Feb 05 2015

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: the dirtiest trade deal you’ve never heard of

As someone who’s been warning for a while about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP – see my previous posts on the issue here and here), I’m pleased to see a large activist group like GetUp! come out against it. Continue reading

Feb 02 2015

Tony Abbott’s intergenerational theft

It was advertised as the speech that would turn around his government’s plummeting popularity. Government backbencher Andrew Laming said it would be “bigger than Ben-Hur”. But Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s National Press Club address today was underwhelming compared to even my expectations. He didn’t really say much that was new. The future he outlined is the same tired vision that his Liberal Party (and to a lesser extent, Labor) have advocated for as long as I can remember.

The silliest thing he said was his justification for addressing the budget deficit: it would be “intergenerational theft” to leave future generations with a legacy of debt. Does he have no sense of irony? Intergenerational theft is exactly what Abbott’s government is doing on the far more important issue of climate change and the environment. It is my generation, babies being born today, and those who come after who will suffer the costs of the decisions made now. If they are going to insist on calling themselves the “adult government”, a slogan Abbott recycled yet again today, then it’s time they stopped flouting their responsibility to protect their children.

The mountain of evidence that anthropogenic global warming is a real and urgent problem continues to grow. 2014 was the hottest year on record globally (more on that tomorrow). Last week, the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology released the most comprehensive ever climate projections for Australia. They warn that Australia could warm up to 5.1°C by 2090 in the highest emissions scenario. Another study predicted an increase in “super La Ninas” meaning “more occurrences of devastating weather events, and more frequent swings of opposite extremes from one year to the next, with profound socio-economic consequences”. But of course no amount of evidence will ever change Abbott’s mind, because evidence means nothing to him; the only language he speaks is power.

Abbott mostly talked about creating a stronger economy, even saying “only this government has had the courage… to build a stronger and more prosperous economy” – as if no previous government ever prioritized a stronger economy. Never mind that the economy, as currently designed for endless material growth and profit over people, is an anachronism that no longer serves the needs of society. At the current level of economic development, national growth is no longer doing much to increase national wellbeing, rather it is feeding an endless cycle of status competition while depleting our resources and polluting our environment. In 2015 it makes little sense to see growth as the number one priority. Continue reading

Jan 01 2015

2014: the year that was

Welcome to 2015! If you believe Back to the Future, this year our climate problems should be solved by the invention of fusion-powered flying cars. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

There seems little point in writing a “year-in-review” post as I’ve kind of already written it for most of the year. These three posts together provide a comprehensive review of Australian politics from September 2013 to October 2014:

In summary, it’s been a horror year in Tony Abbott’s Australia for the climate and on all policy fronts. Blinded by neoliberal ideology, Abbott and his Liberal Party are making the rich and powerful more so with every decision, except for the occasional bit of tokenism. And in Australia there is no group more rich and powerful than the fossil fuel industry. On the bright side, the Abbott government is extremely unpopular and public support for climate action is slowly trending upward, reversing the downward trend during the former Labor government.

At the international level, some possible glimmers of hope have (finally!) begun to appear, with the US and China announcing emissions targets for the next decade. But with one eye on the mounting evidence that we are already hitting tipping points for runaway global warming, I fear it’s too little too late. (I intend to write a post soon on how little difference has been made by the US-China deal.)

Beyond that, I thought I’d take this opportunity to plug some of my best posts of 2014. So without further ado, here are some of my best posts of 2014 (in chronological order):

At the beginning of 2014, I promised to “counter fossil-fuel-justifying ideology”. Looking back on the year, it turns out I haven’t really done much of that. Instead I’ve alternated between not-so-rapid response to events, cataloguing government actions, and depressed inactivity.

Hopefully in the new year, I’ll get around to finishing some of my more big-picture posts. I’m working on lots of ideas about both climate and general politics.

