December 2, 2015

Oh, the disappointment

I have marched through Brisbane several times before: for greater protection of the Great Barrier Reef (August 2013); for improved carbon emissions policies (November 2013); and I marched in March (2014) with disparate disgruntled groups protesting about Abbott's bad governance and broken promises.

On each occasion, I expected to see bands of marchers converging by ferry and bus, streaming up from North Quay or the Cultural Centre, wearing their aptly sloganed tees and hoisting scathingly witty placards. I believed they'd be spilling out of Queens Park into nearby streets before I'd even got there.

This never happens, of course. I take photos of clever signs and cute kids and Greens speakers and support bands, and try to make it look as if the CBD is bursting with ordinary folk rather than campaigners. With rising anger followed by debilitating disappointment in my heart, I return home to learn that Brisbane's 4000 or 5000, at best, pale into insignificance against Sydney's and Melbourne's tens of thousands more. I'm sure you'll tell me in your defence, Brisbane, that they are much larger cities. Percentages give the game away, however.

But last Saturday's People's Climate March was going to be different, right? I had attended the planning meetings, distributed the flyers, pinned up the posters, bought the T-shirts in advance, and posted the countdown to action on Facebook and Twitter. This would be the biggy. Drought-declared Queenslanders had pulled their heads out of the spreading sands in time to send their pathetic, lily-livered leaders in Paris a strong message: if you don't act now, the devastating consequences of beyond-the-tipping-point climate change will soon be felt.

I cannot fault the enthusiasm of the many dedicated environmental protectors I have come to know who gave up weekends and evenings and days after days, to brainstorm and organise, create and paint, door-knock and chat and cajole and maybe even lambast a bit. But I do believe that rather more energy should have been expended engaging consumers on the high street than colour co-ordinating like-minds and their protest paraphernalia.

I acknowledge that across Australia that weekend more people marched for climate change than had ever done before. In Sydney there were 45,000, and Melbourne between 40,000 and 60,000, depending on whose figures you trust – and both were fantastic turn-outs. Even in Hobart, there were 4000. Here in Brisbane, in a so-called New World City of 2.3 million, there were 5000 (ABC) or 10,000 (event organisers). I know, however much I would love to believe otherwise, that there were nothing like 10,000. Five thousand would be 0.2 per cent of the population of this city. In fact, it was less than that, because coach loads came from Ipswich, the Darling Downs, the Gold and Sunny Coasts, and further afield in Southeast Queensland.

Really, Brisbanites, it was nowhere near good enough. Complacency and the blind hope that you can hang on to your hedonistic lifestyle, whingeing about the rising costs of electricity and how tough you're doing it, but not engaging with effective methods of curtailing this state's, this nation's, love affair with inappropriate development, is no longer the least bit excusable. It is within your power to bring about a transformation; but only if you have the determination to do so. You are naïve if you think parliaments will do it presently.

An inspirational lady and dear friend worked tirelessly on the climate march preparation as well as her usual conservation projects, despite a huge personal struggle of her own these past months. I know she will drag me to my feet from a heap of despond upon the floor. And I will most likely not make plans to move to a city that cares bigtime, as was my inclination on Sunday. There is so much more work to do here than I believed a week ago.

This woman's T-shirt got my best-in-show vote. (She bought it in Sydney.)

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