News from the front desk: Issue No 332 – On the climate dance and turning tides
30 March 2017
It can be confusing understanding where we’re heading with the global dance on climate change. Hazelwood closes – two steps forward. Trump moves to abolish climate policies – three steps back. The largest solar and battery plant announced for South Australia – a step forward. Australian governments continue to back the Adani mine – a hop, step and a jump back if it goes forward.
But is the end game a death march or a stride into a better future?
As optimists, we have to go for the latter. We may as well shut up shop if we didn’t think that. But we don’t think we’re wearing rose-tinted glasses; there’s many who agree with us.
Take, for example, President Trump’s executive order signed this week to undo Obama-era regulations aimed at fighting climate change.
The Energy Independence Executive Order, Trump said, would work to “lift restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations”.
Or in other words, attempt to revive the coal industry, by withdrawing the Clean Power Plan that would have closed hundreds of coal plants and stopped the construction of new ones.
While it may prolong the life of some stations, there’s pretty much no chance – aside from the offering of enormous subsidies – of reviving the industry.
Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of NSW Dr Christian Downie said the plan was doomed to fail.
“The coal industry in the US is dying not because of politics but because of economics,” he said.
“Putting aside the enormous greenhouse gas emissions from coal, it progressively can no longer compete against alternative sources of energy, including cheap gas, but increasingly even cheaper wind and solar power.”
Why’s Hazelwood closing? Because it’s no longer economically viable. It joins many other coal plants in Australia that have closed in recent years for the same reason, and there’s many more to come. Or go.
Don’t take our word for it. Follow the money
You only have to look at the market for sustainable investment to see which way the tide is going. Australia’s sustainable investment has grown 250 per cent in two years, according to the Global Sustainable Investment Alliance.
Green finance instruments like green bonds are seeing huge gains too, with an estimated US$200 billion set to pour into them this year – going towards projects like green buildings, renewable energy and energy efficiency.
There’s no turning back this tide. We’re moving forward. All politicians can do is stall the inevitable.
It reminds us of a recent conversation we had with a renewable energy system researcher. They said they were bored. A 100 per cent renewable energy system was on its way and the path clearly visible to them. All that stood in its way were inertia and a few vested interests battling a rising tide like old King Canute. They wanted to move onto something more challenging. Maybe inequality.
But, of course, let’s not rest on our laurels. Stalling translates into actual death for many. And the international community is waiting with bated breath as to what the US will do regarding the Paris Agreement.
Some, though, would prefer they just drop out so we can get on with it.
“Paradoxically, it will be better for international climate action if the US now exits the Paris Agreement,” international climate change negotiations researcher at ANU Dr Luke Kemp said.
“Having the world’s superpower blatantly miss its target and refuse to support the actions of others will lay bare the toothless nature of the Paris Agreement.
“The best outcome for the climate is for the US to withdraw and open the space for new climate leadership to blossom.
Let’s get on with it.
Ageing baby boomers know how to protest – and maybe they should
Do older people feel a moral obligation to be more vocal about climate change and environmental issues?
Certainly you could assume so, judging by the age profile and prolific grey-haired folk who dominate community protests around planning issues, and most recently in Sydney around the WestConnex motorway. Not to mention groups such as the Knitting Nannas opposing coal seam gas exploration.
And certainly they should, according to 350.org founder Bill McKibben, who has several times been arrested for his climate activism in the US.
McKibben told a Paddington Town Hall audience in Sydney during his early 2016 visit that it was beholden on older people to take a stand against environmental damage and risk arrest. They carried more of the responsibility for climate change, would avoid the worst of its impact, and had less to lose by incurring a police record for arrest than younger people at the start of their career, he said.
- See our article When we fight We Win
According to a new US report that we ran this week, older people are an untapped resource of climate activism.
case for greater participation by those aged 60 and above in responding to climate change.
In addition to bearing greater responsibility, the report says ageing baby boomers are producing a vast number of retired people with high levels of education and skills that could be directed to environmental stewardship activities.
Some of those skills are directly protest related.
That’s certainly the case for high-profile campaigner against WestConnex Wendy Bacon, investigative journalist and academic, who in her youth was a firebrand for a range of causes including stopping the Vietnam war and fighting NSW laws on obscenity and decency.
Bacon has been a prominent voice against the motorway and on 11 April at the New Theatre in Newtown she will employ some of her knowhow to help stage an event to raise money for 10 people arrested over WestConnex protests and the handful among these, including herself, who will take the significant financial risk to plead not guilty in the courts.
WestConnex has enraged local communities with its destruction of swathes of federation housing in Haberfield and plans to cut through parkland in Newtown, coming within two metres of existing homes, according to recent media reports.
Voices such as Bacon’s must go a long way to inspiring others. And just to demonstrate the mettle she is made of, Bacon will at the same time curate an exhibition with her husband Chris Nash to commemorates the obscenity battles in NSW.
Here’s some of the promotional literature for the exhibition that will be at 107 Projects in Redfern from 12 April”
From 1970 to 1973, NSW police issued more than 40 summonses and made several arrests over the contents of the UNSW student newspaper THARUNKA, and its successor underground papers THOR and THORUNKA.
The charges alleged obscenity and indecency. Wendy Bacon and John Cox between them served three weeks in prison during two trials. The publications drew participation and support from students, Sydney libertarians, radical activists, writers, lawyers and others as they waged a relentless campaign against the authorities.
The campaign contested the idea of obscenity and the legitimacy of the legal system itself. The newspapers campaigned on the war in Vietnam, Aboriginal land rights, women’s and gay liberation, and the violence of the criminal justice system. By 1973 the censorship regime in Australia was broken. Nearly all the charges were dropped.
The exhibition presents original copies of the publications and documents from the campaign, and is curated by Wendy Bacon and Chris Nash. It brings together the original editorial team of Wendy Bacon, Val Hodgson and Alan Rees with other collaborators in a series of open forums.
THARUNKA/THOR/THORUNKA were wary of special pleading for literary merit. However, the exhibition and a forum draw connections between what was happening in Sydney and a landmark 1971 controversy in New York involving the artist Hans Haacke over journalism as art / art as journalism.