Right Wing Populism Must Not Trump Climate Action

By Charlie Wood and Cambell Klose, 350.org Australia.

It seems redundant to say it, but the world is rapidly changing. The election of Donald Trump last week - following Brexit and the rise of Pauline Hanson in Australia - proves beyond doubt that right wing populism has arrived.

Next year, we will likely see the election of a far right president in France in Marine Le Pen in France and the demise of Angela Merkel in Germany.

This is a devastating result for people and the environment all over the world. The rise of fortress states - and let's not pretend Australia is anything other than that with our cruel immigration program - run by demagogic leaders seeking to exploit national fears is troubling. That this comes at a time when record numbers of asylum seekers are fleeing war-torn Syria is tragic. What it means for future climate refugees as their islands sink below the rising sea levels is bleak, as is the prospects of keeping fossil fuels in the ground to avoid further dangerous climate change..

The rise of Donald Trump would have been considered too ludicrous to be believed if it had been written in a dystopian fiction novel. But this is our new reality and it poses serious risks to the future of the planet as we know it.

It appears almost a given that the US will pull out of the Paris Agreement, creating major instability within the first and only global framework we have to tackle the greatest moral challenge of our time.

Climate change will be pushed aside as nations begin to look inwards and away from the globalism that has been the paradigm since the second world war. Climate change is the most complex global problem we have ever faced and because of this, it is not compatible with cheap populism.

In order to tackle it we need to confront the inequalities and power dynamics that have existed since colonisation; a successful response will require entire global structures that have been based on fossil fuels to shift; the fight is against big corporations and elites that have profited for centuries off cheap, dirty energy.

There are no easy scapegoats in the fight against climate change. And neither fancy nor divisive rhetoric can siphon carbon out of the atmosphere. Climate policy requires leaders to accept the science and not play politics with the future of the planet. Unfortunately in countries like Australia and the US, climate change has become a political wedge that conservatives have used to scare people into voting for them.

US President Elect Donald Trump believes that "the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive." Barnaby Joyce belowed in the lead up to the 2010 election that a carbon tax would see Australians paying $100 for a lamb roast.

This all sounds a bit bleak but there is no way of dodging the fact that the election of Donald Trump is a devastating blow to global efforts on climate.

For many people, the inclination will be to draw in. But instead of retreating, now is the time to reach out. The election of Donald Trump, the decision for the UK to leave the EU, and even the election of Pauline Hanson was not the repudiation of action on climate change. This year, a poll in the US showed that 70% of Americans believe the climate is changing. In Australia that figure is 78%. Across the world there is a consensus that climate change is happening, with a majority acknowledging that fossil fuels are the cause.

And yet we continue to elect leaders who either deny climate change is happening or block necessary reforms to deal with it. The science is crystal clear. To avoid devastating global warming no new fossil fuel projects can go ahead. That means no Adani coal mine in Queensland. That means power companies must commit to phase out fossil fuels by 2030. We can't afford to let a Donald Trump presidency, or the inertia of Malcolm Turnbull to stand in the way.

To this end, we need to be bold and brave. When our leaders know the truth and refuse to act, it is our democratic right, and role, to stand up and act as the guide to where we need to be.

This boldness manifests in a number of ways. It means standing up and blocking new fossil fuel projects. It means standing with traditional owners and local communities to protect their land, their water and our climate from the polluting cancer that is the fossil fuel industry.

But it also means being bold and sometimes doing things we may be less comfortable with: for too long progressives have allowed perfect to be the enemy of the good. Too many potential Democratic voters sat out this presidential election. Indeed, Donald Trump received fewer votes than Mitt Romney in 2012.

In Australia more than 1 million eligible Australians are not enrolled to vote, including 60% of 18 and 19 year olds. Considering millennials have the most to lose if we don't take action on climate change - not to mention millennials are the most progressive cohort of voters - it is essential every Australian has their say.

Yes, voting is just one element of how we participate in democracy. But it is a fundamental element. If we don't vote, or 'donkey vote' we are neglecting our role to guide the world in a sane and stable direction.

2016 has been a bad year for progressive causes and particularly for climate change at a time when we can least afford it. But politics is like a pendulum and we need to be ready for when it swings back. It is inevitable that Donald Trump will stumble. He has promised too much and won't be able to deliver. In Australia the Turnbull Government has already lost the faith of the people after less than four months in power.

To this end, we need to be ready to capitalise. We need to have a robust and diverse movement of Australians ready to prove to our politicians that climate change matters. We don't have the money or the vested interests on our side.

But we have the science, we have the facts, and we have the people.