May The Force be with you – the power of divestment

Divestment Day 2014 with Market Forces

Ever stopped to consider how your hard earned cash might be assisting the expansion of the fossil fuel industry? Market Forces is a grassroots group storming the Australian divestment scene. Divestment campaigner Govind Maksay tells us how our filthy lucre can be a force for good.

Here is the bad news first (don’t worry a solution is coming): if you bank with one of the big four Australian banks (ANZ, Commonwealth, NAB and Westpac) your money is helping finance new coal and gas projects in Australia. Luckily there are lots of alternative banks you can easily move to if you want to clean up your personal finances. Switching banks is an extremely powerful action you can take to protect our climate and it's one that's gaining momentum.

Market Forces was established in 2013 to reveal how financial institutions use our money to finance environmentally destructive projects and help people align their money with their values. Our research has revealed that since 2008 ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac have collectively invested almost $19 billion in new coal and gas projects in Australia.

Many of these projects are in controversial areas such as Maules Creek in New South Wales and the Great Barrier Reef coastline. Significant parts of the Leard State Forest, which is home to more than 30 threatened species, need to be cleared to make way for the Maules Creek coal mine.

The proposed coal port expansions within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area have prompted the World Heritage Committee to warn the Australian Government that the area will be placed on the List of World Heritage In Danger, giving them 12 months to clean up their act as of June 2014. Simply put, the banks are using our savings and the interest we pay on personal loans and mortgages to expand the fossil fuel industry precisely at the time when we need to kick the fossil fuel habit.

Obviously, when you invest in an industry you want to see it succeed and prosper. By investing in new coal and gas projects the big four banks want the fossil fuel industry to succeed. They want to see lots of coal and gas extracted and burnt and healthy profits returned to them. The question we need to ask ourselves is if this vision of the future is one we want to support with our money.

Well that is the problem. Now let’s turn to the solution. For the last year Market Forces, in conjunction with 350 Australia, has run a series of bank switch divestment actions targeting the big four banks. These actions have formed part of the broader fossil fuel divestment movement. Divestment is simply the opposite of investment - it means taking your money out of institutions and companies that you no longer wish to support.

The bank switch divestment actions have consisted of hundreds of customers of the big four banks publicly closing their accounts and switching to banks that have publicly declared they are not investing in fossil fuels. On 3 May 2014, we organised our largest ever national divestment day during which over 600 customers turned out. The amount of business shifted away from the major banks has been reported at over $200 million.

People have found taking part in these events inspirational. There is something very powerful about aligning your money with your values and doing this in a public manner. Customers have enjoyed cutting up their old bank cards, personally delivering letters to the banks informing them why have switched and meeting like minded people.

The fossil fuel divestment movement is especially important given the current political context in which our governments are refusing to take strong action on climate change. Cleaning up your personal finances and taking part in the fossil fuel divestment movement is a powerful way to stigmatise the fossil fuel industry, stop the flow of money to this industry and demonstrate to the government that we want strong action on climate change.

According to the University of Oxford, the fossil fuel divestment movement is one of the fastest growing divestment campaigns in recent history. We have already had some great success internationally and in Australia. Recently, Bendigo Bank, Australia’s fifth largest bank, released a strong statement outlining that it will not “lend to companies for whom the core activity is the exploration, mining, manufacture or export of thermal coal or coal seam gas.”

Many smaller banks and credit unions have also made similar public statements and have contacted Market Forces asking to be added to our banks comparison table. In May and June, three large international banks (Deutsche Bank, HSBC, and Credit Agricole) publicly declared they are extremely unlikely to providing funding to the controversial Abbot Point coal port expansion, given the World Heritage Committee’s concerns over its impacts on the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

So simply put, the fossil fuel divestment movement is having a tangible impact and it is a great time to get involved. The response from the fossil fuel industry clearly demonstrates it feels under threat. In April 2014, the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) launched a campaign called Australians for Coal aiming to promote the case for coal and develop a grassroots movement supporting the coal industry (this backfired spectacularly when climate activists took more enthusiastically to the Twitter hashtag #australiansforcoal than coal supporters - Ed).

The MCA has also been actively lobbying investors and superannuation funds about why fossil fuels are still a good investment.

