‘International Rebellion Week’: Brisbane Shut-Down Is The Start Of A Wave Of Climate Activism



Protests against inaction on climate change are starting to seriously heat up. But it’s the tip of the metaphorical iceberg, writes Chris Graham.

One of the problems with the environmental movement, according to some on the left, is that individual action to reduce your carbon footprint (like recycling, or reducing your meat intake) is ultimately ineffective.

That theory centres partly around the view that because the problem is so great, individual efforts really won’t make much of a difference. More importantly, it’s focussed on a belief that the ‘system’ – capitalism – is the problem, and its destruction should be the focus of our energies.

Admittedly, I have some sympathies for that argument. But, occasionally, it’s undeniable that an individual effort can create major ripples.

Greta Thunberg is a case in point. She started out as one person – a 15-year-old kid from Sweden – with the simple goal of highlighting inaction on climate change. She staged one-person protests in the streets of Stockholm, then she sailed to New York, and now she has a global army of supporters behind her.

That spirit of rebellion was on display in Brisbane early this morning, as a 22-year-old nurse, Sophie Thompson, brought Brisbane traffic to a standstill.

Thompson erected a tripod on Victoria Bridge – a major thoroughfare for the southside of Brisbane – and sat there until police finally pulled her down, several hours later.

Here’s Thompson in a media release that accompanied the protest: “As a midwife, I cannot stand by as the government harms children by continuing to ignore the climate emergency.

“Children in Australia and around the world are already dying in this emergency. Be it lack of drinking water in remote Aboriginal communities or food shortages in Sudan, children are the first victims of this crisis. We must act now, or the next generation of children will suffer a worse fate.

“We are facing complete societal collapse with the most vulnerable in society, particularly children, being disproportionately affected.

“I take my action this morning in solidarity with Greta Thunburg and all the school striking children who are sacrificing their futures to protect our climate. They have shown us the way and I am following their example.”

Although alone atop her tripod, Thompson didn’t act in complete isolation. She’s part of a new activist organisation called Extinction Rebellion, a global movement aimed at direct action to raise awareness about climate change.

They have a chapter in South-East Queensland, and if you thought this morning’s action was disruptive, then brace yourself: Thompson’s group has declared an “open rebellion against the Government for their ‘criminal climate inaction’”. They aim to follow-up that declaration with a wave of protests next week, to mark ‘International Rebellion Week’. No prizes for guessing, ‘International Rebellion Week’ does not have the sanction of governments anywhere, although it will unravel in countries all over the planet.

“Extinction Rebellion SEQ is expecting thousands to rebel and many arrests next week, as part of International rebellion week,” a media spokesperson said. So you’ve been warned – there’s more to come. And that’s a bloody good thing.

If it’s not clear to you by now, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s response to Greta Thunberg’s action in New York should tell you everything you need to know about the Australian Government’s intentions when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, September 2019. (IMAGE: ABC News screencap)

Morrison suggested that ‘children’ (not asylum seeker children, obviously) shouldn’t have to worry about climate change. They should be allowed to ‘be kids’. Everything will be just fine.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Morrison’s political party’s action on climate change has been to abolish a carbon tax, watch emissions rise, and then play with the figures to try and ‘reduce the numbers’… literally, the numbers (not the amount of carbon).

If you want to understand why politicians – particularly conservative ones – can rail about passing on a national debt to children, while at the same time denying the science on climate change and fiddling the books while ‘Rome burns’, you need look no further than the experience of Aboriginal affairs.

In 2007, Mal Brough (Liberal) and then Jenny Macklin (Labor) unleashed a policy on Aboriginal people (the Northern Territory intervention) that led directly to widespread starvation, a more than quadrupling of the self-harm and suicide rate, and the direct deaths of an unknown number of Aboriginal people.

That was just over a decade ago, and the NT intervention is now widely accepted as a spectacular, expensive human-rights abusing disaster. It is a deep stain on our nation’s past. But neither Brough nor Macklin, who remained in parliament until just a few months ago, are being hauled over the coals for it, nor are they being held to account in any way whatsoever. Both have retired on generous taxpayer-funded pensions.

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Climate change policy is an even better scam, politically speaking. While we’re already seeing increased global instability in our weather, the most extreme impacts from climate change won’t begin to be felt for probably 20 or 30 years. Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott will be in their 90s, or dead.

They don’t take the issue seriously now because they believe it’s not in their political interests, and they know for certain that when the shit really hits the fan, they won’t be around to be held responsible for their failures. And even if they were, given the laziness of our media, they probably wouldn’t be held responsible anyway.

And so it comes to other people to show leadership. With the exception of the Greens and a few independents and minor parties, our political class has failed spectacularly on this issue. It comes to people like Sophie Thompson and the growing number of activist organisations pushing forward for action on climate change, like the Extinction Rebellion. As Thompson said in her media statement: “All people of privilege need to assess their priorities and take civil disobedience in place of those who cannot, to force rapid systematic change.”

While you contemplate that, there’s a couple of things it’s crucial to remember. There will be a pushback – there always is – and it will come from predominantly older white men.

But just remember, these are the same people who spent years claiming climate change is not real. Now that they’ve lost that debate, they’ve retreated to ‘well, it’s not an emergency’.

These are also the same people who have barracked for asylum seekers to be locked up without charge.

They’re the same people who voted Trump (or would vote Trump if they were in the US).

These people are conservatives, and they hate change. Climate change in particular.

Do not listen to them. Ignore their pushback. Remember why you’re protesting. Keep fighting. Keep believing that individual action – and collective action – are the only ways to tackle the malaise around climate change, and the determination of conservatives to ensure nothing changes.

Above all else, remember that as you watch the conservatives bluff and blunder, and trash ‘millennials’ like Thunberg and Sophie Thompson as the ‘selfish generation’ – the ‘vegan terrorists’ and the ‘environmentalists who stop traffic’ – remember who made the mess, and remember who will be left to clean it up.

You might feel a little inconvenienced by the protests of people like Thuberg and Thompson and many others. But then, if you hate inconvenience you’re really not going to like the effects of climate change.

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Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. In more than three decades of journalism he's had his home and office raided by the Australian Federal Police; he's been arrested and briefly jailed in Israel; he's reported from a swag in Outback Australia on and off for years. Chris has worked across multiple mediums including print, radio and film. His proudest achievement is serving as an Associate producer on John Pilger's 2013 film Utopia. He's also won a few journalism awards along the way in both the US and Australia, including a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards. Since late 2021, Chris has been battling various serious heart and lung conditions. He's begun the process of quietly planning a "gentle exit" after "tying up a few loose ends" in 2024 and 2025. So watch this space.