“Denying climate change is stealing the future of our children just to make money now.”
~ Dr Jane Goodall
Among the many burning global issues we are faced with, there is a ‘carbon bell’ that tolls, currently ringing at the sound of billions of tonnes of carbon from fossil fuels that we fill our planet’s atmosphere with every year. Our air pollution is warming the planet up. This month the temperatures are 20°C above normal at the North Pole, and with climate deniers – in reality: fossil fuel industry puppets barely in disguise – increasingly taking over our parliaments and hijacking any rational climate action policy-making, at the same time as more and more worrying temperature data keep ticking in, indifference to this issue is no longer an option.
“Just a gentle reminder that if you’re not doing everything in your power to address climate change, you might want to rethink that approach.”
» Weather Underground – 18 November 2016:
Crazy Cryosphere: Record Low Sea Ice, An Overheated Arctic, and a Snowbound Eurasia
Time and culture
If we do not act on this emergency and get climate change under control in time before global warming’s runaway warming tipping points set in, then none of those many other tasks we generally keep ourselves so occupied with make any sense in our near future.
Climate tipping points occur when a natural system, such as the polar ice cap, undergoes sudden or overwhelming change that has a profound effect on surrounding ecosystems, often irreversible.
All this is pretty clear to at least a growing part of the world’s population. What is less obvious is that our two most serious challenges in this climatic thriller are not environmental.
Lack of time is one of them: We are running out of time. While things certainly are moving in the right direction many places, our slow speed and relatively low levels of action and engagement are nowhere near what is needed, society-wide, at this point and time.
The latest annual report from the International Energy Agency tells us about where we are heading, and is worth taking special notice of, because here is a solid, non-political source stating that the unavoidable conclusion is that there is an urgent need for immediate radical reductions in energy sector carbon emissions if there is to be any chance of achieving that 1.5° degrees Celsius goal which was set in Paris in December 2015.
Time is an issue.
» Download summary (PDF)
» More information about the report on www.iea.org
» Article about the report: IEA: $44 Trillion in Energy Investment Won’t Limit Climate Change to 2 Degrees
The other challenge is cultural. In particular: aspects of culture in decision making.
We typically regard climate change as something that has to do with extreme weather events, the environment, science and international politics, which is true, but what we also will need to take into account is that climate change is man-made. Fundamentally, this mess we are in is our own making. We could have stopped polluting the air many years ago, when we realised it was a problem. But we didn’t.
As individuals we didn’t, because we looked towards our elected leaders and say that they didn’t. Sure, they talked about it. Held talk-fests and signed charters and agreements. Took some half-hearted initiatives. But as we are seeing still today, they never really wanted to deal with the issue and stop the flow of coal, oil and gas in the world’s economy, because that flow happens to be one of the largest economic factors in our entire world. Fossil fuel companies don’t just lobby our governments, they have enough money and influence to control them. To get their own industry people installed as ministers. With the result that our elected leaders have been very careful not to punish or tax the air pollution. On the contrary, in many countries, including Australia, they have kept subsidising it with taxpayers’ money.
In order to be able to deal more quickly with the mess we have put ourselves in today, we need to better understand what created it in the first place. This is where climate change all of a sudden becomes personal and close up, because the current lack of climate change action is a direct result of our cultural values – or the disintegration of them. Climate change and addressing it in time seems to require a much deeper cultural shift than most climate activists are ready to admit.
Climate activist groups so far have mostly focused on the practical steps we need to take to reduce our emissions and change our habits as consumers. There has been less focus on the fact that our political decision making culture is one of the root causes to climate change – the reason we have this problem with climate change and global warming on this planet in the first place – and the reason why hundreds of thousands of people now are killed in extreme weather event’s and climate-related conflicts every year – with millions more to come, allegedly.
We weren’t forced to use fossil fuels to run our societies. It was our choice. As in many other consumer situations, when confronted with the choice between ‘cheap and climate-damaging (for others, in the future)’ and ‘expensive but better for everyone’, we went for cheap and ignored the environmental bill.
