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The environment movement shouldn’t have supported Direct Action

The Government鈥檚 Direct Action legislation passed through Parliament last week, with the Government receiving support from the Palmer United Party and Independent Nick Xenephon.

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Even with the concessions given during the negotiations, Direct Action is still likely to be a disaster. It is an expensive and ineffective policy that will cost billions of dollars with little to no environmental gain.

Despite this however some of the weirdest supporters of the bill have come through the environment movement. Key figures within the movement have played a crucial role in negotiating the passage of the legislation – forming unique alliances with The Palmer United Party in particular to see Direct Action become law. For many other organisations and progressive academics, the critique of last week鈥檚 deal has been muted, with a positive focus on the Government鈥檚 concession to hold an inquiry into international emissions trading schemes – an inquiry that will likely lead to nowhere.

These environmentalists argue that while Direct Action is weak, in the current political climate it is an important step. It is crucial, they say, that Australia has a 鈥榥ational policy鈥?on climate change, and as Clive Palmer argued, even though Direct Action wont work, something is better than nothing. For others, the establishment of the enquiry into emissions trading is a key victory – an opportunity for Australia to once again reach 鈥榗onsensus鈥?/a> on the importance of the price on pollution. This is an important incremental step.

These arguments are symptomatic of serious failures within parts of the environment movement – failures that are becoming extremely dangerous as our planet continues to warm.

From its early activist roots over recent decades much of the environment movement has become caught by insider politics. Some of the largest, and importantly best funded environmental NGOs, have moved from the streets to the halls of Parliament – 鈥淣GOs have abandoned activism for the techniques of lobbying and media management and are now dominated by people with lobbying and media skills.鈥?/a>

“The time is now for the environment movement to leave the board rooms and halls of Parliament and to head back to the streets.”

This became the norm in particular during the recent ALP Governments, where after years of campaigning against the Howard Government the movement shifted to Parliament to negotiate the terms of an emissions trading scheme. Many rightfully criticised this tactic, seeing the lack of campaigning that came with it as being behind many of the ALP鈥檚 failures on climate change. With the election of the Abbott Government this process has continued. Backroom tactics  drove Al Gore to stand next to Clive Palmer in a press conference earlier this year, and has now led to some environmentalists lining up to support Direct Action. 

While in some areas these sorts of tactics can be useful, when it comes to climate change that time has long past. Insider politics is inherently limiting – a game defined by the rules of those who run the system. It limits the opportunities for progress – narrowing a movement to what is seen as possible within the confines of the system. As Guy Pearse argues, this is where the environment movement has headed:

鈥淩ather than asking 鈥榃hat needs to be done?鈥? they鈥檙e (the climate movement) asking 鈥榃hat鈥檚 possible soon, given the lie of the land?鈥欌€?/a>

With the 鈥榣ie of the land鈥?in our political system being dominated by the interests of the fossil fuel industry, 鈥榳hat鈥檚 possible鈥?now means negotiating with a mining billionaire to give out billions of dollars to the fossil fuel industry to effectively do nothing. That is the best our system will allow, and the best sort of outcome a focus on insider politics will give us.

Unfortunately we have long passed the time where that is enough. As Clive Hamilton argues – 鈥?a href=”深圳桑拿网网,clivehamilton深圳桑拿网会所,/is-environmentalism-failing/#sthash.QGFmNBfx.dpuf”>in the case of climate change gradualism is fatal鈥? Climate change requires something much bigger- a complete rethink of how our our energy system, society and economy operates. This is something most environmental campaigners will admit – even as they negotiate incremental outcomes such as the passage of Direct Action. Our actions have become deeply disconnected from our beliefs.

Here is the biggest failing of all – because this is the best time for us to achieve that shift. As Tony Abbott highlights the very depths of destruction of our current system – as he promotes how 鈥渃oal is good for humanity鈥?/a> – we have the best opportunity possible to reframe the debate. As Abbott cosies up to the fossil fuel industry more closely every day we could highlights the depths of the destruction of our current system 鈥?setting ourselves up for the massive shift required in the near future.

This means building a movement from the ground up – one that changes the fundamental ideas of what is possible when it comes to climate action – a movement that tackles the influence of the fossil fuel industry from the outside rather than trying to work with them from the inside. Negotiating over Direct Action is not the way to do this. Negotiating over almost anything with this Government is not the way to do this. Instead, through legitimising the way they operate, it actively hurts our attempts to do so.

The time is now for the environment movement to leave the board rooms and halls of Parliament and to head back to the streets. It is the only way we will see the shifts we need to secure a safe climate. 

Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer and blogs at The Moonbat.

 

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