Leading climate and health academic faces court after coal protest

Wednesday 11 March 2015


MEDIA ALERT Wednesday 11 March: Professor Colin Butler, an internationally-respected expert on climate change and health (and a contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)), will face court in Sydney tomorrow (Thursday 12 March) following his arrest for protesting coal exports from the Whitehaven Maules Creek coal mine in northern NSW. Professor Colin Butler is a Professor of Public Health at the University of Canberra and a Visiting Fellow at the National Centre of Epidemiology & Population Health at the Australian National University.

"I have studied and taught the effects of climate change for 25 years and I know the danger it poses to our way of life," said Professor Butler. "But today, as the government continues to willfully ignore evidence and good sense, I believe it's important to take a stand."

Professor Butler faces a possible two years in prison and a fine for his peaceful protest on November 26, 2014. Professor Butler will be available for comment after the court hearing tomorrow at Downing Centre Court, Liverpool St, Sydney on 0458 973 416 UPDATE: 12 March 2015 Professor Butler was not convicted of any criminal offence but was ordered to pay court costs with a two year good behaviour bond.

He prepared the following statement in relation to his action, arrest, and court appearance: "In 2009, climate scientists wrote to Australian-based energy companies and banks warning the stability of the global climate system is at risk from the burning of enormous quantities of coal, which releases vast quantities of carbon dioxide, a gas which then accumulates in the atmosphere and ocean for decades. There is a direct relationship between these emissions and global mean temperature rise. Australian coal exports thus directly contribute to future temperature increases.

My training and career have focused on health and the environment. My first scientific publication in 1991 argued that the stability of the global social system “ and thus health - is placed at risk by excessive climate change. I have recently edited a book with this argument at its core. For example, it is now increasingly understood that the Syrian war is partly related to climate change. Within a century, I believe unchecked climate change will cause economic and social upheaval on a scale scarcely imaginable. The world community needs to take decisive and rapid action to move to a clean energy future.

Poor people in developing countries are most obviously at risk from this, but many Australians will also suffer, and not only from more severe storms, fires and droughts. Future Australians will also endure living in a world with much greater political instability, with more conflict and with more migration, unwanted by others. I believe my role in public health with unusual expertise concerning climate change gives a duty of care to people in the future. If I saw an infant left by mistake in a locked car on a hot day, I would have a duty of care to try to rescue her. If there was no time to find a police-person to help I would feel justified in breaking the law to rescue the child. In the case of these coming disruptions from climate change, I have written papers, edited a book, and given many talks to try to convey the great seriousness of my concerns, similar to this analogy. But this is not enough."