Pussy Riot brings its defiant message to Hobart

Brave young warriors put their case for a more civil Russia Russia.

Pussy Riot members Sasha Bogino (left) and co-founder Masha Alyokhina at a panel discussion in Los Angeles ahead of their visit to Australia. PHOTO Carl Pocket, Spaceland Presents

Pussy Riot members Sasha Bogino (left) and Masha Alyokhina at a panel discussion in Los Angeles ahead of their visit to Australia. PHOTO Carl Pocket, Spaceland Presents

Enormous, harsh, lonely, puzzling, stubborn, crazy. Unique.

I visited European Russia in 1978 during Leonid Brezhnev’s Soviet regime –not for the politics, which thoroughly repelled me, but because I thought that the land that gave us Anna Karenina and Uncle Vanya and the Rite of Spring had to have something going for it.

For all the difficulties in travelling there – not least the surveillance of my every move – I cherish some special memories of St Petersburg (then Leningrad) and Moscow, including a walking tour of Moscow churches, neglected under communism, with a local architecture devotee.

The sudden collapse of Russia’s communist security blanket in 1991 was followed by a spectacular capitalist boom and then a devastating economic crash. With that came institutional failure and the rise of a despot, Vladimir Putin.

The country ought to be on its knees, but it isn’t. The official attribution for this would include strong government and a revived Russian Orthodox Church. But it goes wider and deeper than that.

In Hobart last week, thanks to the wondrous Dark Mofo, a packed Federation Hall audience got a rare insight into Russian resilience in the 21st century in an outstanding documentary film, Act and Punishment, followed by a panel discussion featuring leading figures of Pussy Riot.

Pussy Riot women are usually represented as punk rockers, but music isn’t what they’re really about. Complacency is their target and shock is their weapon, using funny, loud, very public, in-your-face performances about things they believe are wrong in modern Russia.

Three months after getting together in 2011, they donned knitted masks, climbed on to a scaffold in a Moscow subway station and released feathers from pillows on to waiting passengers while urging strong protest action against the rigging of elections for the national duma, or parliament.

A month later they performed outside a prison, in full view of political protesters jailed for protesting electoral fraud, and a month after that let off a smoke bomb in Red Square as they sang, or rather chanted, “Putin has wet himself”.

The next month, during the 2012 presidential elections, came the event they’re best remembered by. The Russian Orthodox Patriarch endorsed Putin as “a miracle from God”. In response Pussy Riot loudly castigated church and state while dancing at the altar of a Moscow cathedral.

For Putin and his Orthodox allies that was a bridge too far. Instead of the normal fine for disorderly behaviour, three of the group’s most prominent members, including Masha Alyokhina who was on stage in Hobart last week, were seized, tried and sentenced to two years’ jail.

One of the three was released on appeal, but the other two, including Alyokhina, served their sentences by working up to 17 hours a day in different labour camps in remote parts of Russia. Far from breaking them, that just seemed to energise them.

On their release these thoroughly unorthodox artists set up MediaZona, an online channel that reports violence in Russian court and prison systems and against lesbian, gay and transgender people. A young female journalist, Sasha Bogino, represented MediaZona at Dark Mofo.

Russia’s strongly patriarchal society is generally indifferent or hostile to LGBTI people. That, plus the murders of 26 journalists in Russia since Putin first became president in 2000 (data from the international Committee to Protect Journalists), tells us Bogino’s job is nothing if not risky.

On stage in Hobart with Aloykhina and Bogino was Alexander Cheparukhin, a mild-mannered older man who gave up a career as an international music festival producer to take on what must be one of the world’s most dangerous management jobs, looking after the affairs of Pussy Riot.

“You are heroes too,” Aloykhina told her Hobart audience, which made us all feel good, except that we weren’t putting our bodies on the line. But hearing such tough, brave, creative people speaking so generously about their lives and art, you tend to feel positive about their prospects.

Pussy Riot, like all Russian artists working for a strong civil society, richly deserved their prolonged standing ovation last week. As does Dark Mofo for bringing them here.

