MESSAGE TO COUNCILLORS:
Leadership, responsibility, integrity
The three key words in the discussion about whether or not Geelong Council should declare a climate emergency are: leadership, responsibility and integrity.
Former Liberal leader Dr John Hewson put it this way – about the similar discussion which is currently taking place in the Australian Parliament in Canberra:
“MPs and senators should have a conscience vote on the emergency declaration so that individual members of parliament can be held personally accountable by their constituents, their children and their grandchildren, indeed by all future generations, for the stance they took on the greatest economic, social, political and moral challenge of this century.”
~ Dr John Hewson, former leader of the Liberal Party
To Geelong’s councillors we say: This may well be the most important decision you make in your career as a Councillor, and yes, you too will be held personally accountable by us, your constituents, by our children and grandchildren, indeed by all future generations, for the stance you take on the 24th of September, when the motion to declare a climate emergency is tabled in front of you in the City Hall chambers.
Dr Hewson is right: On that night, you will be making a decision on what is the greatest economic, social, political and moral challenge of this century. We hope you will consider carefully to make the right decision.
→ AAP/7News – 11 September 2019:
Old Liberal leader joins climate emergency
“John Hewson wants the coalition to give its MPs a conscience vote on declaring a climate emergency.”
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“Get behind the community”
On 11 September 2019, Mark Parnell MLC moved a motion calling on members of South Australian Parliament to declare that we are facing a climate emergency. He said:
“In South Australia on Friday 20 September, thousands of students and their supporters will go on strike. They are not striking for less homework or for more pocket money, they are striking for something far more important. They are striking for their future. They are striking, also, for the future of the other 7½ billion people who share this planet, and they are striking for the future of the untold millions of species, ecosystems and environments that make up this wonderful planet of ours. They are striking for action on climate change.
The School Strike 4 Climate rally in Victoria Square at midday will have a very clear message for our political leaders. They want real action on climate change and they want it now. Many of them, of course, are too young to vote, but many of them will still be here at the turn of the next century in the year 2100, so what we do or do not do now is critical to their survival and their wellbeing.
This motion invites the Legislative Council to declare that we are facing a climate emergency. This is a motion that the Greens will be moving in federal and state parliaments around Australia in coming months. And we are not the only ones. The momentum for a climate emergency declaration is building around the world. It is coming from students, it is coming from local councils, workers, residents’ groups and from business leaders and professional associations.
Last week, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) released a statement under the banner: AMA Formally Recognises Climate Change as a Health Emergency. The statement does not pull its punches. It says:
Climate change will cause higher mortality and morbidity from heat stress.
Climate change will cause injury and mortality from increasingly severe weather events.
Climate change will cause increases in the transmission of vector-borne diseases.
Climate change will cause food insecurity resulting from declines in agricultural outputs.
Climate change will cause a higher incidence of mental ill-health.
The statement continues:
These effects are already being observed internationally and in Australia. There is no doubt that climate change is a health emergency.
This motion calls on the Legislative Council to get behind the experts and to get behind the community. Listen to the AMA. Listen to the students, and listen to climate scientists who have been warning us for years that the climate emergency is real and that the time for action is now.”
→ You can read Mark Parnell’s full speech here
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An unprecedented crisis requires unprecedented solutions
The most perplexing challenge of all about the climate crisis is that we need to act on something before the problem occurs. The normal pattern would be: disaster happens, then we act. And afterwards, we discuss. The climate crisis requires of us to get our acts together in the reverse order.
Due to vested interests and a natural conservatism in society, there is direct resistance to addressing the challenge. Instead of accepting what the climate scientists are telling us, and instead of responding to it as we do in many other circumstances, where scientists have told us we have a problem, we’re engaged in an endless discussion about which stories we believe in.
This is why we are facing an emergency. Words will be defining whether or not we manage to solve the issue in time. When you can see the emergency staring you in the face, you know you have to do something. But what if you can’t see it? What if it is invisible to you unless you have the scientist’s measurements and graphs to give evidence that we are in trouble? Then we need our use of the words we have to describe the seriousness of the situation.
The question is not, “Why should we declare a climate emergency if we can’t see it?”. They right question is, “How do we make action on the climate emergency relevant to people’s lives before it turns into an emergency?”
This is where Geelong Council’s declaration will – or would – make a huge difference, because it resets and rewrites our shared story about where we are at.
Our shared humanity
“Business first, environment later” has been the accepted basis for governments’ policy making and industries’ operations for decades.
“Whether human civilisation stays intact amidst all this worsening weather depends on recognising our shared humanity – and designing policy accordingly,” Kate Aronoff wrote in The Guardian under the headline, “How much destruction is needed for us to take climate change seriously?”
The Australian government, however, is guided by the fossil fuel industry, and it has wilfully been misguiding the rest of us by repeatedly stating that whatever we do to slash emissions as individuals, as businesses, local or state governments, and even as the federal Parliament, doesn’t matter, because in the bigger scheme of things, our emissions are insignificant.
