This article was written for Pacific Climate Watch in May 2016 by Terese Corkish. Terese is the Youth Engagement Officer for Catholic Earthcare Australia. She has been involved in environmental education and advocacy for a number of years.
On Mother’s Day, the 8th of May 2016, thousands of protestors from all over Australia descended on the largest coal port in the world as part of a global week of actions organised by 350.org. Called Break Free 2016, these actions are about demanding world leaders sit up and take notice of a growing call for a future free from the negative impacts of fossil fuels. I attended in my official capacity of Youth Engagement Officer at Catholic Earthcare Australia and I had the opportunity to speak to the media gathered there, as well as the crowd at the end of the day. It was an incredible experience that I shared with my parents, my cousin and over fifty friends, and I am proud that my mother was one of the sixty-six people who were arrested over the course of the day.
It was fitting to attend this protest less than a year since the release of Laudato Si’ considering that Pope Francis said in paragraph 123: “We should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided.” Environmentalist and founder of 350.org, the organiser of the protests, Bill McKibben spoke in Sydney just last month to a crowd of eager listeners. Among other things, he touted the need for older people to be the ones to step up and put themselves on the line for climate change. He said that for too long young people have been the ones to risk their future, careers and safety by engaging in civil disobedience and that now older people who are nearing the end of their careers should be the ones to stand up for what is right. These were the two most compelling reasons for why my mother found herself on the Sandgate bridge on a Sunday morning.
Down at Horseshoe beach, Indigenous Australians, Torres Strait Islanders and Pacific Islanders led the thousand strong crowd onto the sand proclaiming the now familiar chant: “always was, always will be Aboriginal land”. The day was marked by the ever-present sting of colonisation. There was a great understanding in the whole community about the unjust effects of climate change, the effects disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable in our communities and around the world, especially first nations people and our immediate neighbours in the Pacific Islands. With beautiful dances and songs, we were welcomed to the land.
It was incredible to watch the kayaks and canoes head out to sea, people dressed in red to signify the emergency that we are facing, raising banners and paddles. I had the opportunity to head out into the water later on, rafting up with colleagues and friends from around Australia, chanting and singing songs about climate justice and a future free of fossil fuels. There was a real camaraderie with people from all walks of life, using phrases like “hear the voice of my great-granddaughter, singing climate justice now.” As a young woman who has always hoped to be a mother, this chant particularly spoke to me of hearing the echo through time, feeling a spark of hope that we might someday have a safe climate future for future generations, a time when I can lay down my kayak paddle and banners.
I spent a good deal of the day being interviewed by media about why I was there, why the Catholic church would have an interest in participating, and the narrative was always the same: this is an issue of justice. When I stand up for a future free of fossil fuels I stand with my comrades from all around the world, from Pacific Islanders, to the voiceless parts of God’s creation, to the generations yet unborn. I stand up with them and for them every day when I work with Catholic Earthcare Australia because I am called to hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.Tags: Break free 2016