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Climate and capitalism this election

by Susan Austin

The Vote Climate website, which analyses the climate change policies of different parties, gives Socialist Alliance the top score for climate change policy. I can only give you a brief introduction to our policy in the time we have tonight, but I encourage you all to take home a copy of our Climate Change charter which explains our policy and our 10-point plan in more detail.

Climate scientists say we have a window of around 10 years to make the necessary infrastructure and investment changes that can produce the emissions cuts that are needed. A modest target set 42 years into the future is not going to be enough. And any GHG emissions reduction target fails the test if achieving it still gives us runaway global warming. This is the main problem with the UK’s Stern Review, which adopts a limit for greenhouse gas concentration of 550ppm, even though, in Sir Nicholas Stern’s own words, this would produce “at least a 77% chance – and perhaps up to a 99% chance – of a global average temperature rise exceeding 2 degrees”. Scientists predict that an increase of more than 2 degrees could lead to a whole heap of other triggers and feedback loops leading to runaway climate change. The only responsible target is one that gives us the best chance of keeping below that 2 degree threshold, which means a maximum GHG concentration of 450ppm. Our targets are radical because they have to be, they are based on this science which says we don’t have a lot of time to make major changes. So for Australia we are calling for a 60% reduction in emissions compared to 1990 levels by 2020, including 95% of power station emissions, and a 90% overall reduction by 2030. And what’s more, we have a plan to make this possible.

Firstly, how can we cut our stationary energy emissions by 95%? Coal, the dirtiest of all fuels, currently produces about 85% of our energy. We need to bite the bullet and phase out coal over the next 10 years. Our policy includes a fair transition plan for coal workers. We need to bring all power industries under public ownership and democratic control, and begin a massive turn towards renewable energy. For example, we need to immediately begin constructing wind farms in suitable areas.

The government must fund research into further wind, solar photovoltaic cells, geothermal, concentrating solar thermal, waste biomass fuel, wave and tidal generation sources, with pilot solar-thermal and geo-thermal plants set up immediately. We need to create a power grid with distributed, diversified electricity generation for stability and efficiency.

A key part of our policy is to implement large-scale energy efficiency measures and start the transition to a zero-waste economy. This includes establishing an energy auditing department to investigate and end industrial energy waste, as well as raising energy efficiency regulations and improving or banning products that are not made to last. It includes launching a sustainable energy household conversion plan, with annual targets for solar power and heating installation. It means setting a 10-star energy efficiency rating requirement for all new buildings and subsidizing the upgrade of existing houses with all feasible energy efficiency measures. Schemes to increase the recycling, repair or re-use of products would be implemented.

Now onto transport.

Transport is responsible for 14% of Australia’s GHG emissions. The longer we continue with this transport model where cars carry 80% of people to work and trucks carry 60% of goods – the worse things will get. We need a publicly owned, integrated system of urban and regional public transport that can provide frequent, accessible services and what’s more, it needs to be free. We have done the maths and can explain how this makes good economic, as well as environmental, sense. We also need to nationalize and upgrade interstate train and ferry services, while making them cheaper than air travel.

We also need a revolution in farming. Our current agricultural practices consume huge amounts of fossil fuels. The government needs to encourage farmers with income, resources and training to make the transition to organic agriculture. Food production should be decentralized and localized to reduce the energy needed in transport and refrigeration.

Socialist Alliance would end all logging in old-growth forests and recognize their value as carbon sinks. We would of course stop the construction of Gunns’ environmentally devastating pulp mill.

Australia has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions in the world. We must lead by example in cutting our emissions, but also assist poor countries by supplying them with clean types of industrial and social development. We need to ratify Kyoto and negotiate a much stronger treaty, one that brings nations together to meet a global target of 90% of emissions reductions by 2030. We must also accept climate refugees.

Socialist Alliance does not support nuclear power at all, and believes it is a distraction from the real debate about how to deal with climate change.

I wish there were such a thing as clean coal but there isn’t.

I want to finish with some general points about the Socialist Alliance approach, and how we think we can tackle this issue when the two main parties are not prepared to take it seriously. Socialist Alliance runs in the elections to put forward socialist solutions and to try and win seats in parliament, but our election campaign work really is secondary to our involvement in community campaigns all year round. We are a party of activists. For example, we helped to initiate the Walk Against Warming protest in Hobart last year and are supporting this year’s Walk because we recognize that most major changes in society have occurred when ordinary people have joined together and campaigned publicly for change. Major changes like women being able to vote or bringing troops out of the Vietnam war came about not because one of the major parties changed their mind and departed from the status quo voluntarily, but because protestors led a groundswell, grassroots movement for change.

In fact Dr Mark Diesendorf, one of Australia’s key environmental scientists, says in his latest book, “With human induced climate change accelerating, non-violent social movements are the only means of effective action left. Individual actions and voting once every 3-4 years, while necessary, are not sufficient to bring about the radical changes that are needed urgently.”

So we are active in building a broad, independent mass movement for change.

We are also different to the other parties because we believe that we simply can’t leave it up to the capitalist market. Even Stern admitted that the capitalist market has failed completely on the issue of preventing climate change. For us to avert a climate crisis, the government must step in and reorganize the economy along sustainable lines. This will create jobs, open up more opportunities for innovation and lead to a better quality of life for us all. Socialist Alliance has concrete policies which can be implemented straight away, but we believe that in the long run, we need a different system with much more community participation and control, that can put the needs of people and the planet before the business of making profits.

SUSAN AUSTIN is a Socialit Alliance candidate in the upcmoming federal election and the above was the text of her speech to the Great Climate Change Policy Forum, UTAS, on October 7th

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