This is a flawed argument. If everyone said, “I’m not going to keep my property clean, because I’ve seen many others who don’t,” how would our cities look? Of course we all have a responsibility to do our bit, at every level.
This begins when a City Council begins to call a spade a spade, and inform us that is now an indisputable fact that the threat of what is coming requires our attention and action at a speed and scale that is unprecedented.
The only reason just a minority in society has picked up the call for action so far, is because we are being told by our leaders, those people we always thought we could trust, that it doesn’t matter and we shouldn’t even care. The science has been drowned out by polemics, which, by the way, has been a deliberate tactic by those industries that profit from protecting their polluting business model.
So what we lack is honesty. We lack honest leaders at local government level who are that close to their fellow citizens that they can look the teenagers of this city in their eyes when they walk out from their schools on one strike after another.
Why this is not ’empty words’
The vote in Geelong Council chambers on 24 September on whether or not do declare a climate emergency is the time for the Mayor and Councillors to speak up against those demoralising myths and instead place themselves among those who lead the way towards clarity on the science and unity behind the need to act, and to find money to support it too.
Radio host Tom Elliot critisised the Surf Coast Shire Council’s climate emergency declaration for being nothing but “virtue-signalling”, and in Geelong Advertiser, Peter Moore supported this argument in a letter titled “Empty words and no plan.”
But really, that argument can be turned upside down.
As we look for ways to tackle the climate and ecological breakdown, we find ourselves confronted with this wicked problem that this is an emergency not everyone can see right in front of themselves. The sky might be blue, and music still plays on the radio as if nothing is wrong.
Outside our windows, it is all peaceful – yet. It is only if you understand the science, and if you follow the news very closely, that you understand how bad it already is and how our collective behaviour is triggering irreversible tipping points in nature around us – with devastating consequences.
Possibly the most wicked problem with the climate crisis is that this is a crisis that must be solved before it hits us. Which is now – and in the next decade. This is what makes it so frightening and dangerous to the younger generations, because they can see it isn’t happening. They observe, year by year, how the emissions graphs keep rising, and rising, and rising.
The youth knows we need everyone on board – the “shared humanity”. Everyone must take action if we are to stop our emissions of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and even to begin draw down some of all that heat-producing carbon we have put up there. How are we ever going to succeed in doing that if we don’t use the proper words to communicate how dire the situation is?
Shifting ‘the story’
Strong words are needed. You can call it ‘virtue-signalling’ if you want. I’d suggest to simply call it ‘signalling’. We are signalling now that there is an emergency coming our way. And we are talking about a problem here that is going to hit the children harder than it will hit their parents.
Declaring that there is a climate emergency is to send a clear signal to the likes of Peter Moore, Tom Elliot, Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt – letting these gentlement know, politely, that we are dismiss their jokes and their fake storytelling. We now say with confidence to the community that these men can’t be trusted. We declare officially that we listen to the science – and consequently we now start responding to the scientists’ warnings in adequate and responsive ways.
“Whether human civilisation stays intact depends on recognising our shared humanity…”
Declaring a climate emergency is to be saying “Yes, we recognise and acknowledge that shared humanity, and we include our city’s community in it, as we now link ourselves up to a movement of 1,000 other councils that similarly have declared a climate and ecological emergency, representing 222 million people.”
On one side of the table we sit together with the United Nations General-Secretary Antonio Guterres, Pope Francis, Sir David Attenborough, Prince Harry, Prince Charles, Jacinda Ardern, Greta Thunberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford, Leonardo diCaprio, the scientists of NASA, CSIRO, BOM and many many others, who ask us and work for – as the Pope has formulated it – that we must abandon fossil fuels.
On the other side of the table sits these shock-jocks of Australia who think this all is a joke, a Greens conspiracy, or empty ‘virtue-signalling’.
Your children are watching, Councillors. So whose side are you on?
Our children are scared that we will fail them on this one. At the moment we are failing them. It is time to stand up for making a difference. An unprecedented crisis requires unprecedented solutions. The climate emergency call could turn out to be one such solution, a tool to create unprecedented turnarounds – and at their meeting on the 24th, it will be presented on a plate for the Councillors to pick.
Why would Geelong not want to be part of this global “referendum” which involves a thousand cities and regions inhabited by over 212 million people, aiming more outspokenly to implement solutions than our governments have ever dared to?
Why this is a Council’s job now
“This is not a Council’s job,” we hear some of our local radio hosts and Liberal politicians claim. Good point, but as our national and federal governments all over the world so utterly have failed us in doing their job, which is to reduce emissions to protects from catastrophic breakdown of the planet’s biosphere, Councils have stepped in as representatives for the people, and the many council declarations have already led to climate emergency declarations by higher levels of government.
