The Climate Action Movement in Australia

By Diesendorf, Mark | Social Alternatives, Third Quarter 2010 | Go to article overview

The Climate Action Movement in Australia


Diesendorf, Mark, Social Alternatives


Although there is a substantial body of scientific evidence that global climate change resulting from human activities is a very serious and urgent problem, neither of the two major political parties, or any Federal or State Government in Australia, has implemented policies that could achieve deep cuts in emissions. This inaction diverges from popular concern as indicated by public opinion polls and the formation of over 150 climate movement organisations (CMOs) devoted wholly or partly to obtaining deep reductions in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. This article examines the different types of CMOs in Australia and their respective activities, identifies campaign gaps and recommends some future strategies and policy goals.

Introduction

On the climate change issue, the most powerful interest groups are corporations that are the big greenhouse gas emitters - either by direct emission or indirect emission via their consumption of greenhouseintensive 'goods' and services - and their supporters in governments, oppositions and public services (Beder 2002, chapter 14). In Australia, the major greenhouse gas emitters are the coal, oil, aluminium, cement, iron and steel, motor vehicle, forestry and pastoral industries (Australian Government 2008a, 1). Both the Howard Liberal-National Coalition government (19962007) and the Labor government (2007-) have been strongly influenced by the big greenhouse gas-emitting industries to avoid or delay action to cut Australia greenhouse gas emissions substantially (Hamilton 2007; Pearse 2007). This failure of the democratic political process has driven the growth of the climate action movement.

This article assesses the structure of the climate action movement and its potential to shift governments, both federal and state, from inaction and token actions to substantial action. It builds on work by Hall and Taplin (2006; 2007; 2008) and Hall and Star (2007). It draws upon the intellectual framework of Bill Moyer, who defines a 'social movement' as:

collective actions in which the populace is alerted, educated and mobilized, sometimes over years and decades, to challenge the powerholders and the whole society to redress social problems or grievances and restore critical social values,

adding that

social movements are a powerful means for ordinary people to successfully create positive social change, particularly when the formal channels of democratic political participation are not working and obstinate powerful elites prevail (Moyer ef al., 2001, 10).

The social movement on climate action is called in this article 'the climate action movement'. This movement is composed of climate movement organisations (CMOs) and individuals. I define 'climate action' to be the implementation of policies to make substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Section 2 of this article reviews the evidence that both the previous Howard Liberal-National Coalition government and the present Labor government have been strongly influenced by the big greenhouse gas-emitting industries to delay or avoid strong climate action. Section 3 outlines the different types of CMOs in Australia and their principal campaign tactics. Section 4 identifies the strategic and tactical gaps in campaign activities that must be filled if the climate action movement is to be successful in gaining substantial climate action from government and business in the face of vested interests.

At this point the author's interest should be declared. I am both an academic, who teaches, researches and publishes scholarly papers and books on greenhouse response technologies and policies, and an environmental activist who writes popular articles and gives public addresses on the same topics. In 1994-1996, he coordinated Australian Conservation Foundation's climate action campaign.

Failure of governments

Federal and State governments in Australia have taken only token actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and have avoided or delayed action of real substance. …

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