Where does Australia stand in the climate crisis?

Let’s take a deep breath. For once, we are not talking about something related to Brexit. Instead, let’s take a journey across the world, to where another large-scale crisis is occurring.

The crisis is Australia’s climate policies. Which, if the current treatment of the environment is anything to go by, are extremely lacking. The most immediately obvious is the Australian bushfires, which are currently raging across New South Wales. As of writing this, there have been 3 deaths, and 300 homes destroyed, with 150 fires burning on.

Barnaby Joyce – Australia’s former Deputy Prime Minister – blamed the fires on climate change activists for opposing back burning (the burning of combustible material to pre-empt forest fires, or merely to clear it). In scientific terms, all fire is bad for the environment due to the release of CO2 and particulates, so let’s not try to blame foisting and reject our caveman instincts that fire=good?

Following the record-breakingly high summers of 2017 and 2018, it is not unreasonable to expect a similarly hot summer, triggering more forest fires. So, it seems, the solution is deceptively simple: prevent climate change. According to a UN report, Australia has been failing to keep on track to meet the 2030 emissions target laid out by the Paris agreement. It is clear that the fire is retributive, and that the government’s treatment of the issue has been lax up until now.

The current leader, Scott Morrison, describes himself as a ‘pragmatic conservative’. Thus far, his environmental policy has mainly been focused around improving Australia’s recycling policies. This would be admirable if Australia had the resources or development measures to recycle more than its current 13 per cent of plastic waste. Not so pragmatic, Mr Morrison.

So what would be a viable alternative? The previous reigning government suffered a defeat in the May election that many termed embarrassing. Although it is almost certainly a simplification, leader of the Green Party, Richard Di Natale, suggested it was due to their reluctance to have an honest conversation about the coal industry, among other environmental issues. Having lived in Australia in 2018, I can confirm that there isn’t the same prevalence of these environmental issues in public spaces. For instance, in most supermarkets, you can take as many plastic bags as your heart desires. The Labour government thus tactically avoided honest discussion about the coal industry and fossil fuels from fear of controversy or inability to deliver. This is a political blunder as it is an ethical responsibility to make policies clear in order to allow a fully informed election process.

Jeremy Corbyn – a figure at the heart of the storm of pre-election controversy – has at least pledged to support Britain’s move away from fossil fuels. Bernie Sanders has made a similar promise. How well this pays off in the upcoming elections is debatable, but at least when future generations look back, they will know exactly who to blame.

May the Australian forest fires be treated quickly, and may the global governments swiftly readjust their priorities.

 

Image: 80 trading 24 via Wikipedia Commons

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The Student Newspaper 2016