If you want to survive an emergency the first thing to do is to recognise the truth of your situation. Once you've accepted the reality of what is happening you can then take action and initiate a rescue plan. You don't survive a bushfire or a cyclone through business as usual.
Today, the planet that is our beautiful shared home is in the midst of a climate and environmental emergency. Top UN-backed reports have warned that the world must take action of unprecedented speed and scale to avoid irreversible catastrophic global heating and to avoid the extinction of approximately one million species.
All over the world people are now recognising the scale of the danger to humanity. Following the lead of the ACT, last night Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore and the Sydney City Council became the latest local government to speak the truth and declare a climate emergency.
Australia's biggest city and our national capital have both called a code red - and leaders like Clover Moore and Shane Rattenbury should be congratulated for stepping up.
As of today, 24 Australian cities and towns that have already declared a state of emergency. Together these municipalities represent more than two million Australians. These local and territory governments are being straight and honest with their residents about the urgency and severity of the challenge we now face. And they are declaring a willingness to act.
Globally, change is coming from the ground up. Around the world, over 600 jurisdictions in 13 countries representing 83 million citizens have now declared a climate emergency.
Of course, acknowledging the state of emergency is just the first step. The next stage is to put reducing the emissions that are driving the climate crisis at the centre of decision making and spending priorities. That means an ambitious target for zero net emissions as fast as possible and a clear, realistic and fully costed plan for how to get there.
But acting in the face of the climate crisis can also be about building better communities. Kindness, creativity and togetherness should be at the heart of every local government climate emergency response plan. As Damon Gameau's recent documentary film 2040 shows so vividly, many climate solutions also have massive social and cultural dividends.
Our neighbourhoods should not only become emissions-free - but quieter, safer, cleaner, more inclusive and more beautiful at the same time.
Climate change is the greatest storm in human history and merits a response plan to match. Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz has described the climate emergency as equivalent to our generation's third world war, in terms of the level of threat and the scale and scope of what we need to do to rise to the challenge.
In order to meet the internationally agreed climate target of keeping global temperatures to well below a two-degree increase on pre-industrial levels, we will need to halve our global carbon emissions by 2030. This is far beyond what either major party has ever proposed in Australia.
Yet the prevailing mood in Parliament House is to continue to pretend that nothing is wrong. The Morrison government is like a negligent landlord telling tenants to ignore the smell of smoke and the sound of sirens and go back to their flats.
No government ever has a mandate to jeopardise the future of our country. Yet for as long as it fails to take action proportionate to the climate emergency, the Morrison government is wantonly risking the life of the nation and contributing to the disasters that are already hurting thousands of Australian families. According to the federal government's quarterly update of the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory released earlier this month, Australia's emissions are continuing to rise.
Just last week in Canberra, Natural Disaster Response Minister David Littleproud admitted that climate change causes natural disasters, but said he still supports the opening of new coal mines - even though coal is the number one driver of climate change in Australia.
Unlike the politicians on Capital Hill, local governments don't have the luxury of putting their heads in the sand. Municipalities are at the cutting edge of climate disaster. Deadly heatwaves, massive storms, sea level surges and bushfires all create huge threats to towns and shires. The council will often be at the forefront of having to clean up the mess and supporting neighbourhoods in their recovery.
Years of inaction by national governments and big business means that climate damage is already occurring and more shocks are coming. Building up resilience to climate disaster must be now core business for every local government across Australia.
Local governments and communities are taking the lead and the pressure on state and federal government is rising. When you can hear the shouts and smell the smoke, you can only deny the truth for so long.
- David Ritter is the Chief Executive Officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific. He is also an adjunct professor in the Sydney Democracy Network at Sydney University.