Action on climate means ending the blah, blah, blah

Climate protest Canberra, September 2018.
Climate protest Canberra, September 2018. Photo: Pip Hinman

The capitalist establishment — political, media and corporate — has spent years debating whether or not Australia should have a 2050 climate target.

It is an irrelevant debate. It’s like sitting in the cockpit of a plane in danger of crashing and debating whether next year’s pilot training course should begin in June or July.

It is a distraction from the task at hand.

That the federal Coalition government cannot even promise a target by 2050 — which is pretty meaningless given the climate emergency requires dramatic carbon draw down in the next few years — reveals it is still trying to avoid doing anything.

“Net zero 2050” is a talking point for those who refuse to take action now.

The two things that matter most now are: short-term cuts in emissions; and an immediate halt to all new fossil fuel developments.

The Climate Council wants a 75% reduction in emissions by 2030, to be able reach net zero by 2035. This is what the science demands, it said, to “avoid locking in catastrophic climate impacts”.

Even the International Energy Agency called in May for an immediate halt to “investment in new fossil fuel supply projects”.

By contrast, the federal government is approving a spate of new fossil fuel projects. With breathtaking chutzpah, the Nationals want the public $250 billion mining fund to be spent on supporting new fossil fuel developments.

Angus Taylor, the minister in charge of pretending to reduce carbon emissions, has said that renewable energy projects do not need government support because they are “now clearly commercially viable”.

The contorted logic of the government goes like this: government funding for fossil fuels is essential because renewables are not viable; but government funding for renewables is not necessary because they are, in fact, viable.

There is no consistency to the government’s argument because its position is irrational. It is based on wanting to help fossil fuel capitalists’ interests and not the people they are supposed to serve.

In this country, the big mining companies — alongside the banks and “financial services” industry — are the most profitable sector of the economy. The government — whether Labor or Liberal-National — does not need a good argument to rush to hand out public money to their fossil fuel donors. They have long been the loyal servants of these big corporations and know what is expected of them.

But isn’t big capital seeing the light? The Business Council of Australia (BCA) recently announced it now supports a net zero 2050 target.

While this is welcome, we should sound several notes of caution.

First, the BCA position is more aligned to the capitalist mainstream internationally. Australia’s position is so much out on a limb even the international average seems good by comparison. However, that international average (if implemented) is still on track for a rise of well over 2°C in average global warming by 2100 — that would be a disaster!

Secondly, one tactic corporations use is to appear to come on board with climate action only to work against it behind the scenes. This was acknowledged by an Exxon lobbyist in June who was tricked into revealing to Greenpeace that “the company supports a carbon tax publicly because [they expected it] would never gain enough political support to be adopted”.

Similarly, the change in tactic by the notoriously climate-denying Murdoch media is largely greenwashing.

Thirdly, while Greta Thunberg aptly summed up greenwashing in her “Blah, Blah, Blah” speech to youth activists in Milan, it shows grassroots pressure is having an impact to the extent that governments and many corporations want to be seen to be doing something.

This, of course, is far is from the fundamental changes we need. Global greenhouse gas emissions have more than doubled since the 1992 Earth Summit from when emissions were meant to start falling.

After Morrison said he may not attend the Glasgow summit in person, it now seems he might: at the last minute, he may attend to announce a net zero 2050 target. He should not be going to Glasgow with such a non-plan: he should be going to jail for criminal negligence.

The people who govern for the fossil fuel capitalists are putting us and the Earth at terrible risk. As Thunberg said to wild applause in Milan: “There is no planet B; there is no planet Blah”; net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah. Climate neutral. Blah, Blah, Blah.”

“Our hopes and dream drown in their empty words and promises … They have had 30 years of blah, blah, blah … and now where has that led us? If this is what they consider to be climate action, then we don’t want it.”

We need a people-powered revolt to transfer power from corporations to the people.

[Alex Bainbridge is a national co-convenor of the Socialist Alliance.]