A safe climate is a human right

The Sustainable Hour no. 499 | Transcript | Podcast notes

Our guests in The Sustainable Hour no. 499 are former corporate lawyer Robert Hinkley and filmmaker Michael Shaw. We also play two excerpts of Michael’s video recordings of professor and author Jem Bendell.

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Robert Hinkley is a former corporate lawyer, who champions The Code for Corporate Citizenship, an amendment to Australia’s Corporate Act to enforce that companies must protect the population from harmful environmental damage such as climate change. Today, Robert chats with us about the significance of last week’s decision of the European Court of Human Rights in favour of over 2,000 Swiss women aged over 65, who filed a case against the Swiss for not doing enough to protect them. The court ruled that a safe climate is a human right, and this decision is going to reverberate right around the world. Details of it can be found in the article in The Guardian and also further below on this page.

Robert is a champion for changing corporate law so company directors can be held responsible for any environmental damage they cause as they go about their business. Details of his efforts on this can be found here: www.codeforcorporatecitizenship.com and www.supportthecode.au.

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Michael Shaw is a climate concerned citizen on a spiritual journey who received a “calling” to make a documentary, so he became a filmmaker and created the documentary ‘Living in the time of Dying’ in 2020It has since been viewed over 500,000 times and won numerous awards. It can be found on Youtube.

Professor Jem Bendell, founder of the Deep Adaptation movement, was recently in Byron Bay as part of his world tour promoting his latest book “Breaking Together: A Freedom-loving Response to Collapse”. More below.

More information about Michael and his film can be found in this article in Beshara Magazine.

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Today’s show begins with a discussion about Earth Day and the theme of ‘planet versus plastics’. The conversation then moves on to highlight significant global events and developments, such as a landmark climate change court case in Europe, and the role of major companies in carbon emissions. It also highlights Australia’s strategies to combat climate change and the potential for the country to become a renewable energy superpower. 

The interview with former corporate lawyer Robert Hinkley explores the implications of last week’s court decision in Europe that found the government had violated the human rights of elderly women by failing to address climate change. The importance of corporate responsibility and the need for a shift in corporate law to protect the environment and human rights is discussed. 

The interview with Michael Shaw explores the emotional journey of making a film about the destruction of the planet and the personal cost it had for the filmmaker. It delves into the themes of despair, grief, and the need for a cultural revolution. The importance of community, activism, and taking action is emphasised. 

The conversation eventually discusses Earth Day and the significance of raising awareness and taking responsibility for the planet. The guests share their personal experiences and offer advice for navigating the challenges of the climate crisis. The conversation concludes with a reflection on the urgency of climate action and the need for truth-telling and collective support in the face of climate collapse. 

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Colin Mockett OAM‘s Global Outlook and lyrics of the songs we played can be found in the transcript below.

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What an incredible privilege it was to be part of today’s show as we opened our hearts not to doom or gloom but to truth telling and the importance of working with others on solutions to the climate crisis we face. 

The European Court of Human Rights decision is going to be a real game changer as it shows that it has the potential to remove another safety shield from the faceless and nameless psychopaths who inhabit global fossil fuel board rooms, as well as their supporters in governments all over the world. It’s another ‘nail in the coffin’ of these toxic arrangements which have resulted in our atmosphere now being supersaturated with carbon.

We’ll be back next week with our 500th episode which we are looking forward to. Until then, don’t succumb to the grief, for instance when you hear the news that the Great Barrier Reef is really dying along with coral reefs all over the planet – be courageous as you find your role in the #ClimateRevolution.

“We go through that despair channel. Something else comes up, and maybe it doesn’t care about the house that I own. Maybe it doesn’t care about my superannuation, or my holidays to Greece. Maybe it changes to: How are we going to protect this community when we may not have electricity? How are we going to provide food if there’s food shortages, because transportation breaks down – or there’s crop failures because of heat? 
So we ask a different type of question. And if that’s radicalising, then it’s going back to a way of communal care, which, you know, which everyone wants to label – not everybody, sort of the mainstream press – wants to label as ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’, you know, which is essentially how we care about our community and put the community ahead of individuality. I mean, if that’s radicalising, then bring it on, you know, for heaven’s sakes.”

~ Michael Shaw, filmmaker, “Living In The Time Of Dying”

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We at The Sustainable Hour would like to pay our respect to the traditional custodians of the land on which we
are broadcasting, the Wathaurong People, and pay our respect to their elders, past, present and future.

The traditional owners lived in harmony with the land. They nurtured it and thrived in often harsh conditions for millennia before they were invaded. Their land was then stolen from them – it wasn’t ceded. It is becoming more and more obvious that, if we are to survive the climate emergency we are facing, we have much to learn from their land management practices.

Our battle for climate justice won’t be won until our First Nations brothers and sisters have their true justice. When we talk about the future, it means extending our respect to those children not yet born, the generations of the future – remembering the old saying that, “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.”
The decisions currently being made around Australia to ignore the climate emergency are being made by those who won’t be around by the time the worst effects hit home. How disrespectful and unfair is that?

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Our human rights are being violated by our governments’ inaction on climate, Europe’s top human rights court rules in landmark case.

Robert Hinkley

In this interview (full transcript below), former corporate lawyer Robert Hinkley discusses the recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights Court (ECHR) in Strasbourg, where Switzerland was:

  1. held responsible for not doing enough to meet its international commitments to stopping global warming and climate change, and 
  2. ordered to rectify the situation, which the court characterised as a violation of human rights.

The ECHR is a body of the 46 member states European Council, comprised of the 27 member states of the European Union and 19 other countries.  The decision was 16 to one and should have far ranging impact not just in Europe, but elsewhere.   

Importantly, the court did not consider the effects of its decision on the economy thus giving human rights precedence to economic considerations. In effect, it said that Switzerland and all of the Council’s member states must meet their climate and human rights obligations regardless of the effect on the economy.  

This may seem odd after four decades or more of the world protecting the economy above all else but, when you think about it, it makes sense. The environment and human rights are just two things which should be protected from severe harm regardless of the effects on the economy. Another is the public health and safety. 

