Fri 21 Jun 2019
Whether it’s wars or elections, winners throughout history get to frame the story of what happened. Australia’s federal election one month ago is no different.
If the Coalition is to be believed, they won convincingly and now have a mandate to continue their do-nothing approach on climate and to wind back Australia’s progressive tax system. If the Murdoch press is to believed, Australians voted overwhelmingly in favour of coal.
However, in this analysis you would miss that the Coalition has a one-seat majority. You would miss that their primary vote dropped. And you would also miss that in the election, Scott Morrison repeatedly chose to champion his government’s renewable energy credentials – “what we have is $25 billion invested in renewable energy in this country between 2018 and 2020, which is an all-time record.”
In an election period, the fact that this renewable energy boom is occurring because Tony Abbott unsuccessfully tried to kill the Renewable Energy Target, the main driver for the current boom, is by the by.
However, post-election, this fact is instructive of how challenging the Coalition will continue to find governing.
While Abbott may be gone, so too are many Coalition moderates, either voted out like Sarah Henderson, retired pre-election or in the case of Arthur Sinodinos, are headed for the US. This means the Coalition Party room is filled with more people who are ideologically opposed to acting on climate and renewable energy. However, these issues aren’t going away.
Indeed, the impacts of climate change are becoming more obvious and more severe. In just the last year, we have seen an almost year-round fire-season, stretching emergency services. There have been record-breaking heatwaves and floods which killed people and livestock and, of course, severe and ongoing drought. These are set to continue and likely get worse.
This in turn further heightens public awareness of the climate crisis, which is saying something given that public concern about climate is at a record high. And while this public concern didn’t translate to electoral victory for parties with comprehensive climate policies, it is not going away.
The federal government is swimming against the tide of both public opinion and economics
The climate movement activated record numbers of people in the federal election. However, it seems that given the consistent polling showing an ALP victory, many did not get involved. Since the election, sign-ups to climate organisations have peaked. The Stop Adani campaign has had 3,658 new supporters sign up since the election, while new organisation Parents for Climate doubled its membership in the two weeks after the election.
And it is not just everyday citizens; everyone from the Reserve Bank and investment funds to doctors to Australia’s major trading partners to ASX100 companies are calling for greater action on climate.
This groundswell of people and organisations demanding more action are backed in by global economic trends in technology that the Australian government cannot ignore. Around the world, solar PV installations are doubling every 2-3 years, and with every doubling, there is a 28.5% reduction in module costs. These exponential growth and cost reduction trends are similar for wind generation, battery storage and electric vehicles. As such, it is now significantly cheaper to build a wind or solar farm firmed by battery storage or pumped hydro than a new coal-fired power station or gas plant. As key architects of the marketisation and privatisation of the electricity system, the Liberal Party cannot now escape these market forces.
All of this means that the federal government is swimming against the tide of both public opinion and economics, and that is a hard and tiring thing to do.
While it will be hard going, they are going to give it a red-hot go. In March, the energy minister, Angus Taylor, announced a feasibility study for a new coal-fired power station in central Queensland. They are pushing ahead with the Big Stick legislation motivated by the desire to force AGL to sell Liddell coal power station before they plan to close it in 2022.
Then there are the myriad coalmines and gas-fracking projects that the federal government will approve and support, including the Adani coal mine and the Beetaloo gas basin in the Northern Territory. All the while Australia’s carbon emissions continue to rise at a time when we must urgently reduce them.
In both climate and energy terms, timing matters. In the energy system, our ageing coal-fired power stations are increasingly breaking down during heatwaves when we most need electricity. On the climate front, the situation could not be more dire.
So what now must we do?
1. Learn the significant lessons from this election
While thousands of people took action in the climate election and there were wins in Indi and Warringah, we cannot afford to elect another federal government that does not take acting on climate seriously. So we must learn what worked and what didn’t and trial different ways of working on climate in the next three years. Even a month on, it is still too early to say definitively what these lessons are, as organisations and campaigns are still reflecting and parsing what happened.
2. Go back to basics
We need to tell the stories of climate change, its causes and the solutions in ways that connect to people’s everyday lives. This means fewer graphs and statistics and more stories. Stories of people such as Dino Cerrachi, a stone-fruit grower who had his crop cooked on the trees in the heatwave last summer, or Janet Reynolds, who lost her home in a fire in the middle of winter last year. Or Liuanga Palu, a member of the Western Sydney Pacific community and Uniting Church who help found Voices for Power, a campaign to ensure migrant communities can access affordable and renewable power.
3. Hold the federal government to account
We cannot let the federal government’s lies such as “we will meet our Paris targets at a canter” and the crown of thorns starfish not climate is the most “imminent threat” to the Great Barrier Reef flourish; they must be resisted and rejected. This is why campaigns to prevent more carbon bombs such as the Adani mine, the Betaloo Basin and other gas and coal projects will continue and ramp up.
4. Get on with it
The federal government does not have a monopoly on climate action. While they can make it quicker or slower, easier or harder, there are others actors who can play significant roles in lowering carbon pollution.
- Nicky Ison is a research associate at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney and co-founder of the Community Power Agency
Climate crisis: what you can do while government does nothing | Nicky Ison | The Guardian
Fri 21 Jun 2019 Whether it’s wars or elections, winners throughout history get to frame the story of what happened. Australia’s federal election one month ago is no different. If the Coalition is to be believed, they won convincingly and now have a mandate to continue their do-nothing approach on climate and to wind back… [Read More]