Dec 15 2014

Australia continues climate obstructionism in Lima

The COP20 climate talks in Lima, Peru concluded yesterday. It will take a while to sift through the outcomes and figure out what they mean, but for now I want to concentrate on the Australian government, which has unsurprisingly continued its crusade against climate action.

Unlike last year when Australia didn’t bother to send a minister to the talks, this time around we’re sending two. Unfortunately neither of them is the Environment Minister: Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, and Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb. Both of them are climate change deniers, and they are accompanied by BHP lobbyists.

According to news reports, this unusual arrangement is due to a power struggle between Bishop, PM Tony Abbott, his Cabinet, and his chief of staff Peta Credlin. Credlin blocked Bishop’s initial proposal to attend the conference, Bishop bypassed Credlin by securing Cabinet’s approval, and Abbott personally requested that she be chaperoned by Robb. Robb was a key player in installing Abbott as Liberal Party leader five years ago. It’s unclear whether this intrigue is over policy differences or simply power. Reportedly Bishop’s reason for attending is so Australia doesn’t look bad for not attending, but on the other hand Abbott is apparently concerned that Bishop might agree to something “too green”.

There is little danger of that. Australia has been declared the world’s worst-performing developed country in a new Climate Change Performance Index report from think-tank Germanwatch and Climate Action Network (CAN). Denmark came in at fourth place, with the top three rankings left blank to symbolize the reality that no country is doing anywhere near enough.

CAN has also granted Australia five Fossil of the Day awards. The first and third were for refusing to contribute finance to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) – more on that in a moment. The second was for arguing that the promised “loss and damage” mechanism should be merely part of adaptation. The fourth was for trying to remove from the negotiating text any mentions of “global solidarity” and the agreed goal to limit global warming to below 1.5-2°C above preindustrial, saying they do not understand the concept of a temperature limit. The fifth was because Robb told an audience of Australian businesspeople that Australia won’t sign up to next year’s agreement if it disadvantages us relative to our “major trade competitors” (who apparently now include Saudi Arabia, the most anti-climate country of all). Finally, Australia received the Fossil of the Year award for all of the above and more. Continue reading

Nov 29 2014

I Didn’t Vote for Abbott

A chronicle of the Abbott government’s terrible actions, to the tune of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” (full lyrics below). Please share it to help spread the word not to vote for the Liberal Party in the Victorian election today!

Climate Council, Minchin’s back, boycott ban, officials sacked

Coal seam gas, ignored distress, let’s all watch sports

 

Peta Credlin, Wiki Greg, Tony Shepherd, gays can’t wed

Guild witch-hunts, cut fire payments, and expenses rorts

 

Maurice Newman, corporate crime, gunboat gift, torture’s fine

Warsaw, no FoIs, risky Trans-Pacific ties

 

Tim Wilson, Timor raid, mega-mines, polluters paid

Green tape, EEO, Murray-Darling, eco-lawyers goodbye

 

I didn’t vote for Abbott

Our leader Tony is a plastic phony

I didn’t vote for Abbott

We’ve never liked him but we’ll try to fight him

 

War on boats, lesson reviews, cheap soldiers, forgotten Jews

Unpatriotic ABC, Cory Bernardi

 

Manus Island, nutrition, TPVs, Dick Warburton

Poor Green Army, SPC, lying on subsidies

 

Repeal Day, nukes okay, marching on St Patrick’s Day

Loggers praised, ignore war crimes, 457s, knights and dames

 

Dob in critics, protest votes, fines if you can’t stay afloat

Corporate rights, green cop maimed, Facebook, fighter planes

 

I didn’t vote for Abbott

Our leader Tony is a plastic phony

I didn’t vote for Abbott

We’ve never liked him but we’ll try to fight him

 

Harm the old, hurt the poor, screw orphans of war

Young and jobless in strife, best day of Hockey’s life

 

Student debt, GP tax, renovations, aid axed

Science slashed, natives knifed, no shelters for battered wives

 

