By Adrian Whitehead
So sorry to hear about the floods in Europe. Best wishes to all those affected and condolences to those who lost loved ones and friends.
Similar floods in 2002 followed by the European heat wave in 200, triggered the start of my climate campaigning.
What was obvious back in 2003 was if we didn't want these events to occur with increasing frequency and severity, we needed to cool the planet immediately. Our slogan back then was Zero Emissions Now.
Eighteen years later the world is planning for 30-50+ years of increasing devastation through the adoption of the suicidal target of net zero emissions by 2050. Net Zero won't even stop the heating because of the degradation of natural systems that are also now heating the planet (loss of carbon from soil, forests, methane from former permafrost, loss of the summer Arctic ice etc).
This 2050 target is immoral, unethical, and to be blunt, a crime against humanity.
Society as we know it will collapse if we do not do better. What we need now is an emergency speed program with three key foci:
We call this Emergency Mobilisation.
Our ecology is already collapsing, the collapse of our societies has started, global food production will be pushed to the point where there is not enough food to feed the world. The world's poor will starve and suffer first.
This future is not set in stone, but to avoid it we must take on our existing politicians and their corporate backers. Our current politicians have shown again and again they are not mentally equipped to deal effectively with the climate emergency.
If you are in Australia and want to play a part in saving us all please join us at voteplanet.net and help us at the next federal election - this election is one of our last chances to make a real difference and avoid the warming levels that will push us to collapse.
An image that sums up climate emergency campaigning for me is a dinghy of people in fast moving water heading for a waterfall. One passenger is frantically paddling to avoid the drop. The others look anxious - some even alarmed - but they sit idle and somehow resigned to whatever outcome the single paddler can achieve.
Climate emergency campaigners work really hard. They have sacrificed money, careers, job security, and family time. Some might have ditched the dinghy and swum their loved ones to safety if that were possible but the dinghy metaphor doesn’t extend that far. There’s no Planet B - we’re all in this together.
To be clear, a climate emergency means breaking business as usual to the same degree COVID-19 has broken it and more, but swap staying home, face masks, and hand sanitiser, for green armies, mass retrofits, and technological leaps. Grassroots campaigners forged the climate emergency path, campaigning for what is necessary, not what is convenient.
The climate emergency paddlers swelled 10,000 fold with the rise of Extinction Rebellion and Friday for Future School Strikes since early 2019 but there are still not enough paddlers to change the fate of the dinghy. When the climate emergency campaign gets momentum, opposing forces just pull harder. Typical excuses of those sitting idly by are they don’t know enough - others would do a better job, or they are too busy. I’ve used both of these excuses.
To respond to the first excuse - not knowing enough, there are 1000s of jobs going in the climate emergency sector with every skill required - full-time, part-time, casual, or occasional (Disclaimer: jobs are unpaid). Since you are reading this, you likely have a better grasp of the issues than Scott Morrison. Claiming ignorance doesn’t cut it. Below is a range of opportunities to get your hands wet. You learn on the job.
Join Extinction Rebellion. Extinction Rebellion is a crash course in the climate emergency. Civil disobedience in the face of the climate emergency had to happen broad-scale. Why wouldn’t we break the law to change our horrific trajectory when polite discourse has failed? To find an XR group near you, head to facebook.
Join Fridays for the future. If you are still at school or have kids who are at school you can join 10,000s protesting every Friday outside their national or local parliaments demanding that our elected governments take action on global warming.
Link with climate emergency campaigners and offer your help. Join facebook groups like ‘What I did today to reverse global warming’ and link with people who may need your help, from eye watering admin, proofreading, web skils, fundraising, leafleting, policy writing, sound, media and legal skills, the list is endless. You might have to be persistent and take initiative as it can be time consuming to absorb someone into a focused and urgent effort. See the list at the end of this blog for Australian groups.
Stand as a climate emergency candidate in local, state or federal elections - or help someone else running as a climate emergency candidate. Run as an independent or in Australia contact Save the Planet or One Planet.
Organise a climate emergency talk at your workplace or community group. See the list at the end for those groups well versed in speaking on the climate emergency or try Extinction Rebellion.
Help do the research for the solutions that will save us. Volunteer with groups like Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) to work on their transition plans across every sector - there are lots of openings besides just engineers - but engineers are also wanted. Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration publishes research papers on the climate emergency.
Help write the policy and legislation that will save us. Are you a policy wonk? Try Research and Strategy for Transition Initiation Inc. RSTI produces the foundational legislation governments will need to move into emergency mode.
