Serious climate action must challenge the system

August 28, 2015
Naomi Klein
Naomi Klein addresses demonstrators outside Toronto Police Headquarters in June 2010.

This week Canadian author Naomi Klein is visiting Australia to speak about why capitalism is incompatible with action on climate change.

Her book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate encourages everyone already involved in fighting for social justice and equality to see climate change as the “best chance we’ll ever get to build a better world”.

This vision is the antidote to the bleak picture painted by climate scientists and the knowledge that not just Australia, but the US and China have set targets that put the world on track for rises far above what the science says we can all survive.

Last week, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that July was the warmest month ever recorded and with a predicted El Nino, Australia is set to experience another hot summer.

Rising temperatures and chaotic weather are not the only outcomes of climate change. When this intersects with poverty, racism and unemployment, it is clear that the most vulnerable will be the worst off.

The good news is these issues can be tackled through the same measures we take to tackle climate change. It means transforming our economy and society from one where power is concentrated in the hands of the rich, into one where we enjoy a higher quality of life and greater equality thanks to the need to share resources.

It will mean investing in public infrastructure, such as transport, housing and health, and the creation of permanent, green jobs. It will mean greater democracy for communities to make decisions about issues that affect them; this includes Aboriginal communities having control over their land.

But it will not happen if we leave it up to politicians negotiating through international agreements.

The most effective action on climate change is the resistance to new fossil fuel projects. This action is being taken by communities who are fed up with government inaction and have waged militant campaigns to defend their towns from coal and gas mining.

Last year residents of Bentley, in northern NSW, blockaded a farm where Metgasco was intending to start drilling for unconventional gas. After months of an around-the-clock blockade, the government bowed to the pressure and suspended the licence.

A huge offshore gas project at James Price Point in the Kimberley was scrapped in 2013 due to public opposition. This year gas licences covering the NSW coastal region from Gosford to Illawarra have been repealed without any drilling going ahead.

These wins are hugely important because they show that we are not doomed to accept the political status quo. When politicians say it is not possible or reasonable to oppose fracking or coalmining, these campaigns show that people power can shift what is possible.

But although community campaigns can be successful, they are only a partial solution. A year later, Metgasco was successful in its court challenge and it still wants to drill for gas. This means residents will have to volunteer their time again to protect their community.

In the end, it is the system that has to change if we are going to have a safe climate.

After all, under the “free-market” rules of capitalism, Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer are allowed to build new coalmines without considering the consequences for everyone else.

A 2013 study estimated that if the known global fossil fuel reserves of coal, oil and gas were all burned, 2860 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide would be emitted to the atmosphere. This is more than two and a half times greater than the carbon budget allows.

It is clear that if we hope to stablise the climate at a safe temperature, then most of the world’s fossil fuels must stay in the ground. There is no other choice than to break the rules of capitalism.

Radical steps that used to be unheard of are now being discussed. Last week president of Kiribati Anote Tong wrote to world leaders asking them to support a global moratorium on new coalmines. His country is already being affected by rising sea levels.

This kind of radical action is possible. Research by Beyond Zero Emissions has found Australia could phase out coal and switch to 100% renewable energy within just 10 years.

Such an urgent shift has been done before. In 1991, the small socialist country of Cuba was suddenly cut off from half of its oil supply when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Facing devastation — including not being able to harvest food, run public transport, or manufacture goods — the government made a decision to switch to small-scale renewable energy, mass transport and an organic agriculture system. Within a decade it was no longer dependent on oil.

The majority of Australians are convinced that climate change is real and worth doing something about. Polling last month by the Climate Institute found 63% think the federal government should take climate change more seriously.

The biggest barrier to climate action comes not from ordinary people but from the most powerful people in the country. They are the ones who have the most to lose.

The goal of the climate movement should not just be to “raise awareness” about climate change, or convince people that action is necessary. Importantly, it should be about building a movement that can challenge capitalism.

There are no quick fixes. We cannot rely on geo-engineering, nuclear power or any other solely technological solutions. They are too expensive, dangerous and experimental to work.

Instead we need to build a large climate movement based on social justice. It needs to unite people from all backgrounds — trade unionists, Aboriginal activists, environmentalists and youth — and recognises the responsibility Australia has to countries that have not emitted much carbon in the past.

To help build this broad movement, global rallies are being organised over the weekend of November 28-29 to coincide with another round of UN climate negotiations in Paris.

Protests will be held around Australia on the same weekend.

Klein is also releasing a documentary based on her book in the lead up to the rallies. This will be shown via community screenings.

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