In August this year my husband Warwick and I went back to the Leard Blockade with a group of friends, and blockaded one of the roads to the Maules Creek mine for a few hours. We’d made a number of signs to hold, but our favourite was one that said “Grandparents for Intergenerational Equity”. I wrote an account of our trip that was published here on NoFibs and it included a photo of us with that sign.
Messages started being posted on Twitter “Are you a group? How do I join?”
I had been thinking for some time about how to reach and engage a wider demographic on the issues of climate change and the dangers presented by the fossil fuel industries, and suddenly I realised “Grandparents! We love our grandchildren so much and care about their future, we have more time than younger folks still paying mortgages and raising kids, and we live in electorates all over the country. We’re the perfect group to get involved! And there’s thousands of us!”
More seriously, grandparents also have a longer view of the world and of life, and what life can bring. And perhaps because of that we can look further ahead. Aware of the tremendous changes that have taken place in our own lifetimes, we know that major change can occur, and that unless global warming can be controlled, life could be very different and very difficult for these young people who are so precious to us.
Thinking about how best to get grandparents involved, I decided that I’d do something I’d done successfully once before. In 2006, with a few friends, I’d started the Citizens Climate Campaign. It was a website rather like an early version of GetUp, that sent out an email every few weeks with information on some current aspect of climate change and a short message that could be sent to the relevant politician. We encouraged folks to write letters, but they probably mostly sent our prepared email. With the climate-sceptic Howard government in power we originally felt like a voice crying in the wilderness, but in that year “An Inconvenient Truth” was filmed across Australia, and before we knew it over a thousand people were getting our emails, and climate change became the top priority for the public at the Federal election in 2007.
After Rudd was first elected he was saying the right things, but it soon became clear that the fossil fuel industry was still calling the shots. We kept the campaign going through increasingly disheartening years till the end of 2009, but after the fiasco of the Copenhagen climate summit, there didn’t seem to be much point any more.
Thinking some more about how to get the website address to my new target audience, I checked out the Seniors magazine and discovered that there was such a thing as a NSW Official Grandparents Day. I’ve been a grandparent for 20 years but had never heard of it! And it was on 26 October this year, barely 2 months from when I got my bright idea. The magazine talked of organisations having functions to celebrate, so I thought “Right! I’ll have a letter writing afternoon tea garden party to launch the website! That ought to be something that’ll get us a bit of publicity”.
Well, the garden party afternoon tea was no problem, I knew how to do that stuff, but the website I had no idea how to do. I’m a self-confessed IT stone- age dinosaur. With the previous campaign, I’d done the research and writing, and someone else turned it into a website. Still, I thought, there’ll be professional designers around and I’ll just pay someone. Then, miracle of miracles, a young friend of mine who is a whiz on Apple Macs and was giving me lessons on how to drive mine (I’ve been on a PC for the last 20 years) said “I think it’s a great idea and I’ll make you a website, Robin”!
So she and I started collaborating to produce www.genequity.net , the website of Grandparents for Generational Equity. She did all the technical stuff and I started madly writing the content.
We had a great stroke of luck when I asked Bob Debus, the retired NSW Attorney General and Environment Minister who was our MP here in the Blue Mountains for many years, if he would come to our party and launch the website, and he said yes. He has told me that he believes that grassroots action, taking governments head on, is the only way climate change will be controlled. His involvement has really helped us with our publicity.
I had to put in a huge effort to get a good crowd organised to attend. At this time of year there are many competing attractions in the Blue Mountains and so many people responded “I think it’s a great idea but I’m already committed to something else that afternoon” that at times I despaired of getting my numbers. I’d worked out that we could manage 60. We needed Plan B in case of wet weather. Warwick and I live in a very large, rambling old house that we share with our daughter, her husband and 3 children, and we figured that 60 was as many as we could squeeze in sitting down inside to write their letters.
And of course there was the food to think about. Actually thinking about it wasn’t a problem, but finding the time to prepare it was a bit of a challenge. However, with the help of some good friends, it all got done, and we had a wonderful spread.
In the end we only had 40 to cater for, which was just as well because although the day was sunny, it was also windy, and we ended up with Plan C, the afternoon tea and launch outside and the letter-writing inside.
And actually, organising that many people was quite enough of a job!
Bob was great with the launch, giving us a fascinating talk about the extent of the bipartisanship in the Hawke, Keating and even Howard governments over important environmental initiatives, so many of which have now been or are in the process of being unravelled in just this one year of the current Abbott government. Like a number of other analysts, he considers the neo-Conservative ideology of free markets and small governments to be a significant factor in this.
Before we started the letter-writing part of the afternoon, I spoke about the value of letters to politicians, compared to emails. Bob had told me this some time ago. Letters have a physical presence. They are delivered to the recipient, they have to be opened and read, and can’t be blocked or deleted like emails. It really maximises the impact of your action in sending a message if you do it by a letter. Our website makes it so easy, you can just copy our points and paste them to a new page, add some short comment if you want to, sign and address it and it’s done – 15 minutes!
Inspired and enthused, our guests picked up their pens with a will, to write their letters. I’d prepared 4 letters for each of us, 2 to the Federal government leaders and 2 to the NSW leaders, with enough room left on the page for them to add a comment of their own. They really got stuck into it, and for a while there was silence while a lot of deep thinking went on. We ended up the afternoon with 160 letters and a crowd of very excited happy grandparents, so thankful to at last have an effective way to express their frustration at government inaction on climate change.
And the more people who make the commitment to join this campaign, sign on to the website to get their fortnightly email message and send their letter/s, the more effective we will be. I can assure you that if thousands start doing it, from all around the country, it will have a huge political impact.
When our guests left, we gave them each a handful of business cards printed with the name of the campaign, and the website.
They left vowing to speak to their friends, to send the word and the website address on through their networks. They spoke of having been given hope, of being re-energised, motivated and inspired.
I was totally exhausted, but it was worth it!
Will you send the word on through your friends, your networks?
And let me say here, we’re not ageist! Anyone can use this tool, it doesn’t matter how old or young you are. This is an extraordinarily easy way to really hammer our politicians. The information is researched for you, the points made. All it takes is 15 minutes a fortnight from enough of us, and there can be a tsunami of letters deluging our politicians.
If you’re a young person, show it to your grandparents and ask them to do it for your sake.
Those of us who are now grandparents have lived through the best of times in this country, in peace and prosperity, and for much of the time with hope for a better future. Clive James described us as ‘lucky members of a lucky generation in a land of abundant natural blessings’.
But unless global warming can be controlled, our families will be facing very different conditions, beyond their ability to control because the damage will have been done earlier, on our watch. We have a very real responsibility to do whatever we can to avert at least some of this damage.
Economist Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the Stern Report said in a recent TED Talk:
“The depth of understanding of the immense risks of climate change is not there yet. We need political pressure to build. We need leaders to step up.
Are we going to look our grandchildren in the eye and tell them that we understood the issues, that we recognised the dangers and the opportunities, and still failed to act?”
Grandparents of Australia, unite!