OFF President’s Address
Well we have come to the end of an eventful year.
As we heard in Liz’s report, OFF has covered a lot of territory not only in terms of issues but also ranging from local to state and national. We have had to put in a huge effort towards delivering on our mission.
And all within the confines of a continuing global pandemic, superimposed on an evolving climate emergency of increasing proportions.
Given this, we as members of this Society might well ask What’s ahead? “Can we keep going?” “How can we keep going?” “What will drive us to keep going?”
I have been reflecting on this and here are just a few of the drivers that you might respond to.
The moral imperative
Well I’m going to get all high and mighty for a moment.
Ross Garnaut talks about the Pope’s encyclical of 2015 which, by the way, he says is grounded in sound contemporary knowledge of atmospheric physics.
The encyclical applies Catholic, Christian and general ethical principles and argues, that humans have a responsibility to take care of the natural environment, both as something important to humanity and as something valuable in itself. Francis interprets humans’ ‘dominion over the earth’ as a responsibility to ‘protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations’.
John Broome professor of moral philosophy at Oxford University has reached similar conclusions from secular ethical principles. He reached the strong conclusion that ethical behaviour requires each individual to take responsibility for his or her own emissions by eliminating them or offsetting them. Each tonne of green house-gas emissions is reasonably expected to impose some extra damage on someone, somewhere. That the victim is unknown does not diminish the responsibility. This personal ethical obligation is in addition to our responsibility as citizens to work for the introduction and implementation of policies that achieve good climate outcomes.
The wonder of nature
Many people have discovered or rediscovered the healing qualities of actually getting out in the backyard or local bushland. You don’t realise how good it is until you lose that opportunity. So many people have come to appreciate nature in all its diversity in new and interesting ways.
We have witnessed the resilience of nature with burnt trees now starting to regrow and shoot new green leaves. The bushfires have had a devastating impact on wildlife but then we have seen many, many volunteers come to the rescue of animals and care for them.
Connecting with nature is truly one of the most invigorating and eye-opening experiences we get to enjoy across our landscape. Not only does it bring a rich appreciation for protecting the delicate balance of nature, it also enriches our mental health.
A knight in shining armour?
In the last few days the Biden administration made climate change its focus, announcing a series of new executive orders designed to elevate climate “as an essential element of US foreign policy and national security”
John Kerry’s appointment as Mr Biden’s climate ambassador and a much more aggressive approach to global warming by the Biden-led White House has put fresh pressure on the Morrison government to commit to net zero emissions by 2050.
Hallelujah! It really lifts the spirits doesn’t it.
Let’s hope our Prime Minister will not be able to withstand the pressure!
Social interaction through shared interests and common concerns
It has been a difficult year to actually physically get together particularly with our regular general meetings being held solely by Zoom conferencing and other activities cancelled altogether (eg. the OFF dinner, Lions Festival). I know many members are missing this so it makes it even more important to keep communicating in other ways. It is not only very helpful but also truly amazing to understand (usually via the world wide web) that there is a huge array of large and small groups out there with similar interests and concerns and pursuing similar issues as we are here in Oatley. We are not alone in our endeavours. We can take comfort in being a part of this widespread diaspora of environmental campaigners.
But coming back to OFF specifically, we are trying to get our regular monthly meetings held in the Uniting Church hall as soon as possible whilst maintaining the Zoom conferencing at the same time. In the short term, attendance at the hall will be restricted in numbers due to COVID rules but will hopefully facilitate the participation of members who haven’t been able to attend via zoom for whatever reason. So keep an eye out for announcements on this.
And finally, on further reflection, the one word I keep coming back to is hope. A deceptively simple word that describes a powerful force which has arguably never been more important. More than just a feeling, hope is a motivator, a driver of action and a light in the darkest of times. Hope is what makes us work for a better tomorrow.
In the year ahead I hope we’ll all keep on working to protect, conserve and enhance the natural environment locally and globally. Our belief that there can be a better, cleaner future will enable us to do some great things for our natural world.
Vote of Thanks
I’d like to thank all the committee members for their support and encouragement for me in my first year as President and for their contributions across the myriad of issues and projects and campaigns that you have heard described earlier. For raising and following up issues and conducting discussions to arrive at largely consensus-based decisions and for all the hard work in keeping OFF running effectively and efficiently. In this regard a special thanks goes to Liz for her huge effort in the role of Secretary which she would like to relinquish but has agreed to stay on to ensure a smooth transition to any potential new person in the job.
And I’d like to now talk about two committee members who are retiring from committee.
Alan Fairley has been a member of the OFF committee for 47 years, as President, Editor and Vice-President. For longer than that he has campaigned to protect the biodiversity of our bushland, wetlands and street trees from numerous threats including inappropriate development. Alan’s advocacy for the environment is reinforced by his vast local knowledge and years of experience, which are highly valued by younger members of OFF and the wider community.
He is a skilled communicator and has generously shared his knowledge and love of nature on innumerable bushwalks and through countless talks. Alan’s prolific list of publications includes Native Plants of the Sydney Region, a foremost field guide for naturalists, bushwalkers & photographers.
Alan is standing down from the OFF committee this year. OFF owes him a great deal and thanks him for his many years of service to OFF and the natural environment.
Julian Sheen has made a major contribution to OFF particularly through his committee membership over a long period of time. Between 1977 and 2020 Julian has been on the committee for 24 of those years. This has included positions of President for 6 years, Vice-President for 7 years, publicity officer for 3 years and Public Officer for 7 years.
Beginning in the 1970s Julian was one of a number of OFF members active in the Lime Kiln Bay Preservation Committee in the fight against Hurstville Council’s tipping of household rubbish into the Bay and took part in LKB bush regeneration (fostering development of the Bradley Method) and rubbish clean-up programs.
In 1980 Julian played a crucial role in forming Hurstville Council’s Oatley Park Advisory Committee formed to oversee Oatley Park. Julian was Deputy Mayor of Hurstville Council at the time. He promoted the idea, discussed it with OFF and steered it through both the Labor caucus and Council.
In his years as OFF Vice President and President Julian has brought his pretty-well lifelong association with our local area and its institutions (eg Local Council, Oatley West school, etc as well as the bushland) to bear in making OFF a staunch advocate for our local environment. He has provided leadership, direction, guidance, a steady hand, and always encouraging words for the many issues that OFF has taken up and continues to pursue with vigour.
We warmly thank Julian for his many years of service to OFF and committee and look forward to his continued participation in OFF activities – perhaps conducted of his own volition and at his own pace.