The global wave of school strikes are an inspiring example of the action needed to save the planet. These students understand the consequences of decades of inaction on climate change. They are rightly demanding something be done immediately.
With a federal election this month, some people see hope in voting for Labor or the Greens to deal with the crisis, using the hashtag #ClimateElection. But the policies of both these parties are totally inadequate.
Labor are refusing to commit to tearing up the contracts for the Adani coal mine. Labor’s solutions, along with the Greens, are an emissions trading scheme and subsidies to private companies to build electric cars and renewable energy.
Giving subsidies to capitalists means wasting money to pay for private profits. It also means we have zero control over what they do with the money. The government has often given money to private companies to try and control their behaviour, for example to save jobs, and those companies often just do what they want anyway. Their only priority is to maximise profits.
We need to take profit out of the equation. Giving companies free money to convince them to build electric cars or solar power is far less efficient than taking over those companies and making them produce what we need. We need public ownership and a democratic plan to convert our energy production to green energy, and to expand public transport and build electric vehicles.
We can’t rely on capitalist politicians or big business to initiate such a plan.
The climate crisis is the result of the profit-driven system of capitalism. International markets are dominated by companies that profit from fossil fuels. They do not want to see them phased out. We can’t rely on the market to solve the crisis.
A string of international agreements have done nothing. The capitalists of different countries compete with each other. If one country required companies to reduce emissions, they may become uncompetitive on the world market. So company owners tell politicians to make non-binding deals that don’t require anyone to make meaningful changes.
Only people power can deal with this crisis. The recent wave of climate strikes was an amazing start. It was probably the biggest global environmental protest in history, and showed us the type of people power that is needed.
More than a decade ago, there were similar huge protests in Australia to build green energy. But capitalist politicians, including from Labor and the Greens, focused the discussion onto an emissions trading scheme instead, and drained all the energy from the movement. We need to make sure that does not happen this time!
The momentum of this new movement needs to be built upon, and the strike actions need to go further. Various trade unions have supported the students. These unions should also be striking alongside them.
Some workers are concerned about the potential loss of fossil fuel jobs, but it is in the interests of all workers to fight for a transition to renewable energy. If we had a democratic plan, communities that are dependent on fossil fuels wouldn’t be ruined. Fossil fuel workers can be retrained, and green jobs can be provided in communities that currently depend on fossil fuel jobs.
Workers are able to strike the capitalist polluters where it hurts: their profits. While it’s the bosses who take the profits, it’s workers who run everything. If workers from all industries went on strike, then it would grind the system to a halt. A mass movement with workers at its core could implement the economic changes needed to deal with the climate crisis.
Students and workers should build on the momentum of the student strikes and call regular actions. Students organising their own weekly “Friday’s for future” strikes, like in Europe, could broaden out the movement. Even if it started small it could create a pole of attraction and ensure the movement continues beyond the election.
Ultimately, the huge wealth that’s controlled by capitalists needs to be taken under public control if we want it to be invested in clean energy. The alternative to planet-destroying capitalism is democratic public ownership and investment.
Only the power of workers and students fighting side by side can win real action on climate change.
By Meredith Jacka