‘People Power’ took to the streets of Melbourne on Friday 27 November, as the first of a weekend of Climate Marches took place across Australia. Tens of thousands of people added their voices to calls for action on climate change.
The ‘voice of the people’ echoed across the world, as citizens in towns and cities – from Argentina to Zimbabwe – poured onto their streets as well, in a weekend of global community action, sending a powerful message – loud and clear – to world leaders on the eve of the United Nations Climate Summit in Paris.
[* ‘Frontline’ montage photos (above) by ROWENA DELA ROSA YOON, images below by TESS HOLDERNESS]
Just as social movements have historically sprung up and been a catalyst for change in addressing inequities – like Apartheid in South Africa or the civil rights movement in the United States – this time, a world-wide revolution is starting to really gather momentum in response to a shared global issue which is increasingly and profoundly affecting humanity at large, socially and economically as well as environmentally.
Taking to the Streets
The reality of climate change can be sobering and even quite confronting, yet ‘inspiring’ and ‘heartening’ are words that spring to mind to describe Melbourne’s Climate March. Largely because people are starting to feel that change is in the air – literally.
There was a strong sense of a critical mass of people joining together, locally as well as globally. These are people who are aware of the issues and what is at stake. People who are willing to show their support for a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, the phasing out of fossil fuels and the roll out of clean energy technologies. Indeed, there is a sense that we are on the cusp of nothing short of a revolution whose time has come.
An estimated 60,000 Victorian citizens – of all ages and from all walks of life – came out onto the Melbourne streets to voice community concerns about global warming and to demand action on climate change. As people gathered together, there was a real buzz in the air and an electrified feeling of anticipation. Looking around at the diversity of the different groups that were there to demonstrate, a real sense of camaraderie and support was quite evident.
Many disparate groups had coalesced in a common cause, brought together by a desire for greater action on climate change. From indigenous people to trade unions and supporters of various political parties, from church and religious groups to artists, musicians and representatives of conservation organisations, from youth groups to baby boomers, teachers, office workers, emergency service personnel and health professionals. From parents with babes in arms to community elders and everyone in between – all singing from the same hymn book. As one young mother commented on the crowd as she walked past, “we are all in this together”.
Calls for Action
The rallying speeches articulated the calls for action but more than that, they also laid out a vision for the co-creation of a more sustainable, equitable future, based on the use of clean energy technologies. Such a future will be filled with a range of new opportunities and possibilities, accompanying the transition to a more sustainable society, powered by renewable sources of energy.
Within the ‘broad church’ of civil society calling for such social change, there exists a sense of hope and a willingness to help facilitate such a shift – through personal and professional actions. In fact, many people just want to “get on with the job”. Such a proactive and positive approach provides an important antidote to the concerns, fears and anxieties that surround the growing number of reports of environmental crises and further climatic changes, the consequences of climate disruption that have already begun.
Companies and politicians with vested interests in continuing with the ‘business as usual model’ and people who choose to remain in ignorance or denial about the changing climate, can be sources of great frustration to those who are looking to move forward and transition to a less polluting and less environmentally damaging economic model.
In Our Hands
Awareness is certainly building in regard to what is happening to our environment and our climate system and importantly, what needs to be done to address the underlying root causes. Tipping points for the ‘solutions revolution’ are coming more clearly into view. However, this comes at a time when the climate system itself is heading towards its own tipping points – with global mean temperatures increasing, icecaps and glaciers melting and sea levels rising.
An increasing frequency and severity of droughts, heat waves and fires, torrential rains and floods, and more intense storms are occurring across the globe as the early consequences of global warming and climate change kick in. Species diversity, along with many habitats and marine environments, are in decline. Oceans are experiencing increased rates of acidification and the world’s beautiful coral reefs are being subject to more bleaching events. Such observations and reports provide further impetus for change – social and economic change.
What is at stake is the very future of the habitable planet that we inherited and became environmental stewards of. But what will we be passing on to the young people of today and future generations to come? We still have time to take part in what has been termed a critical ‘Transition Decade’ – a window of opportunity to “turn the Titanic” – but we are approaching a very important fork in the road.
Up to Us
As a global society that shares the ecosystems and climatic systems that support and sustain us as one human family, we have choices to make in terms of how we move forward and how fast we transition to a clean energy economy. We have the skills, knowledge and know-how and the technical capacity and expertise to enable this shift. And we are steadily building the necessary social capital and ‘community will’ to drive and facilitate such change.
Future generations will look back on this time as an important junction in human history. Lying before us now, is the opportunity to redefine our future. It is in our hands and the eyes of the world now fall upon Paris. We will stay tuned to see if the necessary ‘political will’ to make a timely transition to a clean energy economy is to be demonstrated.
As Adam Vaughan, Environment Editor of The Guardian UK reports, the first day of the UNFCCC COP21 gathering began with strong rhetoric from the world’s leaders … will it translate into strong action?
Read the full story at: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/live/2015/nov/30/paris-climate-summit-world-leaders-meet-for-opening-day-live?utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=KIITG_PCC_Day1_301115&utm_term=140554&subid=11356678&CMP=ema-60
For full coverage of the Paris Summit from The Guardian, visit: http://www.theguardian.com/au/environment
For a short video and recap of the Climate Marches in Australia, visit the Australian Conservation Foundation, at: https://acf.exposure.co/peoples-climate-march?&utm_medium=email&utm_source=acflive&utm_content=2&utm_campaign=PCM-final-reminder-CCL-PTW-2015-11-26&source=PCM-final-reminder-CCL-PTW-2015-11-26
For accurate and independent information from Australia’s Climate Council, including reports from the Paris Climate Change Conference, visit: http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/
For updates from Melbourne Uni researchers, from the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, who are attending the Paris conference (including authors Tim Flannery, Kate Auty, Don Henry and John Wiseman), visit: http://sustainable.unimelb.edu.au/cop21blog
For official information about UNFCCC COP21, including background details, webcasts and the e-newsroom, visit: unfccc.int/2860.php
For background information about climate change and ideas about what you can do to play your own role in the ‘solutions revolution’, or to request a presntation on climate change in your area, visit The Climate Reality Project (a not-for-profit organisation founded by Nobel Prize Laureate and former US Vice-President, Al Gore): https://www.climaterealityproject.org
* Words and images by TESS HOLDERNESS
NB – ‘Frontline’ montage photos (at the start of story) and portrait of the author (above) at the Melbourne Climate March by ROWENA DELA ROSA YOON (portraits below by TESS). Thanks Rowena! T : )