Climate Hunger Games – The Australian Way

One man’s plea.

Hunger is a powerful form of activism. In many ways it is the grown-up’s version of Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg’s school strike for climate. The author of this blogpost argues that the many Australian organisations dedicated to combating climate breakdown need to unite now and get behind Gregory Andrews hunger strike and petition.

What kind of world do we want to live in, and what are we willing to do for it? Gregory Andrews, a former Australian diplomat, has made up his mind: he is willing to put his life on the line for it. So he has started a climate hunger strike, sitting every day in front of the Australian Parliament Building with a sign with a big number telling bypassers the number of days he has been fasting.

As these lines are written, he is on Day 10.

By putting his own health on the line, Gregory Andrews is making a radical and an ethical statement. He tries to catch our attention not by disturbing anyone, or by destroying anything, but by quietly appealing to the conscience of society.

His actions ask each of us to reflect on our stance and on the most serious moral imperative of our time: how can we make the Earth a safe place to live for our children and generations to come?

The right wing and climate-denying media were first to report on Gregory’s hunger strike when he started it on 2nd of November 2023 — not because they wanted to acknowledge the substance of his message, but because they saw an opportunity to ridicule it as a theatrical stunt.

When the former diplomat entered Sky News studio to talk with reputed anti-climate action tv host Andrew Bolt, Bolt likened Andrews’ protest to a child’s tantrum, suggesting it is an immature demand for attention. 

“Do you think it is fair to say: ‘Do what I tell you to, or I’ll kill myself!’?” Bolt asked Andrews.

This sparked an online debate about the effectiveness and maturity of Andrews’ actions.  

Bolt fails to acknowledge the rich history and profound implications of hunger strikes as a tool for social and political change. To dismiss hunger strikes as childish is to overlook the historical significance they have, and the personal sacrifices they entail. 

Hunger strikes have been instrumental in many significant historical movements. Respected figures like Mahatma Gandhi used hunger strikes to great effect, highlighting injustices and compelling colonial powers to address the grievances of the oppressed. Such actions were not moments of capriciousness but were deeply considered decisions that galvanised broad social awareness that in turn led to major societal change.

Gregory Andrews’ choice to forgo nourishment as a form of protest is a testament to his commitment to the climate action cause. This self-imposed suffering is a far cry from a spontaneous outburst associated with a child’s fit of anger. It is a strategic, disciplined, and deeply personal statement that communicates the dire emergency of our climate crisis.

“I might be slow, but I am strong. I am determined and won’t give up.”

Gregory Andrews, on Day 11

A hunger strike is a powerful exercise of personal autonomy and a highly visible demonstration of free speech. Andrews’ choice to use his body in a nonviolent protest is an expression of personal agency — a decision to push for change without imposing harm on others.  This deep and personal commitment is very different from the impulsive disruptions of a child.

Hunger strikes are always a last resort for those who feel their voices are unheard. They are acts of desperation, not of attention-seeking. Gregory Andrews has chosen this path to draw attention not to himself, but to the urgency of the climate crisis — a concern that is already affecting all, including Andrew Bolt and his followers.

Background, media coverage, hunger strike history

Gregory’s Day 10 climate hunger strike sign is a real-time countdown that forcefully reminds us all that ‘The clock is ticking — we don’t have any more days to waste!’ It is a mirror reflecting the urgency of a climate crisis that threatens our homes, our livelihoods, and our very future — and especially that of our children and grandchildren and of the generations to follow them. 

At the heart of Gregory Andrews’ hunger strike lies a father’s profound love for his children and family — and a deep concern for the world that our generation is leaving for those who are just entering it. 

This is far from what a childish tantrum looks like. Rather, it is a testament to the lengths to which a concerned parent and citizen will go to protect what we all hold dear. Andrews’ message highlights personal stakes, universal values, and the gravity of the escalating climate breakdown.

Andrews aims to create a connection with the Australian parliamentarians and provoke reflection across the floor on the dire implications of the Government’s continued support of the fossil fuel industry — of its subsidies, its new projects and its huge and apparently endless exports of coal and gas.

His interviews in mainstream media could potentially help to expose Australia’s state capture by the fossil fuel industry, and in particular, the fact that the Albanese government — just like its predecessor — continues to finance the expansion of the fossil fuel industry. 

This could open up a much needed public discussion about how state capture works, and how dangerous this is, seeking answers to questions such as: Why are fossil fuel companies allowed to profit at all? Why aren’t they being forced to pump their $4 billion daily profits into rapid decarbonisation? Why aren’t all those who subverted the truth about this genocidal industry for 40 years in prison?

