Energy Minister that he will suspend Metgasco’s licence to drill for unconventional gas at Bentley, in northern New South Wales.
This was the direct result of thousands of community members blockading the site for several weeks in protest against the plan to turn farmlands into gas fields.

This was a landmark day in the battle to protect our water and land from the gas miners and reminds us that people power does work.

I’m also constantly inspired by the campaign to stop the Maules Creek coalmine in the Leard State Forest in NSW. It is uniting a powerful movement — farmers, traditional owners, city folk, environmental groups, religious leaders and many others.

Here in South Australia, we’ve seen the growing campaign to Repower Port Augusta with solar thermal power. This fight continues, not made any easier by the axing of ARENA, but the community won’t give up until we see a renewable energy future for Port Augusta, and I’d encourage you all to get on board.

When we ask ourselves who is to blame for these ongoing attacks on our environment, as well as the quality of life of working people, students, families and the poor, the obvious response is the Liberals.

We can and should blame them, but this is only a portion of the answer.

Who does this party represent, who do they answer to? The answer is Australia’s ruling class -- the mining magnates, the fossil fuel companies, the billionaires, the media barons. They hold the real power behind the scenes in our capitalist system where profit is prioritised above all else.

That’s why I’m an ecosocialist and why I believe we need to build an entirely new system that puts people and planet before profit in a way that the current system simply cannot.

Thank you all for turning your anger into action and coming out today. This is an excellent first step. But if we stop here, nothing will change. It will take sustained campaigns and mass action, in our communities, in workplaces, on campuses, in the streets.

The next steps need to be broad, accessible and democratic, and would I love to see many of you involved.

Always remember, there are more of us than there are of them. We have the true power, we just have to realise it.