Jan Wisniewski dreams of a better, brighter, greener future. He’s just hoping our political leaders catch up soon.
It’s 2019 and I’m 27 years old. I’m a millennial, though I think of myself as part of the climate change generation.
In the years since my high school year group was treated to a screening of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth at Hobart’s Village Cinemas, there’s been a lot of talk about climate change. From international discussions at the UNFCCC’s annual conference of the parties to heated exchanges in online comment sections. While we’ve been talking the world has been warming. Us humans still haven’t found a way to stop polluting.
The United Nation’s climate science body (IPCC) released a report late last year making it clear that we have until 2030 to drastically reduce emissions if we want to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
If the globe does tip over that 1.5°C mark, Australia isn’t going to escape the effects. In summarising the IPCC report along with the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO’s latest State of the Climate, Charis Chang paints an ugly picture for news.com.au. We’ll lose the Great Barrier Reef. There’ll be longer, more intense fire seasons, along with regular extended periods of drought. Plus, rising seas will submerge parts of our coastal towns and major cities.
This is the Australia my generation will be dealing with. It is us that’ll be making the policy decisions to adapt to this new, shittier Australia, battling harsh conditions to secure our children’s future. Although millennials are blamed for killing off all sorts of industries, fossil fuels refuse to die.
The proposed Carmichael thermal coal mine in the north of the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland would be the largest in Australia. It has become a lightning rod for the environmentally conscious. On the face of it, the mine is a grotesque illustration of greed overcoming good sense. But Indian conglomerate Adani’s promise of economic activity in a struggling region has become difficult to dismiss.
While some shout “stop Adani” others hear “stop jobs”. As Michael West wrote for The Conversation this is a major factor preventing politicians from banishing the project from our shores, despite real doubts over the financial benefits of a new coal mine.
In fact, projects such as this put jobs at risk. In 2017 the Great Barrier Reef was supporting 64,000 full-time jobs. When the reef goes, so too will those jobs. But politicians selling a message of saving our planet and protecting our jobs are having a hard time overcoming those playing on the economic anxieties of the present.
But what if climate action meant creating jobs? What if talk of reducing emissions, cutting back consumption, stopping Adani etc. was replaced by a positive vision of hope and economic prosperity in a post-carbon society? Sound good? Well, have I got a deal for you.
A green new deal
In the 1930s US President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the ‘new deal’, a series of government programs designed to stabilise the economy and rejuvenate industries during the Great Depression. Government–sponsored public works projects rebuilt the infrastructure of the US and created millions of jobs.
Late last year, a new, environmentally-focused version of this idea hit the mainstream through the vocal support of congresswoman-elect, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Like Roosevelt before her, Ocasio-Cortez wants the government to provide a job for any American who wants one. These green jobs would be part of public investment programs that aim to “meet 100% of national power demand through renewable sources”.
Ocasio-Cortez’s deal is centred on realising the economic potential of responding to the climate crisis. To date it has received overwhelming public support across ideological lines, even earning praise in the media from the unlikeliest of sources, including American business magazine Forbes.
The deal Down Under
Will our major parties be brave enough to test the idea with the Australian public? The appetite is almost certainly there. Aside from Australians’ growing concern over climate change, the increasingly precarious nature of work is weighing on the public consciousness as underemployment continues to grow, especially among young people.
This presents an opportunity to step in, and it appears at least one politician is interested in doing so. Former ACTU President and now Labor MP Ged Kearney gave a speech in November, entitled “The release from fear – climate action and the economic transition”. At the heart of the speech is the assertion: “We need government policy to embrace that the fight for good jobs and the fight for climate action can – and should – be precisely the same thing”.
While the Australian Greens’ 2019 policy platform shows a real commitment to combatting climate change, they make no mention of directly stimulating green jobs. Instead, their current answer to Australian’s economic anxieties is a form of universal basic income.
As for the Coalition, as Kearney suggests in her speech, the Morrison government’s rejection of the findings of the recent IPCC report is further confirmation they are not interested in taking action on climate change anytime soon.
The Coalition is very likely to reject to such policies for another reason. Their commitment to small government. The Washington Examiner has already identified their future counter attack in a piece outlining why Ocasio-Cortez’s green new deal is sure to be a flop. The conservative publication points to Australia’s disastrous home insulation scheme as what happens when government meddles in the job market.
A challenge to the status quo
This criticism serves not only as reminder that any public program under a green new deal must be carefully planned and implemented, but also demonstrates that current mainstream does not include the idea that government can help create a better society.
The author of the Washington Examiner piece suggests “getting the job done” on climate change requires no more than a carbon tax, advising policies “run with the grain, the attention to detail and local knowledge, of market systems”.
The Hayekian assertion that central government best keep clear of private actors has been drummed into Australians for 30 years. But it is this fear of getting in the way of companies that has brought us so close to climate catastrophe. While corporations go about their “business-as-usual” approach to emitting the majority of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, we are left to think how we as individuals can limit the effects of climate change.
Working for the future
Of course, individuals do have a part to play. We, the climate change generation, can literally work to save the planet. In her speech, Kearney asks us to imagine an Australia where “public works” are undertaken by “scientists and researchers, carbon monitors and planners, engineers, architects and industrial adapters, designers and redesigners”. Like Ocasio-Cortez, she presents a hopeful view of the future, transforming economic and climate anxiety into a positive, cohesive solution.
In the US, it remains to be seen if the green new deal will maintain the same level of public support as politicians begin to debate what can and can’t work and it becomes a discussion topic on cable news panel shows.
For now though, it’s a big idea – equally pragmatic and optimistic – that can’t be ignored.
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