The fundamental decision to ignore the climate threat is closely interconnected with our politicians’ lack of integrity, lack of honesty, transparency and decent respect for those who come after us, and it is a culture of secrecy and dirty deals under the table for personal gain which has turned our leaders into the kind of climate saboteurs that we see on our tv screens today.
While those dark clouds of a climate emergency keep building up around us, we need to realise that the current lack of climate action in our global community has everything to do with those rotten morals.
The meaning of ‘Conservatism’ – understood as a wish to maintain our world as we have known it for a long a time – has been hijacked by prospectors and gold-diggers, whose values and morals have gone rotten and who are driven by egoism, greed, selfishness and protection of privileges.
“The leaders of today demonstrate time and time again that they do not deserve to lead, and are bringing us closer and closer to disaster,” James M.F. Brown noted in a blogpost on medium.com the other day.
The case of New South Wales
The sacking of the commissioner for the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales recently – after she had exposed that politicians of the ruling party had been breaking the law – comes as a classic example of this tendency of cultural rot among our leaders.
Jeremy Buckingham – a 43-year-old member of the Australian Greens who has been member of the New South Wales Legislative Council the last five years – gave a fiery speech against the gutting of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. His speech is worth listening to, not only because of the flaws he points out, but also because of what a debate of this nature shows us about our democracy. It is a symptom of something much bigger, something which relates directly to those difficulties governments in all fossil fuel rich countries have with getting their escalating carbon emissions and carbon exports under control with climate safety-focused regulation.
Buckingham wrote on his Facebook page:
“This is all about the Sydney elite, the business elite and the political elite nobbling an anti-corruption body that started to reveal too much and led to adverse findings against many Liberal and Labor MPs.”
He quotes former Assistant Commissioner Anthony Whealy who had said:
“It will look like payback from a vengeful government. If we read about this in a third world country – a public inquiry into politicians behaving badly, donations being made illegally and secretly, a report published and then the government brings forward legislation to get rid of the head of the organisation which published the report and tries to dilute the powers of that person, you’d say … well, same old, same old, it’s corrupt.”
A headline in the Sydney Morning Herald on 17 November 2016 said, “In a year marked by some bad decisions, ICAC overhaul was among Mike Baird’s worst”
Politics gone off the track
Has the value of honesty and transparency gone completely missing in politics and big business? Or has it actually always been that way, and most of us just didn’t notice or didn’t care about it, because we were too busy with our own lives and couldn’t really bother whether decisions and deals were made in dark corridors and influenced by money under the table, as long as they didn’t disturb us in what we were doing with our own lives?
Well, with climate change at our doorsteps, those days are over. What’s going on in our governments now is a profound threat to our health and wellbeing in the years to come, and even more so on our children’s lives. Which is why I appreciate Jeremy Buckingham and Anthony Whealy have chosen to share these insights with the rest of us.
The general atmosphere in the room where Buckingham was speaking – check the photo on the top of this page again – provides hints about what is going on inside the heads of some of this country’s politicians. Even at national level, allegedly intelligent leaders such as Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten both keep protecting a dirty, polluting coal industry that climate scientists frantically tell us we need to shut down to address the climate crisis.
At state level in places like Queensland, the Labor premier has rushed through some of the most destructive legislation to help a coal company add even more climate disruptions to our children and generations to come, as if what is already in the extreme-weather pipeline for us wasn’t enough.
“Recent weeks have seen unsurpassed dishonesty and irresponsibility from national political leaders on Australian climate and energy policy – the biggest issue we now face. The mantra trotted out continually by federal government and opposition alike is that “coal is part of the national and international energy mix and will be so for decades to come”, parroting coal industry leaders and lobbyists.”
Ian Dunlop in The Sydney Morning Herald: ‘Time for honesty on climate and energy policy’
And while distractions, procrastination and derailed discussions continue inside our parliaments, subsidies – those billions and still more billions of taxpayers’ dollars every year – for really strange reasons keep being handed out to the climate-destructive polluters, and clean, renewable energy sources and other climate-solutions, which are getting cheaper and cheaper, are shamed in public as being ‘expensive’, ‘unreliable’ or ‘utterly offensive’… plus many other illogical and clearly manipulated statements and decisions that we see Australian politicians make.