Robert Hinkley’s Code for Corporate Citizenship follows this principle:  We expect companies to make money, but they should never do so at the expense of severe damage to the environment or human rights.  

ABC News’ coverage of the court case – 9 minutes

The Waggle newsletter wrote:

In the first such international judgment last week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Switzerland’s failure to take timely action to prevent climate change violated the rights of its citizens. The case was brought by more than 2,000 women over the age of 64, who argued that their age and gender make them particularly vulnerable to heat waves and other impacts of global warming.

Court President Siofra O’Leary said in her decision that the Swiss government was unsuccessful in complying with its own greenhouse gas emissions targets and had failed to set a national carbon budget.

The ruling is expected to bolster efforts around the world to use human rights law to hold governments and the oil industry responsible for meeting climate goals, even though the court deemed two other related cases inadmissible.

“We are not made to sit in a rocking chair and knit,” Elisabeth Stern, a 76-year-old member of the KlimaSeniorinnen group that won the case, told BBC News. “Whatever we do now, we are not doing for ourselves, but for the sake of our children and our children’s children.”

→ Sydney Morning Herald – 10 April 2024:
Landmark court ruling finds Switzerland failed its citizens on climate change
“Europe’s top human rights court has ruled that the Swiss government had violated the human rights of its citizens by failing to do enough to combat climate change, in a decision that will set a precedent for future climate lawsuits.”

→ The Conversation – 12 April 2024:
Older Swiss women just set a global legal precedent for challenging their nation’s climate change policy
“The European Court of Human Rights has issued a groundbreaking ruling in a case between a group of Swiss women and their government. It found that Switzerland is in violation of the European convention on human rights for failing in its duties to combat climate change. The court also set out a path for organisations to bring further cases.”

→ The Guardian – 22 April 2024:
‘Children won’t be able to survive’: inter-American court to hear from climate victims
“Historic hearing will receive submissions from people whose human rights have been affected by climate change.”

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Living in The Time of Dying‘ is an unflinching look at what it means to be living in the midst of climate catastrophe and finding purpose and meaning within it. Recognising the magnitude of the climate crisis we are facing, independent filmmaker Michael Shaw, sells his house to travel around the world looking for answers. Pretty soon we begin to see how deep the predicament goes along with the systems and ways of thinking that brought us here.

Featured in this documentary are Professor of Sustainability and founder of the Deep Adaptation movement Jem Bendell, award winning journalist and author of “The End of Ice”, Dahr Jamail, Dharma teacher and author of ‘Facing Extinction’ Catherine Ingram and Stan Rushworth, a Native American Elder, teacher and author who brings an especially enlightening viewpoint to these questions.

While it becomes clear that catastrophic climate change is now inevitable it also opens up a whole new set of questions: How exactly did we arrive at this point? What new choices can we make now re how to live our lives and what actions make sense at this time. The people interviewed in the documentary, all highly regarded and well known spokespeople on the issue, argue it’s too late to stop what is coming but in no way is it too late to regain a renewed, life giving relationship with our selves and our world.

Professor Jem Bendell, founder of the Deep Adaptation movement, was recently in Byron Bay, Australia, as part of his world tour promoting his latest book “Breaking Together: A Freedom-loving Response to Collapse”. Michael Shaw had the honour of sitting down with him and interviewing him live with the local community.

In his talk in Byron Bay, Jem speaks about the dire state of the climate, facing and being transformed by despair, the clear shortcomings of transitioning to “renewables”, and many other things.

Climate Mental Health

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→ Listen to more climate- and sustainability related music on our Youtube Playlist

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Transcript of The Sustainable Hour no. 499

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General:
We are at the moment of truth, but we have a breakdown of trust.

The Sustainable Hour. For a green, clean, sustainable Geelong. The Sustainable Hour.

Anthony Gleeson:
The Sustainable Hour acknowledges the traditional owners on the land of which we meet, work, play and broadcast from, the Wadawurrung people. We pay respects to elders, past, present and those who will come. At The Sustainable Hour we take inspiration from the long history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activism and resistance in Australia and seek to amplify the voices of marginalised groups. We acknowledge there can be no climate justice until there is justice for all our Indigenous brothers and sisters. We know there is much for us to learn from the way they managed and nurtured the land for millennia before their land was stolen by the first white settlers.

Mik Aidt:
On Monday, it’s Earth Day. The 22nd of April. It’s like Mother’s Day. It’s that one day a year where we show Mother Earth a little bit of extra attention and care and love and respect. Of course, that’s if you want to. No one’s forced to do it, just like you’re not forced to do anything different on Mother’s Day.

This year’s Earth Day officially has the theme: ‘planet versus plastics’. So that’s about us as individuals, as businesses and as governments uniting around combating pollution. Because, you know, bioplastic has already been invented, right? We do have the kind of plastic that can be put in the compost. So why do we keep polluting the environment with plastic, which is produced from – and with – climate-wrecking fossil fuels?
That needs to change, and that change begins, you could say, on Monday, with this year’s Earth Day.

Earth Day is something that’s been happening for more than 50 years now. And it’s said to be mobilising over a billion people every year – everyone uniting around that we need to protect Planet Earth. All around the planet we are reminding each other that the climate emergency is real, and we need to start cooperating. We need change and new solutions.

And this year, I think… I would like to make a special acknowledgement to our young ones, in particular those in the age between 10 and 14 years old. I’d like to recognise and show respect that I have heard this research which showed that one in four Australian children in the age between 10 and 14 believe that the world will end before they grow up. Kids, I hear you! And I suggest that we dedicate both this year’s Earth Day celebration and this Earth Day warm-up sustainable hour here to these 10 to 14 year old Australians who believe the world will end before they grow up. Children are aware of the climate issues, unlike their parents often, and they are deeply concerned about the future of the planet. And they’re asking their parents these existential questions.
And which answers do they get then? I wonder. Something like this? 

Sky News host Caleb Bond
Keep driving your Toyota Prado, keep driving your turbo-powered car like mine. Do whatever the hell you want.

