Socialist Candidate Speaks on Climate Change

Speech by Pip Hinman, Socialist Alliance candidate for Marrickville, New South Wales, Australia, to a candidates’ meeting organized by Marrickville Climate Change Now! March 6, 2007

The big question in NSW is how to tackle the coal question: there are two arguments: there’s the government and Liberal opposition which want to continue with business as usual, and there’s the Socialist Alliance and the Greens who say coal has to be phased out, we need a turn to sustainable energy and nuclear is not an option.Labor’s support for the continued use of coal as NSW’s main energy source, and its intention to push ahead with the Anvil Hill coal mine in the Hunter – something that would generate more than 27 million tones of carbon dioxide each year – are evidence of its lack of seriousness on this important question.In our opinion, what is needed is an emergency approach, a five- or 10-year plan to achieve a drastic reorientation of our economy and use of energy to achieve sustainability in energy, water, biodiversity and land management, and drastically reduce pollution and greenhouse gases. It is impossible to confront the greenhouse problem without an energy conversion plan.

And we reject the idea that everything can be left up to the market, through mechanisms like “carbon trading.” The normal operations of the “free market” — the big corporations’ unrestrained greed for profit — have brought us to where we are now. To cope with the crisis requires a sharp change of direction.

Socialist Alliance would work towards establishing such an emergency program in consultation with Indigenous communities, and foster training and employment to maintain the program while making corporations pay for their polluting ways.

What we propose

First, the power industry in its entirety should be renationalised. At the moment the private operators have a direct interest in making things worse! The more power they sell, the more profits they make. The more air conditioners that are bought, the more electricity is consumed, and the more it helps their corporate bottom line.

We, the community, need to bring the whole sector under public control so that this key lever is in community hands. Then we can steer the ship where we want it to go. This requires a sharp break with what Labor has done, and what the Liberals would do.

Cars and trucks are a major source of fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. We need a drastic substitution of public transport for cars and rail freight for trucks. This has to be done and serious results obtained quickly. Stop all the expenditure on express motorways (except for essential maintenance), and our tax dollar going to toll ways and to subsidise the deals on public-private partnerships (PPPs), and put the funds into public transport and rail freight etc.

We argue that public transport should be free – and it should be massively expanded across Sydney, but also through rural and regional NSW. Imagine the health, societal, environmental – and economic benefits from such a measure! While we only got a glimpse of the impact of such a reform, the free and frequent public transport during the Olympic Games in Sydney definitely brought a smile to people’s faces.

Bicycle paths should also be expanded, as should be pedestrian only areas.

We should renationalize rail freight, and remove subsidies for road freight, with the workers being retrained for more environmentally sustainable jobs.

Against the free market mantras – such as “carbon trading” – we call for a comprehensive plan to cut energy use throughout the economy and society and achieve big and rapid reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions.

Real targets – and penalties

This will involve setting mandatory targets for every sector, every factory and plant, every institution, and so on. All this should be public and the results (or lack of them) should also be made public. Let’s have no more spurious “commercial in-confidence” rubbish from the government of the day. This is our future and there can be nothing exempt from public scrutiny.
Those companies that cannot meet the necessary targets should be nationalized, and reorganised on a socially responsible basis.

We are endlessly told that we need more and more power, and hence more and more power stations etc. But this will only exacerbate the greenhouse problem.

There is no such thing as “clean coal.” Coal power must be replaced with renewable energy infrastructure, which creates new jobs and cuts emissions. We should also phase out the export of coal.

We need to mandate and subsidise solar power installations for all domestic dwellings.

Importantly, we also need an industry-funded minimum 50% renewable energy target by 2020, a target of 90% emissions reduction by 2030. By imposing strict energy efficiency standards, we could achieve a 15% reduction in demand for power by 2015.

The scope for energy efficiency measures is vast. Very significant gains could be achieved relatively easily. The amount of electricity we use could be cut by half or more without great convulsions — provided there is the political will. In a tiny, poor country, such as Cuba, where the government is not held hostage to the interests of big corporations, they can decide on a plan to say change all light bulbs to energy efficient ones, and they organized a “green team” to do it two years ago.

