Remake the Future: Speech

Posted on 03 April 2019

I am not a politician, an entrepreneur, nor a CEO. If I were, I would suggest running out the door.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai once said, “The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price. That is the problem.” Young people today have a lot to face. We must give you every tool possible to help you create a future worth living in. More than that those tools must be of genuine value.

Author Anand Giridharadas adds to this by saying, “For when elites assume leadership of social change, they are able to reshape what social change is – above all, to present it as something that should never threaten winners…Much of what appears to be reform in our time is in fact the defense of stasis. When we see through the myths that foster this misperception, the path to genuine change will come into view. It will once again be possible to improve the world without permission slips from the powerful.”

A Background in Support of Youth

My fields of endeavour have been the arts, computing, and politics—particularly peace, environmental, and social justice activism. My most relevant credential today is that I once was the leading policy writer for the Australian Democrats while they still existed.

But my CV of jobs starts with being head of marketing for an independent comic book company, before moving to Australia where I became editor-in-chief for a computer game review magazine. Later I was awarded a PhD in storytelling for computer game design and lectured on this subject at both RMIT and Victoria University. Eventually I drifted off to write for Nickelodeon Cartoons, then wrote my own theatrical productions.

The connecting link in all of this is that I have a deep love of young adults and young adult culture. Your age is when people are often the most vibrant, engaged, and adaptable. You have the future ahead of you, and you have important qualities that make it possible to grab the future and mould it into something better. Many parents are relying on stability in order to provide a secure world for you. However, when that very stability is what’s destroying the world, any security is an illusion. We have to learn how to be brave and take chances.

Youth Homelessness

A few years back I noticed a significant increase in homelessness on the streets of Melbourne. Even more horrifying were the numbers who were in their teens and twenties sleeping rough. I’m clearly a nerd girl and didn’t date an awful lot when I was young, because I was working so hard to get into university and then to do well once I entered. Out of that inexperience I married a man who soon revealed himself to be abusive. After three years of marriage I threw all I could into a suitcase and ran. I was homeless, and even after finally securing lodging, I had to go to food banks to gather enough to eat. This happened right after I completed my Masters degree. Homelessness can happen to absolutely anyone.

So when I saw the obvious increase in homelessness here, I was furious.

I went straight to the streets and began spending time with the homeless. I turned up at the rallies to stop the move along laws in the Melbourne CBD, and the protests at Victorian Parliament to end the sale of public housing which are still going on. I then wrote a musical called Share about youth unemployment and homelessness to help raise people’s awareness. You are hearing some of my songs today. More homelessness is on the horizon for everyone, if things don’t change.

Why is this happening, you may ask. An earlier musical covered that subject.

The Interrelatedness of It All

I had been asked to write a play for an organisation about the refugee experience. I spent part of a year with the people in a detention centre. As I was putting the play together I discovered the organisation was doing nothing to ensure that people’s lives would be safe and not in danger through public representation. I left the organisation, but I still wanted the public to understand what was happening and why. So, I wrote a play about a year in the life of elephants. Heard of Elephants received several standing ovations.

Here are the circumstances that were represented: Because of climate change we are seeing greater desertification of farmlands in places like Africa and even here. This causes farmers to clear forest areas to make new farmland. Now the Congo and the Amazon are often called the lungs of the world, their forests produce a certain amount of oxygen, but they have also been great carbon sinks helping to clean the air. Even more significant is how all the decaying biomass from these forests is washed out by their rivers to the ocean where it feeds the plankton, and it’s the plankton that produces most of the oxygen we breathe. These forests largely exist because of their large frugivores such as the elephants. Elephant poop is the perfect package for feeding seeds and nurturing the insect life which found and maintain a forest.

So, when the farmers take over the Congo they are destroying elephant habitat and by association our atmosphere. The soil without the forest is only fertile for a few years. Eventually, the farmers have to either take over more forest or head to the cities to survive. The cities then have an increasing populace of unemployed people who then create civil unrest, as in places like Syria and Burundi. When war breaks out, some people join military groups who go out and kill the elephants to feed the troops. Some people end up running from their homes and head to places like Australia hoping for refuge, until such time as they can return to their beloved homeland.

All of this because Western civilisation has been pumping carbon emissions into the air through our cars and our industries. And as we use up resources, we have been silently rationing goods by price point. This can be done by increasing the cost of items such as petrol or bananas, or reducing wages. Either way only the wealthy few will have access to scarce supplies. However, inflation is kept in check by making our lives insecure, such that fearful people are willing to work longer hours for less pay, or more jobs for less pay, because we are all living without safety nets. Lives of the wealthy are kept stable. Everyone else…not so much.

