In the last few months I’ve switched from saying I’m doing organising around ‘climate justice’ to ‘anti-nuclear’. This has earnt me a steady critique of the choice to focus on anti-nuclear, with furrows appearing on the questioner’s brow. I know I have to act quickly to have any chance of mounting an argument before my listeners start talking about James Hansen or Tim Flannery.

It’s scary how nuclear seems to be riding on the back of climate change to have returned to the agenda in a big way. And not just the political agenda, but the media’s, the public’s, the universities’ and even those who would self-refer as ‘environmentalists’. I think opposing the nuclear fuel cycle in Australia- the mining, exporting, waste, and possible production of nuclear power, must be included in our ideas of what climate justice means in this country.

I want to explore here some of the powerful experiences I’ve had in these few months focusing on anti-nuclear organising, which have not only reaffirmed for me the horrors of nuclear but also given a glimpse of what real climate justice solutions might look like.

Starting with uncle Kevin Buzzacott, an Arabunna elder, who when I met him a couple of weeks ago on his country near Olympic Dam uranium mine held out speckles of red dirt on his finger- ‘This is you. Not even, wait.’ He brushed all but one tiny speck off. ‘This, this, is you.’

Meeting Uncle Kevin affected me in a number of ways. He has been fighting uranium mining on his country since the Olympic Dam mine was first proposed over 30 years ago. He has also tackled the colonial legal system and the assertion of white sovereignty over his peoples’ land. He told me how he’d been offered countless bribes to quieten down, or end a protest camp, but he knew his number one duty was to care for the earth. He saw his struggle to protect his country from uranium mining as bound up in the fight against white colonialism. This meant fighting against the companies who sought to wrest control over the land from his people.

The grain of sand returns here. Uncle Kevin sees our presence as a mere speck in the thousands of years of life before and after us. He argues that in the 100 or so years since white people had made it onto his country (having taken a while to reach the SA desert as he said “they thought there were too many flies, nothing there”), they have acted like masters of the earth. Like they own all the millions of specks of sand. And in this way they have dug up uranium. Uranium, which can be used for weapons of devastation, which creates a waste product that lasts many millennia, which many are now holding forth as the solution to the most glaring symptom of the ecological havoc we are wreaking- climate change.

Is this really the best we can do? Climate change is upon us because rich nations, companies, people, are exploiting the earth’s resources way beyond our means. We are horrified by the legacy this is leaving, the present and looming affects of climate change, and yet we are turning to answers from the same book. We still think we are the masters of the earth. We are still exploiting the traditional owners of this country. Mining places they say we shouldn’t touch. Planning to bury waste there too.

To me, this isn’t what climate justice looks like. This is no solution I want to be a part of. I think climate justice is about recognising who caused climate change, what systems of power and belief are sustaining our continuing path towards ecological crises – not just climate change but many others too, and listening to those who are already most impacted by these crises.

Which brings me to someone else we met (am not sure if she’d like to be named), an Adnyamathanha elder, near her country around the Flinders and Gammon ranges. She talked about how she and her family still go out camping on their land but are fearful that the water may be contaminated, as it’s near the Beverley uranium mine. She fiercely wants to defend that land from further proposed mines, but can’t get the ear of government, even the Minister for Aboriginal affairs refuses to meet with her and other elders.

Her approach to the land was starkly at odds with the government’s and mining companies’ but seemed so much the wiser. She wanted to be able to live on that land, drink the water, pass it onto her kids, and hated the idea that uranium from her country might be used for weapons or be involved in nuclear accidents in another part of the world. Listening to her, I could feel the beginnings of real alternatives taking seed in my head, pushing out the deadened complacency of business as usual, creating ruptures in the white, capitalist brain we are conditioned to have.

This is also just a beginning. It’s just a scraping of the reasons why we need to stay away from the entire nuclear fuel cycle. There are other articles, other arguments to be found, other people to be listened to. There’s no way I have my head around the intricacies of them all but have heard enough to know that when there is a proposed radioactive waste dump at Muckaty in the NT, a planned expansion of the Olympic Dam and Beverley uranium mines, companies drilling for uranium all over WA, contracts to export uranium to nuclear weapons states, to bring the waste back, and nuclear power proponents in the spotlight all over the country, then it’s high time to do something!

— Emma kefford

Member of ASEN Anti-nuclear and Indigenous Solidarity Working Group and Friends of the Earth Anti-nuclear and Clean Energy (ACE) Collective