Yesterday I attended the Krebs Lecture 2015 at the University of Canberra given by Peter Garrett AM on the environment, climate change and ‘five simple steps we can take to save the hand that feeds us – our planet’.*
Garrett’s credentials include former roles as: lead singer of Aussie rock band Midnight Oil; president of Australian Conservation Foundation; international board member of Greenpeace; candidate for the Nuclear Disarmament Party in the mid 80s; and Federal Minister for the Environment and Education portfolios as a member of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) between 2007 and 2013.
He posed the loaded question: How long can we continue on a business as usual (BAU) path and simply wait for a techno-cure?
His conclusion was that, despite some innovations and progress, the case for urgent action is inescapable – and that Australians, in particular, have a lot at stake and the opportunity to make a real difference both locally and as responsible global citizens.
Noting the speed and scale of change as we move ever closer to critical tipping points, Garrett says that if we don’t do something about climate change, it’s ‘Bye Bye Bondi Beach’. [What a great name for a song, hey?]
He also quoted Unilever’s CEO’s who apparently commented recently that we are at the end of the high C (carbon) economy. [Time to do trade in a new key?]
On a more serious note, Garrett says that we need legislation that can deal effectively with ‘eco-cide’ in this human-dominated era (the Anthropocene?). [Interestingly, he believes that delaying action on climate change constitutes a crime against ‘humanity’ – rather than ‘nature’.]
He stressed that governments are a key part of the solution and must be held accountable – possibly via new mechanisms for civic engagement, such as a ‘people’s tribunal’, instead of relying on three year election cycles to punish governments that don’t do enough.
Based on his experience, Garrett encourages Australians to ring politicians direct if we have something to say – instead of using lobbyists. We all have a voice that we need to exercise.
Speaking of exercise, he also said that we need to immerse ourselves in nature so that we understand better what we are trying to protect – whether that be the wilderness, national parks or urban areas filled with native plants and rooftop gardens.
[And maybe do something about the soulless ‘home units with brick wall views’ described in one of my favourite Midnight Oil songs ‘Don’t wanna be the one‘?]
Garrett reminded attendees that ‘being in nature’ is important for people of all ages and offers benefits for both our physical and mental well-being. And why not, he suggests, have some fun at the same time?
I wonder if he has been taking his own advice since leaving politics?
(You can read a transcript of his full speech on his website – here.)
Garrett presented lots of alarming statistics and some good ideas but I was disappointed that he didn’t provide more personal insights from his experience working as an activist and in government. [Perhaps he is deliberately saving these for his book to be published in 2015?]
He also outlined a range of initiatives and decisions he was proud of during his time with the ACF and ALP (and predictably took the opportunity to knock the current government’s environmental record).**
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that he didn’t mention the band at all in his lecture.
Unfortunately, being in politics forced Garrett to make compromises that many critics noted were in conflict with the strong messages communicated via the Oils’ music on topics such as uranium mining and old-growth timber logging.
Also, I agree with Sara Phillips in her assessment that most Midnight Oil songs are more about corporate greed and colonisation than strictly environmental issues, such as deforestation, salinity, climate change, droughts, floods, species loss, and pollution.***
However, they were important protest songs at the time and have messages that are still relevant today in terms of environmental and social issues (e.g. Blue Sky Mine; Read About it; Pictures), indigenous rights (e.g. Our Country; Beds are Burning; The Dead Heart), war and military intervention (e.g. Forgotten Years; US Forces; Armistice Day; Short Memory).
(Watch the other video clips at the ‘Official Midnight Oil site’ to avoid ads – here.)
It’s a shame that much of the energy that Garrett portrayed in his past life (and especially on stage) was not evident in this formal lecture – even if his convictions and commitment were still clear via his words.
But I am somewhat reassured by Jessica’s comforting tagline at Rockremembers.com:****
“Music is everywhere. Every culture has it. It was always there. It records everything. It’s a living history. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, but those who rock remember.”
Hopefully Garrett’s time as the Oils’ front man will never be ‘forgotten years’ and fans will continue to sing and shout along with the immortal words of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata in Midnight Oil’s ‘Power & the Passion‘:
“It’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees”.
The real question is, will we do something to back up those words?
* The UC Institute for Applied Ecology’s Krebs Lectures celebrate the contribution that Professor Charles Krebs has made to our understanding and appreciation of the natural world. Attendance was free.
** Garret and others seem to have conveniently forgotten that the ALP also made significant cuts to the CSIRO and other scientific and environmental agencies while in power – including a $63.4m budget cuts to CSIRO in 2008 and further ‘efficiency dividends’ in 2012 e.g. here.
*** ‘The Hottest 100, environmentally speaking‘ by Sara Phillips at ABC Environment Online. (Published 2 Feb 2011. Accessed 25 Feb 2015)
**** Check out Jessica’s post about what Midnight Oil’s song ‘Beds are burning’ is about – here.
Photo credits: Pip Marks (Whiteboard summary done by Gavin Blake @FeverPicture)