Market Forces has done a whole lot of work to make switching banks and cleaning up your personal finances as simple as possible. Market Forces bank switching resources include:

  • a banks comparison table – outlining where a range of banks stand on investing in the fossil fuel industry
  • the How to Switch Banks guide – setting out the steps you need to take to switch banks and importantly how to make your switch as powerful as possible
  • switching banks resources – on this page you will find template letters you send to your new and old bank letting them know the reasons you have made the switch
  • the Climate Proofing your Finances report – a new report Market Forces has recently released exploring how individuals can clean up their personal finances

To date, hundreds of people have switched away from the big four banks and the campaign is having an impact. We need more people to join and help grow this movement.

Will you make the switch and ensure your money is creating a hopeful vision of the future? A future in which we are addressing climate change and the world is powered by renewable energy rather than dirty fossil fuels.



About the author

Govind Maksay is a campaigner at Market Forces. He has worked with environment organisations for nearly 10 years and has a background in residential energy efficiency research. Govind decided to get involved with the fossil fuel divestment movement because of its potential to bring about significant action on climate change.

Reclaiming democracy – how an industry has captured the democratic process

What lies behind the visceral battle between Australian rural communities and the collective force of the mining and petroleum industry is a battle to reclaim democracy itself. Long time forest and CSG activist Aidan Ricketts discusses the deep corruption behind the deals.

The Lock the Gate movement, by taking on the mission of restoring accountability to the way that governments deal with the mining industry has necessarily positioned itself at the cutting edge of an emerging national pro-democracy and anti-corruption movement.

Democracy was hard won over many centuries and can never be assumed to thrive merely because of the presence of a particular set of constitutional arrangements. Most nations these days have democratic constitutions on paper, including notables such as Zimbabwe, Fiji, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Democratic constitutions are a necessary but not sufficient condition for the effective practice of democracy, and by far the greater part of a healthy functioning democracy is derived from the quality of the political culture in a country. Across the globe, corruption and embedded economic power are the eternal enemies of true democracy.

There are many forces that potentially undermine democracy for Australia, including concentrations of media ownership, compulsory (not free) trade agreements and more specifically the way in which the mining industry has embedded itself deeply within our political culture.

This story begins with a very arrogant and self-entitled industry with a track record of corruption and human rights abuses across the globe. In many developing countries politicians and government can be easily bought, and repressive state mechanisms easily turned against local populations who resist. We need only to cast our eyes northward to the Porgera and Ok Tedi mines in PNG, and Freeport in West Papua to see this kind of corruption and oppression in action.

In Australia the industry’s approach has been more nuanced. It has been to ‘capture’ the democratic process rather than openly oppose it. For at least 60 years the mining industry has been building its connections with the major political parties so much so that mining and political jobs are part of an ongoing revolving door. The examples could fill pages but let us name just one quickly from each major political party.

Martin Ferguson, a former federal Labor resources minister now chairs an advisory board for the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association; Mark Vaille, former federal leader of the National Party is now on the board of Whitehaven coal; Stephen Galilee, the current chief executive of the NSW Minerals Council, the state’s coalmining industry lobby group was until 2011 the chief of staff of newly appointed NSW Premier Mr, Mike Baird. Have you heard enough? Well the list goes on endlessly.

The unravelling stories in ICAC in NSW are the tip of an ice berg that consists of both unlawful corruption and less than unlawful corruption. Unlawful corruption is where there is real money changing hands for influence, the classic form of ‘brown paper bag’ corruption, but the insidious and less visible form of corruption is the ‘business as usual model’ in which the mining industry is embedded in political parties and governments and influence is simply assumed. In the recent federal budget for example the mining industry was a major beneficiary of an otherwise austere budget.

And let’s quickly turn to the issue of oppression. Recently it was revealed that mining companies involved in Leard’s state forest conflict used undercover military spies against community groups. Former minister Martin Ferguson openly surled ASIO onto anti-coal activists when he was Resources Minister labelling them a threat to ‘energy security’. Such unwarranted surveillance is a symptom of industry self-entitlement and paranoia.

The truth is that the fossil fuel industry is facing its own historic end and the massive attempts at dissembling of climate change science by the industry is yet another example of how the industry meddles in public opinion on a grand scale.

