The head of the Australian branch of one of the world’s largest environmental organisations has called on voters to think beyond the left and right political divide, and instead demand more of our political leaders, regardless of their party allegiance.
Greenpeace CEO David Ritter says it is also time for political parties on both sides of the left and right divide to listen to the concerns of Australians, particularly about conservation.
Speaking to the Griffith University podcast A Middle Ground, David Ritter explains how a recent independent poll commissioned by Greenpeace showed climate change was the number one concern for voters in the leadup to the federal election.
“Look it unfortunately didn’t surprise me because we’d seen such a range of consequences fall on our country, on our people over the last few months,” Mr Ritter says.
“Forests burning that shouldn’t burn, reefs bleaching that shouldn’t bleach, rivers drying up that shouldn’t be dry. And then the consequences for individual lives.
“Now, this is adding up. This sense that things have to change, that we have reached a moment of when the crisis is breaking on us. That is why we are now seeing an electoral mood that says we must have action on climate change.”
But he says that politicians from all sides are not listening to those concerns, and it shouldn’t be reduced to an issue just for the left side of politics.
“Well I think when it comes to our two major parties, there is an enormous gap between their offering and what the people of Australia want on a whole range of things,” he says.
“They want politicians who are free from vested interest, have an ethic of public service and are prepared to lead in ways that involve and explain difficult things and sticking to the task.
“And I think all of us, we citizens of Australia, we just keep having to ask for more from our politicians and we have to be putting our energy into reforming the system so that we get better politicians.
“In Australia Malcolm Fraser turned the Great Barrier Reef into a marine park, Sir Garfield Barwick was an early patron of the Australian Conservation Foundation.
“There is in both liberalism and conservatism a deep set of ideological roots that could give you a perfectly well formed flourishing environmentalism, which would be different to an environmentalism of a kind you would have if you were a social democrat.
“The argument that we should be having is about how we protect nature to the best of our abilities, not denying the evidence of our own eyes and our own bodies, which is where we are at the moment.”
David Ritter has written the essay “We all took a stand” in the newly released edition 63 of Griffith Review, examining how the community of Margaret River has taken on the might of the coal industry.
He says Margaret River’s plight has great significance for the nation, as Australians grapple with how much of a place coal has in our future.
“It narrates the story of the remarkable stand taken by the Margaret River community to defeat proposals to build a coal mine in the heart of Margaret River country,” he says.
“And it was really interesting because this was a huge success for what you would ordinarily call the environment movement, but there was some fairly unusual factors involved there. But it was almost like it was regarded as such an anomaly, because Margaret River is this iconic place, that people sort of saw it as the exception.
“Now I think that’s not the right interpretation, because what happened here is a community that in many ways is quite conservative stood up and said, `There are some things more important than coal, and we can’t believe what the companies are telling us’.”
“Now the moment that watershed has been reached of saying some things are more important than coal, and you can’t believe what the companies are telling us, it’s very difficult to put that genie back in the bottle. So I really wanted to tell that story.”
He says in his new book The Coal Truth, that it is possible to transition to renewable energy, and look after coal-mining communities.
“One of the stories in the book is the story of my Dad’s first job, and my Dad’s first job was as a coal miner. My parents were post depression era kids, there was an ethic around the nobility of coal mining that was in my family when I grew up,” he says.
“In a sense we’re all part of the coal industry, because we all belong to a society that has been built on industrialisation that was built on coal.
“So what we have to do as a country is not treat the industry, or the communities who have built the industry, as enemies, but as a part of a family that we need to shift into doing something else for the great good of all of us.”
Part of the challenge he says, is for Australia to embrace transition, rather than fear it.
“We’ve done this kind of stuff before. As a country, we are really, really good at these sorts of transitions,” he says.
“In the 20th century, we twice transitioned to fight wars. We once transitioned, whatever one thinks of it, we transitioned to make the reforms to our economy in the 1980s.
“We are perfectly capable of making the kind of transition, the structural transition we need to, in a way that doesn’t leave workers behind, that doesn’t leave communities behind.
“It is not just renewables industry, it is regenerative agriculture, it is the sort of transitions we need to make in our buildings, in our transport.
“Well it will create real challenges for people who are directly engaged in that industry. There is no doubt, and we shouldn’t underplay those, but for us as a society and as a nation, we can engage with this with kindness and with creativity and with imagination and emerge from it a bigger country than we are now.”