Many have expressed their sense of disappointment at the recent re-election of the Morrison government. However, we may be overlooking the opportunity this result presents to a movement like Extinction Rebellion. It is important to emphasise that we are an ‘international apolitical network using non-violent direct action to persuade governments to act on the Climate and Ecological Emergency.’ The apolitical dimension of the movement is, I believe, its strength. By seeking to remove the climate and extinction debate from the toxic ideological tribalism that afflicts our culture, Extinction Rebellion offers us the opportunity to reach across the ideological divide and speak to the concerns of people who may have voted for the LNP or the minor parties whose preferences seem to have favoured the Morrison government.
This may seem unusual – a radical movement such as ours seeking consensus with conservative aspects of Australian culture. But this is exactly what Roger Hallam, one of the founders of Extinction Rebellion in the UK, is advocating. As he writes in a recent piece for The Guardian: ‘…only through being respectful to ourselves, the public and the police, do we change the hearts and minds of our opponents, which makes it easier for them to negotiate with us.’
So how could Extinction Rebellion in Australia win over our potential opponents? If we are able to force the government to declare a climate emergency through civil disobedience and eventually are able to form a citizen’s assembly, that assembly would need to listen to and address those mining communities who will be most affected by the transition to a low carbon economy. Those communities actually have skin in the game, and while the climate and extinction crisis will eventually affect us all, people in mining communities will be particularly impacted by the transition we are in the midst of. Mining communities, and particularly those in QLD who seemed to have voted against Labor, believing the party’s more progressive position on climate change would potentially put their livelihoods in jeopardy – those communities in particular need to be supported as we transition to a low carbon economy.
So what ideas could Extinction Rebellion put forward that would appeal to these sectors of the community and become the basis of discussion in a citizen’s assembly? In the US freshman Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has proposed a Green New Deal to address the climate crisis – a massive jobs and infrastructure program based on the New Deal Franklin Roosevelt implemented after the Great Depression in 1929. One of the proposals of The Green New Deal involves directing investments to “deindustrialized communities, that may otherwise struggle with the transition away from greenhouse gas intensive industries.” The adoption of a Green New Deal in Australia would not only hasten the transition to renewables – it would also ensure those most adversely impacted by that transition are looked after. As major multinationals continue to scale back their coal mining projects, this issue becomes more urgent.
It may be difficult in Australia to achieve such massive spending on a Green Industrial Revolution given the vested interests in the fossil fuel sector that have captured our government, and which continue to control the levers of power in our so-called democracy. However, if through peaceful civil disobedience, Extinction Rebellion can win over enough mainstream public support to force the government to declare a climate emergency, then the next step would be a citizen’s assembly to decide ways of tackling that emergency. This would take the decision making process out of the hands of our bought and sold political class and place it with the Australian people where it belongs. And if mining workers could see there were very large spending programs on offer to assist in the transition to a low carbon economy, they may well become supporters of the renewables revolution as opposed to its most vocal critics. Jobs and providing for a family matter to people – and if we can offer those things to working Australians one of the major obstacles preventing action on the climate and the extinction crisis will have been removed.
Hallam also commented on the nature of the protests in London and how the festive atmosphere aimed to transcend entrenched ideological tribalisms. It should be noted that the protests represented the largest example of civil disobedience in British History – so it is obviously proving to be an effective model. As he writes, the lack of ‘violence and aggressive language’ resulted in broader participation, with people being attracted to the ‘celebratory cultural spaces’ created at the protest as opposed to the ‘narrowly political ones’ characteristic of more traditional protest movements. If we can replicate that approach here in Australia it may be possible to have radical change that deals with the climate and extinction crisis as a united – as opposed to divided – nation. And a Green New Deal may be the way to achieve consensus across the often fraught ideological divides of our national political life – a consensus that will be essential if we are to make progress on the climate and extinction crisis.
Gary, XRSA Member