This is the Cabinet of the Australian Government. These people lead the Government, develop policy, plan legislation and lead the various Government Departments which have responsibility for (among other things) trade, commerce, agriculture, social services and foreign affairs. The Government also has a role in health and environmental issues (which are more directly the responsibility of the states).
So the government is responsible to care for the people, the country and the economy.
Yet it is clear they are not doing this with due diligence, and are gambling with Australia’s future for the sake of short term political and financial gain.
Let me explain why I say this. (Those of you from other countries will find plenty here that applies to you too!)
Short term gain (for a few) leading to long term pain (for the many)
I’m talking about the Government’s inaction on climate change. This post can only be a brief summary, but I am documenting all of this in a series of pages on Climate change.
The galling truth seems to be that the Government, supported by sections of the media, are lying to the Australian people about the evidence for climate change and the inadequate actions they are taking. As a result, they are playing their part in condemning Australia to a bleaker future than need be.
And yet they could be responding constructively for the people, the land and the economy, as I’ll also show you.
Here’s the evidence.
It’s getting hot in here!
Incredibly, there are still those in the government who profess to believe that climate change is a hoax. My local member is one of them, and it seems whenever there is some colder weather, he puts out a Facebook comment about how the drop in temperature shows the folly of global warming. He ignores the obvious trend of sharply rising temperatures and the fact that one of the predictions of climate science is that there will be greater variability in the weather as well as rising temperatures.
By allowing climate change deniers in the Government to be so vocal, the Government continues to allow the issue to appear to be uncertain (when in fact the science is very clear), which means its inaction doesn’t appear to be quite so foolish.
Damaging Australia ….
The Government’s inaction, combined with slow action globally, is already harming Australian farmers, businesses and ordinary people.
A large proportion of Australia’s productive agriculture occurs in the south east of the continent. It is currently significantly affected by drought, made worse by climate change. Climate models predict that the same area, especially in the south, will experience reduced rainfall in the future. Droughts will be longer, rainfall will tend to occur in shorter, more intense, events, and more extreme and detrimental temperatures will be experienced. These changes will make farming even more uncertain than it currently is.
Traditionally, farmers receive government “drought relief” when things are tough, to enable them to stay on their feet until better days come. But the reality is that better days are going to be less and less, and many farmers will need to change their operation and likely change their business to survive in drier times. To do this, they will need government assistance. So drought relief ought increasingly be used to develop new business models and farming methods. But the lukewarm response to climate change by our government doesn’t provide enough leadership and encouragement for farmers to make the necessary changes.
As a result, I think it is fair to say that the government coalition, which includes a party supposed to represent farmers and other rural residents, is allowing a situation to develop where the farmers will face more difficulties and heartache than they need to.
Summer bushfires are a part of Australian life, and Australia’s emergency response is now well-tuned. But the worst fires can still be disastrous – the “Black Saturday” fires of 2009 killed 180 people. But because of climate change, the bushfire season is getting worse, starting much earlier (in the middle of winter!) and producing more intense fires. The former NSW Fire and Rescue Commissioner, Greg Mullins, has said:
“This is part of a long-term trend, being driven by climate change. Australia’s bushfire seasons are starting earlier, becoming more severe and lasting longer than ever before …. The burning of coal, oil and gas, is warming the world, worsening extreme weather and putting people in danger – and Australia is ill prepared.”
The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of northern Australia, is the world’s largest coral reef system, 2,300 km long, and reputedly the only living organism visible from space. It is a hugely important ecosystem, habitat to a large number of birds and fish, including some threatened species, and has been given World Heritage status. It also generates important tourism income, so that reef’s economic contribution has been valued at $6.4 bn each year.
Yet more than half the reef coral has been lost in the past 3 decades. There are many causes of this (e.g. pollution, over-fishing), but the largest problem is considered to be climate change – the warming waters bleach and eventually kill the coral. Yet the Australian and Queensland governments are willing to put the reef at risk by allowing new mining and port facilities in the area, and by their inaction on climate change.
Tourism is Australia’s second largest export earner, employing more than half a million people. But many tourist destinations are threatened by extreme temperatures, increased flooding, rising ocean water levels and a shortened ski season.
Climate change is having a discernible effect on Australians’ health. Heatwaves cost more lives than all other natural hazards combined, and they are becoming “longer, hotter, and more frequent”. And rising temperatures increase the prevalence of some infectious diseases.
Local and even total species loss is another likely effect of climate change. Even small changes in temperature and rainfall can have significant impacts on the viability of many species in an area. Habitat is likely to be affected by rising ocean levels, changes in flooding regimes and vegetation changes. In addition to the effects on coral in the Great Barrier reef, scientists have concluded that many vegetation and animal species will have to adapt, relocate or face extinction.
Sea level rise
Rising sea levels threaten many costal ecosystems and development. Increased storm severity resulting in wave damage will affect, and even destroy, much coastal development.
See no evil, hear no evil?
The government professes to be concerned about the impacts of climate change, and claims to have an effective plan to address it. But whatever else we can say, we can know they are not actually addressing the problem. This graph shows that the Coalition parties have presided over increases in emissions, and only the Labor government of 2007-2012 has reduced emissions.
Short term gain
The government’s response to the climate facts and predictions has been varied. Some parliamentarians say it isn’t happening, contradicting their own government’s position and information. The most common claim is that they are addressing the problem adequately, and will meet all necessary targets – Prime Minister Scott Morrison said recently: “Australia is doing our part to cut global emissions”. We have seen that neither of these two claims stacks up and the government’s response is misleading the Australian people. This graph shows the present trajectory of emissions (in green and blue) and the trajectory necessary to meet our targets (red and purple).
A more honest response has been for several prominent members of the government to say that the government is not willing to harm the Australian economy and shut down the coal industry to combat climate change, despite that being the most important step in cutting carbon emissions.
There would obviously be an economic cost to achieve adequate climate targets, but cynics point to a cosy relationship between the coal industry and the Prime Minister, who has several former coal industry figures among his senior staff, and who once carried a lump of coal into parliament to “prove” it wasn’t a dangerous mineral.
The opposition party has similarly refused to support a wind-down of the coal industry.
The Prime Minister’s Liberal Party has the slogan Building our economy, Securing your future on the front page of its website, yet all the scientific predictions point to an accurate statement being Building our friends’ finances, ruining your future.
It is a difficult position for a government, because taking anything other than the selfish short term course would bring down the ire of the poisonous conservative Australian media. Nevertheless, it is short term thinking, when the government should be caring for the long term interests of the country.
Climate change is a real global emergency, and Australia, though a small country in population, is one of the highest per capita carbon emitters in the world. The only solution is for all countries to play their part, and the biggest emitters must set the example.
Not acting now really will cause serious problems later.
Is this an issue for christians?
This is God’s world we are so profligately destroying, and God’s people in at-risk locations who we are condemning to death, dislocation or severe poverty. Jesus commands us to love our neighbour (Matthew 22:37-40), not destroy their lives, and he says if we love him we’ll keep his commands (John 14:15).
It is particularly galling to me that our Prime Minister professes to be a committed christian, yet seems willing to be part of inflicting such harm on his neighbours and the world.
Next post, I’ll examine the impacts globally, and look at what can and should be done. You might also like to read more in these pages:
- Is the world really heating up? The first page in my new analysis of the problem.
- Climate change. Index page for this new series.
Photo: The Cabinet of the Australian Government, from the website of the Prime Minister.