Climate activists all over the world have been working to try and use the huge Covid opportunity to help to finally transition off fossil fuels. Most have been piggybacking on the Green New Deal  framework proposed by the Democrats in the US. How could a plan to invest in a Green New Deal for Australia be serious mis-education of Australians about climate change?

One recent sunny Fall morning I found a tweet from Adam Bandt at Climate Code Red directing to a new Aussie Green Party Green New Deal (GND) Covid recovery plan. Wow I said to myself in anticipation.

But there was absolutely nothing in the whole document about fossil fuels?!?! Australia, like Canada, is a globally leading producer and exporter of fossil fuels. Both country’s governments are still trying to expand their fossil fuel industries. What existential climate emergency!!!!

I e-mailed Mr. Bandt (his office in actuality) in complaint (ccing various GP leaders and executives globally):

Mr. Bandt,

It was with dismay and disappointment that I read your party’s new climate recovery plan INVEST TO RECOVER. Australia, like Canada, is a leading producer and exporter of fossil fuels but there was absolutely nothing about regulating fossil fuels in a glossy doc about policies that will not save Australians (and all of our future descendants) from the climate crisis.

Climate activists all over the world have been working to use the huge Covid recovery opportunity to begin a transition off fossil fuels. A Green New Deal has become a global vision of governments finally getting serious about climate mitigation; Australia and Canada both need a GND. But INVEST TO RECOVER is deeply entrapped within 100% renewable decarbonization. You didn’t have to watch the despicable Planet of the Humans to recognize the problems with 100% renewables – you should have already read Smil, MacKay, Heinberg and many other influential energy experts who have delineated the problems of scale and actual emission reduction in trying to use renewable energy to power a fossil fuel economy. Building renewables as recovery stimulus is a good idea but lowering emissions in Aus while still exporting huge volumes of coal and natgas to be turned into GHGs elsewhere will not keep the climate safe for future generations of Aussies or Canucks. To mis-educate as you do just feeds society-wide implicatory denial.

AOC and Markey’s GND was similarly entrapped in the old neolib orthodoxy but it has evolved through criticism and in the development of the Democratic platform to now include both arms of the policy scissors – supply-side regulation as well as demand-side measures. Two of the best books on GNDs – A PLANET TO WIN: Why We Need a Green New Deal by Aronoff et el  and THE GREEN NEW DEAL AND BEYOND by Stan Cox – both make the case for regulation limiting fossil fuel production. This might be inconvenient in Australia but to offer a false mitigation pathway to Aussies as political consumers ignores the reality that responsible Aussie citizens must address if we are to quickly reduce emissions at a scale needed after decades of mitigation failure.

Here in Canada a cynical Alberta provincial government is hoping to expand coal export production even as coal powered electricity generation is being phased out. Our feckless PM who still claims to be a climate leader has done nothing substantive to reduce emissions and his government continues to do everything in their power to expand fossil fuel production and export. It’s easy to understand why the Cons and the Libs mis-inform and prevaricate but the Greens???

Climate is an emergency; when climate risks are so high, short term actions matter most. I follow Aussie politics – Aus has always been a useful ‘distant mirror’ – but I’m not informed enough to attribute motivation and call out this abuse of a climate recovery plan as political cowardice or cynicism. I will give you a chance to explain why there is nothing about keeping fossil fuels in the ground in your plan. This message is just being sent to GP members. This climate activist worked for Canada’s GP in our last Fed election. But if I don’t get a quick reply explaining why your messaging isn’t mis-education at this crucial time I will try to get it written up proper for as big an audience inside and outside Aus as is possible.

Thanks for your time,

Bill       Gibsons, BC

I never received a reply.

Which is why I’m going to try to explain why promises of 100% renewable energy is terrible messaging when you must know climate is an emergency and you live in a major fossil fuel producing country.

Climate is an emergency and our situation is dire
. After at least three decades of ineffectual mitigation greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise globally. After renewed hope with the Paris Accord the great majority of the world’s nations have lapsed into ‘immunity via collective failure’ where countries are not ratcheting up ambitions given the worsening climate outlook and where most countries are not even meeting their promised reductions. Most have cynical plans to fail recognizing that the needed emission reduction of 7-10% per year is impossible within the present political and economic business as usual (BAU).

At Paris nations agreed to reduce emissions to try and stay as far below a 2C rise as possible but we now know that we must reduce emissions to near zero within two decades and pull GHGs from the atmosphere to try to get back under a 1C rise as soon as possible. But the reality is that present national plans will lead to a 3-4C rise and we will all lose big time.

Australia and Canada have arguably the most to lose. Meeting the present weak Aussie emission targets by orthodox decarbonization is piffle if Australia keeps exporting coal and gas and the world continues it’s present fossil fuel trajectory.

What is needed immediately is a switch of mitigation conception from the pretend, demand-side decarbonization orthodoxy to the addition of supply-side regulation. Our last hope is a regulated managed decline of fossil fuel production and use begun by those national producers wealthy and stable enough to lead. Emissions must be cut with both arms of the scissors.

Canada and/or Australia must lead. Both are important global producers and exporters who are experiencing rapid and threatening warming; both have socio-economies stable, wealthy and technologically proficient enough to make the transition to a post-carbon economy. The only successful way out of the commons problem is for one or more countries in this position to do the right thing and lead by winding down production.

This is why the Greens proposing a GND without even mentioning fossil fuel production is such a serious mis-education of the Australian people at this crucial time. If Aussies don’t act in really keeping fossil fuels in the ground, 100% renewable powered Australia or not, Aussies will lose big tiime.

Both Australia and Canada need to be undertaking robust GNDs – with room for many progressive social policies – and the Covid recovery is a huge opportunity. We are already transitioning. We live in a golden age of innovation. But more importantly climate is an emergency and we need rapid emission reduction and that requires a managed decline of fossil fuel production.

For the Greens not to say so in the context of advocating a green recovery plan is either political cowardice or deep, deep implicatory denial: climate change is not denied but  “the psychological, political and moral imperatives that conventionally follow”. (The quote is from Kari Norgaard, a sociologist expert on this type of climate denial; Jonathan Rowson is also pertinent in what he calls ‘stealth denial‘; and Michael Hoexter (soft denial) is excellent in explaining why politicians limit their response to the climate emergency. This type of new, society-wide climate denial has become a bigger obstacle to effective mitigation than the old flatearth denial.)

As another climate activist, Greta Thunberg, has repeatedly warned;  “Our leaders are not behaving as if we are in an emergency…. (t)he real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening when in fact almost nothing is being done“

INVEST TO RECOVER  is obviously a serious messaging mistake but it could be an opening for real learning. We need real climate action urgently – short term actions matter. The Greens should lead by recognizing and apologizing for their mistake. Aussies might just wake up to the real fossil fuel climate problem and help us all get back from the edge to climate safety.

Bill Henderson is a climate activist


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