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image: David Haines Study for Hydrogen Alpha Series, 2007, digital image.
Courtesy of the artist
120 x 120 cm


Opening Speech by Luca Belgiorno-Nettis
July 3, 2007



Thank-you all for coming.

Thanks first needs to go to our curators Norie, Maria and Jacqueline, without whom there would be no hint of a show like this. When Norie and Maria first asked me to support this exhibition I was impressed by their intelligent, satirical approach to the subject..without demagoguery….there was no shallow tirade. The main title..Trouble with the Weather… is a playful understatement. Good satire is a most attractive form of expression.  I was won over!

 In case you weren’t sure, I’m no environmentalist, or greenie or eco advocate.  But we are all affected now by climate change. It is no longer absurd to postulate that climate change will be the defining issue of our age. I think many of us now feel that we should all be doing something to alleviate the degradation of this planet. The curators here have put together a diverse and talented group of artists who each have addressed the subject in their own way.

Some artists see the weather in cosmological terms evoking wonder, enchantment, amazement…as the sky and the heavenly bodies do.  We are in the midst of tectonic forces…we are aware of the changing nature of elements, substances..Ice Ages even. Yet other artists present graphic images of the human cost of climate change.

I think Norie, Maria and Jacqueline saw the tragedy that is unfolding in Tuvalu as the centrepiece of the exhibition. Unable to actually get any Tuvalu artists here for the show, they juxtaposed the sweet harmonies of their South Pacific Island songs with the distressing context of their predicament…. captured in those photographs. What Tuvaluans are telling us is that their country is disappearing through no fault of their own.

The weather may be subject to cosmological influences beyond our control, but human development has left in its wake the seeds of our own undoing. The trouble is not…with the weather…the trouble is with us. The onus is now on us as people, as nations and as a community of nations to reduce our carbon emissions.

The UN Kyoto Protocol was a wake up call for the world…with the notable exceptions being Australians and Americans. Why is it that whatever we may have felt as individual Australians, or read or heard over the decade since Kyoto was open for ratification in ’97, Australia’s political institutions, for the most part, chose blithely to carry on regardless. Even the attempts of states such as Victoria to introduce renewable energy targets were far short of European equivalents.

My company Transfield, is developing solar power plants in France and Spain where Government incentives are much more attractive than here. Australia’s governments were incapable of really biting the bullet on climate change for over a decade, despite all the discussions amongst us in our families, with friends…. many feeling as if we needed to do something personally given the leadership vacuum.

Why was there this disconnect between what we were feeling as individuals in dialogue with each other… and what our political masters were doing? I don’t really know……. I do know however that we were regularly served up the Australian economy and jobs as potential victims of any attempts to reduce greenhouse gasses.

Do you really believe that as Australians we were not prepared to forego some economic growth (and jobs) to help save our country and planet? The rest of the developed world were prepared to do so. How selfish do we look?

It has taken a decade of Australian inaction for climate change to be recognised as a legitimate voice beyond political and nationalistic rhetoric. More importantly, we could have achieved some beneficial outcomes sooner…just as the Europeans and others have. Leaving less of this pitiful legacy to our children.

Climate change may very well not be the defining issue of our time…it might just be the defining issue of all time. Good artists express significant issues, even… and especially a barren political landscape.

I’m reminded of T.S. Eliot’s lines from ‘The Hollow Men’

This is the way the world ends.

Not with a bang….. but a whimper.