Malcolm Turnbull has just declared war on the future. For a man who came to power with a vision for innovation, his public call for new coal power stations in Australia combines brazen hypocrisy with economic stupidity, built on a foundation of reckless irresponsibility. If there was any doubt that he stands for nothing but power for its own sake, let it be dispelled once and for all.
Having made the choice to back expensive, polluting 1900’s technology over 21st century clean technology that is getting rapidly cheaper, the captain of innovation then had the gall to claim that Labor’s support for renewables is ‘ideological’. Turnbull then seamlessly appoints a senior staffer from the Minerals Council to be his new climate and energy adviser. There is no room left for parody. Nor doubt about intent.
When Australia’s major energy companies responded to Turnbull’s call for new coal power stations with the obvious critique of how expensive new coal is, the Government’s response was to open the door to public subsidies through the Northern Australian Infrastructure Fund. As if a $1 billion loan for the Adani rail line to transport coal from the proposed Carmichael coal mine wasn’t enough, now they’re talking about a concessional loan for Adani’s power station too.
The fact that renewable energy is substantially cheaper than new coal is irrelevant if your primary purpose is the protection of the vested interests of the coal lobby. But it isn’t about actually building a coal plant, or jobs, or keeping energy costs down. The idea of new coal power stations is a framing device in a political culture war. The fact that it is also a war against our children is a minor inconvenience for people obsessed with power for its own sake.
If you actually care about energy prices or job creation, you don’t destroy confidence in the renewable energy industry and you don’t imperil the Great Barrier Reef. If you care about community health and if you actually care about our future, you don’t block action on climate change. Global warming isn’t an abstract issue. We have had the hottest year on record for three years in a row. The reef is bleaching. Heatwaves and more extreme weather are killing people – today. Who knows the chaos it will wreak on our children’s lives in future.
Turnbull knows this. The fact that he is willing to stand alongside Abbott and Trump as a blocker of climate action marks him as the worst kind of coward. The great innovator will be remembered for pushing public subsidies for the Adani coal mine and new coal power stations in an era when the world’s scientists are virtually screaming about the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Done all while other countries embrace a clean energy revolution that is driving down the costs of renewable energy faster than most people thought possible.
As Turnbull bluntly put it, the battle lines have been drawn. The intention of this Government is to block climate action and to push new coal for ideological and political reasons. There is nothing left but to fight. To fight Turnbull’s destructive agenda, the right wing extremists that he is beholden to, and the vested interests in the export coal industry that Turnbull so clearly identified as the real driver of Australian energy policy.
The next federal election is going to be a referendum on climate change and the future of the coal industry. Turnbull has defined it as such and it is exactly what we need it to be. He is gambling that fake news and scare campaigns will get them through. People of conscience need to rise to the challenge.
These aren’t normal times. More than ever we need to work together. To build a movement that combines the audacity and the magic of the Franklin blockade with the persistence of the civil rights movement. To vote out politicians that are blocking action on climate change. To boycott companies that are blocking action on climate or that fund industry groups lobbying against climate action. To pressure feeble politicians who are sitting on the fence. To build alliances. To organise our unions to speak up against new coal and for climate action. To speak up in our workplaces, at school, in our neighbourhoods and families.
The future is determined by the people who show up and who join together to take action when the moment requires it. We are fortunate to have many luxuries in this country – but we don’t have the luxury of time to take action on climate change.
Founder and Director of The Sunrise Project