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Climate Change Wildfires in Australia

Published on December 23rd, 2019 | by Steve Hanley

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Prime Minister Morrison Fizzles As Australia Sizzles

December 23rd, 2019 by  


As Australia sweltered through record temperatures last week and brush fires raged through parts of South Australia and New South Wales destroying whole towns, the Prime Minister packed himself and his family off to Hawai’i for a pre-Christmas vacation. For a while, his office insisted to the press that Morrison was not in Hawai’i at all, a bold lie that soon collapsed under media scrutiny. After two firefighters died over the weekend, Morrison hurried home to confront a firestorm of criticism arising from his decision to fly halfway around the world while unpaid volunteers were battling the deadly blazes.

Wildfires in Australia

Brush fires in Australia as seen from space. Image credit: NASA

Morrison’s contrition was a transparent political ploy and did little to assuage the anger many Australians felt. At a news conference, he said we all make poor decisions from time to time and then offered this empty platitude. “Whether it’s on a Friday afternoon and you decide to take that extra plumbing contract and you said you were going to pick up the kids, or something at my level, these are things you juggle as parents.” He told the press that he had promised the vacation to his two daughters and did not want to disappoint them.

Since returning, Morrison has issued a weasel-worded statement on climate change, in which he suggests there is no direct, clear, irrefutable evidence that changes in the global climate were the cause of the fire that wiped out the town of Balmoral southwest of Sydney. Such arguments were concocted by the tobacco industry 50 years ago to deflect liability for the death of smokers, claiming plaintiffs might be able to show that smoking is bad for a person’s health but there was no proof that cigarettes were the proximate cause of any particular death.

Barnaby Joyce, a former deputy prime minister, told Channel 7’s Sunrise program that Australia could not “single-handedly” influence emissions from China and India. China’s imprisonment of 1 million Uighurs demonstrated that environmentalists were “naively overreaching” by suggesting Australia could influence global superpowers. By throwing up his hands and moaning that there was little Australia could do about climate change, Joyce was parroting the position of the Prime Minister and his party.

But Guardian columnist Richard Flanagan is having none of it. In an opinion piece entitled “Scott Morrison and the big lie about climate change: does he think we’re that stupid?” he writes:

While the climate crisis has become Australians’ number one concern, both major parties play determinedly deaf and dumb on the issue while action and protest about the climate crisis is increasingly subject to prosecution and heavy sentencing.

In Tasmania, the Liberal government intends to legislate sentences of up to 21 years – more than many get for murder – for environmental protest, legislation typical of the new climate of authoritarianism that has flourished under Morrison. As Australia burns, what we are witnessing nationally is no more or less than the criminalization of democracy in defense of the coal and gas industries.

In this regard, the climate crisis is a war between the voice of coal and the voice of the people. And that war is in Australia being won hands down by the fossil fuel industry.

Many CleanTechnica readers will notice the similarity of such legislation to laws now on the books or proposed in 21 US states that would impose similarly draconian penalties on those who dare to speak their mind about how fossil fuel companies are destroying the environment. And if you think such similarities are merely accidental, think again. Those companies are global in nature and they act in concert to achieve their nefarious goal, which is to extract and burn every molecule of oil, gas, or coal anywhere on the planet.

In November, Morrison offered this disingenuous statement on climate change. “These are things that are very well known to the government — the contribution of these issues to global weather conditions and to conditions here in Australia are known and acknowledged. In February I acknowledged the contribution of those factors to what was happening in Australia — amongst many other issues.”

Does that sound at all like Andrew Wheeler, head of the EPA, telling reporters that climate change is a concern but far down on the list of his agency’s priorities — such as allowing more mercury to be emitted by coal plants and more methane from oil and gas producers, not to mention the vitally important initiative to save the incandescent light bulb because the president thinks LEDs make his skin look yellow?

Morrison then added, “the suggestion that any way, shape, or form that Australia, accountable for 1.3% of the world’s emissions, that the individual actions of Australia are impacting directly on specific fire events, whether it’s here or anywhere else in the world, that doesn’t bear up to credible scientific evidence either.

“Climate change is a global phenomenon and we’re doing our bit as part of the response to climate change – we’re taking action on climate change. But I think to suggest that at just 1.3% of emissions, that Australia doing something more or less would change the fire outcome this season — I don’t think that stands up to any credible scientific evidence at all.”

That 1.3% of emissions is a lie and Morrison knows it. Richard Flanagan points out that 2 days prior to Morrison’s comments on climate change, a UN report predicted Australia would be the sixth-largest producer of fossil fuels by 2030. It went on to list in detail the direct and indirect subsidies the Australian government makes available to fossil fuel companies.

“Actively working through legislation, subsidy and criminalization of opposition to enable Australia to become one of the world’s seven major producers of fossil fuels makes Australia’s actions directly and heavily responsible for the growing climate catastrophe we are now witnessing in Australia,” Flanagan says. “It cannot be explained away. It cannot be excused. Australia is actively working hard to become a major driver of the global climate crisis. That is what we have become.”

“We’re getting on with the job, preparing for what has already been a very devastating fire season,” Scott Morrison told the press this week. “Only he’s not,” Flanagan writes.

Getting on with the job would be calling a moratorium on new thermal coalmines and gas fracking. Getting on with the job would be announcing a subsidized transition to electric vehicles by 2030. Getting on with the job would be working to close down all coal-fired powered stations as a matter of urgency. Getting on with the job would be calling a summit of the renewable energy industry and asking how the government can help make the transition one that happens now and one that creates jobs in the old fossil fuel energy communities.

And getting on with the job would be going to the world with these initiatives and arguing powerfully, strongly, courageously for other countries to follow as we once led the way on the secret ballot, women’s suffrage, Antarctic protection, the charter of human rights.

We are not a superpower, but nor are we a micro-nation. We have an economy the size of Russia’s. Our stand on issues whether good or bad is noted and quoted and used as an example. And one only has to look at the global standing of New Zealand to see the power of setting a moral and practical example, and the good that flows from it for a nation and its people. Australians everywhere are ready to get on with the job of dealing with climate change. We just need a prime minister to lead us.

Strong words, but to paraphrase Barry Goldwater, “Extremism in the defense of the planet is no vice.” Australia can’t do it alone, but as the Supreme Court of the Netherlands said recently, “Every country is responsible for its share.” Time to step up, Australia, and do your part. 
 

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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.



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