I’m not an overly big fan of using evocative metaphors like war to describe working on climate change. I feel it can be overly polarising, causing people to think in terms of choosing sides and finding enemies.
However, during the Beyond Coal and Gas in Kurri Kurri, Australia this weekend, I started to see that war is, unfortunately, sometimes an apt description of what is happening.
In war times, many things are needed beyond soldiers and weapons. A great deal is necessary to support the troops – healthcare and medical treatment, entertainment and morale boosting, forming alliances, strategic overview and planning, research and investigation, rallying public support, allowing time for rest as well as time to battle.
But what was most shocking to me was the idea that there are real casualties striking those working on the “front lines”.
I had known that there were casualties in other countries where freedoms and protections were not available to communities. But I never imagined I’d find them at home in Australia.
I had also vaguely known for a while about the physical health effects of coal and coal seem gas – although there too I was enlightened by Dr Merryn Redenbach from Doctors for the Environment Australia as she explained the very immediate impacts that the coal industry has on respiratory and heart conditions.
But I had no inkling of the men and women I met from organisations like Lock the Gate. Residents who are on the front lines as their communities and family homes are threatened and ruined. Parents and grand parents fighting for their family and their property who have gained my deepest respect.
They are sacrificing their time, sleep and their emotional health to support their family and neighbours. Some of whom may have no legal or scientific background, but get hit with scientific and legal documents that are thousands of pages long, and are given only a few weeks to read, understand and respond to if they wish to save their land. People who have no background in mental health care but are finding themselves caring for family and neighbours distressed by the health and financial problems that coal seam gas has brought them.
Many of the residents I was told felt they must hide their worries from their children and family for fear of passing the stress onto those they love.
As I listened to them I could see that this was taking a toll on some of them. I only discovered the full extent of the toll one moment on Sunday afternoon as we prepared for the evening panel discussion.
This is a moment that, to my knowledge, was not included in any media coverage of the event.
A moment of silence was held for a farmer. He had been fighting to protect his property from Coal Seem Gas and had taken his own life.
That the stress and worry could be so high as to drive someone that far I found shocking. Later though, I discovered he was not the only casualty of the assault on farms and communities.
Yet after the moment of silence, far from discouraged, it seemed there was an even greater will to carry on, to protect communities and to support those fighting.
So one of the things I’ve been reflecting on as I think about how I will spend my month in Australia in July and August is how can we help them? What can we do to support them?
I didn’t come up with a good answer while I was there, so I fell back to what I’ve learned while at Ground-Up Initiative when I am unsure how to help someone:
Offer your respect, offer your ear. Listen to them and any wisdom they have to share. Offer them your gratitude for their courage.Google+