Now that the world is plagued with many environmental issues, Aussie students, organisations, and citizens in general will benefit from a rich discussion of Australia’s environmental movement. In the often overwhelming and challenging world of environmental activism, one could feel lost, drained, burnt out, or worse, completely unattached.
But once an Aussie sees how far Australia has come in terms of protecting the environment and how passionate many fellow Australians are, they may be able to locate themselves in the movement, get their facts as well as their perspectives together, and stand their ground even firmer as they lobby for what the country and the world urgently needs. This is why the story of the environmental movement in Australia is one worth telling, and the best storyteller is an environmental leader in Australia who saw the story unfold with their own eyes.
Enter Ian Cohen, a social change leader with a proven track record of environmental leadership in Australia. This article locates Ian Cohen’s involvement in Australia’s green history and tells you why he’s Oz’ foremost environmental leader.
Australia’s green history: a force from down under
Many may not know this, but the environmental movement in Australia was the first in the world to become a political movement. Australia was the first to set up a Green party. In the 1980s, environmental activism in Australia gained plenty of traction as this was the time when the movement gained a professionalisation phase -- specifically, the demands of the movement was taken to government.
In 1992, the Australian Greens was formed. The Australian Greens is a centre-left, environmentally-focused political party in Australia whose main core values are ecological sustainability, social justice, grassroots democracy, and peace and non-violence. Ian is one of the notable members of the Australian Greens.
Ian Cohen at the turning of the tide
Before serving as a member of parliament, Ian first gained popularity in the Australian environmental movement when he, on his surfboard, clung to the bow of USS Oldendorf, a nuclear armed warship that attempted to enter Sydney Harbour to participate in the 75th anniversary of the Royal Australian Navy. This happened in 1986, when the Cold War was still going on. Ian did this as an act of protest against nuclear war; at the time, he also served as founder of the Sydney Peace Squadron and the Brisbane Peace and Environment Fleet.
This act of protest was photographed, and the photo made the front page of many newspapers and was awarded multiple times. This event gave Ian a spot at the international environmental activism scene. He said of this moment, “I think we sent a really strong message to the powers that be at that stage of the Cold War that there were Australians who objected strongly in a non-violent manner to the entry of nuclear warships into Sydney Harbour.”
Even before he became well-known, he had been rendering passionate service as a community organiser in the 1980s. He participated in rainforest preservation campaigns in Northern NSW, Daintree, Franklin River, South East forests NSW, North Washpool, and Chaelundi. He joined other previous anti-nuclear campaigns as well, including those at Honeymoon and Roxby Downs uranium mines. His involvement is described to be radical, front-line protest, and the best example of this is when he surfed the warship’s bow.
In his political career, he served at the New South Wales Legislative Council twice. Ian is the first Green member to be elected to the NSW Legislative Council in 1995. He was re-elected to the council in 2003.
His work in government centered on sustainability: specifically, agriculture, fisheries, salinity, and investigations on genetic engineering. He retired from parliament in 2011. Even in his retirement, he continued speaking out against anti-environment government actions.
With continued effort as a passionate environmental activist, he authored the book Green Fire, a personal account of the Australian environmental movement that he had an active participation in. He also regularly wrote for newspapers and journals and made appearances at protests and conferences.
Ian’s Personal Story of Resilience
Ian has had a fair share of life’s ups and downs, but his commitment to the community remained steadfast. In 2004, a tsunami hit Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. Ian happened to be there for a surfing session. He narrowly survived the tsunami and was a big help in the relief efforts that ensued after.
Years later, he was sued for defamation when he supported a school teacher who publicly opposed the development of a gated community, a project that would have made significant negative environmental impacts in the area.
He has had much experience being at the receiving end of criticism and controversy, but he instead channeled this into a benefit for him: he now uses this story to make a clear and consistent statement about his environmental advocacy.
What makes Ian unique?
Now serving as an environmental and social change leader, Ian Cohen is receiving many invitations to speak at environmental conferences. His expertise on Australian as well as global environmental issues is being sought after by communities, not for profit groups, and schools and universities.
Because he was present and active during the heyday of the Australian environmental movement as well as in today’s efforts, his audiences gain more refined perspectives on the history and future of environmental activism in Australia. He is unique because his is one of the few names in Australia’s environmental history that has appeared in both government and grassroots work.
This means his understanding of environmentalism covers both principle and strategy -- he answers the why’s as well as the what’s-next. After he discusses the problem, he is able to provide actionable steps and suggestions that people of different roles and responsibilities can perform: citizens, activists, and most importantly, leaders in government.
Now that he is retired from government, he presents as a fit and energetic 66-year-old surfer with plenty of wisdom to share. More than being a respected former MP, who he is to his audiences is an enigmatic, relatable, and encouraging teacher.
With the information and experiences he weaves into captivating stories, his audiences go home with a sense of empowerment and dedication to environmental activism.
Catch Ian’s Green Fire Today
If you’re interested in inviting Ian to your next environmental conference, just head on over to the Ian Cohen website and schedule an appointment. For enquiries, you may also leave a message on the contact form found on the website.