Mik Aidt:
Children out there, aged 10, 11, 13, 14… I fully understand your fears and your frustrations when you hear your parents and others in the media talk like that. Let’s not try and hide this under the carpet. Let’s talk about it openly, today, right here in The Sustainable Hour, the Sustainable Earth Hour. But first of all, let’s get the global perspective on what’s happening around the world as we speak. And to do that, we have Colin Mockett OAM, with us. Colin, you have the global outlook. 

Colin Mockett:
Yeah, thank you, Mik. My roundup today begins in Strasbourg in France, where the European Court of Human Rights last week delivered rulings in a group of landmark climate change cases aimed at making national governments meet treaty obligations to cut greenhouse emissions.

One of the three cases upheld a complaint by a group of 2,000 elderly Swiss women that their government had failed to properly oversee emissions, which violated their human rights, they claimed. The verdict marks the first time an international court has made such a ruling on climate change.

The group, which is called the Association of Swiss Senior Women for Climate Protection, called for a verdict and forecast their victory would inspire other groups. I would imagine right now our government is not too happy because they really get a lot of work, said one of the leaders whose name is Elizabeth Stern. She’d argued that older women were at particular risk of dying during heat waves, and they demanded a ruling that would slash fossil fuel emissions much faster than planned by the Swiss government. The judges agreed and ordered the Swiss government to put in place the relevant domestic regulatory framework.

A new analysis released last week by the international non-profit Influence Map revealed that from 2016 to 2022, 80 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions were produced by just 57 companies. They were named online in the think tank’s database, which was authored by some of the world’s top climate researchers. The report essentially names the companies that are driving the climate crisis and global warming. Historically, of the world’s top 122 polluters, 45 per cent are state-owned companies. The world’s number one source of carbon emissions is historically China’s state-run coal production companies, which account for 25 per cent of all global carbon emissions. State-owned fossil fuel production companies combined to spread more than 30,000 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 

Saudi Aramco accounted for more than 4 per cent of global emissions. Russia’s Gazprom admitted to more than 3 per cent, and Coal India also accounted for roughly 3 per cent. Among the investor-owned companies, oil producers ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron comprised the most carbon emissions historically, combining for more than 10 per cent of all emissions. They also accounted for the most since the Paris Agreement was signed, combining for roughly 5 per cent since 2016. 

And the report also shows that these entities are moving in a surprising direction. Since the Paris Agreement was signed, 58 of the top 100 carbon producing companies have actually increased their production. 

Closer to home, Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese last week unveiled our nation’s future strategies to combat climate change. It didn’t include a long list of projects like President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act did. Instead, he announced a number: $44 billion dollars. That’s how much the Albanese government will invest in green industries aimed at making Australia a leader in what would be a clean energy driven future. He didn’t name individual industries or projects, so as not to give the federal opposition room to nitpick, oppose and deny, which is their normal tactics. But the prime minister definitely heralded a move away from the market driven policies that have driven Australia’s government politics for the… well, at least this whole century so far. And he hinted that his government had more available climate future money yet to be rolled out. This could be as early as next month’s budget. 

Now in this regard, professor Ross Garnaut explained in a new book how Australia could become a renewable energy superpower, a nation that sells green energy to the world, embedded in products that are made cleanly here. The book he has edited – it’s called ‘The Superpower Transformation’ – points out that Australia currently contributes just 1 per cent of total carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere. Sure, we’re working to cut those emissions, as we’re bound to by the Paris Accord, but if we were to embed green energy into the products that the world needs as it decarbonises, we could reduce global emissions by up to 7 per cent. 

Professor Garnaut predicted that in a zero carbon world, energy intensive industries will be pushed to Australia. He said that Australia has both abundant mineral resources and space to make cheap clean energy to process them. For example, Chinese iron and steel production is currently the source of about 4 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions. But China is determined to reach net zero by 2060. Australia supplies about 60 per cent of China’s iron ore. Now, if that iron were processed in Australia using electricity and hydrogen from renewable rather than in China, using coal, global greenhouse gas emissions would fall by around 2 per cent – with just that one move. 

Similarly, says Garnaut, urea, that’s used in 90 per cent of the world’s agricultural fertilisers, is currently created using energy, space and carbon intensive processes. With a surplus of renewable energy, that could be produced much more cleanly in Australia for export. Now that thinking was what the Prime Minister’s billion-dollar announcement last week was really about. And that positive note ends my roundup for the week. 

Listen to our Sustainable Hour – for the future.

Mik Aidt:
So with us now we have Robert Hinkley, the lawyer – the climate warrior lawyer – who we invited to Geelong a year ago to speak about how we can change corporate law into something that would protect us all from climate change. Robert, so what’s your judgment on or what’s your take on this whole outcome of this court decision in Switzerland that we heard last week? 

Well, actually the court decision is in Strasbourg. It’s the European Court for Human Rights, which in this case had 17 sitting judges on it. And by a majority of 16 to one, they decided that the Swiss Confederation had not done enough to protect 2,000 elderly women from the effects of climate change, and they called that a violation of human rights.

In coming to that decision, they went through a lot of history of the global warming, climate change problem, and a lot of research had been put in by scientific experts. And they concluded that the Swiss government was dragging its feet and that something had to be done to change that, because if it continued, it was basically a violation of these women’s human rights. 

It’s a big decision. It’s a big decision for a number of reasons. One is that it’s from the European Court for Human Rights, whose decisions are binding not only on Switzerland, but on the 46 member states of the European Council, which includes all of the 27 members of the European Union and 19 other countries in Europe.

And if it can happen to Switzerland, which is a small country, which probably does relatively small damage to the environment in terms of the release of greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to global warming, well, then it can apply to almost every country. And it’s important because it threw out a lot of arguments about why a country shouldn’t take steps to protect its citizens from global warming.

One of which was, “We’re a very small country.” The court held that, yes, but Switzerland is a member of the European Council. It’s a signatory to the Paris and Copenhagen agreements. Those agreements are dependent upon countries living up to their obligations. Including Switzerland. So that knocked out the argument very quickly that Switzerland was just a small country that didn’t matter. And that, you know, you hear people say, “Well, we shouldn’t do anything in Australia, because China is the real problem here.” 

