AQ: Australian Quarterly

Law, legitimacy and activism in the Anthropocene

‘When they slaughtered Congress, we didn't wake up. When they blamed terrorists, and suspended the Constitution, we didn't wake up then either. … Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you'd be boiled to death before you knew it.’

In the real world, there’s a dominant narrative that we are blindly walking down the path to catastrophic climate change. But the truth is even scarier – we are being shepherded down this path quite deliberately. We may have taken a while to wake up, but ever since we did and began to object, our governments have been making ever-increasing use of state power to silence us.

I reflected on this during a recent trip to Heron Island on the Great Barrier Reef. Heron’s reef supports around 4000 turtles, while many more return to the island in spring to nest. During one afternoon snorkelling trip, I was lucky enough to see three turtles, including a small juvenile, feeding on seaweed just metres from me. As I watched, my feelings turned from wonder to horror as it occurred to me that they are likely to see the reef die around them; gradually boiled to death.

The Great Barrier Reef is under serious threat from climate change. Already, an estimated 50 per cent of the reef – the world’s largest living organism – is dead or dying. We came to Heron Island for a family holiday after years of promising our son we would visit the ‘reef that’s dying’. It breaks my heart to hear him call it this, but that’s nothing compared to my rising panic over the other environmental changes he and his sister will see in their lifetime.

In 2013, before being defunded by the government, the Climate Commission warned that 80 per cent of known global fossil fuel reserves would

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