*Pic: Nicole Anderson’s evocative pic of recent climate change-induced wildfires in the Tarkine. Nic says: ‘The eye is drawn simultaneously to everything - the fore, mid, backgrounds and sky. On such a windy, spectaular blue sky day, with clouds fluffy and striated - the tones and lines and shapes completely contrasting each other again and again. Completely unsettled. Completely in disarray.’ Pic from HERE.
*Pic: Pic: of Bill McKibben by Nancie Battaglia
I recently attended, along with several hundred others, the Bill McKibben lecture on climate change at the University, thinking that I would learn something useful from such a distinguished scholar, world-renowned author and journalist on global warming, tireless activist, founder of 350.org, and winner of the Gandhi Peace Prize ( TT HERE ).
Bob Brown introduced Bill with great enthusiasm, and I settled back to finally hear the truth from the horse’s mouth himself, uncensored by governmental spin or corporate greed.
And we were confirmed in our understanding that the world’s biggest companies, including Exxon, have known for decades ... the harm fossil fuels is doing to humans and our atmosphere, but they press ahead anyway.
We heard about compliant governments, particularly in the USA, who create laws and trade deals that foster the use of these fuels. About how our own government signed the climate change deal in Paris (which is already out of date in any case – the much-touted 2C limit has already been surpassed) while in the same week it was approving the world’s largest coal mine.
And how it continues to lag behind in encouraging alternative power projects, being far outstripped by Denmark (which now produces 49% of its entire power needs from wind), and by Germany (which apparently has more solar panels than the entire US). McKibben indicated that 98% of all scientists agree that climate change is happening, much much faster now than anyone thought possible only a few years ago, and that it is caused by human activity, most particularly by the use of fossil fuels.
There are also some scientists now who believe we have in fact passed a non-reversible tipping point, and that the warming and destruction of the planet is coming upon us like a speeding freight train, right now.
It was a grim story. Much of it was not new; most of us by now have a sense of the gigantic collusion between corporations and governments, but it was chilling to have our worst fears confirmed. Knowing that those in power in our supposedly democratic and enlightened world are prepared to destroy our future in order to make ever more massive dollars, and that they will go to any obfuscation and delay in order to keep the status quo going, is a terrible betrayal – beyond all that could be called human decency.
I feel more than sick when I think of my grandchildren, laughing happily now in their childish games and innocence, may have to grow up into a world that’s no longer a good place to be, possibly up-ended enough to make mere survival doubtful. That’s terrible enough, but that sheer greed may have brought it about is almost beyond comprehension. What has happened to us that we have allowed this to come about – and continue to do so? Why are we not raging in protest, shouting for our very survival?
But I had come to this lecture, invested my time, to learn the answer – what should we now do about it. McKibben described a tiny opening (though a fast-closing one) that’s left for action. He’d told us the worst, so now I leaned forward, waiting for the words of hope, the thoughts of a very experienced and knowledgeable person on how we could handle this, on what we can do to keep that window from closing fully. Useful advice on how to stay sane through action that could contribute positively, so we could look our grandchildren in the eye.
But the rest of the lecture was devoted to the activities of his foundation, 350.org. Certainly, it was heartening to hear how many people round the world have taken up the environmental banner, the successes in stopping pipelines, the protest marches, and more. But did he have the courage to tell the hundreds present – all in a position to influence friends and family – that to stop the fossil fuels from destroying our earth means not using them?
That it means using public transport, or walking/bicycling; that it means not travelling anywhere unnecessarily; that it means not buying anything that’s been imported because it was brought here using fossil fuels; that it means not buying anything that is not basic and essential because every manufacturing process uses those fuels as well as plastics and creates pollution in many ways; and above all, that it means not flying.
On any given day, there are between 10 – 12,000 commercial aircraft in the air (not counting military and small planes), pumping all that fuel into the atmosphere, every single day, 365 times a year. Giving up your overseas holiday – or even the quick trip to Melbourne – may hurt your lifestyle, but you know the need for it is true: after all, you’ve been told a thousand times that climate change is caused by fossil fuels. How long until there is no breathable air left?
This is what they won’t tell you, because if we stop consuming, we will destroy the (foreign) money-making part of the economy. For the sake of keeping its big-company buddies happy, our government will not implement the very things that could make our future safe. They won’t restrict international trade with its massive carbon footprint, they won’t foster local industries (which would be socially far more satisfying and secure anyway); they won’t put a ban on plastics or nasty chemicals, or support an Australian electric car industry.
They won’t fund enough light rail or ferries, preferring to build roads and more runways to encourage yet more aircraft with their deadly emissions. Oh no, they couldn’t possibly say out loud that tourism in Tasmania (or anywhere) is actually a bad thing, because it might upset their foreign investment mates.
We’d miss out on all those jobs and destroy all our living standards, they’ll tell you – but of course that is complete nonsense.
We will all still need to eat and have the basic goods and services, plus the many ingenious individual entrepreneurs just waiting for their chance, so the ‘economy’ will keep going, albeit most likely at a lower level. But it would be safer, in our hands, something we can fix when it needs fixing (unlike a certain, foreign-owned cable), and with known parameters – in other words, a society that puts its people and their social setting first, before the almighty dollar.
If a lower income and a less glamorous lifestyle is what it takes to secure your grandchildren’s future, isn’t that exactly what we can do? We can activate our power now, no need to wait for the government, and simply stop consuming. It’s the loudest message we can send, and the biggest single most effective contribution we can make.
I came away grieved from the Bill McKibben lecture. It was a missed opportunity of gigantic proportions. Even Bob Brown, for whom I otherwise have the greatest respect, continues to publicly promote tourism into Tasmania.
Even though he’s been here as long as I have, and he also should remember that vibrant Tassie air that was like champagne in the body as you stepped out of the aircraft after arriving in Hobart.
It was still so in the 1980’s, but somewhere in the 90’s that vitality went from our air. It may still be very clean (when they’re not making everything worse with the burn-offs, of course) by comparison, but inside 30 years the very air here has changed, as has the temperature, and the moisture that makes our earth fruitful, and strange changes are happening everywhere: fish are caught that were never here before, strange algae bloom, oysters die of exotic diseases, birds are vanishing…the list goes on.
How long does it have to get before you will do what you know you must?
*Elizabeth Fleetwood ‘is of European origin and has lived in Tasmania for nearly 35 years. Ran two dairy farms in the NW, then two retail businesses in Burnie, raised a family of three children there; moved to Hobart 17 years ago and ran a tourism business for 10 years before selling and ‘retiring’ recently. Initially an unwilling immigrant, it was not long before the (then) pristine beauty and extraordinary history of this Island exerted its influence and created a campaigner for the preservation of this unique place. To see it being destroyed, along with the values that once made Australia a truly special place worth coming to, is a matter of great concern for this ordinary citizen, whose grandchildren will one day ask: why did you let this happen?’
• Mike Bolan in Comments: Excellent material ... but what to do? Here are a few thoughts ... There is a lot that we can do, the first of which is to try to protect ourselves so that we are in a better position to help others …
• John Coombes in Comments: One of the best articles ever on TT. That a bunch of serious-minded, intelligent people can devote their time to reading and discussing such a gloomy topic is cause for celebration, if not for optimism. There may be some cause for optimism in recalling the way that nations of the free world, in response to the outbreak of WW2, completely and rapidly reorganised their economies and societies to deal with the very real threat to their existence. It wasn’t pretty (“blood, toil, tears and sweat”) but it worked.
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