So I think the court’s reasoning was spot on, to tell you the truth. I mean, it was adopted by 16 of the judges on the court.

And it’s interesting for another reason. And the other reason is, I think, is that it’s the European Court for Human Rights. It was established to hold member nations to account for violations of human rights. And their decision was that by not stopping climate change, they were violating their citizens’ human rights. The interesting thing about this is there was no weighing of economic factors. This court is only considering whether there has been a violation of human rights. And if there has, something has to be done to change it. 

Now what the really interesting thing about that is, it’s not, “Well, you gotta weigh the pluses and minuses in terms of what the effect will be on the economy.” Human rights, in this case, are more important than the economy. And I would say, the environment is more important than the economy. And it’s a big step because the justice system is starting to realise that there are more important things in the economy, and people’s rights have to be protected with regard to the environment, with regard to human rights. I would say the public health and safety, the dignity of employees and the well-being of the communities in which we all live. All those things are really more important than the economy, or to put it another way: People can make money without damaging these things. And I think that’s a very important point. 

Mik Aidt:
So do you see this as a turning point in some way? 

Robert Hinkley:
I think it’s a huge turning point. It could be an evolutionary change. For the last 40 years, the world has operated on the basis of: “The most important issue in every election is the economy.” The thing that really matters is the economy. And finally, a court – an important court – has stepped up and said, “Well, that’s a bad strategy. That isn’t the way it should be. There are things that are more important in the economy, and the economy should live within restrictions that allow these things to be protected. You can make money and protect the environment at the same time.” 

Mik Aidt:
How do you feel about it? I know that you have been really a climate warrior in this field of courts and legislation and what we could do here in Australia, and so on. So how do you feel today? 

Robert Hinkley:
Well, it’s an interesting thing, because I learned about it while sitting with some friends at coffee in the morning. And I have to tell you, I’m a skeptic about litigation changing the world, because litigation tends to pertain just to the parties, and it’s not something that has broad effects across all of society usually. And often the plaintiffs in these types of cases win Pyrrhic victories. They win what appear to be victories, but they’re not really worth much. 

When I sat down and read the 183-page decision, it completely changed my mind. I went, “Whoa! this is something!” I didn’t, I have to say, I didn’t know the European Court on Human Rights existed. In truth, it’s existed since 1959. But I don’t know if there’s ever been a case like this to come before it, where so much was at stake.

I think it’s a great thing that Switzerland was the defendant only because, you know, we don’t think of the Swiss as terrible polluters or creating climate change. But even Switzerland has to play ball here. I think if Switzerland is the country that leads us out of this problem of basically being subservient to the economy on climate change, they’ll get a huge star. They will be given credit for doing the right thing, passing legislation that limits greenhouse gas emissions, and taking the lead and showing other countries that the economy doesn’t always have to come first. Actually, human rights and the environment should come first, at least to the point of not… – business not ever causing these things serious harm.

Mik Aidt:
When we speak about human rights, this is a celebration for humanity as such, you know, being human beings on this planet, we’re suddenly now having the court system protecting us.

Robert Hinkley:
Well, it did in this instance. It did in this instance, and that’s why I changed my mind very quickly once I’d read the decision about this being an important case. I say it applies to 46 countries, but it only applies to 46 countries. It’s not going to apply to Canada and it’s not going to apply to the United States and it’s not going to apply to Australia, China, Japan or Russia. At least not at first. But if Switzerland can figure out a way to do it, and the other 46 countries of the European Council can figure out a way to do it, then Russia, China, America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia are not going to be far behind. And in fact, in some ways, Australia is already leading in some of these things. 

Mik Aidt:
Doesn’t it also mean something that lawyers around the world, including in Australia, will be looking to this court ruling and then saying, “This has changed the story. We now can read from these 183 pages the kind of story that we need to tell in our court!” – next time there’s some sort of a case. Like we have this Duty of Care case: first there was a judgment on that and then they were rejected. Maybe these 183 pages up there from the European court would help the next court case in the Australian context. Or what do you think? 

Robert Hinkley:
I think it definitely will. I think the duty of care case was an example of why. When I was sitting at coffee, I sort of poo-pooed the fact that there’d been this decision in Strasbourg against Switzerland, because I don’t think that Duty of Care case was addressed to the right people. I don’t think there should be a duty of care in government, although I’m not going to argue against there being a duty of care. 

I think the important part is there should be a duty of care with the big corporations, the people that are actually causing the problem. Their directors should be told that they should never allow their company to continue causing severe harm to the environment in the form of significant emissions of greenhouse gases creating climate change. 

And in fairness, I know Senator Pocock has a bill in Canberra, but again, I think it’s addressed to the wrong people. I think rather than addressing it to politicians and saying they need a duty of care, I think the duty of care has to be to corporate directors.

But the concepts are there. All of a sudden, people are thinking, here’s two things that are more important than profits. Or to put it another way, we can have profits. There’s nothing wrong with profits as long as they don’t come at the expense of these two things. And that’s essentially what my Code for Corporate Citizenship says. 

Mik Aidt:
So what would your advice be to CEOs in Australia who understand what’s going on, but who are reluctant to do anything because, you know, we don’t have to, and there’s no legislation and so on, so they’re just sort of sitting on the fence? 

Robert Hinkley:
Well, that’s a good question. But I can tell you, if you’re a director of a big company that’s emitting a lot of greenhouse gases and you have billions of dollars invested in the facilities and technology that are emitting those greenhouse gases while creating profits for you, you’re not going to write off those investments. You’re not going to stop doing what you’re doing when the law doesn’t say you have to. 

And it’s great that this court in Strasbourg has decided that the Europeans have to, but that doesn’t apply to us, right? And that’s why we need something like the Code for Corporate Citizenship which would amend section 181 of the Australian Corporate Law, the Companies Act, that Companies Act now says that directors have to always act in the best interest of their company. 

If we added the words, but not at the expense of severe damage to human rights or the environment, then you would get them to make changes. Because they would have to make changes because now they have a duty to protect those things. But until they have that duty, it’s going to be very hard for them to make the decision to write off billions of dollars of investment simply because a court, even an important court like the European Court for Human Rights which has issued this opinion. 