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Finkel’s purse may not be silk, but at least it’s a purse

As a climate plan it’s second-rate, but it’s our best chance to end the climate wars.

Chief scientist Alan Finkel and his energy report. PHOTO AAP

Chief scientist Alan Finkel and his energy report. PHOTO AAP

It can be no surprise that Tony Abbott looks with great suspicion on the review into the security of our electricity supply led by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel (the Finkel Review).

It was Abbott’s unblinking resolve to destroy Australia’s only enacted carbon pricing regime that fired up our climate war. When he succeeded in 2014 we became the only nation in the world to end an established carbon pricing scheme. We still have that unique distinction.

His sensitive political nose is right when it tells him that the energy plan arising out of the Finkel Review will again put a price on carbon in the form of a low-emissions target.

As a pricing scheme it’s a step down the ladder from the emissions intensity scheme which Malcolm Turnbull considered then ditched last December, and it’s a faint echo of the robust carbon pricing scheme Australia briefly put into practice. But it will put a price on emissions.

Finkel’s plan encourages electricity retailers to opt for low-emission electricity, determined by the amount of carbon emitted per megawatt to produce it. Reflecting the government’s aversion to effective targets and measures, the price signal won’t be a strong one. But it’s there.

“The lack of a transparent, credible and enduring emissions reduction mechanism for the electricity sector is now the key threat to system reliability,” says Finkel. So it’s a stable and reliable electricity system – not climate change – that justifies his proposed “Clean Energy Target” (CET).

Australia’s National Energy Market (it actually covers just the eastern states and South Australia) is in the same unholy mess as our emissions measures, for exactly the same reason: partisan politics.

The Finkel plan doesn’t address energy efficiency and adds complexity to an already-complex market administration. But it does address demand issues, and offers a place to start restructuring the market.

On the much bigger issue of climate change, the review does very little. It accepts the government’s emissions target of 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, compared to a European Union target of a 40 per cent cut by 2030 and well below what science considers necessary for a safe climate.

In accepting Australia’s weak target, the scheme accommodates gas and coal generation, even boosting coal’s survivability. Finkel’s modelling shows coal power lasting beyond 2050, later than is currently expected by Australian industry and probably by the coal industry itself.

The justification for this extended lifetime is to lessen the cost of closing coal plants, easing pressure on power prices. Finkel says that the CET will benefit households by about $90 a year.

To stall condemnation from Coalition naysayers like Abbott, Craig Kelly and Eric Abetz, environment minister Josh Frydenberg got on the phone to his colleagues last week reminding them of the favourable treatment handed out to the coal industry.

But it takes a lot to calm these people down. Abbott signalled his intent to go over the Finkel plan with a fine-tooth comb, Abetz accused Finkel of making “creative assumptions”, and Kelly feared the plan would make our energy supply less reliable.

I don’t think that attitude will hold sway among others in the Coalition. Nor do I think deputy PM Barnaby Joyce’s promotion of new “clean” coal-fired power stations is any more than a fantasy. Coal’s prospects grow slimmer as the cost-effectiveness of renewable technologies rises.

None of this is very encouraging, but the Finkel compromise promises something that all the other schemes have patently failed to do: bring a measure of cross-party agreement to the climate debate.

Perhaps as a gesture to the Greens, Labor leader Bill Shorten made his offer of cooperation to the PM seem more like a demand, and his environment spokesman Mark Butler sounded a warning that new coal generation would threaten a deal, but both seem to want an agreement.

On climate policy, Finkel had the task of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. The purse may not be silk, but at least it’s a purse. The question to ask is not what it does now, but how it can subsequently be strengthened, and as usual, the only thing holding us back is politics.

Posted in Australian politics, batteries, business, investment, employment, carbon, carbon emissions and targets, carbon pricing scheme, carbon tax, changes to climate, climate politics, climate sensitivity, coal-fired, disruption, economic restructuring, electricity networks, emissions trading, energy, energy efficiency, fossil fuels, future climate, investment, renewable energy, solar, wind | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

After Trump, any climate plan is a relief

Matthew Groom’s “Climate Action 21” is clearly deficient, but it’s all we have.