Big business should be forced to pay realistic prices for the power it uses. This will focus their minds on the task. The public has a right to know the full details of their deal with the NSW state government for how much they pay for their electricity. We would then be able to assess how to proceed.

We need a big switch to renewable energy. While the Iemma [current NSW premier Morris Iemma – C&C] government, and Carr beforehand, likes to parade its environmental credentials, including support for wind power, and now its state-based MRET (Mandatory Renewable Energy Target), this is largely greenwash. It’s an attempt – and a bad one – to cover its continued reliance on coal – i.e. business as usual.

Australia produces some of the cheapest wind power in the world, and costs are falling. But unless the state government subsidises the renewable energy industries, they will remain uneconomic, and most working people will not be able to afford to switch. The UNSW solar program is a world leader in the field, but it cannot gain government support to go commercial, having to rely on funding from overseas.

We are completely opposed to nuclear power; it is no solution to anything (except the uranium mining corporations’ thirst for ever more profits, and hang the consequences for the rest of us). We should stop all mining and export of uranium.

Apart from all the safety and waste disposal issues, nuclear plants actually require a very big energy input for their construction.

There so-called “uranium debate” is a furphy, and the major parties know it. [“Furphy” is Australian slang for an absurd story or false rumor – C&C] Labor should not expand its three-mine policy at its national conference, and I’d urge all who are against nuclear power and the mining of uranium to make that point loud and clear at the Labor’s national conference in Sydney next month.

We do not need Lucas Heights to develop medical isotopes – that can be done in laboratories. The only reason we have the reactor is for Australian corporations, and the federal government, to keep its finger in the select club of nuclear nations.

Water savings

Last but not least, we think that the water crisis could be solved with a different set of priorities to the government’s. First, water and sewerage infrastructure should be publicly owned. So we oppose the proposed desalination PPP plant at Kurnel. Such a project is also too expensive and energy inefficient.

We need to urgently reduce water wastage by repairing decaying infrastructure and mandating water efficiency standards.

Local, community based grey-water treatment systems and increased water efficiency, using grey water for local parks and trees, should be deployed. We advocate integrated water recycling systems and a phase out of deep-sea ocean outfalls, which pump out 450 billion litres of water into the sea every year.

While residential rain water tanks could help reduce pressure on catchments, a lot more has to be done to reduce the water consumption of the biggest guzzlers – industry and agriculture – the latter which uses 70% of NSW’s water. Wasteful flood irrigation has to be replaced with underground pipes, and we need to move to sustainable agricultural crops and practices suited to local rainfall and climate patterns.

There should be stricter controls on industrial usage of water, and pollution. The prices of water and fines on polluting companies should be strictly enforced. Industry should be forced to implement their own recycled water systems – something that would reduce the pressure on NSW catchments and bore water supplies.

The problems of the long neglected and ravaged Murray-Darling river system can only be addressed by in independent commission which is not beholden to state or federal governments. To be accountable, this commission has to be elected, and not appointed, and the commissioners would also have to be recallable if they were found to not be doing their jobs.

Our policy statement, which I hope all of you will take home, also addresses other important issues such as forests, agriculture and land management, and waste management.

Conclusion

We’re in favor of phasing out coal, and exports; no nukes and mining and export, shift to renewable energy, free public transport; recycling, and no privatization of pubic utilities such as water, and the renationalization of some public utilities, such as rail freight.

Our socialist standpoint is based on the reality that capitalism must expand or die – we must all buy more and more stuff year in and year out – and that supposedly makes us all happy individuals.

This is profoundly and intrinsically anti-environmental. It is destroying the well-strings of life on earth. But we should also plough our resources and energy into campaigns for reforms now, which is also what Socialist Alliance is about.

A vote for the Socialist Alliance would not just be a protest vote – it would signal that increasingly numbers of us are fed up with the “business as usual” approach, and that some radical changes are needed to combat urgent environment and social issues.

Source: Socialist Alliance Website

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