Friday, August 9, 2013

Election 2013: Save the Planet Party launches climate emergency campaign

From my election 2013 series - see my Wills 2013 seat reports at Nofibs.com.au

A new party is emerging in Victoria at this election…well, nearly. The Save the Planet Party was proposed in March and formed in a matter of a few months this year to proclaim that there is a climate emergency and to advocate for rapid economic and social transition to ensure a safe future. It is a single-issue party focused on what we need to do to avoid the extreme consequences of climate change already in the pipeline and to avert even greater catastrophic consequences that may unfold over coming decades and centuries.

Even though the party has found over 500 registered electors and submitted their registration, it isn’t quite through the process mandated by the Australian Electoral Commission. So party candidates will not have the party name on the ballot paper this election. They will be regarded officially as independents. Candidates are likely to poll fairly low, but in at least two electorates their preferences may be crucial to the final result: the Labor marginal electorate of Corangamite and the seat of Melbourne held by the Greens.


As one of their candidates is standing in Wills this election, I was intrigued to find out more about this infant party and what they stand for. I went along to the campaign launch of the Save the Planet Party at Grumpy’s Green cafe and bar in Smith Street, Fitzroy. The bar features a small stage for live music, comfy lounge chairs, with the bar serving boutique low carbon emission beers and “magic tea” on tap made by cycling brewer Dean O’Callaghan, or Deano Goodbrew as he calls himself. He is the one standing in the Wills electorate.

The Facebook campaign event page said 64 people were going, but I think a more realistic figure was about 25 from my observation. I arrived a little late but just before the speeches, so maybe people came and left beforehand, or arrived after I left, but the bar certainly wasn’t very crowded while I was there.

The idea for the Save the Planet party originated with Adrian Whitehead. Philip Sutton came on board very early on. They appear to be the strategic and policy brains behind the party and both have been working for lengthy periods as climate policy activists with quite impressive policy and activist CVs. They both believe strongly and passionately that we need to mobilise at the grassroots for a climate emergency, and participate in a rapid transition of our economic and energy infrastructure similar in scope to the transformation of industrial production during the Second World War. They think that a rapid transformation can perhaps avert a greater social catastrophe. The earlier we embark in planning a climate emergency response from the grassroots, the more control and options we will have in the transition process.

The ideas espoused by this new party aren’t new. High-profile sustainable-business consultant and former CEO of Greenpeace Paul Gilding also believes we are heading into a great disruption due to the impacts of climate change that will require substantial economic and social transition. Gilding wrote a perceptive paper with Jorgen Randers (Professor of Climate Strategy Norwegian School of Management) in 2009: the One Degree War in which he argues we will soon wake up to what is needed and get to work. As an introduction watch Paul Gilding at TED: Choosing life over fear – The coming war for a sustainable civilisation.

The Save the Planet candidates are:

  • Adrian Whitehead is standing in the marginal Labor seat of Corangamite held by Darren Cheeseman. (See Seat Profile).
  • Phillip Sutton is standing in the inner northern seat of Batman (See seat profile | candidate profile by Bumpy Favell).
  • Dean O’Callaghan is the party candidate for the seat of Wills (See Candidate profile | Seat Profile)
  • The safe Liberal seat of Kooyong is being contested by ecologist Tiffany Harrison.
  • Frazer Kirkman, a professional happiness coach, is standing in the seat of Melbourne.
  • A further candidate, Dan Abikhair, is standing in the regional Labor seat of Bendigo.

All the candidates were still collecting nominations, so it is by no means certain they will all be registered as candidates for their respective seats. To participate in this ‘festival of democracy’ you need 100 electors to endorse your candidacy as well as a substantial deposit. Our ‘free’ elections are not quite free in fact if you want to stand as a candidate.

The Greens’ Adam Bandt under challenge from Labor in Melbourne

The campaign launch was at Grumpy’s Green on Smith Street, Fitzroy, one of a great variety of cafes and bars in the area. Community radio station 3CR has its studios just a few hundred metres down the road. It is an area where the Greens and Labor have substantial support, while the Liberals come a distant third. Socialist Party of Australia activist Steven Jolly receives substantial support as a local councillor for the City of Yarra which covers this area.

