We are facing a climate emergency. The science shows that we need a rapid transition to renewable energy to stop runaway climate change.
The March 15 climate strike has provided an opening to show the kind of movement we need to win. Striking school students have called for wider support from uni students, workers and the community- part of a global strike in 78 countries.
The Climate Strike Organising Committee at Sydney Uni has built an incredible level of support for the climate strike. Only two weeks into semester around 40 classes and lectures had passed strike support or walk out motions, around 800 had signed a statement expressing support for the strike, the SRC had passed a support motion and NTEU staff have expressed their support and voted not to penalise students for striking.
The school students strike in December humiliated Morrison and electrified the country and March 15 will help finish Morrison off.
To win real climate action we will need a movement with the right demands with the power of the working class at its heart. Restricting our demands to Stop Adani isn’t enough and we can’t rely on electing Labor either. We need clear demands for genuinely radical climate action that challenges capitalism in Australia; hundreds of thousands of Green jobs and direct government investment in 100 per cent renewables in 10 years. We also need to build the power to overthrow capitalism. The profit motive is destroying the planet.
Failure to stop global warming will likely mean human suffering on a scale not seen before in history, rivalled only by the threat of nuclear war. But the solutions on offer from the major parties are pathetic.
Morrison and the Liberals’ current policy is a death sentence for the planet. It does nothing to reduce emissions. The minuscule $2 billion provided over a decade for “climate action” is funnelled to farmers for drought relief, in a scheme that is also providing funding to coal and gas plants.
And Labor’s National Energy Guarantee—developed by Malcolm Turnbull’s government—means leaving the decisions about how energy is produced to the market. Labor is promising 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. But their policy would allow existing coal power stations to continue operating until their 50 year lifespan is up. Coal plants still operating in 2050 is nowhere near good enough.
Unfortunately, the Greens are proposing a carbon tax that if implemented would set-back our ability to win climate action. Carbon taxes are anti-worker because they rely on the capitalist market to send a price signal and is inevitably passed on to consumers, making ordinary people pay instead of big corporations. They also do nothing to ensure the construction of the 100 per cent renewable energy we need.
No market mechanisms
When the Greens went along with the Rudd-Gillard Labor government’s carbon tax it handed the initiative to climate denier Tony Abbott to pose as a defender of living standards against the big new carbon tax.
Despite their repeated failure, market polices like the NEG, emission trading and carbon taxes are championed by the rich and powerful. They make climate action acceptable to big business, while conning ordinary people into thinking that governments are taking action.
This “market consensus” is why big polluting companies are confident governments are not going to take real action on climate change that will affect their profits for decades. Chevron’s recent Gorgon gas project off the Northwest coast of Australia is expected to keep producing gas for at least thirty years.
Supporting market mechanisms harms our ability to fight for climate action more than it harms polluters.
In 2008 there were protests of up to 50,000 people demanding climate action. But the activism and the mobilisations had all but disappeared prior to the school students first strike in December 2018. The carbon tax bears much of the blame. The Greens and NGOs backed it to the hilt, while it discredited and demobilised the movement and opened the door to Abbott.1
Many climate NGOs have now made Stop Adani their central campaign. There are important reasons to oppose the expansion of coal mines and stop the mine but “Stop Adani” can’t be the sole demand of a climate movement that wants to win. The prominence of “Stop Adani” slogan shows that climate NGOs haven’t learned from past mistakes.
Without a demand for a just transition and to create green jobs, “Stop Adani” risks becoming another carbon tax demand unable to connect and win wide support among workers. Unfortunately the CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland has come out in support of Adani because there is no clear call by the climate movement to create green jobs.
The choice to overwhelmingly focus on Stop Adani also means there is still no clear political alternative to market mechanisms being put forward. Selectively targeting an Indian company aiming to export can also dovetail with attempts by Western powers to blame developing countries for climate change. A climate campaign has to be focused on demands against our own polluters if we are going to cut carbon emission in Australia.
Big problems require big solutions
If we want to stop catastrophic warming the starting point is a platform for climate action that can actually cut emissions to the level necessary, win broad support and enable us to build the power we need to win this fight. The school students’ demand for 100 per cent renewable by 2030 is a great start.
To achieve drastic emissions reductions, we need deep and rapid cuts in emissions in electricity generation. With direct government investment, we can get to 100 per cent renewable energy in a decade.
NSW Labor’s pledge to establish a state-owned renewable energy company shows that direct investment is possible, but we need much more than anything they are promising. We need to re-nationalise the grid and take electricity out of the polluters hands.