FOFA, dementia, kidnappings, Canadia

Probable torture, non-profits’ lips sealed

 

Forty jobs, Albrechtsen, on-water detention

Godly chaps, skillful Japs, Clive gets carbon tax repealed

 

I didn’t vote for Abbott

Our leader Tony is a plastic phony

I didn’t vote for Abbott

We’ve never liked him but we’ll try to fight him

 

Team Australia, metadata, freedoms better wait ’till later

Empire a good cause, NT out of labour laws

 

Fatal foot, climate snub, whistleblowers will be drubbed

Delay super, Cambodia, follow Yanks into a war

 

Illegal infant, Barry Spurr, polluter fund censored

No wind turbine energy, shirtfront at the G20

 

I didn’t vote for Abbott

Our leader Tony is a plastic phony

We shouldn’t vote for Abbott

’Cause until he’s gone, we will still go wrong and wrong

Nov 27 2014

Victorian election climate resources

 

I had inVote climatelogotended to write a comprehensive guide to the Victorian state election on Saturday, but time is running out. So rather than reinvent the wheel, I’ll link to some great existing guides to the parties’ policies on climate and environment:

Here’s my very brief summary of where each of the major parties stands: Continue reading

Nov 12 2014

Report on Bendigo climate election forum

I was involved in running an election candidate forum yesterday. The following report was prepared by Sue Wight.

Keith-Reynard-addressing-the-forum-web

A State Election Forum on Climate was held in Bendigo on Tuesday November 11. Bendigo straddles two electorates, Bendigo East and Bendigo West and falls into the upper house region of Northern Victoria. Candidate attendance was as follows:

Bendigo East

  • Greg Bickley (Liberal candidate): Unavailable
  • Jacinta Allan (ALP sitting member): Present
  • Jennifer Alden (Greens candidate): Present

Bendigo West

  • Michael Langdon (Liberal candidate): Unavailable
  • Maree Edwards (ALP sitting member): Present
  • John Brownstein (Greens candidate): Present
  • Elise Chapman (Country Alliance): No response
  • Sandra Caddy (Rise Up Australia): Appointed too late for invitation

Northern Victoria

  • Amanda Millar (Liberal MLC): Present
  • Wendy Lovell (Liberal MLC): Unavailable
  • Damian Drum (Nationals MLC Minister for Veterans Affairs): At Remembrance Day event
  • Charlie Crutchfield (Sex Party candidate): Present
  • Lola Currie (Animal Justice candidate): Unavailable
  • Liz Crooks (People Power Victoria – No Smart Meters): Appointed too late for invitation

Continue reading

Nov 10 2014

Abbott sabotages RET, Palmer greenwashes ERF

It’s been a depressing three weeks for Australian climate policy.

Abbott kills large-scale renewables

On 22 October, the Abbott government announced it would seek to persuade the Senate to slash the 2020 large-scale renewable energy target (LRET) from 41,000 to 26,000 GWh. Renewables will be allowed to meet no more than 50% of new energy demand (if there is any new demand). This, the main recommendation of the Warburton review, will essentially kill Australia’s wind and large-scale solar industries. The day after the announcement Keppel Prince, Australia’s largest manufacturer of wind towers, closed most of its wind tower manufacturing operations.

Even before the announcement, large-scale renewable energy investment in Australia had already ground to a halt, because of a surplus of RET certificates and the political uncertainty fostered by the fossil fuel lobby and government. For these reasons, and because of the urgent need to get to 100% renewables to mitigate global warming, the target should have been increased, not decreased.

On the bright side, the government says it will continue to support “household solar”, which at face value appears to mean the small-scale renewable energy scheme (SRES) will be left intact. Ominously, though, the government has refused to clarify that there will be absolutely no changes to SRES, so it too could yet be quietly weakened or sabotaged.

