‘Revolution’, a word that is the source of comedy for some and discomfort for others, but also a word that we as ‘The People’ should be considering more closely (regardless of our political beliefs) in light of the historically unprecedented environmental, social, and financial state that we currently find ourselves in.
We are living in an ever-warming pre-apocalyptic world.
Within the natural and ideal conditions of the Earth’s atmosphere, as it existed in pre-industrial times, the simultaneous absorption and emittance of greenhouse gases is proportionately balanced out by the Greenhouse Effect – which in turn keeps the Earth’s average atmospheric temperature at a healthy point, therefore allowing for various life forms to flourish.
However, since the Industrial Revolution (which marked the beginning of burning fossil fuels such as coal and oil), atmospheric concentration levels of greenhouse gases have steadily been on the rise; carbon dioxide by 43%, methane by 150%, and nitrous oxide by 20%.
Disproportionate increases in the atmospheric concentration levels of greenhouse gases mean that more heat (energy) is being retained within the atmosphere, and that less heat is leaving the atmosphere. Essentially, this has caused the Greenhouse Effect to be thrown off-balance.
Consequently, since the Industrial Revolution, the Earth has warmed by 1°C. While such a number seems so small, it has had drastic consequences for the environment. Our oceans are being acidified and are becoming warmer. Our Arctic sea ice is declining. Our sea levels are rising. Our glaciers are retreating, and Antarctica’s ice sheets have decreased in mass. Such changes have wreaked havoc on the environment’s natural equilibrium. Keeping greenhouse gases in mind, we must also consider the significant damage that deforestation, plastics use, water contamination, animal poaching and farming, waste, and chemical pollutants, have had on the environment.
Half of the Great Barrier Reef has been bleached to death since 2016. We have lost 60% of the world’s wildlife in the past 50 years. An estimated 90% of the world’s seabirds have plastic in their stomachs. Every minute, a newborn dies from infection(s) caused by an unclean environment and a lack of clean water.
We are in the midst of a mass-extinction.
We are not meant to be living like this.
How much longer do we have?
With the Earth’s temperature quite literally increasing as you are reading this, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2018 report, titled ‘Global Warming of 1.5 °C’, warned that we have 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C – or else face irreversible further environmental catastrophe. Note that, 1.5°C is only roughly 0.5°C more than what we have already caused. Again, half a degree of difference seems miniscule, but it would indeed exacerbate what has already been inflicted. Half a degree more means further ice depletion (also causing the extinction of sea life), extreme heat waves, increased water scarcity, species losing more than half of their geographic range, lower crop yields, and mass-displacement due to rising sea levels – amongst many other things.
We are fed the narrative that as The People, we are the problem. We are told to drink our coffees from keep cups, to use metal straws, and to remember our reusable bags when we go shopping. Although I acknowledge that making the aforementioned small changes are necessary, they are nowhere near the solution. Such efforts miss the mark because they do not address the root of the problem – capitalism and economic inequality, as Gil Scott-Heron prophetically sung in his song ‘We Almost Lost Detroit’ from 1977:
“That when it comes to people’s safety, money wins out every time.”
While capitalism has existed in various forms throughout human history, it was the Industrial Revolution (again) that truly paved the way for the pervasive influence that it has on the world today. The whole aim of capitalism is to accumulate an infinite amount of wealth in the most cost-efficient way as possible. However, it is mathematically impossible for every single human being to achieve this. This is partly because producing capital requires some form of labour, and largely speaking, a single individual cannot produce a significant amount of capital solely from their own labour – hence to maximise success, capitalism generally operates via a relationship between a large labour-force (working class) and a ‘capital owner’. The labour-force receive wages for their work while the capital owner makes a profit and thus, becomes wealthier. Both historically and at present, the relationship between a labour-force and a capital owner has been extremely susceptible to exploitation. One must only read about about the Dickensian factories of the Industrial Revolution or contemporarily, their own sweatshop produced clothes for evidence of this. The problem lies in the fact that capitalism only grants wealth to a small percentage of the population – to the detriment of The People and the environment. Thus, while the working class’ wealth remains relatively consistent with minor growth, capital owners’ wealth grows exponentially. In Australia alone, the top 1% groundbreakingly own more wealth than the bottom 70% combined.