Why is Australia — and its privately owned mainstream media — barely talking about any of this?

Why aren’t the public broadcasters all over this unfolding catastrophe with the unremitting intensity of their COVID-19 coverage — with daily news updates and frequent in-depth background feature programs?

And just as important: Why aren’t we as citizens talking about the risks we can still avoid and numerous benefits that will come from real climate action and environmental stewardship?

Gregory Andrews’ one-man hunger strike could help to break the current inertia and complacency about the now rapidly changing climate. If our mainstream media — or at least Australia’s two public broadcasters — would acknowledge their further duty to the Australian people, they would pick up Andrews’ baton.

This could trigger a national conversation that may otherwise remain stuck on the periphery of public consciousness. Active coverage could initiate discussions in living rooms and policy rooms alike, bringing the climate debate back to the forefront.

Climate action should not be about winning an argument. It should be about coming together to address one of the most pressing issues of our time.

What Australians seem to ignore or fail to understand is that it is not ‘climate change’ that is a threat to our future. It is fossil fuel expansion. Any new oil and gas fields are incompatible with staying below the 1.5°C global heating limit — the limit where tipping points and feedback loops begin to make a runaway catastrophe unstoppable. 

The planetary picture

The warning signs are everywhere. 

Half of the Northern Territory has burnt, and the fire season hasn’t even started. Close to 80 per cent of the Northern Territory is expected to burn by March 2024. 33 million hectares have already burned this year. In comparison, the 2019-20 ‘Black Summer’ fires burnt 10.3 million hectares.

People are losing their homes to fires, water, or winds. Down much of our east coast, extreme weather events and floodwaters have caused devastation. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found extreme weather caused more hospitalisations in the past 10 years than ever before.

Further afield, flooding has just displaced 300,000 people in Somalia — from the same area where 43,000 people died from the drought last year. 

Similar flooding events in Europe. Massive forest wildfires in Canada and California. Drought in America’s food bowl, the mid-west. Back-to-back coral reef bleaching from marine heat waves. Record sea ice loss in Antarctica – such events have become almost routine reporting on our evening tv news.      

October temperature records have been shattered, and 2023 has been declared by climate scientists as the hottest in at least 125,000 years.

On the 11 November 2023, scientists reported that the monthly global temperature has climbed above 2.0°C above pre industrial levels for the first time. 2.0°C is the scientifically agreed upon multi-year average temperature increase above which catastrophic climate change is nearly inevitable. It is also the limit which signatories of the Paris Agreement, including Australia, agreed must not be exceeded.

“Be sad, be scared, be angry. This is a truly grim milestone. It is an emergency. And it is a tragedy, for what it means, and because we didn’t have to be here. If any good can come from this moment it is from more people recognizing the massive failure of our leaders and media,” commented American filmmaker Adam McKay to the news on X. He is the creator of ‘Don’t Look Up’, on Yellow Dot Studios.

“We cannot address the climate catastrophe without tackling its root cause: fossil fuel dependence. Leaders must act now to save humanity from the worst impacts of climate chaos and profit from the extraordinary benefits of renewable energy.”
~ António Guterres in a tweet on X on 12 November 2023

A new study has doubled the number of species at risk of extinction to two million, driven by the latest data on insects. Losing these tiny creatures will have huge implications for life on Earth.

Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels know no international borders, and once in the atmosphere, CO2 remains at dangerous levels for centuries. Methane emissions do not remain as long, but are many times more potent than CO2, and these are spiking rapidly from expanding agriculture and from melting tundra.

Crisis speeding up

Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen and 17 other climate scientists have just published a remarkably detailed analysis of what kind of global warming we can expect.

This scientific paper examines the trends in temperature and greenhouse gas levels over the past 67 million years and demonstrates that the temperature trends are closely matched by CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Doubling CO2 levels leads to a temperature change of 5°C degrees C (+/-1°). 

We are close to doubling CO2 levels today compared to pre-industrial levels. These scientists conclude that average global warming will exceed 1.5°C degrees in the 2020s and will reach 2.0°C degrees before 2050.  

“Political crises present an opportunity for a reset, especially if younger people can grasp their situation,” they write.

United Kingdom’s former Chief Scientist, Sir David King, commented: “I’m of the view that this piece from James Hansen and 17 others is one of the most important papers published on the state of the climate crisis in years. This critically important analysis needs the urgent and full attention of all climate scientists, all political leaders, and policy makers. We must all learn to pull together to create a manageable future for humanity.” 

