It’s time for serious public investment to address climate change

Gosford election forum on climate change. Photo by Jason Connolly.

Below is my presentation to Climate Action Central Coast hosted election forum on climate change for the State Candidates for Gosford on Wednesday February 9. The chief guest speaker was Matthew Wright, founder and Executive Director of the groundbreaking group Beyond Zero Emissions. Matthew was the recipient of the 2010 Environment Minister’s Young Environmentalist of the Year award. Beyond Zero Emissions also won the Mercedes Benz Australian Environmental Research Award for the Zero Carbon Australia 2020 Stationary Energy Plan – written in collaboration with the University of Melbourne Energy Research Institute. NSW State Election candidates for Gosford Chris Holstein (Liberal), Katie Smith (Labor), Peter Freewater (Greens) and Peter Boyle (Socialist Alliance lead Legislative Council candidate) were invited to address the forum and answer questions but the Labor candidate pulled out of the Forum at short notice, and declined to send an alternate speaker.

* * *

To begin I acknowldege the traditional owners of this land. This land was never ceded and it always was and always will be Aboriginal land.

I would also like to thank Mira Wroblewski and Climate Action Central Coast for the invitation to address you tonight.

So far tonight nobody has mentioned today’s bad news on climate change.

It should have been front page news but instead it was tucked away on p.9 of the Sydney Morning Herald today:

“Australia’s climate change policies will lead greenhouse gas emissions to balloon out of control in the next few years, the federal government says in an annual report to the United Nations.

“Instead of the 5 to 25 per cent cut being offered by the government, the nation would pump out 24 per cent more carbon dioxide by 2020, the Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, said…”

WRONG WAY – TURN BACK NOW! That’s what we should all be thinking.

The three main things Socialist Alliance would do to address the climate change emergency (that is what it is, an emergency, a global emergency):

1. Begin major investment along the lines proposed in Beyond Zero Emission’s Zero Carbon Australia 2020 plan. (I don’t want to steal Matthew Wright’s thunder but BZE has done a wonderful job in showing Australia the future on climate change. The 100 or so volunteers who have developed this practical and detailed plan for a 10-year transition should strengthen our faith in our society’s capacity to rise to this critical challenge.)

2. No new coal or gas projects in NSW & begin a just transition away from coal and other fossil fuels (so we’d stop the Wallarah 2 coal mine, the offshore gas drilling, coal seam gas drilling, etc). There’s a little good new here because last month Advent Energy’s offshore drilling off the NSW Centrol Coast came up dry. But the bad news is the mess NSW has been put into because of the NSW Labor government’s privatisation of the retail rights in the power industry. It needs to be abandoned, annulled and reversed so that the power industry remains in public hands in order to be shifted fully over to renewabe energy sources.

3. Boost investment in public transport, suburban, regional and inter-regional services, high speed intercity rail, rail freight. Cut fares and transition to a free public transport system to radically shift away from our dependence on road transport.

This is going to cost a lot, most people would respond. Yes it will but not nearly as much as it will cost our society NOT to respond effectively to the climate change crisis.

BZE costs the ZCA 2020 at about $370 billion over 10 years – that’s less than 3% of GDP. It is a necessary and responsible investment.

Socialist Alliance is for public investment in a transition to 100% renewable energy by 2020, based in the main on long-term public borrowing.

This has been done before to build our national rail network and other infrastructure and can be done again.

We are not opposed to using price signals and taxes on carbon polluters but this is not enough, too inefficient and too slow.

Last Thursday, in the first of a series of updates to his 2008 Climate Change Review, Professor Ross Garnaut referred to the unmentioned elephant in the room in the discussion about recent extreme weather events, from Black Saturday to cyclone Yasi, and global warming.

Once again this was important news that never made the headlines. I found buried on p.18 of the business supplement of the February 5-6 Sydney Morning Herald:

”There is a general story of the warming of the world intensifying extreme events,” he said.

”It’s written deeply into the literature.”

What is more, Garnaut said that since his 2008 review the science has only become more alarming. ”The general trend is to confirm that the [UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in its fourth assessment report of 2007] underestimated the impacts of climate change. All the measurable impacts … are tracking right at the top of the range of possibilities identified by the [panel], or in some cases above them.

”Bear in mind that we’re just at the beginning of warming process,” he added. With warming now at less than 1 degree above pre-industrial levels, and with the sort of emissions growth that is going to follow from the industrialisation of China, India, Indonesia and other developing countries, ”if we are seeing an intensification of extreme weather events now … you ain’t seen nothing yet”.

Why is it when there is overwhelming scientific consensus that current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are already sufficiently high to carry the climate system past significant tipping points our political establishment is taking Australia backwards in addressing the climate change emergency?

Garnaut warned in his original report that we were coming up against “powerful vested interests”, the fossil fuel companies, the banks that have invested in them, etc.

That’s why Australian governments, state and federal, are not doing not doing what the science says we should.

And it is going to keep going like that until and unless the Australian people build a powerful counter-force to those “powerful vested interests”

What is the most predictable outcome of the coming NSW election?

The NSW ALP is going to get crucified in the polls. But if all that happens is the NSW voters punish the ALP by bringing in a Coalition government fundamentally equally (if not more) committed to serving those same powerful vested interests where is this going to get us with climate change?

The ALP will be pushed into “Opposition” but it won’t be a real opposition.

That’s why, in the coming NSW election, we need to focus on building the real opposition to both the corporate-first parties. If you are fed up of this no choice, you should support parties like the Socialist Alliance and the Greens, which have stood up against that selfish and socially and environmentally destructive agenda.

And we can’t afford to build such an opposition just in parliament. A real opposition that is capable of standing up to the powerful vested interests that are blocking Australia from seriously acting on climate change will have to mobilise in the streets, in the communities and in the trade unions. It will have to develop and grow new institutions of effective and direct democracy, such as the right to recall our political representatives, the right to community-initiated referendums on important issues, the formation of community assemblies to give communities a real say. We need to abolish the dictatorship of developers (embodied most infamously in the Part 3A powers in the NSW Environmental Planning and Assessment Act) and give the right to decide on all major projects and issues – especially climate change – back to the people.

Socialists need to talk more about investment - social investment in our common future. Socialism about more than taking the booty from the capitalist thieves and giving to all a happier lot! Photo by Jason Connolly.

The venue was kindly provided by the Gosford Uniting Church. Photo by Jason Connolly.

Central Coast Express Advocate 16-02-11

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