My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for today

by ray goodlass

Why don’t we treat the climate crisis with the same urgency as coronavirus?

It is a global emergency that has already killed on a mass scale and threatens to send millions more to early graves. As its effects spread, it will destabilise entire economies and overwhelm poorer countries lacking resources and infrastructure.

I’m not referring to the coronavirus pandemic, but to the climate crisis. In 2018, more than 60 million people suffered the consequences of extreme weather and climate change.

Yet our federal government seems oblivious to the greater threat posed by global warming. For the coronavirus pandemic Scotty from Marketing has launched a $2.4 billion health package, and with much ballyhoo $17.6 billion worth of economic stimulus, which thankfully does include a $750 cash handout at a cost of $4.8 billion to welfare recipients. Too little too late, but better than I was expecting.

As the DA editorial noted last Friday, and only referring to the coronavirus and the bushfires, our government’s “responses are worlds apart”.

Referring to the wider issue of climate change, in contrast to the virus, we have seen zilch about mitigating and adapting to the climate crisis, except waffle about vague future technological developments. Scotty from Marketing’s response to the bushfires was to offer some businesses financial support but did nothing to address the underlying cause, the climate crisis.

Though hundreds of thousands have succumbed to coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization, air pollution alone, just one aspect of our existential planetary climate crisis, kills seven million people every year. There have been no COAG meetings for the climate crisis, no sombre prime ministerial statements detailing the emergency action being taken to reassure the public.

In time we’ll overcome the coronavirus pandemic, but with the climate crisis, we are already out of time. All that is left are hopes of adapting to the inevitably disastrous consequences hurrying towards us.

While coronavirus is understandably and justifiably treated as an imminent danger, the climate crisis is still presented by the government and most media as an abstraction whose consequences are decades away.

Perhaps when unprecedented bushfires ravaged large parts of Australia recently there could have been an urgent conversation about how the climate crisis was fueling extreme weather and a plan to mitigate it, yet there wasn’t. Scientific and veterans’ advice was ignored in favour of stories blaming arsonists or the Greens for having a policy against hazard reduction by burning off, when in fact they have a very definite policy in favour.

But imagine that we felt the same sense of emergency about the climate crisis as we do about coronavirus. What action would we take? A judicious response to global heating would provide affordable transport, well-insulated homes, skilled green jobs and clean air.

The Greens have a plan to reach 100% renewable energy by 2030, and to help get there, in this state PowerNSW will run annual competitive tenders to award contracts for the construction of low cost renewable energy projects in NSW, including wind and solar. Naturally, coal mining will cease by 2030.

A fully costed training program to re-skill affected workers would be implemented, along with schemes to place them in comparable jobs of the new industries.

Which leads to a ‘bleeding obvious’ difference between a medical pandemic and climate change – mitigating the latter will create many new enterprises, including thousands of new jobs, with plenty of opportunities for those affected by closing down the old polluting industries. If the government treats it with the same urgency as it has the coronavirus, that is.

There is a key difference between coronavirus and the climate crisis, of course, and it is in timing. “We didn’t know coronavirus was coming,” said the New Economic Foundation’s Alfie Stirling. “We’ve known the climate crisis was on the cards for 30 or 40 years.” And yet the government can swiftly announce an emergency pandemic plan.

Coronavirus poses many challenges and threats, but few opportunities. Urgent action to prevent a pandemic is of course necessary and pressing. But the climate crisis represents a far graver and deadlier existential threat, and yet the same sense of urgency is absent. Coronavirus shows it can be done. It needed determination and will power but when it comes to the future of our planet, these qualities are desperately lacking.