Welcome to Season Five of the PROTECT podcast. I’m so happy to be back after a very extended break. For those of you that don’t know, the podcast isn’t my full-time job. It would be lovely if it was, but not just yet. So thank you for your patience, if you are a returning listener. If you are new, welcome. So I haven’t covered fossil fuels on the podcast in detail yet. I originally found the industry quite daunting. The news was always heavy and dire, and today it was confirmed that the country I live in Australia is unfortunately a huge fossil fuel investor and not doing enough about it. So I thought, I need someone to break it down. Let us know that while the fight is quite large and involve so many people in power, can we actually do something about it, your everyday person from where we are today.
So I was fortunate to connect to today’s wonderful guest who has joined me on the podcast, Jacynta Fa’amau from 350.org. She’s a Samoan artivist based in Melbourne, Australia, and is the Pacific Region campaign specialist with 350. She’s been part of the Pacific Climate Warriors Network since the 2014 canoe blockade in Newcastle, New South Wales. And in 2018, she joined the 350 Australia team as the national organiser and lead trainer, and served as a member of the Council of Elders for the Pacific Climate Warriors Dysphoria region. Today we get a delve into this damaging industry, but Jacynta manages to lift us up with some inspiring stories of renewable communities, projects where climate resilience and solutions are in motion and above all the power of storytelling in the climate fight. It’s an informative conversation that I hope you’ll find true value in and see that the possibility of shutting down this industry is very, very real. So thank you for listening.
Angela: Hi Jacynta, welcome to PROTECT. Thank you for joining me today.
Jacynta: Hi, Angela. Thank you for having me.
Angela: I’m very delighted to have you on the show. So could you please give us a brief overview on how you found yourself working at 350 and your current role there?
Jacynta: Sure. My journey with 350 began in 2014 in Sydney. I was volunteering to help organise and gather community for a big event that was being planned and that was the canoe blockade in Newcastle. I had never heard of climate change or climate action or any of that before then. So I was tasked with the responsibility to drive a group of Pacific Islanders who had just traveled to Australia, some of them for the first time, and just take them to their trainings, their media interviews. And then when it came to the big event, I witnessed these young Pacific Islanders paddle out into the ocean with their traditional canoes and they led a massive flotilla of their canoes in kayaks to blockade, one of the world’s biggest export of coal. I had lived in Sydney my whole life, never knew that there was a coal export in New South Wales.
And yeah, I was just really inspired from the event I learned so much about myself and what I needed to do to be a part of this work. So basically since then I have been just volunteering here and there, helping to organise communities, and I started the Pacific Climate Warriors Network in Australia, which now we have teams in New Zealand and in America. I got to sit on the Council of Elders Committee where I got to support our diaspora network, finally got a paid gig with 350 Australia team as an organiser and trainer for a couple of years, and then all them skills and experiences afforded me the opportunity to be in a campaigner’s role with the Pacific team, and that’s where I am now.
Angela: Wow. So you are incredibly busy. Very rewarding role as well. So thank you. So could you please explain the science behind the reference of the 350 parts per million name, and if you could detail any climate targets you’ve set, where we are now and what you and your organisation are currently advocating for
Jacynta: Sure. 350, so it is the name of our organisation. It is I guess our science number, but 350 PPM or parts per million. It is basically the level of safety in the air or in the atmosphere that we need to live and breathe in. So it’s known as the safe level of CO2 or carbon dioxide. And currently at the last I checked, we’re at 417 parts per million, so that’s almost 70 above our safe limit. So it does tell us that the atmosphere we’re living in is not safe, but this is also the danger zone for a lot of our frontline communities. So hopefully I explained that one okay.
Angela: You did, yeah. Did it drop at all during the pandemic?
Jacynta: It did by two. Not a huge number.
Angela: Oh, It’s nothing. Okay.
