In full climate change-denying mode, while our country burns, Australian Federal Government politicians continue to totally ignore the crisis of climate change.
Extensive bushfires have been burning since August. This coincides with a prolonged, severe drought. It follows on years of steadily rising temperatures. Because of climate change, areas of south-eastern Australia have become hotter and drier, and this situation is only going to get worse with temperatures of 50C/132F expected to be commonly experienced in Melbourne and Sydney by 2040 unless global warming is limited to 1.5C/2.7F above pre-industrial levels.
The Climate Council of Australia says climate change is “supercharging extreme weather events, putting Australian lives, our economy and our environment at risk”.
As I write this there are 140 fires burning in the eastern states of New South Wales and Queensland. One massive fire, said to be “too big to put out,” is expected to burn for many more weeks. World Heritage areas in the Blue Mountains have been destroyed. Areas that normally would not burn, like rainforests, are burning. Since September, 2.7 million hectares (5.7 million acres) have been burnt out.
Over 1,000 homes have been lost and six people have died. Untold numbers of animals have been burned and have perished. Those animals surviving cannot find food or water. Ringed by fire, Sydney has been enveloped in a haze of smoke for weeks. The air quality there is eleven times worse than the official “hazardous” level. That’s equivalent to smoking 30 cigarettes a day. Elderly people, children and those with respiratory disorders are advised not to venture outdoors. This is the worst bushfire season in Australia’s history and all of this before summer, the usual bushfire season, which we are just entering, has even started!
Here in the “bush capital” city of Canberra, although we are not facing fires as yet, the air is thick with smoke. Those of us who have traumatic memories of either having our house burned down or narrowly escaping that fate (including this blogger) in the catastrophic 2003 Canberra bushfires, are filled with a sense of dread and uneasiness.
Scott Morrison, Prime Minister in our far-right coalition Liberal National Party, refuses to even discuss what action needs to be taken on climate change, ignorantly declaring that there is no evidence that links Australia’s carbon emissions to bushfires. In fact, there is irrefutable scientific evidence supporting complex but definite links between greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, climate change, extreme weather conditions and calamitous bushfires.
Morrison even went so far as to suggest that Australia could increase its emissions without worsening the current fire season. This is simply dishonest obfuscation based on the notion that if Australia had zero gross emissions, nothing would change because our emissions are small compared to China, India, America, etc. This deliberately misses the point that, as James Cogan points out, “The issue is not that reducing emissions would alter the situation ‘this season,’ but that the scale of reductions reluctantly agreed by governments such as Australia’s is woefully inadequate to avert catastrophic climatic consequences.” Australia needs to reduce its emissions to zero and put pressure on the rest of the world to do the same.
Morrison complacently claims that “Australia is doing enough” while we are currently the largest per-capita carbon polluter. Australia ranks high in consumption and export of animal products, which constitutes a major contribution to greenhouse gases. Livestock emissions constitute half of Australia’s national global warming impact over 20 years.
States climate councillor and former head of BP Australasia, Greg Bourne: “Australia is now the second-largest gas exporter, the second-largest thermal coal exporter and the largest metallurgical coal exporter on the planet.We push our products with the zeal of a drug lord – we do not care about the future misery we are creating.” Today, the Guardian reports that, “Australia is the worst-performing country on climate change policy, according to a new international ranking of 57 countries. The report also criticises the Morrison government for being a ‘regressive force’ internationally.”
Morrison’s government, in lockstep with him in denying that there’s any connection between climate change and the apocalyptic scale of the bushfires, have instead been busy with trying to pass a union-busting law; repealing ‘Medevac’, a law passed in March this year that allows refugees unjustly imprisoned in offshore detention centres to get medical care when they urgently need it; and reducing the number of pubic service departments. Morrison’s main personal obsession has been with trying to pass a “religious discrimination bill” which would entitle people to discriminate on the basis of religion.
So in true, far-right, capitalist sadistic form, denying medical care to desperately sick people, more union-bashing, winding back the public sector and divisively entitling people to act like bigots in the name of religion are this government’s priorities over dealing with the reality behind this mega-crisis of out-of-control fires consuming the country. Pleas for a national, coordinated response and leadership to deal with the disaster have fallen on deaf ears. Even a request for more federal government assistance for exhausted firefighters, most of whom are volunteers taking time away from work and therefore missing out on pay for weeks, has been callously rejected by Morrison, who glibly responded, “They want to be there.” These dedicated people risking their lives to fight the fires day after day have been reduced to crowd-funding and other charity drives to raise money for basics such as food and water, and even for equipment. Their immense generosity, tireless work and bravery on behalf of their community stands in sharp contrast to the cold-blooded non-response of our government, which, like all capitalist governments, puts the interests of profit for corporations and tax cuts for the wealthy ahead of the safety and health of people and animals.
Leading scientists have condemned the political inaction on climate change as Australia is incinerated. They’ve said they’re “bewildered” by the lack of attention to the crisis in parliament. Politicians of all stripes have patronisingly told us that “now is not the time to discuss climate change.” If we can’t discuss it while the country is burning, then when can we discuss it? The “opposition” Labour government postures as caring about climate change while spruiking for coal corporations. In other words, both “sides” of government are effectively, as biting comedian and social critic George Carlin famously put it, “one big club” (“and you ain’t in it!”) and that club is run by, and for the interests of, the corporations and the morbidly wealthy.
The horrors of the consequences of decades of inaction on climate change in the face of repeated, dire warnings from climate scientists are no longer something we have to try to imagine in a dystopian future. It’s here, now. And it’s frightening. Who knows what the long-term effects on our health will be from inhaling toxic smoke for weeks, which could turn into months? Food prices are projected to spike as farmers try to grow crops in water-depleted soils and all the government subsidies in the world won’t make a difference when there is no more water. We’re facing a situation where Australia could literally, in the not too distant future, run out of drinking water.
