Australia's Crucial Role in Fighting Climate Change

Posted by Blair Palese


Gladstone Harbor, one of the biggest coal export ports in Australia

In early 2013, 350.org Australia was given the opportunity to bring our co-founder and well-known author Bill McKibben to our shores, specifically to address the threat posed by our “unburnable coal” reserves in the global climate change crisis.

The math—as highlighted by McKibben—has become quite clear. The science shows that we can only emit globally 565 gigatons more of carbon dioxide to stay at or below two degrees of global warming—a target agreed by pretty much every government in the world. The known carbon reserves in Australia make up 30 percent of that number. The challenge was: how to bring that message to Australia? On the one hand, people seem to get the issue of global warming; and on the other, they believe its economic past, present, and future lies in digging greenhouse-intensive coal from the ground and selling it to the likes of China and India.

Our biggest challenge during our Do The Maths tour was politicians who, for the most part, refused to hear McKibben’s clear message: If we are serious about leaving a safe world for future generations there is only one course of action—leave Australia’s coal in the ground. So while the tour has been incredibly successful, with sold out public talks, national media interest, and incredible outreach nationally in spreading our message, the work in coal country has just begun. And although the Government’s Climate Commission recently released a report recommending that Australia needs to keep its coal in the ground, it received no reaction from the current government or our opposition party.

After the tour, the small 350.org Australia team stepped up divestment efforts through a new Go Fossil Free Australia website and campaign push. Students from more than eight university campuses and three cities and councils are exploring how they might divest their investments from coal and other fossil fuel companies. We’ve partnered with Market Forces to ask the public to stop funding new fossil fuel projects, particularly those planned for the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area—and, if they don’t, to pledge to move their money to a bank that will. In only a few weeks, more than $20 million has been pledged. While this won’t stop new coal investments in their tracks, it shows that the people are beginning to understand the challenge and are willing to take action.

Meanwhile, we’re conscious that as our future Australian government seems likely to continue to support large-scale coal export expansion, we’ll need to build a movement that’s willing to do more than just move money.

With that in mind, the 350.org Australian team has been calling on our supporters to pledge to take additional—sometimes radical—action. This may require organizing within communities, going directly to elected officials who are deciding specific development proposals, and even stepping up to civil disobedience if projects are approved to go ahead. It’s a big ask, but in the face of large-scale coal mine projects that would destroy the planet, sitting by and watching it happen is not an option.

The 350.org Australia team is diving in to develop our campaigns through our “Help us Take on the Fossil Fuel Industry” venture. We’re partnering with a range of other organizations working to protect the Great Barrier Reef and halt new coal projects around the country. The funds we raise will be used to help us find a small team that will coordinate our volunteer base and organize events to raise public awareness about this urgent issue.

But this is just one country’s battle to change the global climate change reality. We’ll also need to convince the United States to reject the development of the Keystone XL Pipeline, and encourage other countries to leave coal on the ground.

The Bill McKibben Do the Maths Australia tour has just finished. The hard work is about to begin. Join us on Start Some Good.

As McKibben says, "If the world is to stay below two degrees, we only have a certain budget left, a carbon budget if you like. And if all of the proposed, enormous coal mines that are planned for the Galilee basin—if they were to go ahead, that one basin would comprise six percent of the world's burnable carbon to stay below two degrees warming. That is a sheer amount that simply must stay in the ground."

This project is part of GOOD's Saturday series Push for Good—our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.

Photos courtesy of 350.org

Top photo courtesy of photographer Harry Saragossi