Why Bill McKibben says Newcastle matters

Future: One of the world's most influential environmentalists and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben is in Newcastle on April 27, the first stop of his Australian visit.

Future: One of the world's most influential environmentalists and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben is in Newcastle on April 27, the first stop of his Australian visit.

A PORT of Newcastle push for a container terminal only months after new chairman Roy Green’s call for an “urgent need to diversify the Hunter economy” was a message for the world, said influential environmentalist and 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben before a Newcastle visit in late April.

“You can count on your fingers and toes the truly iconic centres of the fossil fuel industry in the world, and Newcastle is one of them,” McKibben said ahead of an Australian trip beginning in Newcastle. “It’s a very short list. Any one of them taking serious action to move away from fossil fuels, or even contemplating it, becomes very, very important.

“What happens in Newcastle matters.”

Mr McKibben plans to speak to Hunter leaders about shifting investments from the fossil fuel industry and backing the Port of Newcastle’s campaign to have previously secret arrangements restricting container movements from Newcastle removed.

“Roy Green obviously knows a great deal more about what the plans are for the Port of Newcastle, but I would like to speak with him and offer to spread the word about what they’re doing, help the rest of the world find out there’s more to Newcastle than coal,” Mr McKibben said.

AGL’s refusal to break under pressure from the federal government over the Liddell power station closure was also a sign that significant players in the Hunter were working towards a transition from coal, Mr McKibben said.

Rallying cry: Bill McKibben at a 350.org event in America.

Rallying cry: Bill McKibben at a 350.org event in America.

“The thing that makes Newcastle so interesting to me is it feels like it’s beginning to at least try to grapple with the fact that it’s not well placed for the planet we’re looking at in the future,” Mr McKibben said. 

“This transition is in some ways the hardest thing human beings have ever had to do. It’s difficult everywhere. It’s particularly difficult in those places like Newcastle where it’s not only people’s habits that have to change, but where their livelihoods are involved.

“I remember hearing Newcastle Council had made the decision to divest from fossil fuels (in 2015) and I thought, that’s interesting, there’s some people thinking about the future of the city instead of the past.”

Mr McKibben agreed that in terms of overall production of climate change emissions as a percentage of global emissions, Australia was “not very important”, although on a per capita basis Australia joined America as the worst emitters.

“What does matter is the enormous amount of carbon Australia digs up and exports elsewhere. The amount of coal being exported from Australia is enough to materially affect the world’s climate in very big ways.”

McKibben’s Australian visit, Accelerate, aims to build momentum in Australia for increased corporate and local government divestment from fossil fuels. He will host a public meeting here on April 27 before travelling to the Great Barrier Reef to argue against the Adani coal mine. He will also speak in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Port of Newcastle chairman Roy Green said he was “open to meeting with all stakeholders and listening to their views” but had another commitment on April 27.

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