A trio of East Gippsland Climate Action Network members met with Darren Chester shortly before Christmas. During the short meeting each member spoke from their personal perspective on the climate emergency. Unfortunately the meeting outcome was disappointing. In any case, events since then have emphasised how urgent action really is.
The day after the meeting, ABARES, the government’s Agriculture Department statistics arm, issued a report showing an average 20% loss of income by the Australian farming sector over 20 years directly related to climate change.
The following week the East Gippsland fires that were burning in remote countryside since mid-November burst forth and threatened most of the region. This enormous – indeed unprecedented – fire has come almost exactly on target with predictions made by Ross Garnaut back in 2008 of major fires likely by 2020 that would be directly related to climate change
In the context of these events Chester’s response is particularly distressing. He made it clear that he thought the best action for people concerned about climate change would be to become engaged in Landcare or to support picking up rubbish. He stated in his conclusion that ‘‘I don’t share the same level of concern as you’. On a number of occasions Chester’s response seemed to be a distraction, such as minimising Australia’s role in the world effort due to our small size and telling us that the government’s response was adequate.
He listened with most evident interest when one member placed two hand-made dolls on a chair and explained that they represented her grandchildren. She talked about her training as a futurist and what we owe those growing up with global warming as their future. This, however, failed to elicit a meaningful response.
We left seriously disappointed, wondering if we should have been harder and more critical. With all that has happened since and indeed with major fires set to burn until they run out of fuel or we get substantial rain, a dramatically more effective response is required from our regional politicians.
In East Gippsland farmers are one of the groups most at risk of losing their livelihood under unchecked climate change. The National Party seems more intent on nurturing the coal industry than the farmers who traditionally support them. With the additional risk of more frequent, more severe and longer droughts and with the resulting massive bush fires, this party should be the main champions of urgent action on climate change.
Somehow we need to convince the electorate and local politicians at all levels of government that putting pressure on these politicians is the only way they can keep temperature rises in the lower predicted levels which can hopefully contain climate change.