Since last weekend, more than 70 fires have surged across Australia’s drought-ravaged East Coast, destroying hundreds of homes and tragically claiming lives in their wake.
The current fire emergency comes weeks before predicted summer heatwaves and sounds the alarm for what is expected to be one of Australia’s worst fire seasons.
As deadly fires rage across Eastern Australia and Sydney declares a “catastrophic” fire warning, our political leaders appear cornered in their own web of climate change emergency denialism.
When asked by reporters this week about the link between climate change and the unprecedented bushfire emergency in NSW and Queensland, the Prime Minister dodged the question.
“I’m focused on the needs of the people in this room today, as is the Premier,” Mr Morrison said.
He later tweeted that “our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been so directly and horribly impacted by these fires.” The social media backlash was swift, with some commentators noting that Australians won’t be impressed by “folksy platitudes” when they remember that this is the same PM who waved a lump of coal in the parliament and steadfastly refuses to declare a climate emergency.
Deputy PM Michael McCormack went further by dismissed those who dare raise climate change as a factor in the fires as being “the ravings of some pure enlightened and woke capital city greenies”. One wonders if Mr McCormack counts Australia’s own Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) as among those inner city woke greenies?
If he had read BOM’s government-sponsored climate science reports he would know that they have been warning about the impacts of climate change on severe weather across Australia for many years — noting that: “climate change is influencing the frequency and severity of dangerous bushfire conditions in Australia.”
What Mr McCormack may not have expected was the immediate response from rural bushfire victims and the mayors of fire-ravaged areas of regional NSW who are in no doubt that climate change is playing a central role in the blazes ravaging the state.
Mayor Carol Sparks from the NSW town of Glen Innes, where two people died in blazes over the weekend, directly called on Mr McCormack to refer to the science of climate change before commenting further. “I think Mr McCormack needs to read the science,” she said. “It’s not a political thing — it is a scientific fact they we are going through climate change.
Yet, as our leaders deny and dither, in the lead up to Australia’s early and catastrophic fire season, we have seen unprecedented numbers of people taking to the streets to demand climate action in a surge of climate activism.
From School Strikes that saw hundreds of thousands of young people demonstrating for action, to Extinction Rebellion activists taking non-violent disruptive actions in cities all over the world, to businesses like Qantas this week pledging to go carbon neutral by 2050(in line with pledges from New Zealand and the UK) — people of all walks of life are taking matters into their own hands while the Australian government seems stuck in a state of climate-denial paralysis.
Just last week the Prime Minister threatened that the government would now move to outlaw “selfish and indulgent” efforts by businesses and environmental groups to pressure companies to quit climate-polluting industries through rallies and boycotts.
“A new breed of radical activism is the on the march,” thundered the Prime Minister. “Apocalyptic in tone. Brooks no compromise. All or nothing… The right to protest does not mean there is an unlimited license to disrupt people’s lives. I am very concerned about this new form of progressivism,” Mr Morrison said.
Even as parts of Australia burn and regional leaders demand the Australian government pay proper heed to the science of climate change, our political leaders simply can’t get past our nation’s coal fetishism. The reason? Australia remains the world’s largest exporter — the co-mingling of mining interests with perceived national interests remains a defining benchmark of modern conservative politics in Australia.
Last week John Howard, the godfather of Australian conservatism, made this plain at the Sino-Australasian entrepreneurs conference, noting that: “it is passing strange to me that some Australians talk about phasing out coal. For heaven’s sake it is one of our great assets.”
That’s why our current Prime Minister would rather dodge tricky questions on climate change as fires rage across the country, and why he would move to squash political dissent as soon as it’s seen to be effective in derailing the government’s pro-coal agenda.
That’s why the Deputy PM would rather stereotype people who care about climate change as “woke inner-city greenies” rather than facing up to the realities of what the science is telling us — that we don’t stand a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change without ending our reliance on coal.
As so as we bear witness to disastrous bushfires across the country that have resulted in the tragic loss of three lives, in which hundreds have lost their homes and countless animals have perished — it should come as no surprise to a government still so beholden to the coal industry that so many people are now choosing to rebel.