Inspired activist leads the push for climate action

Sally Clarke. Photo Jack Meehan.
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Sally Clarke – environmental activist and “change agent”– led a powerful community push for Glen Eira Council to declare a climate emergency. The result was even more powerful than she had expected. Jack Meehan reports.

Electric fleets, aiming “zero-carbon” building planning processes at developers and a Climate Action Citizen’s Assembly were choices in the recent Climate Emergency motion passed by the normally conservative Glen Eira Council.

Motion mover Cr Clare Davey declared “business as usual won’t cut it any more”.

The council declared a climate emergency and set the goal of zero emissions across the thousands of households in Glen Eira by 2030.

Local activist Sally Clarke, who campaigned hard for the council to make the declaration, said she was surprised the councillors decided on “the most aggressive” climate option.

“We thought there was a 50-50 shot of them passing it,” she said.

In the lead up to the decision, Ms Clarke brought together people who said they wanted to “have a go at actually asking Glen Eira to declare” a climate emergency and collect signatures on a petition.

Soon the Jewish Climate Network was on board, then with Belinda Haydon and 18 others in January, the group hatched GECAN, the Glen Eira Emergency Action Network.

GECAN spearheaded the efforts to gain community support and bring the declaration to council, garnering at least 2200 signatures, more than 600 of which were collected in the few days before council was set to vote on the declaration.

“We want to get the rest of the community on board,” Ms Clarke said. “We’ve got something to hold them to and something to aim towards.”

On May 5, the Glen Eira Council made the “unexpected” decision to declare a climate emergency.

Cr Jim McGee said the petitioning and community support influenced his decision to vote in favour.

 “If this was seven or eight years ago, I don’t think I would have had the ability to comprehend the seriousness of climate change,” he said at the meeting.

Ms Clarke said it was quite an achievement to get the council to agree to the “very strong goal” of zero emissions right across the thousands of households in Glen Eira by 2030.

“When we discussed this in GECAN, we were thinking, this is a big ask, for them to say yes to this,” Ms Clarke said.

Glen Eira will be joining more than 1700  other local and state municipalities globally to have declared a climate emergency.

Ms Clarke, a long-time climate activist and keen gardener, helped found the Melbourne Climate Choir, now up to 60 members and an important part of many Melbourne climate events and protests.

She said she kept herself inspired by reminding herself of the seriousness of the issue. “I feel that this is the job I am meant to be doing.”

Former deputy Glen Eira mayor Thomas Sounness said Ms Clarke’s ability to make strategic connections was a driving force.

“She is a fabulous change agent,” he said. “Her passion encourages others to step forward from all walks of life.” 

Ms Clarke’s advice to local people who want to see change was to get involved.

“Everyone can do something, everyone can contribute … they can use what they are good at to further the cause.”