Rudd’s mining tax was attacked by the mining industry as ‘sovereign risk’. That is the mining industry word for democracy. Unsurprisingly, that prime minister was quickly removed and replaced with one that watered down the legislation and now it is being removed entirely along with the carbon tax.

We are living in a time of crisis in our democracy, it is the duty of Australians who care about our land, our water and our future to stand up and boldly and proudly declare ourselves as the sovereign risk the industry fears, in other words, the people united. It is a very big and uneven battleground.



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About the author

Aidan's campaign work began with the Wet Tropics campaign in 1984 and continued through his role as a coordinator of the North East Forest Alliance from 1991 to 2003. He is currently involved in the campaign against CSG mining in Northern NSW, lectures at Southern Cross University and runs activist training workshops. Aidan is the author of The Activists Handbook: A Step By Step Guide to Participatory Democracy.

Seven climate myths blocking the action we need to avoid devastation

The stated purpose of international climate negotiations is to avoid dangerous climate change. But climate policy analyst David Spratt says existing conditions are already sufficient to create catastrophic breakdown. So what are the seven myths preventing action appropriate to this emergency situation?

This is a brief summary of the report Dangerous climate change: Myth & Reality, which considers recent scientific literature to explore seven myths of the predominant climate policy making paradigm.

Amongst advocates for action on climate warming, there is a presumption of agreement on the core science that underlies policy making, even though differences exist in campaign strategy. But the boundaries between science and politics have become blurred in framing both the problem and the solutions.

On the science side, the challenge is of a fast-developing discipline in a rapidly changing physical world. There is a concerted and unwarranted global attack on climate scientists and, in Australia, intimidation and fear of job loss generated by the Abbott government’s hostility to science and cuts in climate research funding. As well, there are always uncertainties and unknowns in science, and difficulties in communicating complex understandings in a non-technical manner. Together these factors can produce over-cautiousness in public presentation and scientific reticence.

On the politics side, often insufficient attention is paid to the breadth and depth of published research, and there is a tendency to prioritise perceived political relevance over uncomfortable scientific evidence.

Most climate advocacy organisations allocate few resources to critically interrogating the climate research as part of strategy and policy development, and generally fall into a middle-of-the-road advocacy consensus which downplays the warnings from the more forthright scientists whose expert elicitations – on such topics as the stability of ice sheets and sea ice to future sea-level rises – have generally proven more robust than those of their more reticent colleagues.

Much of the recent international policy discourse has focused on "what percentage reductions by when and by whom" in emissions would stop warming passing 2°C. In Australia, is it 5% by 2020, or 19%, or a lot more? Till 2030 or 2050?

An observer of this discourse would not think that 2°C is other than a reasonable target, and that we have plenty of carbon emissions left for a few decades more. They would certainly not understand that such propositions are dangerous myths. Here's why.

Myth 1: Climate change is not yet dangerous

In 2008 John Holdren, who was then senior advisor to President Barack Obama on science and technology issues, told the Eighth Annual John H. Chafee Memorial Lecture on Science and the Environment: ". . . the (climate) disruption and its impacts are now growing much more rapidly than almost anybody expected even a few years ago. The result of that, in my view, is that the world is already experiencing ‘dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system’" (Holdren, 2008).

“Dangerous” climate change is broadly characterised by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in the “burning embers” diagram as including five reasons for concern: risk to unique and threatened systems; risk of extreme weather events; distribution of impacts; aggregate (total economic and ecological) impacts; and risk of large-scale discontinuities (that is, abrupt transitions or tipping points).

