Don’t go down the mine, Daddy!

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Not enough is being done to remedy global climate change and one day it will be too late (Image via Pixabay)

Attending a recent talk on the effects of climate change served as an inspiring wake-up call for Pam Menzies.

I'D SHOUT FROM the back of the Morris Oxford on our family Sunday afternoon drives. My father, Doug Nock, was obsessed with coal. He studied metallurgy at the School of Mines in Adelaide, was manager of the coke ovens at the Steelworks in Port Kembla, went looking for abandoned mines in the hills behind Wollongong for entertainment and became a member of the Pig Iron Club when he retired. Coal was in our family blood, but no longer — Doug has gone and times have changed.

The Friday before last (4 May 2018), during the recent Sydney Writers’ Festival, I sat in the York Theatre listening to Joelle Gergis, Jeff Goodell and Tony Birch, with mediator David Schlosberg explaining logically and quietly why the planet is heading towards climate change catastrophe. They are highly qualified with many books written between them and it all made perfect sense — but they were preaching to the converted. I wondered why there is a lack of urgency in the wider community and why the auditorium wasn’t packed. A blanket of torpor hangs over the topic and world leaders like Donald Trump call climate change "fake news".

I don’t come from a long line of activists and it’s taken me a while to get on my feet — nothing else will matter if the planet is wrecked. Two years ago, a friend and I staged a climate change protest in Martin Place, targeting our cohort: older people. Friends, the Knitting Nannas, surprised barristers looking for lunch and a few friendly policemen got caught up in the mix. We registered with, wrote to federal politicians (no replies), sang, listened to Michael Mobbs, waved placards and felt better for doing something.

But what to do now? I thought the hottest Sydney April on record would alert people to reality, but no. Gecko-like, we wallowed in the extended summer and went to the beach. Panel speakers emphasised the urgency and suggested ways of gaining the wider community’s attention. Jeff believes associating climate change to the hip pocket might rouse people. Recently, he explained to many wealthy Americans who own coastal properties that their houses would be under water by the end of the century, and they sat up and listened. However, both he and Tony noted the rich won’t be the ones to suffer — they’ll spend money safe-guarding their assets. A Danish architect has already drawn up plans for the building of “a barrier with amenities” around Lower Manhattan to protect the business heart of New York.

The world’s low-lying islands and poor coastal dwellers are the ones who will go under, as Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum explained at the Paris Meeting in 2015, calling anything over a two degree rise in global temperature “a death warrant for us”. Tony Birch thought highlighting the possibility of climate change refugees might wake people up. With Australian politicians constantly priming us to fear the threat of boat people arriving to gain votes, the image of people from Pacific islands heading our way aboard leaky boats might be enough to get our attention.

I favour a more positive way, encouraging action because we only have one planet and it’s close to CO2 overload. Joelle emphasised the importance of the ethical approach and the need to appeal to a heart/mind connection with our land. She used the analogy of a sick relative and asked if we’d walk away from a loved one who was very ill, or would we do everything to save him or her. She wants us to extend the connection with loved ones to the land around us and do everything to save it.

It’s easy to feel downhearted and possibly that’s why the community reaction is one of denial. As Jeff said we’re well and truly in the “river of climate change” and there’s no turning back. All we can do, if we take action immediately, is lessen the effect.

Hearing Tim Flannery speak on the ABC Science Show (5 May 2018) gave me hope. Although acknowledging we are in “the acute phase of the climate problem” and “old men don’t like losing power”, he has solutions. The prices of wind and solar energy are coming down, new solar thermal technology is being developed, we know how to sequester carbon, and an enzyme has been developed to sequester carbon even faster. There are huge breakthroughs with manufacture of carbon fibre. The science is there, but governments need to provide back-up by issuing tax credits to businesses who are willing to work with the new technologies.

As he said:

"There’s a lot at stake, but a lot that can be done.”

Tim wants to see increased use of our oceans, seeing us as a “land-based thinking people”. He is enthusiastic about plans for seaweed farms in the deep ocean canyons near Kangaroo Island in South Australia.

Scientists have solutions to slow climate change, but political laggards are dragging their feet. We, the people, have to do something before it’s too late. Yes, as Tim Flannery said, “people don’t like change and there’s a lot of ego, as well,” but that’s not good enough. We must demand more. We need to start with a loud “NO” to more coal mines and coal-fired power stations. We can all do something, talking to everyone we know, raising awareness and waking people up to what Tim Flannery calls “runaway climate change”. Joelle Gergis suggested we be very careful about who we voted for in the upcoming elections.

I listened to the recent Budget and Reply speeches and, sadly, climate change was not a preoccupation of either major party. We need to ask for details about whether either side plans to support new carbon-neutral technologies and whether they are going ahead with developing new coal mines and coal-fired power stations.  So far we’ve let them off the hook. If we show concern for the future health of our physical environment, politicians will be forced to spell out a more visionary way forward.

Pam Menzies has had essays published in magazines and newspapers: Overland, Highlife and The Australian. She also reads her essays on ABC radio. She is currently working on Port Kembla: a Memoir which will be published later in 2018. You can follow her @pammenzies.

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Don’t go down the mine, Daddy!

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