Thoughts, reflections and observations on Saturday’s – from a climate activists’ perspective shocking and sad – election result in Australia, where once again a hollow promise of “a strong economy” and the right to pollute our common atmosphere and destroy our kids’ future won over the promise of climate action and the scientific fact that we urgently need to change our ways and start repairing the damage that has been done.
“Our best hope lies in cooperating as never before to radically reorganise our world.”
~ Gaia Vince, freelance British environmental journalist, broadcaster and non-fiction author
“Our best hope lies in cooperating as never before to radically reorganise our world,” wrote Gaia Vince in The Guardian the day after the federal election in Australia in an article worth reading, because she sums up the current projections and dire consequences Australians face when they keep re-electing a government that refuses to address the escalating climate crisis.
It was supposed to have been the #ClimateElection this time around. 2019 was the hottest summer on record for Australia. In coming decades, scientists tell us we can expect even more intolerable heatwaves that will make entire nations uninhabitable. We will see drowned cities as the ice at the poles melts, damage and destruction from extreme weather events, dead seas without any fish or corals, while lack of water in the rivers will ignite wars between countries and send millions on the run in a struggle for survival. We are confronted with the stuff of nightmares – and it is just decades away, unless we take drastic action and radically reorganise our world, starting now.
But the winner of the election, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and those who voted for him, use another word for climate change. They call it “climate ideology”. Even when surrounded by drought, extreme weather events and more frequent bush fires, you can still say “well, the climate has always been changing…” to one another and then completely push aside what the scientists are warning us about.
The world’s leading climate scientists, the United Nation’s IPCC, told us in a report in October 2018 that we have to get out of burning coal entirely by 2030. In ten years. Most civilised countries in the world will be listening to that advice. Those who don’t, will find themselves stranded with a product nobody wants, or isolated and boycotted as one of the planet’s black sheeps, an illoyal, selfish polluter.
But if you haven’t read that report, and you hear your country’s prime minister tell you it is nothing but an ‘ideology’ anyway, and when coal mining brings an income to a group of people here and now, then of course, vote for the man who promises you to ignore the science and keep the coal jobs coming and the economy strong.
→ News.com.au – 17 January 2019:
World is ‘sleepwalking into catastrophe’
‘We are drifting deeper into global problems from which we will struggle to extricate ourselves,’ warn global business leaders
Vote for change?
Labor, the main opposition party, went to election with the slogan ‘Vote for Change’. Many Australians replied, “Yes please, bring it on!” But not everywhere in Australia. In Queensland and Tasmania, voters made a clear statement that they don’t really want change.
Or was it that they don’t trust Bill Shorten as a leader, because he said something different to the Queenslanders compared to what he would be telling the Victorians? Or maybe a bit of both.
“People don’t want change!” Morrison stated it directly and with a big smile in an interview with SBS News on the evening before the election, and as far as Queenslanders and Tasmanians were concerned, it turned out he knew what he was talking about. They fear change because they fear unemployment. Morrison promised them that his government will stick to business as usual and secure their jobs – so, they gave him their vote.
Buying the lie – once again
In 2013, I sat with the exact same feeling of sadness, wondering “how could this happen?” when Tony Abbott won the election with a slogan to scrap the carbon tax. This was at a time when Australia was world-famous for being the first country in the world to implement a proper fee on climate-disruptive air pollution. Abbott was able to turn that into something negative by labelling it a “tax” and getting away with falsely promising voters that “every household would be $550 a year better off” as a result.
I never thought Australians would jump onto voting for a person who had been caught lying. But they did. Just like the Americans did with Trump. Scott Morrison’s election campaign was all about promising voters a “strong economy”. But as both the ABC News and the Climate Council showed in the days before the election, the promise of a “strong economy” is if not a lie, then certainly empty rhetoric as long as nothing is done to address the systemic risk associated with climate change. More about this below.
→ ABC News – 13 May 2019:
The Reserve Bank says the economy is not strong, despite what the Coalition says
“Australia’s “strong economy” has been the Coalition’s mantra throughout the election campaign.”
