Final day for the Sustainable living Festival kicked off with a huge crowd listening to Clive Hamilton go hard on the climate change denialists. Likening their attacks to an earlier historical period – that of the attacks on Einstein’s theory of relativity in Weimar Germany. Like today this saw a group of right wing populists apposing science for ideological reasons, contrasting Einstein’s “Jewish” science with Aryan or “pure” science. Although Hamilton was careful to avoid comparisons with Einstein’s more extreme fascists detractors the overall parallels are nonetheless startling. As are the comparisons with McCarthyism with elected officials in the US trying to intimidate climate scientists through threats of prosecution. This coupled with orchestrated campaigns of cyber bullying against climate scientists is putting tremendous stress upon these courageous individuals. Maybe a campaign of cyber support for them is in order to show them we are actually the majority.
Hamilton then laid the boot into Rupert Murdoch illustrating how his “news” outlets have been responsible for promulgating climate denial through the Fox network in the US and newspapers here in Australia. Of course as we know there is no debate amongst the climate scientists – the “expert” denialists all tend to be washed up old scientists trying to recreate their former glories or not even scientists at all like Monkton. The campaign of the denialists therefore has to be seen as part of a broader ideological battle. Put simply taking action on climate change is a threat not just to the profits of a whole swathe of companies but the system of profit itself. Unrestrained production and consumption is just not compatible with sustainability, it is therefore understandable that those who have most to lose from action on climate change would wage a campaign of obstruction.
The realisation of what we are up against coupled with the enormity of the future that we face if the denialists succeed will understandably lead to despair, but as Hamilton pointed out the best treatment for despair is action. He points to the example of the womens movement were a small, marginalised but committed group of individuals created the catalyst for a sudden shift during the 60s allowing feminism to blossom and create a profound shift in society. All social movements seem have those short sharp bursts of activity leading to transformative change. From the US civil rights movement to the inspirational movement sweeping through North Africa and the Middle East today. Hamilton’s parting words were “change will come” – that is true but only if we make it, otherwise it will be too late.
In contrast to this was the afternoon session by the garbage warrior himself Michael Reynolds who spoke of his desire to create a web of earth ships from the essence of the earth to provide sustenance for people. Viewers of his documentary will be familiar with his houses constructed from waste materials like tyres and bottles and using passive solar design and insulation to minimise other inputs, or what he calls earth ships. He has travelled disasters areas such as the 2004 Tsunami and Haiti Earthquake sharing his building techniques with the local communities – perfect for areas with a lack of traditional building materials and great poverty. His visit to Victoria is also in part to create a movement to remove planning restrictions in parts of fire affected Victoria to enable sustainable experimental houses to be built. However you get the feeling that his ideas for the “rich” world, an individualistic decentralised hub separated from the rest of society are born as a result of despair rather than hope. A kind of modern day Noah’s ark which will protect the chosen few from the climate chaos which will be unleashed over the next 50 years and good luck to the unenlightened. But this rejection of the grid is also a rejection of what makes humanity so powerful. It is our connections and interactions which enable us to develop solutions and effect change. Like isolated humans off grid power systems are so much less efficient, all the batteries and solar panels require huge amounts of energy to produce. Surely far better to devote our energies to fighting for a zero emission grid for all (including Haiti) rather than going off and building an off grid system for ourselves.