Anything but the E word. Holdfast Bay council rejects #climate emergency motion

“The shit is hitting the fan,” but it’s not an emergency, according to Holdfast Bay Councillors

Holdfast Bay’s elected members have overwhelmingly rejected a bid for the council to declare a climate emergency. In front of a packed public gallery of young and old, councillors were at pains to display their environmental concerns and credentials, while simultaneously watering down a motion put forward by one of the newest members.

After hearing from a delegation of a 14 year old and an 80 year old, both articulate and compelling, the council had the chance to act on what they heard. A recently elected Councillor, Philip Chabrel, put forward a motion noting recent alarming scientific reports, and calling on the Council to join many others around the world in declaring a climate emergency.  However, it quickly became clear that almost all of his fellow councillors were not in agreement.  An amendment, which removed the offending  term climate emergency and replaced it with an anodyne statement that “ALL levels of government” needed to act, was immediately put forward by another councillor, of many years standing. As other councillors spoke up in favour of that amendment, it quickly became apparent that they were all more interested in declaring that they knew how dire the situation was than in, well, committing the Council to doing anything new about the situation.  An almost accidental and incoherent attempt by another councillor to re-insert the climate emergency term was brushed aside,  The final vote was overwhelmingly in favour of the amended- and weakened – motion.

Holdfast Bay is a sea-side council, and as such could be expected to be particularly concerned about climate change, which is already bringing sea-level rise.  Instead, the Councillors were more interested in blaming State and Federal government and highlighting the City’s purported credentials..  While there is a lot of truth to this, you can’t have your cake and eat it.

Councillor Chabrel, who repeatedly argued that a climate emergency declaration would not cost the council inordinate sums of money, and would bring focus and urgency to the Council’s action, was palpably frustrated. His telling argument that previous Council goals (e.g. to be carbon neutral in its own operations by 2023) were not being implemented, was basically ignored.

After the motion was defeated, most of the 30 or so people present left the meeting and congregated outside the council chamber, amidst the displays that celebrate the city’s radical and pioneering past.  There was a distinct sense of confusion and despair, alongside déjà vu – recently two other metropolitan councils – Adelaide and Marion – have rejected calls for a climate emergency, with similar arguments used.

If this is a situation where, in the words of the Councillor who moved the watering-down amendment, ‘the shit is about to hit the fan’, then it IS an emergency, and talking about plastic bags and abandoned tyres is not discharging your responsibilities.

Eventually, as the impacts pile up,  these incoherent and irrelevant arguments will go away. However, the opportunity to prepare individuals, communities and society for the major challenges ahead will also have gone.  Future generations are unlikely to look kindly upon almost all of Holdfast Bay’s ‘leaders’.

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