Citizens for climate action | Peter Garrett & Jean Hinchliffe
An informed active citizenry is the essential foundation of a healthy, successful, and fair society.
We need to be together as a community and we need to not see ourselves as individuals working towards one goal, but see ourselves as citizens, as a broader community, as a united front that can truly transform the world.
2022 GANDHI ORATION
As the reality of climate change and extreme weather bite globally, and our politicians continue to dither and delay, many ordinary Australians are taking matters into their own hands. Australians are installing rooftop solar at a phenomenal rate, eating less meat and using environmental metrics to decide who to bank and invest their super with. But without strong political leadership, individual actions can seem futile and collective action a far-off dream.
In separate keynote addresses, and reflecting the voices and perspectives of different generations, Peter Garrett – musician, activist and former Federal Environment Minister, and Jean Hinchliffe – a 18-year-old climate justice activist and organiser within School Strike 4 Climate, will remind us that throughout history, momentous change has always relied on people coming together to take action.
Listen as these activists argue that a citizens’ movement, bringing Australians of all stripes together, could be the phenomenon that breaks our political polarisation and results in genuine action.
ABOUT THE GANDHI ORATION
Since 2012, UNSW Sydney has hosted the annual Gandhi Oration celebrating the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi as a champion of human rights. The Oration features discussions on the significant human rights issues of our time. Past speakers have included Senator Pat Dodson, Peter Greste, Pat Anderson, Shoma Chaudhury, Reverend Tim Costello, Rosie Batty and Shen Narayanasamy.
Transcript | Jean Hinchliffe
Ann Mossop: Welcome to the UNSW Centre for Ideas podcast, a place to hear ideas from the world's leading thinkers and UNSW Sydney's brightest minds. I'm Ann Mossop, director of the UNSW Centre for Ideas. In part one of the 2022 Gandhi Oration, Citizens for Climate Action, Jean Hinchliffe, an 18 year old climate justice activist and organiser within School Strike for Climate, argued that a citizens movement could be the phenomenon that breaks our political polarisation and results in genuine climate action. We hope you enjoy the talk.
Jean Hinchliffe: My name is Jean and I'm an activist. I live in Birchgrove on unceded Gadigal land and also just want to acknowledge that, again, we're all meeting here today on unceded stolen Aboriginal land.
So, sort of, beginning with a little bit about me, growing up, I've always been a very, very political person. Like, even as a kid, I remember being in debate club, and loving all of that, and loving, getting involved in having these, sort of, conversations about a whole bunch of different social issues. But I have always felt, sort of, pretty powerless to actually changing them. And I remember climate change in particular, was a big one in that. I remember being about six years old, and one of my first assignments for school was having to do a PowerPoint about a country, and I chose Antarctica, and learning about polar bears and ice caps melting and feeling pretty dreadful about the whole thing. But again, it’s this massive, large issue that was sort of so far beyond me. So then as I got to high school, and I learned more, I had this sort of greater sense of unrest, about a whole matter of different issues. Because whilst growing up things had always concerned me, I always assumed the adults knew what they were doing. And you, you know, you sort of ask about these things, and some would say, oh, don't worry, they're figuring it out. And it seemed like year after year, things weren't quite getting figured out. So yeah, I ended up first getting involved in the Vote Yes campaign for marriage equality. And what was so fantastic about that, for me was that it felt like for the first time in my life, I could make a tangible impact on something that was important to me. Because, you know, I didn't have a vote yet. But I could maybe help a bunch of people to get their votes in and vote yes. And I did a whole bunch of phone banking and handing out flyers and lots of conversations and stuff. And it was this incredible experience for me, because for the first time in my life, I felt like I could actually make an issue, make a difference to this issue.
