The worst of it is that we’re just half way through Australia’s normal fire season. Who is to say what devastation a scorching late summer might wreak on our already scarred landscape. But some day the mercury will fall and the rains will come, and when the fires finally go out Australia is going to have to face the reality that this has at last ended the debate as to whether climate change threatens human life on this dry continent.
Now this moment has arrived we can’t go back to normal – just mop our brows, start rebuilding and pretend this was just one hot summer, right out of the blue. Our government was warned for years that climate change would be the harbinger of bushfire disaster. They ignored the warnings. Fire chiefs begged for a meeting in April last year. They too were ignored. The last sitting days of parliament in 2019 were spent debating the removal of medical care for refugees, religious discrimination and assault rifles for airport police, without a word about the climate. And when the fires began to get out of control and his home city was blanketed in smoke, the Prime Minister went on holiday. Our government is living yesterday’s paradigm.
What this summer has shown is that climate change represents an immediate and existential threat to Australia’s way of life. The false equivalence of ‘but how much will it cost’ has been exposed for the lie it always was. The cost of inaction now vastly exceeds the price of change.
No. Australia simply cannot afford business as usual. We need a World War Two-style emergency plan, one that brings rapid, fundamental change. War is analogous to the times in which we live, given the decimation that has been compared to that of an invading army. To be governed by the feckless grin and endless inept deflection of Scott Morrison just isn’t an option anymore, and although Morrison has become a lightning rod for public fury, those waiting in the wings are no better. Dutton, Cormann or Porter might have handled the crisis more effectively, but they share the blame for cutting emergency service budgets and taking effectively no action on climate change. As recently as November, the man who acted as Prime Minister in Morrison’s absence said climate change was only the concern of ‘inner city raving lunatics’. Scott Morrison literally got the job because Malcolm Turnbull couldn’t get his party to adopt a carbon reduction policy. These leopards aren’t going to change their spots. Australia has a criminally negligent government filled with ideologues and resource industry puppets, incapable of turning themselves into the people this situation requires.
Australia needs to address this crisis as the national emergency it is. The federal budget must be reviewed in a way that clears the table and looks anew. $500m for a war memorial? Gone. We need money for the living. The dead would understand. $250m for the Prime Minister’s plane? Never again. Sell it. Let the PM fly like the rest of us.
There’s fat galore. Australia just spent $51 billion on (slightly) improved internet speeds. Don’t tell me we can’t afford to change. One in three major companies doing business in Australia somehow makes no profit, or banks their profits in Dublin or Grand Cayman. Yet many still find cash to donate to the Liberal party. Those days have to be over. If you wish to trade here you need to contribute. The same goes for the church and its billions in assets – it’s time to put your money where your mouth most certainly is.
Christmas Island, Nauru – all our ludicrously expensive offshore detention facilities must close. Australia can accept a few hundred people into our society (a fraction of the number that immigrate via normal channels) to save billions of dollars a year. Who could possibly argue that imprisoning a beloved and blameless Sri Lankan family on Christmas Island is a better way to spend $27 million than fighting fires (clue – it’s the man most likely to replace Morrison, the one who buried a climate risk action plan for 18 months).
At the drop of a hat, and without further borrowing, Australia could cut costs and boost its budget by tens of billions of dollars just by avoiding waste, disowning political cruelty and making the richest pay their share. By definition we are all in this together. That money would go a very long way towards solving our problems. The alternative is to continue down a climate path which (that hotbed of insurrection) the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Studies already says is costing cropping farms $1.1 billion a year.
As a nation spoiled for choice when it comes to renewable energy sources, we have options other countries can only dream of, so we have to dump coal. Immediately. Six big Australian miners account for more CO2 emissions than the rest of the economy. Combined emissions from the top ten carbon producers in Australia are the equivalent of 75% of the world’s air traffic. Australia is becoming a carbon pariah. As the fires have burned, our government has seen the images of communities huddled on beaches, and of cities choked by smoke, and decided to continue both building and subsidising one of the largest new coalmines on earth.
