Who would have thought that the 1863 Gettysburg Address at that Cemetery, with its consecrated ground, would have relevance for an international conference in Glasgow, meant to be held in 2020 but delayed by the pandemic, reminding us of the impact of our human actions on the environment that surrounds all of us, increasing the awful uncertainty we are facing, even if some still refuse to face it!
I am putting his address here for all who don’t know what the President said. He was a member of a Republican Party I doubt he would recognise today. President Abraham Lincoln, of what had become the disunited States of America, knew what the future for USA would demand after that Civil War, meant to end slavery, was over. He is speaking in the middle of that war on a battlefield. There would be two more years of war until 1865, with all the resonances still felt today.
Now it’s not just one nation. It’s all of us. But first, his memorable address.
‘Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation,
conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so
conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here
gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do
this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’
Abraham Lincoln. November 19, 1863.
What connection could this most memorable address to a nation have for the Planet?
In Australia, in 2020, a book ‘What Is To Be Done’, by Barry Jones, a former Minister of Science in the Hawke Federal government, was published by Scribe.
His first book warning us was Sleepers Wake: Technology and the Future of Work. Published first in 1982, it was reprinted many times – again in 1995. Ironically, one year before Howard came to power. Some of us were awake. Organisations like the Australian Conservation Foundation. The Wilderness Society. The Australian Marine Conservation Foundation, farmers moving to bio-diversity, protesters against logging, the Youth Climate Change Coalition but so many politicians – both Federal and State – would only wake if hit by storms, floods, fires, droughts and heatwaves.
We had had warnings about the ‘greenhouse effect’ in the 1970s. Schools were teaching students about it in the 1980s. Bob Hawke would be called Australia’s Environmental Prime Minister. ‘From saving the Franklin River, to protecting Antarctica from mining, conservationists have praised his environmental legacy in the same way economists have lauded his financial reforms. Hawke was in the Lodge during the crucial period when Australia first became aware of – and tried to grapple with – the issue of climate change.’ Marc Hudson, Researcher, University of Manchester, UK.
The Hawke government established the Ecologically Sustainable Development Policy.
That was thirty five years ago!
That was almost immediately undermined by the Howard government that took power in 1996 and its Minister for Industry, Science and Resources, Nick Minchin, would work for its demise.
Just one year after Howard took power, in 1997, Malcolm Wallop came to Australia ‘to ignite a provocative debate on whether the world really needed a new global agreement to protect the planet from climate change.’ See The Carbon Club’ ‘Malcolm Wallop was the founder of Frontiers for Freedom and it was supported by some of the wealthiest men in America. Its dollars were helping to bankroll this Canberra show.’ That statement opens Chapter I, ‘Hearts and Minds’.
Marian Wilkinson, in The Carbon Club, makes clear how determined mining companies were.
By 1986 the Hawke government had decided the warnings from the UN had to be heeded. Nick Minchin now showed he cared more for his ideological position, backing Western Mining – supported by the Institute of Public Affairs – than everything that the scientists, including the growing discipline of ecology, had been revealing to us for decades.
The American Congress was informed about it in 1988.
See the details about his behaviour in The Carbon Club, by Marian Wilkinson – this Australian/American club crippled our responses to climate change. Subtitled ‘How a Network of Influential Climate Sceptics, Politicians and Business Leaders Fought to Control Australia’s Climate Policy’. Published in 2020 by Allen & Unwin. Check its index for the role of Nick Minchin.
From long term evidence in mainstream Murdoch media across Australia, that Carbon Club Climate Group still infects Australia and is probably among the reasons we are at the bottom of the pile of the developed nations for the absence of quality in our approach to global warming. Our national government continues financing fossil fuel and fracking developments.
Barry Jones was a real Minister of Science and cared about the future.
Now he is trying again.
‘What Is To Be Done’ has already been reprinted in 2020
It is a very detailed book. He is a scholar. He wants us to understand how we have reached this point. He takes us through it all and then he comes to one of the most important addresses he knows about dealing with the future even in the midst of a battle. Now, the battle for the Planet.
He has often asked himself the question about what Abraham Lincoln would have thought and said if he were confronted with the contemporary issues we are facing today.
The copyright on this book is so tight I have real concern about what I am doing now.
What Barry Jones has done is write an equivalent Gettysburg Address, limiting his work to 500 words like Lincoln’s Address.
In this homage to one of the greatest of the American Presidents, he includes some of Lincoln’s words, adapting them to the present.
‘A score of years ago, we entered a new millennium, facing great changes.’
He goes on to the world population in rich and poor countries.
He goes on to the finite nature of the Earth’s raw materials.
He goes on to the gap between inconceivable wealth and poverty.
And to what that gulf is doing creating hatred and its consequences.
He goes on to the international, weather-based science obliterating borders and the withdrawal of nations that are turning inward, rejecting life-saving global collaboration.
He lists them all, describing all the attitudes that are ‘poisoning democracy’s wells.’
He says clearly how ‘evidence-based policies are displaced by appeals to fear and anger.’
Then he lists the tasks before us, the ‘fragile species’ – as Lewis Thomas also describes us.*
He says, ‘We must consecrate ourselves to the unfinished work of saving Planet Earth, our home, where our species, Homo sapiens, lives and depends for survival.’
I wish I could have put here the whole of Barry Jones’ 500 word adaptation that honours President Abraham Lincoln who looked beyond the American Civil War to the future. See pp 352 – 353 of ‘What Is To Be Done’. This great Australian, one of our national treasures, asks us – having gathered the evidence, not to be silent, but to speak truth to power again and again and again.
His book is subtitled – ‘Political Engagement and Saving the Planet.’
And this is ‘What Is to be done’ at the UN International Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. Democracies, like Australia and America and the UK, have the opportunity to present their credentials for all to see.
Concluding his book,
Barry Jones tells us not to fall into despair or to ‘retreat to the caves’.
He says – Citizens have to be informed, then challenge and speak truth to power.
He tells us it won’t be easy. He tells us it will be exhausting. He tells us it will not be comfortable. But he has given us the evidence and it must be done.
And, as just an ageing patriotic Australian citizen in a democratic country, with the right and duty to vote, who cares about what kind of future we leave for the children, I know Barry Jones is right.