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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

We are in a climate emergency: Jo Clay’s first speech

Jo Clay, the new Greens MLA for Ginninderra, entered the Legislative Assembly “because we are in a climate emergency”, she said in her inaugural speech last week.

“I am seriously worried about climate change,” Ms Clay said. “I’ve known about it my whole life, but when I was a kid, we called it the greenhouse effect. I thought that by the time I grew up, someone else would have fixed it. But no-one has …

“Change is no longer a choice. Change is already happening. The EV [electric vehicle] didn’t ruin the weekend, and the greenies didn’t cancel Christmas. The bushfires did that.

“Green tape didn’t kill business. Smokepocalypse did.

“The hippies aren’t coming for your steak. The cows died in the drought.”

Jo Clay has a wide portfolio: she is the Greens spokesperson for Women, Transport, Active Travel and Road Safety, Parks and Conservation, Animal Welfare, Arts and Culture, and the Climate Economy.

She brings to her position experience as a lawyer, businesswoman, former public servant, writer, and artist. Ms Clay studied law and creative arts at university, then worked on legislation and policy. But she felt that these roles, however financially rewarding, did not deal with the real problem of climate change. Her daughter’s birth compelled her to act, Ms Clay said.

“I’ve been in the environmental movement my whole life, but that mostly involved signing petitions, writing emails, donating money, and agreeing that everything was awful,” Ms Clay said. “I stood up for real after having my baby. Like many parents, I looked out the window at the world she was inheriting, and I said no. I joined the protest movement.”

Ms Clay has helped with local climate activist groups including 350, XR, Knitting Nanas, the Artivists, and Stop Adani, she said. She and her daughter marched in the School Strikes against climate change.

“I’ve listened to them beg for their lives. Like any grown-up with a beating heart, I find this part of the movement incredibly painful,” Ms Clay said. “Our children will die of climate change. All we have to do to make this happen is nothing.”

Wanting to learn more about environmental management, Ms Clay took a job in waste. She then set up Send and Shred, an award-winning paper recycling company, with Graham Mannall of ACT NoWaste. Ms Clay told Canberra Weekly recently that the Materials Recovery Facility can’t process shredded paper; paper in landfill produces methane; and 1.5 million shredders are sent to tips each year.

Ms Clay also designed the Carbon Diet to cut her carbon footprint by 75%, by eating less red meat, driving electric vehicles, riding bikes, flying less, turning down the heater, and getting off gas.

She compared her emission cut of 77% to the Federal inventory of 0.1%: “Apparently, I’m 7,700 times more effective than our Federal Government. It’s almost as if they’re not really trying.”

Ms Clay said she intended to finish her climate change protest by looking at its victims. She expected to talk to an overseas refugee from a Pacific Island sinking into the sea; instead, her climate refugees were victims of the summer bushfires, staying with her after their house burnt down.

Although a Greens voter, Ms Clay only recently joined the party. She met party leader Shane Rattenbury and former MLA Caroline Le Couteur and was impressed by Greens passing climate milestones: declaring a state of climate emergency, setting a real action plan, cutting emissions, rolling out effective transitions.

“I saw a salve to the great despair of why people in power do nothing for the climate. Some do, and more could.”

Tim Hollo, executive director of the Green Institute, and who himself unsuccessfully stood for election, encouraged Ms Clay to stand as a candidate.

“It had never occurred to me to enter politics. But I desperately wanted more environmentalists in every parliament at every level. If not me, then who?

“We need to do everything, and we need to do it now. I will try my best for the climate. I will do it for the planet and for today’s refugees. I will do it for the school strikers until they are old enough to take over from me. I will do it for my daughter and for hers, assuming we are lucky enough and bold enough to succeed.”

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