Campaigning for climate change

A sign criticising PM Scott Morrison . Photo Ged Shearer.
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Young activists set out to place climate change at the centre of this year's Federal election campaign,writes Ged Shearer.

It is a routine Monday afternoon on Carlisle Street in St Kilda. Young professionals depart the tram headphones in ears and briefcases in hands. Mothers and fathers push prams and lead their kids home with grocery bags weighing them down.

A hundred metres away a crowd is building, teeming with nervous energy. The crowd is diverse with high schoolers still in uniform, young people dressed in trendy streetwear and older citizens sporting stop Adani tee shirts.

The crowd has gathered for the Climate Election Kickstarter event, a forum hosted by several community groups to discuss and formulate plans for the upcoming federal election.

As the attendees move into the St Kilda Town Hall and take their seats, the nervous and excited chatter grows. Small talk and question and answer sessions on how each participant heard about the event fill the silence before the speakers take the stage.

After speeches from numerous activists and organisers and with the excitement of prospective collective action reaching a fever pitch the groups split up to plan their own actions in communities across Victoria.

By the end of the night, numerous doorknocking sessions, sit ins at MP’s offices and plastering posters on main streets have been organised. The big announcement is a national day of action on May 3 with a protest at Liberal Party HQ planned and actions at every sitting Member of parliament’s electorate office.

The goal of this flurry of collective protests is to place climate change and climate action at the centre of this year’s Federal election campaign. The activists want the major parties to commit to stopping the Adani coal mine in Queensland and transitioning to 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

Ella Du Vé, Victorian State Leader of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), is hoping the revived interest in climate justice will lead to policy action by whoever forms the next Federal government. “We are ideally hoping that we have a government in place that will take action on Adani by stopping the mine and has a serious climate policy and is committed to going above and beyond and not just meeting the bare minimum.”

Ms De Vé grew up within an environmentally focused home. Her parents would take her to rallies as a child which led to her, “always being quite consciousness of climate change and the human impact on the world”.

AYCC is one of the key community action groups formed around the issue of climate change and the environment. Ms Du Vé said the group draws in young people who are conscious about the climate but are unsure of how to make a political difference.

“What you are doing personally has a bit of impact but what is happening at a national level is what’s going to change the system, AYCC can give people direction and a sense of empowerment.”

She sees the 2019 Federal election as a climate election and believes, “wealthier countries should be doing the most” to combat global climate change and “Australia has the resources to cut back its carbon emissions”.

Lotus Hackenburger, an environmental activist, echoed Ms Du Vé’s sentiment. “Australia is pathetic, we have never met global reduction goals and we have a government that has just given water licences to Adani when we are in drought and should be trying to shut down fossil fuels.”

“We also still dig up and export coal for approximately a third of the world. We have the money, education and ability to make major systematic change that we require but we don’t,” Ms Hackenburger said.

Recent polling conducted by the ABC showed that the environment is the top issue for voters in this election, increasing from 9% percent in 2016 to 29% this election cycle.

Dr Kerry Ryan, a Lecturer in Politics and History at Swinburne University said the polling showed the environment was the “major single issue in 6 of the 8 states and territories and 2nd behind the economy in Western Australia and Queensland”.

Dr Ryan said the recent weather-related phenomenon that have swept Australia had drawn attention to the issue. “Images of dying fish, drought are obvious indicators that things are not right.”

The attention on the environment as an election issue is a potential thorn in the Liberal Party’s side as they have had issues formulating and implementing a clear environmental and climate change policy.

“It is bad timing for a government that looks a bit loose on the environment, it is dangerous to go to the polls without a clear plan and looking like climate deniers.”

Dr Ryan also contributes the success of the recent School Strike 4 Climate rallies partly to a miscalculation by the Prime Minister and his government, their response to the strikers was inadequate and dismissive of the students.

The crowd at the School Strike 4 Climate rally. Photo Ged Shearer.

“The government blew the issue up by saying that they should be doing it in school, activism is meant to be disruptive,” Dr Ryan said.

Lotus Hackenburger, a volunteer Marshall for the strike, said the protest was “the most incredible environmental activism (she) had been involved in”, and hoped the community involvement could influence the political system.

“I think climate activism is important because top down action is not happening, defintely not at the rate we require it to, hence caring and educated people are having to step up and try and create bottom up action and make people listen.”

With public mistrust in the government high around the issue of climate change, the community action groups and environmental activists are focusing their energy on persuading Labor to commit to their demands.

“We know the Liberals aren’t going to take real action on climate change and we can’t trust that are going to do anything on climate change,” Ms Du Vé said.

“AYCC are asking Labor to review Adani’s licence and commit to 100% renewable energy by 2030, if Adani goes ahead it will let a whole lot more coal projects be undertaken in the Galilee Basin.”

Ms Hackenburger agreed with the focus on the potential Labor government, “Labor have said they will only follow through with Adani if it stacks up both environmentally and economically, which I think is very ironic because we are already in climate catastrophe without adding these additional emissions.”

Last year the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ICCP) warned the world had only 12 years to prevent global warming from rising to 2C which would have extreme effects on weather and natural disasters would be more prevalent. To help meet this target the report recommended cutting carbon pollution by 45% by 2030.

Despite this clear message from the IPCC and the interest in the environment as an election issue, Dr Kerry Ryan said Labor has to appeal to different audiences in relation to the mine. The environmentally conscious voting public in the capital cities and voters in Queensland where the mine will bring jobs and short term economic prosperity.

“Shorten is trying to play that game when you are speaking to different audiences, it is a dangerous game to say you will scrap it completely.”

“To win the Federal election you have to win Queensland, there are 30 seats in Queensland and its economy is based around coal and mining,” Dr Ryan said.

The climate activists are hoping their approach of decentralised actions in every electorate will be beneficial in persuading the public on the importance of stopping the mine and transitioning to renewable energy.

“We are engaging the community with a real physical and visible presence and these localised efforts will have a much bigger impact,” Ms Du Vé said.

 Ms Hackenburger said she hoped the upcoming activities including the national day of action on May 3rd, “leads to a mass realisation of the importance of climate issues and the seriousness and time sensitivity”.

“I hope that the election shows the government that its constituents put the environment above economic gain,” Ms Hackenburger said.

“We can really, clearly see the impacts humanity is having on the world, and as humans we have a moral obligation to care for the environment that gives us a life,” Ms Du Vé said.

Australians will vote in the upcoming federal election on Saturday May 18. Currently the polls are predicting Labor will form government following the election results.