Andrew Bolt, commentator – on this being the ‘climate change’ election
“All those Adani protestors – you lost, suckers!”
Where in America a vote for Trump was very much also simply a vote to rebel against Clinton’s “we know better”-attitude, to send her and the ‘ruling class’ a message, in Queensland the higher number of votes for Morrison was a direct response to the anti-Adani campaign, where locals who work in the coal industry have felt bullied and stepped on by “we-know-better”-protestors who’d be arriving to the area in convoys from the big cities down south. To some Queenslanders, this vote was about sending the #StopAdani movement a message, just as much as it was a vote against Shorten.
Action creates reaction, and when people are frustrated enough, rebellion. So was what we just saw happen here that a national anti-coal campaign created quite the opposite result of what was its intention: it has actually helped the coal industry, which is deeply entangled in the Coalition government, remain in government?
“When Bob Brown’s anti-Adani convoy rolled through the Sunshine State demanding voters shun coal, he hammered a nail in Bill Shorten’s electoral coffin.”
→ ABC News – 20 May 2019:
Election 2019: Why Queensland turned its back on Labor and helped Scott Morrison to victory
“If there’s one thing Queenslanders don’t like, it’s being told what to do.”
→ ABC News – 1 June 2019:
Environment leaders reflect on their role in the ‘climate election’
“Like many Australians, green groups were surprised by the federal election result.”
With all the resources, hours and money that have so far been put into the #StopAdani campaign, it would be an unfortunate outcome. It would suggest that single-issue climate campaigns such as the #StopAdani movement need to seriously reconsider their confrontational strategy and the meaning of Gaia Vince’s wise words, “Our best hope lies in cooperating as never before.”
“There is only one train, and that is the green train. If you are not on that train, you will be left behind on the platform.”
~ Lars Aagard, CEO, Danish Energy Association
Where progress is happening
So what to do?, I’ve seen a lot of frustrated Australian climate action campaigners ask in social media after the election. My bet would be to look to the new forms of collaborative action and getting together which currently is emerging, almost at explosive rate, from the civil society – from bottom-up. In order to be able to deal properly with the scary realities of the climate crisis and the overwhelming scale of the problem, the aim is to build inclusive and open movements that are solution-oriented rather than confrontational.
Compared with what climate action looked like back then, jumping six years forward to today, where the Australian Capital Territory and a council in Sydney just last week declared a climate emergency, with over 500 city councils having done the same around the world, 18 of them in Australia, there’s been a lot of positive progress, where cooperation and radically reorganising is at the forefront for those who make it happen.
The youth gets it. Most likely, these climate-ignoring Queenslanders’ and Tasmanians’ own kids have understood, as one school strike placard expressed it,“You’ll die of old age, but I’ll die of climate change”. Because climate change is making our world increasingly more hostile and dangerous. Their parents can dismiss it as “ideology” because to them, the climate crisis still seem distant or theoretical, but the next generation, which will start voting within just a few years, has a very different view on this.
The goal of climatesafety may seem distant if not impossible, but many good steps are being taken. Which means we can’t give up now, or get disillusioned about yet another depressing federal election result, third in a row for Australia, yet another decade lost to the spin and dirty tricks by the fossil fuel industry.
As climate change concerned citizens, we have to learn from our mistakes and get better at building up a new story about the climate emergency we are facing, until that day when only a fraction of ‘fossiled fools’ and coal mine owners will be continuing to dismiss climate change as an “ideology”.
We know this is a long journey. It requires perseverance. To change voters’ mind and consequently change our government it is not enough to advocate for change, we need to be the change ourselves, we have to show rather than tell, we have to be involved with the decarbonisation and transformation at a personal level, living the change, creating and building the kind of new initiatives which “radically reorganise” our own world, household, local community, workplace and where ever we are able to install change.
We will eventually get there. The only question is how long – or how short – time it will take.
