Climate Camp

I wrote an article for newmatilda about the climate camp protest at Helensburgh. I’ll quote the second half here:

That is not all. Our government has bullied Pacific Island states to prevent their calling for stronger emissions targets. That is, we don’t want countries facing destruction through climate change to add to international pressure to stop ruining the environment. Last week, Oxfam complained that “millions of people facing greater floods, droughts and failed harvest after failed harvest will be the real losers if the US, Canada, EU, Japan and Australia continue as blockers to the UN negotiations”.

Oxfam frames the issue perfectly in its report Climate Wrongs and Human Rights: by “failing to tackle climate change with urgency, rich countries are effectively violating the human rights of millions of the world’s poorest people.” This is not just a future threat, says Oxfam: “hundreds of millions of people are already suffering” from climate change. One report estimates “that 26 million people have already been displaced because of climate change.” Even “warming of 2°C entails a devastating future for at least 660 million people.” The report notes the IPCC’s finding that “climate change could halve yields from rain-fed crops in parts of Africa as early as 2020, and put 50 million more people worldwide at risk of hunger… And up to one billion people could face water shortages in Asia by the 2050s due to melted glaciers.”

This is the results of our emissions. We could do less harm if we started systematically bombing poor countries. But that is not all: our government is actually escalating our war on the climate. The NSW Government is building two massive new power stations. It is likely they will be coal fired. The State Government is expanding coal exports, and increasing funding for coal.

With all that happening, what chance does the climate have? The NSW Government in particular goes mushy and weak at the knees for coal companies. It recently approved the expansion of the Metropolitan Collieries targeted by the Climate Camp protest even though the Sydney Catchment Authority has warned that the expansion could cause the dam floor to crack and “cause serious leaks from southern Sydney’s main drinking water supply”. Even the NSW Liberals were appalled that the Government would “override two key agencies in this way”. As one Liberal MP said, “If it comes down to a choice between coal and water, I know which one most people would support.”

Coal companies can exert economic pressure on governments to get their way. From the other side, if public opinion isn’t enough to push governments to do the right thing on climate change, the public needs to up the ante somehow. We know that civil disobedience works: the Wall Street Journal is whining about Al Gore’s “liberal consensus” of the need for civil disobedience, whereby people acting on concerns about climate change have “succeeded in making new coal plants nearly impossible to build”.

This is exactly what a small group of Climate Campers realised. While most of the protesters made their point at the gates of the Peabody mine, early in the morning four brave young activists (and a photographer) had gone to the BHP Billiton-owned Dendrobium coal mine further south near Port Kembla and locked themselves on to the conveyor belt. They stopped production for four glorious hours. I managed to interview Aimee, one of those arrested. Aimee is a pleasant and friendly activist, and she had a nice chat with the cops about the lousy weather while they figured out how to get the activists down.

Aimee, however, is an undergraduate student. She doesn’t have the time or money to make the kind of political example out of her civil disobedience that the Kingsnorth Six did. For her bravery to pay off, we don’t just need more Aimees, we need Australians to support her. That’s our challenge.


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