A novelist has the words to best describe it:
Australia today is ground zero for the climate catastrophe. Its glorious Great Barrier Reef is dying, its world-heritage rain forests are burning, its giant kelp forests have largely vanished, numerous towns have run out of water or are about to, and now the vast continent is burning on a scale never before seen.
The images of the fires are a cross between “Mad Max” and “On the Beach”: thousands driven onto beaches in a dull orange haze, crowded tableaux of people and animals almost medieval in their strange muteness — half-Bruegel, half-Bosch, ringed by fire, survivors’ faces hidden behind masks and swimming goggles. Day turns to night as smoke extinguishes all light in the horrifying minutes before the red glow announces the imminence of the inferno. Flames leaping 200 feet into the air. Fire tornadoes. Terrified children at the helm of dinghies, piloting away from the flames, refugees in their own country.
The fires have already burned about 14.5 million acres — an area almost as large as West Virginia, more than triple the area destroyed by the 2018 fires in California and six times the size of the 2019 fires in Amazonia. Canberra’s air on New Year’s Day was the most polluted in the world partly because of a plume of fire smoke as wide as Europe.
Scientists estimate that close to half a billion native animals have been killed and fear that some species of animals and plants may have been wiped out completely. Surviving animals are abandoning their young in what is described as mass “starvation events.” At least 18 people are dead and grave fears are held about many more.
All this, and peak fire season is only just beginning.
Flanagan, Richard. 2020. “Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide.” The New York Times, January 4, 2020, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/03/opinion/australia-fires-climate-change.html. (With thanks to the reader who sent me a link to this article.)
And our faith-infused prime minister, Scott Morrison, as per one of the videos posted in the previous post, tells us that we have always had to face disasters and challenges of one kind or another, and this is no different, and we will, as we have beaten other challenges, likewise rise up and beat this one. He is not talking about climate change. He is talking about the historic catastrophic fire season in Australia as if its a one-off.
After yesterday’s post another video emerged that shows the PM getting a bit of humiliating flack for a change.
In my previous post I dwelt on the PM’s faith perspective. I think it’s fair to say he does not believe in evolution nor that the Bible has anything to say about climate change. Richard Flanagan’s article reminded me of another more material factor that attracted an inordinate amount of attention in the last election:
In no small part Mr. Morrison owes his narrow election victory last year to the coal-mining oligarch Clive Palmer, who formed a puppet party to keep the Labor Party — which had been committed to limited but real climate-change action — out of government. Mr. Palmer’s advertising budget for the campaign was more than double that of the two major parties combined. Mr. Palmer subsequently announced plans to build the biggest coal mine in Australia.
Clive Palmer has a deep record of dishonesty in business and with clients that surely rivals Donald Trump’s. The poster above shows how attached he was to imitating his U.S. alter ego in that election campaign.
Palmer himself had no chance of becoming PM but his votes lent support to the Scott Morrison government. Who is Scott Morrison? He is acceptable to many Australians as a PM because he is said to be “authentic”. Yes, he’s a “daggy dad” and even a pentecostal, but Australians are a tolerant lot and can accept neighbours down the street who are like that. We have proven we are just as likely to vote for atheists and, god-forbid, unmarried women, as prime ministers. What is Morrison’s political background? I have never liked him for the reason given by Flanagan:
Mr. Morrison made his name as immigration minister, perfecting the cruelty of a policy that interns refugees in hellish Pacific-island camps, and seems indifferent to human suffering. Now his government has taken a disturbing authoritarian turn, cracking down on unions, civic organizations and journalists. Under legislation pending in Tasmania, and expected to be copied across Australia, environmental protesters now face up to 21 years in jail for demonstrating.
“Australia is a burning nation led by cowards,” wrote the leading broadcaster Hugh Riminton, speaking for many. To which he might have added “idiots,” after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack blamed the fires on exploding horse manure.
Such are those who would open the gates of hell and lead a nation to commit climate suicide.
Most Australians want serious action on climate change. I’m keeping a close eye on Extinction Rebellion (Australian branch) with a view to contributing actively to that movement — I took special notice of them at the same time as Morrison who wanted to limit their ability to make a public impact with their activism. Scott Morrison and his party appear to be firmly indebted to contributions from the coal industry. I understand that the opposition party has also begun taking significant donations from that industry.
The situation is eerily reminiscent of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, when the ruling apparatchiks were all-powerful but losing the fundamental, moral legitimacy to govern. In Australia today, a political establishment, grown sclerotic and demented on its own fantasies, is facing a monstrous reality which it has neither the ability nor the will to confront.
Mr. Morrison may have a massive propaganda machine in the Murdoch press and no opposition, but his moral authority is bleeding away by the hour. On Thursday, after walking away from a pregnant woman asking for help, he was forced to flee the angry, heckling residents of a burned-out town. A local conservative politician described his own leader’s humiliation as “the welcome he probably deserved.”
As Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, once observed, the collapse of the Soviet Union began with the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. In the wake of that catastrophe, “the system as we knew it became untenable,” he wrote in 2006. Could it be that the immense, still-unfolding tragedy of the Australian fires may yet prove to be the Chernobyl of climate crisis?
P.S. I recall the days when an election was about advancing a more humane, just and sustainable society. Today, the debates seem to have very little imagination beyond the theme of “economic growth”, led, of course, by mining giants et al.
Flanagan, Richard. 2020. “Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide.” The New York Times, January 4, 2020, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/03/opinion/australia-fires-climate-change.html.
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