Jacynta: A lot of people thought, yeah, this is going to really help us, but it didn’t do much of a difference, and I think that’s because a lot of the fossil fuel industries were still working during that time. So there’s that. But yeah, I know that the recent IPCC report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, it shows us that the current level of warming is already dire and we’re on track to reaching an increase of 2.4 degrees above industrial levels. Basically, scientists have agreed that we need to limit warning back to what we agreed with the Paris Agreement, which was 1.5, which is a huge part of our work in the Pacific. In some cases, the hard limits to adaptation will be reached even before temperatures exceed 1.5, which is sad news for us. More fossil fuels, more emissions would mean that impacts will be harder to manage. So we have to take immediate action to limit that loss, and we have to make sure that the damages that are brought on by these fossil fuel companies and fossil fuel producing countries are met by those who cause those damages in the first place.
Angela: Right, absolutely. So you mentioned the Paris Agreement where the 10 years to deliver was set. So is that still the tipping point because it doesn’t feel like we’re on schedule or do we even know what that tipping point is?
Jacynta: Yeah, we are living in the tipping point. I guess it gives a lot of hope to those who haven’t seen climate impacts yet, not so much for those who have been living with these realities for already a long time. These realities now mean that a lot of these communities are talking about the next phase, which is migration, which goes beyond those who are barely comprehending the climate impacts. But now we have communities who are past that and after trying to adapt and mitigate with these changes, there’s also migration that’s involved in these plans, which is a whole other world of discussions.
Angela: And that’s a crisis in itself. So obviously climate warming is a shared responsibility and without taking away that personal responsibility of each of us owning our own carbon footprint, what industries, which countries, what type of government or policy is truly behind global warming, and who do we need to focus on demanding this urgent action from?
Jacynta:nWell, the fossil fuel industry, they’re such a massive industry energy sector. So we’re talking about coal, oil and gas resources. The corporations, the institutions, the governments that uphold these industries need to be challenged and to be accountable for the destruction that they have caused. We as a community can use our voices and our stories to demand that change and at the same time, we also need to start working on how do we demonstrate community led initiatives that we know exist but have to be a crucial part in the just recovery phase. I mean, of course our world leaders aren’t doing a great job and need to be held accountable and need to push for climate action and just recovery.
Angela: So quite collective. Thank you for that. So Jacynta if we can just step back to the science on fossil fuels, why they’re so detrimental, and I want to mention that the damage begins from the onset, the extraction, not just the burning, and what vulnerable communities do climate change are experiencing?
Jacynta: Yeah, sure. So from I guess a little bit about from a scientific lens, we know the increase in greenhouse gases is affecting the global climate system and the majority of these gases we’re talking about the CO2, carbon dioxide, particularly from burning energy, which is done from the industry. But us as humans also play a part in that as you mentioned earlier. The world’s scientists confirmed in our report, as I mentioned earlier, that we need to try and not cross the 1.5 degrees within the year 2030, which is only a decade from now, and it’s well within the lifespan of most people alive today. So I guess that’s a little bit about the 1.5 degrees. And I guess I also want to mention the climate system, the global warming that we’re talking about. There is this argument that it is a natural system that’s a part of our world, but it’s just not like what we’re seeing now.
And we’ve been seeing the hottest years on record consecutively since 2014. And rising temperatures doesn’t only mean that it’s getting hotter. The earth’s climate is very complex, but even a small increase in average global temperatures mean big changes with lots of dangerous side effects, which a lot of our frontline communities are experiencing. But definitely from a community perspective burning that energy, it’s creating a lot of our seas to rise. Our sea level is rising and communities are and have been in discussion about migration, which I mentioned earlier. We also seeing in our own country, Australia in the land is continued to be taken and destroyed for resources, leaving many indigenous and a lot of our first nations communities more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. If we pay attention to what the scientists and our frontline communities are telling us, instead of what the fossil fuel industry tried to tell us in the media that humans are causing a rapid onset of climate change and it’s already bringing costly impacts across the world.
I guess the best way to stop it is keeping fossil fuels in the ground, which has been a major campaign in the last 20 or so years. But now we’re also pushing to accelerate that just transition to renewable energy. But yeah, definitely need to move beyond fossil fuels and power our entire society with clean energy. And a lot of that comes from just understanding the burning of natural resources that we have in our backyard and the unethical practices it takes to take that out. It’s literally affecting our indigenous communities in many ways than we would ever understand.