Guy Barnett is proposing a revival of logging in currently-protected native forest. PHOTO Bruce Mounster, The Australian

Guy Barnett’s proposed revival of logging in currently-protected native forest is incompatible with Matthew Groom’s climate plan. PHOTO Bruce Mounster, The Australian

Highly predictable and monumentally dumb: that was the decision by the American president to turn his back on our faltering collective effort to contain greenhouse emissions.

Equally stupid was the celebration of Donald Trump’s announcement by his acolytes in Australian parliaments, who share his ignorance of the science around climate change and his arrogant indifference to its ramifications.

It’s against that depressing background that Tasmanians are invited to appraise their new climate strategy, which the government released in its final form last week.

Environment minister Matthew Groom, with the support of premier Will Hodgman, has resisted internal demands from the Liberals’ anti-science ideologues for “Climate Action 21” to be mere window-dressing, or shelved altogether. Tasmanians should be thankful for that.

We should also be thankful that Groom acknowledges the “serious and urgent challenge” of climate change and has heeded some of the criticism of the plan’s first draft of December 2015, notably in toning down the hubris about Tasmanian climate leadership.

The plan supports more climate research including a revival of the mothballed “climate futures” modelling program, and a stronger focus on potential climate risk including the threat from coastal and river flooding, coastal erosion and large-scale bushfires.

These measures can be expected to have widespread support, but actions to limit emissions are more controversial. The ideologues oppose any action that implies a current, specific threat from greenhouse warming, like a strong near-term emissions or renewable energy target.

Effective, measurable actions to mitigate emissions were targeted by the Paris Agreement as being of critical importance. But this is where the Tasmanian plan is weakest, leaving a large part of the heavy lifting, such as it is, to community or individual initiatives.

Such actions must be strategically focused on major sources of greenhouse gases, which in Tasmania have historically been land transport and forest harvesting. Over the past decade a forestry downturn has seen emissions from that source decline dramatically. (Against that, Tasmania has been importing substantial amounts of coal-fired electricity, but that is accounted for in Victoria, where it is generated.)

The plan supports greater use of public transport and greater energy efficiency in offices, factories and homes, but the signature abatement measure is a legislated 2050 zero net emissions target – strong enough to look good but far enough into the future to be undemanding, at least not yet.

If he wants to keep emissions within limits Matthew Groom needs to have a serious conversation with his colleague, resources minister Guy Barnett, about Barnett’s plan to revive native forest harvesting. As the plan clearly shows, old forestry practices are incompatible with meeting emissions targets.

This is the third attempt at a climate strategy since Tasmania’s only climate legislation passed in 2008. The first two were discarded after elections in 2010 and 2014 respectively. With another election due by next March this one is in danger of going the same way.

Climate Action 21 is nothing to write home about. Even if it is fully implemented it will have little impact. Yet it is all we have to show for nearly a decade of political wrangling over what Tasmania should do about the climate challenge. I call that a failure.

Matthew Groom should not have to shoulder all the blame for this. I believe him when he says he wants an effective climate policy, but his plan is inadequate because a determined minority of people in his party believes that mitigating emissions is a waste of time and money.

This will not be the last word on state climate action. Parliament’s burden grows as each month passes, and eventually the pressure to act will be so great that even the most recalcitrant politicians will be forced to support effective abatement measures.

It would be nice to think that leaders of all parties could agree to neutralise the opportunism that has so bedevilled this state’s, and Australia’s, climate response. If that happened, Tasmania would be a real climate leader.

Those opportunists are playing us for fools, and Trump’s renouncing of the Paris Agreement has given strength to their arm. The victims are those who try today to make a difference, but ultimately it will be all of us.

Posted in Australian politics, built environment, carbon emissions and targets, changes to climate, climate politics, coal-fired, community action, energy conservation, energy efficiency, forests and forestry, fossil fuels, international politics, Tasmanian politics, trees | Leave a comment