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Picture from the Wikipedia 2013 bushfires overview, here

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IPCC authors, Dr Abha Chhabra from the Indian Space Research Organisation and Dr William (Bill) Collins from Berkeley UCLA

Good evening everyone.  It’s very lovely, and a bit overwhelming to be here in such distinguished company. We welcome here tonight, Working Group CO-Chairs, Professor Qin Dahe and Professor Thomas Stocker, along with all our IPCC Working Group 1 lead authors and editors.

With 39 nations represented in this room at MONA, I feel like the world has arrived in Tasmania!

I wish to pay my respects to Tasmania’s first people, the palawa.  To Aboriginal Elders, past and present, I pay my deepest respects, and I acknowledge today’s Tasmanian Aboriginal community as the original owners and the custodians of this beautiful island, lutriwita – Tasmania.

On behalf of the Tasmanian Government, can I say, we are so proud to host the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Working Group 1, Fourth lead authors meeting.

Hosting this event in Hobart – and tonight here at our fabulous Museum of Old and New Art - recognises the strength and depth of the scientific community in Tasmania, and that an internationally significant, indeed vital body of work based here, is contributing so much to global climate science endeavour.

As I like to tell anyone who’ll listen, Hobart has the highest number of scientists per capita of any city in Australia. In fact, Tasmania hosts 65 per cent of all Australia’s Antarctic and Southern Oceans research scientists.  We are blessed indeed.

Among you tonight, Tasmania’s own coordinating lead authors:  Dr John Church, Dr Steven Rintoul, Dr Nathan Bindoff.

Also, Tasmanian scientists and lead authors, Dr Ian Allison and Andrew Constable, along with many other local contributors, including Susan Wijffels, Tas Van Ommen, and James Risbey.  And of course, I must pay tribute to Dr Tony Press from the ACE CRC, who I know has also worked very hard, clearly very persuasively, to bring Working Group 1 to Tasmania …

We Tasmanians are immensely privileged to be such a haven of scientific excellence, to host world class research and educational institutions from the Antarctic Climate Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre, to the CSIRO Marine Laboratory, IMAS, UTAS, and Australian Antarctic Division, as well as CCAMLR.

We have, for example, developed the world-leading Climate Futures work, which applies the IPCC projections onto our landscape at a fine scale.  Farmers, irrigators, planners, property owners and government have access to a very precise set of evidence-based projections out to 2100.

Since the formation of this Labor/Green Minority Government in 2010, we have established a robust and active Adaptation Unit within Government.  Tasmania is developing a number of the tools necessary to adapt to climate change, to embed resilience and sustainability into our economic structures, and to prosper in the face of what your work tells us, lies ahead for the global community.

And now, you are drawn here – 270 or so of the brightest scientific minds in the world – a font of deep knowledge on the planet’s natural systems and what we, as a brilliant but flawed species, are doing to disrupt the climate and ecosystem balance – what we appear to be prepared to leave to our children and grandchildren. 

A planet of heat and catastrophic extremes, of poverty, and conflict over arable land and water, of drowned cities, of parched forests and dramatically diminished biodiversity.

You are here to work through the closing stages of your contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report: The Physical Science Basis, I know you understand the urgency.  You live and breathe it.

Esteemed guests, you have arrived just over a week since one of the most extreme weather events in Tasmania, indeed Australia’s recorded meteorological history.

On the evening of Thursday the 3rd of January, a sequence of thunderstorms struck the Tasman peninsula to our south.  We could see the lightning strikes from Hobart.  The next day, Friday, the mercury hit 41.8 degrees Celsius.  Hot, wild northerly winds blew across Bass Strait from a baking continent and there was conflagration that destroyed 200 properties on the Peninsula and on the East Coast, scorched 90,000+ hectares statewide, killed countless endemic birds, possums, wallabies, potoroos and wombats, and left a whole community at Dunalley reeling in the smoking ruins of their town.

A number of these fires are still burning, and there are communities still at risk.

Almost miraculously, there was no loss of life last weekend – in part due to much better early emergency warning systems, and the fact that the inferno struck a very coastal area – there were beaches to flee to for safety.

It will take many years to rebuild, and I am absolutely certain we must rebuild a greener, more resilient, adaptive and climate aware community, with government, NGOs and a whole range of experts, working side by side with that community, for it is the locals who must drive and ‘own’ what rises from the ashes – but it must be far-sighted and informed. Informed by the science.