“The enormity’ of consequences calls for East-West co-operation in a way that meets developing world needs alongside intervention with Earth’s radiation imbalance ,to phase down today’s man-made geo-transformation of Earth’s climate,” King said.

This should cause a total rethink for the climate action advocacy movement about the urgent need for remedial action that corrects the emissions overshoot. Current decarbonisation strategies won’t be enough. (Centre for Climate Safety is part of a group advocating for a Climate Rescue Accord focusing on this.)

→ Al Jazeera – 6 September 2023:
UN announces ‘climate breakdown’ after record summer heat
“Scientists blame ever warming human-caused climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas.”

Australian government’s response  

So how is the Albanese government reacting to these multiple red flags? Ignoring clear advice from the International Energy Agency, our national government continues to support expansion of coal and gas production. It is still approving new fossil fuel projects. Billion-dollar taxpayer subsidies to the industry continue. 

The Commonwealth budget has become unhealthily dependent on tax revenue from exports of Australian coal and gas, as it was until recently on the sale of tobacco products.

Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry, both in Australia and world-wide, continues to mine and export its coal and gas on the back of growing government subsidies, generating massive profits for its financiers and shareholders.  

Reactions and escalating actions

Some people perceive government policies on fossil fuels as a war on humanity, so the methods used by some protesters are escalating. The so-called ‘Tyre Extinguishers’ network around the world is expanding its illegal activities at night, puncturing SUV tyres. Other activists are sabotaging oil and gas pipelines or destroying pumps at petrol stations. Art works are being spray-painted and are being destroyed.

Nonviolent action causes frustration, and as we saw in Panama recently, this can quickly escalate and become deadly. When a group of protesters recently blockaded a highway, a retired lawyer and university professor got out of his car, saying “This ends here”, pulled out a gun and cold-heartedly shot two of the protesters dead. 

On social media, one of the comments below a post about the tragic killing said: “Well deserved.”

Gregory Andrews’ hunger strike is getting similar harsh messages in the social media, with comments like these:

“Let him starve.”

“I urge the young man to continue his hunger strike for as long as it takes.”

“I think all climate alarmists should follow his lead.”

“The good news is, in a couple of weeks, we won’t have to listen to him if he’s a man of his word.”

“He should get all his climate crazy mates together for an all-in hunger strike and there will be no climate crisis.”

“I wish all the Greens MP’s would join him also, and actually follow through. Might be the only time I’d support the Greens.”

In the eyes of the followers of Andrew Bolt, Gregory Andrews’ hunger strike is a mere spectacle that they can make a bit of fun of or call a tantrum, “like a child’s cry for attention”

Sky News’ video clip with Andrew Bolt’s interview with Gregory Andrews was viewed over 100,000 times on the first day and received more than 3,000 comments. Not a single one of these comments were on Andrews’ side.

The reality which not many Australians are prepared to talk about at the moment is that climate change is an existential threat to our entire civilisation.

Unlike what Andrew Bolt thinks, the choice we have is not between carrying on as normal or building a sustainable, resilient and adaptive degrowth society. The choice is between building a sustainable, resilient and adaptive degrowth society, or likely losing everything and everyone we love.

An alternative scenario

What if Gregory Andrews’ initiative in Canberra suddenly gave Australia a new ‘climate voice’ that could open up a different collective exploration of these issues? What if people started to realise that climate change must not be a partisan issue but a global challenge that affects every individual, irrespective of political alignment?

Regardless of what Andrew Bolt and his followers think, science is unequivocal in its conclusion that action is needed urgently. This is not about politics — it is about the legacy we leave for future generations.

Globally, 2.9 billion people live with no clean, safe energy for cooking, and 1.1 billion have no electricity. The internet trolls say fossil fuels are the only answer to this poverty, but in reality, fossil fuel extraction only monopolises and concentrates wealth: The already rich get even richer, while the poor get poorer. The poor become even more disadvantaged because of climate-related havoc and destruction as they get hit by drought, flooding, and hurricanes that strip away their access to food, shelter and health care.

→ The Guardian – 10 November 2023:
More people not having children due to climate breakdown fears, finds research
“Analysis finds concerns about environment key factor in having fewer or no children.”

Even Andrew Bolt, who does not acknowledge that our carbon emissions are already wrecking the climate and devastating people’s lives, should at least be able to acknowledge that a majority of Australians share Gregory Andrews fears.