We also need a just transition, with 300,000 green jobs, guaranteed, unionised employment and retraining for workers involved in the fossil fuel industry with no reduction in pay and conditions.
This can be funded by taxing corporations and ending the $11 billion annual state subsidies to polluters. These demands need to become common sense among those who want climate action.
Capitalism is destroying the planet
All the technology and wealth we need to get 100 per cent renewable energy in ten years exists, yet governments refuse to act. What’s missing is a sufficiently powerful movement making the right demands.
However, such a movement is only necessary because capitalism is systemically destructive. The bosses of corporations and others at the top of society know their profits depend on the continued use of fossil fuels.
According to the Fortune Global 500 list, seven out of the world’s ten biggest companies are fossil fuel producers or car companies- Royal Dutch Shell, Toyota Motor, Volkswagen, BP, Exxon Mobil, China National Petroleum and Sinopec Group. They are the heart of global capitalism.
Such companies are required to pursue profit above all else. And they can’t recoup on their existing investments unless they continue to pollute for decades. The kind of action we need would see trillions of dollars of investments become worthless “stranded assets”.
Environmental activist and co-founder of 350.org Bill McKibben points out that according to their own promises to shareholders, the world’s fossil fuel companies are “determined to burn five times more fossil fuel than the planet’s atmosphere can begin to absorb.”4
The kind of movement we need
Governments are often in the pay of big polluters. But even the most well-meaning govern a system locked into disastrous levels of fossil fuel consumption.
This is why strong demands are not enough; they have to be backed up by mass protests and the power of the working class. The greatest power we have is to strike and hit profits. When Sydney train workers threatened to strike for 24 hours in 2018 the Sydney Business Chamber screamed it would cost the economy $100 million. Imagine their panic if every worker went on strike for climate action.
Strikes have been at the heart of successful protests throughout history. In the 1970s and 1980s the Builders Labourers Federation in NSW refused to build environmentally destructive developments. Strike action was a central part of the movement against the Vietnam War. The movement against uranium mining saw workers and their unions refuse to transport uranium.
The March 15 global action has given us a glimpse of how to rebuild this potential. In Belgium one of the country’s biggest union federations covering 30 per cent of unionised workers has declared it is striking on March 15.
Here in Australia a growing list of unions have expressed support for the school strike and will take contingents to the rallies.The Sydney Uni branch of the NTEU- inspired by the level of student support – has issued a leaflet including a call to participate in the strike.
We need to build on this after March 15. The ACTU has announced protests on 10 April to kick out Morrison and change the anti-union laws. There will also be union action on May Day in Sydney. We need to make sure there are pro-working class climate contingents at these rallies.
The need for a movement with workers’ power at its heart exposes the problems with some school striker’s trying to channel the movement into electoral politics by supporting “Climate Leaders” like Zali Stegall. Stegall is a Liberal in all but name. She even opposes the ALP’s modest proposal to restrict dividend imputation for wealthy pensioners and has legitimised racism by calling for immigration cuts.5
Capitalism isn’t working, another world is possible
The existential threat we face demands a movement with the power to fight governments and the bosses to force them to act; and the power to overthrow them if they don’t.
There is no reinforced concrete wall between demanding reforms within capitalism and revolution. Fights for reforms can spill over into revolution, radicalise the wider population and build the unity and power we need to make revolution successful.6
But we need a revolutionary organisation that can fight on every front- that links the fight for climate justice to resisting cuts and championing workers’ rights, to fighting to end war, racism, sexism and homophobia. We need to fuse these struggles together into a movement to overthrow capitalism.
This is what Solidarity aims to do.
At Sydney Uni, the success of the school students last strike and the momentum against the Libs created the opportunity to electrify the campus building the climate strike. Solidarity members have been central to organizing students to effectively seize that opportunity.
We also campaign for the right to strike within the union Change the Rules campaign. The Fair Work Act makes it illegal for workers to strike outside of narrowly prescribed conditions – including for political and social causes like climate change. We need to break the chains shackling workers.
Our group also plays a key role in the refugee rights campaign that forced parliament to pass the Medivac Bill and got all the kids off Nauru this year. Unchecked, climate change will create tens of millions of climate refugees. We have to smash racism and welcome migrants. Sowing racist division is one of the main ways capitalists maintain their control when their system is in crisis.
Another world is possible; a socialist world where there is democratic control of production for human need rather than profit. We can only achieve socialism by means of a revolution, in which millions of working people collectively take control of society, with new democratic institutions. Join Solidarity, join the fight. Together we can win.