This is madness. We can’t continue to dig up and burn the world’s dirtiest fuel source, and we can’t live with the political influence afforded to the profits that coal generates. Clive Palmer bought himself a Prime Minister in 2019. We have to take control of our nation away from the billionaires who dig up the coal and fund climate change denial. Their interests are not ours.
Rupert Murdoch is not an Australian. This man should not control 70% of the printed news we read. No amount of recent editorialising can mask the relentless, years-long campaign by Newscorp to deny climate change exists, is man-made or that there’s anything we can do about it. It is Murdoch’s papers who have said these fires are no worse than any other year, argued that in fact it is the Green Party who are to blame (for opposing hazard reduction burning – a lie) and spread misinformation about the number of fires lit by arsonists. It would be very easy to rewrite Australia’s media ownership laws to ensure a more robust exchange of ideas. Climate change denial in these times is a ‘threat to public health’. When taken in combination with resource industry interests, Murdoch and Newcorp’s capture of the state represents a dangerous threat to Australia’s functional democracy and our ability to wisely address this crisis.
And a crisis it is. This summer’s fires have burned an area seven times that of Singapore, or Vermont and New Hampshire combined. More than 800-million native animals are dead, and the fires still burn. Bushfires have emitted more than 50% of Australia’s annual total CO2. Industries like wine regions in South Australia and tourism on Kangaroo Island are decimated and may never return.
Building codes must be re-written. Fire-fighting must be given the status of national priority, implemented with the urgency required by the next fire season to come. If the Japanese fleet was on the horizon we would move fast. We need to move fast.
Australians need water security, and with that food security. We have rivers in the north of our country that flow with almost unlimited fresh water when the tropical rains come. Lake Argyle has a volume of freshwater eighteen times that of Sydney Harbour. Delivered to the populous centres of the south-east, that water would end the threat of droughts, of lost crops, of country towns being forced to truck in water supplies. More water would help us defend the nation when the fires inevitably come. Perhaps solar powered desalination plants could provide the solution instead. Water should be given the status of national security priority. All we have so far is a promise to build new dams in New South Wales, but the headline says it all – ‘New dam for NSW as drought continues’. If it doesn’t rain, a dam doesn’t collect water. This big crisis demands bigger ideas.
A Royal Commission should be instigated, but any investigative body is only as good as it is allowed to be, and what hope is there that Scott Morrison is going to allow an investigation with the breadth of vision required? Any reasonable inquiry would by necessity examine how we got here, and that would expose years of LNP malfeasance and political vandalism. There is no chance whatsoever that Morrison will give us what the moment demands.
We need a commission headed by a non-political appointee, its remit broad and budget broader still. We need to hear from scientists, engineers, first responders, experts. People who’ve been right before are likely to be right again. We must finally listen Ross Garnaut, who predicted exactly what we’re seeing way back in 2008. Australia needs a report back inside three months. A commitment must be made to act on the report’s recommendations, no matter the cost, no matter the politics.
None of this is going to happen. The Liberal Party and the Nationals are functionally incapable of meeting this challenge. Their most powerful players are ideologues, corrupt climate change deniers and risk report buriers, climatic lunatics running the asylum. They must be removed from power if Australia is going to face its greatest ever challenge. We need electoral reform, so that billionaires can’t buy themselves governments and so a party like the Greens get 10% of the power, to match the proportion of votes they receive. If the Governor General cannot do it, we need Australians marching in the streets until the people take control of the change we must have.
With our small population and faraway land, Australia often makes the news only when someone is attacked by a shark. This summer we’ve been on the front page of every newspaper in the world. Australia in 2020 is the home of the first existential climate change emergency. Once commonplace animals are becoming endangered. River systems die. The country is aflame. CO2 in the world’s atmosphere is 408 parts per million. The last time that happened there were trees growing at the south pole and the oceans were 60-feet higher than they are today. And there were no humans. Business as usual is not going to cut it.
At another time when the world seemed to be on the brink of collapse, Thomas Paine said ‘we have it in our power to begin the world over again’. Australians have it in our power to effect great change. To begin over again. Without it, we are lost. We need revolution.