Student climate activist: ‘Get into the streets again!’

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“People and the environment — not saving an inherently destructive economic system — must come first”

By Simon Butler
Green Left Weekly, November 21, 2008

Leigh Hughes, an activist in the socialist youth organisation Resistance and the Socialist Alliance, as well a member of the Australian Student Environment Network, recently won the “Leading Light” award from the ACT Conservation Council for the most outstanding environmental effort of an individual under the age of 30.

What issues is your group currently campaigning around, and why?

We’re organising for the Walk against Warming in Canberra on December 6, and for a Climate Action Summit early next year. I hope these events will be big, educational and inspire people to get more involved in the campaign.

There is a widespread sentiment in Australia that we need to look after the environment, but it is still too shallow to make the major difference that is needed. Most people, especially young people, see climate change as important, but there is confusion about what needs to be done to reduce carbon emissions and how such changes can be brought about.

The climate action movement has to find the ways to explain to more people why the federal government’s current targets and mechanisms for reducing carbon emissions are woefully inadequate, why massive government investment and action is required if we are to transition to a sustainable economy, why time is so short, and so on.

For the movement to become stronger, it needs to take more people through an educational experience. Resistance will be contributing to this goal at the Walk Against Warming and all its activities in the coming year.

What are the most important next steps for the climate action movement?

Unfortunately, many people are still focused only on changing personal behaviour as the solution, and are relatively undemanding of the government for serious action against the big carbon emitters.

The urgency to reduce carbon emissions has also induced many to look for short-cuts, hoping that government and business will respond to gentle lobbying or pleading. Unfortunately, they are not.

So, the movement needs to get into the streets again with demands on the government for tangible, well-defined changes, with direct actions against big polluters, and to campaign around local issues — any activities that will involve, educate and empower more and more people to force the urgent and major changes needed to really stop greenhouse gas emissions, not just “greenwash” them.

We have to build up a mass movement that does not compromise humanity’s future for political expediency. That requires rebuilding open, democratic campaign organisations, and being clear that this issue and this movement are bigger than any of us; only through united action will we succeed.

What’s wrong with the federal government’s response to the climate emergency?

Two hundred years of industrial capitalism has brought us to a point where reducing greenhouse gas emissions is no longer enough to prevent massive climate change. We have to start capturing atmospheric carbon dioxide in a sustainable way.

Yet the Rudd government’s targets and trajectories aren’t even half of what is required, basically because it is wedded to the economic system that got us into this mess. The ALP supports continued coalmining and native-forest logging, and the expansion of the private car industry, for example, and has developed its climate response accordingly.

They actually know the science and the costs of their policies for future generations. They also know that the majority of people in Australia want them to act against climate change, but still they sit on their hands.

If there is hope it lies not in their hands, but in those of ordinary people coming together to assert that people and the environment — not saving an inherently destructive economic system — must come first.