Join or start a local climate action group or network. You can pester local politicians for a climate emergency response - including local councils, get active at election time. Stage events, leaflet the neighbourhood, post climate emergency billboards and signs. If you’re starting your own group, other CAGs/CANs will be more than happy to mentor you. Make sure any CAG/CAN you start or join calling for full emergency action rather than calling for incremental change or suicidal targets which reinforces non climate emergency action. If your local CAG/CAN is a problem, start a new one focused on getting a full emergency mobilisation by all levels of government including your local government. See CACE for getting your council into emergency mode.
Campaign for a fair media that will tell the truth about the climate emergency. There are many groups making headway - or start your own campaign to write letters to the editor. A more or less truthful media is a pillar of going into climate emergency mode.
And to respond to the first excuse - you are too busy. If you’re really too busy to help then find a grassroots organisation that is making a difference, give them money to do what they do - just do something to help them! (Warning: They probably won’t have tax deductible status). Even small amounts make a difference.
Lastly, if you don’t see yourself in an activist role or don’t mix in circles that would accept you in a climate emergency role, then you are just who the climate emergency needs outside the echo chamber.
Paddling vanquishes despair. And even if we go over the fall you’ll be able to tell your kids you tried.
List of Australian Climate Emergency Grassroots organisations (may not be exhaustive)
Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE)
Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration
Centre for Climate Safety
Council and Community Action in the Climate Emergency (CACE)
Research and Strategy for Transition Initiation Inc. (RSTI)
Save the Planet
Sustainable Living Foundation (SLF)
Victorian Climate Action Network (VCAN)
By Jane Edwards
Today is more than a new year - it will need to be the beginning of a new era in climate campaigning
By Philip Sutton
Today is the first day of 2020 and I think 2019 needs to be the last year of a thirty year era of climate campaigning and action.
Across the country fires are raging, with a scale and intensity that confirms that Australia and the world is now living in the early stages of truly catastrophic climate change. Climate disaster has become a now issue. It is not surprising that the Oxford Dictionaries selected "climate emergency'" as the 2019 word of the year.
Across the globe people have spent the last 30 years incrementally working to reduce emissions in the hope that we can stop the warming before it becomes dangerous. But after those 30 years we have reached the point where the climate IS clearly dangerous, right now (and worse and worse is in the pipeline if current trends are allowed to continue).
The climate movement needs to rediscover the climate issue afresh, as it actually is now (and not as we have became habituated to thinking about it over past decades).
Let's work through the logic given the situation we are in, at the start of 2020.
The world is dangerously too hot now. Because of current climate change impacts, much of the doubt about the reality of climate change is evaporating. More and more people are beginning (very reasonably) to demand that governments take action to protect them –immediately.
Two scenarios could unfold from here.
With fires, droughts, heatwaves on land and in the seas, storms, floods etc. battering people and ecosystems, the cost of coping with impacts and recovering and taking adaptive action to lessen the impacts is mounting so rapidly that it would be very easy for societies to switch most of their 'climate' expenditures into dealing with here-and-now impacts.
What might this world start to look like? Water shortages will be dealt with principally by investing in desal plants. Forests and woodlands will be too dangerous to live near and they will be mercilessly control-burned or perhaps even cleared. Agriculture will need to be shifted as much as possible into controlled environments (ie. into vast buildings). Across the globe, anyone too poor to invest in such controlled environments will be abandoned (ie. a large percentage of the rural poor and indigenous people living on country), Sea walls will be built, or deltas and coasts abandoned. Marine and terrestrial natural ecosystems will be abandoned. Borders will be closed and people will close their hearts to the struggling and the dying. Wars and insurrections will become more and common in areas too poor to adapt, and quite possibly beyond, and the culture of global cooperation will die. But remember that this is a world that is 'dealing ' with climate change and investing huge amounts very urgently in the process.
Is there a better scenario that we could bring into being instead? What might things look like if enough communities around the world decide to do two big things simultaneously, that is:
What has to be done to achieve the second point?
If the earth is dangerously too hot now it means that:
Do we know how to carry out any of these steps?
Zero emissions: Over the last 50 years a huge amount of work has been put into developing zero emissions energy technologies and this effort has finally delivered technologies that are cost competitive against fossil fuels. So the main things we need to do now is mobilise the political will to urgently close down emissions generating energy systems (covering the use of coal and gas and oil). We also need to accelerate the development and deployment of zero emissions technologies across all the other sectors of the economy. While we absolutely must adopt zero emissions technology at emergency speed, doing so will result in cleaning up the air in regions that burn a lot of coal. This necessary clean-up process will remove particle pollution that has a net cooling effect (lowering the warming effect of coal burning). So, by itself, going to zero emissions (which we must do) will by itself raise the global temperature, once-off by about half a degree. So something more needs to be done.
