Climate Emergency Summit 2020

by Mar 5, 2020politics, science

If you missed the National Climate Emergency Summit at the Melbourne Town Hall in February you’re in luck- you can still watch the plenaries and listen to the workshops for free! Check the program to see what might most appeal. 

Jamie Thom, from Brunswick Uniting Church was there on the Friday, and shares his experience of the first day.

“On Friday I joined 2000 other attendees to hear from a wide range of interesting and knowledgeable speakers: including indigenous, climate experts and activists, current and former politicians from across the political spectrum, and business people.

After the welcome to country by Wurundjeri Elder Dave Wandin, we heard from Lord Mayor Sally Capp, Councillor Cathy Oke (City of Melbourne Climate declaration), and Adam Bandt (federal member for Melbourne and leader of the Greens).

Then it was straight into the science behind the phraseclimate emergency’ (Michael Mann and David Spratt), followed by the politics required to effectively respond to the emergency (Peter Garrett, Zali Stegall, Paul Gilding and Jean Hinchliffe, a student striker from Sydney).

There were several breakout sessions in the afternoon.  I attended “Crisis on Country” where we were challenged by listening deeply to Jacqui Katona (Djok woman and anti-Jabiluka uranium mine campaign leader), Tony Birch (Koori author, activist and academic), and Neil Morris (a Yorta Yorta poet, musician and radio broadcaster).

The panel (led by Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai-Gunditjmara woman and first Aboriginal woman elected to the Victorian Parliament) spoke of the ongoing everyday injustices (such removal of children and theft of land), the need for a wholistic approach to climate justice and social justice, and an internationally scrutinised treaty for the nation that rewrites the constitution, rather than simply placing recognition into it.

Jacqui said an emergency or crisis is not something new to Aboriginal people who are living precarious lives, and there cannot be climate justice if the colonial system continues to exclude Aboriginal people. She doesn’t want people to ‘help’, but to work together for liberation, and to do it now.

Tony spoke about Australia after the fires, now that people want to exploit indigenous fire management knowledge without embracing the whole of indigenous knowledge. It is important to listen to the voices of Aboriginal women and their knowledge, for instance in relation to fracking in the NT, which Aboriginal women know is an abuse of their knowledge system. There is a need for long-term philosophical and wholistic change. Both patience and urgency are required to put bodies on the line to confront the ravages of capital and the climate deniers, but also we need to think about long-term education and change.

Neil has done fundraising for indigenous people affected by the fires, and he shared some of his poetry. He asked, ‘How important is justice in the climate debate and does indigeneity sit central to the answer?’ Neil spoke of First Nations people being inclusive. In a provocative closing comment he added that if everybody really listened and got behind First Nations peoples then you would no longer identify as Australian, and nobody would.

How do we get the message out there? The breakout session ‘Getting the Message Right’ (video) (audio) featured Margaret Klein Salamon (The Climate Mobilization), Rebecca Huntley (social researcher and writer), and Richie Merzian (Australia Institute).

Margaret covered what it meant for individuals to enter emergency mode – it makes us reorient our life, do everything possible to respond, and focus intently on the emergency (e.g. leaving your job or cut back hours).  In the climate emergency, how much of our wealth can we give away, how can we turn pain into action? Margaret also spoke about the importance of fear for humans as it translates risk into action.

Rebecca was motivated by the school strike and the fear about our children’s future. Richie spoke of the need to take both personal and political action; before the last election the question was about the “cost of action” but now it was about the “cost of inaction”.

On the Friday evening a cast of leading experts addressed the (not so) hypothetical (video) (audio), ‘What’s our best chance of success… thinking the impossible and making it happen.’

Although I only registered for the Friday, on Saturday from home I caught the livestream of ‘Democracy Reboot’ (video) (audio) featuring Peter Garrett, Zali Steggall and John Hewson.” “


Jamie and I both noted that this was a very large, one-way gathering.  Lots of great content to listen to, but no time to digest it together.  It was unlike, for example, the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change National Conference which engaged the participants, helping people from different faith traditions decide how to get active.

How to fill that gap?

Well, why not take some of the expert content from the conference, and digest it with your congregation, study group, neighbours?  Screen one session at your church or the local theatre and have a discussion afterwards. 

What session works best will be up to you, hopefully Jamie’s reflections can help get you started in deciding.

If you want something to do right now, you can read the declaration that came from the summit, and decide if you want to sign it, and commend it to your friends:

Once you’ve watched some of the content, tell us what you think were the key messages and challenges for yourself, and the wider church. 

Jason John, Uniting Earth Advocate, [email protected]