Although we can consciously recognise that the relationship between a labour-force and a capital owner is often disproportionate, inequitable, unbalanced etc., it is naive to believe that most people (including ourselves) would not be corrupted by the wealth and power that capitalism intoxicatingly promotes. This is not to say that greed is exclusive to capitalism, but that the association is indeed symbiotic.
To make matters worse, capitalism is a fundamental trait of Western culture. From infancy, we are bombarded with the aesthetics of wealth and the notion that wealth is synonymous with success, and so on. We are taught to strive for capitalism. One could even argue that the allure of wealth is just as much cultural as it is financial.
However, there is an important distinction to be made in that while the average person may aspire for wealth (and may even believe that they are succeeding), the majority of wealth generated is concentrated within a small subset of the population, who by virtue of this exert considerable influence over the government and the populace through lobbying, party donations, gifts and the media (particularly Rupert Murdoch’s media portfolio). Over the past few years, we have witnessed the staggering influence that wealth plays within politics in the case of the multi-billion dollar Adani Group’s proposed Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, on the lands of the Wangan and Jagalingou people. Albeit not without controversy, the mine has received the seal of approval from both Queensland’s state government and federal government.
Led by Bill Shorten’s former chief of staff, Cameron Milner, the lobbying group Next Level met 24 times with Queensland’s Labor Government, 8 times with the Opposition, and once with the Mayor of Townsville to endorse Adani’s proposed coal mine in Queensland. The lobbying was successful, with the Queensland Government being estimated to annually receive 200 to 300 million dollars in mining royalties from Adani alone.
The rationale primarily used to justify the approval of ventures like the Adani mine is as Malcolm Turnbull would say “jobs and growth.” The mine is expected to generate 13,900 jobs during construction and 12,800 jobs over its lifetime, but would also lead to an additional yearly 705 million tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere once the coal is burnt – that amount of pollution is the equivalent of 1.3 times the yearly emissions of Australia alone.
Instead of asking, “are jobs for roughly 26,000 people and a couple hundred million dollars a year worth emitting even more greenhouse gases into our already-fragile atmosphere?” We should be evaluating what sort of world we live in where such a question is even possible.
Even more, whatever possible economic growth made will have to be financially accounted for in the coming years by us, because it is our generation that will foot the bill to repair the catastrophic damage caused by fossil fuel extraction – pollution, habitat loss, contaminated waterways, healthcare costs etc.
For a nation that praises the role of fossil fuels in economic prosperity – while tempting, it is not an economically viable option.
Short term rewards, long term losses and enduring destruction and harm.
Matthew Schneider-Mayerson explores the lengths that The State is willing to go to in the pursuit of wealth in his Tedx Talk, ‘Climate change, capitalism, and what’s next’. Interestingly, he notes that a nation’s growth in GDP strongly correlates with the destruction of the natural environment, and that “we need to recognise that environmental destruction isn’t an unfortunate byproduct of capitalism but an inevitable result of a system which maximises economic activity at all costs.”
As made clear in the case of Adani, history has demonstrated to us time and time again that The State is willing to sacrifice the very source of our being and livelihood for ‘economic growth’ – our water, our land, our air.
