Mammoth march raises hope in Sydney

By Richard and Maria Maguire

In Sydney, the People’s Climate March drew about 45,000 people to the streets. The Nov 29th rally was one of the largest around the world that weekend. It not only reflected the passion that the issue of climate change has generated here but also demonstrated a new approach to getting the public involved.

Dozens of Pacific Islanders and Aboriginal people, accompanied by Mayor Clover Moore, led the march. Their presence reflected an irony - those who contributed the least to the problem are the most endangered. Their powerful singing evoked a sense of hope, purpose and community among the marchers.

There were other elements we hope will become a part of future community action. For example, the march involved  a collaboration of civil society organisations—faith groups, labour unions, local health groups, national bodies concerned with social justice and environment, those advocating more use of renewable energy, academics and many others. The event is seen as the beginning of a long-term relationship among these groups.
Like our fellow Australians, Maria and I are trying to do our part in response to climate change and the environment. We installed 24 solar panels on our roof at a time when it was not popular in a bid to cut down our use of resources. We help community groups and government agencies concerned with these issues by providing training and facilitation in ToP methods. At the local Parramatta Climate Action Network (ParraCAN) and the Climate Action Network of Australia (CANA), where we are members, we introduced ToP methods to multiply their impact. For example, when ParraCAN held a public showing of  Naomi Klein’s movie, This Changes Everything, it was followed by an ORID conversation instead of the usual Q&A. The result was a lively discussion. Members of the audience seemed to experience a sense of hope and community and declared they would participate in the People’s Climate March as part of their response.

Many Australians are becoming aware that climate change calls for a complete rethink of what we are living for and how we organise our society. Industrial processes, agriculture (particularly raising animals for meat), electricity production, overconsumption of resources by the wealthy and the growing income and wealth inequality around the world all contribute to the problem. Despite the foot-dragging by the government and the media, whose owners have interests in fossil fuels, many people are trying to do what they can as individuals and households. Two years ago, the government scrapped the Climate Commission tasked with reporting on climate issues to the nation. The public responded to appeals from commission members who decided to form an independent Climate Council and donated more than a million dollars. The council is continuing the commission’s work with this ongoing public support. Our largest environmental organisation has more than doubled its membership in the past few years. Citizens also blocked  a move by the government to remove the tax-deductible status of environmental organisations. In the state of Victoria, people voted out a government that wanted to build a huge new freeway, and voted in a government promising to improve public transport instead.

Australians have decreased their use of electricity by over seven per cent in the past five years. A quarter of households now have solar panels on their roofs, most of them installed in the past five years. Though this was partly stimulated by a generous feed-in tariff as in Germany, the growth has continued in spite of the elimination of government support. Australians are enthusiastic about renewable energy, overwhelmingly favouring solar, wind and hydro over any sort of fossil fuel, including gas, with coal and nuclear power at the bottom.

Still, we have a long way to go. Australia is one of the largest exporters of coal in the world and the government is eager to help boost the mining of coal. Our per capita production of greenhouse gas is the third-highest in the world. Our government officials went to the Paris conference with a plan to do very little to reduce our emissions. Instead, the Prime Minister refused to join the leaders of many other nations assembled there in pledging to eliminate fuel subsidies for miners.

Civil society organisations concerned with climate change have come up with a four-pronged strategy: Change the Story, Change the Finances, Change the Politics and Change the Economy. The first component, Change the Story, represents a key insight and shift in thinking. A weakness of the environment movement is that it primarily engages a small segment of society – mainly white, middle class people with tertiary education. The People’s Climate March and many other efforts reflect a resolve to broaden the engagement to reflect the diversity of Australian society and demonstrate that the concern is about “Our Common Home”.  Among those who helped make evident the need to change the story were organisations and people involved in the Sydney Alliance (reported in August 2013 issue of Winds & Waves).

Climate change has occasioned a spirit crisis by challenging the belief that controlling nature will bring unlimited prosperity. As members of ICA, we understand the dynamics at work and can play an essential role in helping people deal with this issue. We also have a long history and deep connection with people in countries mainly responsible for the climate problem and also those in countries most affected by it. We look forward to helping develop a new story that will affect the actions of the climate movements.

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