Monday, March 8, 2010

The climate movement in 2010

Last year’s national Climate Action Summit was groundbreaking. It set a national grassroots movement on its feet, something I haven’t seen on such a scale in my two decades of activism. A new ongoing network has been set up, with more than 100 groups now signed onto the initial structure.

The strengths of the first summit carried on through 2009 and helped activists proceed with a clear set of priorities. We had nationally co-ordinated actions, an agreed message and a sense of confidence to step forward when others held back.

Not everything worked as well as hoped, but we have a common body of experience to discuss at the 2010 summit, on March 13-15, and draw lessons from. We also have some much stronger backing with Beyond Zero Emissions and the Safe Climate Australia institute beginning to release their strategic planning studies to back up the ambitious project of 100% renewable energy in 10 years.

Two new campaign areas will rear their heads in 2010. The federal elections (and some state elections) will inevitably occupy us. And climate activists will need to find ways to influence the unions and bring them together with the grassroots climate movement.

The federal elections will be informed by the debate surrounding Labor’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) legislation. The government may try to sweep this under the carpet and change the focus to something else, but it is up to the climate movement and Greens senators to ensure the climate remains at the centre of the debate.

The Greens have already begun by proposing an interim carbon tax as an alternative.

Carbon taxes are already a topic of debate on the left. The Socialist Alliance (SA) began a debate about the place of a carbon tax in a climate emergency at its January conference. Chris Breen from Solidarity has circulated a critique of the Greens’ proposal, arguing against supporting it.

It is important that this years’ summit discusses the issue further, as our response to the CPRS is the starting point for our position in the elections.

The Greens’ proposal is far from being the whole solution, but the movement should oppose government attempts to weaken it. The biggest danger is that if any version of the CPRS is adopted, even with all the Greens’ proposals, parts of the population may think climate change is being dealt with.

The movement has to pursue its own goals of an emergency transition to renewables, keeping the pressure on the government and the big polluters, and staying loud, visible and mobilised.

The unions are among the largest popular organisations in Australia with the clout to force serious change. The term “Green” itself owes a lot to the Builders Labourers’ Federation “Green Bans” of the 1970s, where construction workers refused to work on jobs for environmental reasons.

But many unions are more worried about the effects of climate policy on their members — jobs and prices — than they are about the effects of climate change itself.

There is a long way to go and the summit needs to make a start.

The 2009 summit called mid-year “Climate Emergency” rallies. The rallies were respectable, but not huge. They were a learning experience.

They were an important step forward for the movement because they were initiated from the grassroots and raised demands based on the climate science.

We need a strong grassroots movement because the mainstream environment movement, the NGOs such as the Australian Conservation Foundation and the World Wildlife Fund, don’t take the radical positions needed to avert catastrophic climate change.

The NGOs are hamstrung by their focus on lobbying the ALP for so-called politically realistic change, and don’t have a perspective of mobilising masses of people demanding real action to stop the planet burning.

But the movement is so strong because there is now growing support for what some call the “climate emergency” message. Climate change has been left until almost too late, and now we are in a situation where “business as usual” politics and economics have no chance of saving us.

This is why so many previously liberal and even conservative environmentalists are beginning to take radical positions against the government and even against established environment NGOs. Climate activists are very determined and wary of compromise.

This summit has brought together a large number of activists from very different backgrounds. We have the potential to build an exceptionally strong movement learning from each other and working to maximise our strengths and agreements (not our weaknesses and squabbles).

SA supports this movement wholeheartedly. SA members are active in climate action groups around the country. For the movement to succeed we think it must continue to be broad, diverse, non-exclusive, politically independent and based on demands that can actually deliver a safe climate.

SA believes that lasting solutions to the climate crisis cannot be made without transcending capitalism. But regardless of any differences, SA is determined to work with any activists or groups willing to oppose business-as-usual climate policies.

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