Party’s over for climate vandals: only informed independents can save us

Nov 1, 2021
school climate change protest canberra
Australia's "let it rip" strategy on Covid mirrors its approach to climate action. (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

A new parliament is urgently needed with the ability to act on the climate crisis and this must include young people whose future is at stake.

In Aristotle’s experience “a democracy is a government in the hands of men of low birth, no property and vulgar employments”. Clearly this is not true today, but democracy in Australia is an abject failure in failing to act on the greatest crisis facing humanity.

If in Australia in 2050 a sole historian remains, sitting in the blistering heat and howling dust storms, busy analysing the parliamentary events of 2021 which had led to the desertification of this former lucky country, the inevitable question would be: “In 2021 were there no members of the Coalition with the understanding and guts to cross the floor on a confidence motion and bring an end to this disastrous parliament and precipitate an election?”

The historian would also ask: “How is it that no member of the Coalition felt responsibilities to their own children and grandchildren and indeed to all children in the world who would suffer misery due to their parental legacy?”

The analytical mind in 2050 would recognise that crossing the floor could allow a new parliament to bring in new minds, young people elected to plan their own future with effective policy based on science during what was to be a wasted five months before a general election.

But today we recognise that necessary reform of our broken democracy will take time and meanwhile we must urgently change the representation in parliament. This is a problem to some extent in all the developed countries responsible for most of the world’s emissions but it is at its most extreme in Australia.

The current epitome of democratic failure is the secret and almost certainly expensive deal being done within the Coalition government to allow a discredited prime minister to go to Glasgow carrying his crumb of comfort of a 2050 target when most nations now recognise this as irrelevant. The 2030 target of emission reduction of the order of 75 per cent is certainly needed if 1.5 degrees Celsius is not to be exceeded. For this outcome the world would need to reduce emissions at 8–9 per cent a year. Every month is now vital.

The government has evaded the recognition that cessation of coal and gas is the only quick solution for significant emission reduction by 2030. The decision not to participate in a collective decision to reduce methane emissions by 30 per cent under the guise that it will damage agriculture is shaming. The target can be accomplished solely by the reduction in the government’s sacred cow of gas mining and its leakages.

The democratic changes needed to transition to a system which can function to successfully address complex problems such as the interrelated climate and environmental crises are several but the most important is to contain the current political priority of Self, Party and Power over all other values.

This value system, while existing previously to some extent, has been foremost in the current three years as evidenced by squalid political aims being placed above saving many lives nationally, countless lives internationally and above the cries of some nations in the Pacific which will be submerged. These island nations have pleaded with Australia to rapidly reduce fossil fuels for over a decade.

Recently the medical journal The Lancet in “Countdown on health and climate change” defined the increasing number of medical problems and likely deaths created by the warming planet; higher rates of heatstroke in workers and deaths in the elderly; more insects carrying tropical diseases and spreading them further; plant pollen increasing in the air which will  worsen asthma and other respiratory conditions; increased risk of cholera and other waterborne diseases caused by extreme floods and catastrophic storms; bushfire toxins and particles infiltrating lungs and bloodstreams across continents; hunger stalking millions of the world’s most vulnerable people as droughts increase and crops die. All these happenings are resulting in a considerable increase in mental health disorders.

In parallel to these burgeoning deaths from global heating, illness and deaths from air pollution caused by fossil fuels are increasing in Australia.

Research from Harvard and a group of UK universities indicates that 8 million people died in 2018 from fossil fuel pollution, which amounts to 18 per cent of total global deaths, nearly one in five. Australia is a leading exporter of coal and justifies this with the drug dealers’ defence — ”if we don’t others will”. This denies market forces which the government frequently quotes — reducing supply increases prices. Indeed this is now occurring for coal with the resurgence of global growth. Coal exports discourage development of clean energy. Within Australia, coal-burning power stations cause 800 premature deaths each year and asthma symptoms in 15,000 children and young adults  Clean air is a human right which our government chooses to ignore.

Yes this is an ideological stance as well as party and power before lives — a cause of this malfeasance is the need to retain coal-mining seats in Queensland. It is difficult for most minds to understand such human behaviour.

Aristotle’s dim view of those who dispense democracy has its counterpart today when the current composition of parliament is detailed. Gender inequality and low multiethnic representation remain a problem. However the salient need is to have members with the ability to grasp complex problems of climate, environment and technology. Most of all, young independent members are needed for they will inherit the legacy provided by many of the current members and will have the incentive to succeed.

The future for the young is illustrated by research from the Belgian Research Institute quoted by The Guardian, that a child born in 2020 will endure an average of 30 extreme heatwaves in their lifetime, even if countries fulfil their current pledges. That is seven times more heatwaves than someone born in 1960. They will experience twice as many droughts and bushfires and three times more river floods and crop failures.

The size of the mitigation task in their lifetime is analysed by Leo Hickman, editor of the UK-based website Carbon Brief, who said: “These new findings reinforce our 2019 analysis which showed that today’s children will need to emit eight times less CO2 over the course of their lifetime than their grandparents, if global warming is to be kept below 1.5C.”

Can anyone imagine we have the ability to even begin this journey? It is essential that we commence democratic reform now by breaking the two-party system.

Young citizens with the required education and understanding of the climate crisis who might consider standing would not wish to subject themselves to the straitjacket of selection by parties which so often base policy on the lowest common denominator of ideas. If elected they would boost the small number of Independents, most of whom have introduced visionary legislation only to have it rejected.

There are a few parliamentary sitting days remaining this year for members to recognise their responsibilities. Support for independent candidates may be available from Climate200,

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