Over the past few years the geographical and demographic division of the political spectrum has become increasingly distinct. Although it has been evident for decades, the growth of the Greens in inner city electorates and the growth of the Katter’s Australia Party in North Queensland has made it clear that geographical lines are now also political lines. Currently the climate movements electoral support has been stunted because we have allowed the political mandate we once had to slip away unnoticed. We took the shallow support we had for granted and failed to galvanise frames for action in both progressive and conservative sides of politics. As a result it is now an imperative that we start communicating and acting on climate change in a way that resonates with all the Australians who have been unsure of the problem or critical about its solutions. We are not going to succeed in doing this unless as individual campaigners and a collective movement we can start moving beyond green enclaves and claim new territory on the front lines where these Australians live.
Growing up around Nimbin in Northern NSW gave me a childhood that made me a fervent believer in the need to build a radically progressive movement with a culture of outreach and growth. You may or may not have been to Nimbin. Many judge it purely on the strong drug culture that the town has identified itself with but some know that if you scratch through the paint a little deeper you will find a truly remarkable community that has been one of the epicentres for the environmental movement in Australia. It’s the place where permaculture first flourished, where the first solar panel shop started up and where the first forest blockade took place in Australia. The local economy works to have a restorative environmental benefit while the community operates in a way that seems closer to the sustainable future we are fighting for than any other community I have seen in Australia.
Despite the dreamy and idyllic description I am giving my beloved home and the alternative lifestyles it represents it is not the place I would like anyone reading this to pay more than an occasional visit to. Many people have moved to this place over the years to escape the often scary world we confront on a day to day basis. They were searching for a place that is more nurturing, beautiful and balanced. Growing up as frustrated activist it dawned on me that many people had unknowingly turned their back on all the work that needs to be done to ensure the whole world becomes this place.
Turning their back by forgetting their responsibility to understand and engage the parts of our society that are not concerned about our ecological future, who see our environment as something abstract to their livelihoods, health and prosperity. Who can blame them, they found a patch of heaven that made it easy to forget the hell the world is becoming. The search for such places had become reciprocal with the movements cultural tradition of focusing on alternative lifstyles and escaping from the consumer driven worlds brutality. But today after 40 years of a culture of alternativism we need to build a culture of opposition and growth that will allow us move from being the muted minority to the vocal majority.
Nimbin like many other green enclaves around Australia both regional and in the city has become a place of cultural propagation but also a refuge for our movement. These places are our hearts; where we grow strongest but also where our blood always flows back to. However, if we are truly committed to growing our movement we need to start to looking beyond our geographic centres and migrate with courage to the places where we must lay new political and cultural foundations.
Movement and activist mobility has been a crucial part of social movements throughout history. Many young student activists in the US civil rights movement dropped out of university and moved to a south-western town where racial oppression was strongest in order to confront the culture that was pervading them justice. In Austraia thousands of activists travelled during key moments to places of significance for months on end at places such as the Franklin River, the Daintree and Jabiluka to protect these national icons under threat. The Freedom rides in NSW represented the willingness of indigenous campaigners to take their message to the places where racism hit hardest. In every example there became a time where the movement needed to transcend their geographical heartland and move to the front lines of the political battle that was being fought.
Many scientists and climate commentators have often commented that to effectively mitigate climate change our country will need to dedicate its full economic power and mite to reducing emissions and restoring our environment. It has been said that this would need to be done at a scale only equal to the level of industrial and political focus that was shown during World War II when the entire country had the single focus to defend our nation. This begs the question: How are we to expect to ever get our country to a war footing on climate change if our our movement cannot get there? Our movement is currently not acting on a war-footing, so why would the rest of Australia go there either. Like the ANZAC troops who travelled to Tobruk we need organisers in the thousands who are willing to relocate their lives and their work to the to the front lines of the climate movement.
