Bushfires burn to the north, south, east and west of my home while each morning smoke settles in the nearby little gully. The dreams I had for my children — carefree summers of dripping mango juice, dancing in the rain and Christmas holiday camping trips — are disappearing rapidly.
Wednesday November 20 marked World Children's Day, and this year I celebrated by making craft with my kids, a time-honoured tradition. We braved the elevated air pollution levels to take our crafts to the local council chambers and protest by conducting a 'read-in' of children's stories. In the evening as their father tucked them into bed, I stood up in the council meeting to again attempt to persuade our councillors of the urgent response required to address our climate emergency. Around the country this week, hundreds of other members of Australian Parents for Climate Action are doing the same: gathering to advocate in their own communities for all levels of government to act. The group is running a national week of action calling on government to protect our children in the face of climate breakdown, including with an open letter to Scott Morrison signed by child health, safety and parenting experts; environmental and advocacy groups.
[Photo of the author, Dr Sarah Mollard]
Over the past twelve months I have made a reluctant transition from doctor and mum to doctor, mum and activist. The trigger? The report from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October 2018, which outlined the short timeline available for our growth-obsessed, fossil fuel consuming global economy to transition to a carbon neutral one, and the catastrophic impacts if we don't pull on the emergency brakes. As a child of the '80s I had been raised in a world that had united to solve problems: fixing the hole in the ozone layer; working relentlessly to cure AIDS and cancer; even flying to the moon. It had been incomprehensible to me that our global leaders were incapable of admitting, let alone acting on, the problem of global heating — particularly when excellent solutions to achieving a just transition to a fossil fuel-free world are available, and financially advantageous for governments and individuals who implement them.
The report, though, was clear. We have only limited time remaining to turn our emissions trend around, and each incremental increase in warming will take us deeper into a scenario of human suffering and ecological collapse – a future that, with each day of inaction, becomes increasingly unfit to raise a child, let alone for one to thrive. And so, like any parent would when they realised this truth, I chose to stand up and demand something better from our great, prosperous country.
Then the bushfires came.
As the devastating reports rolled in of lives lost, homes destroyed and animal habitats decimated, we felt the future crashing into our quiet lives. Unprecedented. Catastrophic. Predicted.
These fires were predicted by climate science and by more than 20 fire and emergency services leaders. Their desperate attempts to engage our government in preventive strategies were ignored by a Prime Minister who nonetheless had the time to meet with mining magnates and, in September, attend political rallies in other countries. By the time Scott Morrison was in Ohio in the USA speaking at a Donald Trump rally, the fire nearest to my home had already been burning for two months. It continues to burn.
Now, along with the grief for those lost or suffering in our community and concern for friends, family and homes still in fire's path, we carry a sincere and relentless anxiety about what these events mean for the summer to come and those beyond. Along with the devastation of a lost home or the trauma of coming too close to the fire's path, survivors must bear the ravings of politicians labelling calls for preventive efforts "disgusting", "inappropriate" or a "bloody disgrace". And on top of the work to house children made homeless by fire, calm those unsettled by evacuation, or ensure space to play while locked away from the smoky air, the vacuum of real leadership action requires us to take on another job – the climate activist.
This year, World Children's Day marks 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. UNICEF is uncompromising that "Climate change is a direct threat to a child's ability to survive, grow, and thrive". We're seeing this threat play out as schools have burned down, with children displaced and their freedoms (the ones we so blithely enjoyed ourselves) curtailed.
And yet there is hope. To see a community come together in this emergency is to see the best of humanity. To see the courage of our RFS volunteers is awe-inspiring. It takes my breath away to see person after person stand up from the ashes of their burned communities and demand not personal recompense, but that our government takes urgent steps to prevent another family suffering. We have the solutions to the climate emergency at hand, and thousands of scientists and experts ready to help us negotiate those consequences of global heating already upon us. We have a community that is generous, empathetic, brave and strong and ready to make the changes required to safeguard our children's future. All that we need is the humility to listen, and the will to act.
Dr Sarah Mollard is a GP, mother of two and local organiser for Australian Parents for Climate Action, from the Port Macquarie area of NSW.
[Header Image: Town Green at Port Macquarie, supplied by the author]
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