Friday, 22 January 2010

Climate change must be taken seriously

This is a copy of the opinion piece published in The Newcastle Herald.

In many ways, the issue of climate change today is reminiscent of other great social and political struggles of our past.

In the mid to late 1800s, when the politicians were not listening to the calls to enact laws to allow women the right to vote, many women - later to be known as suffragettes - decided on a course of nonviolent direct action to highlight their cause.

Today, we are rightly appalled if women are not afforded the same status under law as men, and we celebrate the struggle of the suffragettes.

Their movement started small, with a dedicated few. Many said their actions were a waste of time, and that the politicians would not listen. Despite occasional police brutality, the number of protesters grew, involving a diverse cross-section of society in expressing their outrage at the inaction of politicians. Eventually, their moral stance and persistence paid off.

Australians are justly proud that, in 1894, the self-governing colony of South Australia was one of the first in the world to enact laws giving women the right to vote.

Unfortunately, we can’t be similarly proud of the Australian government’s actions with respect to climate change.

Carbon pollution, accepted by the world’s climate scientists as the leading cause of climate change, is still unregulated in Australia. Unlike other forms of air pollution, polluters don’t even need a licence from the EPA for carbon pollution – it’s open slather.

Despite our natural advantages and technical skills, Australian governments have not encouraged investments in renewable energy jobs with the aim that we would be the world leader in solar or wind technology.

Who could be proud of the Australian government for their failure of leadership and ‘bully boy’ tactics at the Copenhagen climate summit.

While the world’s climate scientists were saying we needed at least 25% to 40% reduction in carbon pollution by 2020, the Australian government was offering a 5% reduction.

While our near neighbours, particularly Tuvalu and the Maldives, were saying their survival required a binding treaty limiting global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the Australian government was bullying the island nations into supporting a superficial last-minute ‘statement’ that included a vague aim to keep global temperatures from increasing by more than 2.0 degrees Celsius.

Australians are right to feel let down by our politicians.

The people of Newcastle and the Hunter have never been afraid to stand up for what we believe in.

In the early 20th century, thousands marched again and again through Newcastle streets for the rights of workers to an eight hour working day, which they achieved in the historic 1916 NSW law.

In the Great Depression, hundreds protested against the forced eviction of unemployed tenants, notably in Clara Street Tighes Hill in 1932, which led to 30 arrests. Eventually, their efforts resulted in legislative recognition of the rights of tenants.

More recently, hundreds have joined the People's Blockade of our Port (the largest coal export port in the world), to highlight the need for a just transition from coal dependency.

On Sunday, I joined more than 40 Newcastle and Hunter people to express our outrage at the inaction of politicians to reduce and regulate carbon pollution that climate scientists know will have a devastating impact on the climate for our children and grandchildren.

The politicians have failed, both at Copenhagen and on the home front, to implement a coherent response to climate change.

The protesters were from a diverse cross-section of the community: young and old, scientists, professionals, and students. They included an 86 year old man and a Buddhist priest. All were concerned with the climate legacy that we are leaving our children and grandchildren.

As an elected councillor on Newcastle City Council, my role under the Local Government Act is (among other things) to represent the interests of the residents and ratepayers, and to provide leadership and guidance to the community.

It is in the interests of Newcastle residents and ratepayers that our governments reduce and regulate carbon pollution and have a coherent response to climate change. Every resident of Newcastle will be affected by climate change.

Our State and Federal governments have failed to show the leadership necessary to deal with the climate crisis.

Together, we can stand up and show the leadership necessary to deal with climate change.

Like the suffragettes 100 years ago, the struggle will be hard, we will be criticised, and some may dismiss our actions as a waste of time. But we will succeed. We must.

No comments: