Castan Centre Strikes Back! Global Climate Strike 2019 

On 20 September, the Castan Centre had the privilege of standing in solidarity with more than 400,000 Australians, and millions of activists from around the world to demand government action on climate change at the Global Climate Strike. Climate change has posed dangerous risks for the enjoyment of all human rights, and we at the Centre urge the government to take steps to mitigate and prevent the future harms that are sure to ensue should we continue down a path of climate denial.

Our Director, Sarah Joseph, along with Policy Manager Karin Frodé and Project Officer Andrea Olivares Jones arrived to see Melbourne’s Treasury Garden filled with a roaring crowd of passionate, intelligent activists of all ages and from diverse backgrounds. It was clear that this was more than just a protest – it was a movement – and a critical illustration of democracy in action. 

We also had the great pleasure of speaking to three inspiring local activists at the Melbourne strike about the human rights implications of climate inaction, and their message to the Morrison government on this issue.

MEET THE ACTIVISTS

  • Santino Raftellis (left)Environment and Social Justice Office bearer for the Monash Students Association
  • Ruby Wilson-Tucker (middle) – Honours Student at the University of Melbourne, originally from rural Queensland.
  • Max McLennan (right) Marketing Coordinator and environmental activist from Melbourne. 

IS CLIMATE CHANGE A HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUE?

Santino: Climate change is both a critical human rights issue and a salient moral issue that we are all grappling with. Disregard for climate change is threatening our once largely symbiotic relationship with the environment, with devastating human cost. Overseas, Pacific Islander peoples are witnessing their homes completely wash away as sea levels continue to rise. Indigenous groups in Ecuador and Brazil are facing the complete and utter destruction of their communities at the hands of multinationals and governments? They are silent on the sidelines. Here at home, climate change is endangering rural communities and threatening the livelihoods of our younger generations. It is affecting how we live and engage with one another and will have an enormous impact on our future, and the legacy we leave for our children. 

Ruby: Climate change is a human rights issue because the survival of humanity is at risk. Acknowledging the impact humans have on the environment and making drastic changes to the way we live is dire. We need to change the way we interact with the environment and recognise that we are part of the ecosystem, and not above it. We have a short and selective memory when it comes to the very obvious signs of climate change – dismissing the link between our behaviour and unnaturally catastrophic natural disasters like bushfires and increasingly hot temperatures. We adapt to the disaster rather than proactively avoiding the disaster in the first place. 

Max: Most definitely. Any factor that has the ability to potentially drastically change the world as we know it is inherently a human rights issue as it affects us all. Any discussion directing the conversation away from this point is disingenuous at best, the knock-on effects that will come about from the changes to earth’s climate will leave every nation in the world struggling, be it directly from rising sea levels like the Pacific Islands, or indirectly like the millions of climate refugees that will have nowhere else to go. Despite increasing isolationism amongst many governments, this issue will not be resolved by nations “looking after their own”. The growing problems will simply become too large to mitigate when we hit the encroaching tipping point.

WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE TO THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT?

Santino: Put simply? Be better – there is no need to play politics with this issue. This isn’t just about carbon emissions or renewable alternatives, it’s about people who will suffer the consequences of your inaction. It’s also a unique opportunity for us to let go of the past and forge ahead for a new future. We can say that in 2019 we generate energy differently from how we did 100 years ago. We can innovate and give Australians the opportunity to become self-sustaining, make the most of their energy, and create their own destiny. We can create intelligent jobs for brilliant young minds, and protect the land we live on. History will look favourably upon a government that is willing to stake their reputation on this important issue, and their constituents will embrace and respect leaders that act for the greater good of the people. 

Ruby: I recently did a road trip from Melbourne to Brisbane and was caught in the midst of the catastrophic fires in NSW which led to the declaration of a ‘state of emergency.’ The Australian government needs to recognise that unprecedented natural disasters like this are directly linked to climate change and that securitising environmental issues and elevating them to ‘emergency politics’ to be dealt with only once the issue has become catastrophic is simply a bandaid over the larger, more diffuse issues symptomatic of environmental degradation.

Max: Act. So far there has not even been a single, reasoned and evidence-based discussion around this issue in parliament. The consensus on this issue is no longer up for debate, a government is supposed to operate under the advice of the professionals put in place to guide society, from healthcare to education, this is no different, and yet we see nothing being done. The irony being that those currently in power will not live long enough to see the destruction their actions have wrought, yet they certainly seem to be trying. Instead of ‘whataboutisms’ and deflection, a serious and hardline approach needs to be taken to begin a steep transition away from traditional energy services, the infrastructure to support renewables to the grid and the battery storage options to retain it all. We once considered ourselves as a nation of innovation, the lucky country, but without drastic innovation and widespread change, our luck will soon run out.

So what now?

These activists echo the voices of millions of young people urging governments around the globe to accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change, and the need to legislate in order to prevent present and future harms to human rights.  We at the Castan Centre are proud to be a part of this movement and will continue to support local activists and advocate for progressive and just climate policy both at home and abroad. 

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Castan Centre

The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law seeks to promote and protect human rights through the generation and dissemination of public scholarship in international and domestic human rights law. In pursuit of this mission, the Centre brings the work of human rights scholars, practitioners and advocates from a wide range of disciplines together in the Centre’s key activities of research, teaching, public education (lectures, seminars, conferences, speeches, media presentations, etc), applied research, advice work and consultancies.

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