January 28, 2009 | Ronda Jambe

And the beat goes on…..

It was stinking hot in Canberra, but I couldn’t very well use the heat as an excuse not to attend the Climate Action Summit, could I? I slid into my seat in the packed ANU auditorium as Clive Hamilton delivered some political truths, all bad news. That much I already knew, as he outlined the sad collapse of the Rudd government on climate change, described as ‘in thrall to the fossil fuel lobby’. The Emmissions Trading Scheme will enshrine the right to pollute (with rewards) to the worst polluters. That just set the scene for the session on coal in the afternoon.
Marcus Clarke, staring down sternly from a portrait, might have observed that some things don’t change, but ah, the difference today is in the scale. That was one conclusion at the end of a long and sometimes upsetting day.
Then David Spratt, co-author of Climate Code Red, told us some more things I sort of knew, but with extra facts. Emissions are increasing more rapidly, and with graver consequences, than the consensus-driven IPCC proclaims. Partly due to the compliance of the media, there is a gap between what scientists know about the urgency of the situation and what the public and politicians think is happening. Oh, yes, and the West African monsoon might collapse by mid-century. Food and water will become scarcer, and as the Chinese have demonstrated, you can’t live off melamine for very long.
The day progressed, with over 500 activists from all over the country sharing their information and plans for changing the system. A few pollies, mostly from councils, also were there. One stall gave info from the group behind the TV ads advocating vegetarianism, but that didn’t make the vegan food more satisfying.
The real interest for me was the coal session, although I imagine the one on peak oil would have been an eye-opener also. For example, I didn’t know that Xtrata is planning to double Australia’s coal exports, including creating the Southern Hemisphere’s largest open cut coal mine in western Queensland. One organiser mentioned the prominence of women in PR functions for the mining industry, such as the NSW Minerals Council. I noticed that tune decades ago, when the tobacco lobby had a young, attractive black woman whistling their song.
The discussion covered the need to engage local communities, whose job loss is less than the industry proclaims, and who in any case see that there are more jobs in renewables. It mentioned the ALP infrastructure spending, which will include $580m to build rail lines to take coal to the coast, and the rising anger and demonstrations worldwide over coal plants.
It also mentioned the collaboration between state and federal governments to deter anti-coal protests. In this context it reminded me of an article from some weeks ago about Martin Ferguson, that not-so-great supporter of the public good and labor interests. That article said he had requested ‘as a matter of urgency.. a formal review of penalties for unlawful distruption…noting the importance of energy security’…bla bla. These are another form of SLAPP suit, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, which have been an anti-democratic feature of the legal landscape for some time.
Coal is the big challenge for Australia, even as gas and oil present similar challenges to the green credentials of Norway. I can see that government and industry might need some time to wrap their heads around the inevitable need to phase out the coal industry (although that time has come and gone and now the need is urgent). but I cannot grasp why any human with any duty of care to this country, much less the environment of the planet, would actively seek to increase coal exports and energy production, or to pursue the blind alley of ‘clean coal.’ That is like a sick person ignoring their symptoms while they worsen. The clean coal trick first arose when the industry was fighting attempts to control acid rain. (Can you hear the rhythm of power, money and politics playing in the background? I’ve heard that sound track somewhere….)
At an informal gathering of the Canberra activists, we found out that the NSW and federal govs are also working quietly to produce biofuel power from the southern forests. In an echo of a failed attempt to build a charcoal factory using forest wood some years back, it is clear that more open government is not exactly unfolding as promised. No threat ever goes away, it just changes its beat a bit. The only urgency governments seem to recognise is to sell off whatever they can, however they can, regardless of the longer term consequences.
The good guys are collaborating, too, but their pockets aren’t very deep. As always, it is humbling to see the dedication of so many activists, old and young, who are building the networks for change in the face of political back-pedalling and lack of vision or courage. Here, too, having given up on Rudd, we turn our gaze towards the US, hoping Obama will find a different drum for the beat of the economy.
I leave you with this elegant but anonymous video, a morphing of the 44 US Presidents, with a well-known and thrilling beat in the background:

Posted by Ronda Jambe at 1:14 pm | Comments Off on And the beat goes on….. |
Filed under: Environment

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