‘Maintain your rage and enthusiasm.’ As we enter into unprecedented times of uncertainty and fear, confusion and chaos, these are the words of Gough Whitlam that we need to keep in mind. With a loss of biodiversity that is increasing rapidly, global temperatures that are rising significantly, and air pollution levels that are continuing to grow, the transient and dynamic state of world politics make it challenging to achieve the outcomes on climate issues we so desperately need. Through these unstable political times, it’s time to think about the role that we – as citizens, and activists – can play in helping to steer our future in a safer and more sustainable direction.
For me, the last few months since the US Election have been a time of soul-searching and of reflection. Trump’s long election campaign and subsequent win has set important environment and human rights issues aside and emboldened far-right political groups across the globe, seen in our very own backyard through the return of One Nation. The question is, in a world where conservative forces are armed and ready to backtrack on hard-fought-for areas of progression (should they get into power), how can we best respond to these new political and social challenges that lay ahead?
Since taking office, there has been widespread criticism of the new Trump administration for a string of attacks made on climate science: from the decision to have Environmental Protection Agency studies reviewed by a political appointee before release to the public, to the Twitter ban placed on the Badlands National Park when they defied Trump’s order and spoke out on climate change. Let’s also not forget about the appointment of people with a history of climate scepticism and strong connections to the fossil fuel industry into senior positions in Trump’s administration.
The climate change denialism Trump advocates will have significant and devastating implications across the globe. The United States, one of the most powerful countries in the world, now has a leader who has expressed his intentions to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and has previously espoused statements on global warming that are unequivocally false.
It seems likely that, over the next four years, the United States will spiral even further backward on the issue as inaction continues. If the world’s biggest superpower is unable to show the leadership required for one of the most pressing issues of our time, how is the rest of the world expected to take necessary action to combat it?
We can be outraged at the drastic events unfolding nearly 15,950 kilometres away, but we must remember that the threat of human-induced climate change is a global one. And in understanding this, we need also to recognise that in Australia we have own fair share of tinfoil hat-wearers in high office on Capital Hill. Senators from minor parties and ministers alike are there to remind us that we can never take progress for granted, and that we must fight tooth to ensure we get the policies we need to minimise the effects of climate change.
Perhaps we could learn something from the scientists who have called for a rebellion (of sorts) against Trump’s attack on environmental science – one made through both academia and activism – with the ‘March For Science’ planned for over 30 cities in the United States in April. Australians have their own reasons to protest the lack of political leadership on the issue. People power is needed to block the Adani coalmine from becoming a reality, to make it heard that we, the constituents, demand better climate action from our representatives. Lobbying is needed to secure more funding for research in related scientific fields, to take the necessary action to save the Great Barrier Reef, and to develop the energy and technology solutions essential to ensuring our future is more sustainable.
We need to maintain our rage at the inaction on global warming, and our enthusiasm for stronger, more effective policies on climate issues. Patti Smith said that ‘people have the power to redeem the work of fools’, and, given the current political context, it’s high time we took this power back into our own hands.