→ ABC News – 7 September 2023:
Eco-anxiety looms as headspace survey reveals young people want climate change action
“53 per cent feel fearful of the future due to the effects of climate change. 34 per cent are hesitant to have children due to climate change. 59 per cent agree or strongly agree not enough is being done to address climate change.”

We all value the well-being of our families, the prosperity of our communities, and the health of our country. The environmental decisions we make today are crucial in safeguarding these values. Gregory Andrews’ protest, stripped of any partisan filters, is a plea to protect these shared values.

We need a much more complex and urgent narrative around climate — one that warrants a genuine and critical discourse on the climate emergency that we collectively face. Identifying with Gregory Andrews’ hunger strike means considering all its perspectives, particularly the scientific community’s overwhelming consensus on climate change’s impact. 

Addressing climate change is not about conceding to one side of a debate. It is about making informed decisions for the common good that is based on solid evidence.

The transition to a greener economy presents real economic opportunities. Renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, and green technology are not just environmentally sound choices but can also drive job creation, energy independence and security. This transition also means meaningful jobs in climate change adaptation, building strong, resilient and better resourced communities.

We need to grow up and stop treating the planet like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Carrying on ‘business as usual’ will inevitably lead to societal collapse.

Missing in action

“Rhetoric and lies remain the currency of most political leaders,” as the British climate scientist, Kevin Anderson, commented.

Greenwashing, empty rhetoric and lies must be called out.

But why are the numerous environmental and climate action organisations in Australia missing in action around Gregory Andrews’ hunger strike? Why aren’t  their solidarity statements flowing in? Why is his strike not mentioned in the online newsletters that the environmental NGOs have been sending out to their members since 2 November? 

The NGOs that advocate for environmental conservation and climate action recently showed their collective impact when they united in support of individuals who peacefully protest for these causes. 

We saw this when Violet Coco was given a long prison sentence for having blocked traffic in Sydney. A united front in the climate movement demonstrated their full support to Coco with an open letter signed by more than 100 organisations, and enough pressure eventually led to a milder conviction. 

Solidarity and a united voice among activists, NGOs, and concerned citizens amplifies the call for change, making it harder for policymakers and the public to ignore.

The climate crisis is intensifying, with impacts being felt globally. Gregory Andrews’ protest is a dramatic demonstration of this urgency. By backing his call, the NGOs could underscore the immediate need for action and help to maintain momentum in the fight against climate change. 

When NGOs rally behind such a cause, they leverage their networks and resources to educate and engage the public. This could help foster a deeper understanding of the issues and the actions necessary to address them — both in mainstream media and in the general public. Collective action in the climate movement is of significant strategic importance.

Recognition of the hunger strike and endorsement of its purpose by NGOs would lend credibility and seriousness to Gregory Andrews’ demands. The majority of the population already supports effective climate action: demanding that the Albanese government take much more decisive action on climate and decarbonisation is the basic focus of his hunger strike.

Harnessing citizen power

In social media, the trolls reign, and the climate movement has given up. However, such responses haven’t silenced Greta Thunberg.

Not long ago, a small corner of the Australian media did something similar. Not many are aware of the significant role Australia played in helping Greta Thunberg rise to becoming a world-famous figurehead.

When Greta Thunberg started her school strike for climate, sitting in front of the Swedish parliament with a bottle of water and some pamphlets, the world paid little attention to her. She sat there for three weeks, and on the last day, hundreds of people gathered to hear her speak. The media, however, was absent.

A friend of The Sustainable Hour, Janine Okeefe, rushed down to the Swedish parliament and did an interview for us on the third day of Greta’s strike, which we then played for our listeners in Australia. We called out to our audience whether any teenagers in Australia would like to follow up on Greta’s example.

A mum from Castlemaine contacted us. “Yes, I have a daughter who is keen,” she said. “Together with a friend, she would like to organise a Greta-inspired school strike.” And so they did, with help from young climate activists in Melbourne. Two months later, 14,000 school students gathered in Melbourne, and their humorous signs and tv pictures of them chanting in the streets went around the world — on CNN, BBC and all the way back to Sweden, where the media had been ignoring Greta’s campaign til that point.

The Australian school kids were the first to show the world how powerful Greta’s message actually was, and that there were a lot of kids in Australia who had her back. It was colourful and looked like the beginning of a youth uprise. A few days later Greta got a phone call from the United Nations: ”Would you like to speak at the upcoming UN Climate Summit in Poland?” As they say, the rest is history.

