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Issue #1924      July 20, 2020

REPORT: Politics in the Pub, Perth, WA

Climate emergency post-COVID-19

On 9th July, the Communist Party of Australia held its first public event since COVID restrictions were lifted in Western Australia. The two topics which were chosen for the event included the one that is in everyone’s face and the other which continues to escalate but mostly in the background of the corporate media noise – the Coronavirus pandemic and climate change respectively.

The event was chaired by CPA member Dr Christopher Crouch who said the it was no accident that the two issues have come together at this time in human history. Dr Crouch quoted from a United Nations report released on 6th July 2020: “The science is clear that if we keep exploiting wildlife and destroying our ecosystems, then we can expect to see a steady stream of these diseases jumping from animals to humans in the years ahead.” What happens in one sphere goes on to effect other spheres – however to effect meaningful change, added Dr Crouch, “We need not just climate change but system change.”

The first speaker introduced by the Chair was Paddy Cullen a well known environmental activist in WA who told the thirty people who came to listen to the presentation that the world is in a tug of war between those who stoke the flames of the climate emergency – the capitalists and those in government who prop them up, and those who fight against its consequences, fire fighters, scientists and communities of ordinary people. The latter must pull together and pull harder against the other side to ensure the survival of our environment and our communities.

Cullen was also concerned our government had been prepared to listen to the advice of scientists and medical experts over how to control and eliminate the effects of COVID-19 but they have not been prepared to listen to the science on climate change – and now we also face an emergency over the climate. Cullen said that the science is not new and we have known since 1856 of the phenomenon of climate change when a scientist and campaigner for woman’s rights, Eunice Newton Foote of New York, discovered carbon dioxide warms the planet by putting two thermometers in the sun – one with carbon dioxide in it and one without. The temperature in the test tube with CO2 was warmer. It was not soon afterwards in 1859, in Pennsylvania, also in the USA, the first producing oil well was capped.

In 1998 Paddy Cullen was in Thailand working on gibbon research when he observed the sky had been darkened from the forest fires raging in Borneo some distance across an ocean to the east and later he visited Borneo while those fires were continuing and was told people could not get anywhere near to control them as the fires were so intense. In WA, he visited the Ningaloo Reef and in 2004, the Dampier Archipelago where he witnessed the effect which warming sea temperatures had on coral by bleaching them a pure white. Paddy has also been to the Pacific Islands where he had seen how rising sea levels had washed away burial grounds of their ancestors and killed the roots of their plants which provide them with food. They also experienced drought in the Pacific Islands as well as in Africa and Syria in the Middle East – events which can bring about economic hardship and armed conflict over water and arable land. In WA, fifty areas have been identified over susceptibility to inundation from climate change – even the city of Rockingham where the state’s Premier, Mark McGowan has his electorate office. But noted, Cullen, WA is also one of the states which contributes the most to climate change as it is responsible for producing so much conventional gas through large scale projects such as the Browse basin, Gorgon field, and the Burrup Peninsula near Karratha. When people did protest in WA the Environmental Protection Agency relented and said Chevron and Woodside should offset their carbon emissions. The big carbon emitters merely knocked on the door of the WA government and it relented with the proposed regulations, along with the Seven West Media, publisher of the states’ only daily newspaper, The West – which is heavily owned by mining and gas interests also supporting Big Carbon.

However, there is hope as many issues have become mainstream now, including climate change and more recently Black Lives Matter, Cancel the Rent, and Defund the Police and these have made connections and links to environmental issues.

The second speaker was Elly Hulm, Branch Secretary Perth CPA, who said that community action around the climate emergency was positive but it alone will not solve the problem we are now facing. A change in the system is needed. There is a deep incompatibility between the action that is needed and capitalism that is driven by the never-ending pursuit of profit; and the necessity for the economy to continuously expand to avoid the unavoidable crises.

While capitalism’s failures are being exposed by the pandemic, the need for a climate recovery is possible has also been exposed.

COVID-19 has shown that things can change very quickly for the worse as well as for the better as the seventeen per cent in global reductions of emissions in April 2020 has shown. While we don’t want to bring about the environmental change needed at the expense of human life through global pandemics, we cannot now afford to bounce back to a so-called “normal” as the climate crisis is continuing to accelerate. A new “normal” is needed. The last time the planet experienced a drop in emissions was during the GFC of 2008/2009 only to rebound in 2010 as the economy recovered leading to the emergence of a new, all-time high level of emissions.

There are no signs however that the will of the government has been moved by the pandemic. Under the cover of the COVID-19 pandemic emergency, a raft of climate destructive policies has been progressed including in NSW, with the government approving an extension of longwall coal mining under the Woronora reservoir. In Victoria the state government lifted its moratorium on drilling for onshore conventional gas reserves.

Internationally further signs of a lack of will are evident. The UN’s annual climate summit, scheduled for November in Glasgow has been postponed until 2021 and it is not the only global climate meeting which has been disrupted. In the US the government and some parts of industry are calling for pollution abatement policies to be delayed and a relaxation of enforcement. The US has also rolled back on the car emissions rules which were a central piece of its efforts to reduce gas emissions.

What makes sense to capitalism, rampant unplanned growth, an indifference to the consequences of production to maximise profits, cannot be reconciled with what is needed for a future that supports human life. Capital cannot control the laws of its own “free market economy” and its failures are being exposed by the pandemic. Climate change is not just an environmental issue, it is fundamentally a crisis of civilisation and for human survival.

Hulm noted also that earlier modelling looks now like it may have been conservative. Today there are many places which are approaching conditions where it will be difficult for human life to exist. Heat and humidity are reaching levels that present a real climate hazard.

Yet while the very real effects of climate change are occurring and effecting the way we live, the government of Prime Minister Scott Morrison is increasing spending on the military budget by $270 billion on the supposed spectre of an increasingly unstable world – the threat of war versus the real existential threat coming from climate change.

This was contrasted against how socialist countries are responding to the climate crisis with prioritisation of climate action, constitutional changes for the conservation of the environment and the fight against climate change, which threatens the survival of the human species. Reforestation strategies, energy policy where the core concept is to rely less and less on hydrocarbons and give greater space in the energy balance to renewable sources like solar, wind, tide, and water play a part. Conservation systems being put into place from house level to the public sector and cooperative farms.

To address the climate crisis a commitment to carbon neutrality is needed and it can’t happen under capitalism. Different choices are made when people are put before profits.

Next article – War on democratic rights – Part 2

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