Two-thirds of Australians think climate change is the most serious threat to their lives yet neither of the major political parties offer a way forward. In frustration, thousands of students have attended climate strikes and protests in recent months.
While the Liberal-National Coalition narrowly won the election in May, this was not an endorsement of their pro-fossil fuel politics. Despite many commentators calling it the “climate election”, neither party enthused votes with their environmental policies.
Labor’s climate change policy had a pathetically weak emissions reduction target of 45% from 2005 levels by 2030. This was even lower than the recommended 63% from the government’s own Climate Change Authority.
Labor only proposed inadequate market-based measures. They supported tax cuts to big business in the hope this would encourage them to invest in clean energy. Their emissions trading scheme policy would have merely turned pollution into another commodity to make profits from.
Most importantly Labor refused to oppose the destructive Adani coal mine. They only said they would review the project if they came to power. The tried to have a bet each way, keeping big business happy while also pretending to care about the environment. It didn’t work.
Their halfway house approach impressed nobody, least of all the people who think the mine might provide some much-needed jobs. The mine would actually provide very few jobs, but the issue of employment could have been addressed if Labor had put forward a sustainable jobs program focused on regional Queensland.
It is impossible to be both pro-big business and also to deal with the climate crisis. An effective climate movement must demand that big polluting companies are taken out of private hands and brought into public ownership under democratic control. In Australia, 50% of all carbon emissions were produced by just ten big businesses last year. Changing their behaviour requires taking them over.
This measure would remove the profit motive and allow for a plan to be put in place to transition away from fossil fuels to 100% renewables. Part of this plan would be providing sustainable replacement jobs for workers currently in carbon intensive industries. A pro-people solution to climate change is possible.
This type of plan is at odds with the profit-driven system of capitalism. Dealing with climate change necessitates a shift towards a different way of running society, a democratic socialist society that prioritises people and the planet.
Socialists agree with the now famous climate activist Greta Thunberg who said: “if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, we should change the system itself”.
We would add that the climate movement could be made much more effective if it was explicit about the need to change the system and replace it along democratic socialist lines.
No parties in the parliament have an alternative to the capitalist system, so none of them will be of any help dealing with climate change. The climate movement should waste no more time focusing on getting Labor or the Greens elected. They are not “lesser evils”, all those who support capitalism are part of the problem.
We should focus on action outside of parliament. That is where our strength lies. The climate movement should build now for more school strikes, on a bigger scale, and more regularly than the last ones.
The best way to do this would be to build campaign groups in every school and on every campus. They could democratically discuss strategies to take the movement forward and build for action in their own localities.
The climate movement should also reach out to the trade unions to discuss joint strike action. A mass school strike coinciding with a worker’s strike would be a very powerful weapon. When workers participate in a mass strike, the capitalist system can’t function properly.
The interests of workers and the environment are not opposed. Both will face attacks from this government so we should draw all those together who want to fight for a sustainable environment and a sustainable economy.
Let’s build a united struggle to combine the youthful energy of students and the power of workers to make the socialist change we need rather than the climate change that is ruining our planet.
By Triet Tran