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Australia’s Bushfires Rage On, But Its Government Is Still Hesitant To Act

Australia’s Bushfires Rage On, But Its Government Is Still Hesitant To Act

Rich Bowden

In Australia, fires have caused a rapid ecological change in just a few months. This year’s bushfire season has caused more destruction than usual — and it’s only just begun. Already, half a billion animals have died with many native species now facing threats to extinction. And over a million hectares of land (over twice the size of Maine) have been incinerated.

All in all, ecological recovery is more essential now than ever before for Australia. Yet considering the island continent’s muddy history on climate policy, governmental action is less than likely.

Notably, this January, government officials did begin to speak out about the crisis. But former prime ministers, fire chiefs, scientists and media personalities alike have urged the federal government to act on climate change, rather than simply recognize it.

Despite these efforts, however, the pro-fossil fuel government is unlikely to heed these calls, since in the past, the current coalition has been reluctant to approve any environmental policy.

Australia Fires Sparked by Climate Change 

Canberra, Australia’s capital city, declared a state of emergency earlier this week as fires encroached on the area. Image of Australia fires from 2003 via Wikimedia.

In January, the government did acknowledge climate change’s role in exacerbating the Australia fires. Significantly, Prime Minister Scott Morrison publicly admitted his government believes in climate change. He also said rising global temperatures have played a role in the bushfire crisis. 

However, as The Guardian’s Greg Jericho pointed out, it is one thing to admit the problem and quite another to do something about it. Unfortunately, Jericho said, most people do not accept the government’s sudden commitment to ending the Australia fires. Why would they when their government has spent much of the last decade doing nothing about climate change?

Especially considering the strong influence of the fossil fuel lobby on policy-making, the federal government is unlikely to enact productive environmental policy any time soon. So despite its recognition of climate change, Australia is unlikely to unveil a substantial climate plan.

The International Community Speaks Out

The terrible costs of the Australia fires have inspired many respected international celebrities to weigh in on the climate debate — including naturalist, broadcaster and filmmaker Sir David Attenborough. 

Sir David expressed shock in a BBC interview about the bushfires. He called it a major international catastrophe and warned that the time for action is now.

He wasn’t afraid to attack the Australian government either. Rather, he said that the government’s denial of climate change may have intensified the bushfire crisis.

Politicians have also spoken out against the government’s current response. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull led this charge, saying that the leadership of the Australian government has been lacking during the ongoing crisis. Going further, he added that climate denial within the government is a pervasive phenomenon — one unlikely to end soon.

Government Action Could Put Out the Australia Fires

The warnings of a bushfire emergency are clear. As earth system scientist Will Steffen writes, the international scientific community has warned politicians about the threat of bushfires for many decades. And with global temperatures rising, extreme events such as bushfires and drought will only become more common.

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These weather disasters have amounted from the 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature in the past century. But what happens if, as we expect, global temperatures increase by 3 degrees? The results, as Steffen concludes, are hardly worth thinking about.

Therefore, should the Australian government choose to continue its business as usual approach to climate change, these fires will only become more dangerous. And without appropriate action, the country may have to turn to extreme measures.

These measures could include the nationalization of Australia’s carbon assets. The Bank of International Settlement (BIS) has suggested that the Reserve Bank of Australia — the country’s central bank — purchase all the country’s carbon assets.

In its report, the BIS stated that a central bank could have the power to purchase coal mines and other coal intensive industries. In the case of Australia, this would be the last resort to avert climate and economic collapse. But this may soon become necessary, the report continued, if the Australian government does not transition to a carbon-neutral economy.

Across the international community, many have urged the Australian government to act against climate change. The current bushfire crisis only exemplifies this need. In Australia, fires could cause more than just seasonal destruction. If Australia does not commit to climate action soon, it may not have another chance.

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