GetUp’s Dark Money report uncovered that 85 per cent of the major parties’ income goes undisclosed. In other words, as the system works at the moment, the Australian public has no idea about who is providing funding to political parties.
Against our own interests
It is obviously in the real estate and fossil fuel sectors where the big profits have been in recent years, and the Australian people have passively allowed so-called ‘Big Money’ to buy up entire local, state and federal governments and exploit them to a level where it goes against any common sense. What’s worse, it goes against the interests of any of us average Australian citizens.
This is not just a disgrace, as Jeremy Buckingham puts it – it is the biggest and potentially most destructive scandal of this century, because the same pattern is found in parliaments all over the world – with federal politics in the United States as the most clear-cut example.
The situation gets even worse because journalists and editors working in mainstream media generally hide their heads in the sand or look the other way while occupying themselves with ridiculously irrelevant gossip and day-to-day clutter, rather than investigating and exposing these important issues of flaws in our society, rather than revealing this masquerade that deceives the general population to think that everything is just fine, and therefore keep voting for things to continue as they are.
Addressing the moral flaws
It is not like we haven’t heard it before. In his 180-page Encyclical Pope Francis basically nailed it in June 2015. Our morals and the environmental threats we are facing are related to each other, he argued. What needs to be expressed about morals and human flaws in this regard can be found in this encyclical letter to the world. Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio did something similar with his documentary ‘Before the Flood’.
“The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. (…) We need to reflect on our accountability before those who will have to endure the dire consequences.”
~ Pope Francis in Laudato Si, 161
However, disappointingly few appear to pay attention. Even Catholic politicians are strikingly deaf to the Pope’s encyclical message.
When we’re being taught from childhood that walking through life with blinders on is okay as long as everybody else does it as well, then we train ourselves to become numb to other people’s and species’ suffering. We couldn’t care less about our carbon footprint or how much we pollute and destroy on our way, as long as we get what we point at.
What I argued in this blogpost in September was that Australia’s problem with so-called ‘mistruths’ and dishonesty creates a slippery slope which goes much deeper than what it may seem at first. Unless we begin to directly address this flawed attitude, we are not likely to see the kind of large-scale changes which Australia so badly needs in its renewable energy sector, and in its efforts to deal with the threats of the global climate change emergency.
Five point plan
To adjust our political system so that independent commissions against corruption are strengthened rather than sacked, and so that donations from industry doesn’t have a direct impact on policy making wouldn’t be difficult at all. A stroke of a pen on a piece of legislation, and BANG! There’s a fresh new start for a different style of decision making.
But laws don’t change unless there is public pressure for that to happen. So the finger points back at us. We, the citizens, will have to speak up about these matters.
The grassroots campaign group GetUp, among others, has been advocating for that we need to get Big Money out of our politics. Here is GetUp’s five point plan “to take back democracy”:
• Stop the money game: cap the amount any individual or corporation can donate at $1000 per financial year, and introduce expenditure caps on election campaigns to remove incentives to amass huge political fighting funds.
• End the shroud of secrecy: require all donations above $500 to be publicly disclosed on the internet in real-time, including donations to and from affiliated entities.
• A corruption watchdog with teeth: create an independent federal corruption watchdog with broad investigative powers.
• Stop offshore entities buying political influence: prohibit any corporation or entity not registered in Australia, or any individual who doesn’t have citizenship or residency, from making donations.
• Close the revolving door: prevent Members of Parliament from engaging in lobbying work for a period of three years after they leave office.
“Polls show that 74% of Australians don’t trust politicians, and over two thirds of us think Big Business has too much power over our politics. It’s this lack of trust in our politics that may well fuel a dangerous US-style undercurrent of resentment. We need to put people back at the heart of our democracy and restore trust in Australia’s democratic institutions – through integrity reforms detailed in GetUp’s Five Point Plan.
Nat, Django, Daney and Ruby, GetUp
In November 2016, more than 50,000 Australians had signed GetUp’s petition. That’s is a good start in the right direction. We just need more of this kind of initiatives for creating public pressure.
“This climate emergency will not wait for us to get over our petty politics.”
