The Australian Government’s handling of Climate Change is Indicative of Its Racism

By Eleanor McKelvey - Director of Online Engagement (Blog)

The results of the 2019 Federal Election were nothing short of startling, with a victory for the Coalition defying the predictions of polls and commentators alike. Beyond the initial shock of the election result, post-election analyses have proven an even more unsettling fact: the Coalition’s support for the Adani Coal Project was one of the deciding factors behind their win.

The Coalition’s decision to back the Adani Coal Project goes against all reputable climate and environmental advice. A branch of the UN known as the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has repeatedly warned that Australia can no longer afford to invest in dirty energy, such as coal. This warning is in line with the IPCC’s recommendation that average global warming must be limited to 1.5°C in order to “reduce the number of people both exposed to climate-related risks and susceptible to poverty by up to several hundred million”. The IPCC has made it clear that, among other changes, coal usage must drop to less than 2% of current levels to keep warming under 1.5°C.

When the IPCC released their findings last year, Melissa Price (then Federal Environment Minister) offered the rebuttal that “our focus at the moment is getting electricity prices down.” In other words, Price decided that the environment should foot the bill for making electricity more affordable, not the Government. She claimed that the 91 climate experts who contributed to the report had made an oversight, "I just don't know how you could say by 2050 that you're not going to have technology that's going to enable good, clean technology when it comes to coal". Price wouldn’t know, because she is a politician and lawyer by training – and not an expert on climate, environment, or energy.

In short, the Government has decided to not intervene even though several hundred million people are at risk. It makes a loose argument that its “climate policy” is one of calculated risk, and weighted by economic concern. The Government also knows, based on IPCC reports (from 2001 onwards), that marginalised Indigenous people and small island populations are at the highest risk from Climate Change. It is these lives that the Coalition has decided to do nothing about.

The Adani Coal Project will be built on Wangan and Jagalingou land, which will result in irreversible pollution and devastation. It would go beyond the scope of this article to fully describe the destruction that Adani will wreak, but you can find out more about it here.

However, we should recognise that the Government’s decision to push ahead with Adani is merely symptomatic of the racism and colonialist attitudes that underpin much of its decision making.

Indigenous communities in Australia have been noticing climactic disturbances for years. In 2010, academics described how two communities of Yolngu people (who live in North-East of the Northern Territory) had been noticing ‘strange changes’ in their landscape, particularly over the last 5 years, which were likely due to climate change.

In a recent article written for The Guardian, Renee Blackman, (a Gubbi Gubbi woman and CEO of the Aboriginal community-controlled health service Gidgee Healing) emphasised that health of her clients is mainly determined by the ongoing legacy of colonialism and connection to culture and Country. She pointed out that climate change is already threatening the health of First Nations people. There are practical concerns associated with environmental shifts – for example, extreme heatwaves in recent years have made it harder for Indigenous communities to access healthcare, with roads melting under the sun. In the words of Green et al., “specific cultural ties between Indigenous people’s wellbeing and the ‘health’ of their ‘country’ create significant impacts of climate change”.

When the Australian Government decides to do nothing about climate change, it is actually making an active decision to continue to persecute First Nations Australians, as Indigenous Protected Areas are among the most vulnerable regions of Australia when it comes to climate change.

Not only is it racist for the Government to exclude First Nations people from the dialogue about climate change, it is also incredibly unwise. Time and time again, it has been shown that First Nations people have invaluable knowledge and expertise about approaches towards sustainability and conservation. This includes knowledge about ecosystems; how to detect environmental changes; and also how to manage resources, including water.

Colonialism has also been responsible for the loss of Indigenous knowledge. With the theft of Indigenous land came the theft of wellbeing and culture. and the irrecuperable destruction of that Indigenous Country. These trend must be broken as soon as possible. If you haven’t already, why not sign up to #StopAdani here? You can also add your name to this petition, and let Australia know that it is time to declare a climate emergency.