Murray Bridge council declares climate change emergency, Coorong councillors hesitant

Amity Bailey and Casey Taylor celebrate a victory in their campaign to inspire action on climate change in the Murraylands. Photo: Peri Strathearn.
Amity Bailey and Casey Taylor celebrate a victory in their campaign to inspire action on climate change in the Murraylands. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

Climate change is an emergency which demands a response, the Murray Bridge council has declared.

A climate emergency plan will be prepared for the rural city, laying out local actions which may aid the global effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, following a 7-2 vote of councillors on Monday night.

Spurred on by primary school-aged activists Casey Taylor and Amity Bailey, first one councillor, then another and another, said they would take a stand for science and for the community's long-term interests.

Cr Tyson Matthews said he had been sceptical about the idea of a declaration, but that it was up to all levels of government to show leadership on the issue.

"Anyone who thinks we can take seashells from carboniferous forests that were formed into coal and oil over millions of years and expel it into the atmosphere over a period of 100 years of industrialisation is delusional," he said.

"If you've ever had a fever, you would know just how suceptible biological systems are to even minute changes in temperature."

Cr Mat O'Brien argued that fighting climate change would create new economic opportunities.

"It's no good being on a rich planet that's dying, and it's no good creating jobs that are soon not going to be in demand," he said.

"We need to be ahead of the curve."

Making a declaration was not about virtue signalling or scaring anyone, he said, but about doing what was right: "If we don't do this, what are we trying to say ... that we don't believe climate change is real, or it's not our problem, because either of those arguments are flawed".

Cr Airlie Keen said it was unfortunate that the issue of climate change had become so politicised.

But she saw its effects in her backyard, she said: in stock feed scarcity, low rainfall and the loss of significant trees.

"Whether we like it or not, politics aside, we need to take genuine steps to do whatever we can ... to make an impact here," she said.

Only Wayne Thorley and Clem Schubert voted against the declaration.

Cr Thorley said he trusted climate science, but suggested stirring up fear would not help.

Coorong councillors yet to be convinced

At another meeting on Tuesday night, Coorong councillors proved more resistant to Meningie resident Rosa Hillam's call for an emergency declaration.

The council would not be wise to wade into such a divisive issue when not all residents agreed the climate was changing, Cr Lisa Rowntree said.

A suggestion that metropolitan councils were already planning for higher sea levels was scoffed at.

But temperatures were rising and ice sheets melting regardless of people's views, Cr Tracy Hill countered, and sea level rise and more regular droughts would affect the district.

Councillors eventually voted 6-3 in favour of coming up with a position statement on climate change at a future workshop.

Murray Bridge is not alone

More than 1000 jurisdictions worldwide, representing 266 million people, have so far made similar climate emergency declarations, including five other South Australian councils.

Climate change is caused by the extra heat trapped in the Earth's atmosphere by gases from industry, most commonly fossil fuels such as coal and petrol.

Slowing the rate of greenhouse gas emissions will lessen the impact of such changes, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The Murray Bridge council began planning to adapt to a changed world three years ago.