So yeah, eventually climate change sort of became the front of my agenda, I saw how the UN report which gave us a deadline of 12 years to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis. And that on top of this sort of incremental growth of this issue throughout my life, from this far off future thing to something that was at our doorsteps, as Australians made me realise that I had to take action. But you know, I sort of struggled at first for quite a while because I couldn't really find anything that quench that thirst for me, because as I looked around, there were programs made for young people, but almost always, they were things that felt like adults telling you what to do, or you'd have conversations, but there's very, very little direct action. You know, there's very little that seem to hit hard enough, that cut through, that would communicate the urgency of this issue. And then very fortunately, a friend of mine sent me a link to the newly formed School Strike for Climate website. And I immediately just, sort of, was jolted with electricity, seeing it. Because I felt right away that this was a possible solution, and this was a possible way that I could actually make a difference in this space and do something that was really incredibly unique. So I ended up emailing that night and saying, hey, I'd love to be involved in any way possible. And you know, sort of help this come to Sydney, do all that sort of stuff. And they responded, and we're like, oh, we'd love to help you achieve this goal. And then I realised that I was in charge of Sydney, and I have no idea how to organise a protest, and I was completely lost. And that's how I sort of stepped into community organising.
So from there, I founded the Sydney group for School Strike for Climate and got involved with a bunch of other kids, as well as a lot of adult volunteers and mentors that helped us along the way. And then we, sort of, suddenly start to grow in Sydney, and I start to feel some momentum among other young people, and then across the country, we get more and more kids getting involved. And we go from a national meeting of maybe five people to like 50, over just a couple weeks. And then, in particular, that first strike, we were expecting a few 100 people, maybe, in Sydney, and suddenly we have, what, like 5000 people showing up and 30,000 across the country. And then that steps up again, as we keep organising, and then suddenly, we have 150,000, March 15, that year, and then later, we continue working, and we continue organising, and we get 300,000, across the nation. And that was on top of millions and millions across the globe at that point. And also, for some more context, at that point in time, especially that first strike, Greta Thunberg was by no means a household name, the idea of climate striking was so new and novel and Australia was, sort of, the first country to take the idea of climate striking and turning into a major event and a major protest. So that growth from a movement that was completely obscure, and yeah, no one really knew about, to something that young people latched on to so quickly and really, truly believed in, was just so fantastic to see. And something I felt really privileged to be part of, and it really reaffirmed my belief in young people's place in this movement, in how quickly we turned something from this tiny little idea into this massive, expansive, really valuable and hard hitting movement.
And you can see, since that first strike, climate change was made the front of the national agenda, it went from an issue that was talked about a bit, and most often was talked about in sort of broad, vague scientific terms, to something that felt like it was here and now, and it's something where politicians felt like they had to respond. We saw young people's voices being elevated enormously. And I think there was a real sense that this was a movement that they had created for themselves, and they drove in all ways, shapes and forms. It wasn't suited or, sort of, censored in any way to fit adult expectations and to make us palatable. It was young people who were angry and frustrated and really deeply terrified for their futures. And because of that, when they came to the streets, and when they delivered this message, it really cut through and it felt very real, and it definitely helped change the national conversation that way.
So, going more into this issue, I could discuss all the wonderful ways in which mass movements have changed the world for the better, prove the effectiveness and the potential of collective action. But honestly, we don't have to dig that deep to know it. In fact, we need only look at the ongoing actions of governments and the fossil fuel industry to gain all the information we need. So again, personally, before I dove into grassroots action, and community organising, I still personally tried to make a difference in my life regarding the climate crisis, and especially my carbon footprint. You know, I found blogs online teaching about waste reduction and sustainability. You know, I'd only buy ethically produced clothes, I went vegetarian, I'd avoid single use plastics where possible. It was, sort of, this almost puritanical thing that I found online, of all these people figuring out all the ways they themselves could remove themselves from these broader systems and broader issues. And they could themselves tangibly change the world and tangibly change the impact they had on broader society, and then on the climate crisis, I remember specifically calculating my carbon footprint and seeing all the different ways I could lower it. And it was great seeing that number and seeing how I could get it lower and lower. But it also was incredibly isolating, because you can take all these steps yourself, and you can kind of feel like, oh, well, I definitely have less waste than I had before, but you're not connected in anything, and even as you do it, it feels like that tangible impact isn't really there.
