Monday, 7 December 2020
Matters of Urgency
I want to take you back 40 years. I was 20, and I was studying meteorology at Melbourne university. I had just learnt about the science of the greenhouse effect and the likely resultant changes to the world's climate from the burning of coal, gas and oil. I was shocked, and I thought: 'This is serious. The world needs to be doing something.' That day changed my life. It made me realise that if the world needed to be taking action then so did I. I had a responsibility to do what I could to protect our planet, and that resolve has continued through to the current day. But 40 years of the world not taking action in line with climate science—with my country, Australia, leading the way in inaction over the last seven years, after the highlight of the Greens-Labor government, the Gillard government, from 2010 to 2013—has been demoralising because we know now that we have not done enough. Yet we've got a government and an opposition that are still trying to debate the physics and saying that what we are doing is going to be sufficient, with the Labor Party unwilling even to commit to a 2030 target.
We know that there are really damaging effects of the climate crisis already baked in. We are living with the bleaching of our coral reefs, with the largest living organism on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef, having lost half of its corals in the last 25 years. We are living with the places we love being destroyed by fire. Our World Heritage Gondwanan rainforests, living time capsules that survived a continental break-up and a planetary mass extinction event, are being destroyed by the worst fires in thousands and thousands of years. We are living with the deaths of three billion animals. If we named each one of those animals, if we read out their names at a rate of one per second, it would take us 96 years to finish paying respect to them. We are living with millions of people every year being forced to move due to natural disasters, with global heating causing more frequent and more intense disasters and nearly one billion people living in areas of high or very high climate exposure. And we are living with the intense grief of knowing that we are all part of the web of life on this planet and feeling the pain and the trauma of that loss and the reality that life is going to be more difficult, more dangerous and less safe for our children and grandchildren than it has been for us. The denialism from the government and the Labor Party, pretending that they're doing enough and playing with figures, compounds our grief. In refusing to commit to shifting away from the mining, export and burning of coal, gas and oil at the speed and scale that are required, they create despair and disillusion, especially among young people, who know they are the ones who are going to be living through this crisis.
So, 40 years on, sadly, I no longer have optimism that we will act in time to turn this crisis around, but I continue to have hope that the world will see sense and at some stage take the urgent action that's required to shift to a zero-carbon economy at emergency speed. I'm no longer optimistic that Australia will be a leader, but I have hope that we will be dragged along as a laggard, and my hope is kindled when I see the UK government committing to reduce its emissions by 68 per cent by 2030. I know that Australia could do likewise. So on behalf of every person and every creature on this planet, on behalf of future generations, I urge the government and the Labor Party to build hope and dispel despair by similarly committing to ambitious carbon reduction targets in line with the science.