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Byron Shire
October 4, 2022

Scott Ludlam: you can take the man out of the fight…

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Scott Ludlam – You can take the man out of the fight, but you can’t take the fight out of the man. Photo Tree Faerie.

Interviewing Scott Ludlam is hard – it’s a case of who gets to ask the most questions. Ludlam is intensely interested in the unfolding situation in Lismore on the eve of the second town-centre evacuation in a month, and he wants to know why – ‘Why is this happening?’

Of course the question is rhetorical – he knows why, we all know why – but he wants to know if I know why, and if I know, why doesn’t the rest of the planet get it? The answer is: we are literally drowning in humankind’s insatiable appetite for fossil fuel energy in the form of coal and gas. And he’s stumped.

‘We’ve spent 30 years on climate change – showing people graphs and charts and saying, “Do you understand how terrifying this is?” But now, you don’t need the graphs and charts anymore.’

We are sitting in the Tree not Bombs café in Lismore, a place where displaced residents and volunteers and emergency workers can come and get a free feed and rest their weary selves before heading back into the fray. It’s 28 March – one month to the day after devastating floods drowned the Northern Rivers, and we eye the SES in disbelief as they come toward us with a warning to get out of town as the new event is about to start.

After asking about my home and my safety, Ludlam says that everybody’s got a story of somebody whose thing was worse than theirs: ‘All the way to hell.’

A familiar feeling

Greens MP Sue Higginson and Scott Ludlam – He may not be an MP anymore but he still has a Greens heart. Photo Tree Faerie.

The former Greens Senator for WA has personally felt the sting of the coal monster and the gas demon. His home near the fire-devastated NSW town of Cobargo was saved during the 2020 fires, but he and his family were in and out of the house for six weeks and spent their fair share of time in evacuation centres. ‘This feels familiar. It feels like Cobargo a week after the fire ripped through, with people’s stuff out in the street. People are shocked. It feels familiar, but not in a good way.’

Ludlam’s original plan had been to come to the Northern Rivers to talk about his latest book Full Circle: A search for the world that comes next, but his trip has turned into a tour of the devastation.

‘The book was written during and after the fires that happened on the east coast in 2019–2020. But really, the book is a study of how social movements work, and sometimes it seems, how they fail. How is it that networks of ordinary people under-resourced without a lot of money, generally without formal training – that are thrown onto the front line – how is it that sometimes they prevail? Sometimes you get a revolution, sometimes you stop a mine, sometimes it’s a gasfield. I’m fascinated by how social movements work.’ 

And that’s where Ludlam’s interest resides – in what people do when the chips are down, and the water, or fire, comes up. 

Social movements

People still want to come out and see Scott Ludlam. Photo Tree Faerie.

‘I’m fascinated by how social movements work, so I wanted to try and gather together stories of how people work effectively – not just domestically, but from people I know overseas who’re really generous with their time, in the context of climate. We’re up against the most powerful industries on Earth and we’re out of time. And we don’t really have the option of not succeeding; that’s where the book came from.’ 

Though Ludlam is no longer in the Senate, he still has a Green heart and he was here two weeks ago, in part, to support Mandy Nolan. But, does he miss the political life himself? ‘Not, really. I miss this stuff. I miss the campaign stuff. The ability to actually get out and meet people. The thing that I miss the most is that I don’t have an office that I can go back to and actually start actioning things.’ 

So, is the pen mightier than the sword? ‘No, the pen’s necessary. I don’t know about mighty, but I’ve appreciated the opportunity to not be on any kind of frontline and to travel and talk to people and write and just slow down. The thing that Mandy’s going to discover, to get elected, is that you don’t have time to think because that’s just it – it just comes at you. And so your job is then to deal [with things], triage, do as best you can. But you don’t have time to have deep, philosophical thoughts about how social meetings work. You just do the work.’

The SES guy frowns at us and says he really means it, we have to move along. 

And the rain begins to fall…

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  1. I have read Scott’s book. It is a book to savour .. and be terrified by. Nothing is new, but it is a salient reminder of how evil we can be as a species when something threatens to come between us and our wastefulness, our destruction of the planet – our only planet for now – our bigger and bigger homes, bigger and bigger LED TV’s, bigger and bigger SUV’s and dual-cab utes, bigger, better and more expensive and exotic holidays. Most of that is stuff we don’t need but are seduced by marketing and our own vanity into believing we do need and can’t live without and, even though we won’t admit it, about affirming ourselves and boasting to our friends about how successful, sophisticated, cultured et alia we are. Many of us say we want climate change action, but we still get into a 2.5 tonne gas-guzzling, emission-spewing SUV or dual cab to drive down to the shop for milk, or to the office car park, or to take the kids to a climate change protest – the impossible conundrum for those who are at the vanguard of climate change action. Then there’s our corrupted and corruptible Coalition politicians helping out their fossil fuel industry mates and lying about how they are “reducing emissions” (they aren’t); reducing power prices (they’re not really doing that either); will achieve net zero by 2050 (they won’t – their own modelling shows they won’t); they will rely on “technology not taxes” (their own modelling actually includes a carbon price, but as soon as you mention that to Angus Tayliah, he will spew out some drivel about how Labour want to introduce a carbon tax and carbon capture and storage is a dud, an impressive sounding dud, but a dud pipe-dream nonetheless); power prices will increase because of renewables and our economy will be decimated (SA will, on many days, produce 100% of its power from renewables and power prices have neither sky-rocketed nor the SA economy tanked).

  2. ill fares the land, 100% bang on topic.

    ‘Senator Scott’, your departure from Parliament was our collective loss at the time but you haven’t resiled from what matters, what needs doing.
    I wish you well, keep fighting the good fight.

  3. Can someone please answer Scott’s question for him:

    There are two reasons this happened:
    1. Lismore is a city built in a river, in the wettest place in NSW, in a region where anything can happen (the Brisbane River flooded 3 metres higher than the 1974 flood in the past; a much bigger flood is always possible).
    2. Climate change, caused mostly by people like Scott who have huge CO2 footprints because they fly around lots on planes, is rapidly increasing the risk of both flood events and the severity of flood events. We have tried charts and graphs for years but it has never been able to deter people like Scott from his high-CO2 emissions lifestyle, so climate change is getting worse and worse, more and more quickly, and the risks with it.

  4. Ok I’ll let you know what’s happening in Lismore.In all their wisdom, instead of an electrical train system in our region, keep the infusructure that was here. Save the huge gas guzzling trucks.that are killing the roads.Stuff up no 1.No rail for you guys.As for the huge dam they built from Ballina through past Woodburn,you can’t contain estuarys,the flood water has nowhere to flow if you dam it ,stuff up no 2. If thats not bad enough letting our communications out of our hands .When you need them the most they’ve failed.Just that alone is a red flag. Hope we don’t get invaded we’d be f####d.


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