Philip Sutton, inspirational Australian activist who started the climate emergency | climate crisis – Low Calorie Diets Tips

Philip Sutton, who died suddenly at the age of 71, was a pioneer of the climate emergency movement and a powerful influence on environmental campaigners in Australia and internationally.

Sutton’s work challenged the prevailing paradigm of a “reform as usual” strategy, incremental change based on unclear goals. He championed the understanding that climate risks threaten the future of the planet and humanity, and therefore required a society-wide mobilization of emergency size and speed. Sutton argued that rapid transition to emergency mode is the key challenge for the climate movement.

This understanding was codified in his 2008 book, co-authored with David Spratt, Climate Code Red: the Case for Emergency Action, which coined the term “climate emergency” and shocked many readers to become climate activists. The book played an important role in shifting the narrative of the magnitude of climate risk and our required response. Climate Code Red’s risk and impact assessments, as well as the fundamentals of repairing climate systems, have since been validated by mainstream analysis.

Sutton has been at the forefront of environmental activism in Australia for more than 40 years. He was Deputy Director of the Conservation Council of Victoria (now Environment Victoria) and worked as a Councilor for the Australian Conservation Foundation from 1973 to 1976 and again from 2009 to 2015. In 1978 he co-authored Seeds for Change, a comprehensive book on alternative energy strategy for Victoria.

His influence and connections spanned a wide range of innovative environmental and climate organizations including Breakthrough – National Center for Climate Restoration, Beyond Zero Emissions, Council and Community Action in the Climate Emergency, Sustainable Living Foundation, the Australia New Zealand Society for Ecological Economics and much more.

He was an initiating member of the movement that led Darebin City Council in Melbourne to become the first local council in the world to declare a climate emergency and played a leading role in the international campaign that is being followed by more than 1,000 local, regional and national governments.

Sutton stressed the need for a climate strategy based on a clear, if uncomfortable, analysis of the physical evidence of climate change, and a risk approach no less rigorous than that in fields like engineering and aviation. He railed against the 2°C “safe warming limit” adopted by most climate advocates and institutions. Such a result would be tantamount to a “death sentence for billions of people and millions of species,” Sutton argued.

Normalizing the objective on the basis of protecting “all people, all species and all generations” or “maximum protection” was a framework he pursued with tireless dedication.

Sutton’s ability to balance the big picture with attention to detail, as well as his personal enthusiasm and generosity, were commemorated in many of the honors paid after his death.

Green Party Senator Janet Rice said Sutton is “an intellectual giant” whose “absolute passion and dedication to a safe climate is unparalleled”.

Paul Gilding, former chief executive of Greenpeace International, called Sutton a “pioneering thinker”, while Australia Institute’s Mark Ogge said he was “extraordinary, incredibly influential in keeping us focused on the urgency of climate change”.

Former Victorian Labor Environment Secretary Gavin Jennings said Sutton’s death was “devastatingly sad”.

“Philip dedicated his life to mobilizing citizens, institutions and government to take the urgent actions needed to sustain life on this planet.”

Philip Sutton is considered an
Philip Sutton is considered an “extraordinary”, “pioneering” thinker and “intellectual giant”. Photo: Julian Meehan/Breakthrough – National Center for Climate Restoration

Philip Sutton was born on March 2, 1951 in Sydney. His greatest influence in his early years was his mother, Fay, who became an environmental activist and served on the Australian Conservation Foundation Council for more than 30 years. His father Ralph was an officer in the Australian Army and his role meant the family moved around extensively before settling in Sydney where Philip attended Sydney Boys High as a teenager.

He studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney in the late 1960s, but dropped out to campaign for protection of urban streams and other local environmental causes.

Early in his career, Sutton initiated the campaign that led to the 1983 nuclear ban in Victoria. He was the architect of the pioneering Flora and Fauna Guarantee Legislation in Victoria, passed in 1988, the first of its kind, which became the model for the revision of wildlife legislation across Australia. He also worked on the Federal Government’s Advisory Committee on Endangered Species (1990–93), the Victorian Government’s Energy Strategy (1982–83), the Victorian Conservation Strategy (1983–84) and with the Victorian Environment Agency to develop strategies for outreach of a successful green economy (1991).

Sutton met his former partner, conservationist Kathy Preece, in the late 1980s and they worked together on leading environmental legislation. They had two sons, Daniel and Joey, and as a family, enjoyed spending time together exploring the wonders and science of nature.

Sutton’s stubborn yet warm, genuine, and unpretentious manner won the respect of many with whom he worked, even as he faced reality.

Former Green Party leader Christine Milne said: “I had great respect for his intellect, his commitment and his courage to always say it like it is, no matter how uncomfortable people felt about it.”

Sutton is survived by Daniel and Joey. Plans for a public memorial are in the works.

Philip Sutton, environmental activist; born March 2, 1951, died June 13, 2022

Luke Taylor is Executive Director of Breakthrough – National Center for Climate Restoration

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