The ACT Government would not have declared a climate emergency without Australian councils having already done so. Same can be said for the motion in the UK and Canadian parliaments, along with the declarations of the Republic of Ireland, Wales, Gibraltar, Jersey, Isle of Man, Portugal, and Argentina.
Darebin City Council was the first council in the world to declare a climate emergency in 2017, and regardless of how much or how little they have achieved locally, what has occurred globally is a result of Darebin councillors taking the lead and setting an example.
Among the 1,000 Councils that have declared a climate emergency so far, almost all of them have documented their intended or already achieved action in real life. These councils are now speeding up and strengthening their communication strategies, their zero carbon plans, their community engagement plans, and they are creating new roles among Council staff.
Yes, there are a few cases where the declarations look like they are just empty words on paper, but really, when the Councillors have done their signalling, it is very much up to us, the residents and businesses of Geelong, whether or not we will help make the Geelong climate emergency declaration into one of the outstanding ones and turn it into a precursor to real action.
No government, at any level, can solve this wicked issue with the climate emergency alone. We all need to get involved. And that is the message of declaring the climate emergency out loud. It could become the first positive step towards an unprecedented shared understanding in our community and around the entire planet of what is now our task – and the seriousness and urgency of this task.
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→ Share on Facebook
I posted the following on Facebook:
Who are you with, Councillors?
In the meanwhile, here are some recent news about responsible and well-respected groups that have declared a climate emergency, or are making the call for it to happen:
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DOCTORS AND HEALTH WORKERS
3 September 2019:
The AMA has joined other health organisations around the world – including the American Medical Association, the British Medical Association, and Doctors for the Environment Australia – in recognising climate change as a health emergency.
→ Read more on www.ama.com.au
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9 September 2019:
British ecologists declare climate emergency and biodiversity crisis
The Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) is the professional body for ecologists and environmental managers working to manage and enhance the natural environment in the UK and Ireland. The body’s declaration calls for action from its members, governments and society on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through nature-based solutions.
→ Read more on www.cieem.net
→ Briefing paper: In addition to the declaration, CIEEM have published a briefing paper which summarises the current evidence and actions: ‘Climate Emergency and Biodiversity Crisis: The Facts and Figures’
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“We are social workers united by our distress at Australia and the world’s negligible response to unfolding climate emergency and ecological disaster. We hear the warnings of worldwide expert bodies including the IPCC, NASA, WWF and WHO. They are becoming increasingly urgent, emotive and united. We observe escalating extreme weather events, spread of infection and loss of productive land.
We heed predictions of societal collapse and consequent mass migration, both worldwide and within countries. Such societal collapse will trigger damage to physical and mental health on an unprecedented scale.
Climate change will affect low income households and disadvantaged communities first and disproportionately. In Australia, low income earners tend to live in areas more likely to be adversely affected by climate change, and have far less ability to move or make other necessary adjustments to their living circumstances. “Business as usual” will see the climate crisis exacerbate and deepen Australia’s already wide and growing inequity, with disastrous consequences.
As caring professionals we cannot countenance current policies which push progressive environmental catastrophe on the world’s most vulnerable now, and all of us in the future. It is unethical to fail to properly and effectively inform the public and act to change our course as carbon emissions continue to rise, societies and habitats are destroyed and the risk of irreversible damage increases.”
→ Australian social workers call for action on the climate and biodiversity emergency
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→ Engineers taking up the climate emergency mantle
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→ People of faith declare a climate emergency
→ Pastoral letter titled “An Urgent Call for Ecological Conversion: Hope in the Face of Climate Emergency” said saving “our common home” is not only a Christian duty but a “moral imperative.”
→ Pope Francis claims climate in state of ‘emergency’, asks world to ‘abandon’ fossil fuels
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No government at any level can solve the issue with the escalating climate emergency alone. We all need to get involved. We need to set examples of leadership and of rapid results.
That is what declaring a climate emergency is about: It is sending a strong signal to others around us about the seriousness of the crisis and the urgency that we now must start solving it at much more active and wholehearted level.
As of now, the dangerous emissions from our burning of coal, oil and gas are still on the rise, year by year. When our federal government isn’t doing its job, citizens and their local elected representative must.
Declaring a climate emergency is to be signalling where we stand as a city on this topic – and that we, as responsible parents and adults, are prepared to respond adequately to the scientists’ warnings by intensifying our decarbonisation processes at all levels in the coming years.
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→ Get more of your friends and family to sign the petition:
“This crisis requires of you to grow up”Luisa Neubauer, climate activist
“A climate activist can be everyone, everyone who wants to join a movement of those who intend to grow old on a planet that prioritizes protection of natural environments and happiness and health for the many over the destruction of the climate and the wrecking of the planet for the profits of the few. And since the climate crisis is affecting every single part of our social, of our political and of our private life, we need climate activists everywhere on every corner, not only in every room, but also in every city and country and state and continent.”