Lately a number of people have been suggesting that I should run for Parliament. Of course, climate activists should try every possible avenue that might make a difference, and I wish luck to all those who are taking the electoral route. But I have no plans to to do so.
I think it extremely unlikely that I could ever win any significant number of votes. I’m honest, I don’t particularly seek power for itself, I have no source of campaign finance, I have no friends in high places, I don’t have any “leadership qualities”, and I was one of the least popular kids in my school. When I look around, all evidence suggests that the politicians most likely to get elected have the opposite attributes (think of the Prime Minister). There are possible exceptions in Greens, minor party, and independent candidates, but they rarely attain much power.
Even if I could get elected, I don’t think I’m cut out for a political career. I doubt I could deal with the mountain of administration that politicians must face. My only advantageous skill in this cruel world is, in my opinion, that I have tended to think more clearly than others, and that is only because I’ve had an unusual amount of spare time in which to think. If I was in Parliament, I would no longer have time to think and I suspect I would implode.
But my issues with this strategy aren’t limited to the personal. Supposing I somehow got elected and managed to hold it together, how much could I actually achieve as one person against the majority of the Parliament? The Greens have tried for decades to make a difference by negotiating with the powerful. Their biggest achievement to date has been the carbon price, which wasn’t much to write home about and was soon repealed. At the end of the day, money and power almost always win in Parliament. Hung parliaments create a potential opportunity for the people to have a say, but they only come along every few decades and as I say, the previous one achieved little.
It’s true there are plenty of policies imposed on an unwilling (or unwitting) public by political elites – but only policies that are in the interests of the powerful. Climate action is the opposite – in the public interest and against the immediate interests of the fossil fuel industry who pretty much run Australia and the world. It will not be imposed from above; it has to be demanded from below.
The environmental (and other progressive) reforms of the 1970s didn’t come about because people like Richard Nixon thought the issues warranted action. It happened because millions of people built a movement demanding action. And until we have such a movement on climate change, we will continue along our present course toward catastrophe.
So instead of trying to encourage individuals to run for Parliament, you might achieve more by getting involved yourself. Raise your voice. Be politically active in whatever way you can. We have a gargantuan propaganda machine against us – even when 100,000 Australians protest, the mainstream media doesn’t bother to devote much coverage to it. So we will only be heard if as many of us as possible shout about the truth, through the internet or word-of-mouth or any other form of communication where the truth stands a chance against corporate spin.
As for me, I will continue to do everything I can to explain our predicament to the public – that is what I see as my main role in climate activism. It is probably true that policy change must ultimately be made by politicians – as the saying goes, there is no magic wand – but that can’t happen until we have a mass movement in favor of action. And that movement doesn’t only need me – it needs all of you too.