Right now states like Queensland are crying out for climate activists. Queensland has become a stronghold of conservative power with the expansion of the coal industry at its core. It has the 2nd highest economic growth making it an increasingly powerful state in Australia’s political future. In the recent state election not only did the ALP face an unprecedented defeat but the vote of the Australian Greens also decreased overall in the state (it increased in numbers but due to population increase it decreased as a percentage of the overall state). This gives a clear indication of the political and voting trends that will continue unless we do something about it.
In the outback of North Queensland the largest expansion of coal mines in the world’s history is taking place. You may not have heard but it is estimated that the total emissions that will be released if the coal is burnt from mines such as the ‘China First Porject’ in the Galilee basin will account for 6.5% of the world’s carbon budget until 2050 on its own. This is a battle that is only just beginning. But one thing is known for sure- it wont be won without considerable energy from interstate campaigners that recognise the national and international significance of this threat.
Another consideration is that over the past ten years Queensland’s south eastern coast has undergone massive expansion of suburban communities. Through this growth Queensland has become the fastest growing state in the country. If you have visited such places like the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast you may join me in recognising the strong conservative values that are propagating in these expanding communities. Social isolation, media saturation, over-commercialised consumerist culture and fundamentalist religions are quickly degrading many communities ability to hold nurturant and progressive values essential for sustainable transitions. Much like in Western Sydney where over 3 million Australians live alone there are an increasing amount of places that environmentalists have refused to live and by doing so turned our back on.
But its not all about the challenge we are facing. Its also about the opportunity Queensland represents as a place that has been and will continue to be ravaged by natural disasters. In Queensland we can start talking about the direct impacts of climate change with more effect than anywhere else because here people are experiencing those impacts more than any where else. This means that if we can find a way to motivate locals to act their efforts wont just come arise from eco-centric ideology but from the oppression they are facing from the destabilisation of the earths climate. The way they identify the direct impacts upon their health, livelihoods and future will be diverse and will allow the climate movement to broaden our solidarity with the front lines of climate change like the Lock the Gate campaign has shown us is possible.
A much read and discussed article ‘Organising Cools the Planet’ by Joshua Kahn Russel and Hilary Moore talks about the importance of organisers working on climate change of finding our frontline in the work we do. They describe a frontline as ‘where an issue is fought and won, and can be seen as a place to campaign in as well as a set of issues to build power around – the more appealing your frontline is to a broad range of people, the more support your issue gets’. The purpose of this is to converge issues a number of people are talking about, and build power out of common demands. This creates a new frontline, not just climate campaigners wanting to prevent coal expansion, but also local communities seeking ownership over mine grants in their neighbourhood. A new ‘aligned’ frontline is created and a broad-base of people are involved in a campaign.
Right now the climate movement is in a tough place and if Tony Abbott wins the next election we could be yet to see our darkest hour. As the saying goes ‘the darkest hour is before the dawn’ and what better way to welcome the dawn that to move to the sun state. But like watching the dawn is best done from on top of a mountain the thought of waking up early for the hard walk to get there is often the greatest barrier to making the ascent. We know that moving to a front line will be difficult and campaigning there in a way that builds the issues and local communities into a ‘aligned’ frontline will be even harder.
Yet there will probably not be a better time than now. Queensland is ripe for the picking with mine proposals left, right and centre, a over powered conservative government, some of the worlds natural wonders on its door step and a whole lot of potentially angry citizens. It may be the best opportunity the climate movement has in Australia to put a lid on coal and align our values and call to action with the natural and rightly so self interested conservative in every Australian.
To me growing up in the hippiest area in Australia has made me want to run away from it in order to reach all the people that never came to witness the vision for the world it has given me. This means finding a front line in places some times close and some times far away. I am only just beginning but i wanted to share these thoughts with you because its something i think all of us are going to have to start doing sooner or later if we want to stop winning battles and start winning the war.
So ask yourself the question do you have the resources and courage to move to a place that may not feel like home but is begging for you to do the work to make it a place of community, environmental sanity and resilience. A place we can call home. Then maybe one day we maybe be able to call everywhere our home.
– By Ahri Tallon