John Rice, a member of the Climate Emergency Action Network (CLEAN) in South Australia and a founder of the Adelaide Ecosocialist Network, spoke at the June 13 Climate Emergency Rally in Adelaide. This article is based on his speech.
The numbers of people who came out on a cold Adelaide day demonstrates widespread concern about the vast but invisible emergency that confronts us.
I say invisible because it is slow, and silent, but has very real and devastating effects, as we saw only too tragically earlier this year with the Victorian bushfires.
There will be an “almost annual repeat of the recent [bushfire] disaster”, Peter Marshall, the national secretary of the United Firefighters Union, wrote in the February 12 Age.
We can only imagine what other scenarios will be played out across the environment unless we turn this Titanic around.
The 20th century was the century of genocide, with death camps, ethnic cleansing, and mass warfare.
Will the 21st century be even more horrific, and be the century of ecocide — the death of thousands of species, inevitably leading to the death of millions of people as well?
CLEAN believes that, to help prevent this mother of all disasters, we need to put our energies together as a movement, as a new tide of active, creative individuals.
We can prevent this massive disaster. We can turn this ship around.
First and foremost, the climate experts tell us, we must quit coal.
James Hansen, the foremost climate scientist in the world, has said: “Coal is the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on the planet.”
In an article on Climateandcapitalism.com on March 25, Hansen said coal-fired power plants, representing half the CO2 we produce, are “factories of death”.
These factories of death, these Auschwitzes of the ecosystem, have to be turned off and never restarted.
Where does that leave us in Australia? Doesn’t this mean the destruction of one of our major export industries, and hugely expensive power bills?
The answer is clearly no. We have a real alternative: 100% renewables by 2020!
Is this a pipe dream, or the fantasy of a lunatic fringe? Not at all. In the US, 2.2 million people have signed up to Al Gore’s Repower America project, which aims to do exactly this.
In Australia, Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) in Victoria, a group of technicians and engineers, have a costed plan to quit coal completely in that state in three years, using mainly wind and solar, and some gas.
That’s a 50% reduction in total CO2 in three years.
David Spratt, also from Victoria, has launched the Safe Climate Australia project, bringing together economists, engineers, planners, and community volunteers into a giant project to map out how Australia will get to 100% renewables in 10 years.
When the US industrialists were threatened by the Japanese in 1942, they refitted the car plants of the whole country to produce war materials within three months.
Can we do the same thing for the climate emergency — an emergency with far higher stakes? We can and we must.
Clearly, when there is political will, it can happen. Experts tell us it’s technically and economically possible. The only thing lacking is political guts and motivation.
We need a true stimulus package, a massive investment in renewables now.
Solar near Alice Springs, wind power in the mid-north, geothermal at Innamincka; a green infrastructure project that would dwarf the Snowy Mountain scheme.
This would involve retraining all workers currently in the fossil fuels industry. Not one job would be lost in the transition. Not one worker would be left behind in the renewables revolution.
So how do we get there?
What is stopping the Minister for Not Yet, Penny Wong, and the Prime Minister for Procrastination from having the political chutzpah, the gumption that we need them to? After all, the majority of Australians would be behind this scheme.
To answer that question we must acknowledge the gorilla in the room.
He’s big, powerful, ugly and coal black — and he’s sorting smoke. This King Kong — the Australian coal lobby — has captured Penny and Kevin and is climbing the heights of wealth and power. The carbon lobby — with all its money, think tanks, PR spin doctors, and media fellow travellers — has totally captured this government and is holding them to ransom with lies and chicanery.
The gorillas from the big end of town are pushing the government one way: pushing us all to destruction. The only answer — the true challenge for all of us — is to build a movement of people from all walks of life big enough to push the other way. We must reach the point we cannot be ignored.
Each of us must go from here determined to build connections. We must educate ourselves and activate others, starting with our schools, our churches, our streets, our community centres.
We have to start with what we have got. If the key problem is the corporate gorillas, what institutions in Australian society are best, are tailor-made in fact, for challenging corporate power?
The unions are a key to this struggle. The unions will be essential players in shaping the new energy economy, and how we create new, clean energy jobs.
Unions are in most workplaces, where most of us spend much of our lives. Unions know how to challenge company spin, and media distortion.
It’s they who, through their own media and networks, can get out the real picture to their members and the broader community.
The community must work with the unions. Let’s go back to our workplaces, talk with our union reps about this rally, ask them to organise workshops on how we must respond to this emergency, help them produce union policy, encourage them to talk to other unions about it.
This is humanity’s biggest, gravest, collective challenge, ever. It will need a momentum that will do more than push the King Kongs out of the political boardrooms of Australia and close down the factories of death here. Through the joining of hands around the world, it will need to create a massive force, a wave that will be felt across oceans.
Others are doing it too. There is a new force awake and moving in the world. Millions in the Americas, north and south, are in motion, seeing glimmer in the gloom, feeling their way forwards.
This force is saying “si, se peude!” — “yes we can!” — and “another world is possible”. It’s the force of thousands, of millions, of multitudes.
Help nourish this network that is growing, that’s putting its roots into every community, sprouting here and there, in unexpected corners of surprise, cracking old edifices, creeping towards the light — a true vine of hope, of action, real and determined, leading us towards a new way of being and a new Earth.