Call to action

We can do something like this again, Australia! Only this time around, it will have to be the adults’ turn.

Gregory Andrews’ current hunger strike shows the lengths to which individuals are willing to go when they perceive that conventional advocacy has failed to achieve necessary change. His radical action could just spark a pivotal moment in the climate activism narrative. It could become the entry point into a much-needed dialogue about the climate emergency — a topic that transcends political leanings and affects us all.

Gregory attempts to bridge the divide by speaking to our shared values. He emphasises the non-partisan nature of climate action, and the avoidance of confrontation. His courageous action invites a conversation to engage Australian listeners, readers and viewers in a constructive discussion about how we can best tackle the emergency. His five demands are an excellent starting point for that discussion.

Big changes don’t happen overnight. They often require something that shocks us and challenges the way we do things, which then creates these moments when everything is suddenly up for grabs.

Andrews is aware of this. His hunger strike should be a clarion call for the level of more ambitious climate action that many environment-focused NGOs in Australia have long advocated for. It presents an opportunity for these organisations to stand behind a tangible, brave, and selfless act of protest that seeks to protect our planet for current and future generations. 

This is the time for all climate advocates to unite and to stand in solidarity, and to push collectively for Andrews’ arguments and for the systemic changes we so urgently need. 

It is also high time to stand united against the blatant and disgraceful misinformation, lies and confusion which are being spread day after day and year after year by the fossil fuel advocates and lobbyists, including Bolt and his followers and all the trolls and bots flourishing in today’s social media.

Gregory Andrews’ protest is a poignant and emotional expression of the gravity of the climate emergency — the escalating breakdown of the biosphere that demands extraordinary measures. It is a call to action that resonates with the urgency of the issue and the necessity for immediate and substantive policy change. 

But surely, Andrews won’t be able to get Albanese’s attention if he remains sitting there on the Parliament lawn on his own. He needs the climate movements voices — our voices — to back him up. He needs our visible support, Australians signing his petition and turning up in large numbers.

Let’s show the Australian parliamentarians what we, the majority of the Australian people, can do when we come together to be heard. That is The Australian Way when we are in an emergency. If we all try a little harder, I am not in doubt we will be able to move the democratic conversation forward with the shared intention of securing a safe and sustainable future for all Australians.

More about Gregory Andrews

Sign Gregory’s petition

#ClimateHungerStrike Update

“Dear Supporters,

Thank you so so much for your support. Every time I get an email or SMS, another petition signature, a visitor, hug or a handshake, or a “Good on Ya Mate” yell out the window, it keeps me going. I can tell my body has gone into starvation mode and is slowing down. I have to be careful walking and it’s getting harder to talk without getting puffed. But weight lose rate has slowed down and my big sister Allison arrived yesterday. She will be sitting with me for the next few days as my “sister spokesperson”. That will save my breath.

My 83 year old Mum would be here with me too if she could. She calls and sends messages everyday. This is what she wrote yesterday:

Dear Greg, You are doing what the rest of us can just think about. VERY VERY PROUD OF YOU. IT JUST STUNS MY BRAIN that you can keep it going like this.

LOVE MUM 😍😍😍😍😍🐕‍🦺🐕‍🦺🐕‍🦺🐕‍🦺

I’m getting a bit emotional. But if you see me crying know they’re good tears. Tears of hope. And tears of strength. I know so many Australians want better from the people we’ve elected. Yesterday James, a Year 6 boy from a local school in Canberra, came with a home-made sign and wanted a selfie. That made me cry. It’s for James and all Aussie kids that I’m doing this. I don’t want to be on this #ClimateHungerStrike. But there’s no other choice.

I might be slow, but I am strong. I am determined and won’t give up.”

Excerpt of blogpost message from Gregory Andrews on 12 November 2023 at 05:32

→ On 12 November, Gregory Andrews’ petition had been signed by over 3,000 people.

Update on 18 November: Gregory Andrews ended his hunger strike after 16 days. His petition had by then been signed by 4,500 Australians.

Related comments and news

“Seeing all the anger and violence today reminds me why stopping climate change is such an emergency. Sad to say: we are in a new world. Every one of us has to put other things aside at this moment to do and demand what is necessary to save this planet. We’re out of time.”
~ Matthew Todd on X

→ Short story: Tracks of change – a tale about the man who put his body on the line

Media coverage