A Climate Hunger-Striker Explains His Position


My name is Daniel Lau and I am now on my 35th day without food in protest at our leaders’ collective inability to act in the face of humanity’s greatest possible disaster.

Looking back at things, it seems that my life priorities have changed drastically in recent years. Up until 2005, I had spent eight years working at one of the most aggressive emitters of CO2 in Australia, a steel plant in Wollongong. Today, having studied the science and economics of global warming, I cannot feign ignorance. My hunger strike began as a rational response to inaction by leaders.

Martin Luther King once taught us that "a man who won’t die for something isn’t fit to live". This fast is for a cause that I would be willing to die for, but which is worth living for.

Taking action to help defend the survival of people, entire communities, nations and regions that have no choice but to suffer if our present environmental degradation persists, has brought deeper meaning to my life. I’m not a spiritual person, but now, on my 35th day without food, I hear the cry of the billions I am standing with in my starvation.

My friends’ and family’s bewilderment, anger and frustration at not being able to move me off the hunger strike slowly transformed into moral and emotional support. Their love and solidarity made me realise that my life is not mine alone. It intimately affects people back in Australia. And conversely, the millions suffering around the world affect me.

Although my decision to undertake this hunger strike was a deeply personal decision, I do not feel alone. There are many others just like me, here in Copenhagen, along with those in Australia, the US, and the thousands from at least 25 countries around the world who have registered on our Climate Justice Fast website and facebook page. The fast has inspired youth from the global south in Copenhagen to call for a peaceful day of global fasting today, Thursday 17 December. For some this will represent their 42nd day without food.

For the last six months I’ve been researching for a PhD in climate economics. It was while doing this research that I discovered the basic science of global warming. In the absence of urgent attempts to reduce CO2 emissions today, our planet will heat up to levels that will make it impossible to maintain human civilisation. Conflicts and diseases caused by greater climate variability are expected to erupt throughout the world as more farmland becomes desert and fresh water supplies dwindle. Based on estimates from the scientific community, strong immediate action on climate change is required.

Even more startling, the economics show it is cost-effective. According to the UK’s Stern report and many other studies on climate change economics, the cost of fulfilling emission reductions necessary to avoid the most devastating effects of global warming — ensuring CO2 levels do not exceed 350ppm in the atmosphere — is so little, that rich countries in 2050 would have to wait only one additional year, until 2051, to be as rich as they otherwise would have been, had they not been investing in clean energy.

Yet it seems our governments, and perhaps even us as individuals and societies in developed countries, have decided to ignore the devastating impact of our current, environmentally unsustainable lifestyles upon countless future generations of people merely because they do not exist yet.

More fundamentally, climate justice demands the following. Rich nations, comprising under one sixth of the current global population must at least take responsibility for their historical role in having emitted 40 per cent of the total emissions allowable before truly dire changes are caused to the natural system. At current CO2 emission rates, we have less than 20 years left to become completely carbon-neutral, if that is at all possible. We must utilise our greater resources to act now so that innocent people do not suffer the catastrophic consequences of climate change.

If the present inaction of the developed world was not bad enough, Australia’s present position on climate change is even more immoral. We emit the most carbon per capita in the world, make money from the coal we use and sell, and have tabled a pledge in Copenhagen that condemns many of the Small Island Developing States to death. These nations represent 20 per cent of all nations in the UN. Our carbon reduction proposals will not prevent the oceans from rising, swallowing hundreds of islands as the polar ice caps melt and the oceans expand. Nor will our proposals be enough to prevent the worsening consequences of climate change already being faced by many African nations.

When, because of desertification caused by global warming in sub-Saharan Africa, it is down to the last piece of bread between a family of eight, the situation is dire. But the value of my life and each of theirs is the same and I have undertaken this voluntary fast in solidarity with these people who are involuntarily suffering, every day, because of climate change.

I joined this hunger strike with a vision of hope. This may sound contradictory because this indefinite fast threatens my health, and of course risks death. But some fasters have ended their fast — including Michael Morphett, 61, who was fasting on the lawn outside Parliament House in Canberra — after receiving medical advice. When told that irreversible damage to his body was imminent if he continued to fast, Michael took the rational decision to listen to medical advice.

In a way, his decision is emblematic of the one key demand all of the millions calling for action on global warming have asked for. Heed the scientific advice, reduce our carbon emissions, or risk the irreversible death of our planet.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.