Is this, as Australia’s Climate Commission warned this week, the new normal?

And down here last week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: “Whilst you would not put any one event down to climate change, weather doesn’t work like that, we do know over time that as a result of climate change we are going to see more extreme weather events and conditions.”

It seems you were right and will continue to be so.

Don’t you wish – just occasionally – that you were wrong?  I sure do.

As I said, the fires are still burning, but already social media – Facebook and Twitter – is awash with denialists, finger-pointing and not least of all at us, the Greens … In Tasmania, blaming the Greens for all manner of woes is something of a favourite pastime within a certain demographic.  But still, one in five Tasmanians vote Green, I am one of two Green Ministers in a power-sharing government with the Labor Party, and more and more informed and very worried young people, in fact voters from across the demographic spectrum, are turning to our party for action and hope.

They are looking for hope wherever it can be found – and the science, your science, tells us there’s hope alright but we must act now.

As a mother of four, as a Green Parliamentarian, humanist, amateur naturalist, I am sometimes baffled as to humanity’s own self-harming behaviours.  From a public policy perspective – on climate change – we’re lurching along the path to an epic fail.

What is it about the psychology of our species that makes meaningful, collaborative, coordinated action on emissions reduction so hard to achieve?  Why were the Durban talks such a terrible but predictable disappointment?

Why did the legislated price on Carbon in Australia, and associated massive investment in renewable energies, carbon farming, biodiversity preservation and landscape restoration, become such a political football during and after it was negotiated through by our Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, in cooperation with the Australian Greens, and a small number of enlightened independent MPs?

And, having implemented a price on Carbon, how can the same Prime Minister and her Australian Labor Party, backed up by the conservatives, endorse the coal mining boom in Queensland’s Galilee Basin?

Advanced plans are in place to build nine mega mines in the Galilee Basin.  Five of these projects would each be larger than any coal mine currently operating in the country. If these go ahead, they could produce more coal than Australia currently exports. If the Galilee Basin were a country, the carbon dioxide produced from using this coal would make it the seventh dirtiest fossil fuel burner on the planet. The Galilee Basin coal boom is not just one of the greatest ever environmental threats to Australia, its climate implications are global.

It beggars belief.

How can the Australian media – particularly News Ltd - and the conservative political parties so proudly trumpet their anti-science, pro-profit at any cost creed, so shamelessly?  And get away with it, so often simply unchallenged?

Why did the Ministerial Select Council on Climate Change – of which I am a member, along with the Climate Change and Environment Ministers of the Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments – why did it late last year, abolish itself?  By the way, I can assure you I voted against its abolition…

What is it that allows so many individuals, politicians, governments and corporations to abrogate their responsibility to future generations?

And, why is the message – the message that is unambiguous from your work – not getting through?

When I was thinking about addressing you tonight, I wondered what benefit I might actually be able to bring to you apart from a warm welcome and expression of great gratitude for your work.  What could I pass on and hope to be heard by all you brilliant minds crammed full of so much knowledge, in the short time I have.

Well ……

As the daughter of an ABC foreign correspondent, myself an ex-journalist, a former communications adviser in the Keating Labor Government, and later to Greens Senator Christine Milne, and as a community activist to save an estuarine Conservation Area from a 500 home canal housing estate ala the Gold Coast at sea level just across the river from here, the one thing I do understand is the power of direct language, the language of persuasion – hard, confronting facts, a call to action, with an overlay of hope to stave off despair and thus, inaction.

Where we all fall down, I believe, is in a failure to effectively communicate. It’s a failure of world political leaders, of local leaders, of corporate leaders and – increasingly critically – of scientific leaders. 

I’m convinced that the scientific community has a role to play here that it has not yet fully explored or embraced.  There is hope for the future, we know that, and I’d like to hear more members of your scientific community, say that more often and a little louder.

Frankly ladies and gentlemen, and with the greatest of respect - you need to speak out more … I understand this sits extremely uncomfortably with many of you, but it’s true. 

As one of your Tasmanian IPCC colleagues pointed out to me – in most reasonable tones - last week, he could spend every spare moment of his days, engaging the community on climate science and the need for action, or, rebutting the denialists and skeptics – and, that would be time lost to scientific understanding.

As a Green politician, I do understand that it can be frustrating and it can feel demeaning to deal with the self-serving and the foolish, but we must take them on in the public domain, for we are not only talking to them.  In most instances, their minds are closed anyway.