It’s pretty obvious solar would never have been (apparently) saved if not for the “Save Solar” campaign, which seems to have blindsided the government. Tony Abbott had assumed that if the public opposed the carbon price they must also oppose the RET, but he was wrong. The RET remains extraordinarily popular despite all the lobbying against it. Ironically, Abbott’s anti-carbon-tax campaign, by drawing attention to electricity prices, may have contributed to the take-up of solar and energy efficiency… so it might be Abbott’s own fault that Australians have turned on him now he has revealed the true extent of his anti-climate crusade.

To change the RET, Abbott needs to get legislation through the Senate. He tried to negotiate with Labor leader Bill Shorten, but Shorten responded that Abbott’s proposal was a “fraud”. He even met with Greens leader Christine Milne, who had offered to in return negotiate on Abbott’s proposed voluntary Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF, aka “Direct Action”). But predictably, on both the RET and ERF he wound up doing deals with coal mining billionaire politician Clive Palmer. Continue reading

Oct 20 2014

No country for young people (or almost anyone else)

As far as the government is concerned, the adults are back in charge.

Tony Abbott

Australians were shocked this week when New Matilda revealed leaked emails from Barry Spurr, an
“expert” consultant on the Australian government’s national curriculum review. I have been saying for years that the Liberals have a barely concealed contempt for the public, that they have an extremely elitist hierarchical worldview, that they see us as beneath them and themselves as entitled to rule. The leaked emails are a clear piece of evidence for this.

Spurr is a professor at Sydney University, which was ironically recently accused by The Australian of “brain-washing” students into left-wing views. Spurr doesn’t seem to be in on the conspiracy, saying 95% of Australian students should not be in tertiary institutions. He described his Aboriginal neighbours as a “human rubbish tip”. He predicted “one day the Western world will wake up, when the Mussies and Chinky-poos have taken over”, and praised Youtube videos depicting a bygone Australia with “No Abos, Chinky-poos, Mussies, graffiti, piercings, jeans, tattoos… Not a woman to be seen in a sanctuary anywhere. And no obese fatsoes.” He attacked “bogans”, called Nelson Mandela a “darkie”, and called Aboriginal singer Gurrumul Yunupingu “Wingabanga Gumberumbul”.

(UPDATE: In further material released by New Matilda, Spurr also had a go at the depressed, disabled, transgendered, and asylum seekers; called modern teenage girls “low-grade Soho whores” and boys “monosyllabic scruffy slobs”; speculated about a random girl working at a DVD store “I assume she is or was a druggie or even in jail”; and said a sexual assault victim needed “a lot put in her mouth, permanently, and then stitched up”.)

Spurr did criticize Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his chief of staff Peta Credlin, so maybe he’s an equal-opportunity misanthropist… oh wait, he criticized them because he thinks they’re “Abo-lovers”. How many other powerful conservatives talk like this behind the scenes?

Spurr now says his comments, in emails sent to a dozen people over two years, were “mocking, in fact, that very kind of extreme language”. Abbott says he hasn’t yet had a chance to read the emails but “I’m not easily upset, I’ve got to say, so I’ll study it closely”. Education Minister Christopher Pyne claims the government never appointed Spurr and the curriculum review has an “absence of ideology”.

But the reality is that the government appointed culture warriors Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire, who saw fit to appoint Spurr to advise on the teaching of our children, and quoted him extensively in their review released last week. Spurr has also written for the Liberal-affiliated Institute for Public Affairs (IPA), criticizing the former government’s curriculum for including too little Bible study. Spurr’s private (false) claim that “Abo literature” is non-existent is in line with his more politically correctly worded statements in the review recommending lessons focus on Western literature because Aboriginals have made “minimal” contribution. His views informed the review’s recommendation that the curriculum

better recognise the contribution of Western civilisation, our Judeo-Christian heritage, the role of economic development and industry and the democratic underpinning of the British system of government to Australia’s development.

Continue reading

Oct 01 2014

Why I won’t run for Parliament

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.