February 2020Opinion2020

Why Australia May Never Stop Burning

Axel Sontgerath
Staff Writer

Over the course of the past four months, the world bore witness to an unprecedented climate disaster in Australia. Over 16 million acres burned and counting, these mega-bushfires have reminded the world of climate change’s violent global effects.

What is most worrisome, however, is not that climate change exists and along with-it climate disasters — those are global issues that have tangible solutions — it is the lack of reply from those who bear the responsibility of finding the tangible solutions. The leaders of the world are not only failing us in this regard, but they are blatantly staring us in the face and telling us they do not care. Australia’s prime minister is no exception to this form of corrosive political rot.

When referring to the new reality of both the ecosystem and the communities affected by the fires, Danielle Celermajer, a professor of sociology at the University of Sydney specializing in human rights, invoked the term “omnicide”, The New York Times reports. Omnicide is the killing of everything. Billions of animals, by some estimates, “bloating and rotting,” have perished or are facing starvation or dehydration in devastated habitats.

The NYT included that hundreds of Indigenous cultural and spiritual sites are damaged or destroyed, with more than 2,500 homes leveled to their foundations. Smoke generated by the fires have covered Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra, at times giving them some of the worst air quality in the world. The prolonged exposure of smoke to millions of people has raised fears of health effects that cannot be determined for years, The Sydney Herald says.

The NYT added that the destruction is not confined to the homes and wildlife; the economic costs are enough that local communities may never recover. There are over $100 billion Australian dollars ($68 billion USD) in damages, and many locals don’t have the necessary means to rebuild what has been lost.

Why are these fires so particularly disastrous? According to a report from the New York Times, its climate change has set the table. Australia is used to hot summers, but climate change is bringing longer and more frequent periods of extreme heat. Last year was the hottest and driest year on record for Australia, and along with it comes high temperatures, strong winds, and extremely dry forests. All Australia needed to ignite the worst natural disaster it has ever known were a few lightning strikes, the main cause of these fires.

Many would see this disaster and assume that Australia’s government would immediately react to this disaster and catapult itself forward as the leading country fighting against climate change and for the world economy to decarbonize its industries. Those people have had the fortune of not hearing about Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Mr. Morrison is a special kind of political refuse. He has looked at his constituency in the face and told them, while their world is burning around them, Australia is only responsible for 1.3% of the carbon emissions, as if any effort towards curbing emissions is irrelevant, The Guardian reports. This is surprisingly progressive for him, as he just recently reversed his claim that climate change and the bushfires are not linked.

Despite its apparent irrelevance, Mr. Morrison stood tall and told his people that Australia is on track to “meet and beat” its pledge under the 2015 Paris climate accord. The pledge is pitiful, with Australia promising to cut 2005-level greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% before 2030, said The New York Times. Experts have claimed Mr. Morrison’s statement to be false. On current trends, from a study by Ndevr Environmental Consultants, an environmental auditing company, calculated that the 2030 target won’t be met until 2098.

In sum, Mr. Morrison is lying to his people and doing nothing constructive or helpful to aid in preventing further disasters. So, what is the Prime Minister actually doing? According to a recent United Nations report, Australia is undertaking “one of the world’s largest fossil fuel expansions”’ with proposals for 53 new coal mines. These projects will be continued under the current Prime Minister. The projects aside, Australia’s fossil fuel industry is already massive, thanks to enormous taxpayer subsidies—around $29 million in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund. This means that every Australian citizen is paying $1,198 to fund their own climate fueled annihilation.

It is no coincidence that Mr. Morrison’s senior staff and key ministers are former fossil fuel executives or have ties to the industry. It is no coincidence that fossil fuel companies are major donors to his campaigns. Shockingly, as it stands there are no measures being taken to contain or reduce carbon emissions on a domestic level. That is no coincidence either.

In an opinion piece in The Guardian, Mr. Morrison should have listened to all those who warned him earlier in the summer, instead, he decided to take a trip to Hawaii in December of 2019, while his country suffered from the violent fires. This is the summation of his character. He hides from the issue while others face the brunt of the damage. He insists that Australia will simply “adapt to climate change”, instead of focusing on decoupling from the fossil fuel industry.

According to The Guardian, Australia has the highest emissions per capita of all major nations. The average Australian has four times the carbon footprint of the average global citizen. That is going to take serious public policy to reverse. Under this current Prime Minister, that will not happen.

The severity of the science and its predictions, coupled with the brutal and unprecedented fires, should make any logical and reasonable individual leading the affected country immediately rush to action. Put in place a carbon tax, end fossil fuel programs, and shift the taxpayer subsidies to fund renewable industries, for instance. That individual would go to the climate talks in November and fight to cut carbon emissions around the world. They would see that if they do not contribute and enact constructive policy, their country will surely be destroyed. According to American climatologist Michael Mann speaking with Reuters, it is conceivable that this will already be the case in the coming decade. In a perfect world, Mr. Morrison would be that reasonable individual. Unfortunately, in the world we currently find ourselves in, he is not.

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