Mik Aidt:
Well, you could say that it’s their duty to protect their stakeholders, the people who are invested in their company?

Robert Hinkley:
Well, under existing law, they think the only thing their shareholders care about is making money, because that’s the way the law works. If they were told by parliament passing the Code for Corporate Citizenship that not only did they have to make money for their shareholders, but they had to do it in a way that did not cause severe harm to the environment or human rights, they’d figure out a way to do it. In fact, they’re figuring out a way every day. There’s more and more solar and wind going up in Australia. Battery technology is getting better, and the storage capacity is being built. It’s just a matter of how fast they’re going to do it. And unless they’re spurred on to do it more quickly, they’ll drag it out and try to avoid having to write off that investment as long as possible.

Jingle [music]

Jem Bendell:
Climate change is speeding up. Our emissions are also speeding up. No matter what we’ve been doing, carbon dioxide emissions from humans have been going up since 1850 every year, and at an increasing rate. So often I’ve read about, “This is going to be really bad for our children,” or grandchildren or “This is going to be really bad for particularly vulnerable communities in poor countries”, perhaps living in hurricane zones or whatever.
And then I actually realised that this was going to damage our own lives. When I say “our own”, I mean… I am living a Western, middle class life – that this is coming for me and people like me in my lifetime. So we’re going to need to be much more public about that there’s difficulty ahead. So the message has to become:

Millions of people are suffering right now. It’s worse than we were told. We are now in danger. We must do all that we can to try and slow the problem down. But we must now also do all that we can to help each other through this. And it’s that final bit which is not being said publicly yet. 

Anthony Gleeson:
Very heavy stuff from Jem Bendel there. Truth-telling, which is something that we absolutely believe in. And our next guest today is Michael Shaw. Now, Michael was so concerned about climate that he decided to do research, and a culmination of that research, in a lot of ways I think, is a film, ‘Living in the Time of Dying’. So, Michael, welcome to The Sustainable Hour. Thanks for coming on.

Michael Shaw:
Thanks, Tony. 

Anthony Gleeson:
Yeah, you certainly took this seriously. You sold your house to make the film. So, can you take us through that – the thinking involved in that? 

Michael Shaw:
Ha-ha. Yeah, look, when I first understood that we’re heading into collapse and there’s really nothing we can do to stop it, it made me really consider my spiritual values and what do I want my life to mean? What do I want to do? What’s important to me? 

Catherine Ingram also speaks in that film, Living in the Time of Dying, about that it’s like living in hospice with a healthy body. So I was really like, “Okay, what’s my life about? I need to do something,” and this is what has been… – it sort of came in a meditation retreat, to be honest, to do that, to make that documentary. And then it was just like: whatever I have to do to make it. So it wasn’t sort of super considered. It was more like: “I just have to do this.” And I know that there’s people all over climate related issues following that kind of impulse of “I just HAVE to do this”. “I just have to say that”. “I just have to turn up in this way”. And that was me listening to the Earth and doing what I was told. 

Mik Aidt:
And what did the Earth tell you? And I’m also thinking, because this was some years ago – so what has developed since you made the film?

Michael Shaw:
It was a very clear instruction to make a documentary. And you’ve got to understand I’m not a documentary maker. That wasn’t coming out of my usual run of what I might… So it was very unusual, very clear… I mean, look, if I say it’s an instruction, that sounds trippy, doesn’t it? I don’t mean it to sound trippy. It’s just like I knew I had to make the documentary. So it’s like, what the hell does that mean? And, you know, so it rolled out from there. 

And of course that is about four years ago, maybe a bit longer, since I started making that. And of course, you know, I’ve done a lot of work since then with people like Steven Jenkinson, Carolyn Baker, Francis Weller, dealing with grief and the journey through despair, the sort of psychological elements of how we face this. 

And recently I had some time with Andrew Harvey, and Andrew Harvey says: ‘Look, there’s two things that could be going on right now. We don’t know what’s what. One is climate-driven collapse that is the end of the human species. That’s human extinction. The other is climate-driven collapse that somehow gives rise to a new type of humanity living in a different type of way.’ And I can’t tell what’s what. I hope for one, but I can’t tell what’s what.

Colin Mockett:
Michael, you touched on earlier that you felt spiritually driven to sell your house to make the money to make this film, which is essentially an instructional film about how the planet is being destroyed by human global warming. That’s now… what? Five years down the track, bearing in mind that it took you a while to make the film anyway. I’m assuming that you still haven’t got a house – you must be renting? But how do you feel now with the knowledge that your film is out there? It’s available on the net, it’s available on YouTube, I do believe, and the problem is still there, and mounting. 

Michael Shaw:
Yes, look, like… you know, I’m going to give you an honest answer. When I made the doco, I had no idea that even people would watch it. So you ended up winning sort of six awards, you know, actually more, but I’ve only got six up there, and it’s had 550,000 views. If I’d known that I might’ve put a dollar charge on it. Ha-ha. But I didn’t know it then. 

When you say it’s an instructional film. For me, it was a spiritual film, because really, I was spending a lot of time with Catherine Ingram then who’s a Dharma teacher. And I was going through my own kind of spiritual wrangling with what this was. And I had a close, very close friendship with her for a couple of years. And as I came out of that, I thought, oh, it’s important that we create a spiritual holding for people to come into this realisation with some way to bear witness and to… You know, the despairing journey is important. I think it was important for me. I had a big despair journey before I came out in that documentary, but people lighting the way on the journey of despair, if you like, to let people know that it’s OK, you can go there and you can emerge. You can find purpose from that. We don’t need to cling to hope, hope, hope, hope, hope. We can fall. We can see clearly. We can emerge. We can create. We can join in a community. It’s a passage.

And so I was trying to describe a passage as a spiritual instruction. That’s what I was trying to do. 

Mik Aidt:
So you’ve kept the connection with Jem Bendell, haven’t you? Because we saw the two of you together on stage in Byron Bay just a couple of weeks ago?