Metaphorically, Scott Morrison and his coalition government are fiddling while Australia burns. But literally, Morrison is partying while Australia burns. He was reported as recently seen, far from the scene of the inferno, at a party at the house of Lachlan Murdoch, billionaire son of billionaire media magnate Rupert Murdoch. So Morrison hobnobs with his masters while the people are losing their homes and choking on smoke.
Scott Morrison is an open admirer of the fascistic Donald Trump and shares his propensity for lying. He calls himself a “Christian” despite his government standing most conspicuously for deliberate cruelty towards the poor and vulnerable and favours for the super-wealthy, including, of course, tax cuts. He repeatedly, and arrogantly, refused to meet with 23 fire and other emergency chiefs over months of them trying to get an urgent meeting in order to warn of the very high fire risk we were facing this year due to the hot, dry conditions and the need to properly prepare. This was particularly important in view of austerity cuts over years to fire services. New South Wales and Queensland state governments cut fire services to the tune of $78 million and $13 million respectively in the past year alone. It’s because of this chronic underfunding that we are so reliant on a mostly volunteer firefighting force. The concerned fire experts say they were “locked out” of discussions.
David Ritter tells us that:
Since 2013 the prime minister and his predecessors have received at least 18 top-level expert warnings linking climate change to worsening bushfires. All have been ignored. Morrison and other political leaders have not only failed to act to reduce the emissions driving the climate emergency, they have evidently not adequately prepared for the catastrophic fire conditions that were predicted.
But not to worry, Morrison offers his “thoughts and prayers” for the victims of the fires. His brand of Christianity is of the evangelical, eschatological, “prosperity gospel” variety, one of our more toxic imports from the US. He and his fundamentalist tribe are going to be saved in “the rapture” anyway, when it comes to Armageddon, so they believe, and to hell with everyone else. How very Christian.
But this does help to explain Morrison’s constant, vacuous smirking and complete failure to appear concerned or to act, even in a token way, in the face of this emergency—that is, aside from him being a complete shill for fossil fuel companies. If as a religious zealot he sees it all culminating in some grand and glorious triumph for God’s “chosen ones,” then I suppose for him The End is something to be greatly longed for. The demise of all other sentient life on the planet is just incidental in the fulfilment of mad prophecy.
It’s largely due to the influence of these “Christian” fundamentalist climate-change deniers on the US Republican Party that the distinguished academic and leading left-wing political commentator Noam Chomsky has said that this party is “the most dangerous organisation in human history”. He asks, “Has there ever been an organisation in human history that is dedicated, with such commitment, to the destruction of human life on earth?” As a faithful lapdog of the US, our government might as well be considered a member of the death cult. A pseudo-Christian cult that ought to be relegated to the lunatic fringe of society has infiltrated government and is working hand in hand with predatory capitalism to deprive us all of a future. A more poisonous hybrid is difficult to imagine.
We need to stop imploring our “leaders” to take this problem seriously. We need to stop imagining there’s anything we can say or do that will get them to budge. We need to rid ourselves of them and replace them with a democratic socialist government run by the people, for the people, that acts on the basis of human need, not human greed. A fundamental need is a climate that supports sentient life.
Given the substantial effect of animal agriculture on global warming, any mass protests against inaction on climate change must emphasise the need to adopt a vegan diet and for government policy to reflect the reality of animal agriculture as a major driver of climate change. This would entail providing funding for education on why a vegan diet is essential to curb GHG emissions, vegan nutritional education, subsidies for plant foods and general support for a transition to a vegan diet. However, without a critical mass of individuals who’ve themselves already made the change to a vegan diet, who then exert pressure on the government, this isn’t going to happen regardless of whether we have a capitalist or a democratic socialist government.
Socialism in itself doesn’t automatically translate to policies supporting transition to a vegan diet. That would still require pressure from concerned citizens. And although politicians’ current fealty to fossil fuel corporations means it’s difficult to imagine how we can cut GHG emissions from fossil fuels without turfing out capitalist governments, living under a capitalist government in no way prevents us from reducing emissions from animal agriculture by going vegan. It’s an individual choice we can make completely independent of governments and their glacial or non-existent pace of change.
So the onus is on us to take grassroots action—stop consuming animal products and advocate that others do the same. It makes no sense to pressure the government to do their part if we refuse to do ours.
And after decades of intransigent denial and inaction, exemplified by the obdurate failure of the Australian government, do we really want to exclusively hitch our future to venal politicians and their incorrigibly corrupt governments? As far as climate crisis is concerned, it’s time to take matters into our own hands, by ditching animal products once and for all, an action that is completely feasible for the vast majority of people.
Adopting a vegan diet is the single most effective thing we can all do to avert climate change catastrophe, and we ought to be doing this as a priority. Even if the government refuses to act, we can act, now, by going vegan. Going vegan isn’t the entire solution to climate change, but it’s an important part of the solution, and is something we are all free to do, immediately, which can yield a significant impact. There are no good excuses to abrogate our responsibility in this, while we wait for governments to do something, and while time is fast running out.
As futile as it may often appear, we do need to keep up mass pressure on governments, including replacing them if necessary, to do the things to mitigate GHGs that only governments can do. This will require protests, strikes and civil disobedience. But to do this while continuing to contribute to the problem by supporting animal agriculture with our food and other consumer choices makes no sense.
In later essays I’ll discuss the link between animal agriculture, non-veganism and climate change. I’ll also discuss why, if you’re disturbed by the reality I’ve reported on here—not just by the fact of climate change but by the immoral failure of government to act to avert climate change catastrophe—you are obliged to go vegan.
By Linda McKenzie
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