September 29, 2010

We’re in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald today! It’s been a tough year for those of us committed to tackling the climate crisis. The previous government tried fruitlessly to legislate for an emissions trading scheme, while the tragic floods in Pakistan, record heat waves in Europe, and steadily melting ice in the arctic all hint at what life in a warming world could look like. Still, even as one who approaches politics with a healthy dose of realism, I’m optimistic that we are turning a corner in the effort to cut the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving climate change. First, while it may seem incomprehensible that our leaders would sit idly by while study after study made it clear beyond a reasonable doubt that the climate was changing, and that the burning of fossil fuels was responsible for it, we know that politicians, being politicians, act more frequently out of self-interest than they do out of common interest. And so one must greet the announcement this week that Prime Minister Julia Gillard will herself chair a committee specifically dedicated to tackle climate change, by acknowledging the possibility that what is good for politicians is finally starting to align with what is good for the planet. This assertion is supported by a new political reality that has the Greens enjoying more leverage in parliament than at any point in history, as well as a recent Australian Conservation Foundationpoll that shows more than 80 per cent of Australians want the new government to rapidly invest in clean energy alternatives such as wind, solar and geothermal. (Incidentally the poll showed that regional Australians are even more enthusiastic than those from cities about the switch to renewable power, dispelling an age-old myth about a rural-urban divide when it comes to cutting carbon.) It is truism in politics that those in power, even the ones we think are on our side, don’t change, maybe can’t change, unless we make them. Fortunately, the numbers are beginning to look like we are on the cusp of what the fight to tackle climate change needed all along, not more data about how gases were dangerously accumulating in the atmosphere, or tired old laments about the uselessness of politicians, but a movement of people, young and old, rural and urban, that won’t take no for an answer. Former prime minister Kevin Rudd certainly learned the hazard of opposing an idea whose time has come. And so at we’re working with people from all walks of life, from across Australia and across the world, to empower and amplify the voice of the climate movement through the power of the internet. Last October, we organised 5200 rallies in 182 in what CNN called “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history”, to support the goal of stabilising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere below 350 parts per million. You can see the energy of the movement in the 20,000 photos that streamed into our Flickr set over the day. Our latest effort is the 10/10 Global Work Party. Working with the 10:10 campaign and many others, we are co-ordinating what is expected to be the largest practical day of action to fight climate change in history on October 10. From women in Pakistan learning to cook with solar ovens, to sumo wrestlers in Japan riding their bicycles to work, to villagers in Fiji restoring mangroves damaged by Cyclone Tomas, people are getting to work on climate solutions and sending the message to world leaders while they’re at it: “We’re doing our work, what about you?” Scores of events are planned in Australia as well. For example, in Victoria, hundreds will be gathering outside the Hazelwoodpower plant, calling on their leaders to close one of the industrialised world’s dirtiest and most inefficient coal-burning facilities. At Macquarie University, students will plant carbon-gobbling trees and share ideas on how to go green. In Townsville, folks are focusing on how permaculture can help alleviate the climate crisis. Of course, this isn’t enough. No person or country or leader can solve the crisis alone. But I’m optimistic that in Australia, even if the evidence that the world is coming to end isn’t enough to spur our politicians to act on climate change, the reality that their careers will come to end if they don’t, finally will. Emily Mulligan is Australian national director of, which is creating a global movement to combat the climate crisis.