Photo credit Steve Liptay
Accelerate Climate Action: Bill McKibben tour in Australia
by Alec Roberts
Close to 300 people braved the wet autumn weather of Newcastle on Friday 27th April to attend the launch of Accelerate Climate Action: Bill McKibben tour in Australia, organised by 350.org. The tour sponsored by Future Super was launched in Newcastle with local partners Climate Action Newcastle.
Bill McKibben is an author, environmentalist, and co-founder of 350.org. Bill wrote what is regarded as the first generally accessible book on Climate Change “The End of Nature” in 1989.[i]
Bill said (about his book) he thought that if he simply pointed out ecological problems, people would do something about them. [ii] He was wrong. Bill noted that early environmental responses to climate change were poor. By 1990 the science won the argument, but they were losing the fight.
Bill described the spread of Dengue Fever in Bangladesh due to increased temperature attributed to climate change. He contracted the disease in Bangladesh and watched many others around him die from this mosquito born disease. This combined with the effects of reduced river flows due to contracting glaciers and sea level rise, brought to light the gross unfairness of the effects of climate change. Bangladesh contributes a very small amount to the global GHG emissions but suffers greatly from its effects.
Bill led us to understand that we are in a fight not an argument with the fossil fuel industry, and noted that little did we know at that time that members of the fossil fuel industry were complicit in their actions and systematically lying about the effect of burning of fossil fuels on the climate.
Bill noted that “we knew enough then to figure out a currency to match theirs’” (dollars), the currency of movements: passion, spirit, and creativity.[iii]
In Autumn 2006, Bill and thousands of supporters walked for 5 days across Vermont to Burlington to convince the government in Vermont to act on climate change. They were very successful, with support gained to cut emissions by 80% by 2050.
Following the march, Bill and a group of college students from Vermont worked to grow the movement nationally, and then globally, with the formation of 350.org.
Following successful national campaigns in the US, in 2009 350.org coordinated the International Day of Climate Action. They didn’t know how well this would go, and a couple of days before the assigned day they got a call for their coordinator in Ethiopia who said they could no longer hold the protest on the day as the government had removed their permit and so were doing it “now” before the government could stop them and had over 10,000 young people in the streets chanting 350![iv] As a portent of what was to come, on the day they had 5,200 demonstrations held across 181 counties in one day.v
350.org is now an international environmental organisation in 188 countries and has alliances with 300 organizations around the world. 350.org aims to build a global, grassroots movement to take on the fossil fuel industry, have governments adopt policies to lower Carbon Dioxide emissions, and solve the climate crisis. 350.org focuses on climate safety and climate justice for people across the globe.[v]
350.org takes its name from the research of Goddard Institute for Space Studies scientist James E. Hansen, who posited in a 2007 paper that 350 parts-per-million (ppm) of CO2 in the atmosphere is a safe upper limit to avoid a climate tipping point.iv
Bill McKibben is back to Australia as part of a global effort to accelerate climate action. The premise being we’re already moving towards a future without fossil fuels – but it’s time to accelerate our response. Bill’s tour focuses on how we as individuals can and must join together to keep the pressure on in Australia and around the world.
Bill introduced three key imperatives for the movement to accelerate climate action:
1. A fast + just transition to 100% renewable energy for all.
2. No new fossil fuel projects anywhere.
3. Not a penny more for dirty energy[vi]
1. A fast + just transition to 100% renewable energy for all
Vanessa Petrie, CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) addressed the transition to 100% renewables, through their pathways to a Zero-Carbon Australia. BZE is an internationally recognised Not-For-Profit climate solutions think tank, which has developed a blueprint for Australia to become a thriving zero-emissions economy.[vii]
Vanessa spoke of the success last year with the South Australian government backing the commissioning of a Concentrated Solar Thermal plant at Port Augusta. This was a successful outcome from the initial report “Repowering Port Augusta” launched by BZE in 2012.
BZE also launched the report Rethinking Cement in Newcastle last year (with the help of the Tom Farrell Institute), which shows how Australia could develop the world’s first Zero Carbon cement industry and help to wipe out 8% of all global emissions caused by making cement.[viii]
Vanessa spoke highly of the local chapter of BZE in Newcastle, and their work towards the Hunter being a zero-net emissions community.
Bill noted the spread of renewables in rural Africa in the last 18 months. With solar replacing expensive and polluting kerosene for lighting and bringing refrigeration to villages for the first time. He said it no longer made sense in digging up coal in one country and transporting it to another to be burnt there for fuel and causing pollution problems; Coal is not needed any more and the only reason it is still here is the Fossil Fuel industry and their influence.
2. No new fossil fuel projects anywhere.
Bill noted that there is 5 times the reserves of fossil fuels than can be safely burnt to keep the temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. Therefore, there should be no need for new fossil fuel projects.
Bev Smiles is an environmental activist from Wollar NSW who was arrested under tough new anti-coal protest laws last year and, if convicted, could be jailed for up to 7 years.
Some of the interesting detail Bev provided about the Hunter Valley and coal mining are listed below:
3. Not a penny more for dirty energy
Unfortunately, despite the promises made two years ago governments at Paris, public and private financial institutions continue to invest in fossil fuels and there is continued subsidisation of fossil fuel. But the fight is on. This fight is between the “big and few” (fossil fuel industry) and the “small but many”, such as the “Kayaktavists” (waterborne kayak activists) stopping coal exports in Newcastle for one day in May 2016.
Following the presentations there was a call to action, where members of the audience wrote a letter to the Australian Prime Minister, asking the Australian government to:
Bill McKibben, Bev Smiles and Vanessa Petrie (left-to-right), with the audience call to action.