Michael Shaw:
Yes. Look, I feel very blessed. One of the blessings of the film is I count Jem as a friend. Dahr is a very good friend – Dahr Jamail from the film. Catherine is a friend. Stan, the Native American elder, much harder to, you know… he’s much more protected. But if I contacted Stan, I feel sure he would respond. But I feel lucky to have the friends in this field that I do. Yeah. 

Mik Aidt:
Jem has also been on a journey since I heard him speak last time. I think we should just listen to a little clip of what he told you and the audience in Byron Bay.

Jem Bendell:
If I understand despair as a state of massive grief and sadness and a sense of, “I don’t know what to do and nothing makes sense anymore and therefore there’s no energy in me to get up and do anything.” So the way that despair can then become even clinical depression. If you’re thinking about that, then in that state you’re unlikely to go out and campaign against a coal mine, or do something according to whatever might be the plan to reduce impact in the world.

What I’ve understood is that people don’t stay in that state for that long. And when they come out of that state, they can either go into reconstructing self, like ego affirmation, identity affirmation – you just go back and you adopt stories that make you numb and tougher to reality.

But there’s also another way of responding, which… I know so many people have responded this way, and maybe Michael, you can speak to this, where that despair is transformative and has a positive disintegration of their old priorities, identity, worldview and they become radicalised. 

It seems that’s what happened to so many people who then joined and led Extinction Rebellion: that the despair was a dark place for them, but then they emerged with a different set of priorities and a commitment to truth, courageous truth and love. 

And if we’re talking about social change, then we also need to talk about political change and how that happens. And that doesn’t happen by us, in our jobs or private lives, staying positive and recycling and shopping differently and investing differently, and so on. I actually see it might be more powerful if more of us hit rock bottom and become revolutionaries as a result. Because I see it as a revolutionary moment. And I see a lot of people are hitting rock bottom with nothing to do with climate, but because of the implications of this. 

I’ll give you one stat that I learned the other day. In the UK, four out of 10 young parents have skipped a meal in order to feed their kids last year. So there are people who are fucking angry and so they should be, and so let’s just connect with that.

So I don’t want to see this as just an environmental topic over here that we need to stay positive about. 

If you recognise that modern societies are breaking down, then that is a fundamental condemnation of the entire culture and systems that destroyed life on Earth and fucked everything up. And therefore we should be angry and therefore we should hit despair and therefore we can emerge in a new way. So it should be fundamentally radicalising, and for so many people it is. 

The other thing I would say on this issue of motivation and agency and activism and how we change things is that there is research on it. And so many of the mainstream environmentalists who say “We must stay optimistic, positive, give people hope,” are not basing that on analysis, on psychology or political science. They’re saying it as a projection. They’re saying it because they’re scared of their own despair and they’re avoiding it. 

And why do I say that? That sounds a bit judgmental. Because I’ve met these people, and I was one of them. And I keep meeting these people, they’re the confident leaders in environmentalism and climate action. And it’s like, they don’t want to go there because they don’t want to experience despair. So they keep saying, “I need to keep you all happy and positive.”

Michael Shaw:
Yeah, I mean, I think everything he said was really true, wasn’t it? And there is this, you know, when you recognise that the culture that we’re living in is coming down and that we are potent humans with agency, and we go through that despair channel, something else comes up and maybe it doesn’t care about the house that I own. Maybe it doesn’t care about my superannuation, or my holidays to Greece. Maybe it changes to: How are we going to protect this community when we may not have electricity? How are we going to provide food if there’s food shortages, because transportation breaks down – or there’s crop failures because of heat? 

So we ask a different type of question. And if that’s radicalising, then it’s going back to a way of communal care, which, you know, which everyone wants to label – not everybody, sort of the mainstream press – wants to label as ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’, you know, which is essentially how we care about our community and put the community ahead of individuality. I mean, if that’s radicalising, then bring it on, you know, for heaven’s sakes. 

Mik Aidt:
Michael, what would you say to these 25 per cent of young kids in the age between 10 and 14 who are in that despair, it would appear, here in Australia? That’s a massive amount of kids. 25 per cent of kids in the age between 10 and 14, according to a new survey that came out, are in this stage of thinking that they don’t have a world to grow up in. They don’t think there will be a world when they become adults. 

Michael Shaw:
It doesn’t surprise me, to be totally honest. I mean, it’s hard to hear, isn’t it? But it doesn’t surprise me. I mean, Stephen Jenkinson, when he was talking about this said, “Look, if you want to be friends with the young people, tell them what they want to hear. If you want their respect, tell them the truth.” So we’re living… Our culture is based on… I know it’s an obvious thing to say, it’s probably been said a hundred times on this show, but: Our culture is based on infinite growth on a finite planet, and based around fossil fuel use, which is a very finite resource. So this world that we’re living in will not be the same. It cannot be the same. 

Now, whether there’s no world, whether there’s no survivors – or some survivors, I don’t know that. But this current iteration of global human culture is not hanging around for very long, I don’t believe. So they can feel a change coming. Maybe they think there’s no world, but, I don’t know the answer to that, but I think they’re probably seeing straight, straighter than a lot of older people, to be honest.

Colin Mockett:
Well, there’s a couple of things about that, Michael. That survey was taken in Tasmania, and it might tell you something about the state of education in Tasmania. I’m pretty sure that the conservative side of politics would point the finger very firmly at the teachers of the children who are that way. But, an optimist would look at that survey and say that those children in two elections time will be voting. And they will be voting not for the status quo. They will be, if you like, providing your revolution.

Michael Shaw:
Yeah. Yeah. And it’s interesting, you know, just going back to that word, because one of the guys that was in the audience and who’s also a professor up this way, Jean Renouf, he is French, and he didn’t like the term revolution because in his culture, they know what it meant. They experienced it, and it was not better than what had been before. It was just a blood-letting chaos time. And I hope we don’t have to go through that. I’m not in favour of that type of revolution.

