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Living Lightly column

Character attacks fail to silence climate voices

By Alan Hewett

It seems ironic that while the Australian Prime Minister was in Washington being wined and dined by a man who thinks that climate change is a Chinese invention, Greta Thunberg was in New York at the centre of a global protest against government inaction to address the problem.

Greta’s single-minded protest galvanised young and old to act. At a time when those of us who care about the environment the most have the least political power she has demonstrated there is hope.

Unfortunately this has come at a personal cost to her. She has been attacked quite viciously. Accusations of exploitation by her parents and other adults came first but then it worsened. Our own Andrew Bolt described her as a ‘deeply disturbed messiah’ and having ‘mental disorders.’

Then none other than the head of OPEC, Mohammed Barkindo described her activities as ‘the greatest threat to our industry.’ Not bad for a 15 year old.

To her credit such comments have had little effect. She blithely continues with her message.

Of course she is not the first environmental activist to be treated this way. In 1962 Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a book that exposed the dangers of pesticides, posed questions about technological progress and kick started the environmental movement. The reaction of the chemical companies was extreme. They questioned the science (sound familiar?) Then they tried to sue her.

When that failed they launched a $250,000 campaign to discredit her. She was accused of being a communist, and because she was a single woman, ‘hysterical.’

Character assassination is one thing, but in recent years activists have had to face greater dangers. The killing of environmental defenders has increased dramatically in recent years.

Between 2002-2018, 1558 people in 50 countries were murdered trying to protect land, water and wildlife. People like Jose Claudio Ribeiro in Brazil trying to protect the Amazon, Chut Wutty in Cambodia protesting illegal logging and Berta Caceres in Honduras fighting against a dam being built.

Rachel Carson and Greta Thunberg have pointed out our attitude to nature has to change because mankind has acquired a devastating power to alter and inevitably destroy it.

They have challenged the assumption that human domination of nature is correct and regulation needs to be introduced to protect the environment.