Post-COVID Recovery, a letter to the Coalition Government

As the federal government makes preparations for stimulus spending to re-build the nation's economy, they are being influenced in directions which might bring profits to the few but would not benefit the many. ARRCC calls on our Coalition leaders to learn from this precious pause in business-as-usual, where science was found to be a life-saving guide. To also save Australians - and the world - from the threat of an out-of-control unstable climate, we must change our extractivist ways and embrace a culture of caring more for everyday people and the earth's capacity to support life.

The ARRCC Committee therefore wrote to each Minister about priorities that would work for people and a safer climate. We encourage readers to write their own letter by spending a few minutes on "option two" here. Here's what we said. .....

Dear Minister

We are writing as representatives of the multi-faith grassroots organisation, ARRCC, the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change. We would first like to express our sincere appreciation for the way the Government has acted on the advice of epidemiologists and medical experts regarding COVID-19. It has taken courage and genuine concern for the well-being of people in Australia to recommend a lockdown, even at the risk of a recession. The provision of income support measures to protect parts of the population from unnecessary suffering shows genuine compassion and we thank you for it. 

We also appreciate the bipartisanship which your Government and Labor have shown in these last few months. This cooperation has allowed the rapid implementation of constructive solutions, and this has been vital.

The coronavirus crisis has invited you – and all of us - to commit ourselves to those things that matter most. Health. Looking after our families. Looking after one another. Looking after people who have lost jobs. It has forced not only a practical response but a moral prioritisation. 

It also brings home how interconnected we are as human beings with life in all its forms. Teachings in a number of our faith traditions draw attention to our interconnectedness with the web of life and the health of the ecosystems on which life depends.

It will take courage for your Government to make wise decisions about how to stimulate an economic recovery which is genuinely good for people. As people of faith, we urge you to continue making the health and well-being of the people of Australia your top priority when it comes to the other crisis which we continue to face, ie, climate change.

It may be tempting to fall back on old formulae, but now is the time to forge a new path, free from the pressures of previously influential industries which are now, in fact, beholden to governments for their survival. We urge you to use this power to rebuild for the survival of humanity and the rest of the living world.

We know that you want to do what is genuinely good for our children and all those who will come after us, even if this requires courage. 

The decisions of your Government in the coming months will have far-reaching consequences for decades to come. They will put current and up-coming generations into considerable debt, so we urge you to choose economic stimulus measures which will pay the maximum dividends in terms of the health and well-being of Australia’s people, especially our children and grandchildren.

Last summer, Australians were hit hard by catastrophic bushfires, losing their loved ones, homes and livelihoods. The world is still grieving at the loss of an estimated billion animals, many of them unique Australian wildlife. Rain has only now allowed some (not all) farming communities to begin on the road to recovery from the most severe drought in recorded history. 

Those who are experts in the discipline of climate science tell us these phenomena are clearly because of shifts in the earth’s climate. Their expertise is no less reliable than the expertise of epidemiologists. Climate scientists also warn that Australia is very vulnerable to global warming and can expect these kinds of impacts to become ever more severe. 1.

Therefore we, along with millions of other Australians, fear for what our children and grandchildren will face in the future, what Pacific Islanders will face, or people in parts of Africa and South Asia. Whole ecosystems and countless species are likely to be lost. 2. The climate crisis is more slow-moving, but it will be far more lethal than this pandemic. The WHO estimates that there will be at least 250,000 more deaths annually because of global warming between 2030 and 2050. 3.  Unless we act immediately.

The response of different countries to the pandemic has shown us in terrifying real time how a crisis plays out when political leaders do not pay enough heed to the science. 

With this pause in business-as-usual, with climate-conserving technologies deployment-ready and very competitively priced, now is the right time to set a course for Australia to be a renewable energy powerhouse. 4. 

Yes, those regional communities which currently rely on fossil fuel industries should be supported with new employment opportunities, in consultation with those communities. Yet they are not served well by the propping up of old, declining industries. Coal and gas, for example, are the third and fourth fastest declining industries globally. 5.  Lobbyists for these industries overstate their contribution to jobs and the economy, and they regularly misrepresent their adherence to environmental regulations. 6.

They harm the health and well-being of Australians through toxic pollution. An Environmental Justice Australia study of NSW coal-fired power stations concluded that fine particulate pollution from the plants cause at least 279 premature deaths per year in NSW alone, as well as causing asthma, low birth weight, type 2 diabetes and so on. 7. 

They also harm those Indigenous Australians who are fighting to defend their Country, their spiritual homes, from mining companies. 

They harm regional communities and farmers by using large amounts of scarce water and, at the same time, contributing to the warming (by adding to greenhouse gas pollution) which is driving the desertification of our already dry continent. ACF research shows coal mines and coal-fired power stations in NSW and Queensland consume 383 billion litres of water every year. That's a conservative estimate, but it’s as much as the annual domestic water use of 5.2 million Australians, or every household in Queensland. 8.

The truth is that, for the same amount of money, three times as many jobs are created by investing in technologies such as renewable energy, charging stations for electric vehicles, battery storage, energy efficiency and recycling, than by investing in coal and gas mining. 9. Furthermore, electrification of road transport would give us more energy independence and reduce the need for expensive storage of oil. 

So, we urge you to create stimulus measures which effectively solve a number of problems at the same time. Government spending right now should create the largest number of jobs possible whilst also creating a fairer, more environmentally sustainable and more resilient society.  

If economic stimulus spending were to be directed to renewable energy and other low-carbon technologies, the co-benefits would be in reduced pollution, better health outcomes, energy security, lower greenhouse gas emissions, more jobs in regional areas and a more resilient economy. 10.

In seeking ways to find money for the next round of economic stimulus, we suggest the removal of subsidies such as the imported diesel fuel rebate for mining companies and the oil and gas royalty “holidays”. This would free up much needed revenue.

Please take this moment to see beyond the usual political positions to put first the long term interests of those Australians who will bear the brunt of the economic impacts of COVID-19. All investment decisions must be examined with an eye to their long term impacts in a climate constrained global economy which has inevitably gone beyond fossil fuels.

Yours sincerely

Thea Ormerod

for the ARRCC Committee

  1. https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/resources/dangerous-summer-escalating-bushfire-heat-drought-risk/
  2. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2189-9 and https://insideclimatenews.org/news/07042020/global-warming-ecosystem-biodiversity-rising-heat-species
  3. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health
  4. https://www.climateworksaustralia.org/resource/decarbonisation-futures-solutions-actions-and-benchmarks-for-a-net-zero-emissions-australia/
  5. https://www.ibisworld.com/global/industry-trends/fastest-declining-industries/
  6. https://www.tai.org.au/sites/default/files/P303%20Coal%20hard%20facts_0.pdf
  7. https://www.envirojustice.org.au/healthstudynsw/
  8. https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/auscon/pages/17375/attachments/original/1588309505/Water_for_Coal_-_brief.pdf?1588309505
  9. https://www.greenbiz.com/article/how-many-jobs-does-clean-energy-create and https://citizensclimatelobby.org/laser-talks/jobs-fossil-fuels-vs-renewables/
  10. https://www.tai.org.au/content/design-principles-fiscal-policy-pandemic