Opinion

Bob Brown
The Stop Adani Convoy

I am 74 and acutely aware that every minute of every day our planet is hotter than when I was a boy, due to the burning of fossil fuels. Storms, droughts and bushfires are all the worse, as predicted 30 years ago. Yet the rate of burning of fossil fuels is still growing in 2019, as is the consequent heating. The planet’s biosphere has already warmed by one degree since my youth, and it is predicted to be two degrees hotter by the time girls and boys now in primary school reach my age. Take this process into future centuries and, as scientists warned last year, six or seven degrees of heating will end all life on Earth.

The best answer I can give to the many people who tell me they are depressed or terrified by this reality is that “you are burdened with true intelligence”. This is a take from philosopher Bertrand Russell’s observation, sharpened by the global spread of nuclear weapons in the Cold War, that “the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt”.

The intelligent need to get over it.

Now is not the time to give in to despair. Now is the time to take action.

My foundation, the Bob Brown Foundation, is preparing for a public showdown with the coalmining industry and its political backers. In the run-up to the federal election, our focus will be Adani – as the global mining giant looks set to be pushing ahead with its colossal Carmichael coalmine in central Queensland.

Before Easter, my partner, Paul, and I will be driving from Hobart to the Galilee Basin, site of the proposed Carmichael mine. Along the way we will be joining more than 1000 fellow Australians who have already signed up for the Adani convoy. It is a community commitment – an act of defiance – for the future of our planet. A peaceful protest against Gautam Adani’s mine, which his operatives say will be under way soon.

The decision-making process on the Adani mine is no less murky or corruptible than that for the Murray-Darling. Adani needs approval for water management and its bogus plan to protect the rare and beautiful black-throated finch.

Last week, The Courier Mail’s Des Houghton began a “news” article attacking experts who are assessing the finch’s survival with the headline “Adani the only hope for endangered black-throated finch’s survival”. The mine will save, not eradicate the finch, Houghton argued.

On Wednesday, Queensland grazier Bruce Currie, alarmed by Adani’s potential impact on water, delivered a petition with more than 27,000 signatures to the Queensland government to ban the mine. Meanwhile, Labor’s deputy leader Chris Bowen backed the mine, saying: “Adani was to have been the largest coalmine in Australia but it is now far from that.” He has not figured that Adani still plans to take all the coal out of Carmichael and export it, only slower.

The Stop Adani Convoy will travel the length of Australia, holding public meetings and rallies en route to the Galilee Basin, west of Mackay. We will be there in solidarity with the traditional owners of the land who oppose the mine. Having visited the mine region, we plan to move on to Canberra in May to question whether Australia really wants to back pro-Adani candidates in the federal election.

Millions of Australians are deeply concerned about global warming but have limited means for demonstrating that concern. We plan to unite Australians who feel our country is in self-inflicted and unnecessary jeopardy – especially vulnerable to global heating, while at the same time jostling Indonesia into second place as the world’s biggest exporter of coal.

Australia’s environmental vulnerability has been on show as the disaster overtaking the nation’s biggest river system has played out in public during the past few months. In parliament, a decade or so ago, I was told the Murray-Darling carries 12 units of water each year. This is 12,000 gigalitres each year. To maintain ecological wellbeing, the river needed seven units. At the very minimum, four units were essential. We, the Greens, demanded the bigger environmental allocation. Parliament allocated 2.75 units. Back then, experts let every member know that, on projections at the time, 90 per cent of the great river system’s food productivity may be lost by the end of the century because of global heating.

Now millions of fish, including Murray cod older than me, are dead. Like everyone I know, I was sickened by the sight of so much culpable death and dying on the river. For years I sat next to Barnaby Joyce in the senate as he poured scorn on the Greens and scientists. He had successfully bellowed to town hall meetings along the river to take more, not less, from the Darling. The voters of Queensland – and since in New England – in the catchment headwaters loved him.

It raises the question of what it takes for a community to change its ideology – a gun massacre like Port Arthur? Pearl Harbour? Suffragette Emily Davison giving her life by running in front of the King’s racehorse in the 1913 Epsom Derby?

There seemed to be no good time or place to make a stand for the Murray-Darling. Head in sand, the nation let it go and hoped everything would turn out all right.

We must not so easily wait for salvation from Adani. There will be no divine intervention. The onus is on us. And worse is yet to come.

Yet the parliamentary majority, voted in by the majority of Australians, favours more coalmining, gas fracking across the country and new deep-sea oil drilling, including in the Great Australian Bight.

With the support of the Business Council of Australia, then treasurer Scott Morrison thought it reasonable to hold up a lump of coal in parliament and claim its burning was good for us. “Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared, it won’t hurt you,” he said, taunting the opposition. “It’s coal.” With that he handed it to a gleeful Barnaby Joyce.

Now the prime minister and Australia’s most powerful environment arbiter, Morrison knows – as we all do – that burning fossil fuels is both loading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases and serially lowering its content of breathable oxygen, for want of which those Murray cod are dead.

Here we are in an age of popular greed-driven stupidity. Money rules. The value of life, let alone happiness, on Earth does not count in the marketplace of the richest per capita country in the world.

This must change and only we, the people, can change it. That challenges us with personal discomfort.

Faced with the immense wealth and power of the mining industry, it may seem an impossible task. But I have seen, firsthand, how grassroots campaigning can shift public and political opinion in Australia. In May 1982 the “Whispering Bulldozer”, Liberal premier Robin Gray, swept to power in Tasmania. By July, bulldozers were rolling into the Franklin River valley to build the Gordon-below-Franklin dam. Saving the wild river seemed a hopeless cause. But in December 1982 the Wilderness Society’s peaceful blockade began in the riverside forests. Some 6000 people went to the region, 1300 were arrested and 500 jailed, including me. In March 1983, Labor’s feisty new leader Bob Hawke was elected prime minister on a platform that included the slogan “I will stop the dam”. The rest is history. People power and strong leadership saved the Franklin, which has since become an icon for Tasmania’s job-rich tourism and hospitality industries.

In 2017, the High Court accepted that peaceful protest is a legitimate part of Australia’s representative democracy. It is encouraging to know the Adani convoy will be a legitimate part of the nation’s public discourse. Whatever problems we encounter, they will not come near the problems caused by us doing nothing. The Adani coalmine is a harbinger of global catastrophe. This convoy of concerned Australians will be taking on Adani out of respect for our children and the future of all life on Earth.

The convoy is a simple option for people who can spare some time, money and courage to act on their commonsense convictions in this age of absurdity. We will cop it from the radical powerbrokers who put coal before coral. There will be outrage about us not being at work, driving petrol-burning cars – in fact, our Stop Adani Convoy’s vanguard of electric cars will challenge the government to catch up with comparable countries in facilitating non-petrol vehicles – or simply our being “greenies”, “do-gooders” or a threat to big corporations. To offset this, there will be a special chair available at public meetings along the way for Gautam Adani – but not his understrappers – to personally take us on. Should he fly in, I think we will manage.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Feb 9, 2019 as "A mighty convoy". Subscribe here.

Bob Brown
is a former leader of the Australian Greens.