The queen of coastal activism in Australia. Photo SA Rips

MOTHER LION, EARTH CUB

For a while there, a few of us who knew Belinda Baggs jokingly ran a market on when she was going to get herself arrested. She was up in the Galilee Basin at the time, picketing the Adani coalmine and I had her at 3-to-1. We laughed of course because the Bindy we’d once known was demure, horribly polite, a graceful longboarder. The idea of her chained to a bulldozer felt like a radical departure. But for the most part today, Bindy is still Bindy. She remains that same warm soul; demure, polite and graceful… but if you stand between her and a livable planet for her son, then look out. She turns into the mother lion.

In recent years Bindy has become a frontline environmental activist. She’s been busy. On top of Adani, she’s campaigned to save the Barrier Reef, the Great Australian Bight and most recently the coast off her old hometown of Newcastle. She’s struck a balance be-tween her activism, her surfing, and her son, Rayson. Her role at Patagonia as a Global Surf Activist affords her freedom; the company even has a policy of bailing out employees ar-rested in peaceful protests. Bindy has transformed from a surfing mum who – like most of us – always wanted to do something environmental but didn’t know where to start, to be-coming a leading voice for coast and climate.

With a group of friends she’s just started Surfers For Climate. She wants to get surfers into the game on climate action. “We’re drawing together the ties between climate impacts and how they’re affecting us firsthand as surfers.” She feels surfers are just finding their voice, and if rallied together have some real clout, culturally and politically. “Climate change is such a huge issue that’s going to take a big collective effort to do anything about it.”

For Bindy, climate change stopped being a concept and became very real during two recent surf trips. She was on the South Coast when the Black Summer fires roared through. “We were surfing that Green Island area. I looked back and saw that apocalyptic orange and the ash falling from the sky, thinking, oh shit. We got evacuated soon after.” She also travelled to the Solomon Islands, in the far edge of the archipelago, and visited villages facing an un-certain future. “Seeing low lying islands that had been eroded away by storm surges and the displacement that’s occurring was pretty confronting. These people were already think-ing about moving to higher ground. For me climate change was no longer this thing that might happen in the future. It was happening right now.”

The thing with climate activism – in Australia particularly – is that you’re walking into a contested space where you’re not only squaring off against climate deniers who flatly re-fuse to believe it’s happening, but also the fossil fuel lobby that’s covertly funding this deni-al. Belinda’s learned that by speaking out on climate in Australia, you’re really sticking your neck out.

“The main criticism you get personally is that hypocrisy argument. ‘You’re a surfer, you ride a surfboard, you use wax, you drive to the beach… they all use fossil fuels in some way. How can you be a climate advocate and still use those things?’ My answer to them is, that’s the whole point. We want to change and we all need to do better. It’s a transition, not an overnight change… but nothing is going to change at all while they keep opening up new fossil fuel reserves.”

Confrontation is not Bindy’s natural position but pushing for climate action she’s had to deal with it. “I definitely have a lot of tricky conversations, a lot of them with climate deniers both in person and online. The number one thing I’ve learned in the last couple of years is don’t bang your head against a brick wall. Realise the areas where you can make a difference and focus your energy on making positive change.”

In terms of climate action however, there is grassroots support everywhere she goes. Australians want something done and Bindy can see that shift working its way up the line, through businesses, local and state governments. That’s where it hits a roadblock. “The Federal government isn’t making much progress in the climate space or environmental space at all, for that matter. That’s a real problem.” The connection between vested inter-ests and those who run the country is deep. “It’s infuriating. And the more I learn about it, the angrier I get. Just to see how broken our system is, whether it be at a corporate level, all the way up to governments and legislation. The laws surrounding this are all gamed in favour of the fossil fuel industry. None of it is in the public interest. It’s just absolutely ludicrous.”

In December, Belinda went to Canberra. For a number of years now she’s been involved in the campaign to prevent the coast between Newcastle and Sydney from being developed as an offshore gas field. She describes the PEP11 development as, “the craziest idea ever and a sign of where Australia is at with fossil fuels. Who’d in their right mind would want the horizon between Sydney and Newcastle dotted with gas rigs?”

The idea is so crazy though it’s created an opportunity. Federal politicians from both major parties, so conditioned to letting the fossil fuel industry get its way, have broken party lines and spoken out against PEP11. So Bindy found herself on the lawn of Parliament House ad-dressing politicians and the press, delivering an impassioned speech about that coast being infinitely more valuable to the people who call it home than it will ever be to mercenary gas companies. “It was a trip,” she said of her day inside Parliament House. “It was kind of almost like being inside a House of Cards episode.”

Bindy has developed a real sense of herself as an activist, and while the odds of her getting arrested have drifted out, the chances of her making a serious difference have increased. “I went into it pretty headstrong, like, what’s it going to take to get myself arrested? I think I’ve spent a long time waiting for somebody to follow, and in time I realised, maybe the person I’ve been waiting for is me? If I keep waiting for somebody my whole life, then it’s a missed opportunity, whether that being a climate sense, but just in life. You can’t just sit back and wait for somebody to lead the way.”

Motivation is never a problem. The reason she’s doing all this of course, is her young fella, Rayson. “I can look at my life and I’ll be dead before we really experience anything beyond a bit of coastal erosion and bleached coral reefs. But on the current trajectory we’re on, if things don’t change, Rayson’s going to feel the brunt and so will his kids. So I want to do all I can, in order to give him a safe and flourishing future. Isn’t that what any parent wants? Like, in 30 years’ time, what am I going to tell my son? ‘I had all this opportunity, but I chose to do nothing.’ No way.

SW