And what I didn't know at the time, actually, was that the very idea of a carbon footprint came to be in the early 2000s, largely as a result of campaigns run by British Petroleum, and Exxon. You see, because, fossil fuel industry has invested massively in climate change related propaganda for more than 50 years now. So, started off denying the science and sort of suppressing information from about the 1970s to the 1990s. And then they started going for a more nuanced and sophisticated approach. So British Petroleum launched a campaign in 2000, which costs more than $100 million a year, called Beyond Petroleum Campaign. And as part of this, they launched an online carbon footprint calculator in 2004. Because their approach is through shifting the blame from them onto the individuals and onto those who just exist in these systems and in society. So you know, they tell us to turn the air conditioner off, to dry our clothes in the sun, to purchase energy efficient appliances, take shorter showers, avoid catching planes, ride a bike, ditch plastics, use a tote bag, all that sort of stuff. And the inherently destructive nature of the fossil fuel industry isn't what's wrong. Rather, it's our fault for consuming what's often the only options available to us. We were taught that simply existing under our current economic system renders us guilty, but never to question whether these systems were broken in the first place.
And this approach has been incredibly effective. I mean, it's a genius marketing campaign, because it really has shifted a lot of us into seeing the climate crisis and seeing how we act against it in a purely individualistic way. But even just a few years after this carbon footprint calculator was released, MIT researchers calculated the carbon emissions for a homeless person who ate in soup kitchens, and slept in homeless shelters in the US. And they found that such individuals, according to these calculations, and according to this narrative, emit about eight and a half tons of carbon dioxide a year. So even when you’re removed from all these systems, you're still contributing to this issue, because again, the fault isn't really on the individual. What they're trying to say is that just by existing in society in any way, shape, or form, it's our fault. And we can see, actually, that this approach was largely disproven through the COVID pandemic, we all stayed home, we didn't drive much, industry slowed down, flights were pretty much all cancelled, and still, carbon emissions fell only by about 6% in 2020. Which wasn't enough, it wasn't anywhere near the right, we need to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis. And you know, I can't tell you how many comments I've seen on Facebook and whatnot, about the strikes complaining how, you know, we all go to air conditioned schools. And us young people have phones, which we plug in at night and charge with whatever and renewable energy sources. The thing is that is fundamentally misconstruing this crisis, because there's nothing wrong with an air conditioner. The issue is how we're powering it. Because it's a vessel for energy. It's a vessel for these systems, which are constructed by the fossil fuel industry and by our governments today. So it's clear that the fossil fuel industry has realised that they don't actually need to deny climate science anymore. It'd be nice, but it's by no means necessary. Instead, all they have to do is deflect the blame onto us and tell us to isolate and tell us to solve this just as individuals.
So it's clear they understand that the biggest threat to them is when we begin working not as individuals but as citizens of a broader community. Active participation in democracy from all parts of society through banding together under a strategic and considered united front will be what leads to the downfall of the fossil fuel industry. We can also see the same thing from our governments. You know, New South Wales has recently passed anti protest laws, which seriously punish protesters who, quote, disrupt major economic activity. This has followed years of legislation, which has increasingly cracked down on protests throughout the state. And in the same way that Scott Morrison addressed the school strikers, by telling young people to stay in school and be less activist, it's clear that just addressing the matter at all shows that we were doing something right. Because through years and years of playing by the rules and writing letters, and attending protests on the weekend, and doing all these sorts of things, they didn't feel threatened. But as soon as we came together, as soon as we started fighting together, they realised that they were really seriously in trouble, because they wouldn't bother even addressing us or caring about us, if they didn't see us as an enormous threat. Because by working by ourselves, the status quo will never be radically transformed. Current power holders will continue to employ us to work under their rules. And we have to break them and we have to fight outside of them in order to change the world. And people from all walks of life must be involved and only by amplifying each other's voices, can we become all the more powerful and destroy these, sort of, systems and industries and governments that are fueling this crisis in so many ways, because the hole is so much greater than the sum of its parts when we begin working together.
We only need three and a half percent of the population to stand up and continue fighting and protest in order to almost certainly succeed. And that's what we've seen throughout history through studies of protests over the past 100 years. Once you have three and a half percent of the population actively participating in this democratic action, without fail, you see transformative change in society. And it's difficult to do, three and a half percent doesn't sound like that big a number, but it is really hard to be involved in these sorts of actions if you haven't before, because at no point are you really qualified to be an activist, no point can you feel like you fully know what you're doing. It's just a thing that you end up taking part in one day by entering your community, seeing what exists around you, and how you can best help. Because there is a space for everyone. And we need everyone to get involved to really dramatically transform our society, intergenerationally and across all spaces, and this can be forms of protest, this can be lobbying your local government, this can be all sorts of different things. But we need to be together as a community. And we need to not see ourselves as individuals working towards one goal but see ourselves as citizens, as a broader community, as a united front that can truly transform the world. Thank you.
Ann Mossop: Thanks for listening. For more information, visit centreforideas.com, and don't forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Transcript | Peter Garrett
Ann Mossop: Welcome to the UNSW Centre for Ideas podcast, a place to hear ideas from the world's leading thinkers and UNSW Sydney’s brightest minds. I'm Ann Mossop, director of the UNSW Centre for Ideas. In part two of the 2022 Gandhi oration, Citizens for Climate Action, musician, activist and former Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett argued that a Citizens Movement could be the phenomenon that breaks our political polarisation, and results in genuine climate action. We hope you enjoy the talk.
Peter Garrett: Thanks very much Ann, and for your kind words, Uncle Peter for the Welcome to Country, which I’ll return to in a second. Jean for a fantastic address to people here tonight, and makes me feel pretty good about the fact that I can lose three or four pages out of my written speech. You've covered it so well. And then thank you for the invitation and the honour to be a part of this oration, to share this oration with Jean Hinchliffe tonight. My preamble is that we have to start with the two broken pieces of our history, one from a couple of centuries back and the other one, current, and that we have to repair both of them. So let me take you on a brief detour to the birthplace of modern Australia, Botany Bay, into which the Endeavor sailed in 1770. With its vast collection of massive oil storage tanks, crowded together on the southern shore, some of you will have seen it if you've flown in and out of Sydney. The location actually is emblematic of two crucial components of our modern history. One which we are now beholden to always place in the midst of what we do and say, concerns the long overdue reconciliation with First Nation peoples. I mean, they were effectively relieved of those adjacent lands and waters as soon as Cook came ashore on that day. And whilst tangentially related to climate, this really is our unfinished business, we've got to remove that stain from our recent history, we have to finally acknowledge and make good the call for justice, which we've seen pronounced upon most recently, in that very eloquent Uluru Statement from the Heart. And if you haven't read it, please do. It's going to be an absolutely seminal document, it calls for a coming together, a Makarrata, to remedy the loss of land, of culture, and the continuing disadvantage that First Australians still endure. And it seeks overdue recognition for them, and treatment as equals, and that recognition in our modern founding document, the Constitution. The second component of our recent history concerns, the running down, the constant running down and plundering of the environment since Cook's arrival. We can see it in the poor health statistics of the state of environment reports, which the current government's refusing to release, and it's explained in part by the generally low priority government's accord to protection of our natural ecosystems. So notwithstanding our fantastic national parks, our striking landscapes, the extensive remnant forests, the mangroves, the wetlands, the reefs, the offshore islands, that are so beloved of our tourist brochures and the tourism industry, the underlying health of our ecology is poor and worsening. Stressed rivers, coastline and inshore waters under siege. I sometimes think they're under siege from Domain if you read the Sydney Morning Herald, but it's really from the depredations of overdevelopment, industrial scale fishing, our landscapes blighted by feral weeds and animals. Has anyone driven west of the Great Divide, from Charters Towers, down towards the Ceduna, on any of those roads, and all you see is weeds. Fences and weeds and shitty soil. And, of course, land clearing, continuing at a pace, endangering our beloved native species with extinction.
