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Living Lightly column

The times; are they changing?

By Kirsten Coates

What a difference a year makes. How many times in the last 12 months have you said, “this time last year……..” and finished the sentence feeling incredulous, sad and a little disorientated? Time, it seems has taken on different proportions and a different framework.

This time last year I was attending the National Climate Emergency Summit in Melbourne. It was three days of guest speakers, panel discussions and workshops around the pressing urgency to create meaningful change at federal, state and local levels of government as well as how to take individual action in your local community.

At the same time, a cruise ship was diverted to Darwin for quarantine as passengers had been diagnosed with a virus called COVID 19 after the World Health Organisation declared it a Pandemic a few days before.

Over the ensuing weeks and months the country responded to manage the virus, and we have been able to escape total chaos. Many people have noted that the events of the past year have clearly demonstrated our collective ability to respond to an emergency-level global threat and then wonder; how can we translate this action to address the other, far bigger threat of global warming?

Last week the National Climate Emergency Summit (https://www.climateemergencysummit.org/2021-forum/) went online with a number of forums on topics around the climate crisis. International and local climate specialists, thinkers and commentators draw on insights and understandings of how the handling of COVID 19 can inform our way forward with the climate crisis.

We have learnt that generally the population recognised and accepted the threat of COVID 19 and restricted their behaviour before the government imposed legal restrictions. This gave the government a social licence to act and in turn most of the populous were supportive of the government. Few politicians denied the existence of the virus, and the emergency at hand, and subsequently acted with conviction, based on scientific evidence. And although Commonwealth and State cooperation was variable, the objective of “zero cases” was clear and well-articulated.

If we could take these key points and convince our politicians that climate change IS an emergency; that addressing climate change also achieves positive health outcomes; that more and more of the population is giving governments the social licence to act and that the scientific evidence is overwhelming, then maybe we could work to achieve zero emissions just as effectively as we could work to achieve zero cases.