ON MAY 8 1970, Melbourne witnessed a then unprecedented event: a demonstration of around 100,000 people in Bourke Street against the Vietnam War.
In all, some 200,000 people protested throughout Australia that day, sending a powerful message to the government that the tide of public opinion was turning against Australia’s involvement in the war.
Nearly 33 years later, on February 14 2003, there were again massive protests throughout Australia – and elsewhere in the world – against the proposed invasion of Iraq.
Estimates of the numbers at the Melbourne rally alone ranged between 100,000 and 200,000.
I remember marching down Swanston Street to Federation Square and being stunned by the vastness of the crowd.
Fast forward to 2018, and we’re now facing a crisis of a very different kind.
A crisis that can fairly be regarded as the greatest in human history – climate change.
Throughout the world, average surface temperatures are rising.
Globally, 17 of the 18 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2001, with 2016 ranking as the warmest on record.
This is one aspect of what we call “climate change”, but the term also refers to a broader range of changes that are happening to our planet.
These include rising sea levels, shrinking mountain glaciers, accelerating ice melt in Greenland, Antarctica and the Arctic, and shifts in flower/plant blooming times.
They also include weather events of increasing severity and frequency, like cyclones, droughts, and floods.
The effects of climate change are everywhere to be seen:
- The Great Barrier Reef is dying largely as a result of increased water temperatures due to global warming.
- Low-lying nations, particularly small island states, face inundation as a result of rising sea levels.
- With increased temperatures and frequent heatwaves worldwide, there is increased evaporation of water which provides fuel for storms, exacerbating extreme weather events like cyclones or hurricanes, especially in tropical regions.
- The melting of the cryosphere (frozen water in the polar ice caps and elsewhere) means that we’re seeing not only sea level rises, but also the exposure of dark ocean waters, which absorb more sunlight than ice – heating the ocean more and speeding up a relentless cycle of melting and heating.
The international Paris Agreement, supported by world scientific opinion, has recognised that the situation we face is one of urgency: we need to take drastic measures to limit average global temperature rises to a maximum of 2oC (since the start of industrial times) — and pursue efforts to limit the average increase to 1.5°C — if we’re to avoid the worst impacts of dangerous climate change.
Given the great weight of scientific opinion and that our planet’s future is at stake, it’s not unreasonable to expect our politicians to show strong national leadership on the need for urgent, effective action on climate change.
However, leadership has been sadly lacking on this issue.
Instead, the climate crisis has become mired in short-sighted political expediency, climate denialism, and party politics — including the destructive Liberal Party in-fighting that recently caused the (second) downfall of Malcom Turnbull.
In the absence of proper political leadership, the pressure for urgent climate action needs to come from the community.
The People’s Climate March in Melbourne in November 2015 was attended by an estimated 60,000 people.
But we should be seeing far bigger demonstrations in our streets calling for urgent climate action, on the same scale as the one against the Iraq War in February 2003, if not larger.
For various reasons, however, this has not yet occurred.
Climate change has crept up on us gradually, especially over the last 50 years or so.
The adverse effects of climate change are worsening, but they’re occurring intermittently over an extended time-frame of years and decades.
Most of the time, our weather conditions appear normal and the urgency of the climate situation is not readily apparent to many people in the community.
Unlike the threat posed at times by war or terrorism (for example, by the looming invasion of Iraq in 2003), climate change does not present the same sort of imminent and tangible threat that people feel they can do something about, such as by taking to the streets in protest.
Part of the problem in getting people to accept the need for urgent climate action arises from the process of psychological denial, whereby people choose to deny the existence of unpleasant realities in spite of the evidence.
Likewise, the climate change problem is so huge that many people feel overwhelmed and powerless to do anything about it.
So they “switch off” and opt to do nothing at all.
The key challenges for the climate action movement are to engage with the community to a far greater extent, and to understand and overcome the barriers to widespread popular support for urgent climate action.
The proposed Carmichael (Adani) coal mine and rail project represent an excellent focus for community engagement.
In the face of the climate emergency due to the burning of coal and other fossil fuels, the federal and Queensland governments are ardently supporting and facilitating the Adani mine, which will be the world’s biggest coal venture.
WarrandyteCAN condemns the recklessness of both these governments, and urges everyone to do what they can to support the Stop Adani campaign.