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Responding to the climate emergency

July 22, 2009

The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences. – Winston Churchill


We face a climate emergency

The climate is changing faster than we thought. What we believed would happen in a hundred years is happening now. It’s getting hotter, the ice caps are melting, the oceans are rising, bushfires are bigger, and crops are failing. A climate crisis threatening hundreds of millions of lives faces us all, and we have to start treating it as an emergency!

For years our cars have run on petrol and our electricity has come from burning coal. Climate-changing gases have been pumped into the air. If we continue to release these gases for much longer it will soon be impossible to stop the climate from changing dramatically.

Climate change can be daunting, but like any emergency we have to deal with it. We need to respond to this emergency the same way we would a bushfire or if someone was having a heart attack – with action.

If we ignore climate change now, we will be unable to ignore the damage it causes in the near future – and the survivors will ask why we didn’t act when we still could.


We need an emergency response

Australians know that climate change is a real problem and many of us are taking personal steps to stop it – such as using less electricity in the home. But this only solves a small part of the problem. We need businesses and government to act – but they aren’t.  Money needs to be invested into cleaner energy and transport solutions, not large polluting industries.

Kevin Rudd claims that he is leading on climate change, but his policies “guarantee destruction of much of the life on the planet”, according to NASA climate scientist James Hansen.

We need to quickly change how we generate power, produce food, travel, and organise our economy. Responding to this emergency will bring change and create job opportunities through new industries and different farming practises.

The ‘put jobs before the climate’ argument is completely misleading and hollow. It’s a lot like arguing that a fire-fighter should let a house burn so that builders will have work.

In working together to solve this crisis, we will also strengthen our communities.

Humankind has shown that we can rise to meet urgent challenges when needed. In World War Two car factories became tank factories, millions of civilians were trained to be soldiers, and the world’s largest consumer economy (the USA) became the largest military economy within one year. Today, instead of tanks and soldiers we need clean energy and engineers; are we able to do what we did 65 years ago to save humanity?


The climate movement needs you

An emergency response is possible, but it’s far from certain. Polluting industries pay hundreds of professional lobbyists to spread doubt about climate science – just like tobacco companies did about the medical effects of smoking. And politicians are still able to win votes by talking ‘green’, but acting dirty.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s up to individuals to change this. Thousands of people across Australia, from every walk of life, have realised that they need to do something. But time is short, so we have to face facts about what is the most effective ‘something’ for people to do.

Climate change will not be avoided through individuals living green lifestyles or buying green products, but by individuals uniting to transform their societies. Living in the only climate-friendly house in your street, in a city built around cars, is not the solution.

As long as millions of tonnes of oil and coal are still being burnt, we are simply standing aside while politics-as-usual and business-as-usual destroys our Earth. And unfortunately, it’s the only one we’ve got.

Accepting that climate change is real is no longer enough. To judge between real solutions and the fibs of politicians, we must understand the urgency and size of the problem. We cannot ignore or negotiate with the laws of physics and chemistry, and we need to know when our leaders are trying to do just that.

To survive this emergency we must change the way we do things. To succeed we will need to find the courage hidden within ourselves. We will need to argue with our friends, go to a protest instead of to a movie, and put our reputations on the line. Some of us – in the tradition of Gandhi, Mandela and King – may risk even more.

These are truths that don’t fit easily with the way we’ve always done things – but we should not disregard them, for we now enter an age of consequences. There is hope, and more than hope, in the hundreds of climate action groups that now exist throughout Australia. If you haven’t joined one yet, now is the time.


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