Our politicians could learn a lot from today's youth

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Thousands of school kids joined together to stick it to the Government's lack of climate change policy (Screenshot via YouTube)

Government condemnation of a massive protest by students over climate change has shown us where the real intelligence lies, writes John Passant.


On Friday,15,000 school students went on strike demanding action on climate change. They are an inspiration. Well done to all of you.

Compare the fantastic actions of the students to the pathetic response of our climate change denying government.

Here is the Prime Minister condemning the students’ action:

‘… we do not support our schools being turned into parliaments. What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools.’

One minor point, ScoalMo — activism is learning.

Education at its best creates students who are enquiring, questioning and critical. Capitalism wants critical thinkers, but strictly within its own limit. It does not want students who challenge the system itself.

Challenging the system, in an embryonic way, is what the striking students were doing. My hope is that the student strike leads to a political awakening much like the protests against the Vietnam War which, from a small start, mobilised millions and woke up an earlier generation (including me).

For my sins, I listen to Question Time; it is childish and juvenile. Striking students, by comparison, are mature political players. If only our schools were parliaments. Society would be so much better off.

Here is just one example of the quality thinking from the “adults” in Parliament. Government backbencher Craig Kelly said striking students should give up ice cream for a year because dairy farms produce greenhouse gas emissions. Give me the students at the rallies over political “adults” like Kelly.  

While the students missed a few hours of school, the Government’s plans for Parliament next year will see it possibly sit for only ten days. Backbenchers will continue collecting almost $4,000 a week until the election in May. Nice “work” if you can get it.

Resources Minister, Senator Matt Canavan, is also one of the “adults” in Parliament. Matt “the Caveman” Canavan – he was, after all, Barnaby Joyce’s Chief of Staff between 2010 and 2013 – told radio station 2GB that he’d prefer students to learn about science and mining.

It is science that is teaching many young students that mining and burning of fossil fuels lead to climate change. Canavan, unlike the students, rejects the science on climate change. He is the one who needs an education, not the students.

This is the same Matt Canavan whom via Twitter, has been telling us about that little Aussie battler Adani and its heroic struggle to get coal mining and exports going, despite all the obstacles, including the catastrophic fires in North Queensland. Adani Group is a huge Indian conglomerate, run through tax havens, whom the Morrison Government and the Queensland Labor Government have bent over backwards to support. The Shorten Labor Party will not stop Adani going ahead.

As for mentioning the fires, has the connection between climate change and catastrophic weather events escaped your attention, Senator Canavan? An educated expert, fire ecologist Philip Stewart, says the abnormal and unprecedented fires are absolutely the result of climate change.

The Caveman also told 2GB that:

“The best thing [striking students will] learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue.”

In my lifetime, I have been to many protests and I have never been on the dole. Protests were a key part of my education.

These Government attacks on students make me think the Liberals want to alienate future voters from them. They could not be that stupid, could they?

The climate change bullshit from politicians is an expression of the contradiction under capitalism between profit and the environment. Burning fossil fuels is an example of the metabolic rift between the human system of profit creation under capitalism and nature’s systems. It has produced the explosion in greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution that is producing climate change and, with it, extreme weather events. We are killing our planet for profit.

One political expression of this contradiction can be denial. Powerful sections of the Liberal and National Parties and a number of media outlets and commentators deny humanity is responsible for climate change and, in some cases, that it is even happening. As Greg Jericho points out, there are two types of politicians in the Coalition: those who are climate change deniers and those who enable the deniers.  

Another political expression of the contradiction between profit and the environment is the attempt to use the State to, in some way, regulate the production of greenhouse gas emissions. The latter is the approach of the Labor Party and its support for the National Energy Guarantee. This policy is basically a hashed-over Malcolm Turnbull offering with a higher emissions reduction target for electricity.  

The NEG cost Malcolm Turnbull his job. Yet major sections of capital, including the Business Council of Australia, the National Farmers’ Federation, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Australian Industry Group, the Council of Small Business Organisations, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association and the Australian Energy Council all supported it.  

There are a number of problems with current approaches to regulating climate change. Firstly, the end result is that it is workers, not capital, who will pay for the regulation in the form of job losses, higher taxes and/or higher prices. Of course, they will also pay for any inaction in addressing climate change. But regulation itself is not going to be adequate.

Secondly, such regulation does nothing to reverse climate change. It might, at best, limit warming to the Paris Climate Agreement aims of between 1.5 and two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial revolution levels and supposedly be manageable.  

With temperatures already averaging more than one degree higher in the last few years than in pre-industrial times, limiting the increase to 1.5 degrees is unlikely. Given the processes already unleashed by two centuries of fossil fuel burning and the reality of competing capital and different regimes around the globe regulating or, more importantly, not regulating emissions, two degrees is now the low end of estimates for the likely outcome of activity to date and the beginning of unmanageable and catastrophic change.  

Thirdly, regulation does nothing to stop the conflict between a system designed for profit and the ecosystem and environment. The reality is that climate change is a process and it poses an existential threat in the medium term to human life on the planet and, hence, to our current systems of production, including capitalism. We need system change, not climate change.

Where to now? Will this first wave of protests become a tsunami from students and then workers and the rest of the community around this and other economic and political issues? That is the way forward. Progressive change is won by struggle, not through the good graces of whichever group we elect to manage capitalism.

Ultimately, the only way to address systemic climate change is to fundamentally change the system that produces climate change and to begin democratically organising production for people, not profit.

The strike by students has given us a glimpse of the future. To misquote George Orwell, if there is any hope, it lies in the proles of today and tomorrow.

You can follow Canberra correspondent John Passant on Twitter @JohnPassantSigned copies of John's first book of poetry, Songs for the Band Unformed (Ginninderra Press 2016), are available for purchase from the IA store HERE.

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