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Slamming the brakes on history

How we can stop the climate crisis.

Photography by Aman Kapoor

In the midst of an unprecedented ecological crisis Australia is feeling the heat. 

The Great Barrier Reef has been destroyed and with the expected 1.5 degree increase in global temperature it will not be the only victim. Frequent extreme weather, deadly heat waves, mass biodiversity loss, and extinction are on the horizon and it will only get worse. By the end of the century, we will see a further increase between 3.5 and 5 degrees, an increase that will facilitate mass carnage

To rub salt in the wound, this will skyrocket the already present inequality, economic crisis, racism, and austerity- a deadly combination which will spiral us even further towards complete social, economic, and ecological collapse.

The perpetrators? A tiny number of giant companies: 71% of global emissions since 1988 have been caused by just 100 companies. Criminals who have trillions of dollars worth of investment sunk in fossil fuels. Without interference, these companies will continue down this path of destruction. 

The recent election of Joe Biden as the President of the United States brings hope for genuine action. With a pledge to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by half in less than a decade, it’s understandable. However, this isn’t enough. We not only need to zero out all emissions by the middle of the century, we need to withdraw them from the atmosphere altogether. Biden’s plan would still see the U.S. remain the second biggest emitter in the world by the end of the decade. 

Even with this glimmer of hope, there is a strong reason to be sceptical whether the targets will even be achieved.The plan itself relies on the use of ‘carbon capture technology’ which does not actually exist, and is yet another non-binding pledge. As the New York Times put it “If such non-binding pledges were a reliable currency, U.S. CO2 emissions would have peaked in the late 1990s.”With rising emissions and a heavy reliance on gas, Biden’s approach fails to match the scale and urgency required.

In comparison, Morrison can’t even pretend to be anywhere near reducing emissions. Following last year’s slump, his key economic policy brings support for a whole new series of catastrophic gas projects.

Morrison’s reliance on fossil fuels as a solution to the real issues of joblessness, skyrocketing electricity prices, and economic uncertainty in the form of the Liberals so-called ‘Gas-led recovery’ will not deliver. The lack of competitiveness of Australian gas both locally and in international markets means that unless the climate movement poses its own solutions to these issues we will once again play into Morrisons hands.

The vast majority of emissions ever released have been since the first international climate summit in 1991. In the Canadian province of British Columbia, emissions have increased under a carbon tax. Other mechanisms such as the EU emissions trading scheme also failed to have any meaningful impact on emissions, and in some EU countries emissions also went up due to manipulation of the ‘carbon credits’ system.

Market mechanisms like these have been implemented and embraced across the world as the solution to the climate crisis yet they categorically fail to dent global emissions. Through higher fuel prices, electricity bills and a race to the bottom in wages and conditions for workers, they make the world’s poor pay for the ecological destruction of the rich. Despite this, governments globally have sought to embrace these policies.

A recent study of the 2019 election produced by the Australian National University found that while 80% of voters thought more action was required to tackle climate change, voters were more concerned with issues of economic security. The Liberals won ‘the climate election’ by relentlessly posing climate action as a threat to jobs – and the climate movement had no serious response.

Genuine climate action would require a rapid rollout of renewable energy, public transport and more – something that only the government could do. A transition to renewables directly built and run by the government would generate hundreds of thousands of good paying, secure jobs. 

This is why we must insist that the climate movement must put public renewables and climate jobs front and centre. We need to mobilise the power to force genuine change, and we need to do this through the workers who have the power to bring this fossil fuel addicted system to a halt.

We saw a small glimpse of this when Wharfies at Port Botany walked off the job to join the 2019 September 20 climate strike. To see this kind of action on a wide enough scale to even begin to force change, we will need to show workers across the country that climate action means addressing the unemployment crisis, lowering electricity prices, and a more secure future economically. 

So what can we do as students? We can shut down our university with a mass strike, showing in practice that mass strikes are possible, and that we can achieve them with demands that put workers first. This could provide the inspiration needed to spark strikes by workers, and build real strength on our side. 

This begins with mass organising in the here and now; Activists brought nearly 300 people to the recent Student General Meeting – by meeting students, doing announcements in our lectures, convincing every student to become an activist for the campaign. 

We need this again on a much larger scale for the climate strike on the 21st of May. A serious strike of university students behind the banner of public renewables and climate jobs could pierce through the divisions between environmentalists and workers that the Liberals have exploited, and promote a credible alternative to this escalating catastrophe.

But ultimately, strikes alone will not be enough to force the most powerful corporations in the world to simply abandon trillions of dollars of investment. The existing system subordinates our very existence on this planet to their profits – and the whole of industry is tied to this setup by thousands of strings. Mass strikes can pose the question of who makes society run. But to answer it, we need the majority to not just refuse to work, but to choose on what basis they will go back to work – taking production into their own hands to run it themselves on a democratic basis. 

Only then can we have a society that puts people, and the planet, first – and bring runaway climate change to a halt.

This article was published in ‘Embers’, a pullout in Honi’s Semester 1, Week 11 edition.