Coal Requiem: Climate Guardians opening performance art piece for the Lorne Sculpture Biennale, March 2014

On Saturday 8 March the Climate Guardians (including Quit Coal activists) officially opened the Lorne Sculpture Biennale 2014 with a Coal Requiem performance.

The Biennale’s last opening piece was by the internationally renowned performance artist Stelarc. For a Festival that is lauded as “one of Australia’s greatest and most diverse sculpture events” to hand over its prized opening art piece to a group of climate activists – is surely a world first. Perhaps we are also reaching a cultural tipping point?

Starting near the Erskine River and ending at Lorne’s Pier, the Biennale’s sculpture walk beautifully combines nature and culture.

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Angels have an elevated vantage on the earth that can be likened to that of cosmologists. From the vaulted skies of our planet’s atmosphere this choir of Angels sends forth this warning drawing on the perspective of cosmologists and poets.

We call upon the people of Lorne to witness to this message from light years beyond: we inhabit “a minor planet of an average star, lost at the edge of an inconsiderable galaxy”, one among some 140 thousand million galaxies within our observable cosmic horizon. We recall this cosmic perspective, from up in “… this most excellent canopy … this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire.”

When the Voyager space probe sent images of the inner Solar System from beyond Neptune, this planet, our home, appeared as one pale blue pixel. At first a technician mistook it for a speck of dust and tried to brush it away. The late Carl Sagan saw this tiny fleck and he wrote of the planet earth as …..“a dust mote suspended in a sunbeam: on it everyone you love, every human being who ever has lived out their life, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilisation, every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there, on this dust mote.”  The cloud-and-sea embossed blue marble we know from near-Earth satellite images dwindles to this featureless pale blue dot when viewed even from Saturn.

It is easy to forget, swarming as we do on this over-crowded terra firma, that we live on a lonely planet in the vast, possibly lifeless firmament and there is nowhere else for us to go, nowhere else to take refuge from our self-inflicted travails. We have been cocooned in a ‘goldilocks’ atmosphere that has given and nurtured life throughout the ages. Yet in space time those millennia of evolution, that brought intelligent life into being only a few hundred thousand years ago, are but a ‘cosmic eye blink, an atomic flicker’ in deep time.

It is easy to take refuge in the present especially when we are all so preoccupied, running from pillar to post, primarily and ironically, securing our children’s wellbeing into the future. There is some wisdom in crossing bridges when we come to them, in not trying to second guess the future. But not this time, not after witnessing the tragedies of Black Saturday, Typhoon Haiyan, Sandy Point, Californian wildfires, England’s inundation, etc  unfold, not when the future you decide on today is the term of our children’s natural lives and we have been told, it has been spelled out with unequivocal and frightening certainty, if we do not act they will suffer.

We have been warned. The knowledge traditions we have honed over centuries, the information that is such a privilege to have access to, that gives us the power to make the best choices for our children, is being derided, denied, and discarded with foolhardy and reckless arrogance. Recall the words of Stephen Jay Gould, that,  “Humans  arose … as  a  fortuitous  and  contingent  outcome  of  thousands  of  linked  events, any  one  of  which  could  have  occurred  differently  and  sent  history  on  an  alternative  pathway  that  would  not  have  led  to  consciousness.’ Understanding and being able to act on our present predicament comes from a mix of sheer happenstance with the dogged rigour of our finest knowledge practitioners. We can only discredit climate science with breathtaking rashness and staggering conceit.

If a doctor diagnosed your child with cancer you would not shrug, and say, ‘well, that’s your opinion, I’m getting a second opinion from Alan Jones, and a third from Andrew Bolt’. When journalists are asked to balance the findings of scientific reports, they do not call up Iggle Piggle from the Night Garden.

If we choose to be obtuse about a substantiated threat as dire and all encompassing as climate change, we fail to protect our children from clear and present danger. This is wanton, craven and abusive. For us, we risk their reckoning for they might always love us but never forgive us. For them what we risk is untold.

Our refusal to act is a moral failure of greater magnitude than any brought before us in our nation’s history, and given the consequences of allowing ourselves to be distracted by an alternative ‘Direct Action Plan’ that has already been discredited, possibly any house of legislature anywhere, ever. With our denial of the science a ‘dark night  has  come  down  on  this  rough-spoken  world,  and  the  banners  of  darkness  are  boldly  unfurled”. We must each decide if we stand on the right side of history.

Do not mistake the crossroad on which we stand. Future generations will,  ‘Look on our works, and despair. Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away’. The twin architects of our apocalypse, Greg Hunt and Tony Abbott, with their Direct Action Plan blueprint for disaster, should also be warned: when the mob draws the link between their inaction on climate change and the people’s needless and avoidable suffering this pair will be held to account, and so will anyone who stood with them.

Carl Sagan also said, ‘the universe is neither hostile, nor benign, merely indifferent’ to the fate of us humans. It is beholden on each one of our elected representatives to resist that indifference, to attend, to act, to ensure our future is, like the cosmos itself, ‘pregnant with mind’. We must put on record how we will answer our children and grandchildren when they ask at climate departure – 2046 for Melbourne – what did you do to help us when there was still time?


ClimActs is a performance collective using spectacle and humour to draw attention to climate change. We formed in response to Government inaction on increasingly alarming findings by climate scientists that we are fast approaching a ‘tipping point’ after which we will not be able to avert catastrophic climate change. Our acts include the Climate Guardians, Coal Diggers, the Frackers’ Guild and the Flat Earth Institute.