SPEECH: World Environment Day

Today, on World Environment Day, Mark spoke about the extinction crisis as well as the climate crisis we are facing which is becoming even more serious and urgent in the face of inaction and indifference by government. He encouraged all South Australians to think about what is happening to our natural environment and what they can do to secure a better environment for all of us.


The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Today is World Environment Day. It is a special day for raising awareness and encouraging action to protect our environment. Back in 1974, when World Environment Day started, the theme was 'Only One Earth'. This is just as meaningful today as it was 45 years ago.

In South Australia, the most recent State of the Environment report tells us that we are going backwards. Many of our native plants, animals and unique habitats are in decline, and some species will certainly become extinct. It is a matter of scientific fact that species are going extinct. That is why environment groups all over the world are naming it an extinction crisis.

In South Australia, we have long been known as the 'extinction capital', with more mammal species going extinct here over the last 200 years than anywhere else in Australia and possibly the world. I first heard this shocking analysis from John Hunwick over 20 years ago. For those who do not know him, John was the original architect of the chocolate Easter bilby as a home-grown alternative to the Easter bunny, a very fitting gesture given the enormous ecological damage that rabbits have caused to the Australian landscape.

Australia-wide our record of extinction is appalling. Four years ago, Greens Leader Senator Richard Di Natale claimed that 'Australia has one of the highest loss of species anywhere in the world.' That claim prompted howls of derision until the ABC's own Fact Check unit crunched the numbers and concluded that:

When comparing places on the ICUN Red List, Australia is in the top five for extinction of animals and plant species, and the top 10 for endangered and threatened species. Senator Di Natale's claim is correct.

If you prefer to hear this from a higher authority you need go no further than the United Nations' own report on biodiversity that was released just last month. It shows that the decline in species is unprecedented and the rate of extinction is accelerating, with 1 million species now threatened with extinction. It is without doubt a crisis, but not without hope, provided that we fundamentally change nearly everything we are doing currently: what the United Nations calls transformative change.

So what should our response be to this extinction crisis? Clearly, the traditional political and economic approaches are not working which is why growing numbers of people are now in open rebellion. In fact, groups such as Extinction Rebellion are proliferating worldwide including here in Adelaide. They have some prominent supporters including George Monbiot, who wrote in The Guardian last month:

As the environmental crisis accelerates, and as protest movements like YouthStrike4Climate and Extinction Rebellion make it harder not to see what we face, people discover more inventive means of shutting their eyes and shedding responsibility. Underlying these excuses is a deep-rooted belief that if we really are in trouble someone somewhere will come to our rescue: 'they' wont let it happen. But there is no they, only us.

Those who govern the nation and shape public discourse cannot be trusted with the preservation of life on Earth. There is no benign authority preserving us from harm. No-one is coming to save us. Mass civil disobedience is essential to force a political response.

In addition to this extinction crisis, our climate crisis is becoming even more serious and urgent in the face of inaction and indifference by government. That is why many communities around the world are formally adopting a declaration acknowledging that we are in a climate emergency and we can no longer stand by and do nothing.

Around the world, dozens of states and territories, provinces and local governments have signed on to the Climate Emergency Declaration. In fact 65 million people across 13 countries have had their political leaders sign up. In South Australia, we have the Adelaide Hills Council, Gawler Town Council and Light Regional Council as signatories so far, with more to come.

When it comes to the extinction emergency and to the climate emergency I think we can expect a growing tide of civil disobedience and citizens taking direct action to stop projects that they know are clearly bad for the planet. I think the Adani coalmine in central Queensland is likely to be an early campaign. Like the emperor with no clothes, the Adani issue has laid bare the cosy relationship between the fossil fuel industry and the old political parties. Neither Liberal nor Labor are prepared to stop this climate-wrecking project so it will be up to the people. For our part, the Greens remain the voice of the environment in state parliament.

As well as biological diversity and climate change, we are fighting to reduce the scourge of plastic pollution; we are fighting to stop inappropriate developments in national parks; we are fighting to protect our precious great Australian Bight from the oil industry; we are fighting for the Coorong, the Lower Lakes and a healthy river system.

So, on World Environment Day 2019, my message is for all South Australians to think about what is happening to our natural environment and what you can do to secure a better environment for all of us.