By Aaron Packard
Bill McKibben is a kind of big deal here in Australia. Big enough that yesterday, we woke up to find him cartooned in the Canberra Times.
Here are two pieces of context you might like with the cartoon:
1. The student sitting at the desk is the Premier of Queensland State, Campbell Newman, who is pushing coal extraction like crazy.
2. The Gonski reference is to the Gonski report, which the Australian government commissioned to review the education system in Australia.
The Do the Math tour of Australia is now well underway and with Sydney under our belts, we’re part way through our stop in the nation’s capital, Canberra. It really is hard to keep up with things, but here’s a bit of what has gone on.
Within hours of touching down in Sydney, McKibben underwent an Australian baptism by fire, being a panelist on the live TV show Q & A. Despite being dropped straight in the middle of a foreign culture and a few unsavory characters, McKibben easily stood his ground and impressed the audience, both in studio and watching from home, with his depth of knowledge and clear message about climate challenge. In essence, he mopped the floor with them.
The next day, McKibben found himself on another panel, but this time talking to more than 100 financiers from Sydney and Melbourne. After presenting the “math,” a lively debate ensued about the possibilities for and limits to divestment and what the carbon bubble means for investors. Changing tack completely, the next stop was to meet with the head of the Uniting Church of New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory, to say a big thank you for being “the first church in the world” to divest their portfolio of fossil fuel holdings. After a quick prayer it was time to move on to the main event of the day, the presentation at the Seymour Center, University of Sydney—which, as you can see in the photograph below, was packed.
Here is a take on the evening from audience member Georgia Bamber:
If ticket sales, packed seats and a rapt audience are anything to go by, Bill McKibben’s first show in Australia was a roaring success. The Seymour Center was abuzz with anticipation at 6 p.m., amazing in light of the fact that we were all there to essentially hear a math lesson.
Despite claims of jetlag, Bill was fantastic. Relaxed and personal, he immediately won the audience over with his charm, intelligence and above all, his passion.
His message to the audience was clear and simple: If the Australian mining industry is allowed to proceed with the massive expansion of coal mining and export that they have planned, the planet will be pushed to warming beyond the point of no return. End of story, no wiggle room. The laws of physics say it is so.
However, gloom and doom about the plight we are in was quickly dispelled as Bill invited young members from Lock the Campus and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition onto the stage to demonstrate his math—using beer. After giggles from the audience and a few sips of beer by Bill and the Lord Mayor of Sydney, everyone was ready to hear the plan of action. Divestment, direct action and perhaps even a little jail time for a few.
The way Bill connected with the audience was incredible. He not only educated the audience but he fired them up and made them feel empowered. I know I walked away from the evening ready to fight the good fight, and I am pretty sure most everybody else did too.
Thank you Bill, for saying what needs to be said.