From this perspective, tipping points have already been passed, at less than 1°C of warming, for example:

  • The loss of the Amundsen Sea West Antarctic glaciers, and 1–4 metres of sea level rise (Rignot, Mouginot et al., 2014; Joughin, Smith et al., 2014). Dr Malte Meinshausen, advisor to the German government and one of the architects of the IPCC's Representative Concentration Pathways, calls the evidence published this year of "unstoppable" (Rignot, 2014) deglaciation in West Antarctica "a game changer", and a "tipping point that none of us thought would pass so quickly", noting now we are "committed already to a change in coastlines that is unprecedented for us humans" (Breakthrough, 2014).
  • The loss of Arctic sea-ice in summer (Duarte, Lenton et al., 2012; Maslowski, Kinney et al., 2012), which will hasten regional warming, the mobilization of frozen carbon stores, and the deglaciation of Greenland.
  • Numerous ecosystems, which are already severely degraded or in the process of being lost, including the Arctic (Wolf, 2010). In the Arctic, the rate of climate change is now faster than ecosystems can adapt to naturally, and the fate of many Arctic marine ecosystems is clearly connected to that of the sea ice (Duarte, Lenton et al., 2012). In May 2008, Dr Neil Hamilton, who was then director of Arctic programmes for WWF, told a stunned audience (of which I was a member) at the Academy of Science in Canberra that WWF was not trying to preserve the Arctic ecosystem because “it was no longer possible to do so”.

The current level of greenhouse gases is around 400 ppm carbon dioxide (parts per million CO2), and 470ppm carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) when other greenhouse gases including methane and nitrous oxide are included. The last time CO2 levels were as high as they are today, humans didn't exist, and "CO2 values associated with major climate transitions of the past 20 millions years are similar to modern levels" (Tripati, Roberts et al., 2009).

In other words, big changes (“transitions”) in significant climate system elements such as ice sheets, sea levels and carbon stores are likely to occur for the current level of CO2.

Myth 2: 2°C is an appropriate focus for policy making

The evidence above indicates that dangerous tipping points have already been passed at the current level of climate warming of 0.8°C, so 2°C of warming is clearly not an appropriate focus for policy making. 2°C is a very unsafe target in any framing of risk. It is more appropriately considered as the boundary between dangerous and very dangerous climate change (Anderson and Bows, 2010). In Australia, 2°C would likely mean, amongst many impacts, the loss of the Great Barrier Reef, the salination of Kakadu, and the loss of the north Queensland tropical rainforests.

This is consistent with a framework of "planetary boundaries" published in 2009, which “define the safe operating space for humanity with respect to the Earth system and are associated with the planet’s biophysical subsystems or processes” (Rockstrom, Steffen et al., 2009). It proposes a boundary of less than 350 ppm CO2e, compared to the current level of more than 470 ppm CO2e. Research also finds that:

  • 1C° of warming over the pre-industrial baseline — which we are now approaching — is hotter than the Holocene maximum (the period of human civilisation up to 1900) (Marcott, Shakun et al., 2013; Hansen, Kharecha et al., 2013).
  • For 2°C of warming, the sea-level rise will likely eventually be measured in the tens of metres (Rohling, Grant et al., 2009).
  • Hansen and Sato (2012), using paleoclimate data rather than models of recent and expected climate change, warn that “goals of limiting human made warming to 2°C and CO2 to 450 ppm are prescriptions for disaster” because significant tipping points – where significant elements of the climate system move from one discrete state to another – will be crossed. As detailed in the next section, numerous tipping points are likely well before 2°C.

Myth 3: Big tipping points are unlikely before 2°C

Tipping points, often an expression of non-linear events, are difficult to project. But if it is sometimes hard to see tipping points coming, it is also too late to be wise after the fact. Estimated tipping points around or below ~1.5°C include:

  • West Antarctic Ice Sheet: Current conditions affecting the West Antarctic Ice Sheet are sufficient to drive between 1.2 and 4 metres of sea rise, and these glaciers are now in "unstoppable" meltdown at global average warming of just 0.8oC (NASA, 2014A; Rignot, Mouginot et al., 2014; Joughin, Smith et al., 2014).
  • Loss of summer Arctic sea-ice: Livinia and Lenton (2013), UWA (2012), Serreze (quoted by Romm, 2012), Wadhams (2012, and quoted by Vidal, 2012), Maslowski, Kinney et al. (2012) and Laxton (quoted by McKie, 2012). Duarte, Lenton et al. (2012) find that: “Warming of the Arctic region is proceeding at three times the global average, and a new ‘Arctic rapid change’ climate pattern has been observed in the past decade.” Maslowski, Kinney et al. (2012) note that: “a warming Arctic climate appears to affect the rate of melt of the Greenland ice sheet, Northern Hemisphere permafrost sea-level rise, and global climate change”.
  • Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS): Estimated tipping point for GIS is +1.6oC with an uncertainty range of +0.8 to +3.2oC (Robinson, Calov et al., 2012). A recent study finds that deep canyons will contribute to more rapid GIS deglaciation (NASA, 2014B; Morlighem, Rignot et al., 2014). Contrary to previous studies, that estimated it would take centuries to millennia for new climates to increase the temperature deep within ice sheets such as GIS, the influence of melt water means warming can occur within decades and produce rapid accelerations (Phillips, Rajaram et al., 2013; University of Colorado Boulder, 2013).
  • Coral reefs: “Preserving more than 10 per cent of coral reefs worldwide would require limiting warming to below +1.5°C (atmosphere–ocean general circulation models (AOGCMs) range: 1.3–1.8°C) relative to pre-industrial levels” (Frieler, Meinshausen et al., 2013). At 10 per cent, the reefs would be remnant, and the ecosystems as we know them today would be a historical footnote. Data suggests the area of reef systems has already been reduced by half around the world.
  • Permafrost: In February 2013, scientists using radiometric dating techniques on Russian cave formations to measure melting rates warned that a 1.5°C global rise in temperature compared to pre-industrial was enough to start a general permafrost melt.

In summary, there is a very high risk that further significant tipping points will be passed before warming reaches 2°C. Some of these are irreversible on time scales of centuries to a millenia.

Myth 4: We should mitigate for 2°C, but plan to adapt to 4°C

The failure of international climate negotiations and insufficient national efforts have led many negotiators and commentators to conclude that warming will not be held to 2°C and much higher warming is likely. This has resulted in a policy approach of still trying to reduce emissions (mitigate) for 2°C, whilst also planning to adapt to 4°C of warming. World Bank (2012) and Price Waterhouse Coopers (2012) reports complement a range of research that suggests the world is presently heading for 4°C or more of warming this century.

Global average warming of 4°C means around 6°C of warming over land, and perhaps 7–8°C at the extremes. IEA Chief Economist Fatih Birol says that emission trends are “perfectly in line with a temperature increase of 6°C, which would have devastating consequences for the planet” (Rose, 2012).

Professor Kevin Anderson says, the notion that we can reasonably adapt to 4°C is ill-founded because "a 4° future is incompatible with an organized global community is likely to be beyond adaptation, is devastating to the majority of ecosystems and has a high probability of not being stable".

Myth 5: We have a substantial carbon budget left for 2°C

The carbon budget has come to public prominence in recent years, including in the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report in 2013, as being the difference between the total allowable greenhouse gas emissions for 2°C of warming, and the amount already emitted or spent. But this is not as simple as it seems, because 2°C means different things to different people.

  • If some reasonably optimistic assumptions are made about deforestation and food-related emissions (halving per unit of production) for the rest of the century, then most emission reduction scenarios are incompatible with holding warming to 2°C, even with a high 50% probability of exceeding the target, and there is no budget left for fossil fuel emissions (Anderson and Bows, 2008).
  • If we make some optimistic assumptions about how soon emissions peak and decline in the developing world, there is no carbon budget available for developed nations (Anderson and Bows, 2011)
  • Accounting for the possible release of methane from melting permafrost and ocean sediment implies a substantially lower budget, but this was not done (IPCC 2013).

The idea of a carbon budget and “allowable” emissions is dangerous. According to climate scientist Ken Caldeira, "There are no such things as an 'allowable carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions'. There are only 'damaging CO2 emissions' or 'dangerous CO2 emissions'. Every CO2 emission causes additional damage and creates additional risk."

Myth 6: Long-term feedbacks are not materially relevant for carbon budgeting

Some elements of the climate system respond quickly to temperature change, including the amount of water vapour in the air and hence level of cloud cover, sea-level changes due to ocean temperature change, and the extent of sea-ice that floats on the ocean in the polar regions. These changes amplify (increase) the temperature change and are known as short-term or “fast” feedbacks.

