Real climate leadership rises from the grassroots up.

On September 8, 350 Australia is helping organise rallies in cities and towns around Australia as part of a global day of action – #RiseForClimate – to demand our local leaders commit to building a fossil free world that puts people and justice before profit. No more stalling, no more delays: it’s time for a fast and fair transition to 100% renewable energy for all. Find an event near you at www.350.org/rise

Having watched her community of Tathra lose more than 69 homes, 30 cabins and caravans, community buildings and public facilities to an unseasonably late bushfire, Bega Valley Shire Councillor Jo Dodds is no longer prepared to be silent.

“If not now, when?” she demanded of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, when he suggested hours after the devastation that “this is is not the time to politicise a disaster like this” by talking about climate change.

“I’m tired. And I’m pissed off,” Dodds said. “I’m tired of leaders who don’t care enough about us and about this planet, to risk their jobs. I’ve had enough of waiting, had enough of being quiet, had enough of watching the temperature go up and up and up and not hearing sirens.”

Instead, the sirens Tathra heard were fire trucks.

“Why can’t I talk about climate change, right now, while my boots are covered with ash and my clothes smell of smoke?” said Dodds. “When you stand in front of the terrible reality of a hotter, drier, windier Australia, when you see it consume the homes of your friends – I don’t think you have a right, I think you have a moral responsibility to speak up.”

Unlike the federal government, the Tathra community has been modelling what leadership should look like.

Twelve years ago, to declare their intent and inspire the wider world, the Tathra community gathered to make a human sign on the beach. Tathra’s population is 1200, but more than 3000 people rallied to create two signs: “Clean Energy for Eternity” and “IMAGINE”. Then they built IMAGINE out of solar panels which now power the sewage treatment works.

“We wanted the government to take notice, to sign the Kyoto Protocol and to invest in renewable energies so that the production of CO2 emitting fossil fuels would be supplanted by things like solar, wind, geothermal, wave energy,” said Dodds. “And we formed the community group, Clean Energy For Eternity.”

“Since then, Clean Energy For Eternity has raised tens of thousands of dollars and installed solar panels on surf lifesaving clubs throughout NSW and beyond. We’ve also put solar onto every community building in Tathra – schools, community halls, Rural Fire Service sheds and more.

“We’ve encouraged other communities to join in, to make their own human signs, to raise awareness and money and solar energy to their rooftops.”

The town was well on the way to achieving its goal of achieving a 50% reduction in consumption of energy and 50% production of energy from renewable resources by the year 2020 when disaster struck on March 18.

At around 12.30pm, a bushfire started on a hill at the end of the road where the Dodds live. By 6pm, 69 homes were gone.

“It was a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions for our town. It was also a miracle in that no human lives were lost. But whole streets are gone and my community is still in shock,” said Dodds.

“That night I watched the PM on the telly, speaking during his visit to the Evacuation Centre. Here’s what he said, partly in response to Greens Leader, Richard Di Natale’s observation that the Tathra fire was a climate change related event:

“This is not the time to politicise a disaster like this.”

And

“You can’t attribute any particular event, whether it’s a flood, or fire, or it’s a drought, or a storm – to climate change. We are the land of droughts and flooding rains, we’re the land of bushfires. Nature hurls her worst at Australians and has – for always, and always will, and always has.”

“I went to bed. At a quarter to five, I woke up with the words “… and always will,” ringing in my head. What the hell did the PM think he was doing, coming to Tathra, to my town, to a town that has fought so hard and given so much already to fighting climate change – what did he think he was doing to come here and say that?”

“The PM had not just joined the queue of people who quote Dorothea Mackellar as if she’s some kind of anti-climate science clairvoyant, but he had condemned us to doing nothing to prevent the next fire and the one after that – to preventing the fires that will come hotter and harder and more frequently, and that will surely kill people.”

“This is about climate change, not bush poetry. Because our fire did not happen in mid summer. It happened in mid March. There were 10 other fires in the Bega Valley on that day. Sydney and Bega broke the records with their hottest ever March day.”

A month later, more records fell with the hottest April day recorded.

“I have asked, and will keep asking for meetings with government leaders of all stripes,” said Dodds. “I will bring them news from the front line of climate change. I will tell them how it feels when it’s your home in the firing line or your grandkids running from the fire.

“I’m just one small person. But I will offer to stand by any leader who realises that good leadership is not about popularity – it is about figuring out what is the right thing to do, then doing everything in your power to make it happen.

“Raise your voices, my friends. Speak up. Contact your representatives and tell them what you want and what you don’t want. We live in a democracy – so let’s use it.”

Real climate leadership rises from the grassroots up.

On September 8, 350 Australia is helping organise rallies in cities and towns around Australia as part of a global day of action – #RiseForClimate – to demand our local leaders commit to building a fossil free world that puts people and justice before profit. No more stalling, no more delays: it’s time for a fast and fair transition to 100% renewable energy for all. Find an event near you at www.350.org/rise

350 Australia will also be launching our Heroes of the Low-Carbon Economy report, showcasing the leaders in different fields who are already creating the clean energy future Australia needs.

 

sigh