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Climate leaders and activists debate best course of large scale action at Sustainable Living Festival

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Photo credit: Julian Meehan

MSDI Chairman John Thwaites was among a line-up of global climate leaders, activists and professionals who took part in the National Sustainable Living Festival’s Great Debate in Melbourne.

Other presenters included teen activist and global climate action sensation Greta Thunberg, via Skype from Stockholm, local economy activist, Helena Norberg-Hodge, Margaret Klein Salamon, otherwise known as ‘The Climate Psychologist’ (on Skype from New York), sociologist and environmental scientist, Peter Cock, and energy expert, Simon Holmes à Court.

Hosted by award-winning science writer and ABC Science broadcaster, Bernie Hobbs, The Festival Great Debate, titled ‘Last Chance Disruption’, saw each presenter make a case for the most effective catalyst for change on climate.

The debate began with a live cross to the steps of the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, where Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg who has inspired a global movement of student climate strikes, has been protesting for action on climate change since August last year.

The 16-year-old, who chose not to attend school for several weeks until the Sweden general election on September 9 last year, and has continued to protest on the steps of parliament every Friday since, argued we can all be a catalyst for disruptive change by “protesting”, making “people aware of what’s happening” and “putting pressure on people in power until they take action.”

“I think we need to make people more aware, for example, by protesting on the streets,” she said, adding that she would not stop protesting until the world’s leaders “start treating this crisis as a crisis.”

In his 10-minute speech, MSDI Chair Professor John Thwaites argued there was “no single trigger for action on climate change” and that “turning around climate change will need a transformation.”

“It needs every part of society to change and that means the parliament, it means business and it means the community,” he said.

Professor Thwaites said while regulation was critical for “the radical change that is needed” on climate, government on its own cannot stop climate change, arguing business and the community also have a crucial role to play.

“We do have to look at the cumulative impact of everything we do as members of the community,” he said, highlighting the importance of “understanding behaviour change and what motivates behaviour change” as one of the keys to tackling climate change at the community level.

“It’s not going to be simple,” he said. “But few things worth doing are. And frankly, it’s not going to be worth living if we don’t do it.”

Speaking from New York, Margaret Klein Salamon, a clinical psychologist and the Founder and Director of The Climate Mobilization, argued the only solution to climate change is to “tell the truth about the scale and urgency of the problem” and “wage a WWII- level war on climate change” – a massive, government-led, society-wide, emergency-mode response to it.

Award-winning author, filmmaker and local economy activist, Helena Norberg-Hodge, meanwhile, argued the solution lied in dismantling the entrenched global market system and promoting “a shift towards supporting strong, local economies worldwide.”

Sociologist and environmental scientist, Peter Cock, said “radical social disruption” was needed to tackle the crisis, claiming “our civilisation has passed its use-by date” and calling for a new, ecological society that is “in a conscious, structured partnership with the rest of the earth’s ecology.”

Energy expert Simon Holmes à Court, closed the debate by arguing, that as we head towards another federal election, our greatest chance for change is at the ballot box, by voting for those “with a strong commitment to climate action”.

The Festival Great Debate was held at The Dome at Birrarung Marr as part of the 2019 National Sustainable Living Festival.

Listen to a recording of the National Sustainable Living Festival’s Great Debate 2019.

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