Against the will of The People, The State followed the United States like an obedient dog in the 2003 invasion of Iraq in search of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that were later revealed to have never existed. Costing Australian taxpayers 5 billion dollars and thousands of Australian troops, the Iraq war has seen the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, and the displacement of at least 3 million others. As was highly suspected, the invasion of Iraq was later revealed to be nothing more than an oil grab. Brendan Nelson, John Howard’s Minister for Defence, even publicly stated that:
“The defence update we’re releasing today sets out many priorities for Australia’s defence and security, and resource security is one of them. […] Obviously the Middle East itself, not only Iraq, but the entire region is an important supplier of energy, oil in particular, to the rest of the world. […] Australians and all of us need to think what would happen if there were a premature withdrawal from Iraq.”
Again, economic growth was prioritised over humanity and the environment.
This takes place under our noses – even at university. UWA, in conjunction with the Department of Defense and Thales, has been conducting maritime research to improve undersea warfare effectiveness. Thales is the tenth-largest arms manufacturer in the world and one of Saudi Arabia and Israel’s arms suppliers – two nations who are currently committing mass atrocities in Yemen and Palestine, respectively. Couple this with the government’s plans to become one of the world’s top ten arms exporters, UWA is quite literally receiving funds from a company and government that is directly involved in the death, displacement, torture, and murder of millions of people.
What sort of nation is so invested in economic growth that it would resort to such means?
This is scary stuff.
Yet all of this occurs while our elected representatives backstab each other in their struggle for power and egoic comfort. We are deluded if we do not think that this pattern will continue. At this stage, optimism is absurd.
In light of Australia’s federal election and Scott Morrison’s cementation of Prime-Ministership,
The Coalition has pledged $2 billion to go towards projects that will supposedly reduce Australia’s carbon emissions, with hopes to cut Australia’s emissions by 26-28% by 2030. The cynic in me views the success of such election promises as not only facetiously improbable, but also highly oxymoronic, especially since they come from a coalition whose own leader brought a piece of coal to parliament. The Coalition may as well pledge $2 billion towards lip service and propose to reduce their nonsense by 26-28%, and it still wouldn’t happen.
Honestly, Australian politics is just one huge comedic-dystopian sitcom… Except, it’s real and it’s actually not that funny.
Climate change is happening. Mass extinction is happening. People are suffering. Life as we know it is not designed to be sustained under current conditions.
What we seem to fail to understand is that climate change is not just another policy on taxes, Medicare, etc. – the planet is all that we have. Despite our best efforts to counter it, to fool ourselves into believing that we are above the laws of the universe, nature will always triumph humanity. The planet is the be all and end all.
Climate change will affect all of us, regardless of our political beliefs, our ethnicity, our gender, our sexual orientation – and our concerns are not being heard.
Teenagers, high school students, and children orchestrated multiple, sophisticated, large scale peaceful protests across the country, urging The State to act on climate change… and they were mocked. Morrison dismissed their efforts and apathetically stated that there needs to be “less activism in schools.”
Insightful human beings much younger than us exercised more spirit, wisdom, foresight, and care for their planet, than their highly-educated, well-lived, and ‘credible’ elected representatives who will be peacefully rotting in the ground before they witness what our generation and upcoming generations will experience.
If we truly believe that current and future governments and corporations are going to clean up their mess and pave the way for an environmental future, we are absolutely kidding ourselves.
The revolving door of Prime Ministers – Rudd, Gillard, Rudd again, Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison – do not care. Stop thinking they do.
As The People, we have an intrinsic right to exercise our right to rebel, to subvert, to resist, to disobey, when our democratically elected representatives do not act in our best interests. The State’s long track record of taking us to war, of destroying the environment in search of fossil fuels, of being unwise and reckless in matters of the environment – is not acting in our best interests.
We cannot trust The State to protect us.
They do not speak the ‘language’ of humanity, they speak the language of money.
Elections and party promises will not solve our problems. If we want to see both ourselves and our descendants live in a world where the air is breathable, the water is drinkable, and the wellbeing of The People is prioritised, we need to dismantle the powers that be and organise – now.
Revolutions are unpredictable, yes. But there are times when allowing those in power to stay in power is more dangerous.
Words by Eliza Grace