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Crossposted at Crikey’s environment blog, Rooted

Throughout 2011 Australia’s best-funded environment organisations have been united in support of the Labor government’s push to establish a carbon price. Not everyone, it seems, thinks this is a good thing.

In a compelling essay published in The Monthly, Dr Guy Pearse, the former Liberal party advisor who revealed the “greenhouse mafia’s” influence over national climate and energy policy during the Howard years, challenges the environment groups that uncritically cheer for the government’s flawed climate change policy.

“It’s a far cry from 2009,” notes Pearse, “when the environmental movement split over the so-called Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS). … Now environmentalists are cheering almost as one, not just for ‘climate action’ but for Gillard’s plan.” While the Clean Energy Future legislation is a marginal improvement on its predecessor, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, it still contains many of the flaws that fuelled the split only a few years ago.

Pearse offers several reasons as to why this is the case: a partisan bias toward the Labor party; the sectors’ increasing focus on incremental gains; and the commonly held belief that markets will solve the climate crisis. Is there more to the story than these contingent factors? Pearse thinks there is and calls attention to the link between Australia’s foremost environmental philanthropists—the Poola Foundation and the Purves Environmental Fund—and the ENGOs that ‘Say Yes’ to the government’s carbon price push:

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Tonight, thousands of Australians will switch off their lights for Earth Hour. They will be joined by millions of people around the world united by their concern for climate change. Whether or not you will one of those turning the lights off tonight, I ask you to switch on your social conscience.

While most people in the developed world have the luxury of participating in a self-imposed blackout for an hour, billions of people in developing countries have no choice. For them, even fossil fuels are too expensive.

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Published by ABC’s The Drum.

Climate change is a wicked problem. It will take an unparalleled amount of human effort to address.

While it’s important for the public to be aware of the risks of runaway climate change, focusing narrowly on threats and evoking apocalyptic rhetoric, as Melbourne writer Doug Hendrie did yesterday, is not helpful. It might be good for scaring the general public senseless, but does not create the conditions needed to deliver action on climate change. For that we need a positive vision of our future.

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Published by On Line Opinion, Australia’s leading e-journal of social and political debate.

Julia Gillard’s announcement last Friday marked a new low point for Australian climate change policy. If reelected, a Labor government will fill the void created by its decision to defer the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) with a collection of low-impact policy measures: miniscule investments in renewable energy; an ill-conceived “cash for clunkers” program; and the much criticised plan for a “citizens’ assembly” to establish “community consensus” on climate change. Such measures do not reflect the urgency and scale of the climate change challenge.

In the wake of Gillard’s announcement, several climate advocates made the case that community consensus on climate change already exists. Be that as it may, community consensus doesn’t tell us whether climate change is a priority issue for Australians. Polling released last week revealed a disturbing truth for Australia’s climate change advocates. Contrary to the rhetoric of many, addressing climate change ranks well down the list of the most important issues for voters in the 2010 federal election.

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Published by the ABC, Australia’s National Broadcaster.

Recently, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) released Creating Jobs – Cutting Pollution, a new report that investigates how reducing our carbon dioxide output will benefit the Australian economy. Not surprisingly for me, the report finds that our transition to a clean energy economy yields excellent job-creation prospects for Australia. But amid this positive economic forecast is a framing of climate change that has several limitations and implications for policy.

Creating Jobs – Cutting Pollution (pdf) frames climate change as a pollution problem. This frame is consistent with the title of the Rudd government’s chief climate change policy, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and is a dominant way of communicating the problem of climate change in Australia.

The pollution frame shows how we understand, or in this case misunderstand, the phenomenon. What is meant by pollution in the context of climate change? Does the same language used for sewage overflows, chemical leaks, and oil spills adequately communicate the steps needed to address the challenge?

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Published by The Breakthrough Institute, a progressive think tank based in Oakland, California, and cross posted at US energy blog, WattHead.

Of all the news and commentary I read about Earth Hour in Australia, not once did I see a mention of the billions of people that now live in energy poverty. Event organizers and commentators failed to discuss the fact that while millions of people around the world symbolically switched off their lights for one hour, billions are desperate to turn their lights on.

According to the Baker Institute at Rice University:

“…roughly 1.6 billion people, which is one quarter of the global population, still have no access to electricity and some 2.4 billion people rely on traditional biomass, including wood, agricultural residues and dung, for cooking and heating. More than 99 percent of people without electricity live in developing regions, and four out of five live in rural areas of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.”

For an event that professes to support climate change solutions, one would think that addressing energy poverty without wrecking our climate would feature prominently in Earth Hour campaigning. So why was energy poverty ignored? And what does this say about the environmental thinking that informed Earth Hour?

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Leigh Ewbank


Climate and energy writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

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Creative Commons License All blogs presented on this site, therealewbank.wordpress.com, by Leigh Ewbank are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Australia License
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