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Issue #1875      July 3, 2019

Exploiting labour, exploiting nature

Climate emergency Roundtable CPA (WA Branch)

In May, 2019 the country went to the polls and it was thought climate change would feature heavily in the way people decided to vote. However, the climate, environment and nature did not get much of a look-in and instead a Liberal/National Coalition won government with an ant-working class plan to reduce taxes some time after the next election. There was certainly no planning for the effects of climate change into the future.

There is however a growing concern in the community for action to confront the growing climate emergency and with this impetus the CPA WA Branch held a Roundtable discussion on this urgent issue. The proceedings were chaired by Dr Christopher Crouch of the CPA who said, “Marx identified capitalism as an economic system that exploited man and nature, making them both commodities to be bought and sold.” This had led, added Dr Crouch, to “the environment being reduced into the raw material for a runaway consumer culture to make goods and services from which a profit must be made, resulting is the Anthropocene period and the climate emergency.”

We have known of the finite nature of resources and the impact of high levels of carbon in the atmosphere for decades which reminded Dr Crouch of an initiative of the union workforce at Lucas Aerospace (a British arms manufacturer) “who had produced a document called ‘From swords to ploughshares’, that mapped out a practical transition of technology and production from war to peace.” Once again we need to go down the path of imagining new modes of production and consumption and also new ways of engaging with the environment as well as with each other, concluded Dr Crouch.

Adam Bennett from Extinction Rebellion was the next speaker who raised the need to adopt a new strategy for dealing with the way in which the planet is being managed as existing methods are not working. A new strategy was necessary said Bennett, which “put people on the line.” Our democratic institutions no longer functions to fulfil the needs of humanity and civilisation. We need to ask ourselves if the social contract is still working and if not do we need to rebel: civil disobedience is therefore necessary. Extinction Rebellion have three minimum demands; 1) Tell the truth about the crisis we are facing, 2) Scale back to Zero Net Carbon by 2025 and 3) Move beyond traditional politics to form a Citizens Assembly.

Extinction Rebellion have only been around for eight months but in that time have held a number of rallies around Europe – the biggest being in central London involving thousands of people and also leading to a thousand arrests. Bennett said history had shown it needed only 3.2 percent of people in a country to mobilise into a social movement that could bring about change. Change was needed as our system had become toxic.

The next speaker was the president of the Conservation Council of Western Australia, Piers Versteegen, who has been around for several years advocating for the environment and biodiversity. Versteegen said Western Australia had become ground zero for emissions in Australia as it was this state’s emissions which were growing, pushing the nation towards a failure to meet its emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

While the state and federal governments argued that the resources sector created wealth and jobs for the economy, Versteegen argued, “If we did offsets for the carbon such as plant thousands of trees and create a renewable energy sector, we would create 4,000 jobs.” It was also ironic the government was defending the large resource multinationals as many of them have paid little or no tax, such as Chevron and BHP.

In WA, during the election, Versteegen noted the state’s only newspaper, News Ltd’s The West Australian, went into bat against the Environmental Protection Authority when it suggested the resource companies should start reducing their emissions. This kind of tactics by the fossil fuel lobby, said Versteegen “Is an assault on our democracy.” For action on climate change to be successful, history has shown us we need a diverse movement and diverse tactics. Versteegen added: “Action on climate change makes good economic sense as it produces more jobs and more wealth than the existing system and we need to recapture the argument about how looking after the environment is good for the economy.”

The next speaker was Jaime Yallup Farrant, a climate justice organiser. With Jaime’s concern for justice and being realistic about the climate emergency facing this planet she asserted, “We are well and truly f**cked when it comes to being able to address the situation on climate change.” Jaime said that in order to do what we can to address climate change it was necessary to change the language being used to talk about climate change.

This was due to governments, corporations and the media discussing climate change as though it was a necessary option to prioritise the economy over the environment and biodiversity. However, it doesn’t make good economic sense to leave out the environment.

Jaime quoted from the iconic book on climate change, “This changes everything” by climate activist Noami Kein, who said, “If we want to change everything we have to include everyone.” Global warming has accelerated significantly in the past few years as fugitive emissions have started to come from sources we had not previously counted on – including emissions from drying wetlands in Western Australia and methane from the warming tundra in the Arctic Circle. Farrant concluded by saying, “We only need to look at the result of the last federal election to see what a challenge we face on climate change.”

The next speaker was Paddy Cullen from the Friends of Brixton Street Wetlands who gave examples of how mainstream groups recognise the importance of action on climate change. Paddy said: “The World Economic Forum says climate change is the biggest problem facing the economies of the world. The World Health Organisation says climate change is the biggest threat to the worlds health and the military says the biggest threat to security is climate change.”

Paddy had seen the effects of climate change first hand ten years ago when he went snorkelling in the Dampier Archipelago off the state’s north-west coast and saw coral bleaching due to the effects warmer water had on living organisms which make up the coral.

Paddy observed that the south-west of WA is one of the global biodiversity hot spots where just 38 hectares of one forest contains more floral diversity than that of the entire Europe. However, rainfall has begun to decrease in the area but curiously by much less in the Perth metropolitan area which was seeing an influx of some birds from areas drying out more rapidly. We are facing a climate and ecological emergency, added Cullen, which even 60 percent of Liberal voters admitted in a recent survey.

The final speaker was Steve McCarthy, state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, who spoke of the need for our economies to transition to more sustainable industries and more sustainable forms of energy generation. This affects his members in the coalfields in the Collie region of the south-west. He is attempting to secure a deal for his members which would see workers transition from their coal jobs in Collie to a lithium mine (near Greenbushes) and the processing plant at Kemerton.

While ultimately there are better technologies out there than lithium batteries, the mine and plant would give a lead time of 20-30 years to develop other technologies and industries to support these new technological developments. McCarthy said: “People want leadership and ways in which to provide meaningful input into this process of change – so no one gets left behind.” Steve emphasised the importance of developing plans not just for the 3-4 years of the electoral cycle but to have a plan for the next 30-40 years.

McCarthy was also critical of our education system which ensured 20-27 percent of children receive an education which is not fit for purpose or which does not help them to find meaningful and productive work.

Next article – “Affront to democracy”

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