Joyce Fang writes a scything indictment on her government’s environmental failures of the decade as we move into 2020 with the heat of the Australian bushfire disaster.
Mr. Red Sky please tell us why/
You had to hide away for so long (so long)/
Where did we go wrong?/
This festive period has sat unwell in the minds of millions of Australians. As we have been celebrating Christmas and welcoming a new year, the back of our throats has been filled with literal smoke that stings with the sour taste of betrayal from a negligent government.
This bushfire season in Australia has been worse than any ever experienced before. The situation has been worsening since the fires began in July, 3 months earlier than usual. 5.9 million hectares of land have been burnt with the flames spreading more day by day. That’s the equivalent of over half of Europe being burnt. From red skies, gas explosions, cities blanketed in smoke and ash falling like rain, the scenes coming out of the country belong to a dystopian film. There have been colossal impacts across the eastern and southern states, with the horrific destruction of properties, and the loss of wild and human life. The fires are even creating their own weather systems, with phenomena such as fire tornadoes and dry lightning (which are as terrifying as they sound). Many scientists have emphasised the influence of climate change in facilitating record breaking temperatures, extended drought and strong winds which have provided ideal conditions for the large exacerbation of the fires.
My social media feed is an uninterrupted stream of videos and reports of the fires, and although staying in Europe these holidays can be viewed as a welcome respite, the new year begs reflection and attention to the situation in the country I have grown up in, and the one so many of my loved ones still live in.
As we farewell 2019, we say farewell also to perhaps the worst decade in Australian political history. A decade marked by an incredibly unstable coalition government from the get-go that has seen half a dozen prime ministers. A decade of ignorance and denial and an absolute failure of our leadership to rise up in the face of our changing climate, the most significant challenge of our time and one that is exacerbating the fires. From the Liberal front bench tear down of the Labor carbon price (the only policy in Australian history to have ever reduced carbon emissions), to then-treasurer Scott Morrison brandishing a piece of coal in parliament, to underfunding the CSIRO, cancelling the Climate Commission, to approving the Adani coal mine and countless other feats contrary to global goals to reduce emissions; the failures of the decade of Australian governance surrounding climate change are exposed now more than ever in the face of a national catastrophe. We have not just taken a few steps backwards; we are now facing and walking in the other direction.
Australia ranks amongst countries with the worst climate policy in the world. Despite MPs stressing we have one of the lowest national percentages of carbon emissions at 1.3%, they forget to mention we have one of the highest per capita. As one of the world’s largest exporters of fossil fuels, the country’s abundance of coal means the individuals and organisations that have profited from it currently have a tight grip on the government. Fires have long been a focus for Australian scientists, with countless reports warning of the dangers rising temperatures could have on our vulnerable country. Our failure to develop any sort of significant countering policy or develop a sufficient capacity to respond has raised much anger towards the cabinet’s decisions. The inadequacy of the response can be described as passivity. PM Scott Morrison has turned his back on the terror the country is currently experiencing, with criminal negligence to the gutting situation by continuing to deny the links between climate change and the fires. His holiday to Hawaii, and his NYE party in Kirribilli whilst Australia was up in flames perfectly symbolises his unprincipled attitudes and absence in leadership for a country that so desperately needs it. We are so disillusioned in the fight that even partisan bickering amongst Labor and the Greens on the left has also been blocking the united front of pragmatism that is required, as infighting has become a trademark of Australian politics this decade.
I feel ill reading the news. I am overcome with a sense of hopelessness that makes my skin crawl. It is now, more than ever, that Australian resilience is so necessary yet insufficient in a time of disaster. Put yourself in the shoes of those in Mallacoota, hugging the shore and being told to get into the water for safety, as the fire front knocked at their door. Imagine finding the dead bodies of a father and son attempting to defend their property from the fires. Imagine being the pregnant wife of one of those men. Think of those that have lost homes, livelihoods and loved ones from these fires.
To our coalition government, shame on you. Morrison, Angus Taylor, David Elliott, Michael McCormack, and Barnaby Joyce, shame on you. To the Murdoch media, shame on you. To those who continue to deny climate change for corporate and political gain- shame. on. you. You are a disgrace, Australia is outraged and disgusted and the world is noticing.
Looking ahead, the situation is far from over yet. With the fire season expected to continue for a few more months, dwindling water supplies and the questionable sustainability of our underfunded, mostly volunteer-run, fire service, the ferocity of the fires will continue to be a huge challenge as we enter the new decade. And so, the critics will continue to ask our PM and government: where the bloody hell are you?