Just think of them as a tool ……for getting a vital message across!

As leaders within our respective communities, we must intensify efforts to educate the public policy makers (like those bureaucrats and politicians in Tasmania who resist the setting of an interim 2020 emissions reduction target for fear it would send the wrong message to business …..).  I’m still working on them but it is one of the challenges of a power-sharing government.

We must go into corporate boardrooms and challenge their shareholder bottom line and profit charged thinking.  We must challenge the mainstream media to report science accurately, not to sensationalise the noisy denialists and feel the need to give them equal air time.  And through the mainstream and social media, we must reach into the minds of ordinary people who I have absolutely no doubt want to see meaningful action on climate change.

They just don’t have the personal power to change the world, they don’t know where to begin.  It can feel more comfortable, safer, to confine your thoughts and deeds to your immediate sphere.  I’m sure we’ve all been there.

Where our major party politicians have at times failed to demonstrate leadership, the time has come for our climate scientists to become much more assertive about their work, its findings, the projections, what the future looks like if we don’t change the way we run our economic and social policy structures, now.

The integrity of your work as a stand-alone scientific evidence base for human-induced climate change is no longer enough.

The Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, early last century, evolved a view of human life as one fundamentally defined by the relationship between two people – Thou and I was his seminal work.  As a member of the political arm of the Earth Defence Movement, I think of Buber often.

When you communicate the climate science, these frightening projections, to any audience, think about it as a conversation where just one person is listening.  If you are on radio, doing a TV interview, think about the ordinary person sitting at home, or driving their car – listening to your words – you are appealing to them to listen, to heed, to act. 

You, as scientists - independent thinkers and voices - can empower individuals, business leaders and policy makers, through your knowledge, your words and your message that there is still time to avoid the worst.

When you as scientific leaders within your communities do step up to talk about the findings of the 5th Assessment Report – and I believe you have a compelling moral responsibility to do so – look your audience in the eye, reach into their minds, explain to them at an individual level, what climate change will mean for the people they love in the future, the landscape they feel connected to ….

And explain to them that we can still avoid the worst impacts of global warming.

That we have a moral responsibility to do so …. This planet is not ours to trash.  It’s ours to save, from ourselves.

Too overtly political?  Too activist?  Maybe, but the time for respectful and informed conversations within our own cliques – whether it be within a political party, business, community groups or scientific collective – that time, is over.

There’s a great quote from Rachel Carson after she penned Silent Spring.  I used it in my inaugural speech – it’s an outstanding code for living ..

“We must all have a great sense of responsibility,” she told an interviewer in 1962, “and not let things happen because everyone takes the comfortable view that someone else is looking after it. Someone else isn’t looking after it.”

That’s us, ladies and gentlemen.  All of us who know we have a responsibility to use our time on this marvellous planet – this giant organism that gave us life – to best effect.

That’s how many of us feel about Tasmania.  This beautiful island, this little green jewel washed as it is by the mighty Southern Ocean, is changing – like the rest of the world.  We have giant forests of kelp that are struggling to survive in warming waters, fisherman now catch tropical Marlin out of the blue off our coastline where they have never been snagged before – the only time I have ever seen one of this long-beaked giants was on a beach in Queensland as a kid, thousands of kilometres from here.  And, we have bushfires raging across our landscape, with temperatures reaching peaks unknown in 130 years of meteorological record keeping.

The times and tides are changing, rapidly.  So must we all, to mitigate, to adapt, to endure.

I would like to end with my favourite quote of late which is from Prince Charles.  I’ve always thought a Prince who talks to his tomato plants must be pretty cool.  He said:

“I’ve gone on for years about the importance of thinking about the long-term in relation to the environmental damage, climate change and everything else.

“We don’t, in a sensible world, want to hand on an increasingly dysfunctional world to our grandchildren, to leave them with the real problem.

“I don’t want to be confronted by my future grandchild and (have) them say: ‘Why didn’t you do something?’ So clearly now that we will have a grandchild, it makes it even more obvious to try and make sure we leave them something that isn’t a total poisoned chalice.”

So, thank you for all the work that you do and I want you to know that we who care, are listening and we long to hear more of your wise words, and to know that you are taking on the climate recalcitrants, the voices of shameless self-interest, wherever you live and work.  Know that we are with you all the way…. Because we believe, and we have hope in our hearts.

Thank you.

(Speech delivered Wednesday evening, January 16)