Hosted by Angus Dermody and Tiger Perkins, Tuesday night’s Radical Education Week event emphasised the need for a just transition to publicly owned renewables in the Australian energy sector in light of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) staggering new report on climate change. It comes as the second event in theRadical Education series; a student-led public education programme highlighting the radical knowledge that’s fostered within and beyond the university, collectives, and activist community spaces.
Through speaker-led discussion, the talk contextualised the IPCC’s alarming findings within Australia’s political and environmental landscape. Both speakers underscored the importance of providing green energy jobs for fossil fuel workers, and the Australian government’s responsibility to cease its ‘gas-led’ pandemic recovery, in particular the new projects in Kurri Kurri and Narrabri.
The IPCC’s report, published on 7 August, is a culmination of three decades of research by over a hundred scientists, urging for drastic and immediate cuts to fossil fuel emissions to prevent catastrophic levels of global warming. It finds that temperatures will likely breach a ceiling of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels by 2030 with current emissions-reduction strategies, surpassing the ambitions of the 2015 Paris Agreement. This will expose us to the devastating effects of further warming, including far more extreme weather events.
“There have been reports every seven years but none have been this high profile or had such immediate information” said Dermody.
In Australia, 1.5°C of warming will provoke more fires, further sea levels rise, and fewer and more intense days of rain, while 2°C of warming will increase droughts across the country.
“It is not the end of the world… action is going to have to come from us, the general public,” Dermody said.
Some audience members expressed concern about the unpaid hours of work that went into producing the report, and the IPCC’s political position being too conservative in forecasting the intensity of devastation caused by climate change over the past few years.
Perkins slammed Scott Morrison’s new gas projects and emphasised the need to “eliminate the wedge between climate action and workers.” The Australian Prime Minister has consistently ignored 2030 global emissions targets and defended the sustained use of fossil fuels as the country’s primary energy source (around 79 per cent in 2019), noted Perkins.
“Gas is a fossil fuel, and subsidising fossil fuel projects these days with the state of our environment is utterly ridiculous,” he said.
The Kurri Kurri gas plant, a $600 million project for NSW’s Hunter Region, is central to this fight. “After it’s built, Kurri Kurri will only create ten full-time jobs. What it will create is 14.8 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dermody. The taxpayer-funded project is also far more costly than renewable alternatives like wind and solar, deterring investment from the private sector.
Similarly, Perkins denounced the $3.6 million Narrabri Gas Project to be carried out by Santos in the Pilliga, which will “poison entire water sources and ecosystems that rely on them” through fracking across 850 coal seam gas wells. The project, approved by the Independent Planning Committee in 2018, has faced continued resistance from Indigenous leaders, farmers, locals, and activist groups, with 98% of some 23,000 public submissions being against the project in the IPCC’s hearing last year.
The talk ended on a positive note, discussing what a just transition to publicly owned renewable energy in Australia will look like, including elevating the voices of First Nations people, fossil fuel workers and local communities. Speakers also discussed the need for “high-quality, well paid, safe, unionised jobs” in the renewable energy industry. “We reject the exploitative logic of capitalism,” said Perkins.
To close, a motion was passed to oppose Scott Morrison’s gas-fired recovery and support the The Kurri Kurri Week of Action, which began August 23 and will end August 30. A video in support of the Week of Action produced by Usyd’s Enviro Collective was also played.