Angela: Unethical is a good word. So how can we actually leave fossil fuels in the ground?
Jacynta: There are so many ways to take action speaking to community, it’s a very common thing to be asked is what can we do to help? But there are so many ways to help. You can offer support to existing group of activists in your own neighborhood, not just by donating money, but you can donate your time. Things like writing a letter to your local MP, sending an email to the CEO of a bank that you bank with turning up to events where they need help with painting banners. These groups are also just looking for hands on deck who can help organise meetings and do admin and cook meals. It might seem minute in terms of the climate movement, but it all makes a big difference to those who are leading a lot of this work. Definitely do the labor and research your own carbon footprint.
Look at who you bank with, who your superannuation is with, find out what corporation sponsor your favorite local sports team. A lot of this speaks to acknowledging the intersections of injustice that we’re a part of. This all plays a huge part in fighting climate change. But yeah, we say we need to pressure the government and financial institutions to stop funding these projects, but that could look like so many things to so many people. If you want to just help by painting banners, that helps so much in those groups who are doing that work. Another big piece is definitely supporting and advocating community led initiatives or solutions. Keep supporting the infrastructure that’s needed to build what that transition to renewable energy could look like. We see the fracking industry in Australia seems to be very popular lately in the last year with our government handing more money to those projects.
But I believe our governments would be spending a whole lot more if it wasn’t for the work that our communities have been doing already. So join the fire, figure out what solidarity could look like to you. Identify your craft. I feel like that a big part of this climate movement, there’s no limit or rules to how your activism can look like. We’ve got young Pacific climate warriors who have used music, who create animations, who do fashion all to uplift a lot of the stories and the work that’s being done in this movement. Do what works for you and a volunteer in a group. They’re probably the biggest ones I can offer out there.
Angela: That’s beautiful. Thank you for all those wonderful suggestions. I feel that many people might see the space as quite large and even loud for climate activism. But as you mentioned, craft, which is wonderful, allowing people to use their skills or get that letter to your local MP, tell that bank corporation that their activity is unacceptable and really looking into where you invest your money or you’re purchasing from. It’s really helpful. Thank you.
So I’m sure you’ve seen the distress around rising petrol prices in Australia, the continuous government investments in damaging projects. So as a country, where do we sit in terms of our fossil fuel demand? You’ve mentioned urgent many times, but truly how fast do we need to move to renewable?
Jacynta: To put it in perspective, Australia’s primary energy consumption is dominated by the fossil fuel industry, specifically coal. And I think a lot of us have known that for some time. But when you look at where our renewable sources are, it’s like 2%. And I think that’s why we’re ranked third last or probably last out of the 24 countries in the world who are saying they’re doing work towards renewable energy that could paint a picture of where we sit in the world. It’s embarrassing. I heard stories about a lot of community and friends who went to COP last year who were just embarrassed to be associated with the country Australia because Australia was just being blasted for all the projects that they are trying to fund. I mean, America, we’re so used to laughing at what’s happening over there, but we’re not too far from them.
I definitely want to say Australia definitely needs to transition to renewable energy. There can be no more projects, especially if we want global temperatures to stay below 2 degrees, 1.5, it would be great. And I think it’s because Australia has this really beautiful opportunity to become this renewable champion or energy power to be energy self-sufficient. We hear stories that we’re so rich in wind and sun and we’re just not taking that opportunity. And I think if we don’t take that opportunity or don’t act now, Australia will be exposed to a very hostile international energy environment and we’re seeing that with what’s happening in Ukraine and Russia. There’ll be serious economic diplomatic consequences and our international leverage will disappear. We will see that disappear if we don’t seize the opportunity of leading the solutions by it.
Angela: Right. So that’s quite frightening and quite real. So what are the major delays in our failure to act? Is it skepticism? Is the industry just too lucrative for governments and corporations? And if we do move to renewable, do we have enough natural resources so enough winds, sun, water to do so?