SONG: Formidable Vegetable Sound System: ‘Climate Movement’

I believe we all came to be here for a reason
To acknowledge the seniors, everything has a season
This season is warm, but it’s bringing a storm
And a burning urge for our journey to transform
But held in our hand at this grave intersection
Is a map of the passage for a clearer direction
To a permanent culture, it’s time we began it
With some wise design to realign with the planet
Share skills to rebuild our combined reliance
And with wild guidance, redesign our diets
Befriend energy descent and the changing climate
To grow forests of food and a finer environment

Permaculture at this tumultuous juncture
Is a superstructure that can plug the puncture
In a society of anxiety, confusion and greed
This really may be one solution we need
To bring back our elementary essence of ethics
And walk an Earth Care, People Care, Fair Share epic
Now’s the time to embed it while the temperature’s tepid
Let us rise as a choir beside the people who get it
To guarantee that our future generations lives
Are provided the conditions they require to thrive
Instead of being deprived of the tools to survive
In a biosphere too defiled to revive

So we invite you now to amplify the synergy
Devise an inspired distinctive soliloquy
Combining with like-minds in adaptable symphony
Of radical simplicity, balance and symmetry
Whatever your ability, we need your assistance
In aid of reclaiming a stable existence
So summon your gifts at this critical hour
And deliver wherever they move and empower

Michael Shaw:
OK, if you get that it’s happening, what now? How then do we travel? And what are you? What’s your inner instruction? You know, that old quote from Stephen Jenkinson, we’re born into troubled times. Consider it an affliction or consider it an assignment. So what’s your assignment? Where are we going? These are the questions that I’m involved with. And so then if people want to attack my position on cultural collapse, civilisational collapse because of climate change. It’s just like I could be bothered having that and reaching in to pull those facts out. I can barely be bothered. 

Mik Aidt:
So, Michael, let’s talk about how we then travel and your advice, because we have Earth Day coming, the annual event on Monday, which is a time for raising the flag for the Earth. Yes. And having suddenly some sort of a coming together around protecting life on this planet. How do we do it? How do we travel? 

Michael Shaw:
Well, look, you’re talking to me. I’m going to bring in one aspect of it. And I’m not saying this is the only thing that should happen. But what is since 1970, what have we lost? 65 per cent of biodiversity, invertebrate life on the planet, about the same, if not more of the insects chopping down forests, polluting the water. Right. We got CO2 and we know all these problems, right? Part of Earth Day to me should be a grief vigil. We should really take stock of this is the harm this culture has done and is doing. We should take stock in that way. So I think grief and despair, as I said, is very, very important to a new emerging – and to Earth Day.

Anthony Gleeson:
For me, what does grief rituals involve? It’s a big thing for me in all of this. It’s not defeatist. It’s saying, this is what’s happening and let’s work together as a community and work our way through it. 

Michael Shaw:
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, you know, great, Tony. I mean, I think we follow what we’re told to do, right? That’s it. There’s a million ways to walk on the path.

Colin Mockett:
Michael, it’s been a long journey for you since you made that decision to sell your house and create a film with the hope that that film would change things. What sort of space are you in at the moment, physically and mentally? I’m assuming that you are working and that you are renting because you haven’t got the house anymore. The decision to make a film on the environment and the destruction of the environment, what personal cost did that have for you? 

Michael Shaw:
I’d rather look at the gifts. You know, I can… I could, you know, I wish I had my house back. Right? But so many doors have opened after that film. I mean, I’m talking to you guys. This would not be happening if I had not made that film. I’ve just been down helping them run a weekend down in Dorrigo a few hours south of here and they were having a community gathering around it. I get asked into things and the film was often used as an entrance to conversation. 

So, one of the guys down there, Andrew Harvey, who’s a spiritual teacher and… I don’t know if you know Andrew Harvey, but he’s a, you know, he, he translated Rumi amongst other things. And now, he is big on the arisal of joy from this journey of despair. And he is like, I would call him like a ‘collapse ecstatic’, right? So he’s up on some other planet, but kind of … real mastery of something in there that makes him very unusual.

I am not in that place. I think I sometimes touch incredible inspiration, joy, openness, surrender, like, you know, deep surrender, like, life is doing life. I’m just this tiny little speck here on this planet, in this universe. I surrender, right? And then sometimes I just feel incredibly sad, incredibly angry. I can’t claim a steady state yet after all this time.

I’m glad that I get to speak about this. I’m glad that I think there’s… My sister is dying right now with cancer, and she’s in this very similar space that I meet myself. It’s like, “What does it all mean? What did my life mean? How I’m never going to fix these things?”, these things that, you know, there’s not enough time to do this and that. So how do I surrender and give way and see and be in joy and relaxation as my income? And so this is a journey, and it’s bigger than me and I do my best. And I love that I made the film. That’s a highlight of my life. You know, I can die easier when the time comes having made that film. So what else to say? 

Mik Aidt:
Michael, sorry to hear about your sister, really. I think, in our age, we all of us have friends who are suffering in one way or the other with either cancer or death. On my Facebook page, I wrote – this was 15 years ago – I wrote a quote from [Apple co-founder] Steve Jobs who also died from cancer. He said in a speech to some young people: “Remembering that you’re going to die is the best way that I know to avoid the trap of thinking that you have something to lose. You are already naked. There’s no reason not to follow your heart.”

And why I love that quote is because he speaks about, I think, what you also talked with Jem Bendell about, in Byron Bay, the freedom that it also gives you, the freedom that comes with acknowledging that, yes, we live in a moment of dying, or a moment of collapse, but we also have freedom to live more fully and in the moment, seizing the day. 

Michael Shaw:
It’s so… look, that’s it! I mean, I just want to say one last story to finish up on that point that you’re making. Dahr Jamail, who is in my film, when I interviewed him in Port Townsend, his house was very collapse ready, you know, growing all this food, people living there. There’s a little community of people there. He picked the right environment, you know, the right place in America, he thought that would be where most likely to be successfully survive for a limited amount of time. So he recently sold that house and he’s gone to live in New Mexico, which is already in drought, and is one of the first places that’s going to be hit the hardest. And “Why? What’s going on, Dahr?” It’s like, “I was told, you know. That’s where I was told I had to go, you know, that’s where I’m going. I’ve got connections there. That’s where I need to be.” So like, what type of freedom is that? 