We don’t have any more time, you say? Yes, but hey, we are already much too late with this discussion. We could have started in 1989, but we didn’t. Now we write 2019, and the good news is that something that could lead to more radical and cross-society reorganising has started just recently.
Three new and fast-growing global grassroots movements have become interconnected and have already been showing positive results very quickly since they were launched: the climate emergency declaration movement, the students’ school strike movement and the Extinction Rebellion movement.
One reason for remaining optimistic is that the curves for this kind of action typically are exponentially growing, as it has been for the climate emergency declaration movement: very slowly for a long time in the beginning, but then suddenly, things begin to pick up, and all of a sudden, there’s the goal, and the victory.
“Tectonic plates finally shifting”
“What a few weeks it’s been in terms of the sense of urgency and proportion in relation to climate change and the world’s unravelling ecological crisis. Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg, David Attenborough, the Welsh and Scottish governments declaring a climate emergency, then the UK and Irish parliaments. There appears to be a new, and long-overdue, sense of ambition and momentum, of tectonic plates finally shifting deep below the surface.”
~ Rob Hopkins, co-founder of the Transition Town movement
→ Resilience.org – 15 May 2019:
Why the Climate Emergency needs a National Imagination Act
“Hanging on for grim death to the high-carbon industries of the last century is no economic strategy. The world will not carve out a niche for Australia to continue prospering as a 20th-century style high carbon economy. Global demand for coal will fall. The future for our energy industries is in cheap renewable energy.”
~ Frank Jotzo, in The Guardian
→ The Guardian – 20 May 2019:
Don’t despair about the climate emergency. Coal is not the future
“Despite the Coalition’s electoral victory, strong international pressures mean climate policy will not be stuck where it is”
Changing the story
What this federal election showed is that there are very good reasons to continue the work with educating and creating broader understanding in the public – and in Queensland and Tasmania specifically. Networking and establishing new outlets in media should be a focus area in that regard. And it needs to be consensus-seeking rather than confrontational. Collaborative and cooperative.
The public broadcasters ABC and SBS could make a huge difference in this space, if they wanted to.
So while we are waiting for the next election, great if more NGOs and individuals would momentarily pause what they are busy with and instead give these movements a helping hand.
“Crisis is throw your hands up. Emergency is roll your sleeves up.”
~ Rachel Reese, Mayor, Nelson in New Zealand
“I thought the pendulum had swung, I thought the young vote and climate change would carry the vote. It hasn’t.”Jeff Kennett, former premier of Victoria
“How did this happen?Matt McDonald
While it’s too early for fine-grained analysis, we can draw a few conclusions at this point. First, the seats where climate change was significant as an issue at the election tells us something. As the most significant political issue for Greens supporters in the election, climate change clearly played a role in the re-election of Adam Bandt in Melbourne, and in strong primary votes for the Greens in nearby electorates of Higgins, Kooyong and Macnamara.
In Sydney, it was clearly prominent in Wentworth (undecided at the time of writing), and most prominently Warringah where Zali Steggall won the seat from Tony Abbott.
In Warringah, not only was the LNP’s position on climate change inconsistent with the views of most in this constituency, but Mr Abbott was (rightly) seen as the chief architect of an extended period of climate inaction in Australia.
→ ABC News – 20 May 2019:
Election 2019: What happened to the climate change vote we heard about?
Opinion-piece by Matt McDonald
“A strong economy”…?
Climate change risk a central concern for the economy
The Climate Council’s report, ‘Compound Costs: How Climate Change is Damaging Australia’s Economy’, finds there are few forces affecting the Australian economy that can match the scale, persistence and systemic risk associated with climate change.
Australia’s financial regulators have recently made a call for action to deal with climate change, with the Reserve Bank of Australia, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority and the Australian Securities and Investment Commission citing risks posed by climate change as a central concern for the economy and financial stability.
As the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia noted, the risks that climate change poses to the Australian economy are “ first order” and have knock-on implications for macroeconomic policy (Debelle 2019).
