climate action cafe

A space for discussion and analysis within the global climate movement

Approaches to Climate Change

Posted by KM on September 7, 2008

Government Hypocrisy, Private Industry Negligence, “Consumer Solutions” and Direct Action.

By Liz Turner

This article originally appeared in the newspaper “Unless You Are Free”, which was put together by anarchists in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and was distributed at the recent Newcastle Climate Camp

It is estimated that the changes we make to reduce greenhouse emissions on a personal level in our everyday lives could only account for a maximum of 20% reduction in overall emissions. A minimum emissions reduction of 80% is required to prevent dangerous levels of climatic change. According to the Earth Policy Institute, residential and commercial uses only produce 14% of overall greenhouse emissions. Electricity generation is responsible for the largest share – 42% Transportation generates 24% of global emissions. Industrial processes account for 20%1

Three quarters of the carbon emissions from human activities are due to the combustion of fossil fuels; the rest is caused by changes in land use, principally deforestation.2

Governments contradict themselves by insisting that we “do our bit” at home, while they continue to support the heavily emitting industries of coal and forestry. Communities are now taking matters into their own hands by engaging in direct action that directly targets these industries. Activists have recently shut down supplies of coal in Christchurch, NZ; West Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, USA; Boxburg, Germany; Kent, Nottingham and South Wales in the UK; and Newcastle, Wyong, Kooragang Island and La Trobe Valley in Australia.3

By targeting big emitters at their industrial base, we get the results that “doing our little bit” at home simply can’t achieve. And right now, we need results! These initiatives demonstrate that we can in fact achieve the necessary transformation of these industries through direct action and community empowerment.

Government Hypocrisy

The government gives subsidies to householders who install solar hot water systems or water tanks or convert their cars to LPG. At the same time, fossil fuels receive 28 times more public funding than renewable energy.4

Australia is the world’s biggest coal exporter, so we can’t expect governments or industry to voluntarily give up coal. Of course governments talk about increasing the production of “clean coal”, but that’s kind of like talking about clean cigarettes or polished effluent.

The technology behind so‑called clean coal lies in the potential success of the as‑yet proven Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) technology. Based on the idea of “carbon sinks”, proponents of CCS assert that we can simply bury emissions. Even if scientific testsprove successful, clean coal wouldn’t be commercially available until 2020 at the earliest. The National Generators Forum (NGF) has essentially taken CCS off the table as a viable option. Despite theNGF’s refusal to support clean coal, a powerful coalition including the Australian Coal Association, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia and the Climate Institute all have their hopes up that CCS can be up and running by 2020.5 It makes little sense to put faith in a scientific theory that is not yet proven to be viable when the associated risks of failure are so high. The science of carbon sinks, based on a similar fantasy that technology will save us, has already been discredited.6

Industry Negligence

Industry negligence is perhaps best illustrated by BHP Billiton, which produces 50 million tonnes of greenhouse pollution annually, equivalent to about 10% of Australia’s entire emissions! This multinational giant to this day has failed to set any targets for gross reductions to its greenhouse emissions. Instead BHP Billiton has set a target to reduce “energy intensity” by 13% by 2010. This would allow the company’s emissions to continue to increase, so long as the company also continues to grow.

The logging industry and “doing our bit” for water

While forest activists have been talking about the links between logging and climate change for years, the science behind these links is now becoming more widely known. Old growth forests store, lock and increasingly soak up carbon over time. Carbon is released upon logging, burning or destruction of forests. In a study published in Science Magazine 7, scientists measured carbon in the soil of southern China’s forests collected between 1979 and 2003. They found that organic carbon concentrations in the top 20 centimeters of the soil were much higher than expected and increased in that period from about 1.4% to 2.35%. 8

Logging, aside from releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and thereby contributing to climate change, also threatens water supplies. Five water catchments in Victoria’s Central Highlands, which supply 28% of Melbourne’s drinking water, are open to clearfell logging. Figures from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) have revealed that 81% of native forest logged in the Central Highlands is ending up as woodchips.9 Established research has demonstrated that logging reduces flows into the Central Highland’s Thomson catchment by the equivalent consumption of 250,000 households. The cumulative negative effect of logging the Central Highlands water catchments is between 40,000 and 60,000 megalitres of water per year.10

The same governments who sign contracts and provide corporate subsidies to woodchip our native forests, 11 have been particularly keen to pass the buck of responsibility to consumers for reducing Melbourne’s overall water consumption. The State Government funds giant digital signs in the city telling us that our water catchments are well below 50% When this information is drummed into our heads, we accept the burden of responsibility. We take three‑minute long showers and fight with our neighbours if they water their gardens on the wrong day. But short showers and arguments with our own neighbours will not stop the logging that threatens the water supply of 250,000 households. If logging in the Thompson Catchment were to stop, this would provide a much more efficient solution to Melbourne’s water problems.

