Tonight I went to a Wheeler Centre Fifth Estate discussion on Climate Change. I left home feeling despairing about climate change, politics, Australia’s treatment of refugees and my children’s chance of a future. I arrived at the talk buoyed by a catch up with a dear friend, yearning to find hope in a very bleak environmental and political landscape.
While they painted the initial picture, there were many moments when I sighed deeply and slumped in my seat. I am pretty well educated about climate change and its effects, but there was new information I really didn’t want to hear, and the general consensus was that we have left it way too late and are fairly seriously stuffed.
There is a tendency among people like me to gaze sadly into our lattes and bemoan the ignorance of the masses. To lambast the people who voted for Tony Abbott (never people we know). To assert that we would sort it out pdq if only our preferred political group were in power, for any given value of “sort” and “it” and indeed “political”.
We tend not to debate politics with those we don’t know, for fear of hearing something we might not like, or perhaps more charitably for fear of offending others. We don’t talk politics, religion or climate change, because they are too contentious. Upon hearing others spouting rubbish in the guise of facts, whether it’s about climate, refugees or vaccination, we sigh, or sneer, and turn away. We don’t take them on, because that wouldn’t be nice, or comfortable, or polite.
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess
So I sat quietly, agreed politely
I guess that I forgot I had a choice
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything
Katy Perry – Roar.
True, it’s difficult to debate these hot button topics without getting worked up – I am a clear cautionary tale. I find it incredibly challenging to discuss these issues calmly and with a clear head, because I am passionate about them. And yet that is precisely the reason why I should engage, discuss, dispute and contend at every available opportunity. One of the comments made tonight that resonated wildly with me is that the media has become a part of the corporate system. There is no space between the interests of big business and the voice of the media. Because we are in a country where the political agenda is massively skewed by the interests of the resources sector, it is phenomenally important that independent voices are heard.
It is crucial that academics, writers, artists, teachers – anyone who thinks, reads, and engages with current issues, regardless of their trade or profession – have a huge responsibility to speak out. To write. To speak. To debate. To engage, not just in the comfortable sanctuary of like minded friends with lattes and chardonnay at the ready, but out in the real world, wherever people are talking, reading, listening and acting.
This is part of the reason I write. It’s not so that people will agree with me. Some of the best articles I’ve ever written have been the ones that people have disagreed with quite vehemently, because they have resulted in debate and forced me to think about my opinions – sometimes to change them. I write in the faint and desperate hope that people might think a little about the issues I write about.
We need more thought, and less doing what the advertising industry tells us to do. We need to think and talk about where we are headed, and what we want to do about it. We need to speak up.
On the way home I heard a snippet of “Roar” by Katy Perry. It seemed appropriate. I am going to roar. Wherever possible I will roar politely and calmly, but roar I will. Join me. Engage. Debate. Roar.
To that end, I have included some of the most interesting quotes from this evening for your inspiration. The group consisted of Nobel Prize winning scientist Peter Doherty, CEO of Greenpeace Australia David Ritter, and writer & investigative journalist Chloe Hooper.
“All scientists are skeptics, and we are most skeptical about our own work. The one thing you will find about [climate change] deniers is that they are never skeptical about their own statements.” Peter Doherty.
“Climate change has been allowed to become a point in the culture wars.” David Ritter.
“I was operating under a set of assumptions about how much contact people have with the natural world.” David Ritter.
“The experience that people do have is increasingly mediated through screens.” David Ritter (or possibly Peter Doherty, I really need to learn shorthand or take a laptop to these events.)
“The problem is that the media has become part of the corporate system. There’s no space between the media and the interests of these big corporations.” Peter Doherty.
It is so important in a country where the political economy is so influenced by the resources sector that the thinking people of the country are vocal and honest about what they think – David Ritter (paraphrased).
“It’s very bad that this has been badged as a left/right issue.” Peter Doherty.
“It’s not about right and left, it’s about right and wrong, and the right is wrong and the left is right.” Rod Quantock.
“It is so fundamental that we get climate change out of the cul de sac of the culture wars.” David Ritter.
“The rise of renewables is to some extent inexorable.” David Ritter.
“I’d like to see us being a lot more hardnosed about our economic forecasting. If we plug our future in to fossil fuels I think we’re mad, quite frankly.” Peter Doherty. “We don’t seem to be capable of doing the wargaming around the economy and the effects of climate change.”
“Everything now is presented as though there is going to be no pain… We can’t tackle this issue without making very substantial changes, and that’s not going to be easy, because people don’t like change.” Peter Doherty.
“The time has come for civil disobedience… we have exhausted all of the existing lawful means for challenging the dominance of the fossil fuel industry and we are seeing criminal negligence in the face of civilization’s collapse.” (slightly paraphrased because I can’t write fast enough) David Ritter.
“I think it’s important not to take a reflexive ideological view of any technology, but I have not seen any modeling that says that [nuclear energy] can get there in time.” David Ritter.