I arrive early in the morning and help them set up their marquee on the lawn in front of Parliament House in Canberra. They are not in their usual position today because the lawn will be used to host a barbecue for the former wards of the state after their official apology from the Federal Government and the last thing they want is to be able to smell the food.
All three of the people I’m visiting, Paul, Marcella and Michael are in good spirits even though they have eaten nothing and have drunk only water for the last nine days. As we settle down under their marquee, I get the official business out of the way by letting them know that I am here not only representing myself, but my local climate action group, Yarra Climate Action Now, and that they have our admiration, respect and gratitude.
These three people on hunger strike outside Parliament House are one component of Climate Justice Fast – an international hunger strike for climate justice and for urgent and science-based actions to prevent catastrophic global warming. There are around 100 people around the world taking part in fasts of varying length as part of this action, with numbers growing day by day. Eight of these people, including Paul and Michael here in Canberra are doing the “full” fast, which is indefinite and will probably go until after the Copenhagen negotiations finish – a total of six weeks without food!
The key messages of the fast are that in line with the most robust and up to date climate science, world leaders need to agree to cut emissions and draw-down carbon from the atmosphere in order to get below 350 parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere (currently at around 387ppm and the Rudd Government target is a suicidal 450ppm), and that the rich world must pay the poor world US$160 billion per year to help them cut emissions and adapt to the impacts already being felt.
Paul, 29, from Melbourne and the main organiser of the huger strike said, “We feel that it is our duty to do everything possible to prevent the world’s poorest people and our very own children from suffering at the hands of a problem which they did not create.”
Marcella, 31 and also from Melbourne adds, “we may be suffering by not eating. However, our suffering is voluntary. The victims of the Victorian bushfires and heatwaves last summer died because of the terrible conditions caused in part by our climate changing. Climate change is already causing immense suffering and we can’t stand by and let it get worse.”
We lie under the marquee, it is a 36 degree day and it’s getting hot. Every now and then someone drops in to say hello and have a chat, most are very supportive and Marcella invites them to write in their guest book. At times the conversation is so normal that I forget the immense effort and sacrifice these three people are making. When I remember that they haven’t eaten for almost ten days it feels a little surreal.
I chat to Michael, from Sydney and 61 years old, about renewable energy and carbon sequestration. We eventually get onto the topic of his fast. He tells me that the doctors who examine them regularly say he will most likely end up in hospital. He doesn’t seem too worried about this. For him, the fast is a way to show the Australian public how urgent and serious the climate crisis is. It is also about morality. “We are using our own bodies to expose the moral bankruptcy of our leaders”, he says.
The day ends on an exciting note. The Run for a Safe Climate is passing through Canberra today. They are about half-way through their run from Cooktown to Melbourne via Adelaide, and the 25 runners have run around 20km in the searing heat. I watch as the fasters and the runners, made up of police officers, fire fighters, SES workers and paramedics, chat – the parallels between their actions become obvious as they talk about their experiences.
There are several politicians there to welcome the runners. After the official welcome Paul and Marcella have a chat with Greens Senators Bob Brown and Christine Milne. There is mutual admiration amongst all concerned and I take great pleasure in being able to get some video footage of the chat before a policeman informs me I am not allowed to film because I’m not authorised. As soon as he leaves I pull out the camera again until stopped by another policeman.
Marcella tries to approach Senator Penny Wong, but she makes a run for it as soon as she sees her “Climate Justice Fast!” t-shirt. I wonder out loud why she even bothers to turn up at climate change events considering how woefully her government is dealing with the crisis. Does she have no shame?
Late in the evening we say our goodbyes. As I have my first morsel of food for over 24 hours and get on the bus back to Melbourne the next morning, I think about them once again setting up on the Parliament House lawn and settling in for another day without food. I think about the humble manner by which they are going about their extraordinary action and I hope they are able to get the coverage for the cause that they are aiming for. I also hope they don’t feel alone and isolated in a world that can sometimes seem impervious to acts of sanity like this one.
As the bus leaves Canberra behind my mind settles on one of the entries in their guestbook, written by a year seven student who dropped in to the marquee with his mother. It said, “You are doing a good thing. I wish there were more of you”.
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