UWA Alumni Changemaker – David Ritter BA, LLB '95

Chief Executive Officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific

UWA and meUWA Changemaker - David Ritter

I started as an undergraduate in the History Department of the Arts Faculty at UWA in 1988. The Cold War was still very much on. Global carbon dioxide levels were at about 350 parts per million. Tim Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web was still two years away. I have only a few photographs of the Uni from that year (probably taken on kodak film) that I sent away by post to be developed and returned. They were, in other words, very different days! But the great education in critical thinking that I received in history and law at UWA from teachers like Richard Bosworth, Rob Stuart, Iain Brash and Richard Bartlett has stood the test of time and continues to serve me well.

In a 2017 of ‘alternative facts’, the rising menace of demagogues, and 410 parts per million, the imperishable gift of a liberal arts education has never been more important.

A precious vision

I am privileged to work for Greenpeace, an organisation with the mission to secure a planet capable of nurturing life in all of its magnificent diversity. When I think of our mission, I imagine my two daughters, playing on the beach under bird-filled skies, with clean oceans brimming with wildlife, and a flourishing Australian community around them. It is a very precious vision – and one that is in grave jeopardy from global warming and massive planetary biodiversity loss.

James Hansen has described coal as ‘the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet’ because of its contribution to global warming – and Australia is the world’s largest coal supporter. The biggest way that Australia can make a difference in the world is by phasing out our coal mining industry – and all fossil fuel production – as fast as possible – while securing just transitions for all affected workers and communities.

Get active for our oceans

People working together can achieve anything! Our oceans are under threat – from global warming, industrial-scale fishing and plastics pollution – all of which are driven by powerful vested interests. The only way to protect our magnificent oceans is through people working together to challenge those vested interests. The most powerful contribution that any of us can make is working with each other to shift power away from vested interests and to change the politics.

There are so many ways to be active: inform yourself about the issues; write letters to politicians; lobby any decision maker that you personally know; join campaigns; get active online; turn up to meetings; ask hard questions of businesses and other institutions – just get active! About half a million Australians are already involved with Greenpeace – but we would love to have you too! And there are plenty of other good organisations out there to join as well. You can also urge UWA itself to play a more responsible part in caring for our oceans by divesting from any fossil fuel investments and disentangling funding and research agendas from the coal, oil and gas industries.

About David

David Ritter is the Chief Executive Officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific. Before taking up his present position, David worked for Greenpeace in London in a series of senior campaign positions. Prior to joining Greenpeace, David was one of Australia's leading Indigenous rights lawyers. David is a widely published commentator on current affairs and is the author of two books on native title.

David is an Honorary Fellow at the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Australia; an Adjunct Professor to the Sydney Democracy Network at the University of Sydney and a Research Affiliate to the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney.

You can follow David on Twitter @David_Ritter or join him on Facebook here.