Extinction Rebellion

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The “Climate Emergency” trend

By Jason Spencer, on 17 May 2019


Climate emergency’ seems to be a bit of the buzz phrase of the year, but is there actually any meaning behind the words, and will they serve their intended purpose?

In the last couple of weeks, we have started seeing countries declaring climate emergencies, with the UK being the first country in the world to make the declaration, followed by Ireland & Iceland. Australia too has seen climate emergency become a hot topic over the past few days, with the term having hit most mainstream media at some point over the week.

On Tuesday, activists from Greenpeace climbed over fencing and descended ropes on Sydney harbour bridge as part of their campaign to tell Scott Morrison to declare a climate emergency. This was done less than a week out from a federal election, while the government was in caretaker mode, targeting a PM who the majority of polls and betting agencies say will no longer be Prime minister after Saturday. The timing and target of this action by one of Australia’s largest NGO’s and one of Australia’s only large direct-action organisations is questionable. The action itself ended up seeing 3 people hanging from Sydney Harbour Bridge with a couple of small Banners, while Greenpeace self-reported the entire action on their website in a ‘studio report’ ’tyle livestream, asking for people to sign a petition to give to Scott Morrison. A few hours later the action was over, a total of 13 people were arrested, and some 25 thousand people have now signed the petition. But for a group with over 440K likes on Facebook, total signatures are just over 5% of their total Facebook following, and one questions whether they could have just done a few Facebook posts and got a similar response, of course this doesn’t have the same grandstanding involved as dangling from a bridge. Even paid promotions on social media and directly contacting supporters would have been cheaper than the thousands of dollars spent on this action, this being before any costs related to legal expenses and fines for the activists involved. However a few thousand dollars is only a small fraction of the $20m + in donations that Greenpeace Australia receives each year. For some reason, one expects just a little bit more from such a large organisation than asking an outgoing PM to declare a climate emergency, an ask that in itself probably wouldn’t resolve the emergency itself, even if ScoMo had more than 5 days left in office.

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) on Thursday became the first Australia state/territory government to declare a climate emergency. This news was celebrated & applauded by many Australians & groups including XR Australia. However much of the climate emergency deceleration was spent condemning how the federal government has failed to act on climate change in what seemed to another case of passing the buck rather than self reflection from the Greens/Labor coalition government. Perhaps a reason for this was a bit of a lack of anything to reflect on due to a bit of a lack of a resource industry in the territory, and the fact the government is ahead of the game having legislated a 100% renewable energy target by 2020 back in 2016. This also probably made making the declaration quite easy without actually needing as much follow up action as would be needed in other states.

‘Climate emergen’y’ popped up across media again yesterday when opposition leader, Bill Shorten, said that the climate emergency would be a “top priority of a Labor government”. This was clearly meant to win extra votes going into an election but relies on voters either not listening to the rest of what Shorten has said in his campaign (quite possible) or being forgetful enough that they don’t remember. Making a climate emergency a top priority doesn’t exactly align with Shorten’s previous campaigning, where he stated that a Labor government would not rule out the Adani coal mine or opening up the Galilee basin to further coal mining, as well as declaring that a Labor government would invest $1.5bn into opening up the Galilee and other locations to gas extraction. All of this adds CO2 emissions to Australia’s already ever-increasing emissions, not exactly on par with making the climate emergency a top priority. Real action on a climate emergency would see rapid emission reductions across the nation and the globe through transitioning away from fossil fuel extraction.

Asking the government to declare a climate emergency, which is one of XR’s demands, in itself is a little bit like watching your child poo on the floor and then asking them to declare that they made a mess, if they aren’t going to do anything about it then you need to take action to ensure the mess is cleaned up, that’s where non-violent direct action (NVDA) comes in. Unfortunately, any singular action we do as individuals isn’t going to directly affect Australia’s emissions enough to stop a severe climate change, luckily though we aren’t dealing with children and are instead dealing with governments and corporations who only succeed and maintain power if we comply. When enough of us choose to act through non-compliance or NVDA, they lose their power and their ability to continue as is, putting people before profits. In taking NVDA though, it is important to have a clear and direct message, and ‘declaring a cli’ate emergency’ may or may not be the best of those messages.

Kelly from AYCC wrote a recent piece (link below) about the difference between demanding government declare a climate emergency and demanding climate justice. A number of good key points are made, including that around when an emergency situation is declared by government, it generally gives additional powers to those at the top (government and corporations) and generally affects those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale the hardest, often those of colour & minority groups. A state of emergency can strip people of their rights and make accessibility to everyday goods and services more difficult, again though this us less likely to affect those who can afford to have words in a corrupt politicians ear. The article also talks about ‘climate justice’ being the alternative demand, and one that is about everyone working together, backing Indigenous peoples fights for land rights, which in turn will stop corporations from exploiting country, as well as putting power back in the hands of the people instead of those who have failed us time and time again. Power was in the hands of government and corporations when this mess was created and they have done nothing, so why would we trust them now to clean it up simply because we demand they declare a climate emergency.

Whether it is a demand for a climate emergency declaration, a demand for climate justice or for something else, it is important important that we actually stand up and make the demand. The government simply can’t be trusted to take action on their own, individual NVDA is needed to either force the government to use its power to act, or even more preferable, hand that power back to the people, so that we can ensure the same mistakes of a few people benefiting at the expense of the world, aren’t made again. Until climate action at a large scale is taken we must do all we can to disrupt the current status quo.

Kelly (AYCC), ‘Why Calling For’A “Climate Emergency” Is Not Climate Justice’
https://www.aycc.org.au/climatejustice_not_climateemergency