A discussion entitled “Why now is the right time to talk about climate change?”, led by A/Prof Clive Pearson with the main speaker, Hon Matt Kean MP, NSW Minister for Energy and Environment was organised on Wednesday 11 March 2020 by Affinity Intercultural Foundation at their Sydney city offices.
The formal program started after lunch with the welcoming remarks by John Cleary, the Veteran ABC Broadcaster.
The news’ cycle these days is almost too fast. Both the news media and social media are bursting with live updates on the coronavirus epidemic accompanied by coverage of panic buying and advice on how to self-isolate.
Yesterday’s news vanishes into thin air. If only it was that simple. Only a few weeks ago it seemed as if popular opinion in Australia had finally caught up with the multiple threats posed by the climate emergency.
The drought had paved the way for extreme heat, unprecedented fires and a smoke-filled city roiling in record levels of hazardous air quality. Welcome to life in the city that The Economist had declared to be the third most livable in the world.
It didn’t feel like it, and the Hon Matt Kean, the state Minister for Energy and the Environment, said so. The fire, the extreme heat and hazardous air quality in the smoke-filled city was the tipping point.
Following morning run, the Minister declared that this state of affairs was ‘not normal’. It was now time to speak about climate change though the Prime Minister, fresh from a Hawaiian holiday declared it not to be. Mr Kean believed it was time to ‘win the climate wars’.
On Wednesday 11 March, the Minister addressed the lunch time lecture at the Affinity offices in Pitt Street. In a much appreciated visit he delivered a short address where he expressed gratitude to the Affinity Intercultural Foundation for organizing such an event, stating that “I’d like to acknowledge the tremendous work Affinity does in pursuit of its mission to sustain respectful intercultural and interfaith dialogue.”
He mentioned Affinity’s work as “The purpose to create dialogue and understanding”. The proceedings followed by a conversation on the couch with facilitator, Associate Professor Clive Pearson , adjunct research fellow of the Public and Contextual Centre at Charles Sturt University. He then fielded several questions from the audience which included a number of representatives from consulates.
Mr Kean covered a number of points that he has become known for in the media since his ‘not normal’ op ed back in December. It is time to act upon what the climate scientists have been telling us for years what will happen: we are seeing it unfold before our eyes. It was time to make the transition to renewables: those chasing other options including nuclear energy are ‘chasing unicorns’.
In the past Mr Kean had declared that New South Wales is blessed with wind and sun as well as the human talent to become ‘the Saudi Arabia of green energy’.
The Minister is responsible for one of the hot seats in government these days: how do you care for the environment, seek sustainability while seeking to maintain economic well-being. He referred to himself as a ‘capitalist’. The economic argument now favours renewables: the cost of doing nothing is more extreme.
The time constraints of a lunch time lecture and Q and A inevitably means that one can only skim over the surface of many questions that could be asked.
Associate Professor Pearson wondered what is the political cost of speaking out and how might the Minister manage the need to build a common mind across bipartisan party division, across state and federal government and within the government coalition itself?
He also posed another question to do with how does one maintain the high profile and momentum for what climate change requires of us when the media and electoral cycle can so easily be ‘ambushed’ by other concerns of the moment.
The Minister responded by saying there is a need to meet the everyday issues that confront people but there is also a larger need to have a vision of what kind of country, what kind of society do we aspire after.
The Q and A with the audience turned on questions of a transitional economy. The fate of the koala in the aftermath of the bush fires raises questions to do with the viability of forest logging.
The Minister spoke of the need through time to replace jobs in the forestry and mining industries with new types of occupations.
The importance of this kind of conversation sponsored by Affinity cannot be underestimated. The response to the climate emergency is fundamental to the life of the planet.
Mr Kean referred to his first child just recently born: what kind of world will he grow up in? The decisions we make now are crucial.
For Muslim citizens in this country it is well worth becoming familiar with the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change. So often there are other issues putting pressure upon our time and energy. All of these exist within the tipping points that will unfold through climate change.
The closing remarks were made by the Executive Director of Affinity Intercultural Foundation, Mr Ahmet Polat. He mentioned the bushfires that so devastatingly affected Australia stating, “I want to pay my respects and remember those we lost during these tragic times – they all had hearts of gold and will not be forgotten. I want to also thank the brave firefighters, the selfless volunteers and the united front of the Australian society. It brings great comfort to know that we Australians, from all walks of life are able to unite during the toughest times in NSW history.”
Mr Polat further added, “As Minister Matt Kean highlighted, now is the time to grab this opportunity with both hands and take action to reduce our carbon footprint together to protect our community, our flora and fauna and our future.”
The formal program ended with the traditional gift presentations at Affinity.
Paul McCarth, Executive Manager, Strategy & Governance, Australian National Maritime Museum presented a gift to Hon Matt Kean while Fiona Tinley, Community Liaison Officer from the Department of Home Affairs presented a gift to A/Professor Clive Pearson.