Amy Coopes writes:
Former Greens leader Bob Brown has called for a new era of defiance, urging millions of Australians to take to the streets for climate action ahead of a protest march of Australian and New Zealand emergency doctors through central Hobart on Thursday.
Brown, a medical doctor by training and one of Australia’s most legendary environmental activists, applauded the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine (ACEM) for taking their annual scientific meeting to the streets for a peaceful demonstration in support of climate action in Hobart this week, something he described as unprecedented for a medical college.
The former Australian Greens leader delivered a stirring call to arms for the medical profession on the climate emergency, delivering ACEM’s annual Foundation Lecture on Monday night as part of the College’s annual summit, which this year is themed ‘The Changing Climate of Emergency Medicine’ and has a heavy emphasis on climate change and advocacy.
“We are in the existential crisis of all human history,” Brown told a packed auditorium in Hobart. “Our evolved, or God-given intelligence is all that stands between us and cataclysm.”
Brown told ACEM delegates the human race – occupying the “only speck in the universe that has life and awareness, and through us, the ability to change itself” – was devouring the planet at an incomprehensible pace, consuming 170 percent of Earth’s reproductive capacity every year and projections that by 2050 this would increase by 300 percent.
“That cannot happen, something is going to give, and quickly,” he said.
Humanity, he said, faced a simple choice: to act, in unison and immediately, to step out of their comfort zones and across established divides “in defiance of the established order”.
“We’re going to need millions of people on the street to demand a change in this climate emergency, including the end of burning coal for electricity when there’s such good cheaper alternatives which are not threatening the planet,” Brown told Croakey in an interview after his address, in which he singled out Interpol red-listed Sea Shepherd leader Paul Watson as an example of the defiance required to save the planet.
“The political inaction is stunning, and that’s going to take community leaders to be much bolder, be active, be out there.”
Almost 1,000 emergency doctors from Australia and New Zealand have gathered in Hobart for this week’s climate-themed summit and march through Hobart on Thursday morning, a demonstration the likes of which Brown said he had never seen by medicos in Australia.
It follows the declaration of a climate emergency by the Australian Medical Association last month, with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists the latest group to add their voice to calls for action, issuing a statement this week recognising that climate change is a health issue requiring urgent action.
Brown said the global groundswell of protest, led by Greta Thunberg and her #FridaysForFuture school strikes, had reignited an environmental activist movement in Australia which he hadn’t witnessed since the 1960s “and it’s a good one to be beholding”.
But he also sounded a warning on draconian measures in Tasmania and federally to stifle dissent, describing the former as harsher than laws against protest in China, Russia or Brazil, and the last redoubt of a government who “have lost the argument, know they are wrong.”
Had these protest laws been in effect in previous decades, Brown said the Franklin would have been dammed, Kakadu would have been lost and the Daintree logged: “So often it has taken the actions of good-hearted people to protect the environment.”
He also hit out at concerted efforts by the Murdoch press “hate machine” to silence or derail debate, particularly in Queensland, which is home to the controversial Adani coal mine and where News Corp owns 80% of the newspapers.
“The press is the Fourth Estate, it’s hugely important in a democracy. As Jefferson said so long ago information is the currency of democracy,” Brown told Croakey. “We’re not getting information from Rupert Murdoch and sadly, other sections of the media, it infects them as well.”
“We need press advocacy for the planet that we haven’t seen today, except in very specialised media,” he added.
Brown pushed back against suggestions that his Foundation’s #StopAdani convoy had been responsible for the ALP’s election loss earlier this year, saying if Bill Shorten had committed to walking away from the Adani project as his mentor Bob Hawke had done on the Franklin Dam some 40 years ago “he would be Prime Minister today”.
“If we had stopped to try and convince everyone the Franklin would have been dammed,” he added, saying leadership required action without waiting for “the country to wake up”, which he said it always did, eventually: “There is no intelligence in procrastination while the world burns.”
“As this emergency gets greater – and it is getting greater: bushfires, cyclones, drought the extinction of species – more and more people will come onside,” said Brown. “The question is, are we pre or post-cataclysmic?”
What doctors can and should do in the face of the climate crisis has been a central question for this week’s summit, but for Brown it was very simple: do something.
He brought Huonville GP Dr Lisa Searle up onto the stage to talk about why she occupies trees in the Tarkine, action she described as “incredibly worthwhile”, powerful, and useful.
Searle also deploys on humanitarian missions with Medecins Sans Frontieres and said the same social justice impulse that drew her into medicine inspires her to tree-sit.
Brown also shared the stories of medical personnel who had chained themselves to equipment at the Adani site. He said it would take direct actions like these, as well as mass demonstrations, to capture the public imagination and force governments to act.
“Sitting in trees or standing in front of bulldozers is a crucial component of the defiance we need in this age, no matter what draconian laws they bring down,” he said.
But the veteran campaigner also acknowledged that not everyone would want to climb a tree or lock on a mine site and it was “horses for courses”.
“The call is to take action, just get out of the comfort zone, and if you can’t, if you’re too busy, write a cheque to those people who are taking action… because that really counts,” he said.
ACEM doctors march from Royal Hobart Hospital to their conference venue from 8.45am Thursday, ahead of the event’s headline plenary on climate change and health. Amy Coopes will be there for the Croakey Conference News Service
Watch our interview with Bob Brown
Read a detailed Twitter summary of his presentation, together with comments and responses from #ACEM19 participants.