There are also long-term or slow feedbacks which generally take much longer (centuries to thousands of years) to occur. These include changes in large, polar, land-based ice sheets, changes in the carbon cycle (changed efficiency of carbon sinks such as permafrost and methane clathrate stores, as well as biosphere stores such as peat lands and forests), and changes in vegetation coverage and reflectivity (albedo). The IPCC’s 2013 assessment did not account for long-term feedbacks.

Prof. Will Steffen (2013) notes that, "This budget may, in fact, be rather generous. Accounting for non-CO2 greenhouse gases, including the possible release of methane from melting permafrost and ocean sediments, or increasing the probability of meeting the 2°C target all imply a substantially lower carbon budget". The question is whether these feedbacks are materially relevant for this century's time-scale, and the evidence is in the affirmative.

Myth 7: There is time for an orderly, non-disruptive reduction in emissions within the current political-economic paradigm

Advocates for climate change action often emphasise the positive economic consequences, such as a boom in “green” jobs, the clean energy industrial revolution, or the great investment opportunities. But there is another economic component to the discourse. It is the view that actions should not be undertaken that would be economically disruptive, and therefore the range of actions to be considered should only be those which do not challenge overall economic growth.

The unfortunate consequence of this framing is that actions that are necessary are not advocated, as was demonstrated in their respective reports to the UK and Australian governments by Sir Nicholas Stern and Prof. Ross Garnaut.

Stern (2006) said keeping the rise to 2°C was "already nearly out of reach" because it meant emissions "peaking in the next five years or so and dropping fast", which he judged to be neither politically likely nor economically desirable. He said that annual emission reductions of more than one per cent a year “have historically been associated only with economic recession or upheaval”, and that it would be “very difficult and costly to aim to stabilise at 450ppm CO2e” (viewed as a 2°C target).

So he nodded towards a higher target where “the annual costs of achieving stabilisation between 500 and 550ppm CO2e are around 1% of global GDP” because “stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere is feasible and consistent with continued growth”.

Likewise, Garnaut was drawn to the politically pragmatic in his work. Whilst it was clear by the end of 2007 that 450 ppm was far from a safe or reasonable target, the Review did not heed strong calls from advocates to model and consider a safer 350 ppm scenario and, like Stern, it stuck to the 450 and 550 ppm targets. And whilst describing the action necessary for Australia to play a reasonable part in holding to 450ppm, Garnaut then suggested that as interim measure, pending global agreement, that Australia should act only for the 550ppm target.

Prof. Kevin Anderson notes that: “Reductions in emissions greater than 3-4 per cent per annum are incompatible with a growing economy (or so we’re repeatedly advised). From Stern and the UK’s Committee on Climate Change through to virtually every 2°C emission scenario developed by ‘Integrated Assessment Modellers’, reductions in absolute emissions greater than three to four per cent year on year are judged incompatible with a growing economy . . . we have found no examples of economists suggesting that prolonged emission-reductions above three to four per cent per annum are economically sustainable” (Anderson, 2013).

Whether fast rates of de-carbonisation are incompatible with a growing economy is not established, because they may be possible in a highly-regulated economy, even if not in the deregulated economies about which Stern and Garnaut were writing. But the practical consequence is that few advocates want to push high de-carbonisation rates because of the perception of negative economic consequences.

For industrialised nations with high per capita emissions, adhering to the 2°C target (even with high risks of failure) requires emissions reductions of round ten per cent a year. See Figure 4. But very few participants in climate policy-making are prepared to even whisper about such a scale of action, less they be considered economic vandals.

Conclusion

  • At just 0.8°C of warming and with temperatures just above the Holocene zone, climate change is already dangerous with tipping points passed for significant earth system elements, including West Antarctic glaciers and summer Arctic sea-ice. The last time greenhouse gases were this high, temperatures were 3+°C degrees higher, and sea levels 25-40 metres higher.
  • 2°C of warming is the boundary between dangerous and very dangerous climate change, and the non-dangerous (safe) zone is well under 1°C and in the Holocene range, yet the present level of greenhouse gases is sufficient to produce more than 2°C of warming.
  • We have already gone too high with greenhouse emissions, and practically speaking there is no carbon budget available for burning more fossil fuels for the 2°C target, and no carbon budget available if catastrophic risk management methods (low rates of failure) are applied.
  • Australia is just 0.3% of the world's population but counts for 1.5% of emissions, five times the global average, and one of the world's highest per capita emitters. Taking the IPCC's too optimistic carbon budget at face value, and allowing equal global per capita emissions, Australia's carbon budget for 2°C runs out in six years.
  • To minimise climate change damage and avoid reaching 2°C — by which time many significant tipping points and carbon cycle feedbacks will likely have been triggered — it is necessary for a global emergency response which aims to de-carbonise as fast as humanly possible, plus build large carbon drawdown capacity, to try and keep warming below 1.5°C and then return to the Holocene zone.

