​Archbishop Philip Freier joined Professor Ross
Garnaut, climate adviser to the previous federal
government, and Natalie Isaacs, from the
organisation 1 Million Women, in conversation
on Wednesday 12 March at Deakin Edge,
Federation Square, discussing what Australians
can do to reduce their carbon footprint.

As the Federal Government considers replacing the carbon tax, climate adviser to the previous Government Professor Ross Garnaut said Australia’s distaste for serious action on climate change has harmed its position in the international community.

Speaking in a public conversation at Deakin Edge, Federation Square, on 12 March, with Dr Philip Freier, Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne, and Natalie Isaacs, Founder and Co-CEO of grassroots climate action group 1 Million Women, Professor Garnaut said that Australia was being criticised “behind closed doors” by countries with whom Australia would once associate itself, after failing to send a Minister to climate talks in Poland last year.

“Germany and the UK were greatly disappointed in Australia,” he said. “Australia isn’t interested in pulling its weight [on climate change action] and it’s being said behind closed doors internationally."

Professor Garnaut contrasted the Australian Government’s shrinking enthusiasm for climate change action with the optimism held by the international community leading up to a new round of climate change talks in Paris next year. He said that while Australia is becoming complacent, the US has been likening the threat of climate change to weapons of mass destruction. “The world is focussing on the Paris 2015 meeting. It might be the last chance to make decisions that take hold before climate change becomes inevitable,” he said.

Natalie Isaacs criticised the government’s planned Direct Action policy. Her climate action group aims at changing local behaviours and household habits to reduce society’s carbon footprint. However, she said that direct action was something that grassroots organisations needed to do and it was not the responsibility of governments. “Governments need to do more,” she said.

Ms Isaacs said domestic policy is at odds with the global climate initiative. “Australia needs to show leadership on the world stage and that's just not happening at the moment,” she said. 

“There has to be a fundamental shift in the way we think and the way we do things. There is a disconnection between understanding an issue and translating it into significant action.”

Archbishop Philip Freier said Australia had moved in its national discourse on climate change. He said that climate change conversation has become a matter of dogma, rather than a matter of persuasion and fact. “I wonder if we're driven towards [this kind of] political language because it's a complex problem,” he said. “We've gone from the biggest moral challenge of our time to possibly overturning [policy] measures and having an insufficient debate.”

Professor Garnaut said Australia has to move to describing climate change action with a moral language rather than populist rhetoric, saying that people in influential positions with a vested interest in dismissing the science have been distorting the conversation. He said that Australia must work harder to understand climate change as a complex issue: “You have to work to change your view. Closing one's mind doesn't remove the relationship [between reality and opinion].”

Change can be enacted by altering everyday behaviour in very structured ways, Ms Isaacs said. “We need change through real stories, real actions and tangible results.”

The debate needs to be realigned with morality and values, said Archbishop Freier. “Though the physics have been understood, it needs to be about bringing it back to a personal value system,” he said. “[For Christians] it's about our important belief that humans are the stewards of creation.”

You can read the live tweeting from the forum by clicking on this Storify link: http://storify.com/MelbAnglican/cutting-carbon-australian-answers-to-a-world-probl