SYDNEY, Jan 6, 2020, News.com.au. The rest of the world is still transfixed by Australia’s bushfire crisis. The fires were mentioned multiple times during the Golden Globes today, with the likes of Pierce Brosnan, Ellen DeGeneres, Patricia Arquette and Cate Blanchett chiming in with messages of support, News.com.au reported.
And overseas media outlets continue to dissect Australia’s response to the crisis – often in strikingly harsh terms.
According to The Atlantic, Australia is “caught in a climate spiral” partly of its own creation.
“Australia is buckling under the conditions that its fossil fuels have helped bring about. Perhaps the two biggest kinds of climate calamity happening today have begun to afflict the continent,” Robinson Meyer wrote.
Those two calamities are, first, the bushfires, and, second, the “irreversible scouring of the earth’s most distinctive ecosystems” – in our case, the Great Barrier Reef.
“Perhaps more than any other wealthy nation on earth, Australia is at risk from the dangers of climate change,” Meyer wrote.
“It has spent most of the 21st century in a historic drought. Its tropical oceans are more endangered than any other biome by climate change. Its people are clustered along the temperate and tropical coasts, where rising seas threaten major cities. Those same bands of liveable land are the places either now burning or at heightened risk of bushfire in the future.
“Faced with such geographical challenges, Australia’s people might rally to reverse these dangers. Instead, they have elected leaders with other priorities.”
Much of the article focused on our reliance on coal exports for economic growth.
“Australia is the world’s second-largest exporter of coal power, and it has avoided recession for the past 27 years in part by selling coal,” Meyer said.
“Australia will continue to burn, and its coral will continue to die. Perhaps this episode will prompt the more pro-carbon members of Australia’s parliament to accede to some climate policy. Or perhaps Prime Minister Morrison will distract from any link between the disaster and climate change, as President Donald Trump did when he inexplicably blamed California’s 2018 blazes on the state’s failure to rake forest floors.”
Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes during the California fires, which burned more than 700,000 hectares. Ninety-seven residents died.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Mr Trump said at the time.
“Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests.”
For the record, Mr Morrison has acknowledged the link between climate change and Australia’s current bushfires, though he has also said hazard reduction burning is the issue raised with him “most commonly” by fire-affected communities.
Meyer went on to speculate the fires could push Australia’s politics “in an even more besieged and retrograde direction”, empowering politicians to “fight any change at all”.
“And so maybe Australia will find itself stuck in the climate spiral, clinging ever more tightly to coal as its towns and cities choke on the ash of a burning world.”
Elsewhere, CNN’s Angela Dewan wrote a piece wondering whether Australia could afford to continue on its current trajectory.
“The devastation and persistent clouds of toxic smoke hanging over major towns and cities are begging the question, can Australia’s way of life go on?” she said.
“Australia’s political inaction on climate change can be hard to understand. Famous for its natural beauty, the country suffers annual fires and intense drought. It is regularly smashing heat records, and its rain patterns are becoming less predictable. Its seasons are beginning to look a little back to front.
“If Australians want to retain their quality of life, they must consider climate change policies that not only address fires but also other pollutants, such as traffic and industry.”
Dewan said Mr Morrison “should be worried” about what Australians think of him in towns like Cobargo, where he got such a hostile reception last week.
Furious locals, some of whom had lost their homes, shouted at Mr Morrison and refused to shake his hand. Their chief complaint was insufficient funding for the Rural Fire Service.
The most strident critique of the Government, however, came from Australian novelist Richard Flanagan, writing for The New York Times under the apocalyptic headline: “Australia is committing climate suicide.”
“Australia today is ground zero for the climate catastrophe,” Flanagan said.
“Its glorious Great Barrier Reef is dying, its world heritage rainforests 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.
“Incredibly, the response of Australia’s leaders to this unprecedented national crisis has been not to defend their country but to defend the fossil fuel industry, a big donor to both major parties – as if they were willing the country to its doom.
“While the fires were exploding in mid-December, the leader of the opposition Labor Party went on a tour of coal mining communities expressing his unequivocal support for coal exports.
“The Prime Minister, the conservative Scott Morrison, went on vacation to Hawaii.”
Mr Albanese did voice his support for coal exports – to an extent – before departing on his Queensland tour last month.
“If Australia stopped exporting today there would not be less demand for coal – the coal would come from a different place,” he said.
“So it would not reduce emissions, which has to be the objective. I don’t see a contradiction between that and having a strong climate change policy.
“The proposal that we immediately stop exporting coal would damage our economy and would not have any environmental benefit.”
Flanagan continued his piece by citing a comment from Channel 10’s Hugh Riminton, saying Australia is a “burning nation led by cowards”.
“To which he might have added ‘idiots’, after Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack blamed the fires on exploding horse manure,” he said.
“Such are those who would open the gates of hell and lead a nation to commit climate suicide.”
He finished with a remarkably provocative comparison between Australia’s current crisis and the Soviet Union in its final years.
“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,” Flanagan claimed.
“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.
“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?”