What a wondrous sight in cities across Australia last Friday with protest marches demanding action against climate change.
Led by school students and supported by groups such as ‘Architects Declare Climate Emergency’ (launched two months ago) 300,000 people came on to the streets with banners, megaphones and chants.
Hugely entertaining for participants and onlookers, it created lead articles on news bulletins and papers around the country.
Pity that it was a complete waste of time and energy. Worse than futile, it may well have been counter-productive if recent history is anything to go by. Let’s examine how the beautiful ideas rapidly run downhill.
What the protesters want is for the Federal Government to commit to a series of actions to arrest fossil fuel use, limit CO2 emissions and fund a climate friendly economy.
This is expressed as: “No new coal, oil or gas projects / 100 per cent renewable energy generation and exports by 2030 / Funding for "a just transition and job creation for all fossil-fuel industry workers and communities". All admirable ideas supported by as many as 80 percent of Australians. No need for consciousness-raising anymore.
It is the Federal Government that is in the box seat here: they hold the reins, and it is to them that the Friday protests were mostly directed, as they should be.
Federally the Labor party (45 percent renewables by 2030) is much more progressive on these issues than the Liberal/National Party (LNP) 26-28 percent). What seems to have been forgotten in the miasma following the last election is that most of Australia voted overwhelmingly for those Labor progressive policies, despite having one of the most lacklustre leaders in living memory.
The result in all states except the mining strongholds of Queensland and WA was 56 ALP to 44 LNP. Even if you include WA the ALP leads 62 seats to 54. It was in Queensland where the Labor party lost the election by 6 seats to 23 (plus one right wing independent), and where Australia was condemned to 3 more years of right-wing climate denial and inaction.
So why is Queensland so climate recalcitrant? Before you answer with something that alludes to deep north ‘Boganism’, let’s just say that the inherent conservatism was egged on in the election by three entities: Hanson, Palmer and Brown. Pauline’s One Nation and Clive’s millions have been much discussed, but for me it is Bob Brown and the Greens who are the real villains here.
Yes, that Bob Brown, hero of the green left; it is his love of antagonistic protest that is key to understanding the futility of Friday’s marches.
Brown’s rag-tag hippy protest drive against Adani from Tasmania into Queensland was an act of hubris that may have made his many supporters feel warm inside but in reality, it turned just enough Queensland voters against Labor to lose the election.
Three seats change hands, Morrison gets a majority and we get three more years of right-wing climate denial. In the same way that Brown’s votes against an ETS in 2009 sunk a carbon price for more that 10 years, so the Greens innate capacity to destroy the very thing they campaign for has delivered a climate ignoring government.
Last Friday’s protest march will likely have the same counterproductive result. It may make the participants feel they are doing something positive but ultimately all they do is harden the resolve of northern conservatives - look how few protested on Friday in Townsville and Cairns which will be one of the first areas to feel the brunt of climate change.
It’s time to take a different approach: instead of demanding change from politicians whose deep vested interests and ideologies will always resist change we, the design community, need to show the voting public, particularly Queenslanders, a bright green future.
Architects and planners can lead the charge: making drawings and animations showing how much better a tropical northern city could be: using PV farms to power up fully air-conditioned, but carbon neutral, buildings; encouraging designs for beautiful naturally ventilated buildings; showing how smaller, more dynamically shaped houses can withstand greater storms; designing deeply shaded urban areas to resist heat stress; transferring out of sugar cane into hemp and developing industries based on that wonder plant; welcoming refugees from the Middle East to develop industries in landscapes they understand (Biloela is already on board). Change the minds of a few Queenslanders and then all else will change in Australia.
In brief, it is time for architects to show how the green karma will run over the brown dogma.
Tone Wheeler / environa studio
The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not held or endorsed by A+D.