Key findings in the report:
1. Climate change is a major threat to Australia’s financial stability, and poses substantial systemic economic risks.
2. Detailed new modelling, based on the Federal Government’s current approach to climate change, finds that the economic damage to Australia’s property and agricultural sectors will be very significant.
3. The property market is expected to lose $571 billion in value by 2030 due to climate change and extreme weather, and will continue to lose value in the coming decades if emissions remain high.
4. Extreme events like droughts, heatwaves, cyclones and floods have an impact on agriculture and food production; this is already affecting Australia’s economy and will cost us much more in the future.
5. The severe costs of climate change outlined in this report are not inevitable. To avoid the costs of climate change increasing exponentially, greenhouse gas emissions must decline to net zero emissions before 2050. Investments in resilience and adaptation will be essential to reduce or prevent losses in the coming decades.
“Morrison’s reelection is a disaster for the future of the country — and the world, since avoiding catastrophic climate change requires a collective effort.”
‘We have lost Australia for now,’ warns climate scientist in wake of election upset
“Australians elected someone who once brought a lump of coal into Parliament urging us to dismiss the warnings from climate scientists, and to dig up more coal instead,” Professor Stephan Lewandowsky, an Australian cognitive scientist, told ThinkProgress in an email. “There is little doubt that his government will do precisely that.”
“We have lost Australia for now,” warned Penn State climatologist Michael Mann in an email. “A coalition of a small number of bad actors now threaten the survivability of our species,” he said. These include “the fossil fueled Murdoch media empire, which saturated the country with dishonest right-wing campaign propaganda.”
Australia is one of most vulnerable countries to climate change, since much of it is already very hot and dry — and so much of its population lives along the coast, which is threatened by rapidly rising sea levels.
Morrison’s reelection is thus a disaster for the future of the country — and the world, since avoiding catastrophic climate change requires a collective effort.
And so “we must redouble our efforts to make sure that the rest of the world works even harder to act on climate,” said Mann. “The stakes are too great to simply give up.”
→ World Economic Forum – 6 May 2019:
A shocking new report reveals what we’ve done to the natural world
“Warming world: Climate change exacerbates extreme weather, from droughts to storms”
→ Medium – 27 April 2019:
Why we don’t care enough about climate change to change our ways
Are human beings just too selfish to stop climate change?
Comments on the election outcome
“It’s fair to say there’s widespread shock about the federal election result. The community sentiment and polls suggested a different outcome, yet as it turns out we are saddled with another term of smug climate deniers.
As a friend noted online: The government hasn’t changed, nor has the climate science.
The fight for climate justice will continue and we will prevail. As leaders in this fight we must stay strong and support those around us who are feeling demoralised by the election outcome.”
~ Leigh Ewbank, Friends of the Earth Melbourne’s Act on Climate coordinator
New plans and ideas
“The election result on Saturday was a shock to many Australians. But that does not mean the battle for ideas ends. In fact, it means ideas are now more important than ever.
And the result does not automatically mean that Australians have become more conservative. Just as the 1993 election campaign–that also centered on a big tax scare campaign–did not automatically mean Australia had become more progressive.
No matter who is in government, it is the long term battle for ideas that really counts and that shapes policy and political outcomes. And at the Australia Institute we barrack for ideas, not political parties.
In some respects, not much has changed since this time last week. The policy problems of last week are still with us: Australia’s emissions are rising and climate action is still urgent; the economy is sluggish and wages growth is still the slowest it has been since World War II; inequality is rising; and trust in politics is still at an all time low.
But the political circumstances have changed. And so must our strategies. New ideas are needed. New research is needed.”
~ Ben Oquist, Executive Director, The Australia Institute
Double down on reaching out
“It’s important to reflect on how far we’ve come.
In 2013, Tony Abbott was elected on a platform of abolishing a raft of positive climate change programs. There was considerable climate scepticism across the media. Few state, territory or local governments had meaningful climate policies. Over five years of relentless work, we have elevated climate change to the top of the national agenda, killed off the influence of climate denialism, educated millions and created momentum for strong climate policies across state and local jurisdictions.
