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Economy versus ecosystem: can both be winners?

The preservation of our planet has been making news headlines recently, for both the right and wrong reasons.

The Global Climate Strike movement founded by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg held rallies in towns and cities around the globe. From a couple of hundred participants here in Dubbo, to tens of thousands in cities such as Melbourne, Berlin and New York, the protesters made it known that they wanted to live in world where leaders focused on a sustainable future.

After sailing herself on a yacht across the Atlantic Ocean, Greta Thunberg delivered an impassioned plea for action on climate change at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. She took aim at world leaders’ inaction and the dismissal of the scientific consensus on climate change.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

“For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”

At this point the climate change issue magnified the schism between the opposing sides.

Thunberg received widespread support and admiration from her support base, sections of the media and social media. Here was a teenager who has activated millions of people around the world to participate in peaceful gatherings and air their concerns about the state of the planet.

The other side of the argument was apoplectic and unhinged.

When a caller to his radio program claimed the protesting children were being brainwashed like the Hitler Youth, Alan Jones was in complete agreement, and sited Goebbels in his musings adding “this is (brainwashing) what’s going on here isn’t it”.

Queensland LNP’s opposition spokesperson Jarrod Bleijie demanded “all children be detained or suspended” for attending, as they are apparently not allowed to exercise their free speech.

Newscorp’s Miranda Devine called Thunberg a raving climate evangelist, claimed her words and demeanour were those of a totalitarian dictator, and equated “terrifying children with exaggerated stories about the threat of climate change” with child abuse.

On radio 2GB Karl Stefanovic picked up on the generating anxiety angle by saying Thunberg’s activism is causing unnecessary stress to children.

Coincidentally(?) Prime Minister Scott Morrison – in New York to deliver a speech on Australia’s actions on climate change to a near empty United Nations General Assembly – echoed the anxiety line, and warned against creating “needless anxiety” in children about climate change.

“And I think it’s important that we give them that confidence that they will not only have a wonderful country and pristine environment to live in, but they’ll also have an economy they can live in as well.”

Remember, this is a teenage girl, with good intentions, who these adults are dismissing and railing against.

Where was the criticism of internationally renowned naturalist Sir David Attenborough?

He was active at the United Nations Climate Action Summit, declaring in a speech: “We are dependent of the natural world for every breath of air we take and every mouthful of food we eat. But it’s even more than that, we are also dependent on it for our sanity and sense of proportion.

“We have to convince bankers and big business that, in the end, the long-term future lies in having a healthy planet. And unless you do something about it... you’re going to lose your money,” Attenborough said.

In an interview with ABC Triple J’s Hack Program, Attenborough launched a broadside specifically at Australia’s inaction to protect The Great Barrier Reef and our support of coal mining, and lambasting Scott Morrison for his 2017 stunt of bring a lump of coal into parliament.

There was no pushback by the right wing media against Sir David. Was that because he is male and old, and not a ‘precocious’ teenage girl and therefore a non-target?

Putting aside the merits and otherwise of the two sides of the argument, is it possible for there to be some commonality between the protagonists?

Yes there is; Thunberg, Attenborough and Morrison all mention it – the ‘economy’.

As Thunberg says, you can’t expect perpetual economic growth on a planet with finite resources. Future generations need an economy to live in, as proffered by Morrison. Sir David believes the solution to the world’s environmental crisis will be an economic one.

And business agrees. Oil companies such as BP and Shell are heavily invested in renewable energy. Mercedes Benz, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche are prioritising development of electric vehicles. The insurance industry has for decades been shying away from protecting oil and mining assets by analysing the risk of climate change to its financial viability.

So, the people have spoken, business is on board, yet there are those who are resisting the transition to a lighter footprint on the planet.

Any political doctrine that fails to protect the essentials for human life – clean air, predictable water supply and arable soil – retards any progress for a sustainable planet and needs to get out of the way for those who appreciate there is no planet B.

Greg Smart

By his own admission, Greg Smart was born 40 years old and is in training to be a cranky old man. He spends his time avoiding commercial television and bad coffee.