Surely you might ask, we can't allow this to happen here in one of the wealthiest nations on Earth, and yet it is happening right here, and it's a line from a song, right now. Looming, of course, over all these discrete threats, as we know is the climate in flux, getting hotter, creating mass disturbances and damage, turbocharging extreme weather. And hardly a day, it seems to me, goes by without graphic examples popping up in the media. The current heatwave in India, where the entire nation of around 1.4 billion people are experiencing record breaking temperatures, and many will suffer. The super floods in South Africa, again, with numerous fatalities, the wildfires in California, the associated flow ons, the crop failure, that infrastructure damage, we all know the story. We know how serious it is. And we know how it's affecting people deeply. A climate activist who's just died after setting himself alight in desperation in front of the US Supreme Court. And yet, in the media today, a new report finding that replacing the largest coal fired power plant in New South Wales with rooftop solar panels, of which we are pretty good at doing, would provide more than 50,000 jobs, as opposed to some 1500 jobs, if it were to be replaced by a new gas plant. The figures don't lie. Despite the fact that in this crucial time that we're in, we all at least, I do, feel like we're straddling the line between despair and opportunity.
We need to remember that extreme weather incidents are not random. They are not the result of human conflict. They are the predictable consequence of pumping ever increasing amounts of pollution into the atmosphere. This scenario for us is no more visible than in the four mass coral bleaching events that have befallen the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef, over the past six years. Now, I don't have to tell people in this room that the reef is a wondrous super ecosystem. The largest natural organism on the planet, visible from outer space, beautiful beyond belief, and providing over 50,000 Australians directly and indirectly, with sustainable income and employment. Yet it's constantly under threat, and particularly now with ever warming seas, the direct result of the burning of fossil fuels, which we excel in, having amongst the highest per capita rates of emissions in the world, and sitting around 12th on the list of nations for total greenhouse pollution.
Our great generational task then, whenever we were born, is surely to remedy and make whole, these two blighted parts of our history. The first, indigenous recognition and reparation, because this deficiency in the formation of modern Australia must be acknowledged. And it must be made good for us to have some genuine pride in who we are, in our character, who we are as a people. And if we get this right as we must do, then that will strengthen our resolve to take on new tasks, confident that we've healed a wound from the past. And just, by the by, of course, people who live in remote and hot regions of which many Aboriginal peoples, are even more at risk from global warming. The second task is to resist and halt the spiralling climate crisis. Preferencing nature over economy. This is the core business of our time. Historically, parents have always tried to leave greater opportunity and benefits for their kids and grandkids, it would be the same in any country in the world. That's certainly been the case here for much of our modern history, not for everybody, to be sure, but for many. We're now abandoning this laudable human desire. In the future, the costs and burdens of confronting and fixing this wildly warming world will fall unfairly on those who did not create the problem in the first place. Less developed countries, the poor and the young. In our region, as you all know, Torres Strait and Pacific Islanders now face the prospect of evacuation from their homes, because of sea level rise at rates twice the global average. Where will they go? Who will support them? This is what a climate emergency looks like. And a world under prepared and in disarray is what we have.
Now this Gandhian oration concerns Citizens for Climate Action, and it was Gandhi we know who in the early 1930s gathered a handful of supporters, some 70 or so in number, to protest an unfair tax levied by the colonial British on the Indian subjects. By the campaign's end, history had been turned on its head, and British colonial rule was no more. In that example, a beloved example for Indian people present, but an example that most people in the world are aware of, those involved did not occupy the esteemed position of citizen, like we all do. In Australia, citizenship is a given. We're endowed with the principle of one vote, one value following, it has to be said, 19th century campaigns for equal representation, and universal suffrage. Citizens sit at the heart of the community, suburb, state and nation. But citizenship, I think, means more than just getting the vote once every few years, important as that sacred act can be. Because citizens actually are the country, growing the food, building the roads, teaching in schools, paying taxes, and following the laws.
