How not to build the climate change movement

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[from Green Left Weekly, 26 July 2009]

This Open Letter was sent to the Australian Youth Climate Coalition from the socialist youth organization Resistance, following the Power Shift 2009 conference in Sydney, July 11-13.

We face a climate emergency. Climate tipping points are rapidly being approached, which, if passed, could mean an uninhabitable planet.

Climate scientist James Hansen said in 2008 that we only had a decade to act to avert catastrophe. Since then, all indicators have shown that it may be even more urgent than that.

Despite this, governments across the world, including the Australian government, continue to set greenhouse emission reduction targets that are totally inadequate, jeopardizing our future on the planet.

Faced with this emergency and government inaction, we agree that a “power-shift” is needed: a shift away from current governments whose policies are written in the interest of big polluters rather than of achieving a safe climate.

This is blatant in the Labor government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bill, which would give more than $9 billion in permits to big polluters, make individual actions to cut overall emissions impossible will even allow emissions to increase.

We therefore find it strange that, at Power Shift 2009 — a national youth climate summit — the very people and organisations we need to shift the power from were given a platform to greenwash their policies and portray themselves as serious about climate change.

In some sessions, participants could not ask a single question or publicly respond. In others, the chair selected one question from the floor to read out; stifling debate or comments that would expose the role that these climate vandals actually play.

This meant NSW Premier Nathan Rees was able to talk of banning hunting in National Parks, while his government is massively expanding coal-fired power stations. Participants were unable to take him up.

South Australian Premier Mike Rann spoke of how his state was leading the way in banning plastic bags — while expanding uranium mining and forcing radioactive waste onto Aboriginal communities.

And Emma Hurd, from Westpac, spoke about her bank’s commitment to stopping climate change, while it remains a major investor in the environmentally destructive mining company Rio Tinto.

We do not believe these people are part of the climate change movement. They are climate criminals and should not be provided with more space to tell young people that their “business-as-usual” organisations are part of stopping climate change.

Politicians such as Rann and Rees and companies such as Westpac have platforms from which they are able to spin their fake climate change policies everyday.

What’s worse, these speakers were given an audience to the exclusion of progressive groups that don’t have the same resources. Instead of Rees speaking in front of thousands, we could have heard from Graham Brown, a retired coalminer who is fighting for a just transition to a green economy: a transition that does not disadvantage current coal workers.

Instead of Rann, we could have heard Rebecca Bear-Wingfield speaking about the actual impacts of uranium mining on Indigenous people.

Perhaps most concerning were the active attempts to stifle the dissent of participants who wanted to challenge the people, organisations and ideas that would lead us to a climate disaster.

When participants turned their back on Rann and chanted in disgust at his policies, security forcibly removed them. When participants tried to hand out material criticising the environmental records of some of speakers, they were told to stop or security would be called.

One of the reasons given was that the material would “upset the sponsors”. Big fees were also charged to hold campaigning stalls.

If a power shift is to occur, those who hold power and refuse to act need to be confronted: people need to be told the truth about their actions.

By silencing those who seek to expose the climate vandals, you line up with the politicians who continue a business-as-usual approach.

By shutting down campaigners because they may offend sponsors, you are effectively saying that those with enough money can buy their way out of any criticism. By charging exorbitant fees for non-profit organisations, you are effectively saying that the views of groups without much money aren’t worth being heard.

Many speakers argued for the climate movement to draw on past social movements, such as the movement to abolish slavery or the civil rights movement in the United States, or the anti-Vietnam war movement.

These are all great examples, but what they had in common was that the movements themselves were hotbeds of ideas.

Many different groups and individuals put forth their views on the best ways forward for the movement. It was through the battle of ideas that the movements worked out how to proceed, and how to win.

To win a safe-climate future, the climate movement must be one of the biggest movements in human history: the only way it can succeed is if freedom of speech and freedom of ideas flourish.

We sincerely hope that the AYCC will take this on board and commit to freedom of speech for all those in the climate movement at future events.

1 Comment

  • Please know that I am interested in co-creating a film-documentary about the emerging climate justice movement. Frankly, I need money and a crew to commit to doing this with me. I’ve got invites in New Orleans, Appalachia (U.S. coal country), Washington D.C., and of course at the mother-of-all-climate-showdowns in Copenhagen in December. My California comrades just keep telling me that it’s a terrific idea, but everybody’s tapped out moneywise. Craig Stehr, 593 62nd Street, Oakland, CA 94609-1246 USA; email: Earth First!…we’ll save the other planets later. 🙂