When was the last time you saw global warming?
We’ve all seen the charts and read the stats, but have you ever tripped over a pile of greenhouse emissions, got scalded by a drastically heated ocean, been sucker punched by rogue freons or needed to evict the unruly chlorofluorocarbons squatting in your garden shed? The answer, unless you have a penchant for handfuls of hallucinogens, is a resounding ‘no’ – and it is in this that our greatest climate problem exists.
Veterinarian and ecologist, Dr. Gary Tabor, is intensely focussed upon this intangible crisis, all too aware of the impending threat it poses and the desperate and immediate need to address climate change at every level. Gary is from Bozeman, Montana, a small town of alternative thinkers which he says is much like Byron Bay’s mountainous, land-locked sibling.
Recipient of the Fullbright Scholarship – an Australian-American commission “to promote mutual understanding through educational and cultural exchange between Australia and the United States” – his purpose, as staggering as it may seem to we Australians, was to learn from us, viewing this country as somewhat of a promised land for a sustainable future. But on arrival, a very different picture began to emerge.
“The reason I came here is because I thought I was going to the future,” Gary admits, heavy-heartedly. “You had a Minister for Climate Change, every state had some kind of climate change program, you had this progressive policy in terms of carbon tax and renewable energy, which we don’t have nationally yet [in the US]…climate change is an in-your-face issue here. You had millennial drought then Biblical floods – extreme weather is Australia and there was some sense that everybody got it.
“In the United States it has become a political issue to the degree that if you’re a republican, you’re a climate denier and if you’re a democrat you believe in it. So it has become a proxy for core values with nothing to do with science.
“When I came to Australia, I thought I was going to go ahead, until I found out that there’s been a huge retreat in all ways. How could a country that was so enlightened go so far backwards? The rest of the world, including myself, saw Australia as hope. It really makes me sad to see this retreat because I think it takes the wind out of everyone’s sails. In America, we had this mythical belief that Australia’s got its act together on this issue.”
Whatever other pros and cons they may have had, the Labour Government recognised the necessity to address climate change. Beyond what we may have suspected, this was a responsibility reflected on a global level. We were a role model for other nations…and look at us now.
“One of the disturbing things I’ve learned since being in Australia,” says Gary, “is how the renewable energy policy here pitted cities and industry against each other. The cities embraced solar energy and it was so successful that the renewable energy cap was reached, the incentives were withdrawn and they [the government] took the credits away, leaving industry with no incentive to use renewable energy. Industry and residential were competing for a set limit. That creates a negative response, industry and residential feeling like they’re competing for a finite amount.”
It is such a massive issue and, as Gary himself admits, anything we may do on an individual level, recycling, using energy efficient light globes and so on, is almost trivial. The hope is in the government’s hands and, as we’ve been shown time and again in recent months, those hands seem to be too busy clutching at dollars to concern themselves with holding onto the important issues.
Despite this seemingly hopeless outlook, another project in which Gary is involved offers a brighter picture. Connecting with Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, Gary has co-founded Patagonia‘s Freedom to Roam project, an ecological organisation that has established over 400 nature corridors ranging thousands of kilometres across the United States to connect reserves and national parks and allow wildlife migration routes.
Freedom to Roam isn’t about buying up or protecting vast tracks of land directly. Instead, it draws together like-minded individual parties, including business, government and conservation groups, to create a united movement to protect these areas so vital to the natural ecosystem and it’s inhabitants.
And herein lies the solution to climate change. Byron Bay, as we know so well, is hugely vocal in such matters, from government policies and the March in March to the tremendous support of the Bentley blockade. But Byron Bay can’t change the world and now more than ever, it is essential that we reach out to other communities and organisations to create a united front for change.
Just like Freedom to Roam connecting the green dots across America to create a sustainable environment for its wildlife, we must connect the dots of activism to create a sustainable future for our children.
“Every action is important,” says Gary, “but I believe that political action or policy action is needed now because the individual can only do so much. Society needs to be outraged by what’s going on. There was a time that Australia had that outrage – where did it go? We need that Aussie outrage now more than ever.
“We can suffer on individually and we can create communities of hope, but we have to connect all those communities now. More of these bubbles need to connect, to coalesce, and that creates a new tide, affecting those bigger centres of power. We all believe in social networking and communication, we need to reverse it now. We have to aggregate those communities now and push back – that’s how it’s going to change.”
Documentaries such as the wonderful film, 2 Degrees, by local filmmaker Jeff Canin show the staggering complacency of our leading politicians, highlight the need for change and share the stories of local communities standing and fighting.
Now is the time to create one voice, to divest our wealth from the Big 4 banks investing in fossil fuels, to boycott government, to overturn policies and to unite as one. Only together can we be the change.
To find out more about divesting your finances and withdrawing support for fossil fuel investments, go to: act.350.org
For information on Freedom to Roam, visit: www.patagonia.com
To learn more about Dr. Gary Tabor and his work, visit: largelandscapes.org
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on May 28, 2014
All Photos: ©Kirra Pendergast