Full scale CO2 drawdown: The earth can be cooled (eventually) by taking all the excess CO2 out of the air. The lowest cost CO 2 capture and storage technologies depend on photosynthesis-driven biological systems – but these systems cannot be scaled enough to deal with all the CO2 that has to be taken out of the air. So additional physical/chemical methods will need to be developed that are affordable at the necessary scale. We know that full-scale CO2 drawdown could take many decades or even hundreds of years to complete. So the cooling effect of the drawdown strategy will not be strong enough for a long time – meaning that massive damage could be done to human societies and natural ecosystems and biodiversity in the meantime.
Direct cooling using solar reflection methods. It is already known that the earth can be cooled back to the pre-industrial level at relatively low direct financial cost using solar reflection methods – and the target temperatures could be reached in just a few years. What is not known is whether this can be done with clear environmental/social net benefit globally (ie. would damaging side effects outweigh the direct benefits?). Clearly solar reflection methods should not be used if the net environmental/social benefit is not positive. But given the staggering social and ecological damage that will be done if temperature relief is not delivered very fast indeed, it seems like it would be highly prudent and ethically compelling to immediately ramp up research and development aimed at creating net beneficial solar reflection methods.
What does our new situation mean for action and activism? We need to commit to a maximum protection approach to climate action and therefore be clear about:
We need to bring the urgency of real and timely protection to bear on climate campaigning.
We can no longer approach climate campaigning largely via a string of drawn out limited target campaigns.
We have to press governments to deliver a climate emergency action package that covers “everything”:
Ideally we would want the national government to take the lead from the start and to mobilise the country around this action program. But for practical purposes the current government is best understood as “the fossil fuel industry in government”. And even if Labor won the next federal election, its culture is currently focused on trade-offs and “doing a bit of everything, good and bad, fairly slowly”.
Instead, for our immediate action, we need to look a bit further down the government hierarchy to find the critical next focus for action.
Between 2016 and 2019, 83 local councils passed climate emergency declarations in Australia (and over 1000 globally). This process needs to be extended to more councils to build the community base, and extended to cover the adoption of an effective action program.
But the big qualitative shift for 2020 needs to be to get a number of state governments to declare a climate emergency and adopt the action program described above. This process focusing on the states and territories began on 16 May 2019 when the ACT Legislative Council declared a climate emergency and the potential was further indicated on 25 September 2019 when the South Australian Legislative Council passed a motion calling for a declaration of a climate emergency.
We need to be practical, recognising that the fossil fuel industry has its claws less securely into the body politic in some states and territories more than others. You can see this with the ACT, South Australia and Tasmania. There is also potential in NSW and Victoria. If these two big states could be got over the line then the country would really start to shift.
Australia is a hybrid polity – part democracy, part monetocracy. To shift Victoria and NSW we will have to convince a large segment of the business community that their wellbeing doesn’t depend on following the interests of the fossil fuel industry, quite the opposite in fact.
Building a powerful business alliance against the fossil fuel industry is not a crazy idea. In the 1970s and 80s the mining industry took on the manufacturing industry to press for the elimination of import tariffs. The manufacturing industry was the Goliath with 25% of the business dollars in the economy and the mining industry was the David controlling only about 5% of the business dollars. But the mining industry was eventually able to build an alliance that controlled more than 25% of the dollars in the economy and the alliance together with some skilful strategising rolled the manufacturers and got the tariff change they wanted.
The fossil fuel industry in Australia is still a minority economic force controlling less than 10% of the business dollars. But the rest of the economy is not yet fully aware that its interests do not lie with the fossil fuel industry.
A campaign to get the NSW and Victorian governments on side for a climate emergency program will depend on mobilising both the community and business around a climate emergency action demand.. And doing both these things will depend on getting support across the political spectrum. Already there are signs that the Liberals and Nations are facing very real internal tensions over the climate issue.
The climate emergency campaign began in Australia in 2016 and was created by grassroots climate activists. In the 3 years since then the campaign has built momentum globally, culminating in the passage of a climate emergency motion by the European Parliament on 28th November 2019.
The challenge for 2020 is for all of us climate activists to do what we can to get the mainstream climate movement to come at the climate issue afresh, acknowledging that the strategies of the last 30 years are past their use-by date.
Now that we are living in the early stages of catastrophic climate change, we have to pull off a massive, urgent and improbable climate rescue. That will require new thinking and new action.
Bloggers on this page include Adrian Whitehead, Philip Sutton, Jane Edwards, Andrea Otto, David Lughermo.