Now is the time to talk about bushfires and climate change
As the bushfire crisis unfolded whenever anyone raised the possibility that their early arrival and ferocity might be connected to climate change they were shouted down by many politicians who loudly proclaimed that ‘now is not the time’. Yet what better time is there when public attention is firmly focussed on the issue?
Saying so will put me firmly in the sights of Michael McCormack, our local federal MP, the leader of the Nationals and Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister, who raged on ABC radio at those who dared to ask such questions are “inner city raving lunatic” and “pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies”.
The host of ABC Radio National Breakfast, Hamish Macdonald, then pointed out it wasn’t just the Greens Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt discussing the well documented link between climate change and bushfires, it was Carol Sparks, the Mayor of Glenn Innes, who linked drought, climate change and fires together after her northern New South Wales town battled a wall of flame that killed two locals.
Mr McCormack’s abusive comments are an insult to the many Australians who can read the science. Indeed, as a recent survey from JWS research found climate change was the number one voter concern.
Barnaby Joyce, not to be outdone, opined that two tragic bushfire deaths were probably because the deceased voted Green. That makes as much sense as the claim from sacked rugby union player Israel Folau that the bushfires are due to the legalisation of same-sex marriage and NSW’s decriminalisation of abortion.
Back to those politicians who are so vigorously arguing that now is not the time to talk about the link between climate change and the increasing frequency and ferocity of bushfire, let’s look at their argument.
As the Guardian Australia wrote, “Let’s be clear about what this line of argument is. It’s self-serving crap.”
For it is entirely possible to have a sensible discussion about climate change and the risks it poses, including the likelihood of longer and more intense fire seasons, and still do all the things that need to be done to protect lives and property.
We have that capability. In fact, Australia demonstrated amply over the course of the past few weeks our collective capacity to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Despite all the finger waggling from politicians the climate conversation happened in tandem with heroic efforts by emergency services workers to save lives and contain the damage when a coalition of former fire chiefs firmly refused various invitations from politicians to shut up.
Given there is no law that says bushfires preclude sensible, evidence-based policy conversations, it’s reasonable to ask why Messrs McCormack, Morrison, Ms Berejiklian et al persisted with their argument that “now is not the time”.
The answer is simple. The Lib/Nats coalition government does not want its record exposed at a time when Australians are deeply anxious, because it’s hard to control the flow of news stories in those conditions. Goodness, the people might discover how much the Coalition parties are funded by the coal industry.
Morrison & Co won’t allow the climate change discussion because the government’s record is abysmal. The Liberal and National parties have done everything within their collective power to frustrate climate action in Australia for more than a decade. They Coalition repealed the carbon price. They attempted to gut the renewable energy target. They imposed fig-leaf policies costing taxpayers billions that have failed to stop emissions rising every single quarter.
Not content with that, Morrison and his coalition ministers loudly claimed during the May election that an emissions reduction target broadly consistent with climate science would be a wrecking ball on the Australian economy.
What Australian voters needed after the election in May was a government of whatever stripe prepared to put the country on an orderly path towards decarbonisation.
But what the Coalition needed was different. It has no ambitions beyond delaying a response to climate change, maintaining a racist refugee policy and frustrating efforts at reconciliation.
Above all It wants to remain in power, and one of the major ways to power was and continues to be to convince voters that Bill Shorten was crazy and shifty about climate change and would confiscate your ute.
As the Greens and others argued, there was a climate election in May, but unfortunately the climate lost.