This has got to be a sick joke

CAROLYN ORR is a neurologist and clinical researcher who was arrested in 2021 as part of a protest calling for urgent action on climate change. Dr Orr, a Mount Lawley resident, was back protesting on April 17 as part of the “Perth Stops for Climate” protest where she compared fossil fuel companies to the tobacco industry, and she’s offered up her speech for this week’s Speaker’s Corner.

WELL, here we are at Woodside, Australia’s biggest oil and gas company. 

It’s a bit like standing at the entrance to Mordor, isn’t it? They really need a big fiery Eye of Sauron on top of the building. 

They could certainly afford it: They made nearly $8 billion in profit last year destroying our health and our future. 

And unfortunately that’s no joke. 

Fossil fuels are the biggest preventable cause of air pollution. 

We know that 1 in 5 premature deaths worldwide occur because of air pollution, which has been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, asthma, emphysema, kidney and liver disease, stroke, dementia, low IQ, infertility and miscarriage. 

When the last coal, oil and gas plant closes down, the average human will gain a year of life. 

The ill health that comes from fossil fuels is comparable to the ill health that comes from cigarettes, but at least there’s a degree of personal choice when it comes to smoking. 

Tobacco companies con people into poisoning themselves, but none of us has any choice but to breathe the air that fossil fuel companies like Woodside are poisoning.

And yet, sickness and death is only a fraction of the harm when it comes to fossil fuels. 

Fossil fuels are the main source of greenhouse gas emissions, and hence the main cause of climate change, which is driving the unprecedented and unnatural heatwaves, bushfires, floods, droughts and cyclones Australia has been experiencing, and which we know are going to continue to get worse until we end the threat from fossil fuels. 

World scientists tell us the world has to slash greenhouse gas emissions by half by the end of this decade to avoid the worst of climate impacts. 

Yet we’re nearly a third of the way though that decade, and worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are still rising.

Yet fossil fuel companies are behaving just like the tobacco industry. 

The tobacco industry pretended for decades that cigarettes weren’t harmful, despite knowing that cigarettes kill more than half the people who smoke them. 

They funded junk science and misinformation about the health harms of smoking, and put ineffective filters on their cigarettes to pretend to people that this would somehow protect them from smoking harm – it didn’t.

And fossil fuel companies are behaving the same way – they’ve spent decades promoting misinformation that climate change wasn’t real, or that it wasn’t caused by humans. 

These days, with the evidence all around us of a changing climate and unnatural weather, they can’t get away with denial any more.

So they’ve switched to delusion – that technologies like carbon capture and storage can allow them to continue business as usual.

Carbon capture is like filters on cigarettes. 

It has been around for 50 years and simply doesn’t work at scale. It is however an excuse to keep taking public money, with the annual subsidy to fossil fuel companies like Woodside being about $12 billion a year from Australia.

Their other fossil fuel company strategy is delay.

Largely because of their outsize political influence at both state and federal level; although we are finally committed to decarbonisation, we’re going way too slow, and our targets are too low and too weak. Worst of all, we continue to open new gas and oil projects.

Why? Because each day the fossil fuel industry as a whole makes close to US$3 billion profit. 

That’s their 30 pieces of silver for selling out the human race. 

The profit motive has allowed them to ignore six increasingly frantic IPCC reports, the statement from the International Energy Agency that no more fossil fuel projects can be built after 2021 if we hope to keep the world safe, and reports from all over the world of record breaking temperatures and unprecedented weather events. 

And right now nearly 200 carbon bombs – oil and gas projects so polluting that each will result in at least a billion tonnes of GHG emissions, are being built around the world, including Woodside’s Burrup Hub/Scarborough facility.

The fossil fuel industry is showing reckless indifference to human suffering in the name of profit. They know that fossil fuels must end; but in pursuit of profit they’re not going to stop until we force them to do so. 

This industry corrodes our environment, our health, our politics and our society. 

But we don’t have to give up a safe future to profit these companies, who know they are on the wrong side of both morality and the future. 

And it will down come to us, the people.  

If we allow the climate emergency to unfold as it is doing, then as a species everything we have ever done, everything we are, and everything we might yet become will be lost. Our hopes and dreams, our stories, our healing, our arts and our science, our successes and our failures, our aspirations.

Humanity’s future now depends on the people like us all who cannot close their eyes and will not turn away. 

So here we are, the people who understand that for evil to triumph, all that is needed is for good people to stay quiet and do nothing. 

So to Woodside and Chevron, and Santos, and Inpex, and AGL, to Origin, to all the fossil fuel industries, understand that we will never give up, we will never go away, and we will not allow you to destroy our health, our environment, and our future.

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