Many participants in global discussions and debates say such a scale of action is not possible in a non-disruptive manner within the current political-economic frame. If this is the case, we face a choice of challenging this frame, or accepting that we must fail in our goal.

Whether or not there is yet the political power or support for actions consistent with the science, it is important that they be articulated so that understanding and support for them can grow.



About the author

David Spratt is an Australian climate author and communicator. He was a founding member and Director of Safe Climate Australia, and is the co-author of Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action (Scribe, 2008), shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Awards. His writings appear at Renew Economy, Climate Spectator and at ClimateCodeRed.net. His recent works include "Always look on the bright side of life" on the pitfalls of too much positive psychology in climate campaigning, and "The real budgetary emergency and the myth of burnable carbon” on prudent risk management and the available carbon budget.

Why ask for action when you can take it?

Climate change. What more is there to say? For anyone still under the impression there's some kind of debate (a belief easily achieved by reading The Australian) NASA reports that 97% of climate scientists agree – it's people causing the planet to perspire.

But then again, why trust NASA? All them fuzzy headed lentil munching astrophysicists would be out of a job without their self serving greenie conspiracies.

Same goes for The American Chemical Society, the International Monetary Fund and The World Bank, advocating their whimsical carbon abatement waffle. And The International Energy Agency (hippies) who reckon we're on track for a 6 degrees saucing. And what about those (former) climate change deniers like Richard Muller and Bjorn Lomborg? Clearly their meticulous investigations into CO2 have asphyxiated their brains and now they're sucked in by Santa Change too. But not this guy:

This guy, known as Lord Monckton (because that's what he tells us his name is), isn't convinced about climate change. Ironically, the House of Lords isn't convinced that Christopher Monckton is a Lord, mostly because he's not. Christopher disagrees. Consequently, the House has made public its request that he cease and desist in claiming to be a member of the upper house of parliament.

But I digress. We're talking about a serious debate, right? I mean even our leader, our beacon, our Prime Minister doesn't believe in science, I mean climate change. He does believe in climate change? Oh yeah, he does now (brain delete “the climate change argument is absolute crap”), he just doesn't think it has an impact? Or that we should talk about it during bush fires? Or take any action?

No no, he's got a Direct Action Plan that's so full of action they've put the word “action” in its title. Only some people don't think the plan is that good, like 33 out of 35 economists (ferals) from Australia's leading universities interviewed by Fairfax. One of the two economists who did think the plan was good, UQ professor Paul Frijter, said he'd not describe it as direct action but simply as no action.

"I think the government's current policy of 'no policy' is exactly the right one to take for a small country like Australia," he says.

Notwithstanding Paul's unhelpful comments, let's take Tony on his word, believe that he takes climate change seriously (brain delete appointment of Maurice Myth of Climate Change Newman as chief business council adviser), is concerned about the impacts already taking place (brain delete “complete hogwash” and “talking through her hat”) and is right now implementing effective strategies to mitigate future impacts (brain delete the abolition of the ministry of science, the ministry of climate change and Climate Commission; CSIRO sackings; the push to dismantle the Climate Change Authority, Carbon Pricing Mechanism and Clean Energy Finance Corporation. And the immanent demise of federal environment legislation. And the failure of any senior minister to make it to this month’s global climate talks. And the whole coal industry subsidisation and expansion thing. And the defunding of the renewable energy sector). Ummmm.

The most pertinent question that springs to mind when considering the climate change debate is none of the following: Is the climate changing? Is it because of carbon? Is it because of people? How much of it is because of people? Is it really that bad? Who's responsible to do something? What's the best way to fix it? No, the most pertinent question is: how thick do you think we are?

