Foreword by Alex Wilde
On Wednesday 27 February, I along with my three other team mates, Helen Jeong, Gabriela Fernandez Paredes and Rishi Minocha, from one of two teams representing the Macquarie University United Nations Society, took part in an advocacy challenge called ‘Race to Save the World’. Organised in conjunction with many NGOs, such as Oxfam and Amnesty International, the event required us to test advance issues such as climate change, the rights of refugees and food security at a grass roots level. Having never been able to test my advocacy skills prior to the event, I thought that it was a great opportunity to start. And that it certainly was!
On the day we set out to undertake a wide variety of challenges, including petitioning at University of Sydney to better secure the rights of refugees, convincing the principal of Sydney Girls High School to transition to a Fair Trade community, and persuade Senator Bill Heffernan to support Oxfam’s GROW campaign. Our final challenge was to pitch written pieces on ‘personal experiences of climate change’ to a local magazine. We successfully secured publishing space with this very magazine, so thank you editors of Grapeshot! Our articles, written by Helen and Rishi can be found below.
For all our efforts, our team managed to come in first place, a result we never expected. Of course as you can imagine, all of us were thrilled upon hearing the result! Overall I found the experience to be both challenging and rewarding. Many of the tasks required me to position myself outside my comfort zone, but it allowed me to learn and refine a wide array of important skills and also gain further understanding of pressing issues affecting our world today. I thank the organisers of the event for the experience. I have certainly been contemplating whether I should undertake further advocacy work ever since.
The Power of One by Rishi Minocha
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead, activist
In a time when climate change is one of the most globally discussed topics, it seems the efforts of worldwide heads of states are unable to create a unified plan to curb global warming and its devastating effects. The failure of the United States to ratify the Kyoto Protocol or Australia’s heavily scrutinised carbon tax are two examples of first-world nations that have failed to use their position on a global scale to advance the interests of future generations and prevent further climate change.
As a 21-year-old student at Macquarie University I feel obliged to now take matters into my own hands. Whilst I often find it difficult to see how one person of a seven billion global population could possibly make a difference, I remind myself of the remarkable acts of past individuals who cared enough about an issue to transform their passion into a worldwide movement. Individuals such as Peter Benenson, who was so outraged by the unjust imprisonment of two students, that a letter to his local newspaper to rally support for the students quickly transformed into a global organisation known today as Amnesty International. Or Rosa Parks, a woman whose simple refusal to give up her seat on a bus translated into a statement so powerful that it contributed to the end of racial segregation in America.
So I will turn off my lights when I leave my room; I will recycle wherever possible; I will use a fan instead of a air conditioner; I will cut my shower time in half; I will write to media outlets and local politicians informing them of the latest climatic developments and what could be done. If I can reduce my carbon footprint and encourage others to do the same, climate change will be an issue of the past and Margaret Mead’s famous words would be proven right yet again.
Climate Confusion by Helen Jeong
Happily ensconced in the privileged life of middle class in Australia, it’s hard for me to relate to the very real impact climate change has on people living in places such as Kiribati, and similar low-lying countries, where rising sea levels could cause local populations to literally disappear off the face of the Earth.
Of course, the disastrous effects of climate change are myriad. The issue is hot not only among policymakers, the media, lobbyists and other groups, but also among the general public, as well as in the university sphere. It’s very hard to ignore climate change, but for me at least, it’s easy to do nothing significant about it as well. For most of us (I assume), there’s little immediate effect climate change has on our day-to-day lives, and the issue is so large, long-term and overwhelming, that at times it feels only natural to respond to the problem with complacency and paralysed discomfort, as well as guilt.
But it’s a short-lived fantasy of denial, because the reality is so persuasive. The record-breaking heat, extreme floods and severe bushfires this past Australian summer, for example, may be explained by climate change according to a recent report by the Australian Climate Commission called The Angry Summer. Environment journalist Ben Cubby remarked in The Age that “previously, ‘weather is not climate’ [a quote from the lead author of the report] was the mantra, but now the additional boost from greenhouse gases was influencing every [extreme weather] event.”
There’s an uneasy mismatch between the world that 20-something idealists like myself hope for, and the course of inaction that is so convenient to adopt on global issues such as this. I have a keen interest in social justice activities, but it’s much harder to make a real, personal commitment to the causes that you seemingly endorse. I think trying to research and understand this complex issue more thoroughly is the first step; then I’d like to investigate more what I can do about it. It may be political lobbying or sustainability initiatives, or even simply trying to live more sustainably day to day. Climate change policy can sometimes seem a world away from my academic interests in physics, but I’d like to find out how I can bridge that personal gap.