Jacynta: Yeah, definitely. A quick answer, yes, we are so rich in so many other resources where we don’t need to dig it up and damage land here, but I think the cause for the delay in our failure to act, skepticism is definitely a big part. And I think I’m an example of that. Not that I didn’t believe it, I just never heard about it. And I think it’s that stage that our communities, when they learn something, it’s very overwhelming. It’s so much information to process. It freaks people out. And then it’s like this, not slow, but there’s this gentle approach of taking on what you can. Self-care has been a big part of what we’ve seen come out of the pandemic. And so being supported to learn about the climate crisis, the climate movement and climate action, there’s like stages. And I think skepticism will just in that stage too long.
When you learn about climate change, a lot of people hear science and science is very heavy. And so that can also mean a language barrier for a lot of our communities, which can also add to the delay in trying to get some climate action happening. But also a big part, and I think we saw this at COP and we see this with our governments. Governments and policy work take a huge part in trying to get some action happening across the climate movement. It’s such a slow process. Wording, doing research, they take up so much time. But I think on the positive, we don’t need to do all that work when we have all of what we need already existing within our country. I think the narrative needs to change. We still need to pressure our governments and those who hold power, but we also need to empower our communities because they too can also do something about this.
Angela: So really starting local. Okay. Are there any countries that are doing a great job at fossil fuel reduction or renewable energy projects?
Jacynta: Yeah, I know it’s hard to believe. We always hear the countries doing bad and something in our media, but I’m sure you’ve heard Norway is definitely up there. They’re the country with the highest share of renewable energy in the world. We also hearing Sweden is up there as well. I think they’re in this race to be the first 100% renewable country and a whole bunch of other places are doing really great. But I do want to highlight in the Pacific, Tokelau, the nation of Tokelau is the first country in the world to produce all its electricity needs from renewable energy. Pacific nation with three atoll islands and just over a thousand people, they have switched off their diesel generators and are now totally powered by the sun. And this has been happening since 2012.
Angela: 10 years?
Jacynta :Yeah. They’re proving it’s possible to do that. And our team there have been champions in renewables and also just telling the story that they are living proof that it works and it’s possible. But yes, Norway and Sweden, they’re on their way there. ICSC, which stands for Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities. So they’re this organisation based in the Philippines and they run solar scholar programs, which is teaching frontline communities how to build their own PD solar systems. And I know this firsthand because our team recently completed this training in Fiji a few weeks ago. And so we got taught how to build a solar system using spare parts around the neighborhood.
And not only did it work, but we also were able to gift the system to our partner groups, which is the Pacific Conference of Churches, PCC. And it’s such a powerful story because church in the Pacific communities has always been this place where we seek refuge and safety during a natural disaster. So it was fitting to be able to give something like this that could mean resilience and solutions in the moments of natural disasters. There’s also a lot of other community groups. I mean we know the Wangan and Jagalingou up north are doing amazing work in trying to push for renewable energy as they’re trying to protect their lands from the Adani mine. But yeah, I just wanted to highlight the amazing story of Tokelau being the first country already since 2012, being on renewable energy.
Angela: So much opportunity and work done already from a community perspective. I will link that story in the show notes because it is so interesting. So Jacynta, I wanted to ask from your personal perspective, you’ve offered ways to contribute to this fight, but why would your everyday citizen want to be involved when it might feel like, gosh, that’s just not my problem, it’s out of my hands. It’s a government corporation thing.
Jacynta: Yeah. Not only are we the ones that elect our leaders to run this country, but that tells a lot about the power we have on what we want to exist in our communities, helping us to shut down these industries. We can do that in a way that empowers us as well. Call them out on their corruption and unsustainable practices, but at the same time we can call them in on justice and it’s intersectionality. The climate crisis is a problem that affects everyone in this world. And so that says that it will need everyone to be a part of the solution. As much as we want to not waste our time on climate deniers, but the work needs to be done, we’re going to just keep going forward and working with the ones who are on our side. But I spoke about it already, finding your craft to tell your story because storytelling is such a powerful tool in the climate movement. That’s what inspires change.
And everyone has a powerful story. And so once you inspire people to be a part of this work, then they can tell their story of why they were inspired and then that would just continue on into more communities. The more people we have, not only the faster we’ll get to getting to our solutions and shutting down these industries, but I think that speaks to a lot of the things that we need since the pandemic. When we talk about adjust recovery, at the end, we really just need to take care of ourselves and each other and it will take all this work for us to realise it was such a simple thing that we needed to do, and that’s just love and taking care.
