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Protesting to save the planet

By Alan Hewett

Sixty-five million years ago an asteroid struck the earth causing such wide-spread destruction that the dinosaurs became extinct. What would happen if a similar sized asteroid was hurtling towards us and would hit in a month’s time? Would we blithely accept the situation, go about our day-to-day business and say it is what it is? Or would we protest loudly and demand that the governments of the world do something to save the planet and ourselves from disaster.

We are facing such a scenario. However, the climate catastrophe that is unfolding is incremental. Change is happening but at a pace that allows a false sense of security. Also, there are ongoing debates about the efficacy of climate modelling which allows scepticism to continue. Despite ever increasing destructive events, governments of all political persuasions, influenced by vested interests are being very slow to act. Great at making speeches and setting targets, but not treating the climate emergency rapidly enough.

That is why individuals and groups have been forced to take action. We have seen climate protesters blocking roads, suspended from bridges and buildings, climbing on top of coal trains and gluing themselves to art works. There have been the school strikes led by Greta Thunberg. All these actions have been non-violent. Inconvenient, even confronting, they were still peaceful. What has been the reaction of governments?

In NSW there are fines of up to $15,000 and two years jail for protestors who disrupt major roads, ports and railway stations. In Victoria the logging of native forests has resulted in 3 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year. If you try to deter these logging operations expect a fine of more than $21,000 or a year in jail.

Non–violent protest has been used significantly over the years. There was the campaign to stop the flooding of the Franklin River, the ‘Stop Adani’, and ‘No Coal Seam Gas’ protests. The blockade of the Narrabi Gas Project.

We know that if the earth keeps warming we will experience more heatwaves, floods, bushfires, the destruction of coral reefs and rising sea levels. As Antonio Guterres said at COP27, ‘humanity is on a highway to climate hell with one foot still on the accelerator.’ Not quite like an asteroid hitting earth, but close.