Can a new political party save the planet?

In the course of researching my guide to Australian minor political parties, I discovered the new not-yet-registered party “Save the Planet”.

It is a single issue party advocating an emergency response to climate change, comparable to the remobilization of the economy during World War 2. This is because the party recognizes atmospheric greenhouse gas levels are already too high (for this reason they do not talk about an acceptable carbon budget); increased extreme weather is already having unacceptable impacts; and the Arctic has already reached a tipping point for large amplifying feedbacks.

The founders, Adrian Whitehead from Beyond Zero Emissions and Philip Sutton from Climate Code Red, chose to create a new party because attempts to reform existing parties and NGOs from within have failed, and they believe it is better to start from scratch. Whitehead says:

The thing about what we can do in Save the Planet is that we can actually run on the truth. Unfortunately in every other political party, even if you run into the Greens, you can’t say how bad it is, you can’t say what the solutions are. Because we set ourselves up to do that, we can. We’ve got a really important role to play. The more we do, and the more resources we put out there to send our message, the greater chance we have for avoiding a climate catastrophe that will drive society into quite a serious problem at some point.

They are focusing on intense campaigning and recruitment in selected areas of the inner Melbourne seat of Batman, and are also running in five other Victorian seats (Melbourne, Wills, Kooyong, Bendigo, and Corangamite). This geographic area has been chosen because it is where support for climate action is strongest. They are not running in the Senate. The movement is intended to eventually spread from inner Melbourne to the rest of Australia and the world.

The party aims to:

  • Create a zero emissions economy in Australia and globally at emergency speed (10 years or less from the start date)
  • Build infrastructure to remove CO2 from the atmosphere over the coming century
  • If necessary, consider temporarily reflecting sunlight to cool the Earth
  • Transition the economy away from constant material and population growth while continuing knowledge growth and technological improvements
  • Structural adjustment planning to support communities, workers, and businesses through the transition
  • Prepare to adapt to unavoidable climate change
  • “Bring climate criminals to justice” (it is unclear what this would involve, but presumably it refers to political and/or corporate leaders)

The ultimate aim is to return the global average temperature and ocean acidity to preindustrial levels.

It plans to advance its aims by:

It envisions the following phases:

  • Building full-strength commitment (unknown number of years, probably 3-15)
  • Planning the transition (1-3 years, can overlap with the first phase)
  • Switching and scaling (3 years maximum)
  • Decommissioning the old economy and growing the new economy (10 years or less depending on urgency)
  • Rebalancing the economy post-transition (3 years)

Its priorities are:

  • Cease granting permits for exploration of any type of fossil fuel
  • Cease approving new investments in fossil fuel production and use
  • Cease approving new fossil fuel exports projects or export infrastructure
  • End all fossil fuel subsidies
  • Rapid phaseout of fossil fuel production and use
  • Increase the Renewable Energy Target to 100% by 2023
  • Retain a carbon price to back up the aforementioned actions
  • Establish a $50 million Community Energy Fund
  • Work with neighbouring countries and countries that import Australian fossil fuels to speed up their transition to zero-carbon energy
  • Bring together an alliance of governments at all levels that support a climate emergency response

Other policies include:

  • Implementing the Beyond Zero Emissions Stationary Energy Plan
  • Massive energy efficiency rollout in all sectors
  • Minimum standards for buildings and electrical appliances
  • Solar access rights
  • Massive rollout and upgrade of walking and cycling infrastructure and electrified rail
  • Expanded rail in rural areas
  • Support for electric cars
  • Limited biofuels from biochar
  • No further expansion of roads during the transition
  • Ending native forest logging
  • Ending broad-scale land clearing, with compensation of land owners
  • Supporting local food production
  • Supporting organic agriculture
  • Regulating genetically modified organisms
  • Encouraging lower consumption of products from sheep and cattle
  • Sequestering atmospheric CO2 in soils
  • Using safe and reversible geoengineering options
  • Strengthening emergency planning, services, buildings, and infrastructure
  • Retreating from coastal areas
  • Accepting climate refugees
  • Allowing population to decline to a sustainable level
  • Limiting expansion of cities

It advocates creating the following institutions:

  • A multiparty Safe Climate Cabinet to govern the transition
  • A Safe Climate Science Commission (replacing the Climate Change Authority) to specify emergency-speed targets for all types of climate forcing and advise the government on the latest climate science
  • A Safe Climate and Sustainability Community Emergency Program to educate, democratically engage, and empower the community
  • A Transition Consultative Forum involving all business and civil society groups to advise the government
  • A Safe Climate Transition Research Program
  • An Industrial Transition Agency to drive the transition and replace fossil fuel export income
  • A Solar Radiation Management Commission to assess whether reflecting sunlight would provide a net environmental benefit
  • A National Climate Emergency Plan prepared by the aforementioned institutions

Save the Planet argues you should vote for them instead of the Greens or another party with strong climate policies because only they argue for climate emergency plans, will not be distracted by unrelated issues, will be better able to gain support from conservative voters, and aim to make it a political necessity for other parties to adopt emergency policies. Because it is a single issue party its candidates may have any view on any policy issue, except they must support “the creation of a world that is environmentally and socially sustainable and working to eliminate high levels of inequality” and “pass a good character test which includes not being racist or sexist”. They will allocate preferences according to a formula based on the strength of each candidate’s climate policies.

So will Save the Planet’s strategy work? On one hand, it seems to me that if it were as easy as forming a new political party, we could have solved climate change decades ago. On the other hand, given that every other strategy tried by the climate movement has as yet failed to turn the world around, it seems at least worth a try.

At present, the forces opposing climate action are far more powerful, inherently unmovable (in the case of the fossil fuel industry), and succeeding in shifting the scope of acceptable political debate in their direction. The climate movement’s current strategy – sucking up to the political establishment by only advocating policies that are “politically realistic” – is failing, because such a strategy only moves the political centre further toward one’s opponents. Instead of giving into the present “political reality”, we who support climate action need to realize the “political centre” is a perception that is malleable. We desperately need strong advocacy for the required urgent climate action in order to make it politically realistic. Therefore, it is long overdue to see a climate political party running on the truth.

Save the Planet may be small today, but from little things big things can grow.

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