While you fight climate wars, we lose the climate battle
While you fight climate wars, we lose the climate battle
Despite the warning from the just-released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Synthesis Report that a liveable future may be slipping through our fingers, in Australia we find ourselves once again spectators to “climate wars”.
Stadium hecklers invite us to criticise, as a kind of sport, the teams on the political battlefield that we have criticised in the past. This time the battle relates to the so-called “safeguard mechanism” legislation.
Commentators moan that the Coalition is still stuck in vintage denial of the extraordinary dangers of the destabilising climate. Some yell that the Greens have again over-reached on their offensive strategy, standing in the way of “practical” climate action, while others insist they are being used as convenient scapegoats by Labor to distract from do-little policy proposals.
Someone holds a banner proclaiming that rookie independents are nothing more than Trojan horses filled with climate lefties of a different shade of green. Rival partisans argue whether Labor’s game strategy is to re-introduce a hidden carbon tax or to protect the interests of fossil fuel sponsors.
We find this popcorn pastime dangerous and maddening. It distracts us from the real climate conflict, the unwinnable war that humans have waged (first in ignorance, but now knowingly) on the Earth. This is the climate war that threatens our lives and livelihoods, the one we must swiftly and unilaterally end. Nature will not negotiate.
We have a choice. Rather than participating in the political theatre of the past, we can dare to speak from our hearts about why the real climate war – the one with Earth – matters to us. Imagine the power of the booming chorus of all our voices, singing all our climate songs in sorrow, trepidation and hope. Could you hear yourself in this chorus?
Pastoralists, losing livestock to record droughts, fires and floods, often – for the sake of mercy – having to dispatch the animals themselves.
Parents anguishing over the effect the climate crisis is already having on their children and how this will worsen with time. The highest soldiers of the land, duty-bound to protect Australians, pinpointing climate change as the greatest threat to Australia’s security.
Indigenous peoples sidelined from decision-making and peace-making in the climate war that is destroying the landscapes on which they have lived for tens of thousands of years. Families unhoused by climate-fuelled bushfires and flooding, or confronted with unaffordable insurance costs, if insurance coverage is available at all.
Healthcare workers struggling to provide for the increasing number of patients presenting with physical illness and mental stress attributable to the climate crisis. Frustrated engineers and innovators ready to assist with simple and safe solutions that could be rolled out now, but for the lack of sufficient funds.
Fishers despairing over the rivers that have become graveyards for fish. Scientists painfully recording Earth’s forests, oceans, ecosystems, and glaciers tracing trajectories – at this very moment – to tipping points beyond which lie irreversible changes.
Workers literally at the coal face, uncertain about whether their communities will be forgotten in an inevitable energy transition. Emergency workers and first responders battling exhaustion and trauma as they face lengthening odds to save lives in ever-compounding climate emergencies.
Young people angry at the mature, powerful, and privileged for their willingness to leave behind an irrevocably ravaged Earth as a bitter inheritance.
At the last national election, large numbers of voters, sickened by the political spectacle of Australia’s climate wars, turned away from the two major parties. They sought what is woefully needed: statesmen and women, not politicians, to provide the leadership required to marshal all available skills, capital and energy to confront the existential threat that continued global heating represents. The security of our nation demands such leadership.
Peace in the real climate war requires reconciliation with nature. She only accepts emission reductions in the atmosphere, not offset increases on paper. It is her timeline that must be met.
Prodigal spending of our shared carbon budget combined with instabilities in Earth’s systems, some of which could irreversibly tip even in a world of 1.5 to 2 degrees of global heating, means that the time for course correction is alarmingly short. The brilliant Australian Earth System scientist Will Steffen put it this way: “It is highly likely that by 2030 we’ll know what pathway we’ve taken: the one towards sustainability, or the current pathway towards likely collapse.”
Australia is well-placed with plentiful renewable resources and critical metals, access to capital, and a relevant knowledge and skill base. All of these elements can be deployed to make the changes necessary for a rapid and enduring climate peace that benefits us all, not just the uber-wealthy. Australia can do what is needed, and yet hasn’t. This breaks our hearts, but may strengthen the chorus.
We are well-past the short break. It is time for politicians to hang up their jerseys in the locker room and emerge as a single team, working sincerely and fervently to safeguard all life the Earth supports.
They need to hear our voices in a thundering crescendo: This Australian legislature must make our peace in the real climate war.
Professor Anne Poelina, Chair of the Martuwarra Fitzroy River Council and winner of the 2022 Kailisa Budevi Earth and Environment Award advised in the writing of this piece.
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