Pushing for action on climate change is hard. It can be demoralising, slow and deeply frustrating. And we are up against formidable opponents. For instance, Clive Palmer spent an estimated $60 million on an ad campaign, far greater than the budget of the entire movement of Australian climate charities and campaigners.
But the momentum that we have built in the last few months is striking. Our job now is to keep building pressure. We cannot waver from our goal, but rather double down on reaching out across the community, and pushing for change at all levels of government.
Around the world and in Australia, the impacts of climate change are here now; our reefs are dying, our forests and landscapes are being razed and species are diminishing. Our mission could not be more urgent.” (…)
Amanda McKenzie, CEO, Climate Council
In key seats, other issues trumped climate on the day
“Australians are deeply concerned about climate change:
- Public concern about global warming is the highest in a decade.
- For the first time, Australians think climate change is the number one future risk.
- Before the election, ABC’s comprehensive Vote Compass survey found 81% of us want more government action on climate change, including 60% of Coalition voters.
The facts have not changed. Climate damage is hurting us now, fossil fuels are polluting and expensive, renewable energy is cheaper to build and the cost of inaction is enormous.
The election result is extremely close and in many places – particularly Victoria – voters swung towards candidates that promised strong action on climate. Climate independents have won seats, including Tony Abbott’s.
Scott Morrison knew voters wanted him to act on climate and he promised he would. It seems some were convinced, or at least didn’t believe Labor’s plan was any better. Or perhaps other issues trumped climate on the day in key seats. (…)
We must also hold the Morrison government accountable to the public’s concern about climate change and their promise to act. I’m talking with our allies across the climate movement right now about how we will do that.”
~ Jono La Nauze, Environment Victoria
Channel anxiety into strong effective action
“In times like these it’s easy to feel anxious about the future for yourself and fellow Australians.
You are not alone. We share your heartfelt concern about the impacts of climate change and your frustration at political inaction.
Just remember that no one is above the law. Through the legal system we can hold the government and mining companies to account, uphold and enforce our environmental laws, and achieve justice for communities concerned about biodiversity and the impacts of climate change.
It’s a fundamental part of our democracy, and a powerful safeguard for times when governments fail us and corporations do the wrong thing.
In the weeks, months, and years to come, EDO Qld will not stop helping communities access their rights to combat dangerous climate change.
We care passionately about action to protect the planet and to
slash greenhouse gas emissions.
Our challenge is to channel our shared anxiety into strong effective action and avoid leaving the $133 billion costs of inaction to fall on the next generation.
As the climate emergency leads to more extreme weather events threatening our agriculture, more bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef threatening our tourism and sea level rise threatening our coastal homes, we must redouble our efforts to prevent the worst of climate change and increase our resilience to its devastating effects.
Are you with us?
It’s full steam ahead today, Monday May 20, here at the EDO Qld.
Jo Bragg, on behalf of the EDO Qld team
Refocus and rebuild
“We don’t yet fully understand what happened in this election. There were swings in some places. Some climate deniers were voted out. Strong climate independents got elected.
But the result is complicated and we need to analyse it, ask hard questions, learn and reflect. And then together we must refocus and rebuild, with a firm conviction that standing up for our planet is hard work, but resilience is a renewable resource.
This is a setback for climate action in Australia, but we’ve had setbacks before.
There are bright stars in a dark night sky. And they can help us navigate to a different future.
We are down but we are not out. We can’t be. Too much is at stake and we are the people in Australia leading at a time when our climate and nature need us.”
Kelly O’Shanassy, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Conservation Foundation
It’s time to be disruptive
“The system is broken. And as long our politics are shackled to the coal industry and vested interest, we’ll never fix it.
It’s time to change the game. It’s time to be disruptive. It’s time to take the power back.
If our government won’t declare a climate emergency, we’ll declare an uprising.
Will you answer the call? Tell us how you can help.”
~Jack, Greenpeace Australia Pacific