You are here

Climate Strike

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Tags: Extinction

Support for the Climate Strike: Full Debate in Tasmanian Parliament, 25 September, 2019


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens - Motion) - Madam Speaker, I move -

That the House -

  1. Acknowledges on 20 September 2019 as part of a global climate strike, more than 15 000 people gathered on Parliament House Lawns in Hobart, with others striking around the state in Launceston, Devonport, Burnie, Wynyard, Zeehan, Currie and St Helens.
  2. Recognises there is widespread and growing public demand for climate action in the form of mass mobilisation and protest around the state, country and the global community, with an estimated 150 million people taking part in the global climate strikes.
  3. Commits to standing by young people and the wider community in their fight for climate action and for their futures.
  4. Supports the global climate strike movement.

We brought this motion forward to give every member of the House an opportunity to tell young Tasmanians that they stand with them in their fight for a safe climate. Madam Speaker, I note that you were there at the climate strike on Friday, but for those of us who were there on Friday, the strength of the feeling of young people, their mums, dads, aunts, uncles and friends, and their fear for their future is very real and as a parliament we must respond to that. We have to let young people know that we take their concerns seriously and that we are committed to climate action.

My colleague, Dr Rosalie Woodruff, stood up on the adjournment last night and took the House through some of the science, and I will just restate some of that now. Since 1850, global temperatures have risen by 1.1 degrees and when you look at the science, right now we are heading to 4 degrees of warming by the end of the century. Carbon dioxide levels have risen 2 per cent in 2018, so in just a single year, when we need to be bringing our carbon dioxide, CO2 equivalent and our methane levels down, they are still rising. In the past four years emissions have risen by 20 per cent on the previous five years. No wonder young people are fearful. No wonder they are taking to the streets in their tens and hundreds of thousands. What they are demanding of us, of every parliament and every level of government, is leadership.

This motion is an opportunity for every person in this place to send a very simple message to young Tasmanians that while we might disagree on the approach - and Dr Woodruff and I will always stand with the science - we recognise the concerns of young people. We are committed to them and we will stand with them in their fight for a safe climate.

Overnight the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, who highly regrettably made a decision not to attend the UN Climate Summit, has made a statement that he wants children to feel positive about their future. I do not know which young people the Prime Minister speaks to apart from his own children, but I suggest that if he had attended a climate strike or had gone to the UN Climate Summit and spoken to Greta Thunberg and her colleagues there, he would understand that is a glib and offensive statement to young people. It dismisses their reality and, unlike the Prime Minister, the young people who took to the streets have a pretty clear understanding of the future that faces them. They know this is going to be a hard century for humanity and because they have a clear understanding of the science and the potential impacts of global heating, many of them are not feeling positive about the future.

There is a growing trend of young couples making a decision not to have children because they do not feel it can be justified in a time of climate emergency. There is an exponentially growing trend amongst young people to go vegetarian or vegan because they know the impact that industrial farming and deforestation for beef production is having on the planet. About 17 per cent to 20 per cent of total global emissions come from deforestation and much of that deforestation is as a result of human beings' apparently insatiable appetite for meat. Young people are making decisions not to fly, not to travel internationally. They see Greta Thunberg in that yacht sailing to New York to the climate summit and they understand that was a symbolic and powerful gesture and a protest against the volcano of emissions that comes out of domestic and international air travel.

We are dealing with a younger generation here which is going to make seismic and sudden shifts to our social and economic structures. As Greta Thunberg said, those grownups in the room - and I am paraphrasing her here- who do not take the science seriously, who pay lip service to young people demanding climate action, will never be forgiven by younger generations today, and nor should they be. As Greta said at the UN, for 30 years the science has been clear, for 30 years political leaders, national leaders have known about global heating. For at least that long the major energy companies like BHP and Exxon have known that their business model is based on poisoning the atmosphere, harming humanity, driving species to extinction and desertifying large tracks of planet Earth. Young people will rightly not forgive leaders who ignore the science, leaders who play deaf to the science, deaf to the concerns of informed people, the Greens, over a very long time and kept on truckin' down that 'business as usual' pathway, which is all about endless growth the and making of money. That model is being rejected by young people the world over, and rightly so.

