The environment – and the people – will ultimately win the battle to stop the Galilee Basin being opened to coal mining, predicts Ben Pennings.
Adani is on the ropes, desperately trying to rescue the $1.5bn they gambled on the economically marginal and environmentally disastrous Carmichael coal mine. Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer or Aurizon might follow Adani into the Galilee basin but the environment movement has the numbers this time. Mass social movements like #StopAdani will triumph over profit, either through the ballot box or in front of bulldozers.
People ask me why I quit my job at The Queensland Greens, why I put myself at physical and legal risk to initiate citizen resistance against Adani’s plans. The answer is always the same. To buy time. There is enough coal in the Galilee Basin to not only cook the Reef, but to supercharge extreme weather and destroy farmland worldwide. The resulting death and destruction is seemingly unspeakable.
Any time gained through stopping fossil fuel projects must be used to enact meaningful cultural and systemic change. The 50 years of the modern environment movement have been the most ecologically destructive in human history, when hyper-consumerism has become our dominant religion and carbon emissions have soared.
Our dominant culture of over-consumption, expensive thrills and massive waste must be challenged and changed. ‘Civilised’ humans have turned their only home into a garbage dump, created an ecological debt that cannot just be written off. Solar-powered ecocide is still ecocide.
Living beyond our means hasn’t made us any happier. If needless consumer products gave us the happiness promised in their ads we wouldn’t ‘need’ to buy any more of them. Few people are immune to the constant lies of advertisers and politicians advocating for faceless corporations.
Every kid that gets cancer, every cyclone, and every useless nick knack contributes to ‘economic growth’. Progress must be measured differently – through wellbeing, social equality and harmony. Despite advertising being embedded in our culture, people value health, relationships, and recreation more than extra possessions.
The environment movement can only challenge consumerist culture by taking up the fight for economic justice. People by nature compare themselves to others. The outlandish and celebrated consumption of the super-rich must be curtailed, their wealth used to build communities where everyone gets a fair go. Children aren’t the only ones who should be made to share.
Hyper-consumerism cannot be divorced from the creation of easy credit. Governments actively allowed bankers to provide credit at high rates for almost anything, regardless of personal or social value. Governments can protect ecosystems and ensure economic justice by regulating financial systems that benefit wealthy rent-seekers above all others.
Dismantling the despotic power of the global financial system would take immense courage. Fortunately, courage is contagious. If people start doing what is effective and necessary, rather than just what’s comfortable and socially acceptable, others will follow. Governments will have to listen. A small minority of powerful people cannot control the majority if they organise and disobey.
Ultimately, humans need to embrace a world view closer to that of traditional peoples, give up the delusion that somehow the laws of nature do not apply to us. We will die out if we destroy the ecosystems we rely on to feed ourselves.
It’s simply not enough for governments to stop bad projects, or to power our destructive economic system differently. We have to build better ways to structure and govern our communities, learn from other cultures and create new ways of doing things. Only then can we look to the future with hope rather than living on the back foot having to stop destructive corporations like Adani.