Council declares climate emergency

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
More than 500 people attended Friday's climate action rally in Margaret River.
Camera IconMore than 500 people attended Friday's climate action rally in Margaret River.

The Shire of Augusta-Margaret River council has formally declared a climate emergency.

The 5-2 vote on Wednesday night was put forward by Shire president Pam Townshend in her last meeting and comes in response to Friday’s school strike for climate action.

While Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg captured world headlines with her fiery speech at the United Nations this week, local 16-year-old Maia Sheridan-Hulme fronted councillors to file a hundreds-strong petition from Friday’s rally, which was attended by about 500 people.

Maia told councillors she and her friends were so alarmed at global inaction on the worsening climate that they discussed whether to have children. She said she did not “have much of a social life” and was “foregoing school at the moment” due to her activism seeking to head off “mass extinction”.

Maia saluted the council’s moves on environmental issues, including this year’s climate action summit at the Margaret River Pro.

“Time and time again you have stood on the right side of history,” the teenager said. “You have responded to Margaret River’s pleas for action.”

Cr Townshend said declaring the emergency was about protecting the local environment and industries like winemaking and tourism.

“I am sick of hearing facile arguments about how climate change is not the business of local government,” she said.

“People who argue against local government taking on lobbying and action around climate are living in a previous century.”

Crs Peter Lane, Naomi Godden, Mike Smart and deputy Shire president Julia Meldrum backed the declaration.

Cr Ian Earl reiterated his view that students should stay in school and study science, though Cr Godden later picked apart arguments from him and Cr Pauline McLeod, who said she could not vote for the item because it would divide the community.

“We need the community to continue to be with us on reducing carbon emissions if we are to succeed,” Cr McLeod said.

Cr Earl said he saw the evidence of climate change through his work as a volunteer firefighter, but the decision was dropped on councillors late and should have gone out for consultation.

Cr McLeod also said the declaration was not raised during May’s climate summit.

But Cr Godden said the summit endorsed community lobbying and actions to highlight the risks of a warming climate.

“With a council that is dedicated to a sustainable economy, part of that is having to tackle climate change,” she said.

“Urgent action is needed to address the climate crisis.

“This is the tragedy of where we have arrived as a species.”

The motion endorsed the council lobbying higher tiers of government for climate action, to address local issues contributing to emissions, and continuing measures to adapt to climate change within the district.

The motion also endorsed an unspecified pot of funds for a community group to consult with residents and “determine appropriate goals and method(s) of measuring the improvements in environmental issues which are contributing to climate change”.

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