Dear comrades in the movement to survive climate change,
Good on you. Its obviously a hard slog. Probably, you know what people mean when they talk about burn out intimately. Waking up thinking about the devastation humans have wrought on our environment, let alone how bad it could get, doesn’t help you get out of bed.
Amongst all this we need to be able to focus on the good things, the victories along the way. That’s in part why some of you are celebrating right now the re-election of the Andrews’ Labor government in Victoria as a triumph of reason over climate denialism. If you want to switch off and stop reading now, well I can’t stop you. But also I know you’re here because you’re not a denialist, so please don’t switch off. I promise I’ll try to be polite.
Also I realise you probably have not much of an idea who I am, to come along telling you stuff. Well I’m just some weird geek, but also in the first part of this recent blog, I tried to describe why I’m here in this movement, and where I’m coming at it from. TL;DR – For a pretty long time I’ve tried to play a supporting role in a bunch of different campaigns and projects, lending my skills and time to people I don’t always fully believe in, but believe they are worth a punt. This is a departure from that, deciding to weigh in and say what I mean and ask that people hear me out.
This decision has been sparked by watching and participating in the environment movement’s campaigns in the 2018 Victorian state election. For anyone who wasn’t watching, Victoria’s incumbent, nominally progressive Labor government won a massively increased majority at the expense of the Liberal party campaigning on a platform of anti-migrant law-and-order, cheap coal powered energy, and reducing carbon emissions by subsidising new TV’s and fridges. Labor also gained back space on the left from the Greens, running on their usual, actually progressive platform, but whose campaign was seriously undermined by their running of a mysogynist ozzie rapper, a man accused of sexual assault, and a Sex-Worker Exclusionary Radical Feminist.
That the Greens were perfectly able to derail their own campaign, despite having other great candidates and actually progressive policies is a different argument. But I’d also give the climate movement, and Environment Non Government Organisations (ENGOs) some credit in supporting this landslide victory for Labor – and giving them back a lot of ground on climate action, by endorsing their climate policy nearly in its entirety. I share this scorecard produced by Environment Victoria (EV) not at all to heap to direct criticism on EV – in fact EV’s representation of Labor’s far from progressive environment record on this scorecard is a far greater mention than several other more grassroots groups of Labor’s failing on climate.
And in fact, digging further past the scorecard and the front page of EV’s scorecard website, (which also gave Labor and the Greens big ticks on climate), the bottom of their more detailed scorecard did reveal Labor’s commitment to the fossil fuel industry, that they ‘encouraged offshore [oil and] gas drilling‘ and a coal-to-hydrogen project as well as welcoming AGL’s plan to build a damaging gas import terminal in Westernport Bay.
So what’s the problem here?
Well firstly, as an engaged, active and online environmentalist, I actually wouldn’t have heard about these large scale investments in new fossil fuel projects during the election campaign at all if it wasn’t for Environment Victoria’s website. (So truly this is also in praise of EV for continuing to publish and promote these sidelined issues).
Secondly, what I’m being told implicitly by this scorecard, and by the omission of the other environment orgs, that you can be a leader in tackling climate change, while still opening up whole new environments to fossil fuel extraction and whole new industries to do it (not to mention continuing the existing industry to mine, burn and export brown coal).
Thirdly, there isn’t a clear distinction between a tick for the differing targets of 40% renewable energy by 2025 and 50% by 2030 and 100% renewable energy by 2030 – or how that breaks down in policy, or whether the Greens promise is even enough.
Fourthly, we are told that while Labor are failing to ‘Restore and Protect Nature’ – largely referring to their government owned and managed illegal logging industry that is rapidly destroying Victoria’s remnant native forests, they can still be leaders on climate change. While the forest movement, especially through Friends of the Earth (FoE), campaigned hard during the election, and gained great traction, Act on Climate Victoria (AoC), another affiliate group of FoE campaigned solely against the Liberals and for Labor. Scrolling through their twitter feed, next to no mention was made of forests, offshore oil and gas, coal-to-hydrogen, new coal licenses, AGL during their campaign. The closest I found to a mention of these things was this tweet.
Presumably their twitter feed reflects their campaign IRL.
So those are my four problems with EV’s scorecard, and that brings me to four problems I have with what that reflects in the climate movement at large. These problems have been most accurately portrayed by AoC, but really reflect broadly on the big ENGOs and a tendency of the environment movement at large.
We’ve lost our concept of solidarity.
Solidarity between struggles like forests and climate, between affiliates of the same organisation. But more broadly, with campaigns that bridge the gap into other movements, such as the Djab Wurrung Embassies campaign to stop the destruction of their sacred trees to build a highway bypass. This is an outright, unnecessary and expensive act of desecration being fast tracked by Labor Minister Richard Wynne. This is a nature issue. This is a climate issue. Its also a really winnable issue (not that that should determine whether we speak up for it). But we forgot how much the environment movement owes to Aboriginal Australia, and we forgot about the Green-Black alliance that is the foundation of our movement. That its an action we can take to actually recognise the sovereignty we always talk about. And we didn’t lend a hand to make it an election issue, when I think it could have really helped. I respect that our movements and our selves are over-stretched, scattered, isolated, and its hard, but the environment movement not making a mention of it – while also campaigning for the Labor party who are carrying this out can only further that isolation .
