Having earlier accepted the term ‘climate emergency’ in the wording around the Shire’s soon to be exhibited Climate Resilience Strategy, a rescission motion from Cr Robyn Bain brought the matter back to the chamber for discussion at Bega Valley Shire Council today.
“Life is about language,” Cr Bain told the overflowing room of onlookers.
In Cr Bain’s view the term ‘climate emergency’ is divisive and should not influence the Climate Resilience Strategy.
“We need to bring the majority with us,” she said.
It was a position supported by councillors Mitchell Nadin, Tony Allen, and Russell Fitzpatrick.
The motion was lost with the votes of councillors Sharon Tapscott, Jo Dodds, Liz Seckold, Cathy Griff and Mayor Kristy McBain, who all spoke strongly in favour of using the term as a way of adding importance and urgency to the document.
I have wrestled with how to report this meeting, the people involved I respect and they are all entitled to express their view. But I couldn’t bring myself to simply give a blow by blow account – as important as that is. In my thinking, I kept coming back to this idea of – where the majority of people sit on the issue.
It’s a point that was debated as much as the climate issue itself today in the chamber, a plebiscite to gauge local views was even mentioned at one point. What is the majority view, of course, depends on your politics and the community you mix in.
“Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities,” that’s the majority according to NASA.
“In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.
“Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.
“There will always be uncertainty in understanding a system as complex as the world’s climate. However, there is now strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring,” NASA says.
To my way of thinking – that’s the majority to listen to. Which is not to say you don’t listen to local people whose livelihoods might be challenged by taking climate action.
The sort of debate I witnessed at Bega Valley Shire Council today is out of date and “wasting critical time” as Cr Dodds said.
When it comes to the need for urgency, just last month the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its latest report and highlighted, “the urgency of prioritizing timely, ambitious and coordinated action to address unprecedented and enduring changes in the ocean and cryosphere.”
The report reveals the benefits of ambitious and effective adaptation for sustainable development and, conversely, the escalating costs and risks of delayed action.
“The open sea, the Arctic, the Antarctic and the high mountains may seem far away to many people,” said Hoesung Lee, Chair of the IPCC.
“But we depend on them and are influenced by them directly and indirectly in many ways – for weather and climate, for food and water, for energy, trade, transport, recreation and tourism, for health and wellbeing, for culture and identity.”
The work and advice of the majority of the world’s scientists won out today in this small corner of our planet, but the debate is not done yet.
Council’s Climate Resilience Strategy will be out for public comment at the end of this month, only staff and councillors have seen it to date. According to Cr Griff the document deals with areas including – “community leadership and partnerships; risk and liability; opportunity and innovation; targets and performance measures, plus forecasting mitigation and adaptation strategies.”
All councillors seem largely supportive of the draft strategy.
However, that 28 day comment period and subsequent debate around the adoption of the strategy will be further flashpoints in the local discussion.
Where will the majority of the local community sit once comment on the Strategy is complete? Perhaps that will be one of the key findings.
But if “life is about language” then the world’s scientists seem to be saying we have a ‘climate emergency’.