There’s an implied compact. In our democracy, we citizens consent to following the rules made by the parliaments we elect, thus providing the bedrock of a stable democratic polity. In return, we expect governments to act in our interests, short and long term, securing the nation against threat, and ensuring the effective administration of the state and the fair sharing of resources. So everyone gets a chance in their life, from access to education, through to the provision of aged care. A quality of voting in a way is mirrored by this general equality of provision. That's the link that should remain unbroken. And it's the application of that principle, which has provided the most benefit to many, if not all Australians, in the past. That's no longer the case. And when we talk about the nation, the nation is not only defined by myths, powerful as they can be, nor by the character of whoever is leading at any one time, an individual or a party. Nor is it, you know, well understood by the constructed artificiality of the average good bloke or the caring, happy mum or the unquestioning consumer. So beloved of the advertising industry. The nation is amply defined by the character and values of its people. Pure and simple. When they vote in numbers, when they campaign for improved conditions, when they march together or speak out, when they make career choices, purchasing decisions, any decisions, they can, if they so choose, through any and all of these multiple actions, reflect and shape the nature and direction of the nation. We have you here tonight, but an informed active citizenry is the essential foundation of a healthy, successful, and fair society, end of story.
So where are we now? 50 years since the initial Earth Summit, nations first gathered to consider the phenomenon of rapidly increasing greenhouse gases, coming on the back of the Industrial Revolution, what role they were playing in changing Earth's climate. As many of you would surmise at that time, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere measured in parts per million ppm, was around 325. Since then, 24/7 carbon pollution, burning coal and gas, produced electricity, planes, trucks, cars, and the lot, seen the concentration increase past the accepted safe threshold of around 350 parts per million to 420 parts per million still rising. That's the data and the science as predicted by the scientists. We've entered now a period of climate disequilibrium, manifesting in the extreme weather, which we all know only too much about, and which Ann and Jean have referred to already. We think of the place sometimes in our mind that we live in is the Garden of Eden, and it's a terrible thought to really know that it's becoming something altogether different, a kind of blazing inferno. Current efforts aimed at limiting temperature increase to around 1.5 degrees, past which Earth goes from Garden of Eden to hot hell, remain half hearted and compromised. Yet the timeline to clawback emissions by getting out of coal and gas and transitioning its speed into renewables so as to contain runaway climate crises, crises, plural is around eight years. That's right. Eight years, much media coverage seems unable or in some instances, unwilling to comprehend and portray the seriousness of this situation, or the time constraints involved. In Australia, governments of both hues at federal and state level continue to approve coal mines and gas fields, to the extent that just two prospective gas resource provinces, the Beetaloo Basin in the Northern Territory, and the Scarborough Province in Western Australia, if fully exploited, will blow efforts to meet our modest emission targets. Blow them to smithereens. At the same time, sensible proven policies to accelerate the transition to renewable energy with abundant jobs and economic payoffs, and less greenhouse gas emissions are absent from much of our political debate.
Jean raised this point, and it's true, ongoing donations from fossil fuel corporations to the major parties raises the spectre of corruption of policy and protection of vested interests. But this should not be the Australian way. Companies such as Santos, and Woodside, and AGL, are intent on squeezing every last cent from their business model, which relies on the exploitation of fossil fuel resources before the model collapses. That is, if the world doesn't all but collapse around them before then. And the current coalition government cynically distorts the debate, continues to favour these fossil fuel interests, and in tandem with the Murdoch press, vilifies those who think otherwise. Along with Russia, and I don't need to say too much about Russia, given what's going on there at the moment, Australia is one of the recalcitrant nations refusing to submit new 2030 emissions targets and I wonder who the world's top diplomat Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations had in mind when he stated recently and I quote, some governments and business leaders are saying one thing and doing another, they are lying. It's time to stop burning the planet. Amen.
Where is the declaration of a climate emergency, following those bushfires that raised eastern Australia in 2019 and 2020, never had such ferocity over such a large scale been experienced. And I'm speaking from firsthand experience. Never have we seen the intensity and the impact on people's lives, on their homes, on their well being, that we saw with the floods this year. Where is the development of a prevention and resilience framework, a recommended by a raft of security experts, including the former chief of the Australian Defence Forces, Admiral Chris Barrie, who stated our nation is ill prepared for the security implications of devastating climate impacts at home and in the Asia Pacific, the highest risk region in the world. Where is the political common sense, to recognize that the longer we delay taking meaningful action on the climate crisis, the more expensive it will become? Instead, in the first weeks of a desultory federal election campaign, Prime Minister Morrison's government has already promised over a billion dollars in fresh subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. This alongside the some 100 already existing planned new coal and gas projects, is nothing short of suicidal leadership, madness on a mind blowing scale. And finally, in the Gandhian tradition, where is the moral insight that current generations of which I am a part, should not series sleeves and willfully threaten the prospects of the generations that follow. The very people sitting in this University Theatre and those attending schools and other unis across the land, who will be forced to confront and fix the mess that lies ahead in the absence of meaningful action now.
