All Australians should feel deeply disturbed by the impending executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. The two Australian citizens, convicted in 2006 of attempting to smuggle 8.3 kilograms of heroin out of Bali into Australia, will, barring an improbable eleventh-hour reprieve, be put to death by the Indonesian state at an as yet undetermined time in the coming weeks. Once transferred to a prison island off Java, the men will be dressed in white, bound at the hands and feet, tied to poles alongside one another, and finally sprayed with bullets by a 12-member firing squad. If Chan or Sukumaran do not die immediately, the commander will step forward and shoot them in the head as many times as is necessary to achieve the desired result.
Every time racism seems to have run out of places to hide, national debates inevitably kick aside a stone and reveal a new refuge. One of Britain’s latest tabloid apoplexies has centred on the question, posed by the EU, of whether meat should be labelled with the slaughter method of the animal involved, including dhabihah halal (Muslim) and shechita (Jewish). The Daily Mail informed its readers – The horror! The horror! – that ‘Millions are eating halal food without knowing it.’ Last year, it was the horsemeat scandal that was making The Mail’s readers choke in outrage on their morning bacon.
In October 2012 I reported for this blog on Adelaide’s Rally for Solar, a remarkable day of climate action that saw 80 activists complete a two-week, 322-kilometre walk that had begun in Port Augusta. It was, and is, hoped that the South Australian town will one day host a solar thermal power station in lieu of the ageing brown coal-fired plants which have been at the heart of Port Augusta’s electricity generation since the 1950s.
Two reports emerged recently which, in their own ways, should count as turning points in the public’s perception of climate change. The first, and most disquieting, was put out by the Mauna Loa observatory to impart the dark news that the level of carbon in the atmosphere has reached 400 parts per million, i.e. within every million units of air, there are now 400 units of CO2. To put that into context, one of the United States’ most formidable climate change activist groups, the 350 movement, takes its name from the safest maximum amount of CO2 in the air. That we have now passed this point – for the first time in three million years – should be making every stakeholder in the climate change ‘debate’, from the President of the United States to the lowliest newspaper sub-editor, sharpen their literal and metaphorical pencils for robustly renewed calls to arms. But, no, the game remains unchanged, most of the principal players seemingly content with their business-as-usual indifference, idly passing the time like Nero as civilisation teeters.
With the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the era of the Cold War seems more remote than ever. The Iron Lady was in her penultimate year of office when the Berlin Wall came down, and with it decades of the enveloping fear that at any moment a global nuclear exchange might end the world. That was nearly a quarter of a century ago. In that time, the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons has been almost entirely displaced by another. I speak, of course, of climate change, the great ‘inconvenient truth’ and ‘moral challenge’ of the times in which we find ourselves. Where once the emblematic colour of this fear was red, it is now green. An overarching sense of anxiety remains, with ecological catastrophe having replaced a hail of Soviet nuclear warheads as the principal nightmare.
On 5 November 2012, the ABC TV broadcast its second Four Corners story in two years into animal cruelty in the live export industry. The first report – A Bloody Business, broadcast in May last year – focused on the inhumane treatment of Australian cattle in Indonesian abattoirs. Last month’s follow up saw Sarah Ferguson present the results of an investigation into the brutal slaughter of 20,000 sheep at an abattoir in Karachi. Both stories were accompanied by shocking video evidence of the cruelty. The government response to the first report was to temporarily suspend the trade in live export (resumed one month later with stricter regulations). The Another Bloody Business program has seen the voluntary banning of sheep exports into Pakistan by the industry.
Clouds are never a good look at rallies for renewable energy. Nor is a light but constant drizzle, or the sight of a big, dirty old truck being used for a stage. Climate change activists are used to these minor ironies. They are also used – though not resigned – to continuing government inaction on an issue which enjoys massive public support for change as well as a near-complete scientific consensus.
All of these things – activists, government, a big truck, an energised public and, yes, appalling weather – came together on September 30th in Adelaide’s Rundle Park for a heartening intervention in the fight for more action on that moral challenge.