#StopAdani: Students say elections must be a referendum on their futures

April 25, 2019
The inspiration we can take from students striking for our collective future must shape this election outcome. Photo: Students 4 Climate Action

School students are right in carrying out mass civil disobedience to put the urgency of stopping dangerous climate change on the political agenda.

The School Strike 4 Climate (SS4C) movement is gearing up for its next national day of action on May 3. This time they are targeting Liberal and Labor MPs’ offices.

In an otherwise bleak outlook, the student-led movement is a voice of reason and science.

The climate deniers are reaching new heights: one Liberal senate candidate even accused the Bureau of Meteorology of cooking the books to make global warming look worse than it really is.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office is one of the SS4C rallying points. This is because the Coalition government is hell bent on helping fossil fuel corporations salvage the last iota of revenue from Australia’s vast coal and gas reserves, before making the inevitable switch to renewable energy when its profitability rises.

The climate deniers may be kooky, but they are also powerful. Many inhabit the Liberal and National parties, as well as right-wing fringe parties — but the Australian Labor Party includes some too.

Their mission is to facilitate, for as long as they can get away with it, the narrow business interests of fossil fuel corporations — and their current focus is getting Adani’s proposed Carmichael coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin up and running.

Federal resources minister Matt Canavan made it clear what the Adani fight is really over when he told the Australian Financial Review last year: “The main thing for me is to get the first coal basin in 50 years opened up in Australia…

“This has never just been about just the Adani investment. It is about opening up a whole new region of opportunity…”

The “opportunity” Canavan is referring to is, of course, the opportunity for giant fossil fuel corporations to continue to profit from Australia’s coal and gas while they still can get away with it.

There is a lot at stake. Glencore, BHP and Yancoal, Australia’s top three coking and thermal coal corporations, recorded huge profits last year. Thermal coal profits alone were up 60%, from US$2 billion to US$3.2 billion.

Together these corporations own about 42% of Australia’s black coal production.

Despite a slowdown in coal prices, the industry is clearly still making loads of money. It also remains a substantial contributor to Australia’s status as the top per capita emitter of carbon dioxide.

Gas exploitation

Gas is another major contributor to that dubious reputation. Australia’s fastest growing source of emissions is leaking methane from gas projects.

Half of Australia’s rise in carbon dioxide emissions last year came from just one source — Chevron’s Gorgon project in the Pilbara.

West Australia’s emissions have risen by a huge 27% in 15 years — the most of any state — and gas is the main culprit.

Despite this, Labor leader Bill Shorten announced on April 23 that, if elected, Labor would “unlock” $1.5 billion from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NTIF) to help gas corporations exploit the Galilee and Bowen basins in Queensland and the Beetaloo basin in the Northern Territory.

For years, the gas industry has been warning of the dire consequences of not opening up Australia to gas production. Now Labor is vowing to do just that, with funding from a public resource which should instead be detailed to upscale and massify publicly-owned sustainable renewable energy.

That Labor intends to abolish a public asset and spend part of the proceeds helping gas corporations tells you that the climate deniers are in the driver’s seat of both major parties.

Controlling renewables

Fossil fuel companies will fight tooth and nail against forfeiting a single cent from their heavily subsidised industry. But they are also, slowly, preparing for a future powered by renewable energy — in their hands.

Adani Renewables Australia, part of the Adani Group, has a solar farm in Moranbah, Queensland, and a second project on the go in Whyalla, South Australia.

Westpac, one of the big four banks that was forced to rule out lending to Adani, is the third bank to sign up to the “RE100 movement” comprised of companies committed to sourcing 100% cent of its global electricity consumption via renewable sources by 2025. The bank recently announced a power-purchase agreement with a solar farm, planned for Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.

These dual strategies help explain why fossil fuel corporations invest in both climate-denier propaganda as well as greenwashing campaigns aimed at showing they are good corporate citizens.

According to the progressive British think tank InfluenceMap, the world’s five largest listed oil and gas companies have spent more than US$1 billion on “climate lobbying” and “misleading branding” since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016.

The industry catchcry is “say one thing and do another”.

Climate election

The same could be said of both the Coalition and Labor, whose climate policies for the May federal election fall far short of what is required for a safe and just world.

SS4C has achieved an incredible result in the few short months of its existence.

Inspired by global student strikers, they have recast the national discussion on climate change by organising together and taking mass civil disobedience action — with nothing like the resources of their detractors.

They have thrown down the gauntlet to those seeking office: show us your plan for a safe climate or get out of the way.

The 2019 election is fast becoming a referendum on coal and, in particular, the Adani coalmine.

And just as well.

Every day, climate scientists are discovering new and terrifying evidence of dangerous climate change — such as the faster-than-previously thought thaw of Alaska’s permafrost releasing dangerous levels of the third most potent greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide.

Sixteen-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who inspired the global student strike movement, recently endorsed the idea of calling for a general strike for the climate.

Given the array of kooky but powerful forces wanting nothing to change, this may well turn out to be the best next step in the battle for real climate action.


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