Climate Change Conference report
NTEU Climate Change Conference Report
It was a great privilege to be funded to attend this important conference, which showed how far some unions have moved towards being strong environmental advocates. A state-wide phone hookup and exchange of emails had my co-delegate Tony Lynch and myself prepared, and gave us a chance to air some of our views and hear others’.
NTEU President Jeannie Rea spoke well in the opening address, raising the importance of gender analysis of the issue, as women and the poor tend to be most impacted by the effects of global warming*. In the first session, on ‘The Science and ‘the debate’, Ian Lowe was undoubtedly one of the conference highlights, giving an informative, highly professional talk, illustrated with effective graphs and other images. It was clear that he has developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the issue over decades, yet could communicate the science well. Despite the alarming nature of some of the material, he was also able to bring humour to the topic. (As a card-carrying basket-weaver, my one gripe was his repeated lambasting of basket-weavers, who have never been part of the problem!)
With people like Ian being among the 97-98% of climate scientists who are certain that anthropogenic global warming is occurring, it is extraordinary that the mass media is still promulgating the myth that there is a debate about the science. An important comment that Tony made is that the scientists and other academics in the NTEU are being demeaned by this myth, this disrespect for our professionalism, integrity and credibility.
Tony and I attended different workshop streams, thereby covering a variety of topics. I was particularly interested in the activist stream. A common theme here was the need for a diversified approach to tackling global warming issues. This can be contrasted with an overall trend of the conference that some observed, which was a tendency to advocate throwing union support behind the ALP and its carbon tax. This may be one tactic, but it should not be the only one. (As one discussant pointed out, a lot of effort went into supporting the previous Emissions Trading Scheme to no avail). We need to remember that political action is but one facet of the enormous societal shift that needs to occur for sustainability - cultural and socio-economic and educational aspects are just as important. Political changes often attract back-lashes which can quickly remove governments and reverse policies. If, however, society as a whole is educated in the need for a particular progressive political policy, it is more likely to support it.
Other sessions were grouped under ‘The Response and the Solutions’, The Politics and the Economics’, and ‘Organisational and Institutional Responses’, with macro views presented by the likes of Anna-Maria Arabia (CEO of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies), Sydney Uni’s Stuart Rosewarne and Adam Bandt from the Greens, while community-based solutions were demonstrated by local organisers such as Dave Kerin of Eureka’s Futures.
The final stream was ‘How does change happen?’, where my workshop focused on a variety of actions to achieve sustainability – a diversity of approaches rather than the monocultural one of politics alone (particularly one that perpetuates the Laboral Party monopoly). This is based on a philosophy of grassroots nonviolent social change, which generally starts small and with ourselves, and works outwards and upwards, gathering size and momentum as networks grow, small victories are achieved and they begin to add up into comprehensive change. It is based on a grand plan, a holistic big picture, but starts with small concrete actions. ‘THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY’, as Benny Zables’ banner at the Franklin blockade read.. It involves consistency - getting our own house in order before criticising others.
I found the conference processes extraordinarily productive. Despite some big names and some experienced activists, there was little grandstanding and bickering in the plenaries, while the workshops ran smoothly, with no-one dominating the conversation space or rambling off onto irrelevant tangents. The travel was carbon offset , the food was good (although leftovers were not composted) and the staff were friendly. The venue was good though an outside space for workshops that didn’t require electricity for powerpoints would have been a healthier and more eco-friendly environs. It’s easier to discuss the environment when you’re immersed in it. Overall however, it was a worthwhile conference, growing some networks that will hopefully lead to much-needed change.
Where to from here? In terms of the grand plan, we need to research and promote the best solutions and social change policies, putting some flesh on the bones of the NTEU and UNE environmental policies. We already have the beginnings of a policy for our local NTEU branch (attached). In terms of action, feedback from my workshop was that the easiest action to get through NTEU is a change to UniSuper, to make it at least as environmentally-friendly and ethical as Australian Ethical Investment and its Climate Advocacy Fund. Since we have no choice but to use UniSuper (a policy highly influenced by the NTEU), the NTEU should be able to require this of UniSuper. Although UniSuper has some options that are better than others, there could be much improvement. At present, where our collective millions are invested is likely to be doing a lot of damage to the environment and to people.
*I use this term in preference to climate change, a term first promoted by the Bush Administration because it is more innocuous-sounding, and perpetuates the myth that what is happening is a natural cycle rather than being anthropogenic, and that it may change in either direction rather than being an overall warming.
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