Author Tim Winton lashes oil and gas industry’s ‘crime against humanity’

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Western Australian author Tim Winton, famed for his environmental activism and award-winning books, has accused the oil and gas industry of a “crime against humanity” and a force that must be defeated.

During a keynote speech in Melbourne for the 2023 Nature Writing Prize, the four-time Miles Franklin award-winner said he was heartbroken over the “biggest moral and material issue of our time”.

Tim Winton has taken aim at the oil and gas industry for deliberately hiding its impact on the climate. Credit: Violeta J Brosig, Blue Media Exmouth

“The deliberate and successful campaign by the oil and gas industry to hide climate science from the public, and sow doubt and confusion to this day, is a crime against humanity on a scale I can barely process, let alone forgive,” he said.

“Our current predicament infects my every waking thought … It’s led to the awful realisation that I have enemies.

“By which I mean powers and principalities that pose a threat to my grandchildren and their children. And yours, my friends. Forces that must be defeated.”

Winton went on to say that writing would play an important part in stopping the “business as usual” approach and spurring a cultural sea change.

He said there was a “nature-sized hole at the heart of our economics”.

He said that as a writer, he understood “stories are what drive everything”, and the story being told by oil and gas giants wrote nature out of the picture.

“This hasn’t been challenged in the arts and culture as much as it should be,” Winton said.

“I am alarmed by the lack of anger and urgency. This needs to be charged up, and we need to learn to not feel so powerless.

“It probably means breaking some shit. Even if that’s just breaking conceptions that we have – of ourselves, of our culture and of those above us who are making all the decisions.”

He said that while it could be challenging to avoid feeling nihilistic, he believed companies were “greenwashing” their practices now because they were anxious about their future.

“In the old days they didn’t even bother to greenwash their practices because they knew they controlled the narrative,” he said.

It was not the first time Winton made an impassioned speech on the issue of climate change and the oil and gas industry’s culpability.

In February 2022, he used his closing speech at the Perth Festival’s writers weekend to pillory the oil and gas industry for trying to expand operations instead of winding down.

He also criticised the festival’s organisers for continuing to take sponsorship money from multinational Chevron and Woodside’s sponsorship of a WA Youth Orchestra and WA Symphony Orchestra ocean-inspired show.

Perth Festival later announced it would part ways with Chevron after its 2023 event, stating the US-owned oil and gas giant had decided to focus on other opportunities.

Winton also recently launched a documentary titled Ningaloo Nyinggulu, which aired on the ABC.

It explored the Ningaloo, Exmouth Gulf and Cape Range region Winton has championed – and campaigned to protect – for decades.

The winner of the 2023 Nature Writing Prize will be awarded $7500, and an additional author will receive $1000 for their ‘highly commended’ piece.

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