Angela: Beautifully said. Thank you, Jacynta. Okay, so it feels like finally we’re starting to listen to our original ancestors and landowners. I wanted to ask what resources are reputable? Who do we go to for information And if people want to support specifically 350, how can we do that?
Jacynta: Yeah, definitely 350. They have so many resources and I think it speaks to the network that it’s connected to. It’s a global organisation and learning about activism and what that looks like around the world can really help up your game on just grassroots organising and what that could look like to you. Training resources are constantly updated. With 350, you can really support your leadership skills and how you want to facilitate workshops. I spoke about storytelling and the power that it has as a tool in organising. But yeah, 350 has amazing resources just about learning about storytelling on its own and how it opens us to this world of artivism.
And I think another great resource, especially for us in Australia is market forces who do a lot of that research on what companies, what banks and what organisations are ethical and who is funding projects and who isn’t. Market force is definitely a big resource, but for a lot of your training needs and updates on what’s happening on the other side of the world, places like Brazil and Japan who also have communities who are shutting down industries in their neighborhood, they’re great stories of inspiration to inspire the work that can happen here and vice versa.
Angela: Great. That’s an excellent start. Thank you. So I’d like to ask all my guests about hope. You work in this space day in, day out. Of course there are occasional wins, but we have quite a fight on our hands. So do you remain hopeful that we can close the fossil fuel industry, that the message is working, that we may not have all the right people in government or leadership, but we are on our way and we will get there?
Jacynta: Yes, I am hopeful and yeah, I mean you said we don’t really have all the right people in government or those who are in power at the moment, but there is so much to be hopeful for because there is still so much to fight for. And I think that says a lot about doing everything we can to protect what we have for the next generations and those to come. I always make sure that I have something to keep me inspired in the space because it can be super draining and it can be very heavy at times trying to navigate all the different issues that climate change intersects with it. It’s a lot of work, but I also take that responsibility to make sure I get my dress of inspiration every now and then. And I’m so fortunate to work with a youth grassroots network, the Pacific Climate Warriors because they teach me so much about myself and remind me of why I’m in this work.
We also have beautiful partnerships with a lot of indigenous groups across the region, specifically indigenous peoples who are the original custodians of the land. And any work for climate justice must be led and informed by indigenous knowledge. Some of these I mentioned earlier with Wangan and Jagalingou who are just doing amazing work up north, but there’s groups like Jo-Jikum in the Marshall Islands who do amazing storytelling workshops and work within supporting their governments on climate policies. There’s also the Bua Urban Youth Network in Fiji. If you do enough research, you’ll find so many more inspiring just local grassroots groups who are doing this work on their side of the world. And it does paint a bigger picture of things to be hopeful for and things that’s worth fighting for.
Angela: That’s excellent to hear. I’m almost happy when the guests are hopeful. All right, Jacynta, look, it was so lovely to speak to you today. Thank you for joining myself and the listeners. You’ve offered us all an informative look at the fossil fuel industry Australia’s position. And while there is a lot of work to do, I feel you’ve made it less daunting, very accessible on ways everyone can contribute. I loved hearing about the communities making progress and the storytelling. So thank you so much for your personal work and artivism in the space and sharing all your knowledge with us today.
Jacynta: Yeah, I’m happy to be of help this afternoon.
Angela: Thank you so much for joining me on today’s episode with Jacynta. I hope you enjoyed the episode. I felt very connected to everything she talked about today and hope she inspired you as well. To look into the fossil fuel industry, do some research and work out how you might be able to help from where you are. And the craft, that was such an interesting perspective.
So while I remain a little disheartened with Australia’s lack of action, I am very hopeful like Jacynta that it can be changed. And we’re also fortunate that we’re amidst a federal election. So now is the time to really think about who we do vote for and also recognising the privilege that we have to vote.
So again, check the show notes for some resources and stories that Jacynta mentioned today. And as always, please let me know what you thought of the episode over on Twitter or Instagram as I love hearing from you. Take care and I’ll chat to you soon.