This is not an argument for wasteful water use at home! “Doing our bit” is better than not “doing our bit”. We would be hypocrites to say that we are concerned for the environment and yet fail to walk the talk and potentially forego emissions reductions. But we must consider how we channel our environmental concerns: will we reduce more greenhouse emissions if we convince individuals to reduce their own emissions at home? Or will the real results come from our engagement in direct action that threatens the industrial base of coal? The maths speaks for itself. Changes to overall household consumption could only ever amount to a maximum 20% reduction. BHP Billiton is responsible for 10% of Australia’s entire emissions. I propose that a workers’ take over of BHP Billiton to transform the system of energy production to a de‑centralised, solar‑based system, would get better results than asking our neighbours nicely to reduce their carbon footprint.

The links between the coal industry and personal use of energy must be acknowledged. Of course personal consumption and carbon emissions are intrinsically linked to industry because industry produces precisely for our consumption. While we can reduce our energy use, we can’t do away with our need for energy. But right now people all over the world are calling for a stop to wasteful industries that fail to acknowledge responsibility for reducing emissions. So the solution lies in the transformation of these industries.

Direct Action Gets Results!

On September 3 2007, environmental activists halted operations at the Loy Yang Power Station, Victoria’s main power plant in the LaTrobe Valley, Gippsland. This forced the shutdown of the 600 megawatt generator, halving production from Victoria’s biggest coal fired power station that supplies 30% of the state’s power, the dirtiest power supply in the developed world.12 This action demonstrated how easy it is for people to stop the industrial production of brown coal. These activists simply walked into the power plant and locked on to a conveyer belt.

So far, the scale of community opposition to coal exports in Newcastle has led the Newcastle Council to pass a motion to cap coal exports and introduce a ban on new coal mines in the Hunter Valley. While this clearly does not go far enough to solve the problem, it indicates that the council and industry are vulnerable to the kind of direct action that has taken place. It is obvious that more direct action is the right track for getting results.

Governments try to pull the wool over our eyes when they tell us to reduce our household emissions and water consumption. The fossil fuel industry tries to pull the wool over our eyes when they create dubious emissions targets. Activists have had huge successes in blockading and shutting down coal production and export all over the world. The people demonstrating at the Newcastle Climate Camp in July 2008 deserve support and recognition that their methods of addressing climate change are as effective as such methods get! However, workers in the industry must be brought onside to realise the power in their potential role in transforming the industry.

1 Bernie Fischlowitz‑Roberts, Carbon Emissions Climbing, earth‑policy.org/Indicators/indicator5.htm
2 Ibid.
3 Sourcewatch, Non-violent Direct Actions Against Coal, sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Nonviolent_direct_actions_against_coal
4 The clean coal myth gets a helping hand, greenpeace.org.au/blog/energy/?p=171
5 Ibid.
6 Earthlab, Ocean Fertilization ‘Fix’ For Global Warming Discredited By Research, earthlab.com/articles/OceanFertilization.aspx
7 1 December 2006, Vol. 314. no. 5804, p. 1417, sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/314/5804/1417
8 Hawk Jia, Old Growth Forests are ‘Key carbon Sinks’, SciDiv Net, 1 December 2006, scidev.net/en/news/oldgrowth‑forests‑are‑key‑carbon‑sinks.html
9 The Wilderness Society, Logging Melbourne’s Water Catchment: The Central Highlands, wilderness.org.au/campaigns/forests/victoria/central_highlands/water
10 ABC Online, Water Flows Into Thomspon catchment Increasing: Logging Report, 14 March 2008, abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/03/14/2189747.htm
11 Eg, For information on Government subsidies to Gunns Limited, see: pulpmillwatch.org/d8ef54959a1982f3a1bf984c372f81ae/news/articles/subsidising‑gunns‑destruction.html
12 Takver, APEC Climate Change protest shuts down Victorian Coal Power Station, 3rd September 2007, sydney.indymedia.org.au/story/apec‑climate‑change‑protest‑shuts‑down‑victorian‑coal‑power‑station

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