Fitzroy is part of the electorate of Melbourne where Adam Bandt was elected for the Greens in 2010 on Liberal Party preferences. Recent Galaxy polling suggested he may succeed in 2013 even without a preference deal from the Liberals, instead relying on a high primary vote plus small party preferences and preference leakage from the Liberals. Another poll by ReachTEL found a much closer result ,with Labor a possible winner. It all depends on Bandt’s primary vote, who follows party how-to-vote cards, and maybe what preference deal the Liberals do with the ALP to try to lock out the Greens.

Frazer Kirkman’s preferences might be crucial to the re-election of Greens Deputy Leader Adam Bandt in the seat of Melbourne.

A huge billboard just down the street from Grumpy’s Green sports a huge sign for Adam Bandt’s Greens campaign for the seat of Melbourne. It proclaims: “You can trust me on climate change.”



Billboard advertising for Greens MP Adam Bandt in Ftzroy

Yet it seems some people in Melbourne think Adam Bandt and the Greens don’t go far enough on climate change. The Greens certainly don’t loudly advocate climate emergency rapid transition, although Greens leader Christine Milne has repeatedly highlighted the fact that we are already experiencing a climate emergency, including in her 2013 budget reply speech. The Greens generally don’t push the issue too strongly. At the moment the Greens tend to focus on more incremental policy proposals like their proposal for a $2 per tonne surcharge on coal to be directly used on National Disaster Preparedness (See Greens Plan for Ntional Disaster Preparedness). While the Greens argue for strong ambitious targets according to what the scientific community says is necessary, they are prepared to compromise to achieve important incremental transitions as shown by the Clean Energy package and carbon pricing that Julia Gillard negotiated with the Greens and independents in 2011.

Adrian Whitehead: “we can actually run on the truth”


Adrian Whitehead and son on stage launching
the Save the Planet Party

Adrian Whitehead initiated the formation of the Save the Planet Party in March of this year. He was also a founding member of Beyond Zero Emissions which formulated a 10-year plan to convert stationary energy to zero carbon emissions by 2020. As it happens, Beyond Zero Emissions was at the same time having a packed launch party event for hundreds of people of their own latest study: the Zero Emissions Buildings Plan.

Adrian Whitehead told the Save the Planet crowd:

“The thing about what we can do in Save the Planet is that we can actually run on the truth. Unfortunately in every other political party, even if you run into the Greens, you can’t say how bad it is, you can’t say what the solutions are. Because we set ourselves up to do that, we can. We’ve got a really important role to play. The more we do, and the more resources we put out there to send our message, the greater chance we have for avoiding a climate catastrophe that will drive society into quite a serious problem at some point.”

Adrian’s candidacy in Corangamite will be interesting to watch. He has a long family association with the Otways and surf coast and is a prominent activist in the Otway Ranges Environment Network. He has previous political experience campaigning in local, state and federal elections in the area.


Philip Sutton explained the rationale for the party at the launch. Philip has for many years been involved with environmental policy development, and co-authored with David Spratt the book Climate Code Red (See Climate Code Red Blog which David Spratt updates regularly). One of his important policy creations was the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act passed in Victoria in 1988.

Philip Sutton explained to the faithful:

The emergence of Beyond Zero Emissions, which is a truly amazing organisation. If you know as much of Beyond Zero Emissions as Adrian and I do, then you’d be even more amazed at how effective they’ve been. It started in pretty much the same way as we are starting, small, slightly rickety, but getting there. It gives you a lot of confidence that if you can really keep at it, and if you have a really powerful strong message and are prepared to put the detail in then in fact it does communicate with people. The kind of work that I’m doing in the Batman electorate is to try and test the first community-based emergency climate plan coming up from the grassroots. [See Philip Sutton's Framework for emergency plans document (PDF)]

Some years ago when the first climate summits were established around the country, the first one was in Canberra in 2009 if I remember correctly. When we went to that summit we had the idea that we needed an emergency response and it was quite interesting to see what the reaction from the climate movement was. A lot of people really got the idea that the problem is really quite serious, that we’ve actually got dangerous climate change now, and we needed a really huge change to our economy. But what people found really hard to take was the idea that you’d do it through an emergency mode. The reason for that was they tended to associate that with loss of civil liberties, draconian actions, whatever. So there were a lot of people who would basically like to die than allow this possibility to emerge.

