A Just Transition into Renewable Economy

Australian Greens

By Rob Delves, Green Issue Co-editor

NO ENVIRONMENT, NO ECONOMY”. I’m pretty sure it was the first political tee shirt I bought soon after arriving in Perth in 1989. I loved the message and the approving nods and comments it encouraged. It’s a great, hard-hitting slogan. And it’s sort of obvious really ‒ except when conservatives swing into action during an election. Then it’s: ‘You can have environmental purity or jobs, but you can’t have both’. They’ve been hammering out this song for a long time now, sadly with far more success than it deserves. For example, in 2004 John Howard probably grabbed two Tasmanian seats by standing in front of thousands of timber workers and their supporters and basically inviting them to ignore the tree-huggers and chop it all down.

And what about the “Climate Election” we’re still recovering from? No jobs on a Dead Planet was pitched against Environmental Purity or Jobs (aka coal). Get over it, greenies – coal won. Maybe. There’s a credible line of argument that the Coalition snatched a few Queensland seats by inviting miners and their supporters to let coal rule in the Galilee Basin. Also that the ‘Stop Adani Now’ convoy invited a backlash the further north of Brisbane it traveled.

Post-May 18, we Greens and millions of people who support our pro-environment values are facing up to two certainties: firstly that we are in a Climate Emergency and secondly that we have elected a government that intends to do nothing about it. One response must be that relying on the traditional democratic channels (parliament, conversations, doorknocking, public meetings…) is not enough. Grassroots direct action is more urgent than ever: the times demand Climate Strikes and Extinction Rebellion events. Scott Ludlam deals with this brilliantly in this July’s Monthly – essential reading! I can’t compete with that, so I’d like to contribute some thoughts about the way we communicate, the speaking and writing, rather than the disrupting and getting arrested!

1. Presenting our case for urgent action to address the climate emergency is non-negotiable and ‘No new fossil fuel projects’ is central to that. There must be a just transition away from fossil fuels to the renewable economy. Our argument is that this transition will lead to better outcomes for everyone, and remarkably quickly.

2. ‘Stop Adani Now’ is also non-negotiable, absolutely what the climate science demands, but how effective is it as a message to win hearts and minds? It ticks several boxes: simple, direct, compelling, and communicates the urgency that a response to the climate science demands. The problem is that there’s no fairness or just transition in it. What we should be saying, and indeed have been saying, when we’re given the time to explain, is something like: “we need a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuel projects to the jobs-rich renewable energy economy”. We need to maintain our focus on the economic advantages of moving at speed to the renewable economy. “No coal jobs for Australians on a planet moving rapidly out of fossil fuels” can be as compelling and bleedingly obvious as “no jobs on a dead planet.” Economic and environmental arguments complement each other.

3. The Greens policies actually address the Just Transition better than those of any other party. The two main policies we presented in the election campaign were the One Billion Dollars dedicated to helping workers transition out of fossil fuels to new jobs and the commitment to free TAFE and University, so that retraining is easier on the household budget. However, despite these excellent policies, I can see that families threatened by the demise of their fossil fuel jobs still didn’t feel that a secure transition awaited them. “Show us these new jobs” is their very reasonable demand.

4. In other words, the Just Transition needs to get down to the local community level, beginning with listening, which is exactly the way we conduct our doorknocking campaigns. It won’t take much listening to appreciate where people in regional Queensland and the Hunter Valley are coming from. Essentially they were just voting for what they believed was the best for their families: the coal jobs they knew.

5. We need to engage much more closely with the struggling communities that know they fared better when fossil fuel jobs were abundant. Let’s acknowledge that their work helped enrich Australia. It should be obvious that they will feel disrespected if we keep trashing coal and lauding renewable industries that exclude them. We need alliances, as we formed with farmers in the Lock the Gate campaigns.

6. I think there’s debating value in highlighting the Jobs Hypocrisy of the Coalition and fossil fuel industries. For example, Tony Abbott announced he would sack 20,000 public sector workers, Joe Hockey killed car manufacturing by ending subsidies, mining companies have been ruthlessly automating jobs out of existence year after year – all with never a mention of concern for those who lose their livelihoods. And suddenly we’re supposed to take seriously their commitment to regional Queensland, with ridiculously exaggerated claims for the number of jobs that will be created! It’s a debating win, but probably irrelevant to where things really matter – the heart, the emotions, the values.

7. There’s also a place for anger. However, let’s direct our anger at the right targets. The relentless, money-is-no-object campaigns by Murdoch, the fossil fuel PR people and the climate deniers in the Coalition, with a big dose of Palmer thrown into the mix ‒ all spreading the Jobs vs Environment lie.

8. But in the end, I think what matters most is making the Just Transition local and immediate. The “Australian Settlement” was strongly egalitarian but it was also a mix of union solidarity and rugged individualism, achieved through workers achieving secure, well-paid jobs, rather than government welfare. This tradition lives on, despite the neoliberal times relentlessly undermining all its foundations. It is therefore right and just that our campaigns seek to work with communities to ensure the transition from fossil fuels leads to secure and well-paid jobs. This is indeed a classic case of “easier said than done.” There’s the problem that the old economy celebrated hands-on work, whereas the new economy tends towards knowledge work. And there’s the problem that neoliberalism couldn’t give a toss about secure jobs, well-paid jobs or programs to support people cast aside by technological change.

Header photo: “I’m thankful for coal miners” citizensclimatelobby.org

[Opinions expressed are those of the author and not official policy of Greens WA]

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