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Has climate crisis reached zenith of inaction before a youth-led new dawn demands change, and gets it?

by Murray Hogarth
posted on Sunday, September 22nd, 2019


I’ve spent the past decade-plus trying to mentally block out the depressing debacle of Australia’s appallingly selfish and shortsighted climate policy failures, instead embracing techno-optimism while pursuing digital solutions for the clean energy transition. Thanks Wattwatchers, you came along just when you were needed.

Fast forward to September 2019. Suddenly, totally unexpectedly, I’ve felt a mild tremor of climate action hope returning. Pretty much all thanks to young people.

I’m cautious, mind you, because I’ve been burned in the past by false dawns of change. But I’m hoping a little 0.1 tremor on the Murray optimism scale could become a mini earthquake of emotional resurrection.

How has this come about? Several things happened in rapid succession over a few days. 

Mid week, my wife Natalie Isaacs headed off to New York for a major international climate summit, as a guest of the United Nations in her role as Founder and CEO of the Australian-based, internationally-renowned women’s climate action movement, 1 Million Women

Natalie will be in the same forum as the extraordinary school climate-striking pioneer, Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, who is on a fast-track to inspire a global awakening of climate action urgency among her student peers, and beyond. Where Greta has given a global voice to youth in one remarkable year, Natalie and her 1 Million Women team have worked diligently and passionately for a decade to build a global community of women who act on climate change in their daily lives. 

Therein lies one anchor for new hope. Even a decade ago the climate movement didn’t have truly-powerful, hyper-authentic women-led and youth-led pillars. Now it does. That’s a crucial development, and rightly offers cause for hope.

Later on the same day that Natalie took off for New York, I read Professor Tim Flannery’s strategic mea culpa, first published in The Conversation then subsequently in Guardian Australia, self-declaring his 20 years of climate activism a ‘colossal failure’. Flannery isn’t a climate scientist, but he is a scientist and he understands what the climate science is telling us, which is bad because the scientifically-evidenced and the lived experience of global warming impacts already is ugly – think, for example, dangerously changing bushfire patterns and intensity, and dying coral reefs – with much worse to come. Yet still the climate deniers persist.

I say, cut yourself a bit of slack, Tim, though I know your admission is a deliberately desperate cry for action when your intelligent, reasoned, compassionate campaigning has come up short against malign counterforces. The actions of the orchestrated climate denialists are ‘predatory’, as you say, and also as you say they do threaten our children, their children if they have them, and all the world’s children. But now those children are raising the stakes, and it won’t be the Tim Flannerys of the world who they’ll be pointing their fingers at. 

The next day Paul Gilding, my friend and former boss in the 2000s at business sustainability strategy outfit Ecos Corporation, published Issue No. 45 in his long-running The Cockatoo Chronicles series, with the deliberately provocative headline ‘Choosing Extinction’. Gilding, who recalls participating in his first school strike way back in 1974, reminds his readers of the human civilisation and natural species threatening scale of the current climate crisis, then warns: ‘Yet we sit idly by, as the evidence mounts and the risks get greater, paralysed in various ways by ignorance, despair, delusion and fear.’

I hear you Paul. That’s why I’ve looked to technology for something, indeed anything more optimistic than a human-induced great extinction event, whether of people, or other species, or both.

Then, the day after that, came the launch of the school climate strikes themselves. As I looked across The Domain at the start of the main inner-city Sydney event in last Friday’s globally-coordinated series of youth-led climate strikes, I was taken off guard emotionally, inspired by the huge turnout; the presence of so many school-age young people, many of them in uniform and organised groups; and the clear, morally-compelling messaging from the youthful spokespeople.

It threw me into reflection mode. Over more than two decades I’ve become so inured to climate action being deflected, diluted, or defeated outright, that I’ve been forced to psychologically inoculate myself against the constant threat of further disappointment.

I say this as someone who, as a journalist, first started reporting on global warming in the 1980s; who covered the landmark Kyoto climate summit in 1997 as The Sydney Morning Herald’s environmental correspondent; who authored a frustrated, but still mainly hopeful book about Australia’s ‘climate wars’ in 2007; and who has since lived through the topsy-turvy, ultimately crushingly pointless climate politics of all the years since, through the Prime Ministerships of Rudd, Gillard, Rudd again briefly, Abbott, Turnbull, and now Morrison.

Yet, somehow, Friday in The Domain was surprisingly, refreshingly, even a little miraculously different. (My mate Paul Gilding, introduced earlier, is a lifelong activist who used to be the head of Greenpeace International early in the 1990s. He believes there have never been protests like these in the whole of human history, given the extraordinary global connectedness and commonality of purpose, all emanating from planetary youth.)

Maybe I’m reacting this way because I was there in The Domain with two of mine and Natalie’s four children, daughters Shea and Bronte, and even more poignantly for me, a first grand-daughter, Harper.

They are the ‘who’ that doing something meaningful about this climate crisis is all about, right? 

The young people who are inheriting a planet now seriously compromised by the greed, ignorance and frequently outright contempt for the natural environment that has characterised older generations. My generation. My share of our collective failure.

Damn you Tim, you confront me with the knowledge that my best efforts over decades are a colossal failure too. Damn you Paul, I’m complicit in choosing extinction too. And damn you Murray, don’t surrender the tentative resurrection of your climate action hope so quickly, because Harper needs that hope too.

Remarkable Greta Thunberg, a teenage girl of diminutive stature who has talked so courageously about her Apsberger’s Syndrome, calling it her ‘superpower’ after being derided personally by anti-climate action media attack-dogs like Andrew Bolt, has held a mirror up to the whole world. And we’ve all been found wanting in the reflection.

Since these were ‘school climate strikes’, it’s worth asking what lessons we should have learned from getting Climate Action 1.0 so wrong, and how we can do better for a solutions-focused 2.0 that meets the legitimately loud demand for action that young people are making around the world? 

This is what I’m submitting for assessment:


Hope that’s not too subtle. If not just Australia, but all of humanity were being marked for our climate action efforts thus far, then at best we’d get a ‘working towards’ ranking. I have to do better. You have to do better. We all have to do better.


Murray Hogarth, pictured with grand-daughter Harper on the way to the climate strike, is Director of Communications and Community Networks for Wattwatchers Digital Energy. Formerly a newspaper and television journalist, and later a sustainability strategy adviser, he joined Wattwatchers in its first year, 2007. Wattwatchers proudly sponsors 1 Million Women.