The other questions are easily answered and have been thousands of times: yes, yes, yes, enough that we need to stop, yes, everyone, anything that makes carbon emissions go down instead of up. It's not rocket science, but NASA's onto it.

The newspapers are still writing to us like we're thick. The politicians are still talking to us like we're thick. I have access to the internet Tony, I know what you're doing. And I know how high the stakes are.

The reason people who talk honestly about the impacts of climate change are called alarmist is because the topic is genuinely alarming – there's no way to sugar coat global devastation. Things are looking bad and they're going to get worse. And really, things are already worse for lots of people around the world. We knew this many years ago and the knowing keeps piling up. So why are we still acting as though we're hoodwinked? Forget taking decisive action, we're still afraid to use decisive language. It's time to say it like it is.

On Sunday 17 November, 60,000 people across Australia called for more action on climate change. Again. Tim Flannery told 30,000 in Melbourne that Australians must make their voices heard.

"The simple truth is this: that we cannot leave a matter as important as climate change to the fickleness and whim of Australia's politicians."

Good. As former chief of the Climate Commission abolished by the Coalition, Tim is well placed to talk about taking things into our own hands. It only took one week to raise $1 million through crowd funding to get the renamed Climate Council back in action.

So let’s cut out the middle man because he's clearly taking the piss. Can we please stop asking our politicians for action on climate change and just say it like it is – we're not deranged, we can see that the Emperor is a twit, willfully choosing actions that are killing life and positioning the planet more precisely on the tracks to hell.

350.org is an international organisation whose original goal was to ensure we kept the concentration of carbon in our atmosphere below 350 parts per million – a level deemed the safe upper limit by many scientists. We're now around 400. 350.org don't talk about climate change, they talk about climate crisis. They think companies that have a long term plan to stick to fossil fuel extraction are criminal and treat their behaviour as such.

While important environment organisations in Australia focus on lobbying government just enough to maintain cooperation towards inadequate attempts at reaching inadequate goals, 350.org are demanding that the fossil fuel industry immediately stop exploring for new hydrocarbons, stop lobbying to preserve their tax breaks and pledge to keep 80% of current reserves underground forever. “Our demands to these companies are simple, because they reflect the stark truth of climate science,” they say. Some may think their demands are a little high. That's a hell of a lot better than futile.

In any case, 350.org aren't really asking. While governments and industries fail to respond, 350.org are busy picking off their investors with the help of thousands of people who are divesting from the fossil fuel industry themselves and pressuring their institutions to do the same.

There are 350.org collectives in five Australian states/territories, telling their universities to end financial fornication with dirty coal. There's plenty of Australian born groups taking the point blank approach as well. In Melbourne, Quit Coal is employing direct action in the true sense of the phrase to bring the end of coal out of our dreams and into our lives. Rising Tide brings hundreds together from up and down the east coast to block exports from our country's largest coal port in New Castle. Beyond Zero Emissions has mapped out a fully costed transition plan for getting Australia to zero emissions in ten years. Climate Code Red do not cease to implore for an appropriately urgent response to this emergency situation.

The time for debating and convincing is well past. Lord Monckton and Lord Abbott are not going to change their minds. The people with the power to abate this life threatening catastrophe who instead are doing the exact opposite, should be spoken to and of like the wanton destroyers they are – above all those who are profiting from our demise.

We've done denial, debating, and dancing around, we've done the limbo and the hot shoe shuffle. We've done polite, encouraging and lifestyle change, we've tried not to be too scary and say no worries. And the results are truly terrifying. People care less about climate change now than they did ten years ago.

As the scary (and successful) Steve Buscemi said in Armageddon, it's time to embrace the horror. That carbon level graph – have you actually had a look at it? It's not shaped like a hockey stick people, it's shaped like a scythe. So hug the horror tight and let it propel you to amazing new places and possibly even change the world.



About the author

Sarah Day coordinates Eco-shout and writes, researches and/or does web stuff for environment groups like Environment East Gippsland, bushwalkingblog.com.au and EthicalPaper. In her spare time she enjoys communing with wildlife, frolicking in nature, and campaigning for the protection of old growth forests.

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