This is one small slice of the big picture.

Why an Event for Remaking the Future

You are here today because I have production skills and I am on a crusade that these good people share. The 2018 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report predicted that we have a twelve year window to turn a significant part of the climate disaster awaiting us around. Twelve years is an incredibly short amount of time, but it is something as opposed to nothing.

This task is largely up to you to bear. It isn’t right, it isn’t fair, but this is sincerely about life or death. We will have to pull ourselves together and muster the strength to do whatever it takes to build a liveable future for ourselves.

This can’t be done in tepid little half steps that make the wearers of business suits feel proud of themselves while effectively achieving nothing. What’s this, if I plant enough trees I get to keep my Porsche?

According sixteen year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, “We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis…if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, then… we should change the system itself.”

Changing the System

We have three major areas of concern that must be addressed together, because we ignore any one of them at our peril, since they are so deeply interconnected.

> We must address human rights.
> We must address environmental rights.
> We must address economic rights

The seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals address these three areas in a non-prescriptive manner. It is up to each country how we will achieve these goals.

In this room are people who I believe have some of the most genuine means to build a better future. You are not required to agree with any of us, but we are available to share our knowledge and answer your questions.

Human Rights

I have my own position that I am representing. I believe we must hold a national constitutional convention. At this convention we will write into the Australian constitution the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights—this is a preexisting document that Australia has already signed. Our guest Alice Drury is here because her organisation the Human Rights Law Centre is already pushing for this.

Environmental Rights

We must also write into the constitution the United Nations World Charter for Nature. The United Nations has declared that humanity has “the fundamental right to freedom, equality, and adequate conditions for life” and that we bear “a solemn responsibility to protect the environment for present and future generations.” Dr Petra Tschakert’s work as part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is critical for setting the context for what needs to be done. Ben Howes work with the Roots and Shoots program helps young people to take effective practical action to rescue our planet.

Economic Rights

Technically both of these documents cover the sort of economic changes we need, but again are non-prescriptive. This is probably the area of rights that has been most immovable and at the core of the most grievous crimes against nature and humanity. As such we must address economic rights directly with solid and specific solutions which are given the weight of law in order to integrate them into our society.

Since we do not have a pre-existing document to point to for this area of rights, I have used my skills as a policy writer to draft a preliminary document as a discussion paper. Here is a taste of its preamble:

Economic rights are a critical foundation to establishing human and environmental rights.

Economic imbalance unduly places greater power into the hands of those with greater resources.

Humanity has lived through a history of human rights abuses perpetrated in order to ensure some enjoy more power than others.

Humanity has similarly abused our living world for the purposes of gaining and maintaining power through holding hostage necessary resources, then using coercion to enforce the will of power holders.

This is not a sustainable way to interact with our natural world or one another.

It should not be possible within a truly democratic society for some people to suffer in poverty while others do not. For we must all be free and equal in dignity and in rights in order to properly exercise our collective democratic powers.

The answer to these issues is to find better ways to share power, share resources, and interact with our living world as good stewards, ensuring the well-being of our planet in perpetuity.

Today we have with us Josh McGee from Basic Income Victoria who advocates for a Universal Basic Income—so that no one, absolutely no one has to live in abject poverty. We also have Antony McMullen from Co-operative Bonds who trains people in the founding of democratic workers cooperatives and cohousing.

All of our guests today have well considered positions and ideas on how to address our coming challenges. Use them as a spur to your own thoughts and ideas. Then push on to action. Positive action.

Call to Action

We have to find one another, we have to befriend one another—because compassionate bonds will move us further into a liveable future than anything else. We have to learn how to collaborate and cooperate. Junk the leadership narrative that panders to our egos and perpetuates the culture of status that is destroying us. We must value ourselves and one another without having to be special, just caring human beings.

I would like to end my opening speech by thanking all of you for caring enough to be here today. Take a look at one another, feel some gratitude that you are not alone in wanting to remake the future. We would like to encourage you to make your time at school and in university about skilling up to be the founders of a better world where kindness toward all living beings is key.

Thank you!

In peace and kindness,

Katherine


No responses yet. You could be the first!

Leave a Response

Recent Posts

Tag Cloud

constitution environment human rights united nations

Meta

Katherine Phelps is proudly powered by WordPress and the SubtleFlux theme.

Copyright © Katherine Phelps