We have in the course of parliament this week, made a very clear, strategic decision that we will focus on climate, the response to global heating, Tasmania's preparedness for rapidly accelerating climate shifts. We will do that in every parliamentary week and out in the public domain. As far as we are concerned, it is the single most important, most urgent issue, that this parliament and every parliament in the world, has to deal with. If we do not get this right, humanity is going to hell in a hand basket.

We have 10 years, that is what the science is telling us. We are at a critical point in the planet's history. This is a moment that demands courage and strength. Those of us in privileged positions of leadership, elected to parliaments to lead, to make decisions in the public interest, we must lead.

When students are striking in record-breaking numbers and cities are being locked down by the protesters, when the Arctic is on fire and the Amazon is ablaze and Pacific Island nations are pleading for action, leaders cannot continue to ignore and dismiss the evidence of the climate emergency around us.

Only a few weeks ago, Hurricane Dorian slammed into the Bahamas, a storm the likes of which has never been seen before. This hurricane stalled over the Bahamas for about 48 hours and pulverised island communities. We still do not know what the human toll was from Dorian but there is one thing we do know: it will not be the last super-storm the Bahamas sees. That is the compounded tragedy of this. It is poor people, people who are marginalised and dispossessed, who will suffer the worst consequences of global heating. The excesses of the western world and the wealthy world, the blind business-as-usual model of western world leaders is harming people in poor countries the most. That places the most enormous moral responsibility on those of us who are in positions of leadership.

For too long, humanity has known about the risks of inaction on climate change and put it into the too-inconvenient basket. These excuses, and the denialism that goes with them, have been deliberately perpetrated by vested interests who continue to profit from climate destruction. Those vested interests right now, are propping up their toxic business model, in part by making significant donations to the major parties. That is a very significant part of the reason why we cannot get a commitment to real action at the national level, and that is a tragedy.

We urgently need to get the dark and dirty money out of politics. We urgently need electoral reform. As a result of this dark money, the inertia in the economic system, we have done nowhere near enough as a society to address our emissions or prepare for the consequences of global heating. They are coming at us fast. Things have to change; there is no choice.

The School Strike for Climate Movement has consistently made three demands of our governments and of our leaders: no new coal, oil and gas projects and that includes the Adani Mine; 100 per cent renewable energy generation and exports by 2030; and to fund a just transition and job creation for all fossil fuel workers and communities. Action on these demands is a necessary minimum. Those who criticise the movement for being too radical or unrealistic are simply demonstrating a failure to understand the reality of the present situation. The truly unrealistic scenario would be to perpetuate the status quo and expect there will be no consequences.

Every decision we make must be to preserve as much of the habitability of our planet as possible and that has to happen on a national and international stage, and also on our beautiful little green heart-shaped island.

In addition to the Schools Strike for Climate's three universal demands, it is critical that in Tasmania we do everything possible to protect, preserve and restore our forests. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has repeatedly stated that forests are an essential part of climate mitigation. We have to protect the forests that we have and we have to re-wild degraded landscapes, reforest large tracts of the Earth in order to draw down carbon and methane from the atmosphere to give our kids half a chance for a habitable planet.

A Greens minister commissioned and undertook the Forest Carbon Study to show they currently store the equivalent of more than 3000 megatonnes of CO2. We simply cannot afford to lose those forests and to release the carbon that they are storing into the atmosphere as we know it will be in the atmosphere for generations. It is immoral and a crime against nature to log them. That is why it is so dispiriting as Greens members in this place to get up and ask questions of ministers about action on climate and about the 356 000 hectares of high-conservation-value forests that were set aside for protection.

Those forests are not a wood bank; they are a carbon bank. They are a carbon bank and a gift to the world. It is our moral responsibility to protect those forests. I do not know how the Premier and his ministers can justify, or can look at kids, and countenance logging those forests. I cannot understand what kind of mental space you have to be in to countenance that.