Fr. Rod Bower
Our failure as parents
As parents we want the best for our children. The way we are heading, however, remaining silent and ignoring the problem that we are not sufficiently addressing the climate crisis is causing the complete opposite effect: currently parents are busy stealing from their own children, as Dr Jane Goodall expressed it with a couple of sentences in an ABC-interview the other day:
“Denying climate change is stealing the future of our children just to make money now,” said the popular chimpanzee-expert, who has a high star and is well-respected among Australians in general.
“You hear this same: ‘We haven’t inherited this planet from our parents – we borrowed it from our children.’ We have been stealing from our children. We still are stealing their future. Denying climate change is stealing the future of our children just to make money now.”
Dr Jane Goodall [at 26:58–27:12 on www.iview.abc.net.au available online until 18 December 2016]
What this translates directly to is increased consumer awareness and skills. It is up us to make the right choices every time we go shopping – and when we vote. It means being able to resist buying cheap goods and commodities when we know that they are produced with polluting production methods that have devastating ecological and environmental consequences – and will create huge costs and losses in the long run.
To see the ‘radical reductions’ of our air pollution, which the International Energy Agency’s report among numerous other reports show are necessary now, we need to help create major shift in society. We need society-wide climate consciousness, action, investments and transformational work at all levels.
‘Radical climate action’ does not mean rebellion. Rather, it means that we need to set out on a quest to restore our human values where we ask ourselves: what happened to the concept of decency and of being fair to others? Compassion and respect for those who come after us?
Why is honesty, integrity and full transparency in political decision making so important? Because this is no longer just a question about how other people make and spend their money. This is about something which affects all of us – that ticking bomb called global warming.
There is nothing new under the sun – these values are old-fashioned, traditional. They have been integrated in the teachings of thousand-year-old religions and civilisations, and in fact many of them used to be part of the ‘conservative’ value-set, until politics got corrupted and selfish greediness became acceptable behaviour.
We need a new generation of politicians to step in, and this video recording of Jeremy Buckingham’s speech can serve as educational material for them.
Two simple things are required of us to start a much-needed Movement for Improvement, and the nurturing of that new generation of leaders:
1) We have to start with ourselves. Be the change.
2) We must talk about this with everyone else around us.
In the end of his 1 hour 40 minute documentary ‘Before the Flood’, Leonardo DiCaprio sums it up this way: “Consume differently. What you buy
– what you eat
– how you get your power
… and vote for leaders who will fight climate change.”
I’d add: This is not just about fighting climate change. This is a fight for culture change. A fight for new levels of honesty and integrity, transparency, decency and respect for those who come after us.
Climate change is personal – and cultural. It is about who you are as a human being.
This commentary is part of a [CLIMATIC ROOT TREATMENT] series of blogposts which seek to uncover and understand the deeper roots of our society’s problems with taking appropriate action on the climate emergency, and to explore the advantages we will see once the action sets in.
» Take two minutes to email your MP and explain why they need to make getting Big Money out of Australian politics a priority for 2017. If enough constituents contact their MPs requesting action to get Big Money out of politics, then they will have no choice but to take notice.
I sent this email to my local MP, Richard Marles:
“Dear Richard Marles,
I wrote this blogpost for you and your colleagues:
The burning issue of culture change
‘The burning issue of culture change’
It is time to do what is right not just for your party, but for the nation, its people, and its future generations. You have a choice. I know it probably sounds bureaucratic and complicated to start the process of repairing these obvious errors in the political system, which GetUp and many others are pointing out to you.
I suppose you have read the ‘Dark Money’ report. Then please explain to me: Now that we know the consequences – why should there be ‘dark money’ in a democratic society? How do you explain that this is not what in other cultures would be called ‘bribes’?
As the climate change threat becomes more and more scary and real, it is increasingly important that you and your colleagues in Parliament step up to the challenge and get this in order. Getting Big Money out of politics must be one of your priorities in 2017.
Looking forward to hearing your response.
» You could do something similar: Send an email to your MP
» See the cartoon on www.theguardian.com
“The [fossil fuel] industry thinks we are all fools, so all I can say is dig deep, find the facts, knowledge is power.”
~ Damian Marchant from Frack Free Moriac