We’re a part of the disconnect between science and politics.
Scientists are telling us we have to take decisive action, stop burning fossil fuels and begin to draw down carbon now to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Meanwhile, ENGOs are telling us that the Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET) of 50% by 2030 is what we’ve been fighting for all along, and if we’re building new fossil fuel industries along the way, that’s OK. I think that many people see through this, not only rabid radicals like myself. They’ve heard the seriously dire warnings from scientists and don’t really buy that politicians promises of more renewable energy adds up to anything like the action that we need to take to mitigate and survive climate change. Indeed it is a hopeful message and it sounds nice enough to vote for, but its misleading and leading people away from taking urgent action.
As a web designer I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can change our messaging to more effectively overcome that disconnect. I believe that by not acknowledging the catastrophic consequences we are facing, and the urgency of action, we are actually inhibiting action. Helping people to face scientific, environmental reality, might actually help them to take effective action. I might write more on that soon but I think this local group has done a great job of it.
Back to the climate/forest issues being seperated out, and not campaigned on as part of a whole – I remember from my inner city primary school education that trees help us breath and we should look after trees, that forests are like the planets lungs. I believe that its a thing that people kinda get. Its really tangible and all around them, one of those things that feels like ‘common sense’. Not joining the dots from forests to climate, and cordoning it off as a ‘nature’ issue, or far worse not even mentioning it at all, widens the disconnect between science and politics, and between knowing there’s a climate crisis and taking action.
If its a winning strategy, what did we win?
I understand that some huge gains have been made from the VRET, from the ban on coal seam gas (CSG). I wasn’t involved in the campaign to stop CSG but from what I saw it was won by a huge grassroots campaign of rural people led by Lock the Gate and loads of work from Quit Coal and Friends of the Earth – putting political pressure on all sides of parliament. Sidling up to Labor and asking them nicely and not drawing attention didn’t win it. We’ll need similar campaigns against offshore oil and gas in the Otways, against new coal power plants in Gippsland. Parts of the environment movement not talking about these crucial issues during elections will make it much harder for them to get the attention they need.
When ruling parties do concede to our campaigns and give us a victory, there’s definitely a time to congratulate them and thank them for their part in making progress towards a safer climate. The ban on CSG was announced in 2016, the VRET was passed in 2017. Its November of 2018 and we’re still congratulating them. Labor went to the polls with no new environment policies of note, other than to pass the ban on CSG into the constitution. We can all strongly support that move, but its simply designed to get a second free kick on a policy they have already enacted.
If we all stand in the middle, the far-right will definitely tip us over the edge.
I should be clear that I do think there is a role for those people who want to work inside the halls of power towards reform. It definitely can be important tactic, as part of a broader movement. I don’t believe its whats needed right now, but really I’m all for an all of everything approach. For the movement to survive on this planet to succeed, we’ll need all the tools we have available, plus some more. My issue is that there isn’t a shortage of ENGOs available to fill this space, and that this reformist tendency is creeping outwards to take up the traditionally more grassroots spaces like FoE.
The far-out, far-left, feral freaks are scattered, and what’s left makes political parties like the Greens seem like the radicals. If we want parties like the Greens, with fairly reasonable, moderate suggestions in response to the climate emergency to come to power, the climate movement needs to keep its radical edge. We need to be clear that in fact the Greens policies and strategies are not enough. We need to shut down all fossil fuel industries now and we need to do it ourselves and not wait for the next electoral cycle to roll around. When the Greens themselves are retweeting EVs scorecard, they are getting pulled closer to Labor’s centrist position. As an electoral strategy, the climate movement needs to be foregrounding, and not forgetting about other fringe parties with more radical policies such as the Save the Planet party and the Victorian Socialists, as well as the Greens, giving them the space in the middle which they, not Labor deserve. Outside electoral politics even more so, we need outspoken communications campaigns and direct actions to actually take the focus away from the parliamentary farce, and push the boundaries of what is possible as a response to climate change. One way or another, those boundaries are going to be pushed.
I think the left, so used to being disempowered, has forgotten what we actually do achieve from outside the margins of acceptable society. We need only to look to our far-right, Hansonite fringe, whose growth is not so phenomenal, but whose influence on the Liberal parties renewed racist rhetoric, and in turn allowing Labor (a party committed to mandatory detention of refugees etc) to be hailed as anti-racists! The same can be said of the climate denialist fringe’s influence.
We need to build up the climate realist fringe movement, at the expense of maintaining one in the center.
I say build up, cause it is out there, I’ve just been ignoring it too much, too focused on my immediate circles and old haunts. I know your out there – I won’t add links here right now ’cause I don’t even really know who’s who in that space. But feel free to add links in the comments, also to discuss, pull me up on things I’ve written here. And if you’re a radical group responding directly to the climate emergency, and need a cook, a blogger, or maybe even a web designer, you’re welcome to hit me up.
Also, see you at the March for our Future on Saturday!