The answer to all these questions is that neither the necessary political will, nor the moral accountability, with some notable exceptions, is anywhere to be seen. And it is for this reason that the new clean, fair economy and sustainable systems we so sorely need, will only come quickly enough, if we gather ourselves up as citizens to demand that change. Playing roulette with climate undermines the democratic notion that institutions are beholden to the people and should have their interests at heart. The current failure that we're witnessing in Canberra is of such an order of magnitude that we've reached the stage, in my view, where nothing short of civil society deciding to stand up on mass, to rescue the situation, to save the world as we know it, in the time that we have left will suffice.
So what are the elements required to bring about this kind of change? Well, the only limit in some ways is the hours in the day and your imagination. Many people are already taking that stand. Some are here tonight, but they need help. Uni and workplace campaigning, involvement in politics at grassroots level – as Jean mentioned – reflecting the issues through creativity, as Midnight Oil has tried to do. Coming up with new ways of thinking and acting in concert with like minded others, and there’s strength in numbers. Writing in The Guardian last year, Paul Gilding, the former CEO of Greenpeace International, and I called for a broad Citizens Movement to emerge, with good old fashioned political organising, bringing together friend and foe, farmer and city dweller, across generations to chart a new, equitable, clean energy future. We noted that there are a few examples short of war, where dramatic economic or social political transformation has occurred without mass civil disobedience. In modern Australia's history, we can identify the conscription debates of the early 1900s, the anti Vietnam War campaign of the late 60s and early 70s, and the mainly successful campaign to end logging of native forests in the late 70s and early 80s, as some examples. We said making change in these times will require a sharper, focused civil disobedience in the Gandhian tradition, and on a larger scale. And we did see this emerging pre COVID. And again recently with groups like Extinction Rebellion, and the School Strikes for Climate, that Jean has just passionately explored. Crucially, these actions should alert the mainstream environment movement, in which I've played leadership roles in the past and respect a great deal, that taking to the streets is as important, and in some cases more important than simply clicking a button and looking at our screens. Reflecting the Gandhian tradition, these actions must be totally nonviolent, and always genuinely peaceful. Without these two qualities, people intent on mischief, who are prone to extremes will emerge to destabilise the movement. Governments and state security forces will meet force with greater force, and they now have the legislation to do that in New South Wales, as mentioned, and public support will falter and drop. Importantly, these movements personified by Greta Thunberg and the school strikes campaign, choose not to engage in detailed debates about policy and economics, which in a university might be a bit risky, but they don't have to. There's an ever growing mountain of research, analysis and policy informed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. You read about it, you know that initials, the IPCC that illuminate a pathway, out of our current existential malaise. These citizens and young people's movements are rightly directed at preventing a far greater inconvenience than being held up in a traffic jam for an hour, because the road is blocked, namely, the collapse of society as we know it. They are saying to leaders do your job, act now to secure a decent future. The science is in, listen to rational expert advice and act.
The second last IPCC report written and reviewed by literally thousands of the world's best climate scientists, from scores of countries, made the point clear, life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by creating new ecosystems. Humans cannot. The most recent IPCC report of only a week or so back continues to hammer this message home. And so concerned are they that scientists are now coming out from behind their computers and taking to the streets to raise the alarm. to put pressure on those companies, pressure on the financial institutions providing them with investment loans, and pressure on the government's for their placid permissiveness, in failing to hold the current trajectory to catastrophe. We need to join them, and we need to support them.