Mik Aidt:
That’s right. And I’ll tell you something that I would tell the young people in Tasmania who are in despair over the future. And I say this to my own children, they’re teenage kids as well. You know, I think there’s a lot of evidence that a good life is not a life without problems. A good life is a life with good problems that you are solving. And if you have that attitude when you enter that world of collapse, that world of climate problems, as you say, go down to New Mexico where the drought is and start helping, start being part of a solution, even if it’s just local. That is where the real qualities in life come up, especially if we are able to do that in a community. That’s what it means to be a human being. 

Michael Shaw:
Exactly. Thank you, Mik. You know, when we transfer what it means to be a human being – our status and our money and jobs – to like, “What am I doing for humans? What’s my deeper role here?” You know, this is an incredible invitation, isn’t it? It’s a horrible invitation, but it’s an incredible one.

Anthony Gleeson:
And you meet some amazing people along the way that that joy and it’s like it’s contagious and we feed off each other.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And we need each other for that. Absolutely. Depressing as all get out, isn’t it? Yeah. Look after each other. Colin? 

Colin Mockett:
Yeah, I was thinking it means that your life ends with a full stop and you will be happy in that you did contribute positively to the life of others and the planet.

Michael Shaw:
Yeah, so it’s a cultural revolution, isn’t it?

Colin Mockett:
It is. It’s a social revolution without marching in the streets. It’s a complete rethink of a whole lot of individual people.

Anthony Gleeson:
Let’s not discount marching in the street too though.

Michael Shaw:
I hope you’re going to say you’ve just been in court over XR, Tony. I hope you’re going to say that.

Anthony Gleeson:
Yeah, I’ve got two really dear friends that are in jail at the moment because such is their concern about the climate crisis we face. And they would claim that we’re not heroes, but that shows our concern. That’s their way of protesting about the whole system, which is reinforced by the court system that’s there to intimidate us.

And there’s so many positive signs, like the court case that was referred to earlier in today’s show, the women, the courageous, 2,000 courageous women in Switzerland that took litigation against their government and the 16 of the 17 judges agreed with that and said that the government has to live the way they work. So that’s going to reverberate all over the world. There’s no way that Australia… It doesn’t apply, it doesn’t have precedence in Australia, but that is going to reverberate – that decision. And judges will be asked, “Well, don’t people matter as much here?”

Colin Mockett:
It’s going to give hearts to so many people around the world. Absolutely were disheartened by the politics of their individual countries.

Anthony Gleeson:
And the really sad thing is that it’s going to take more people dying, more destruction, to get where we need to be. That’s really sad… because it’s so preventable. 

Mik Aidt:
So on Monday, it’s Earth Day. And I can tell you what I will be doing because I have prepared for Earth Day in my own little way. I will be raising the flag for the Earth because I actually have a flag. It’s called the Blue Dot flag and we’ve talked about it in The Sustainable Hour earlier. But more than that, I have raised a flagpole in my garden and I have created a little ritual that I’m going to perform on Monday. And I’ve taken now the inspiration from you, Michael, as well – of the element of grief, and adding that to what I’m intending to do, which is, first of all, to have that moment of silence to reflect on our responsibility to all life on the planet, and how we will be more aware of our responsibility every day, every single day in the future. So it’s not just on Earth Day that we have this sort of recognition of our relationship with the planet, but we have it every morning when we wake up.

And by raising that flag, I send a signal out to my neighbourhood: today is Earth Day and this is something we can be together around. I think flags have that power. In Denmark, we raise the flag when someone has a birthday. And then when they die, it goes on half. So the flags are really important. They state these big moments in the beginning of life and at the end of life. So I truly believe in the power of a flag and that we take a moment out on a day like Earth Day to do something that is different. 

We could be reading a poem, we could be talking about indigenous culture and the importance of that. There’s so many things that we could do on that day. And it doesn’t have to be out in the community as such, you can do it in your own backyard.

Anthony Gleeson:
Mik, seeing as next week is our 500th show, why don’t we incorporate that? Why don’t we all of us be at your place and go through that ritual at the start of the program?

Mik Aidt:
I’m happy to do that. Yeah. Michael, do you have a last sort of a we are on our way out of the program, as you can hear. Do you have a last remark that you would like to give our listeners and the kids in Tasmania?

Michael Shaw:
The Earth is a beautiful planet and it’s a profound gift to be living on this beautiful planet. And thank you for your work in the way you protect it and honour it. And may everybody hear their instruction to do the same.

Jingle [morse code signalling form the Second World War]

Mik Aidt:
The more we talk into this, I do believe that we seriously need to reconsider the way we have ended the program for 10 years now. We’ve done 499 shows of ending with saying “Be the difference”. But really what we need to be is not so much being the difference, but being together. And first of all, as you have talked about, Michael, be courageous.

Anthony Gleeson:
Be courageous! That’s what is needed.

Colin Mockett:
Yeah, I’ll go along with that. I’m also very much of the opinion that there is an impetus that has begun and has started and can only grow from where we are. And look, I’m very pleased to feel that I’m part of it. And those who haven’t yet joined will be regretting it in the future, but they will join too, because the impetus can only grow. I mean, you can get the idea from when you look at the number of electric cars on the road compared to what there were two years ago. You get the idea from the number of solar panels on people’s roofs. We’re not talking about it, but that impetus is only going in one direction – and it isn’t going to stop and turn back. So I’m delighted to be part of the impetus, and I would throw another one in and say, “Keep the impetus going”.

Mik Aidt:
Keep the impetus going.

Anthony Gleeson:
Courageously. And be courageous about it.

SONG: (Short excerpt)
Lil Dicky: ‘Earth’

We love the Earth. It is our planet.
We love the Earth. It is our home.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Events we have talked about in The Sustainable Hour

Events in Victoria

The following is a collation of Victorian climate change events, activities, seminars, exhibitions, meetings and protests. Most are free, many ask for RSVP (which lets the organising group know how many to expect), some ask for donations to cover expenses, and a few require registration and fees. This calendar is provided as a free service by volunteers of the Victorian Climate Action Network. Information is as accurate as possible, but changes may occur.



List of running petitions where we encourage you to add your name

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