When Bob Brown was first elected to the Australian Senate in 1996, he used his maiden speech to drive home the impact of human activity on the planet. He spoke of the greenhouse phenomenon and warming temperatures— what we now know as human-made climate change—and warned that without committed action, millions of people would be displaced due to rising sea levels by the end of the next century. Government and opposition members laughed and heckled at his proposition, but Bob was unwavering. “Humankind’s most pressing challenge,” he asserted, “is to live in harmony with the earth on a genuinely sustainable basis.”
In the 20 years since, Bob has continued to take courageous and often politically lonely stands on environmental and human rights issues. He’s led the Australian Greens Party to historic parliamentary wins, including the election of their first House of Representatives member, and helped shift the Australian public’s attention to the realities of climate change.
Born in country New South Wales to a policeman with an “inherent disregard for bigwigs” and a mother from a dairy farm with an “inherent love of nature,” Bob had all the right conditioning for a lifetime of environmental activism. In his twenties and early thirties, he studied medicine and practiced as a GP. But as a gay man in the 1960s with a Presbyterian background and a deep awareness of the world’s pain, he was often torn up, and went in and out of depression. He moved to London, where a therapist helped him come to terms with his sexuality, and then to southern Tasmania, where he found himself galvanised and healed by its vast, wild landscapes.
After a rafting trip down the Franklin River in 1976, which was threatened at the time by proposals to have it dammed, Bob emerged compelled to take action and embarked on one of the largest and most successful environmental campaigns in Australia’s history. Today, he is back pouring his energy into saving takayna / Tarkine—500,000 hectares of cool temperate rainforest and wild coastline in northwest Tasmania, currently under threat from logging and mining.
Few people have shown us the power of activism and the importance of making an emotional and intellectual stand for the planet as Bob has. The great conservationist David Suzuki once described him as a global treasure, up there with “Mandela and the Dalai Lama—a person of the greatest integrity and courage, a person who has inspired others through his lifetime commitment.” As we chat, he talks about the window of time he has to make a difference with his life, and the need for all of us to celebrate the earth—to laugh and dance and feel gratitude for the abundance of life that still surrounds us.