Hope ahead amidst a climate of change

Addressing climate change will offer new jobs and the opportunity to secure safe workplaces and communities.

The summer of devastation just passed has been for many an ordeal that seemed to stretch well beyond its natural life. The country is gripping its neck from whiplash after being, in turn; parched, scorched, battered, and drowned.

As we begin the long process of rebuilding our devastated communities, a consensus has grown across all sections of society that climate change is the most pressing global issue we will face in our lifetime. Calls are mounting for more action to be taken to address this existential challenge.

A recent Essential survey of over 54,000 Australians, conducted on behalf of the ABC at the start of this year, provides a snapshot of the mood in the country. It shows that 72% of Australians rate climate change as a problem for us personally, outstripping concerns over saving for retirement (62%) and health (56%).

Queenslanders were marginally less concerned, with 35% reporting it’s not a problem for them personally. Despite this, climate change still figured as the most pervasive concern for Queenslanders. There is no state or territory where climate change is not reported as the most common concern for its citizens.

Climate change is a concern that cuts across party lines. When the segment of respondents who voted for the Morrison government in last year’s election are isolated, there is still a majority (54%) who say climate change is a problem for them personally – only narrowly beaten to the top spot by ‘saving for retirement’ as the most salient concern (55%) amongst L/NP voters, and ranking above terrorism (48%), crime (42%) and immigration (33%).

There is a prevailing desire across the nation for real action to address the global climate crisis. An overwhelming majority of respondents (84%) are calling for climate action – 60% of respondents believe “climate change has been established as a serious problem and immediate action is necessary”, and another 24% agree with the reality of climate change and feel that “some action” should be taken.

Despite this apparent consensus, the spectacles of Canberra politics have driven many Australians to despair, believing that Australia will continue failing to act. A fifth of Australians predict Australia will do nothing to address climate change. This lack of optimism and anxiety about the future habitability of the earth is particularly concentrated among young people, with over a quarter (27%) of 18-24 year olds predicting a lack of action by Australia.

In the light of overwhelming consensus for a meaningful response and action on this pressing issue, the role of unions is clear. As the voice and representative of the working people of Australia, it is incumbent on us to make the clear social, economic and moral argument for a sustainable future. We will continue to support our members and represent their interests by advocating for an environment safe from harmful airborne toxins and extreme climate and weather events, including dangerous heat conditions.

We will advocate for a holistic and sustainable transition from a carbon-based economy – mindful of the reallocation of meaningful, well paying and union protected jobs in extractive industries – towards new renewable energy industries. This will, in turn, help rebuild resilient communities sheltered from the impact of inevitable changes to the ways our society is structured and run.

Already, union peak bodies like the ACTU are examining and issuing recommendations on these issues as they relate to workers. Union developed factsheets, industrial advice and guidance are helping workers understand and assert their rights in this tumultuous time. Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey has said that all future awards and enterprise agreement negotiations should include considerations of our changing climate, with flexible arrangements to allow employees to deal with emergency situations such as the recent bushfires.

The IEU has begun developing and rolling out training and wellness resources for members, as well as beginning to integrate climate preparedness into our upcoming enterprise agreement negotiations. Already we have managed to secure an agreement in principle of five days paid leave per year for employees unable to attend work due to a natural disaster, in current negotiations for the NSW and ACT Catholic Systemic Schools Enterprise Agreement 2020-2022.

In addition to asserting the rights of our members to a safe and secure workplace, the union is taking steps to mitigate its own carbon footprint. We are increasingly investing in and developing our online offerings for members, including PD and training, publications materials, email newsletters and an option for concerned members to opt out of receiving union publications in print format entirely.

We are also investigating the possibility of transitioning our office spaces to ones powered by renewable energy, by installing solar panel systems and investigating opportunities to reduce power and resource consumption.

We know this cause is close to the hearts of many of our members and have been inspired to see the local grassroots efforts of IEU chapters and activists encouraging their own schools, centres and workplaces to transition towards a reduced or neutral carbon footprint.

If you or those in your workplace have a positive story of responding to the challenges and opportunities of climate change let us know. Send an email to publicationscomms@ieu.asn.au

Angus Hoy