Now that made me sit back quite a bit because, is the choice between dying and having an emergency that you don’t want? Another way to go is to build the emergency response from the grassroots up. If you do it from the grassroots up, then it will be the emergency that we want, not the emergency that Rupert Murdoch might want or some other forces. We have actually got to build this from local area, by local area, by local area. In fact the funny thing we have decided to do with this coming election is to create a community plan for the Darebin local government area, not for the Batman seat, which is the national electorate. But we actually created it for the local government area that happens to match the federal seat. If you then have people spinning that out across local government areas right across the country, that is the level of government most people feel most connected to. It is also the one where you can find areas that are most switched on right now so we can get our early hearings with a really strong message and a really coherent package for change. We can actually give a democratic flavour to this emergency response.

It sounds a bit kooky I know. But as a person reading and writing on climate issues for the last nine years, I know the climate science poses a very real climate emergency threat.

As I write, Greenland is experiencing substantial melting and perhaps ‘starting to slip‘, with a scientific study from March 2012 saying that the threshold for disintegration of the ice sheet is somewhere between 0.8 to 3.2 degrees C. The bad news is we are already at 0.8 degrees C.

Arctic Permafrost is starting to thaw leading to methane and CO2 emissions, a major climate feedback mechanism amplifying even greater global warming.

Scientists are very reluctant to put forward worst-case scenarios or even make reasonable social impact projections from their work for fear of being labelled as alarmist, especially with a very vocal climate denial crowd who actively seek to discredit climate science and scientists. It can be a toxic environment to work in and make recommendations to policy advisers.

I went to one high profile conference in 2011 in Melbourne – 4 Degrees or More? Climate Change: The Critical Decade – and witnessed some of this reticence first hand from climate scientists. Off the record, some are prepared to discuss the social implications.

The World Bank report in 2012 prepared by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research gave us some real idea of where we are heading with business as usual carbon emissions, a hellish world 4 to 6 degrees C warmer by the end of the century. The impacts on life, agriculture and human society will be huge with the very existence of civilisation as we know it being severely challenged. The world presently has 7 billion people, but a four degree or warmer world is likely to have a much reduced long term carrying capacity.

So our current economic and carbon emissions trajectory may condemn billions people to perish, many through famine and starvation, and violent conflict. Scientists rarely raise this social implication in public out of fear of being accused as alarmist, and certainly no mainsteam politician dares to outline this future. Yet it is very plausible if you look at the impact of carbon emissions on extreme weather and changing climate, the climate impacts on agriculture and food security, the impact of rising seas on coastal areas, the rate of economic growth and use of resources, and the global population trends.

The Save the Planet Party want to communicate this to a much wider audience and are using the election campaign to publicise their single issue which they think is far more important than any other. Will they be effective? The percentage of the vote for their candidates is likely to be quite low, but their preferences may be critical in Corangamite and Melbourne. Success for these people is not measured by winning or losing the election. Success is being able to communicate their message to a wider audience.

They are extremely passionate and optimistic people, and deadly serious in attempting to communicate their Save the Planet policies. Perhaps a party to watch for in future elections as extreme weather events grow more intense and frequent. Climate change as a political issue is going to be with us for a long time.

On a lighter note, Dean O’Callaghan, ‘Deano’ for short, is the idiosyncratic small-business dynamo of this new political party. At the launch he said in a very affable style, “I’m Deano. I’m very approachable. Come and talk to me and we’ll see what we can do. I promise you we are going to have so much fun saving the planet as ever been. We are the Sex Party but with better beverages.”

That non-alcoholic glass of “Magic Tea” that I purchased on tap from the bar, brewed by Deano, wasn’t half bad.