Conversations to save the planet

Conversations to save the planet

Stories/363 , Issues/Environment , Issues/Sustainability , Issues/Policy
Adelaide SA, Australia
4th Oct 2018
Conversations to save the planet
The ACF's "Count Me In" campaign supports communities to have a million conversations about the climate leading up to the next election.

In an impassioned appeal, emeritus professor Robert Manne wrote in 2015, "unless by some miracle almost every climate scientist is wrong, future generations will look upon ours with puzzlement and anger - as the people who might have prevented the Earth from becoming a habitat unfriendly to humans and other species but nonetheless failed to act".

It was at the Australian Conservation Foundation's national "Count Me In" campaign where I first spotted Teryn Crick, ACF's community organising program manager. She was young, bright-eyed and engaged in an animated conversation with an audience member. Crick, I later discovered, had devoted her career to community organising after developing an affinity with nature as a child while hiking and exploring.

She recollected, "My mum took me bushwalking a lot when I was a kid and I just started falling in love with the Australian landscape". Later on, she added, it was a place she felt 'at peace' in.

During her teens, Crick discovered that the political system, although democratic, was not necessarily working within the community's best interests. Inspired by countless individuals who have fought for change throughout history, she told the audience that she decided to devote her life to mobilising communities and putting power back where it belonged — in the hands of the people.

Then, ACF Council member and former agricultural scientist, Philippa Rowland, gave the opening address. With 15 years of climate change work behind her, she reflected on her most cherished success story of replacing the coal power station plant in Port Augusta, South Australia, with solar power.

The community rallied and petitioned for years, and finally succeeded. Rowland told the audience, "I was just a very small part in a very big story, and when I talk about it I still can't wipe the smile off my face, because that was done by the community for the community, and the impact will be long-standing".

Dr Paul Sinclair, director of campaigns, shared an uplifting realisation concerning his battle with cancer two years earlier. After nine weeks of gruelling chemotherapy his wife took him to a protected park near his home, and as he looked across the oval at a line of twelve eucalyptus trees he felt calm and hopeful. It was then he realised that nature gave him the strength to keep going. It reawakened within him a passion for life. "That experience helped me understand truly, not just in my head but in my heart, that nature sustains us. We sustain each other. We are connected to each other. That's what life is".

Polls show that 75 to 80 percent of Australians care about climate change. However, most people feel like they're on their own, or don't know how to create change. The campaign's goal is to support communities to have a million conversations about the climate leading up to the next election. Volunteers are given a script to follow, to encourage passers-by to share their views about climate change and consider making it a priority at the polling booths.

Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius discovered over a century ago that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels were the primary cause of global warming. But 'scientific uncertainty', fuelled by vested interests and political agendas, resulted in climate change denial. It wasn't until the late 1980s that climate scientists reached agreement that the Earth is getting warmer and that humans are responsible.

Meanwhile, greenhouse-gas emissions have steadily increased.

Scientists now believe that climate change is the biggest global health threat of the 21st century. The effects of carbon dioxide and a heating planet generate chain reactions that ricochet throughout nature's delicate ecosystems, causing higher sea levels, species extinction, destruction of marine life, food insecurity, dirtier air, dwindling fresh water supplies, disease, unstable housing, extreme weather, bushfires — and the poorest, most vulnerable nations who have added the least to the problem are the most severely affected.

Although we can't undo the damage that has been done, according to Aliya Hac, from the Natural Resources Defence Council, we can work to mitigate many of the severe and ongoing consequences. But time is running out as we rapidly approach a "planetary threshold" as recognised in research published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Crick is acutely aware of the urgency to act. "I think that we need to do this. We don't have a choice," she told me. "We don't get to sit around and be the generation that lets this happen on our watch."

Crick explained how her research revealed that conversations are the most effective way to influence people. "Conversations are powerful, and conversations on that scale is how movements are made," she reflected. The strategy to generate conversations was inspired by Becky Bond's revolutionary "barnstorming" model, that successfully mobilised grassroots community support of Bernie Sander's presidential campaign for social equality and environmental protection.

The ACF urges Australians to follow their lead. "Let's set the election agenda so stopping climate change is a huge issue. Our voices will rumble from our communities all the way to Parliament House."

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