By Angela Dorizas
Local government must engage with the global challenges of climate change, population growth and poverty, even though they may appear to be distant crises.
That was the message World Vision chief executive Tim Costello gave to the Local Government Managers Australia (LGMA) national congress in Adelaide.
Rev Costello said local government was intrinsically connected to global issues and was not immune to "distant" crises.
“Global isn’t the opposite of local,” he said.
“Global is what you get when you add up all the locals.
“When we talk of global issues – like poverty, the global environmental crisis, the global financial crisis the global food crisis – we’re not talking about another postcode called ‘global’, but a number of local postcodes that actually are suffering these crises.”
Using the metaphor of a waterbed to illustrate his argument, Rev Costello said if you pushed down one part of the bed, another section would be raised. Viewing the world as a waterbed, if a crisis occurs in one corner of the globe, the impact may also be felt by distant nations.
“That’s why local government has to be plugged into this notion of ‘global crisis’ even though it seems distant, far away,” he said.
Rev Costello pointed to the H1N1 flu epidemic and the global financial crisis as salient examples.
“People get sick in Mexico and we were closing schools in inner Melbourne,” he said.
“Banks with funny names like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac get into trouble, along with Lehman Brothers, and trigger a crisis in financial institutions, particularly in the western world – even here in Australia.”
Rev Costello said the impact of global warming on developing nations was a case in point.
“Most people in Australia consider it as an environmental issue – the picture of global warming is a lonely seal on a shrinking piece of ice,” he said.
“The actual picture of global warming for us is an African girl, whose parents now have suffered consistent drought, more cyclones, more contaminated water supplies….where once there wasn’t malaria and mosquitos, now with warming, she’s at risk of dying of malaria.”
Rev Costello said the notion of a “fortress Australia” no longer existed and the impacts of global warming, including climatic events, food shortages, climate refugees and regional instability, would become a reality in our local communities.
“A world perspective of a global village, a ‘waterbed’, says here in Australia these challenges will arrive locally for us,” he said.
Rev Costello urged local government to adopt a ‘global ethic’ in dealing with existing and future challenges.
“To those who say charity begins at home and ends at home, I say in a global village, one, it’s not ethical, and two, it is no longer practical.”
As a former Mayor of St Kilda, Rev Costello said he understood the potential of local government to a make real and lasting impact.
“Your drive for sustainability is incredibly important in the global drive for sustainability,” he said.
Rev Costello urged councils to adopt a number of practical measures to tackle climate change and global inequality, such as reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, introducing fair trade procurement practices and mobilising communities to take action.
Local government, he added, would do well to harness the energy and enthusiasm of young people within the community who were particularly responsive to global crises.
“I’m a big rap for Gen Y,” he said.
“They get told they’re self indulgent, but I actually think they’re far more engaged than my generation was at that age.”
Rev Costello praised the work of LGMA in addressing global challenges and in promoting the Make Poverty History campaign.
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