PIERS VERSTEGEN is director of the Conservation Council of WA. As a long time campaigner for the environment, he was initially skeptical about the tactics used by Extinction Rebellion members, who’ve promised to use civil disobedience and disruption to urge action on climate change.
LIKE many people committed to action on climate change, I initially perceived Extinction Rebellion with a degree of healthy skepticism.
Surveys show that 85 per cent of Western Australians support stronger action on climate change, yet have heard a predictable chorus of complaint about the tactics that Extinction Rebellion have employed to draw attention to these issues.
For those who say they support the aims of the protesters but complain their tactics go too far, or who suggest there is a better or more effective way to achieve change, I ask you to genuinely consider the following.
First, please say what you think the better alternative is, and then consider why, if it is more effective has it not been successful to date?
If you know of a more effective strategy, are you personally working on it, or supporting others to implement that?
If the answer is no – why not? If the answer is yes, how is that working out?
I am profoundly thankful to the countless people who together invest an astonishing effort towards a myriad change-making strategies, almost entirely in an unpaid capacity.
Legal work, petitions, media, policy development, education, behaviour change, research, lobbying, divestment, persuasive writing, social media, community organising, election campaigning, and the list goes on.
Despite this effort, from the privileged position of somebody who is paid to work on such things, there is an uncomfortable reality we must face.
While absolutely essential, on their own these efforts are not working at the scale and speed required.
I have been engaged in this work in various ways for most of my adult life. During this time WA’s carbon pollution has increased by about a third and continues to rise.
Our governments have worse policies on climate change than when I started.
Last week, we revealed that the Browse Basin and Burrup Hub LNG project promoted by Woodside Petroleum and the McGowan government would release three to four times the pollution of the Adani coal mine if it were to proceed.
These realities are unfathomable. And meanwhile, scientific evidence of climate change becomes every day more desperate and urgent and terrifying.
And yet at the same time we have made incredible progress.
Renewable energy is now cheaper than fossil fuels; successful community-led campaigns have held back fracking and coal expansion in WA; councils, universities, and churches have divested from coal, oil and gas; thousands of students have engaged in strike action and peaceful demonstrations; and polling shows an overwhelming majority support stronger action.
People here in WA are awakening to the reality of what is occurring in our own backyard. Farmers are feeling the impacts of a changing climate and our community is waking up to the outsized climate damage being done by WA’s biggest polluters in the LNG industry we are host to.
But so far, these things haven’t changed the fundamentals of the equation.
Our government remains firmly captured by the interests of fossil fuel multinationals who pay no tax or royalties, and employ the least people in WA of any sector.
Suffering a kind of Stockholm syndrome, decision-makers have adopted the bizarre belief that we can burn our way out of a climate emergency.
Presented with evidence that action to tackle the problem will create thousands of jobs and deliver a huge boost to the economy, and in the face of ever more dire warnings from scientists, our governments continue to look away, mesmerised and paralysed.
And so, we must be open to trying something different. Something that sounds the alarm in a way that is loud enough, or annoying enough to wake us up from our collective slumber.
So, I chose to suspend my skepticism about Extinction Rebellion.
Rather than criticise, I instead take my hat off to anyone involved.
They are showing us that we have options.
We do not need to paralysed.
We are capable of regaining control of our collective destiny.
I deeply admire those who are prepared to forego their liberty and even their dignity if that is what it takes to get some sort of reaction out of a political and economic system that is sleep walking over a cliff.
I thank them for doing it.
Like chemotherapy, it is not without its side effects, but maybe, just maybe, it will actually help to shift something.
I certainly hope so.