So let me summarise. To hold temperature increases to a barely tolerable 1.5 degrees, emissions must peak in the next three years, and fall by over 40% in the next eight years. There is absolutely no room, repeat no room, as the World Resources Institute notes for any new fossil fuel infrastructure. Existing plants must be phased out, planned projects like new coal mines and fracking for gas cancelled. Banks still hiding behind lame greenwashing branding and foe emissions targets by 2050, should not finance any fossil fuel activity. All systems must accelerate to renewables. Now the politically and forensically inclined amongst you will say, well hang on a minute. When you're in government, you were part of a government that was actually advocating for the use of gas as a transition energy and fuel. And that's true. And I will come to what that government did at that time. But did I or to be honest, anyone in that government think that from that point on, we would actually go backwards and not forwards? Did I or anyone in that government think that from that point on, we would actually see the absolute sabotage of all positive measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? And by the time that you've reached and realised that point, then there can be no gas either. All systems must accelerate to renewables. We're in a solar nation, where first movers like the state of South Australia have already reached the point where their electricity grid is powered by renewables, at certain times, and there'll be more to come. This clean energy future is well within our grasp, if we so choose. Natural ecosystems must be conserved. Green cities and suburbs with high levels of energy efficiency, cooling architecture, mass cycleways, public transport planned and built. We know this, we just have to do it. And finally, the way we all live, particularly in rich countries, needs to change as well. Eating habits, increased activism, working with communities to accelerate change, taking a stand for a world you can look forward to living in, makes sense, is both sane and it's exciting.
On that matter of being in government, there was a brief period in our recent political past, where the Labour government in which I was a minister, legislated for a price on carbon pollution, and emissions fell. Revenue was recycled to low income families and to clean energy activities, as planned. And the sky did not fall in. Unfortunately, as we know, Tony Abbott the prime right wing wrecker of the postwar era was elected and we went backwards again. Now regrettably, his cheer squad are still active in politics, but I sense that traction weakening and for our country's sake, I dearly hope so.
And crucial times students and the young with energy and imagination, do play a really important role and sometimes, lead the way, as school strikes have. At times of great historical input, and believe me, this is one of those times. Instead of disinterest and despair, we can be active in our own spheres, in our own circumstances, with our own ideas and actions. There's always a place for you, if you want to do something. Whilst recognizing at the same time you again, as Jean has pointed out, that this is not our sole responsibility. Above all it is governments and those that hold financial power, and those that should hold financial power to account that can and must implement the change. And it is governments, above all, that must take responsibility at a time of genuine crisis. Gandhi’s example reinforces the fact that once you've made a decision to be an active citizen, then hope arises, energy is created. And campaigns can succeed. When humans of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs deploy their inherent skills and capacities, they organise and literally can create a better, safer world. This is what citizens in the climate age must and will do. And I wish everyone well, in that crucial and urgent endeavour. Thanks very much.
Ann Mossop: Thanks for listening. For more information visit centreforideas.com, and don't forget to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Jean Hinchliffe speaking live at the Roundhouse
Audience members at Citizens for climate action | Peter Garrett & Jean Hinchliffe
Peter Garrett speaking live at the Roundhouse
Peter Garrett is a long-time advocate and campaigner on a range of local and global issues. A member of Midnight Oil, one of Australia’s most successful bands, he served as a cabinet minister in the Rudd/Gillard Labor governments from 2007 – 2013. Peter Garrett was appointed the youngest-ever President of the Australian Conservation Foundation (1989 – 1996), and entered federal parliament as the member for Kingsford Smith in 2004. In 2007, Labor won government and he was appointed Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts. Garrett is a member of the Order of Australia for contributions to the music industry and environment, an Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters (France), and in 2010 he received the ‘Leaders for a Living Planet’ award from WWF Australia and International.
Jean Hinchliffe is an 18-year-old climate activist and a lead organiser within the School Strike 4 Climate campaign. She campaigns for legislative action against the sourcing and usage of fossil fuels, along with pushing for Australia to become fully carbon neutral. Jean is passionate about social, political, and environmental issues and began her activism at age 13, when she volunteered with the Vote Yes campaign for marriage equality. Since then, she has also volunteered with organisations such as GetUp and Stop Adani. Jean’s first book, Lead the Way: How to change the world from a teen activist and school striker was published by Pantera Press in 2021.