It is also important to recognise the significant and direct impact the changing climate is already having in Tasmania. Every member knows about this. In the last few years we have lived through biblical floods and absolutely devastating bushfires. The fires of last summer, threatening communities, doing unrepairable damage to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage areas. Six per cent of the TWWHA burned in the last fires. As members in this place well know the landscapes that burned are Gondwanan landscapes. They are not fire adaptive. Rain forests are not fire adaptive. Much of the damage from last summer will never, ever be repaired.

Droughts are also inflicting communities and farmers. We know that the east coast is tinder dry. The experts tell us that these threats will only increase in both frequency and severity. What was once considered extreme is now the new abnormal. We must be implementing adaptation plans that fully recognise and confront the challenges we face. We need to acknowledge the emergency that we are in. Around the world 1020 local governments and jurisdictions have declared a climate emergency.

Although the last time we moved to have this parliament recognise the science and declare a climate emergency, both parties voted against it. We will be bringing that back. We will give this parliament an opportunity to do the right thing to declare a climate emergency and commit to meaningful and direct action, because if there is one thing that gives young people hope, it is action.

We are concerned about the regrettable lack of adaptation planning for Tasmania. We cannot see any evidence of strategic adaptation planning across the three levels of government and, unfortunately, there is no transparency about the information that is already at hand. A news report in today's Advocate is headlined 'Coastal erosion report secrecy', and says:

Progress on the Burnie to Wynyard leg of the coastal pathway has stalled as the state Government refuses to publicly release a report on erosion.

For the record, that coastal erosion mapping was started when I was the climate minister and it was always intended to be made public. You equip and prepare communities for the future. We did coastal erosion mapping and sea level rise mapping and the sea level rise mapping we made public. The coastal erosion mapping we were working on. There is no excuse for not telling people the truth because if you do not tell people the truth they are not prepared for the reality. It is the least government can do. If it cannot commit to meaningful, direct climate action, the very least it can do it make available the science to communities to help them prepare and be ready for the future.

Hundreds of communities, cities, states and countries have accepted the truth on the dire state of our warming world and have declared a climate emergency. The language of a climate emergency is spreading across the planet as the need for action exponentially escalates. We know that the declaration of a climate emergency is not a solution but it is the beginning of one. It is a declaration of leadership and a commitment to future generations.

Government members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Excuse me, Ms O'Connor. Could I ask the gentlemen to get seated closer together so that they can whisper more quietly, instead of that loud whispering? Thank you, please proceed.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is regrettable that the minister, Mr Jaensch is not listening to this. This is the same Mr Jaensch who, when he was working in the north-west at a local government level, was on a climate action council. Shame on you.

Mr Jaensch - Shame on you for misrepresenting a climate report that -

Madam SPEAKER - Order. Through the Chair, please.

Ms O'CONNOR - You can make your contribution when you get up.

Mr Jaensch - Shame on you. You are the one who is misleading.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, Mr Jaensch, thank you.

Ms O'CONNOR - Declaring a climate emergency provides the necessary framework for all of our decision-making and planning. We have already seen this process begin in earnest with the Hobart, Launceston and Kingborough councils and, as we know, the Glenorchy City Council will debate a climate emergency motion on 30 September. Those who accuse us of causing unnecessary alarm and not cosseting children so they feel positive about their future, are dangerously foolish. Alarm is both a necessary and logical response to the circumstances we face. Hiding from the truth now will only serve to make things worse for everyone as we move into the future. As political leaders, we have an obligation to act. It is a pressing moral obligation. We must recognise the truth of the climate emergency and do everything in our power to both mitigate its development and adapt to its challenges. Political parties in this place have many differences but we are all made up of people who chose this path of political life to make positive change. We hope that the community's voice on this issue will help those in power to rediscover this sense of purpose.

Global heating is the greatest threat to this island and the greatest threat to our children's future. Tackling it will take all of us working together. That is why we have brought this motion on today in the language it is written. Of course we have had to have a whack on the way through just so that we are telling the truth in this place, but I urge speakers who come next to go back to the substance of the motion, have a look at the wording and ask yourself this: if you do not vote for this, how will you look at your kids tonight?