Catch a bus – governments driving climate inaction are too reckless

I keep getting this feeling that things will never be the same again, that we are like passengers in a car with a reckless driver skidding out of control at speed towards a tree.

In the fifties and sixties, my mother would talk about the 1930s fires that devastated Victoria, of “Black Friday” – 20 or 30 years earlier. Just think about the devastating fires of the past 20 years, or the last 10, or the last 5: Sydney surrounded by fire devastating suburbs, Victoria, the Blue Mountains this year (2014), a suburb wiped out in the Canberra fires some years ago, Tasmania in the 1960s, Dunalley in Tasmania last year that still brings tears to people’s eyes when they talk of it, the 1980s Ash Wednesday fires in Victoria and standing in our Melbourne backyard with ashes falling from the sky from fires 150 km away. I experience the run of mid 40s temps reaching 47C in the shade on my friends verandah near Mildura before Christmas.

It’s not that these things haven’t always happened, it’s that they are becoming more frequent and the norm while our governments remain idle, actively opposing real and effective action to ameliorate the effects of climate change. There is a failure of long-term planning, and people go on as if the world were not changing. We are not preparing for the challenges to our species’ very survival. And I happen to think that is a moral challenge that as a nation we don’t have the guts to deal with.

Yes, it is a matter of ethics because what the last several generations have collectively done to the planet is ruin it. And we do it in the name of gas to replace the oil that we have been profligate with, recklessly ruining the water that lies beneath or our feet. We do it when we buy the fast, fuel-guzzling cars that are advertised on the same TV channels climate science is piously acknowledged or even subjected to campaigns of denial on Murdoch’s networks and print media. We do it as we expand our cities and wreck natural resources. We do it as we consume as voraciously as we ever have and corporations feed the frenzy. Governments facilitate the obscene accumulation of resources in the hands of a few for mega-profits.

We are seeing with the extremes of the so-called polar vortex freeze in North America and the escalation of broken heat records in our own country how challenging the new environmental order is to how we live – ill-prepared as we are. And yet, we complain about how hot it is without asking ourselves what are we doing to prepare ourselves for the changes, which are occurring before our very eyes.

What we can do as individuals is important, rearranging our lives to reduce our personal impact and taking time in our busy lives to become more self-sufficient. But the ultimate moral cop-out is giving in to the feeling that since our neighbour doesn’t care we therefore won’t make a difference to the big picture.

Our survival relies on enough people doing the right thing in their personal lives. We can also demand of our politicians that they take control and put in place strategies to change the way we grow food, for example, to rid the economy of the inefficiencies and illogicality of the markets and ensuring that everyone gets to live in an equitable world, that everyone gets to put food on the table.

So, we all need to take more time in asking whether this politician or that is dedicated to dealing with the challenges of this era to provide a world in which our grandchildren and their grandchildren can actually survive with dignity, health and with the necessities of life.

Getting the right political decisions made is as important as making the personal changes to our lives. While we go to the ballot box without asking the important questions, we will continue to elect politicians who don’t see that dealing with the climatic changes that are engulfing the life of most Australians is one of the greatest imperatives of government. Ad, in that act, we have a moral choice.

We continue to elect governments that provide disincentives to forms of energy that might reduce the impact of climate on our quality of life rather than increase it as fossil-fuel based energy does. We need to ask our politicians why billions of dollars of incentives go to the fossil fuel industries while governments cut back on supporting the vulnerable in our society. Why is it that Norway generates $1million a person in public funds from their oil, while Canadians subsidise oil corporations by $800 for each Canadian citizen? Australia likewise subsidises the coalmining industry with low royalties and tax incentives. These same governments find decisions to secure food production for Australians in the face of the inevitability of more severe climate in much of our food production areas too difficult.

So, as you swelter, contemplate how you might make a difference through your own life, how you might influence politicians through the ballot box, social media and telling politicians what they don’t hear enough of – our expectation that they urgently address the future for the sake of our coming generations.

If our driver in the skidding car has the skills, the presence of mind, and undeserved luck, we might miss that tree and we will survive without serious injury. Whatever the outcome, it would have been better if we had caught a bus in a well-funded, efficient public transport system.

James McDonald
18 January 2014

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