Despite soaring rhetoric about Australian values and the absolute priority of securing the future of the Australian people, it is crystal clear that the federal government, the opposition and much of our corporate and media leadership have absolutely no understanding of the greatest threat facing this country, namely human-induced climate change. Having dug themselves a massive climate denial hole, and lacking the honesty to climb out, they are now intent on dragging the rest of the community down with them.
Not so the mayor of Glen Innes Severn Council. Coming to grips with the loss of lives and properties in her community in this weekend's devastating fires, Carol Sparks had no doubt of the emergency we face. "We are so impacted by drought and the lack of rain," she said. "It's climate change, there's no doubt about it. The whole of the country is going to be affected. We need to take a serious look at our future."
As the mayor indicated, the key immediate threats are drought, water availability and the absence of any realistic climate change and energy policy. Climate change is the driver behind all three, whose impact has increased remorselessly since John Howard initiated Australia's dominant climate denial mindset, and masterly inaction, in the 1990s. To the point that lives are now being lost, livelihoods destroyed and large parts of Australia condemned to economic and social decline.
For three decades, attempts to use science, evidence and rational debate to gain political and corporate commitment to urgent action have failed abysmally in the face of massed fossil fuel interests, supposed "conservatism" and political self-interest - determined to preserve our high-carbon "status quo" whatever the cost to the community. Leaders have been repeatedly warned of the risks, but deliberately chosen to ignore them. We are now paying the price, and impacts will get much worse, absent emergency action.
The scientific rationale for emergency action has been well established for years. The world is currently on track for a temperature increase of 4.5 degrees by 2100 which would trigger global collapse long beforehand. Even if the Paris Climate Agreement voluntary commitments were implemented, and there is little sign of that happening, temperature increase would be 3.5 degrees probably long before 2100, a world of social chaos. A 1.5 degree increase, which now implies extremely dangerous climate change, is assured by 2030, irrespective of any action taken.
And yet the denial escalates. Asked if there was any link between climate change and the fires, the Prime Minister dodged the question. "My only thoughts today are with those who have lost their lives and their families, the firefighters who are fighting the fires [and] the response effort that has to be delivered."
He lectures the UN that "Australia is doing its bit on climate change". Minister Taylor assures us that Australia will meet it wholly inadequate Paris emission reduction commitments "at a canter" when it is patently obvious it will not, even including unused Kyoto carryover credits. Emissions, we are told, are falling when they are going up. Minister Hawke insists the Australian government is doing "more than anyone else" on climate change. So the propaganda ramps up, completely ignoring reality.
The facts are that Australia, on any objective measure, is abjectly failing to contribute its fair share to global climate action. Not just failing, but adding fuel to the fire by attempting to massively expand coal and gas use when emissions must now fall dramatically if even worse catastrophes are to be avoid than those already happening. We are not "just 1.3 per cent of global emissions"; if the government has its way, we will shortly be the third largest carbon polluter in the world if exports are included, which is the only realistic way of assessing our climate impact.
The Prime Minister's knee-jerk response to mounting pressure for climate action is to invoke the perennial defence of national sovereignty to stop dastardly "global institutions" from interfering in our affairs; always handy when you have been caught with your pants down.
Sorry Prime Minister, climate change is a global problem which requires cooperation as never before. Without it we are headed for global collapse. Nobody is seeking to "elevate global institutions above the authority of nation states". It is the nation states that are failing their communities.
People are waking up to that reality. As disasters mount, global protest at the inaction and climate denial of political, business and media leaders is escalating rapidly. From the schoolchildren strikes, to Greta Thunberg's impassioned pleas and increasing civil disobedience from groups like Extinction Rebellion, community anger is rising.
Responsible politicians would not to fall into the trap of banning protest as the Prime Minister proposes, not dodge an opportunity to make the case for action, but face up to the abject failure of imagination and leadership which has characterised politics around this issue for decades, and commit to a genuine emergency response, akin to wartime. The solutions offer great opportunity, but implementation requires denialist politicians to get out of the way and let real Australian innovation take over. Most importantly, start addressing the real cause and stop the political blame game over the symptoms.
We are not going to sit as rabbits in the headlights to be run over by the climate leviathan at the behest of self-centred politics. Expect more protest, not less.
- Ian Dunlop was formerly an international oil, gas and coal industry executive, chair of the Australian Coal Association and chief executive of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. He is co-author of What Lies Beneath: the understatement of existential climate risk, and of the Club of Rome's Climate Emergency Plan.
- SMH/The Age