Why we must fight for a safe climate

My generation has never experienced a below average temperature. The last time the global temperature was below average was in February 1985.

The recent heatwaves across Australia ushered in a new record-breaking summer: every year for the past decade has been hotter than the last.

Meanwhile our political leaders — privileged white men in suits — brought coal into parliament and made jokes while they and their corporate mates continue to burn our collective future.

We are already getting a taste of what our future holds if we do not take urgent action.

Extreme bushfires have burnt down entire towns across Australia in the past couple of years. Pacific islands are already becoming uninhabitable due to rising sea levels. Climate change-induced droughts in Syria destroyed its agriculture and helped create the conditions that led to the civil war. Floods in Pakistan in 2011 affected 5.4 million people, destroying crops and leaving millions displaced, forced to live in makeshift shelters without access to safe drinking water. The Himalayan glaciers are already melting, potentially leaving 2 billion people across Asia without sufficient drinking water.

The consequences of climate change will only get worse if we do not make serious changes rapidly. Already the Artic Sea ice is melting, which could mean sea level rises of 3–5 metres, making many coastal cities uninhabitable.

This ecological crisis is the result of human activity. Because of a constant drive for profits, corporations are felling the Amazon rainforest at an alarming rate to create cattle pastures for beef production. The Amazon forest is one of the most crucial in the world in terms of soaking up carbon dioxide.

When we desperately need to reduce emissions, corporations, often backed and funded by governments, continue to build major fossil fuel projects, such as the Adani coalmine, poison our water and destroy farmland with gas fracking projects and pursue unsustainable projects that are destroying crucial ecosystems, such as the Beeliar Wetlands and the Great Barrier Reef.

No matter how urgent the need for action on climate change, corporations and their governments refuse to change. 

Solar power is now cheaper in some parts of the world than fossil fuels. In Australia, scientific studies show we have the capacity to have 100% renewables in 10 years. Yet the government continues to give billions a year in subsidies to fossil fuel corporations — money that could be going to renewable energy.

Since the international climate talks in Paris in December 2015, when the world cried out for serious climate action, Australia’s big four banks have poured $5.6 billion into fossil fuels. Governments and the fossil fuel industry are not going to change their destructive practices unless we force them to.

To do this and give ourselves a chance of a future we need to change our economic system. Right now eight men own more wealth — and all the privileges and power that go with it — than the poorest 50% of the Earth’s population.

For serious climate action to be a reality we need a society where the majority of people — workers, farmers, students, the poor, First Nations people and refugees, the victims of climate change — are making decisions in the interests of our collective future.  

To achieve this will take a gigantic struggle. But it also presents an opportunity to change the world. As Naomi Klein, author of Capitalism vs the Climate said: “I think climate change can be the catalyst we need … In a world where profit is consistently put before both people and the planet, climate economics has everything to do with ethics and morality.”

If we address climate change, we can begin to construct the kind of world we want to live in.

We want a world where:

  • There is collective ownership of a clean, renewable energy industry;
  • A stable climate that supports a diversity of ecosystems and life;
  • Manufacturing industries produce wind turbines and public transport vehicles;
  • The sovereignty of First Nations people is recognised and they have full land rights;
  • Education, healthcare and housing are supported by the community and not run for profit;
  • Racism has been eradicated and people fleeing climate disasters are welcomed;
  • Local food production and sustainable urban agriculture is the norm; and
  • A democracy that encourages mass participation.

This kind of society is possible if we take the action needed to address climate change. The seeds for the movement we need can already be found in today’s environmental and social campaigns.

First Nations people in the US and Canada are leading the resistance at Standing Rock to the mining of the Alberta tar sands that is destroying sacred ground and would be catastrophic to the climate. Their movement has galvanised worldwide attention as it bravely faces a hostile and violent administration.

In Australia, campaigns against unconventional gas mining have united farmers, First Nations people and environmentalists, and together they have won victories, with a moratorium in place in the Northern Territory and a ban in Victoria.

The campaign to save the Beeliar Wetlands in Western Australia from a destructive and unnecessary highway, has united thousands of people in mass civil disobedience actions.

One of the biggest success stories in the climate movement has been the divestment campaign. More than 690 institutions worldwide and numerous individuals have divested more than $7 trillion from fossil fuel projects. This movement was started by students on college campuses in the US and it has now spread to Australian universities.  

The Australian Student Environment Network, 350.org and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition have been organising to demand universities divest from fossil fuels.

Last year, there was a week of actions that included occupations of university administration buildings, nude photoshoots and rallies, in some cases of hundreds of people.

The divestment campaign has brought many new activists into the environmental movement, challenged corporations’ social license to pollute and won victories: six Australian universities have divested.  

The challenge now is to expand these campaigns and win more victories. Through them we can build the climate justice movement to make a sustainable world before it is too late for many.

[Zebedee Parkes is a national co-convenor of Resistance Young Socialist Alliance.]