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In praise of Climate Camp

On Saturday morning, two activists at Camp for Climate Action chained themselves to Xstrata Ravensworth Coalmine.

They were arrested for their action. On Sunday, over 150 activists pushed over a fence to block the train lines running to Bayswater coal-fired power station. The most recent count is 73 activists arrested, including an 88-year-old man.

We should be proud and honoured that Australia has produced so many honourable and brave people willing to break the law and face arrest for such a just cause. They deserve our full support.

This is the third year that Climate Camp has been held. Last year, I turned up on the final day, at Helensburgh. I saw men and women, young and old, in groups of two and three announce they were willing to walk onto the coalmine. They then attempted to do so, before police stopped them.

2009 Climate camp – Climate Camp NSWAt Helensburgh, there was enough of a police presence to prevent this nonviolent direct action from actually occurring. However, early in the morning, four young activists locked themselves on to Dendrobium coalmine, stopping production for four hours.

These protests were not given much media notice. It was a shame, because their actions are courageous. It may not be overly dramatic to suggest that Australia’s future may well depend on such activism. Clive Hamilton has argued that the ‘only hope for the world lies in a campaign of radical activism’ of civil disobedience. Yet this does not just require brave activists. It also requires the support of broader sectors of the Australian public.

The broader public must be made to realise the urgency of climate change virtually demands the use of such tactics. Martin Luther King, in his famous ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’, explained that nonviolent direct action ‘seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored’.

Kevin Rudd signing Kyoto seemingly indicated to many Australians that a new era on climate change had begun. Such hopes were soon shattered. For those who followed his best-case scenario, Rudd was willing to utterly water down his proposed action on climate change, to seek consensus with Turnbull’s liberal Liberals. When this didn’t work out, Rudd promptly reversed his stance on what he had called the ‘great moral challenge’ of our time. By his own standards, by his own words, his party displayed ‘absolute political cowardice’, a failure that would ‘destroy our children’s future’.

In August, Guy Pearse, who blew the whistle on the coal industry’s stranglehold on politics in Australia, wrote: ‘Labor is as much a hostage to the coal industry as the Coalition, and the difference between the climate policies of the two major parties is negligible.’

That was before the election. How much more can we expect now, with such a narrow Labor margin of government? The big polluters exert unrelenting pressure on the government and get billions of dollars in tax handouts every year. This can only be countered by serious, concerted activism by Australians. We must fight back for our democracy and regain control of our government.

It should also be remembered it is not only Australia that is at stake. Those of us who wish to scale down Australia’s carbon footprint do not only do so because we think Australia would be better off without worse droughts, or without destroying the Great Barrier Reef. Since 2004, according to the World Health Organization, global warming has caused 140 000 deaths annually. According to Oxfam, last year – before the catastrophe in Pakistan – ‘hundreds of millions of people are already suffering’ from climate change, with perhaps ‘26 million people … already … displaced’ by it.

Armed_peer_reviewed – Climate Camp Ireland, 2009

That is to say, climate change is already upon us, and it is already catastrophic. Oxfam notes that even ‘warming of 2 °C entails a devastating future for at least 660 million people’. And even 2 degrees of warming may be a wildly optimistic prediction in the face of intransigent governments around the worlds, of which ours is surely one of the worst offenders.

There was a time when our Prime Minister told us that the fate of our children and grandchildren depended on our action on climate change. This is a challenge we should also put to ourselves. When our grandchildren ask us about the world we have left them, what will we say? How many of us will be able to say that we did all we could to preserve the environment of the world we bequeathed to them? How many of us will even be able to say we did our part? That we did enough?

The brave activists who were arrested on Saturday and Sunday deserve our full admiration and support.

And hopefully, they can inspire you, as well, to take the fate of our planet into your own hands as well. Not only for their sakes’. For everyone’s.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Michael Brull is a columnist at New Matilda. He’s written for other publications including Fairfax, the Guardian, Crikey, Tracker and the Indigenous Law Bulletin.

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